Internal Double Crux

post by alkjash · 2018-03-19T05:50:00.733Z · LW · GW · 33 comments


  Day 27: Internal Double Crux
    IDC Algorithm
    is the Active Ingredient
    Fusion, Not Compromise
    Minutes of IDC
  Daily Challenge

This is part 27 of 30 in the Hammertime Sequence. Click here for the intro.

Focusing is a tool for accessing the messages the many sub-personalities in your subconscious are trying to send you. What happens when two or more of these messages are in conflict with each other?

Internal Double Crux (IDC) is CFAR’s answer to this problem. Roughly speaking, it’s a script for taking turns Focusing on two conflicting inner voices and holding space for them to debate and compromise. A sort of internal couples therapy, if you will.

Day 27: Internal Double Crux

I had a particularly hard time writing this post, so I’ll defer to CFAR’s script. Then, I’ll list a bunch of points I want to emphasize that one would completely miss reading this script.

It’s also possible that what I’m doing is not at all the IDC that CFAR has in mind – in that case, I claim that what I’m doing is also useful.

The IDC Algorithm

Here’s the complete script for IDC. It’s best to get pen and paper and write down each step, as if you are a neutral observer recording a conversation.

1. Find an internal disagreement

2. Operationalize the disagreement

3. Seek double cruxes

4. Resonate

Focusing is the Active Ingredient

Where the script says “focus on what feels important,” it means Focusing. By far the most important step in IDC is finding felt senses for each side of the argument and constructing True Names for them via Focusing.

IDC is a particular type of Focusing centered around alternating between two felt senses, trying to articulate their relationship towards each other. Try to act as the neutral moderator between both these senses, and give each time to speak. During the Resonate step, it is likely that you will experience some kind of “felt shift,” or else the locus of disagreement will change. That is to say, you will uncover via IDC a deeper underlying conflict between the two voices. At this point, take the time to refocus on each side and come up with new names.

The first IDC I tried started with two plainly-named sides “I should floss” and “Flossing is a waste of time.” After further focusing and felt shifts, the two sides sound more like “Flossing is a ritual of self-care showing myself I deserve love” and “Flossing is one of infinitely many impositions by which my parents want to curtail my liberty.” The underlying conflict finally emerges!

To me, the point of IDC is to generate a useful set of Focusing prompts. Internal conflict creates felt senses like nothing else!

Seek Fusion, Not Compromise

As you alternate between the two internal voices, make sure to voice some note of charitability towards the other side. This does not mean that you should compromise naively. In general, you should expect the two sides to both have important data to contribute, and one of the end goals is to learn some general rule which contains each side as special cases.

However emotional the conflict feels, follow this principle: conflicting values are usually based on conflicting beliefs about reality. Each side of your internal conflict has a different set of beliefs about reality which influences the way they believe you should act.

For example, if I tried to start an IDC between the two sides of me saying, respectively, “I want to be more extroverted” and “People are dangerous and awful,” progress might be made by allowing each side to list times human beings have been good and evil to me. Fusion might look like “It’s correct to avoid so-and-so situations and types of people where people act particularly antagonistically, while here are a few specific people I don’t interact with who I obviously want to.”

Fifteen Minutes of IDC

Set a Yoda Timer for 15 minutes. Pick as small of an internal conflict as possible and try to IDC it.

Daily Challenge

In IDC as in life, arguments are rarely about what they seem to be about. Doing the dishes is not about the dishes. Flossing is not about dental care.

Most small conflicts are just battles in raging wars between two giant elephants in the brain. Share an example of this phenomenon that you uncovered through IDC (or otherwise).


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Emiya (andrea-mulazzani) · 2021-04-06T12:01:14.635Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Pick as small of an internal conflict as possible and try to IDC it.

Whoops. Yeah, starting small definitely sounded like an obviously good idea, in hindsight.

I might have gone ahead and used as my first try figuring out my... gender identity, yeah.

It frigging worked as far as I can tell, I've used this yesterday and ever since I've felt a lot better than I've been in days. This was unbelievably helpful to me, and I'm really grateful for you having written this post.


To clarify my experience, in case someone is considering trying this for something on this scale after reading my comment:

 I had gone in to identify stuff I already knew to be related to my gender, and that was sending out signals too confused and too conflicted to make sense, but it was making me feel worse and worse. 

I went in ready to accept anything I'd have found, just wanting to know what it was, and it turned out that what was making me feel bad was misinterpreting/ignoring the stuff I was able to figure out by using IDC.

Replies from: alkjash
comment by alkjash · 2021-04-06T21:33:04.760Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is fascinating and I'd love to hear more depth on whatever you'd be willing to share.

Regarding the suggestion to start with something small, I think in hindsight it was kind of a manipulation on my part to make the tool seem safer and to try to get more people to try it. In my limited experience, internal conflicts that seem small rarely turn out to be. 

