Kenshō

post by Valentine · 2018-01-20T00:12:01.879Z · score: 95 (75 votes) · LW · GW · 253 comments

Follow-up to: Gears in Understanding, Fake Frameworks

This last September, I experienced enlightenment.

I mean to share this as a simple fact to set context. I don’t claim I am enlightened, as though I have some amazing property that makes me better than people who don’t have it. I mean simply that there’s something vaguely like a state that our culture calls “enlightenment” that I’ve been in and have returned to a few times over the last four months. In Rinzai Zen one would say that I had a kenshō: a moment of understanding that makes the path clear but is not yet full attainment.

Over the last several months I’ve tried to share what I now see so clearly. And this has mostly just failed. People who’ve had a kenshō follow what I’m saying just fine, but most people just get really confused. It feels a bit like being one of the only people around who understand scientific thinking: most people can see that the behavior of a gyroscope is weird when you show them, but most can’t really see its behavior through the lens of scientific epistemology. They just keep translating what you’re saying into e.g. isolated facts.

This is particularly vexing in the case of kenshō because enlightenment isn’t an insight. I claim it’s not a matter of inferential distance. It’s more like bothering to notice what you already know. When the moment of seeing struck me, I fell over laughing and basically didn’t stop laughing for two days, because it was so incredibly stunningly obvious. There isn’t something to learn: it’s already always here.

And what is “it”, you might ask? Well, I would honestly love to be able to tell you. But apparently my saying it doesn’t convey it hardly at all, unless you’ve already seen it for yourself.

(And yes, there’s most definitely an “it”. This isn’t just brains getting flooded with feeling-of-profundity without an object. And it totally makes sense that some people think that. Just… from this vantage point, those objections come across a bit like people arguing that science is just another religion. Or more to the point, it’s like trying to convince me that I have no subjective experience: no matter how cunning and logical and well-researched the argument, I’m still here listening to you.)

With all that said, I think I can share something one meta-level up. I think the reason it’s hard to convey enlightenment in words can itself be conveyed with words. And I think doing so illustrates something important about epistemology. And with some luck, this might give me a way of pointing at what enlightenment is, in a way that can land.

So, that’s what I’ll aim to do here.


First, a parable.

Imagine you’re in a world where people have literally forgotten how to look up from their cell phones. They use maps and camera functions to navigate, and they use chat programs to communicate with one another. They’re so focused on their phones that they don’t notice most stimuli coming in by other means.

Somehow, by a miracle we’ll just inject mysteriously into this thought experiment, you look up, and suddenly you remember that you can actually just see the world directly. You realize you had forgotten you were holding a cell phone.

In your excitement, you try texting your friend Alex:

YOU: Hey! Look up!
ALEX: Hi! Look up what?
YOU: No, I mean, you’re holding a cell phone. Look up from it!
ALEX: Yeah, I know I have a cell phone.
ALEX: <alex_cell_phone.jpg>
ALEX: If I look up from my phone, I just see our conversation.
YOU: No, that’s a picture of your cell phone. You’re still looking at the phone.
YOU: Seriously, try looking up!
ALEX: Okay…
ALEX: *looks up*
YOU: No, you just typed the characters “*looks up*”. Use your eyes!
ALEX: Um… I AM using my eyes. How else could I read this?
YOU: Exactly! Look above the text!
ALEX: Above the text is just the menu for the chat program.
YOU: Look above that!
ALEX: There isn’t anything above that. That’s the top.
ALEX: Are you okay?

You now realize you have a perplexing challenge made of two apparent facts.

First, Alex doesn’t have a place in their mind where the idea of “look up” can land in the way you intend. They are going to keep misunderstanding you.

Second, your only familiar way of interacting with Alex is through text, which seems to require somehow explaining what you mean.

But it’s so obvious! How can it be this hard to convey? And clearly some part of Alex already knows it and they just forgot like you had; otherwise they wouldn’t be able to walk around and use their phone. Maybe you can find some way of describing it to Alex that will help them notice that they already know…?

Or… maybe if you rendezvous with them, you can somehow figure out how to reach forward and just pull their head up? But you’re not sure you can do that; you’ve never used your hands that way before. And you might hurt them. And it seems kind of violating to try.

So, now what?


Here’s one way I used to try to convey part of the “it” from my kenshō:

“I’m okay. You’re okay. Everything is fundamentally okay. Whatever happens, it will be fine and good. Even our worry and pain is okay. There is something deeply sad about someone dying… and their death is okay. Obliteration of humanity would be tragic, but the universe will go on, and it’s okay.”

After several attempts at this, I gathered that many (but not all) folk were translating what I was saying into one of two categories:

And… nope. Not even close.

But it makes sense that so many people had those interpretations. I mean, what else are they going to think when I say “it’s okay”?

The thing is, I don’t mean “it’s okay” as something to think. I mean it more like an instruction, like “look up” in the cell phone parable. Trying to understand the meaning is analogous to Alex posting a photo of their phone and then scrolling above it in the text chat.

Another way I could try to say the “it’s okay” thing is something like, “The world is real in your immediate experience before you think about it. Set aside your interpretations and just look.” The trouble is, most people’s thinking system can grab statements like this and try to interpret them: if you think something like “Oh, that’s the map/territory distinction”, then all I can say is you are still looking at your phone.

It seems that most people do not have the type of conceptual Gears needed to intellectually understand what enlightenment is about. But instead of hitting a “this falls outside the current system” alarm, their minds grab the most fitting conceptual bucket they have to what they heard and plop it in there. This creates an impression of understanding that actually blocks the ability to understand.

This is why zen sometimes uses koans. A koan is meant to give the student’s mind something to chew on that it cannot understand intellectually. The hope is that at some point the conceiving mind will jam, the student will see “it”, and then they’ll have the raw data they need for their mind to start building the new type of Gear. That’s kenshō.

…which makes it kind of frustrating when rationalists are so pleased with themselves for dissolving koans. Yes, very good, you figured out how to download a few apps that prevent me or others from easily sending you messages that jam your cell phone. And that’s good and worthwhile. But you are still looking at your phone. And now you’ve removed one way you can be directly shown this fact.


At this point I’ll try to say the meta-level thing plainly:

There is a skill, analogous to “looking up”, which one will almost certainly misunderstand if we use normal words or concepts for it. I need a handle for it, though, so I’m going to call it “Looking” with a capital “L”.

(And yes, it’s conceptually related to Seeing With Fresh Eyes. But if you think it is Seeing With Fresh Eyes, you will miss the point, because you’ll be attaching what I’m saying to ideas you’re familiar with instead of Looking. And if you object based on the claim that that’s what Seeing With Fresh Eyes is about… then please reread the previous sentence.)

As far as I can tell, you need this skill in order to bypass a particular kind of epistemic trap, where your methods of gathering information preclude the ability to get an entire dimension of data type. It’s an ontological version of confirmation bias.

Once you have any meaningful grasp of how to Look, you can use it to see things that prompt novel Gears in your understanding of the world. A lot of things that previously sounded kind of mystical or incoherent will suddenly change meaning and be made of obviousness to you. And some of them really, really, really, really matter.

Seeing these things will probably transform you, although it usually seems to feel more like realizing who you have always been and what has always mattered most to you. Your reflective priorities rearrange, you start caring in a different and deeper way, and most of the things you had previously been so stressed or concerned about stop mattering. You actually start to get what’s at stake and what’s worth doing.

And then you, too, can experience the hilarious frustration of trying to get others to Look.


So, how does one learn how to Look?

Well, that’s a damn good question. And people with varying degrees of enlightenment have been trying to answer it for literally thousands of years.

So, rather than pretending I have some great novel algorithm for this, I’ll add three notes that I hope will be helpful here.

First, for rationalists in particular, I think skill with switching freely between frameworks is really useful. That is not at all the same thing as Looking, but it sort of stretches a thing I usually find is rigid in rationalists in a way that blocks their ability to Look. If you’re always interpreting everything through Bayesian updating or decision theory or epistemic hygiene or whatever, you’re always interpreting, regardless of the validity of which tools you’re using. I claim that being able to put those tools down for a second is actually really helpful — and, I claim, it can help contextualize where those tools are actually useful.

Second, one clear thing I noticed when I first intentionally Looked is that everyone has bodhicitta. There’s an important way in which everyone is already enlightened, and “enlightenment” is simply a moment of someone remembering this fact about themselves. This is why people know to build beautiful monuments to honor lost loved ones, and to be respectful while in them, across vast cultural and religious belief differences. We already know. This is the “already know” of that small quiet part of us that nudges us to notice that we’re wrong while in a fight with a loved one. The skill of Looking is closely related to the skill of pausing our usual habit patterns and actually paying attention to our quiet, clear sense of knowing.