When I first tried IDC at CFAR, the initial "small starting point" of "Should I floss?" dredged up a whole complex about distrust of doctors in particular and authority in general. A typical experience with watching myself and others IDC is that regardless of the starting point, one ends up in a grand dramatic battle of angels and demons over one's soul.

Replies from: andrea-mulazzani
comment by Emiya (andrea-mulazzani) · 2021-04-06T22:43:50.793Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Alright, I don't think I have any problem talking a bit about it in private with you, for the time being I'd rather avoid sharing more in public though.

If anyone else thinks information on this could be helpful they can contact me, put please only do so if you think it's really relevant you know.

comment by steven0461 · 2018-03-19T17:20:57.386Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(edit: on second thought, feel free to delete this, because I should think more about how to frame the discussion, and this is probably not the best place for it)

Most small conflicts are just battles in raging wars between two giant elephants in the brain.

People keep telling me I contain multiple agents, but I subjectively feel like a single coherent agent working within non-agenty constraints of pain, pleasure, stupidity, and ignorance, I don't experience different voices struggling for control, and I haven't gotten much mileage out of modeling my mind as a battleground or parliament of selves. So it seems like either I'm confused, or you're confused, or we use words differently, or we're both right about ourselves but I'm atypical. How do I check which of these is true?

Replies from: PeterBorah, SaidAchmiz, PeterBorah
comment by PeterBorah · 2018-03-19T18:33:29.534Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For me at least, the multiple agents framework isn't the natural, obvious one, but rather a really useful theoretical frame that helps me solve problems that used to seem insoluble. Something like how it becomes much easier to precisely deal with change over time once you learn calculus. (As I use it more, it becomes more intuitive, again like calculus, but it's still not my default frame.)

Before I did my first CFAR workshop, I had a lot of issues that felt like, "I'm really confused about this thing" or "I'm overwhelmed when I try to think about this thing" or "I know the right thing to do but I mysteriously don't actually do it". The CFAR IDC class recommended I model these situations as "I have precise and detailed beliefs and desires, I just happen to have many of them and they sometimes contradict each other." When I tried out this framework, I found that a lot of previously unsolvable problems became surprisingly easy to solve. For example, "I'm really torn about my job" became, "I am really excited about precisely this aspect of my job, and really unhappy about precisely this aspect". Then it's possible to adjudicate between those two perspectives, find compromises or collaborations, etc.

It would be rude of me to assume that your mind works the same as mine, so take the following strictly as a hypothesis. But I would guess that what's going on for you is that you identify really strongly with one set of preferences/desires/beliefs in your mind, and experience other preferences/desires/beliefs as "pain, pleasure, stupidity, and ignorance". The experiment this suggests is to try spending a few minutes pretending those things are the "real you", and the "agenty" part is the annoying external interloper caused by corrupted hardware. If I'm right, the sign would be that you find there is some detail and coherence to the "identity" of those things that feel like flaws, even if you're not sure it's an identity you approve of.

Note that I don't think the multiple agents thing is the one true ontology. I find that as I learn to integrate the parts better, they start feeling more like a single working system. But it's a really helpful theoretical tool for me.

Replies from: tcheasdfjkl
comment by tcheasdfjkl · 2018-09-01T02:39:32.635Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was going to respond with basically this as well. I too don't intuitively experience myself as multiple agents; instead, I feel like a single agent beset by a whole bunch of internal conflicts that don't resolve (at some point I found myself describing myself as "made of internal conflict"); and I've so far in my limited experience found IDC quite helpful at parsing out the internal conflict. I don't experience IDC as uncovering separate agents that were there all along, but the personification is actually a pretty useful tool just because (a) it forces me to give sufficient airtime to each side (b) debate (when civil and thoughtful) is actually just a good format for clarifying any kind of disagreements.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-03-19T17:46:43.513Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Wherever this discussion is to take place, I’d like to strongly second a desire to have it.

I, too, have found this—inexplicably (to me) popular on LW these days—idea, of the self as multiple agents, to be entirely unhelpful. I am not, nor do I contain, an elephant, a monkey, a lizard, a paperclipper, or any of the other animal, vegetable, or mineral entities that folks here seem to almost reflexively hypothesize as part of any explanation of any mental phenomena whatsoever. Nor has it ever seemed to me to be remotely accurate to describe myself as being composed of separate entities under any labels like “System 1” and “System 2”, etc. None of the frameworks that depend on any such mental ontology have ever resonated with me in the slightest.