Third, my kenshō was deliberately induced. I think I understand the mechanisms behind how, and I believe I can convey them in a usable way. I plan to do so in an upcoming post.

253 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2018-01-20T01:45:44.144Z · score: 105 (40 votes) · LW · GW

It is occasionally said to me,

"Have you considered meditation and buddhism? Enlightenment is really powerful."

This feels similar to saying

"Have you considered giving up a massive resource - one of your scarce slots for a life-long habit, a daily time-sink with week-long retreats - to Buddhist meditation? It supposedly makes you feel funny at the end, as though you've had a major epistemological insight (but you aren't able to produce corresponding output as a result)."

Given the amount of people offering me something like the above, my background skepticism is very high.

The thing that will most cause me to believe that kenshŌ is valuable for epistemology, will be some examples of things you have managed to do better as a result. If, for example, you wrote sequence of recognisably useful insights unrelated to enlightenment (example), and then afterwards told me that it was due to your having felt enlightenment, I'd consider that interesting evidence. But I do predict that I find your subsequent post not much evidence either way.

I will mention that I have some notion of a thing you might be pointing towards: I've experienced ontological updates - updates to the feelings that make up the building blocks of how I think. And this does require a certain 'get out of your head / no seriously look up' motion, which you might be pointing too. Also, Buddhism is an old old religion and there's this notion that religions do capture truths of human nature, which is why they're able to be so widespread yet profound. So maybe you'll manage to capture that.

But sometimes when someone has a hard time explaining something, it's because they're just confused. So many people are trying to communicate supposed fundamental truths, and aren't showing much for it. As I say, my background skepticism is high.

comment by Valentine · 2018-01-20T04:02:10.795Z · score: 54 (35 votes) · LW · GW

Bemused exasperation here. I'm grinning as I write this. I wondered if this post would produce this kind of effect… and I hoped not, but it's not unexpected!

The thing that will most cause me to believe that kenshŌ is valuable for epistemology, will be some examples of things you have managed to do better as a result.

I'm not advocating trying for kenshō. You can't try for it in any useful way. That's not how it works. I honestly don't care whether I persuade anyone of its value, because it does not matter whether you try for it. Or rather, if it does matter, it does so by making you obsessed in a way that can actually block the seeing. So, there isn't really any good benefit to fighting with your analysis to try to persuade you of its value. That's all on you!

And I imagine that's frustrating. And I do apologize; I'm really not trying to be frustrating or vague here. It's just… well, see the entire opening post!

But to steelman your… hmm, mix of a request and a challenge: I receive you as wanting either for me to give you concrete things learning how to Look has done for me, or to admit I can't and retract the value of what I'm saying.

That's a fine want. I really would prefer you just ask though. There's something a little weird about responding to "Hey, I think there's something interesting over in those bushes" with "If you want to convince me, here are my requirements." It adds weird status noise to the conversation. And I like you, and I think you like me, and I'd prefer we remember that even if we're talking online through text this time!

That aside: I'll share some concrete things, but I think it'll come across weird. It's a bit like if you get mathematical proof, but no one else around you understands it, and are now insisting that you demonstrate how this has helped you do things better in terms they can understand, on pain of rejecting the relevance of what you're saying. You might be able to muster up some clever thing, at which point you can be deemed a goddamn sorcerer, but you damn well know at the end of that that they still won't understand proof. You'll just be magical, or making claims that you're highly confident of that they don't know whether to believe.

So, dear sir, I give unto thee crazy shit:

  • I can cut through confusion enormously more easily now. A huge amount of what Eliezer talks about in the Sequences is actually a lot easier to understand as applications of Looking. Not all of it, and maybe not even most of it: quite a bit of it is training and using a certain kind of mathematical thinking. But the stuff about actually changing your mind is… well, it can't work reliably by mental/emotional force the way I hear so very many rationalists talking, and it's now super obvious to me why. It's really easy if you know how to Look. As in, I think it's the natural thing you want to do if you can Look at your own mind.
  • Related: I seem to have developed Looking well enough to track my own subconscious strategies. Turns out, nearly everyone runs sexual or social schemes below conscious awareness for strategic reasons. (This is where "load-bearing bugs" come from, and why meaningful change is so hard.) I'm no exception — and some of my strategies were hurting people I cared about, and I was motivated not to notice. And once I did notice, those same strategies wanted to rearrange to do some kind of remorseful thing that was still in line with the same strategies but had many surface features of a deep emotional realization. Actually Looking made this whole gibberish easy to track and work around. This let me meaningfully mend a relationship with an ex I saw I had badly mistreated such that we're now very good friends. (I'm still reaching out to others I've hurt and working on mending things… but it's tricky to convey that and how I've changed, so this is currently slow-going.)
  • I'm in the process of restructuring some of the CFAR material to account for what I can now readily see about how minds work. I haven't been able to convey the core insight, but it does seem to make a pretty deeply profound impact on a lot of people. On the surface it looks something like "No, really, you're a game theoretic agent" and then following the implications. But the reason for this was because I knew this would impact a particular slice of the CFAR participant population more deeply in a particular way, and I was right. (Doing follow-ups with dear folk from Prague to verify. In many cases it worked slightly better than expected.)
  • I now have a deep, deep, deep reservoir of energy I can call on whenever I need. I don't usually do this because I can also tell what the consequences are of using that reservoir. But if I need it, I have no doubt I can just go for 36+ hours at high function. I've tested that a few times and it works damn well — but it's still unkind to my body, so I don't care to do it.
  • It's waaaaaaaay easier for me to hold emotional space for others. Way way way easier. I'm basically not suffering, I see their suffering so very much more clearly, and most of my self-consciousness about being in connection with others is… hmm, I want to say "gone" but maybe "irrelevant" is a better description. I slip in this sometimes, when I forget how to Look and fall into old habits… but that's happening vanishingly more rarely as time goes on.
  • I can form deep, deep pacts with others who know how to Look. This is harder to explain, but I can point to an analogy clearly, I think: if you're in the cell phone world and you see someone else who has figured out how to look up, there's a kind of deep collaboration you two can do, and a level of communication you can have, that others literally cannot understand pre-kenshō. In the real-world analog, this creates room for a kind of bond that lets us sidestep most primate political baloney, because there's common knowledge that we can both Look at all that stuff, and that that's not what's important.

That's not exhaustive. Let me know if that hits the type you're looking for?

I will mention that I have some notion of a thing you might be pointing towards: I've experienced ontological updates - updates to the feelings that make up the building blocks of how I think. And this does require a certain 'get out of your head / no seriously look up' motion, which you might be pointing too.

Yes. That. That's much more the thing I want to point at. I don't care if you or anyone else meditates; that's just an old, sometimes useful tool for learning to Look.

But sometimes when someone has a hard time explaining something, it's because they're just confused. So many people are trying to communicate supposed fundamental truths, and aren't showing much for it. As I say, my background skepticism is high.

Your epistemic state makes sense to me. And also… well, to quote my original article:

"And yes, there’s most definitely an “it”. This isn’t just brains getting flooded with feeling-of-profundity without an object. And it totally makes sense that some people think that. Just… from this vantage point, those objections come across a bit like people arguing that science is just another religion. Or more to the point, it’s like trying to convince me that I have no subjective experience: no matter how cunning and logical and well-researched the argument, I’m still here listening to you."

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2018-01-20T04:42:55.018Z · score: 36 (14 votes) · LW · GW
I'm not advocating trying for kenshō.

I don't have any particularly good ideas for what an alternative goal of this post could be, and would be interested in more elaboration on that. It definitely seems to me that the goal of the post is to teach something, and as is usually required for teaching, to motivate why the thing you are teaching is important. If this post is only for people who are already motivated to learn about the things you describe, then that's fine, but I did not get that sense from the way it was written.

comment by Valentine · 2018-01-20T05:09:53.591Z · score: 12 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I was attempting to illustrate an epistemic puzzle, and that there is a known solution, but it is hard to tell people what it is, which is itself part of the puzzle.

It seems many folk are getting caught up in the puzzle instead of zooming out to the meta-level. Which is probably my fault: I still suspect there's a way I could aim my explanation at the meta-level that would bypass this confusion.

But instead, we're myred in the confusion. Which is okay; I'm learning, and this whole set of comment threads is doing a beautiful job of illustrating the phenomena I was talking about! If nothing else I'll be able to use all this to clarify something useful later.

comment by Valentine · 2018-01-20T16:28:40.108Z · score: 35 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Upon reflection, I think maybe I can spell out the logic of what I was trying to focus on a little more clearly.

There’s this thing, ``flibble’’, that is super hard to understand. Some people come to understand it and can then talk to each other about it. But they can’t explain flibble to pre-understanding folk. There’s some kind of process that’s basically unrelated to the attempts to explain flibble that lets people suddenly get flibble.