So, clearly, there is some disconnect here. It would certainly be very nice if we could explore it. As steven0461 says, something’s going on; let’s figure out what. (Though I would add, to his list of possibilities, this additional one: that it is not he and I who are atypical, but rather that the people postulating the multiplicity of internal agents who are atypical… of course, the question of “who is more normal” is academic, with questionable normative significance, but it should affect how we talk about these things, insofar as what we say depends on assumptions about how universal or how common the things we’re describing are.)

Replies from: alkjash
comment by alkjash · 2018-03-19T18:40:59.334Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think this is a conversation well worth having, and none of the possibilities that steven0461 listed stand out as obviously false.

Let me start by listing a few observations about myself that make the multiple agent framework feel real to me. I'm curious whether these experiences resonate at all with either of you.

(1) Watching my dreams and daydreams, I experience it as the one who is in the dream. Something else is crafting the scenery and action. As far as I know, it's part of my brain. What is that something? It's like the inner sim module that's modelling the world and drawing stories of its own accord.

(2) I find that I can reliably query that something to construct stories: when I write fiction I have two different modes that feel like (a) consciously writing a story and (b) closing my eyes, inhabiting the character, and watching the mental imagery that appears. The two types of stories produced are significantly different, and my experience of (b) feels like I'm querying a part of my mind I don't have conscious access to.

(3) Around different people, I am pulled into different roles/masks. It's possible and effortful to resist, but I do so only rarely. In the role, I say things that I don't normally say. I act in ways that surprise me. I have a handful of friends who reliably provoke these patterns of thinking and behavior, and I generally find it stimulating and fresh.

(4) On that note, I've spoken Chinese and English since early youth and I experience a context switch between the two languages; they're accompanied by different modes of thought. For example Chinese_me is much more authoritarian and puts more stock into virtue ethics/honor.

Replies from: SaidAchmiz
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-03-19T19:15:58.622Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I’m curious whether these experiences resonate at all with either of you. …

Sure, I’ll try to answer:

re: (1) I certainly experience my dreams as the one who is in the dream. It does not, however, make sense to me to speak of “something else” which is “crafting” the scenery and action. I would describe the scenery and action as something which I encounter and experience, the same way I encounter and experience things in the waking world. Thus it doesn’t make sense to me to speak of any “inner sim module” which is modelling, drawing stories, etc.

re: (2) I write stories also, but neither of the two modes you describe seem familiar to me, or describe my experience when doing so. To me, writing a story is like constructing a creation with many parts. Some of those parts are characters, and their motivations, their actions, etc. Other parts are aspects of the world they inhabit. I certainly examine my creation from all angles (including the perspectives of characters in the story) to see if it works, how it looks from that angle, etc. But none of this has anything to do with “parts of my mind” or any such thing.

re: (3) I behave differently around different people also. I say things in one context that I wouldn’t in another. This is simply sensible and natural, and caused by different social contexts, different norms, different sets of shared assumptions, etc. None of it feels like being a different person. I never act in ways that surprise me.

re: (3) I have spoken Russian and English since early youth. I don’t have any experience of being a different person when speaking one language vs. another. My values are constant throughout.

Replies from: steven0461
comment by steven0461 · 2018-03-19T20:00:17.189Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This all seems to match my experience. I've looked for differences between my Dutch language mind and English language mind and nothing stood out. (They're more similar languages and cultures, of course.) Dreams seem very random, more like a monkey hitting my brain's narrative soundboard than like a story with an author.

Replies from: alkjash
comment by alkjash · 2018-03-20T00:49:55.616Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Leaving the others aside, I think the way you both frame dreams one really confuses me. Dreams are at best half-random - in mine there are events and preoccupations from the day, as well as recurring themes and anxieties. Some examples of mine: hiking up hill and feeling my thighs clamp up, viruses taking over my computer with popups and requiring an OS wipe, teeth falling out.

If the scenery you encounter is not you and is being constructed in a deliberate way by some brain module, surely something in your brain is constructing it, right? I frame this thing as "another agent." Perhaps you never get to experience being that agent.

Replies from: SaidAchmiz
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-03-20T02:43:56.717Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Dreams are at best half-random …

This whole part is true, but I don’t see what relevance it has?

If the scenery you encounter is not you

Well, of course it’s not me. It’s scenery.

and is being constructed in a deliberate way by some brain module

Uh, who says it is?! Is this an assumption you’re operating with?? This seems extremely questionable to me, to say the least!

In any case, I have never experienced anything like a reason to believe that any “brain module” is deliberately constructing my dreams, much less any reason to view whatever brain activity is responsible for generation dreams as an agent. The idea of being the agent that is deliberately constructing my dreams is something I find actually incomprehensible. I worry that I’m misunderstanding what you’re saying, because of how bizarre it sounds, yet your comment seems to be written clearly enough—so I am perplexed about what could be going on here.

Replies from: alkjash
comment by alkjash · 2018-03-20T04:09:36.391Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm trying to pin down your confusion. I only see three ways to interpret your statement: (a) you don't believe dreams originate from neural activity, (b) you don't believe this neural activity is patterned in some intentional way, or (c) you don't believe whatever pattern of neural activity this is fits into the category "agent"? (a) is hard to believe and (c) is (mostly?) semantics, so I'm guessing it's (b).

If the confusion is (b), the only way I can think of testing that is checking how useful/interesting/coherent the contents of dreams is, and this suggests that there is some intentional content in them.

Regarding the idea of being the agent that is deliberately constructing my dreams, in my rather unsatisfactory adventures with lucid dreaming I've had a handful of brief lucid moments where I had the clear conscious experience of conjuring pieces of the dream environment into existence by expecting particular things to be there. Unfortunately in each instance the dream dissipated quickly and I woke up, but the conviction remains: whatever is constructing my dreams is something I can access deliberately. Perhaps check out accounts of lucid dreaming on r/LucidDreaming for more successful examples.

Replies from: steven0461, SaidAchmiz
comment by steven0461 · 2018-03-21T03:05:06.116Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Most dream descriptions that I've come across have sounded to me like the output of Magic Realism Bot, which is arguably somewhat useful/interesting/coherent but definitely has no intentional content.

Replies from: alkjash
comment by alkjash · 2018-03-21T03:47:00.601Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ok, this is basically what I believe too, modulo the occasional manifestation of desires/anxieties/memories. Here's my current version of the multiple agents model:

(1) There are processes in the brain like the "dream-generator" and "various pieces of System 2" that I experience as definitely not me. They are not conscious or all that agenty but have enough of a semblance of intent that you might forgive someone for anthropomorphizing them.

(2) There are methods of introspection such as focusing, meditation, and lucid dreaming which allow you deliberate access to these processes. The internal experience of accessing these processes is becoming or fusing with them, e.g. Focusing feels like speaking for a suppressed voice. What's actually going on might be "accessing data and algorithms that was hidden from you."

(3) You experience various states of mind hooked onto each process. The combination of you hooked onto process A is significantly different in terms of experiences, values, and/or personality from just you or you hooked onto process B. The claim is that it is often useful to think about these different states as "different agents living in the same brain."

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-03-20T05:45:40.473Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It’s (b), naturally. (Although (c) is also true, and would be true even sans (b); I don’t know why you say it’s (even mostly) semantics.)

checking how useful/​interesting/​coherent the contents of dreams is, and this suggests that there is some intentional content in them.

I don’t really know what you’re talking about when you say this… this seems to me to be an exceedingly strange idea. It’s… obviously false? (Again I am confronted with that strange, vertigo-like feeling that comes of seeing some apparently clearly stated and yet utterly bizarre claim, made by someone who does not behave as if they are saying anything particularly odd or unusual. I certainly want to hear more about what on earth could possibly make someone believe and say such things!)

As far as lucid dreaming goes… it’s certainly interesting (and I have done a little bit of reading about it, though not a lot)… but if your claim is that it tells us anything very significant or reliable about the normal structure of ordinary (i.e., non-lucid) dreams, then I am very skeptical and request some serious citations. It seems to me to fall into the category of “mental self-modification”; and of course it’s interesting, in an academic sense, that people are able to self-modify in this way… but… if I tie a string into some complicated knot, I am hardly licensed to conclude from this that “having knots” is a general property of strings.

(I guess I should ask, at this point, whether we’re still talking only about our respective experiences, or whether we’re attempting to discuss how dreams work for people in general. If the latter, well—I have many questions, let’s put it that way.)

Replies from: alkjash
comment by alkjash · 2018-03-20T06:19:45.917Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Meta-note: I tend to err on the side of overstating my confidence so as to better elicit debate. I am actually unsure of (b) at present and aware that "dreams having intentions" is at least a little weird. Perhaps I didn't communicate that clearly.

I'll have more to say tomorrow but for now: my models of multiple agents and "dreams having intentions" are predicated on at least a weak version of Jungian (and ergo Freudian) psychoanalysis, and it seems to me that Focusing, IDC are also predicated on these ideas (as fake but useful frames let's say).

Whether or not dreams actually have intentional structure is up to debate in my mind, but I can say my own dreams are at very least surprisingly detailed, fruitful, and subject-relevant material to sift through for metaphorical insight. This surprise, which only occurred after I started writing down my dreams and noticed how exorbitantly detailed they are, is sufficient that I am prone to the hypothesis that there's more than just "stream of rich relevant babble" going on.

Replies from: SaidAchmiz
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-03-20T07:18:51.442Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I tend to err on the side of overstating my confidence so as to better elicit debate.

Fair enough, this is certainly understandable.