It really doesn’t matter what flibble is. The curious thing from an epistemic point of view (to me) is that there seems to be a skill to getting flibble. It looks like it’s a very general “get my ontology to update when I have no damn clue beforehand what the update is” skill. That seems damn useful.

The problem is, that skill is just as subject to non-understandability as flibble is. Which means you need the skill to some extent in order to bootstrap.

I do not care what flibble is. I’m not trying to convince anyone of the value of flibble. I’m trying to point at this puzzle and note that it suggests a really huge goddamn hole in epistemology as we normally talk about it.

It just so happens that flibble, when properly understood, is exactly the same thing as the result of using this skill. That has resulted in some confusion, because a lot of people here think they know something about flibble and are in fact wrong. I tried to spell that out, but that seemed to come across as an argument that flibble as they understood it beforehand is good.

So:

I don’t care about convincing anyone about anything about “enlightenment”.

I think there’s something damn important about Looking.

And even if I can’t convey that “something damn important”, I think there’s something understandable and interesting about the epistemic puzzle.

Does that help?

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-01-21T02:05:36.908Z · score: 44 (22 votes) · LW · GW

I want to address this response, because it fits a pattern I’ve seen a few times, which I think is an important aspect of this discussion. Here’s the pattern:

Example 1

“I’ve invented a fascinating new baking technique! With it, I have baked an amazing new cake!”

“An amazing new cake?! Sounds delicious! Could we have a taste?”

“No, I don’t want to talk about the cake, I want to talk about the baking technique.”

Example 2

“I’ve invented an amazing new programming technique! With it, I have developed an awesome new app!”

“An awesome new app?! Sounds cool! Where can we download it?”

“No, I don’t want to talk about the app, I want to talk about the programming technique.”

Example 3

“I’ve come up with a whole new way to write fiction! With it, I have written an incredible novel!”

“An incredible novel?! Sounds wonderful! Could we read it?”

“No, I don’t want to talk about the novel, I want to talk about the new writing method.”


But the only reason we might possibly care about your new baking technique is if it lets us bake amazing cakes. The only reason we might possibly want to hear about your amazing new programming technique is if let us make cool apps. And the only reason we might have to be interested in your thoughts on writing is if we believed that your ideas would let us write incredible fiction.

The only thing that makes us want to hear what you have to say about the meta-level thing, is if we believe your claims about how the meta-level thing leads to the object-level things. (Otherwise, what on earth is the point?)

And the most obvious way to show us that, indeed, the meta-level thing leads to the object-level thing, would be to show us the object-level thing first—which you in fact claim to have, but (frustratingly! inexplicably!) refuse to produce.

After all, it would be different if you had said “I have invented an amazing new baking technique… no, I haven’t used it to bake any delicious cakes, why do you ask?” But you’re not saying that! You tell us that you have a cake! It’s an excellent cake, and is exactly the sort of cake that we could bake, if we used your cool new baking technique…

Of course we want to see the cake. Why wouldn’t you want to show it to us? Not only would we be impressed, but we would certainly want to hear all about how you baked such a culinary wonder. Could you imagine a more receptive audience for your tale of baking techniques?

But you’re holding out on us.


That is why people resist attempts to jump right to the meta level.

comment by clone of saturn · 2018-01-22T09:29:21.332Z · score: 37 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I do think there are things in this general topic area that are worth understanding, but the original post and most of the comments have been pretty useless to anyone trying to understand who doesn't already. Some could even be seen as taunting people over their lack of understanding, which be perfectly frank, I find obnoxious. So I'll try to give a quick overview of how I understand this while hopefully avoiding those pitfalls.

Take something like learning to wiggle your ears, raise one eyebrow at a time, or whistle. These can't be explained in words, but words and other stimuli can make it more likely that you'll stumble onto the correct action. Innate aptitude is probably a factor, too.

If you think of your current level of happiness or euphoria (to pick a simple example) as the output of a function with various inputs, some of these inputs can be changed through voluntarily mental actions that similarly can't be directly explained in words and aren't obvious. Things like meditating long enough with correct technique can cause people to stumble across the way to do this. Some of the inputs can be changed about as easily as wiggling your ears, while others can be much more difficult or apparently impossible, maybe analogous to re-learning motor functions after a stroke.

My guess as to what's being referred to as "Looking" amounts to having enough experience with this sort of activity that the mental state you happen to be in right now--even though it still colors everything you think and experience to more-or-less the same extent as ever--having directly confirmed that it can be voluntarily changed given the appropriate effort, stops seeming as particularly special, or magical, or all-encompassing as it used to, and that's the source of the "looking up from the screen" and "getting out of the car" metaphors.

(I mean "mental state" in an expansive way, including everything from your current mood to your beliefs about the nature of the universe to whether or not you're currently hallucinating.)

As for impressive feats, or the "cake," I'm pretty sure they aren't really all that impressive. There's low-hanging fruit that can be personally fulfilling but not particularly outwardly impressive, and the high-hanging fruit mostly amounts to an odd form of wireheading that leaves you outwardly functional but without a sense of self or of caring about anything.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-01-22T20:28:16.188Z · score: 9 (4 votes) · LW · GW

This is one of the most useful comments in this thread; there’s not much to say in response to most of it, except “that makes a lot of sense, thank you”. So instead, here’s some commentary to a part of this that I object to:

Take something like learning to wiggle your ears, raise one eyebrow at a time, or whistle. These can’t be explained in words, but words and other stimuli can make it more likely that you’ll stumble onto the correct action.

You may not be able to explain how to do these things in words. But you can certainly explain in words what these things are (for one of them, you just did)! And certainly, if you wiggle your ears, raise one eyebrow, or whistle, that you are doing something unusual (and what you are doing) will be blindingly obvious, without you even needing to point it out.

And so it would be a perfectly unsurprising scenario, if you and I were having an ordinary conversation, and suddenly you whistled (suppose I have never heard anyone whistle before):

clone of saturn: whistles

Said: Whoa! What… what did you just do?? You just made, like, a weird sound!

clone of saturn: yeah, it’s called ‘whistling’

Said: Gosh! Can you do it again?

clone of saturn: whistles again

Said:fascinating! How did you do that? Could I do that??

clone of saturn: well... it might be hard to explain…

Said: Yeah, no doubt. I mean, I have no idea how I’d go about doing that…! That sure is a really cool thing you can do, though…

Obviously, this is nothing even remotely like the ‘Looking’ scenario, where not only are we merely told that its practitioners can do cool and unusual things (instead of being shown those things, even when we ask them to show us), but the alleged things they can do are so vague and poorly-explained that it’s unclear how we would even notice that they were doing those things, even if we were in their physical presence.

Edit: Of course you’ve already explained the reason for this disanalogy—why no impressive feats may be produced by those who are able to ‘Look’. I’m merely calling attention to it—that it’s not merely a “can’t explain in words, because hard-to-verbalize procedural knowledge” situation, of the ‘whistling’ or ‘ear-wiggling’ sort.

comment by Thrasymachus · 2018-01-21T02:37:46.828Z · score: 27 (8 votes) · LW · GW

FWIW, this aptly describes my own adverse reaction to the OP. "I have this great insight, but I not only can't explain it to you, but I'm going to spend the balance of my time explaining why you couldn't understand it if I tried to explain it" sounds awfully close to bulveristic stories like, "If only you weren't blinded by sin, you too would see the glory of the coming of the lord".

That the object level benefits offered seem to be idiographic self-exhaltations augur still poorer (i.e. I cut through confusion so much more easily now (no examples provided); I have much greater reserves to do stuff; I can form much deeper pacts with others who, like I, can See the Truth.) I recall the 'case' for Ander's Connection Theory was of a similar type. But at least connection theory at least sketched something like a theory to consider on its merits.

There needs to be either some object-level description (i.e. "This is what Looking is"), or - if that really isn't possible - demonstration of good results (i.e. "Here's a great post on a CFAR-adjecent topic, and this was thanks to Looking.") Otherwise, the recondite and the obscurantist look very much alike.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2018-01-21T03:48:41.863Z · score: 20 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I like this comment because it's a relatively clear articulation of the central thing you seem to be frustrated about here, which is that you think that Val could show you the cake but is refusing to for some perverse reason that you can't fathom.

I think the cake analogy is a very poor fit for what's happening here. Everyone knows what a cake is. I don't have to teach you anything to show you a cake; I just show it to you and you've instantly understood that what you're looking at is a cake. This is very different from trying to show someone what "enlightenment" looks like, whatever that means. At a minimum "enlightenment" involves something screwy happening with ontologies, so there's no guarantee that you'll be able to "see" an example of "enlightenment" just by staying in your particular ontology.

Back to the cell phone world: Alex texts me demanding that I show him an example of what looking up looks like. What can I do? I can text him a picture of a person looking up from a phone. What's his referent for that? Other pictures he's seen, on his screen, of people looking up from their phones. Nothing he hasn't seen a million times, on his screen. Alex thinks the thing he is asking me to do is easy, and if he's right it's not in the sense that he thinks.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-01-21T04:11:25.376Z · score: 27 (10 votes) · LW · GW

To the contrary; it seems very easy to show me ‘enlightenment’.

How? Well, just move down another level of meta: what is enlightenment good for? What does it let you do, in the real world? etc.—all the things I have been asking. Show us that thing! (Or, really, several such things.)

Having done this, you will thereby have demonstrated ‘enlightenment’, and can then proceed up to the meta-meta-level of “the technique you used to achieve enlightenment”.

Analogously, suppose what I claimed to discover was not a new baking technique, but a new process of culinary experimentation which might be used to discover new baking techniques.

So first you’d exhibit a cake, and we’d all have a bite and agree that it’s delicious. Then you’d show us a pie, and we’d all have a forkful and agree that it, too, is delicious. You would then bring out a tray of cookies, and we’d all have one and judge them to be delicious.

Then you’d tell us about the novel baking techniques you used in the process of baking the cake, the pie, and the cookies, respectively. We’d all be impressed (and would, at this point, have no doubt that the techniques work, as the taste of your delicious baked goods still lingered in our mouths).

And then you’d tell us all about your fascinating new experimental process.

(As an aside, note that this analogy is not even wholly fictional; this is, in fact, basically how Christopher Kimball operates.)

So however long the chain of meta is, that leads to the actual cake, said cake is still the first thing I want to see.

comment by dsatan · 2018-01-21T19:56:40.703Z · score: 10 (3 votes) · LW · GW

(I wrote a comment and it disappeared. Hopefully it doesn't show up along with this one)

How is Val's first response to Ben not satisfactory?

But here are a few things that it's done for me:

  • Things like your personal bubble will not be invisible by default. Your personal bubble is real and just there despite it "not being made of atoms" and it "just being a thing your brain injects into your map". Looking will give you handles and sensors relevant to all sorts of different parts of you, like those handles and sensors relevant to controlling your personal bubble, feeling your personal bubble, and seeing and feeling other people's personal bubbles. Without it, you might be stuck in a theory that doesn't account for your personal bubble and it remains hidden, or it calls your personal bubble unreal and makes it hard to look at. As another example, the energy flows of feng shui are a perceptual primitive related to good movement and flows of attention.
  • There is a philosophical line of thougth originating on lesswrong which comes up with a certain notion of what reality is. Looking will allow you to notice that the use of the word "real" in accordance to this notion of real is very different from the original use of the word real. Looking will allow you to see what is actually going on in this new meaning of real, and see how it has gone off the rails. Looking will allow you to find your way back to the original meaning and keep you grounded in coming to a reflective understanding of the nature of realness so that you don't go off the rails again. And that's why "nothing is probability 1, therefore real things are all 'out there' in the inaccessible territory and these 'things' are just my experiential maps in my brain which corresponds to things in the territory" is just a model, mistaken, and is both subordinate and at odds with the fact that you have always already been in the world, and this fact is necessarily a precondition to your doing philosophy.
  • You will see how "you are a brain" is wrong and "you are a product of your brain" is a model with extremely narrow and context specific use. You will notice the same about "everything is made of atoms." These models are way overrated and overrepresented in this and similar communities, and are by no means fundamental to anything but the practice of certain scientific disciplines.
comment by Raemon · 2018-01-21T20:08:40.528Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Quick meta note: neither comment of yours has disappeared, but once there are more than 100 comments in a post, they don't all render at first (because rendering more than 100 comments at once is a bit bandw idth intensive). You have to click the "load more" at the top of the comments to see your new one.

comment by dsatan · 2018-01-21T19:37:16.716Z · score: 10 (3 votes) · LW · GW

How is Val's first response to Ben not what you are looking for?

For some actual cake, here's what it can give you, based on my experience of what it has given me:

  • An example: there was a philosophical line of thought originating from lesswrong about the nature of reality. Enlightenent will allow you to see how there is a discrepancy between the use of the word reality in accordance with this theory and the original use of the word. It will then allow you to actually look at what is going on, what is the nature of the original use, and what is the nature of the new use is, and see how that conversation went off the rails. It will show you how to come back to the start and stay grounded, rather than being stuck in a pragmatist metaphysical nihilism. And this is why "nothing is probability 1, therefore real things are all 'out there' in the inaccessible territory and these 'things' are just my experiential maps in my brain which corresponds to things in the territory" is mistaken, just a model, and subordinate to the fact that you already always have been in the world and this is necessarily a precondition of your doing philosophy.
  • You will see that "you are your brain" is false and "you are a product of your brain" is an extremely narrow model that is useful in only a very constrained context. You will see how "everything is made of atoms" is a similarly very narrow model. These models are both way overrated in their use, very overrepresented in communities like this, and very not fundamental.
  • Things like your personal bubble, which is real and just there, despite it "not being made of atoms" and it "being just something that your brain injects into your map", will not be invisible by default. You will gain handles on many fundamental parts of you that were previously hidden behind a theory that doesn't account for them or calls them unreal.
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-01-21T20:12:55.295Z · score: 24 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I must say I am perplexed by comments such as this. (Don’t get me wrong—I’m not singling you out in any way; this is only the latest in a pattern.)

In what world does any of what you wrote, there, constitute anything like: (a) concrete actionable knowledge or understanding; or (b) actual, real-world benefits?

It feels strange to do this, given how vague all of this is, but let’s try to tackle at least your first bullet point:

there was a philosophical line of thought originating from lesswrong about the nature of reality

To what line of thought to do you refer? Are you making reference to the concept of the “map-territory distinction”? Or something else?

Enlightenent will allow you to see how there is a discrepancy between the use of the word reality in accordance with this theory and the original use of the word

What is this discrepancy? Tell us about it!

It will then allow you to actually look at what is going on

And? What is actually going on?

what is the nature of the original use, and what is the nature of the new use is

So what are they?

and see how that conversation went off the rails.

Yes? And how did it?

It will show you how to come back to the start and stay grounded, rather than being stuck in a pragmatist metaphysical nihilism.

What is “pragmatist metaphysical nihilism”? Who is stuck in it, and what does it mean to be stuck in it?

And this is why “nothing is probability 1, therefore real things are all ‘out there’ in the inaccessible territory and these ‘things’ are just my experiential maps in my brain which corresponds to things in the territory” is mistaken, just a model, and subordinate to the fact that you already always have been in the world and this is necessarily a precondition of your doing philosophy.

Who disagrees with this? I can get this out of the Sequences. I did get this out of the Sequences!


The other stuff is more of the same.

In short, what you seem to be giving me here, is (at best!) a promise of cake; a sort of “cake coupon”, if you will—“redeemable for one (1) cake”.

Well, I’d like to redeem it! Your cake sounds delicious. You’ve whetted my appetite! I would love to have a slice. In other words: you’re telling me “I’ve understood the truth about X”. Fine. Good. I’m listening. What is the truth about X?

(Note, please, that these do not sound like very impressive truths or understandings, even if they are real. But they would be something, at least! That’s better than nothing… and so I look forward to actually seeing this alleged something, rather than simply being told of its existence.)

comment by dsatan · 2018-01-21T23:33:18.197Z · score: 29 (8 votes) · LW · GW

People tend to get exactly the quoted part out of the sequences somehow, not the rejection of it. I didn't explain it there because it takes a lot of writing to do so, but I will do it here.

The image we are given in the sequences, in map and territory and in epistemology 101, is that light hits a thing, reflects off of your shoe, hits your retina, a signal is sent down some optical pathways, and you experience seeing your shoe. Then, note that there are many parts of this pathway that can be interrupted. So you have the reality out there, and the person experiencing in there, and there is a fundamental disconnect between the territory out there, and the maps in the brain in there. Since there is always a chance for somthing interfering with that connection, nothing can be probability 1. From this you conclude that any thing that you experience is just some image your brain conjures up from sensory stimulus. Those things that you experience are not real, and are only maps of the actual real things out there in ineffable reality.

Looking allows you to see that the entire thing I just described is just a model - an image. In going through that whole thing, Look at how you are shrinking back inside of your head and reasoning not about reality, but an image of a person in an image of reality, reasoning about that, and then trying to put yourself in that image. Notice how in doing this, the thing that comes up for you when you say reality with regards to this model is that image, in your mind, which you see that image of a person as being inside of. Notice that this image is not in fact reality.