… fake but useful frames …

I have looked askance at this concept (“fake frameworks”, etc.) ever since I first saw it discussed around here, and continue to be skeptical. It seems to me to be a way to verbally disclaim belief in some view (in order to avoid having to defend its truth—usually due to knowing perfectly well that no credible defense is possible), while still acting as if said view is true. I take a dim view of that, for what I hope are obvious reasons.

Now, I don’t know how you’re using the term/concept, so I have no idea if any of that applies to your views here. In particular, I don’t know what you mean when you speak of a “weak version” of Jungian psychoanalysis, nor what it means for something to be “predicated on” said idea as a “fake but useful frame”. All of these are things I’d love to see you expand / clarify, so I look forward to reading your further comments on this.

… my own dreams are at very least surprisingly detailed, fruitful, and subject-relevant material to sift through for metaphorical insight.

Interesting. This seems to be shaping up more and more to be a matter of interpersonal variation, yes? (For me, no such thing is remotely true, nor ever has been.)

… writing down my dreams and noticed how exorbitantly detailed they are …

I… have serious doubts about the idea that writing down your dreams actually works. (To be more precise: I view it as a highly non-trivial proposition, that if you have a dream, wake up, and write down [or recount verbally to someone, etc.] the content of your dream, that what you have written down is in fact a description of what you dreamed. Indeed, it’s not even clear to me that there is a fact of the matter about “what you dreamed”; if there is not, then this would, of course, make the previous proposition not just questionable but necessarily false.)

Replies from: alkjash
comment by alkjash · 2018-03-20T16:04:11.359Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have myself felt that the concept "fake framework" is often a way (at least when it is misused) to avoid the burden of proof, and I confess that was part of what I was doing above. Thanks for keeping me honest.

Interesting. This seems to be shaping up more and more to be a matter of interpersonal variation, yes? (For me, no such thing is remotely true, nor ever has been.)

Regarding the detail of dreams, it's certainly possible that it's a matter of interpersonal variation, but I also believed ~six months ago that I dreamed very infrequently and in not that much detail. After writing down my dreams for a few days, my recall of dreams is substantially improved, to the point that I can recall an average of two dreams a morning with very little effort and remember much more detail about them.

Let me suggest the following experiment: each morning for three days (a week would be better but three days should do) immediately after you wake up, try to recall and write down as much about your dreams as you can for five minutes. If after three days your experience remains unchanged I'll update towards the "idiosyncratic alkjash" model.

I… have serious doubts about the idea that writing down your dreams actually works.

It sounds like you're suggesting dream recall is "my brain filling in fake details to a story when prompted," which seems the much more unlikely explanation than "I have dreams and then remember them piece by piece." For one, I usually, but don't always manage to remember my dreams. For another, if I could reliably make up details as interesting as the stuff that happens in my dreams I would write much better fiction.

Replies from: SaidAchmiz
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-03-21T05:15:26.662Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It sounds like you’re suggesting dream recall is “my brain filling in fake details to a story when prompted,” which seems the much more unlikely explanation than “I have dreams and then remember them piece by piece.”

What I’m suggesting is, on the one hand, not actually anything quite so specific as that, and on the other hand something potentially far stranger and less straightforward.

Before I say more about this, I want to detour very briefly to address the rest of what you say in that paragraph:

For one, I usually, but don’t always manage to remember my dreams.

This is not at all inconsistent with even the suggestion that you guessed I was making. (There’s no reason why the ability to confabulate can’t vary from one day to another, for example.)

For another, if I could reliably make up details as interesting as the stuff that happens in my dreams I would write much better fiction.

Likewise, there’s no reason to expect that you should necessarily have conscious, on-demand access to whatever mechanism lets you confabulate dream-recollections.

Now, as for what I meant by my comment…

Daniel Dennett has an excellent essay (which was published as part of his book Brainstorms) called “Are Dreams Experiences?” If you can find it, I would highly recommend reading it.

Now, to be clear, I am not proffering Dennett’s essay as support for my claim (indeed, I have yet to make any clear positive claim). The reason I bring it up is because in this essay, Dennett challenges what he calls the “received view” of what dreams are (i.e., the notion that they are experiences that one has while asleep, which may then be recalled upon waking, much like any ordinary experience one has may later be recalled). He offers several alternative models for what dreams could be, and explores the implications of those models, what evidence exists for them, etc.

The key thing that I got from Dennett’s essay—and from other reading I’ve done about dreams, and from my own experiences—is that we should be much less confident than we are in our standard view of what dreams are.

Let me suggest the following experiment …

It so happens that I have, at one point, done basically this exact thing (it was a while ago, but as I recall, it was an assignment for one of my psychology courses in college); and a bit less formally but more recently, I’ve many times deliberately tried to notice, upon waking, what my recall of dreams was like (for example, taking melatonin for insomnia made me notice this sort of thing more, for reasons which may be obvious to many people who’ve also taken melatonin). And what I got from my self-observation was that the notion of “recalling what I experienced in my dream(s)” is (at least for me) not only mostly impossible, but mostly incoherent as well.