Notice further that there is now a disconnect between what correct use of the word "real" is in accordance to this model, versus how we used to use "real". Hold up a spoon. Is that spoon real? No. It is just my mind's representation of some actual real spoon "out there" in real external reality. Notice here how when you make that shift to think of the "actual real spoon," you've again shifted to referencing an idea and not a thing. But of course the correct answer is "yes, that is in fact a real spoon," and that is in line of the original meaning of real.

So we've gone off the rails in our analysis of reality. First, what went wrong in our analysis? Diagnosis requires some skill in Looking. Without Looking, you only have access to the logic of the ideas presented. You must Look to see what actual movements you are doing to think in this way. The issue is when generating the image of a man in reality, there is little correspondence between what you are thinking of as "reality" and how the realness algorithm works in the inside of the man you are imagining. You are not reflecting on how you yourself are generating this image of a reality but sort of naively taking that generated image of reality as being reality. Because of this disconnect between what is being called reality and how reality is felt on the inside, there is a disconnect between our new concept of realness and the old one.

Second, what do you do from here? To rectify the above image, note that there has already been a realness algorithm which the man feels on the inside, and that these fundamental things are the basis on which we start to do philosophy in the first place. We started with an implicit skill of already being able to deal with reality. We are always already in the world with our concerns and our projects. Looking is in part the skill of figuring out 'how the algorithm feels' on the inside (which is itself sort of backwards, since the algorithm is just a model, and how it feels on the inside is what was there all along). It makes possible the skill of keeping reality in your mind, and noticing when you swap it for an idea. Flap your arms about, and notice where you are doing this. If you keep this thing (it is a thing, not an idea) as your referent of "reality", it will be much harder to go off the rails in doing such an analysis of real.

---

Now for personal bubbles (this and action fields are things I posted on Val's facebook post)

You have a personal bubble, which is just there, despite it "not being made of atoms" and it "just being a thing your brain inserts into your map". Not being able to Look can get you caught in these or similar models, instead of having the capacity to actually look at the personal bubble which is just there. You can feel its edges when someone is too close to you. It's that area where you get this sort of buzzing clenching feeling when a stranger is in it. You can see other's personal bubbles when you seen a guy leaning too close in to a girl and her putting her arm across her stomach and leaning away - he is "too close". That judgement comes from your already there understanding of her having a personal bubble. This is ontologically as primitive as recognizing something as being a chair.

As a primitive action - ontologically on the same level as wiggling your fingers - you can project or contract your personal bubble. You will find that your body moves when you do this (this is a large portion of the Status chapter in Impro). Doing this when public speaking will help you project your voice through the room. You can also do it on the bus or train and see how other people move in relation to you. You can do other actions like welcome someone into it. Like at a party where someone is standing at the edge of a group of people having a conversation, you can take an action at the level of personal bubbles to invite them into the conversation. You can even use this as a weapon. Think of the bully, who stands tall, chest out, arms open, hands open pointed forwards. He walks at the victim and stands very close to him. The victim closes up on himself and tries to back away. Without any physical contact, the bully is assaulting the victim with his personal bubble by projecting it all over his victim (try to do this to a willing volunteer, or get someone to do this to you. Feel what happens).

There is a whole manifold of such things, which can be shown to someone without the skill of Looking, but cannot be found without the skill of Looking. There is so much of this stuff, and to an extent there are going to be elements of this that are unique to you, that it is untennable to have all of these things pointed out to you.

---

Here is another thing in the manifold of such things, which I call action fields. This is something I only was able to find on my own once I had the skill of Looking. Try to think of how you would have discovered these things on your own, including noticing that they were there in the first place.

Try to put your hand on a fire or hot stove element. Actually start initiating the action rather than nipping the action at the bud with "I don't want to do it". You should find something like there being a slippery force field around that dangerous thing. You move your hand towards it, and your hand sort of wants to slip around that thing. Of course this field isn't "physical", but it is nonetheless there.

When you are walking somewhere, notice that there is a flow that is carrying you from here to there. Notice that the primitive action that you've decided on is to get to that location, not something like move this leg like this, move this leg like that. Notice how stopping that flow from here to there, just for the sake of stopping, takes some effort.

Notice how at any given moments, there are these tunnels. These spaces through the action field that you can travel. Things like "reach for that mug" and "say something at that person" and "look at that thing". Notice that not all actions have walls around them like in my first example of the fire. Things which you know how to do but don't want to have a wall. Things which you don't know how to do just don't have a tunnel. Consider the difference between the impossibility of your jumping off the edge of that building (a wall) and your doing a backflip (assuming you can't do one).

It is here where action and choice happens and where some of the more direct levers are.

---

If you want, I can also go through what "everything is made of atoms" and "you are just a brain" actually means, and why they are not very useful and not fundamental.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-01-22T00:06:11.062Z · score: 22 (8 votes) · LW · GW

The image we are given in the sequences… [snipped]

It would be a drastic understatement to say that what you wrote in that paragraph is a ludicrous misunderstanding of what Eliezer wrote. I could call it a ‘distortion’, but it’s more like literally the opposite of what the Sequences say. (The part about probability in particular makes me question whether we read the same posts or, indeed, live in the same reality; suffice it to say that you certainly did not understand what was said in the Sequences about probability theory.)

The entirety of that section of your comment consists of setting up and then knocking down this frankly shocking strawman of Eliezer’s ideas; this is then mixed with a rather amateurish recapitulation of selected bits of Enlightenment-era and 20th-century philosophy (which have been beaten to death by generations of analytic philosophers—who, even in those cases where they haven’t solved these issues, have said some much more significant and useful things about them then you have). Most of it, frankly, is not even wrong.


In the second section, you take some facts about how non-verbal signals work in human social interaction—facts which are, no doubt, interesting, true, and useful—and construct out of them some bizarre ontology. (The claim that understanding how non-verbal cues/gestures/signals work and how they interact with social interactions “cannot be found without the skill of Looking” is also laughable.)

Of course body language is a real thing. But who would disagree? The idea that any of this is somehow novel, or can only be perceived by people who’ve acquired some skill so special that it needs to be capitalized, is absurd. The “personal bubble” is a certainly potentially useful abstraction. You have, inexplicably, chosen to say some manifestly absurd things about it. About that, I’ll just say “mind projection fallacy” and leave it at that.

(comment continues below, due to character limit)

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-01-22T00:06:29.835Z · score: 23 (7 votes) · LW · GW

(comment continued from parent, due to character limit)

The final section is yet more of the mind projection fallacy. Phenomenology is interesting, and your contributions to it are… not novel, of course, but written in a clear enough way to be of interest to investigators. Yet you have again chosen not only to construct a bizarre ontology out of a combination of fairly straightforward phenomenological facts and what are apparently some highly-idiosyncratic-at-best elements of your mental experience; you’ve also gone on to make the again outlandish claim that none of it is discernible without your capital-letter skill.


Thank you for taking the time to write this. I mean that in all sincerity and wholly sans sarcasm; I appreciate it, as I know that responding to skeptical internet strangers is a mostly-thankless task. Few people would attempt to respond in so concrete a fashion (and indeed almost no one else has), so know that I very much value the effort that you took to respond, and the product of that effort.

That you have responded with enough specificity and detail for me to be able to draw satisfyingly (though not nearly totally) definite conclusions, is icing on the (sadly, only proverbial) cake. So, again: thank you.


P.S. I upvoted dsatan’s comment, as I very much endorse encouraging detailed, specific responses to critical inquiries, here on LW.

comment by dsatan · 2018-01-22T00:44:23.680Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · LW · GW

What I went through is what I've seen many people get from the sequences. While I'm knocking down a strawman (insofar as what Eliezer's vague writing actually pinpoints a single discernable position), it is a strawman that many people actually believe. There are people who literally say beliefs are the same thing as probabilities or probability distributions after having read the sequences. I would be interested in how you'd summarize it though.

Yes, what I did was the same thing that a lot of enlightenment philosophers did, though sloppily since I've given you a quick and dirty argument. A lot of what they said is right. Analytic philosophers have mostly gone off the rails in the same way. There are some notable exceptions in the neopragmatist school, and late Wittgenstein, and probably a few other exceptions. I've had someone schooled in analytic philosophy be utterly baffled by me askng what the relation between his criterion for realness has to do with the act of holding up a spoon, looking at it and feeling it, and having the immediate impression if it being there, real, and in the world. It's stuck in ideas. Notice that a lot of what I'm doing is pointing at things. I'm not purely giving a chain of logical deductions. Since you seem philosophically inclined, go read Heidegger.

As for your comments about the other two sections, look at my other comment with clarifications. I mean that you need Looking actually noticing the underlying phenomena of these things in the first place (not the associated behaviours, but the actual things) without having someone point them out to you. It's not necessary to analyze people's behaviour and body language or notice that in the first place. People have the implicit skill of actually dealing with personal bubbles and notice this idea of space, but that doesn't mean having a conscious awareness directed at the actual structure of the phenomena associated to it. People don't automatically have access to the handles that let them project their personal bubble, they just do it or not instinctually.

What I am doing is not talking about facts about human social interaction, but what it is like to actually experience that, and the structures you find in your experience. This slipping up to the level of behaviours and social interactions is exactly the failure to Look. I am trying to use those facts to evoke the phenomenon so that I can point your attention to it. Of course body language is a real thing, but what constitutes the feeling of being attacked when someone is, for lack of a better phrase, all up in your face? Yes, we can talk about the behaviours of the people involved or talk at a high up abstract level of "status" and "dominance" but how did we understand that status and dominance in the first place? What does it feel like to be in either scenario? What does it feel like to have a personal bubble? These things correspond to or come from very primordial phenomena. These are the gears that make status and dominance intelligable, and constitutes your ability to work with them.

My description of action fields using "tunnels" and "walls" points to actual phenomena which you can explore and my language is meant to only be evocative. Go out and initiate the action of putting your hand on a hot stove and see what this feels like. Consider the action of clapping your hands - feel the possiblity of it. Consider doing a backflip - feel what it is like for this to not be possible, or an intelligble action. What does it feel like to be prevented from taking your pants down in public? What is preventing you? That what is a thing, which is there and you can pay attention to it directly. It is not an idea. Without Looking, there are no ideas already there to point you at the thing. You have to have the ability to navigate the experiential primitives on your own.

comment by ChristianKl · 2018-01-23T01:09:07.590Z · score: 7 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The core dynamic here is:

dsatan : Hey, via Looking I can see X, it is really cool

Said Achmiz : I can't see X and it's absurd what you say about X.

For dsatan personal bubble is likely as much of an abstraction as calling a spoon a spoon is an abstraction.

You can directly experience the spoon by touching it or seeing it and you don't have any corresponding way to perceive the personal bubble. On the other hand, dsatan has that direct experience of the personal bubble.

I personally had times where I had a clear direct perception of it. With that direct experience it feels as concrete as the spoon.

It's likely not impossible to develop that perception without Looking but Looking makes it a lot easier to develop that perception.

comment by dsatan · 2018-01-21T23:47:38.501Z · score: 6 (2 votes) · LW · GW

A few points. The metaphysical nihilism I was referring to is taking the logical step of realizing that that image of a man in an image of reality is just a model, that everything you think of is just in your head, so everything is just a model. "real" becomes meaningless - dereferenced from any particular thing.

Second, to be clearer about what actually requires Looking, you need Looking to some extent to understand what I'm doing in the analysis of reality (though I think I'm getting better at forcing people to Look so that they can understand it, but with regards to looking, that's like someone holding up your bike and guiding you along instead of you balancing for yourself). Looking is necessary to come up with such an analysis in the first place. Looking is not necessary to understand the personal bubble, or to understand action fields. Looking is necessary to see them for the first time without someone pointing them out to you, and is very helpful in analyzing their structure.

(edit) Furthermore, a good chunck of people who read what I just wrote will be mislead as to what Looking is.

The fundamental issue is that we are communicating in language, the medium of ideas, so it is easy to get stuck in ideas. The only way to get someone to start looking, insofar as that is possible, is to point at things using words, and to get them to do things. This is why I tell you to do things like wave your arms about or attack someone with your personal bubble or try to initiate the action of touching a hot stove element.

(edit) Lastly, there is this so much to Look at. I am mostly Looking at Things, and The World. There is this whole realm of People which I have almost no experience Looking at and have only scratched the surface of with personal bubbles. Val is much more experienced at this, which is why he is able to do some of the things that he claims and I am not. It is also why I haven't actually tried to point at that sort of stuff. But it is still there, waiting for us to Look at it.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-01-22T00:15:53.846Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

This turns out to be mostly addressed in my response to your other comment, so I don’t have very much to say here. I’ll comment only that as far as I can tell, you’re knocking down strawmen and solving problems that don’t exist. That those problems would not require any ‘Looking’ to solve even if they did exist adds insult to injury.

Like, who has this “metaphysical nihilism” problem? Surely not anyone who has read and understood the Sequences (nor much of anyone else)… no doubt there are some people out there, who are confused in this particular way—but that’s true of almost any sort of confusion, no matter how silly. So if I don’t have the problem you cite, nor ever did have it, and can hardly even comprehend the confusion that would lead anyone to have it, what am I to think of your holding up your alleged solution to this non-problem as something which is unattainable without this particular unusual skill you vaunt?

In any case—to reiterate what I say in my other comment: thank you for taking the time to respond; I really do appreciate it.

comment by dsatan · 2018-01-22T00:49:09.867Z · score: 6 (2 votes) · LW · GW

What is the metaphyiscal nihilism problem... Do you know the person Shminux? (edit) He's a lesswronger from way back. He avoids unsig "real", and "true", and things of that sort for this very reason. His catchphrase is "it's just a model".

And I'm quite confident that you've misinterpreted or don't understand about 70% of what I've said, but your rejection is all "this is absurd" so it's hard to get anything to grab onto there.

(Edit) the entirety of my response was a mistake. You've dratically missed the point of all that I've said, missed what I was doing and latched on to only the propositional content of those sentences that I wrote. Now you've taken this misunderstanding as licence to reject the whole thing.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-01-22T01:08:22.168Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

You’ve dratically missed the point of all that I’ve said, missed what I was doing and latched on to only the propositional content of those sentences that I wrote.

This seems important. Please elaborate!

What were you doing? Wasn’t it “trying to answer my questions”, “saying things you consider to be true”, etc.? That’s what I usually assume people do, when they post comments in response to things I’ve asked. If you weren’t doing that, then (a) why on earth not, and (b) what were you doing?

comment by dsatan · 2018-01-22T01:37:58.993Z · score: 12 (4 votes) · LW · GW

a) I was saying things that I believed, but not all things you can do with words is to state true propositions. "Go wash the dishes" is not true. "Go to the kitchen and see what's in the sink" is also not true. That is a type error. There is also a sense in which "the thing in the sink is what I call a knork" is not true if "knork" is not a word used by anyone but the person who is telling you that that think is a "knork" - if there is no larger social context for that to contradict. That last one is what I'm doing with action fields.

b) It was getting you to do things, and then pointing at the things that you subsequently experienced in doing those things. I'm trying to get you to have the realization that those things are things that are there. I'm also trying to get you to realize that those things are actually important.

So for example, the personal bubble is a thing, which is just there in the same sense as chairs are just there, which (almost) everyone has, and (almost) eveeryone has an implicit understanding of in the sense that they know how to navigate personal space and they can understand when people are too close. But they don't stop and actually look at the thing which is the personal bubble itself and look at its experiential mechanics.

To give you an understanding of what I mean by just there, I have to point. It is not an idea so I can't just tell you what it means, I have to get you to see it. Actually go and pick up an object somewhere around you (actually do this, don't imagine what it's like to do this). See how you have this immediate impression of how it being there, existing, in your hand. This immediate impression is what I mean by just there. Notice how it itself is not an idea that I can communicate to you in language. It's something that I have to get you to experience and then point to that experience.

Back to the personal bubble, if you actually do the things that I said, which are designed to make the personal bubble come out and be tangible, you will notice that it is just there. It is just there in the same sense as whatever object you picked up was just there, but it is hard to see, like say how a certain sort of waterfowl might be hard to spot in tall brush unless you have lots of experience hunting it and spotting it.

(edit) If you were to immediately do something like say "that's just a socially constructed phenomenon" or "that's just something injected into my map by my brain", you are turning your attention away from that thing and to an idea. Notice what those two "explanations" do in your mind. Where it leads your attention, and the way it gets you conceiving of things. Notice the movements in your mind between actually experiencing the thing and giving that explanation. Notice how I am again mostly getting you to do something, not making truth claims.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-01-22T03:24:15.087Z · score: 13 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I understand, thank you. I believe I have gotten everything I could out of this thread. Your comments have been very valuable.

comment by dsatan · 2018-01-22T04:41:06.626Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW
I understand, thank you.

I really really don't think you have. And I really think that this interaction has been a net negative for you. You have not demonstrated at any point that you have understood me. You have, in fact, failed to engage with me at all save to dismiss what I've written out of hand and call it absurd. Do you realize how stressful this interaction has been for me? How I am putting myself out there and you just attack in poor faith? I don't really get the sense that you are even trying to understand me. This comment of yours makes me feel dismissed, as if you think I'm just some crazy person and you want to get away and ignore me but do so politely.