What attempting to write down or recount a dream feels like, to me, is confabulation. I am telling a story, but I know—as I am telling it—that I’m making it up. The details were different. It was all different—stranger—more disjointed—less coherent—but I can’t remember any of that; it’s fleeing my mind from the very first moment I try to recall it, the moment I wake; all I can do is try to fill in the details with guesses, cliches, etc. But it’s wrong; it’s much more mundane than the “actual dream” (if there was such a thing). (Indeed—as Dennett also points out in his essay—it often seems like trying to recall the dream makes the memory of it flee faster.)

So when I realized all of that (which wasn’t difficult; the realization came basically as soon as I started trying), I stopped trying to recall my dreams. I didn’t, and don’t, want to fool myself.

It seems to me that waking experience has many features which we take very much for granted, which are fundamental to… well, to being able to apprehend the world in any kind of coherent way… and which we are often tempted to ascribe to dreams, but which dreams often (usually?) simply do not have. These are things like: sequence; causation; object permanence; object identity; linearity; integration of sensory perception; and others in this vein. But we lack the language necessary to speak of experience that lacks these features. It may be impossible even to properly imagine such experiences while we are awake. And yet not only do we blithely describe dreams in more or less the same terms as we speak of waking experiences (with only minor and paltry deviations), we in fact regularly impose on them a narrative structure that even our waking experiences—which do have all of the aforementioned properties—usually lack!

So the fact is that I simply do not trust any account, produced by one who is awake, of what one’s dream was like. I have never seen anything to suggest that I should expect such accounts to be reliable, and much to suggest the very opposite. (Note that the fact that we have to describe our dreams in words makes it all the worse!)

To add to all of that, I have several more prosaic reasons for the view that I hold—other aspects of my experience that I base my comments on. One is that I often don’t recall my dreams at all, period—not even for a second. I awake, and all memory of the dream is gone instantly. I know that I dreamed; but that is all. Another is that I often spend the latter part of my sleep period falling out of and into a sleep state; certainly I am not awake enough, during such times, to be consciously recollecting anything—but neither am I dreaming (or perhaps I am, but then I do not recall even the fact of dreaming—much less the content of any dreams I have in such a state).

So, you see, I really recognize none of my own experience in what you describe; quite the opposite…

Replies from: Kaj_Sotala, alkjash
comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2018-03-21T11:03:01.484Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
What attempting to write down or recount a dream feels like, to me, is confabulation. I am telling a story, but I know—as I am telling it—that I’m making it up. The details were different. It was all different—stranger—more disjointed—less coherent—but I can’t remember any of that; it’s fleeing my mind from the very first moment I try to recall it, the moment I wake; all I can do is try to fill in the details with guesses, cliches, etc. But it’s wrong; it’s much more mundane than the “actual dream” (if there was such a thing). (Indeed—as Dennett also points out in his essay—it often seems like trying to recall the dream makes the memory of it flee faster.)

This is my experience as well. I actually wrote most of the following paragraph before reading your comment, in response to alkjash's comment above:

My own experience with recounting my dreams afterwards is that often, they include elements which somehow seem to make sense within the dream but afterwards turn out to be incoherent. In order to construct even a half-way coherent narrative - that is, not one that sounds like it could have actually happened, but one which could even be understood - I often need to simplify things and explain it in a way which isn't quite what happened in the dream, but rather the closest approximation of something coherent that I can construct out of the incomplete skeleton that the dream gave me.

comment by alkjash · 2018-03-21T06:47:58.083Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The two pieces of evidence I mentioned are not inconsistent with your model, but they seem to certainly be weak evidence for mine.

I will chalk it up to minds being more different than I expected. If you can offer any testable predictions about the "confabulation hypothesis" I'd be happy to try them, but it seems far-fetched to me.

Replies from: SaidAchmiz
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-03-21T07:22:23.247Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Again I want to emphasize that I’m not making any specific, strong claim. “Confabulation” is one possibility (broadly speaking), but there are several ways to construe what I’ve described, under some of which “confabulation” is not really the best way to describe what’s going on.

As for testable predictions, well… it’s hard to say. Certainly if what I describe as my experience is nothing at all like yours, then that’s evidence against my “model”[1] of dreams—at least in your case! My model would predict my experiences, and antipredict yours, after all.

I again refer you to Dennett, who, in his aforementioned essay, gives some interesting differences in predictions between types of theories about the nature of dreams. I do warn you, however, that little of what he has to present is stronger evidence for the individual case than individual experience is. In other words, whatever Dennett has to say, I don’t expect it’s likely that you’ll change your mind about what sorts of things your dreams are. (Not impossible, mind you; just not likely.)