I do not feel that everything has been said, that there are things I need to clarify. So I will:

My critique of that train of thought originating from lesswrong comes in two parts. The first is interpretation, the second is turning inwards and looking at the gears of how that interpretation actually works and behaves in the mind. To look at what it actually does rather than just what it says.

The interpretive part is this (slightly edited):

The image we are given in the sequences, in map and territory and in epistemology 101, is that light hits a thing, reflects off of your shoe, hits your retina, a signal is sent down some optical pathways, and you experience seeing your shoe. Note that there are many parts of this causal pathway that can be disrupted or corrupted. So you have the reality out there, and the person experiencing in their brain, and there is always a possibility for a causal disconnect between the territory out there, and the maps in the brain.
Since there is always a possibility of somthing interfering with that causal connection, in a way that is not observable from the perspective of the agent, no belief should have probability 1. Since believing something being real is a belief, we must conclude that the probability of something being real cannot be 1. So when we look at something, even though we have the immediate and unshakeable experience of there being a real thing, that is simply the brain truncating the precision on the probability to 1, creating a map out of sensory input. Those things that you experience are not actually the real thing, they are only the brain's maps of the actual real things out there in inaccessible reality.

That is the whole of the interpretive part. The rest is taking that whole interpretation as an object and look at what it actually does in the mind. Looking at the gears of the interpretation. If you think I've misinterpreted the sequences, then it is these two paragraphs here that you must talk about, not any of the rest, because the rest is not interpretation. The way to argue against the rest of that (given agreement about interpretation here) is to actually look at what it is doing in the mind and demonstrate that it is different from my account.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-01-22T04:51:58.568Z · score: 12 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I would be happy to take this conversation to another venue (public or private, at your option; I have a blog whose comments section we can use, or perhaps IRC; email is also an option). For various reasons, LW is not ideal for continuing this discussion.

comment by ChristianKl · 2018-01-21T20:16:07.131Z · score: 5 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Valentine did list things in the above comment that are fancy.

The core reason why he didn't put that in the initial post is likely that most of the people who are experts at "teaching" this have strong beliefs against doing this and believe that it isn't helpful.

According to that conception enlightment isn't about doing or more trying to do more but about doing less. If you give someone a fancy list they are going to try harder and as a result are less likely to make progress.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-01-21T20:26:29.411Z · score: 21 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Valentine did list things in the above comment that are fancy.

As I say in another comment, Valentine has certainly told us all about how great the cake is. What he hasn’t done is provide us with any. All of his listed examples are benefits that are (a) self-reported, unverified, and possibly unverifiable[1], and (b) very, very vague.

[1] Though even third-party testimony, if sufficiently diverse and credible, would be a good start.

According to that conception enlightment isn’t about doing or more trying to do more but about doing less.

What does “doing less” mean, in this context? (And why might I want to “do less”?)

comment by ChristianKl · 2018-01-22T13:59:21.560Z · score: 5 (1 votes) · LW · GW
What he hasn’t done is provide us with any.

Would you say that he provided the ex with cake?

What does “doing less” mean, in this context?

If you take the person who looks at the cell phone that's an active act. I think "Look up" is a bit the wrong frame. It's more helpful to say "Stop focusing on your phone" (even if the person still has no concept for that).

If the person stops focusing on the phone they start to notice things that aren't on the phone but that's not an active act. It starts happening when the person stop distracting themselves by looking at the phone.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-01-23T17:16:38.397Z · score: 14 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Would you say that he provided the ex with cake?

Sure.

Of course, the problem there—from a “public epistemology” perspective—is that we only have Valentine’s word on this. Now, you may be tempted to indignation at this comment; am I calling Valentine a liar? But I have no need to do any such thing; quite apart from the possibility of knowing mendacity, there is the far thornier problem that what we’ve got is an account only from Valentine’s perspective—who knows how his ex sees things? What would they say, if questioned on the matter—especially in private? We don’t know.

This, of course, is why I suggested that a diverse lineup of credible third-party testimonials might be of use (though not, by themselves, conclusive) in convincing us of the value of Valentine’s ‘attainment’ (as seems to be the proper term of art).

(Certainly there is also the fact that when one engages in public seeking after truth, and public debate of it, a higher grade of evidence is often needed than simply “I did this amazing thing—just trust me”. Not always—sometimes one’s word suffices—but in such cases as this, it does not; we all know the old saw about extraordinary claims…)

Re: your comments about “doing less”, and about why it’s unhelpful to list accomplishments or benefits: RainbowSpacedancer has provided a satisfying response, and I am inclined to agree with them (i.e., if you don’t tell me what the point of any of it is, then this is merely frustrating for me, and saying that it’s ‘unhelpful’ to explain to me why I should put in the effort is… well… unhelpful).

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2018-01-21T05:12:41.952Z · score: 4 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think you aren't taking the cell phone world metaphor seriously enough. Moving down meta levels in this way will not help me explain anything to Alex about what looking up from his phone is like, except insofar as it involves doing "whispering into ear"-type stuff, which we've discussed elsewhere.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-01-21T05:30:43.438Z · score: 21 (5 votes) · LW · GW

This seems like an odd reply. Suppose Alex were to ask what good comes of being able to do this “look up” thing, and you said “I can’t explain to you what looking up is”. Alex would see that as a non sequitur.

Similarly, suppose you launched into an explanation of your baking technique, and I asked you for a slice of cake. Does “serving you a slice of cake won’t help me explain the baking technique” make sense as a reply? It does not.

Where is the cake? Damn the explanations, man; show me the cake!

comment by ChristianKl · 2018-01-22T14:07:13.614Z · score: 2 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Making a photo of a cake and sending it to Alex doesn't help him to learn about the cake that he would see if he would look up.

Alex might come up with a lot of arguments why he has much more beautiful pictures on his smart phone that look much tasty but that will be besides the point because cakes are for eating and not for looking at pictures of them.

comment by Valentine · 2018-01-21T16:00:50.757Z · score: 1 (12 votes) · LW · GW

FOR THE LOVE OF GOD JUST FACTOR THE FUCKING NUMBER!

Look. I’ve explained the area where you would have to Look in order to see the cake. I’ve warned you that if I give you cake you won’t understand it and will even claim it is unreal or doesn’t count. I’ve then given you cake and you insist that it is unreal or doesn’t count, and then continue to demand cake, along with increasing hostility toward me for not trying.

If you imagine the world in which I’m actually just correct, you can understand where I might find this a bit annoying. And I imagine that you’re trying to push on the possibility that I’m not right, that I’m just deluded or something… but even if you’re right about that, please notice that from my vantage point you aren’t speaking whatsoever to what I’m saying. You’re still asking for which app to open in order to get an understanding of the amazing benefits of this “looking up” thing.

And I knew that this would be the kind of result if I tried to argue y’all into seeking enlightenment. So that’s not what I was aiming to do. Instead, I tried to say “Hey, notice this gaping hole in epistemology that this communication problem suggests exists?” But, once again, you zero in on “I won’t look at this epistemological problem until you prove to me that you have cake.” And I’m left kind of throwing my hands in the air because YOUR FAILURE TO UNDERSTAND THE EPISTEMOLOGY PROBLEM LEAVES YOU LITERALLY INCAPABLE OF UNDERSTANDING WHY YOU CAN’T UNDERSTAND CAKE.

Yelling at me to give you cake CANNOT HELP with this. And no matter what I do, you are going to continue to insist that I’m mysteriously withholding cake.

People who have had kensho don’t have this communication problem with me. I gesture toward the thing and they go “Yep.” I give them examples of cake and they give me details they’ve noticed about it themselves. Sometimes I point out types of cake they’ve never thought of before, and then they goddamn Look, and then we can talk about it in ways that clearly make sense to both of us.

And they vividly relate to this problem of not being able to give people like you cake — because the whole goddamn point is that you have no clue what cake is!

So there’s obviously something real going on here, and pretty much all of us are standing over here saying “Yes this is really hugely goddamn important” (at least to each other — quite a few have given up trying to say anything about this to pre-kensho folk)… and I’m left staring at this impressive epistemic gap and going “Huh. Seems like even if the thing can’t be conveyed, at least the gap can? Surely people who care about truth will care about there being something that has this many people saying this strongly that it’s important and that their methods of truth-seeking are too low-dimensional to handle.”

…and then you demand cake.

*sigh*

Should we go through a laundry list of things you’ll dismiss for one reason or another? How you can cultivate a kind of resolve that is different but vastly more meaningful than anything you can yet understand? How you can actually see the way in which you have intrinsic and unshakable value, leaving you with a sense of perfect worth and a way of having room to actually goddamn care about people? How you can have roads to removing self-deception at a vastly deeper level than you were ever capable of even noticing before? How you can actually get what the generator of the original insights was that allowed the scientific revolution to happen in the first place? How you can learn to really actually pay attention to that small still voice of knowing that you always always always regret not paying attention to sooner?