As you say, minds are different.

[1] It’s not really a model, of course, but more like an anti-model—a set of intuitions / anecdata / considerations / etc. that rule out certain models.

comment by PeterBorah · 2018-03-19T18:38:28.107Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

As a separate comment since it feels like a pretty different thread:

I do have a vague hypothesis that the very first part of the Looking skill might be a prerequisite for IDC and frankly a lot of CFAR techniques. I don't think you need a lot of it, but there feels like there's a first insight that makes further conversations about things downstream from it a million times easier. (For programmers: it feels similar to whatever the insight is that separates people who just can't get the concept of a function from people who can.) It annoys me a lot that I don't yet have a consistent tool for helping people quickly get the first skillpoint in Looking, and fixing that is one of my top pedagogical priorities at the moment.

Replies from: Kaj_Sotala
comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2018-03-19T19:28:51.308Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Datapoint: I attended a CFAR workshop at the end of 2014; back then, I didn't have enough skill in meditation to Look, and if Val had posted his stuff about Looking in say 2015, I wouldn't have understood what the hell he was talking about. But I do have an e-mail written in 2015, where someone asked me about the kinds of benefits I think I get from meditation, and I mentioned that doing meditation seems to help cultivate the kind of mental awareness that - among other things - makes it easier to use CFAR techniques.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2018-03-19T06:03:05.452Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I intellectually liked IDC a lot when I was first exposed to it but noticed myself never doing it even though I explicitly endorsed doing it a whole ton. Recent experiences trying to do it at a CFAR workshop highlighted two tweaks I need to make to make it work for me (at least, probably I need other tweaks too because I'm still not really doing it): first, I often need to be listening to more than two voices, because e.g. often a third voice needs to interrupt saying that doing the IDC feels bad and it doesn't want to keep going, and second, my voices often wanted to do things other than say words, often scream, but sometimes emitting pictures or poetry, etc.

Edit: I think there's something specifically bad about writing it all down that I don't like. My voices often don't want to feel pinned down by whatever they've said or felt previously, or something like that?

Replies from: Kaj_Sotala, alkjash, PeterBorah
comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2018-03-19T12:20:14.472Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
second, my voices often wanted to do things other than say words, often scream, but sometimes emitting pictures or poetry, etc.

I haven't explicitly tried doing something like the full CFAR IDC procedure, but I've done something vaguely inspired by it and which seems to sometimes work. It's a little intuitive so I'm not sure if a verbal description accurately catches what I'm doing, but translating stuff said by the parts into some kind of mental imagery, rather than having it be just words, seems like a core component in making it work.

The basic procedure seems to be something like... "listen to the part that wants to do something, and translate its desired action and expectation of the likely consequences into a form that you can run through your inner simulator. While doing so, listen to any sense of objection or disagreement coming from your other parts; try to translate that objection into a language that the first part can understand, or which could be used to modify the inner sim simulation".

(This also automatically incorporates your first tweak, since you never need to decide in advance how many voices you're listening to - you just keep doing it for as long as you get a sense of an objection, and it doesn't matter whether the objection comes from a voice you've already found or a new one. Kind of like doing Murphyjitsu.)

I'm not sure whether "translate the objection into a language that the first part can understand" and "see if you could use the objection to modify the inner sim" are two different things or the same thing expressed in different words - that is, whether the inner sim is the common language of the parts into which it's enough to translate everything, or whether different parts have more unique languages into which things need to be tailored for. But the fact that mental contrasting works to reduce anxiety in at least some cases, seems to suggest that the inner sim is the common language - again, at least in some cases. E.g. I've used the technique described in the below excerpt, and found it to at least occasionally be very useful:

Think about a fear you have about the future that is vexing you quite a bit and that you know is unjustified. Summarize your fear in three to four words. For instance, suppose you’re a father who has gotten divorced and you share custody with your ex-wife, who has gotten remarried. For the sake of your daughter’s happiness, you want to become friendly with her stepfather, but you find yourself stymied by your own emotions. Your fear might be “My daughter will become less attached to me and more attached to her stepfather.” Now go on to imagine the worst possible outcome. In this case, it might be “I feel distanced from my daughter. When I see her she ignores me, but she eagerly spends time with her stepfather.” Okay, now think of the positive reality that stands in the way of this fear coming true. What in your actual life suggests that your fear won’t really come to pass? What’s the single key element? In this case, it might be “The fact that my daughter is extremely attached to me and loves me, and it’s obvious to anyone around us.” Close your eyes and elaborate on this reality.
Now take a step back. Did the exercise help? I think you’ll find that by being reminded of the positive reality standing in the way, you will be less transfixed by the anxious fantasy. When I conducted this kind of mental contrasting with people in Germany, they reported that the experience was soothing, akin to taking a warm bath or getting a massage. “It just made me feel so much calmer and more secure,” one woman told me. “I sense that I am more grounded and focused.”
Mental contrasting can produce results with both unjustified fears as well as overblown fears rooted in a kernel of truth. If as a child you suffered through a couple of painful visits to the dentist, you might today fear going to get a filling replaced, and this fear might become so terrorizing that you put off taking care of your dental needs until you just cannot avoid it. Mental contrasting will help you in this case to approach the task of going to the dentist. But if your fear is justified, then mental contrasting will confirm this, since there is nothing preventing your fear from coming true. The exercise will then help you to take preventive measures or avoid the impending danger altogether.
One caveat: mental contrasting is most appropriate for unjustified fears that are strong and debilitating. A great deal of research has shown that a total lack of anxiety detracts from performance, just as extreme anxiety does (especially when the task in question is complex). If you’re a student who experiences debilitating anxiety around taking tests, mental contrasting can help you approach the object of your fears so that you can perform better. But if you experience only mild to moderate anxiety, you may benefit from feeling a bit of anxiety, and mentally contrasting your fears may leave you feeling too relaxed and not sufficiently motivated to prepare. When trying mental contrasting to approach your own fears, I advise that you first make sure to honestly evaluate whether your fears are unjustified, or whether they might not spur you on to more effort and better performance.

(from Gabriele Oettingen: Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation. Penguin Group US.)

Note also that this application of the technique could by itself be considered a kind of mini-IDC by itself: you look for a source of anxiety, run its prediction in your inner sim, then look for a reason for why it wouldn't go this way and run that counter-prediction in the sim. This will either cause your anxious part to update, or it will let you know that the anxiety is founded and that you should tackle it in some other way.

comment by alkjash · 2018-03-19T06:09:48.176Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I also confess that I really really liked it at CFAR and then mysteriously didn't do any of it afterwards ... as I type this comment my mind is coming up with ways to weasel out of making a commitment to do it more ...

Replies from: silentbob
comment by silentbob · 2019-09-01T12:26:24.915Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I can relate. The few times when I used IDC in the past, it did feel useful, but still it's not really enjoyable. Maybe it's the fact that with IDC I'm not so much solving a problem but rather figuring out something about myself. There maybe won't be any cool hacks or workarounds to solve it all, but in the end it's more about coming to terms with things. So maybe choosing IDC as the best tool to approach a bug already feels like a small defeat which causes me to rather not choose it and try other, more outward-facing tools instead, or ignore the bug entirely. Something like that.

comment by PeterBorah · 2018-03-19T18:42:35.671Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I've had a similar experience. IDC was by far my favorite technique at CFAR, and I've maybe done it twice since then? I think some of it is that the formal technique fell away pretty quickly for me: once I learned to pay attention to other internal voices, I found it pretty natural to do that all the time in the flow of my normal thinking, and setting aside structured time for it felt less necessary. (And when I do set aside larger chunks of time, I usually end up just inhabiting the part that gets less "airtime" for a while, rather than having an explicit dialogue between it and another part.)

Replies from: Qiaochu_Yuan
comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2018-03-19T19:09:03.694Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yeah, the closest thing I do instead is a Focusing-y move of just asking my guts what they think about things a lot.

comment by itavero · 2020-12-19T04:38:29.850Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I IDC-ed the part of me that wants to go to bed and the part of me that wants to follow through on trying each day's exercise and posting a comment. I first named them "I should do what naturally feels good" and "I keep commitments". 

"Commitment" was the clear frontrunner (after all, I did do the exercise). There were the usual arguments about why it's good to keep promises to yourself, about how being that type of person pays dividends, etc. 

The other side surprised me. The first thing it said was "It's not about just doing what's most pleasurable, it's about being flexible". Woah. So I changed its name to "flexibility"and it began to feel like a disagreement between values instead of a fight between protagonist and antagonist (hedonism vs. virtue). 

Changing the first side's name opened the door to many more insights. I won't bore you with the details of all of them, but the main one was that "people can tell when I'm not flexible" and that they (and I) generally have a better time around me when I'm open and flexible. It also made me realize that I pretty much only commit to myself.

comment by dead end · 2019-03-26T22:55:36.626Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Never too late. The two elephants I've found are egocentric and cautious. The first is all about "mememe", the second is "I'm unimportant"; the first is "I can do everything", the second is "I always fail"; "I'm right" - "others know better"; "this person annoys me" - "it's dangerous not to be nice to people"; "I don't like this" - "I won't ever get better one"; "Gonna help this person" - "my help is not needed" and many more aspects. Wonder if it's something people usually outgrow somewhere in childhood...