No? None of that is allowed?

Then no, I can’t give you cake.

Because YOU WON’T LET ME.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-01-21T16:21:51.736Z · score: 31 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Hold on, hold on. Clarify something for me, please. You say:

I’ve then given you cake

To make sure that I understand you properly, could you specify which thing that you’ve said is this ‘cake’ you’ve given me? (No need to re-explain it; simply quote yourself. I just want to be certain I know what to respond to.)

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-01-21T16:28:39.033Z · score: 22 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Separately from my other response…

How you can cultivate a kind of resolve that is different but vastly more meaningful than anything you can yet understand?

What good is it?

How you can actually see the way in which you have intrinsic and unshakable value, leaving you with a sense of perfect worth and a way of having room to actually goddamn care about people?

What good is it? (Also, what does it mean to not have this?)

How you can have roads to removing self-deception at a vastly deeper level than you were ever capable of even noticing before?

What particular self-deception have you removed? What new things have you discovered, thereby? Give some concrete examples, please.

How you can actually get what the generator of the original insights was that allowed the scientific revolution to happen in the first place?

What new insights have you generated, thereby? Give some concrete examples, please.

How you can learn to really actually pay attention to that small still voice of knowing that you always always always regret not paying attention to sooner?

What good is it? What have you been able to know, thereby? Give some concrete examples, please.

No? None of that is allowed?

All of that is allowed! I’d love to hear about concrete examples of what all of this stuff is good for! What has any of it helped you accomplish? What has it helped you learn, discover, create, invent, understand? Tell us! This sounds like exactly the sort of thing I’m after.

comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) · 2018-01-21T20:51:01.757Z · score: 12 (3 votes) · LW · GW

A+ to flibble analogy. I found this story about flibble much easier to understand and reason about than the OP.

comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2018-01-21T01:24:20.309Z · score: 9 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Oh! If I followed you, that’s much clearer.

Here’s some words that are wrong but I think close:

I want to get you to experience enlightenment. Not because enlightenment is valuable, but because it’s hard, and the skill of achieving enlightenment generalises to learning a bunch of other things (that are similarly hard).

Is that sort of what you meant? If not, I’ll tap out for now until your next post.

comment by Valentine · 2018-01-21T05:37:06.756Z · score: 17 (5 votes) · LW · GW

That is damn close, yes.

The main point of contention I have is that I’m not trying to get people to experience enlightenment. I’m trying to have people notice that the fact that (a) enlightenment is a real thing and (b) they can’t understand it via explanations, indicates something really damn important about limits in the kind of epistemology we normally talk about here.

And, it looks like Looking is a way of patching those limitations. So it seems worth considering.

comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2018-01-21T07:37:28.373Z · score: 16 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Right. I'll repeat (in advance of your follow-up post) that while it's interesting to note that I can't understanding enlightenment via explanation (and that englightenment is a real thing), this is still not enough to suggest that it's worth exploring - even if it helps me understand other things like enlightenment.

For example, there are many deep skills where the experience of the skill is not amenable to communication via text, yet the skill and experience are definitely real. As someone who has studied classical music for a decade, I'm not able to convey the experience of playing a Bach prelude to you via text. I can imagine similar things for great sports players, or other experts.

This alone doesn't (I think) suggest anything too important about epistemology. I await your next post with evidence about why Looking does have something important to say about epistemology!

comment by Valentine · 2018-01-21T16:25:16.195Z · score: 17 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Well… your epistemic state makes sense…

*sigh*

Two points:

  • The analogy breaks down because you don’t need to be able to play a Bach prelude in order to listen to someone else playing it. What would it be like, for you, if that were the world we were in? Can you imagine what it would be like to try to convey to pre-music folk even that music is real and that it might be worth learning how to listen to it? And if that were something you could readily see about how people cannot see something that is so obviously real to you… wouldn’t that cause a more general worry about the epistemic state of the species? For that matter, how would you come to notice things like music that YOU can’t yet understand this way?
  • The next post isn’t about evidence about why Looking has something important to say about epistemology. It’s a model of how I have done several things like reach kensho, and the model has been refined as a result of what I’ve come to see as a result of Looking. So, I don’t think you’re going to find it scratches that itch. I expect the parts that I can convey that came from Looking won’t themselves seem like they require Looking, so the fact that I had to transcend my own epistemic state to get there won’t be visible. Alas.
comment by Chris_Leong · 2019-04-05T02:02:45.369Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm confused. From your description, I thought that Looking was the same thing as Enlightenment, but now you're saying you only care about convincing us about Looking, not "enlightenment"?

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2019-04-05T07:00:19.223Z · score: 3 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Looking isn't enlightenment, it's a practice for getting there (and getting to enlightenment isn't the only thing that you can use it for).

comment by Elo · 2019-04-05T03:55:33.764Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Best mapped in the very dense book, "pointing out the great way".

One path to enlightenment is to provide a moment of pure clear seeing (a state of mind) and align the rest of the mind with the path back there. Then let the result play out.

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2018-01-20T04:52:33.245Z · score: 31 (13 votes) · LW · GW

I appreciate you writing the list of examples, but also don't find them currently particularly compelling, mostly because they are hard to verify from my current perspective (which is fine and the real value might just be hard to communicate).

comment by Valentine · 2018-01-20T04:57:57.137Z · score: -9 (14 votes) · LW · GW

If I say that a benefit is a feeling of enormous peace and relief, you'll have a hard time verifying that too. Seems to me like you're Goodharting on what you're allowing to be compelling.

I'm really quite disheartened that you find the value of e.g. mending a long-hurt relationship to be "hard to communicate". That's… I hurt for you.

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2018-01-20T05:00:26.075Z · score: 48 (14 votes) · LW · GW

I have very high priors on people making up post-hoc stories about the things that happened to them, and the reasons for why they happened. While I don't disbelieve that a long-hurt relationship of yours has gotten better, I am very skeptical of any specific story you tell of how it has come to that, and so don't really take that account to be super strong evidence.

You can frame it as a "lemons problem", or you can frame it as an inevitable result of information assymetries, but in either case this makes benefits like the ones you describe hard to communicate.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2018-01-20T06:29:49.065Z · score: 23 (10 votes) · LW · GW

This would make sense to me applied to a generic person about whom you know very little; in context it feels to me like you're outside viewing too hard here. It may be socially much less comfortable to give an inside view description of why you don't find Val's comments persuasive, so you don't need to interpret this as a request for such a description, but this strikes me as reasoning that's been optimized for defensibility instead of truth-seeking and that seems worth pointing out.

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2018-01-20T06:45:11.271Z · score: 24 (8 votes) · LW · GW

What I know about Val does not make me update downwards particularly strongly about the tendency to make up post-hoc stories. Very few people strike me as being particularly more trustworthy in that direction, which in itself might be a failure of outside-viewing too hard, but that's definitely my considered epistemic state, taking into account what I know about Val.

(May it be said that my general distrust of people having developed real rationality skills has been a source of disagreement with many, and some source of personal tension between me and others, including me and Val in the past.)

[Meta note to onlookers who seem to have maybe downvoted Qiaochu's comment]

I think a comment like the one Qiaochu wrote would indeed be out of place and weird for people who didn't have a personal relationship with me, but given the kind of relationship me and Qiaochu do have, I found the comment to be well-placed and helpful, and expect that the general algorithm of highlighting these potential faults in my thinking patterns will be very useful for me in the long-run, if executed by Qiaochu.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2018-01-20T22:48:01.951Z · score: 11 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks Oli, I appreciate your candor and your support.

comment by Valentine · 2018-01-21T16:29:05.117Z · score: 8 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Ah. I didn’t realize you were referring to information asymmetry. That makes sense to me.

I still think you’re doing the updating math wrong. Qiaochu’s thing about you outside-view-ing too hard rings true from where I stand. But I think this is an epistemic disagreement you and I have had for way longer than four months. So… I guess my examples don’t get to be compelling to you. Oh well.

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2018-01-20T04:38:25.646Z · score: 19 (8 votes) · LW · GW
It's a bit like if you get mathematical proof, but no one else around you understands it, and are now insisting that you demonstrate how this has helped you do things better in terms they can understand, on pain of rejecting the relevance of what you're saying.

This seems like a reasonable request, and if the value of mathematical/algebraic reasoning had not been presented to me, I would have not invested as many hours as I have into learning math.

I think, though I haven't tried too much, it's at least in principle not that difficult to explain the value of mathematical proof to new people: Either give them a bunch of false proofs and let them deal with the confusion, or give them any of the dozens of exercises in Thinking Physics (which are themselves pretty well-motivated) and highlight how an understanding of mathematical proof would help them solve the problems. I am interested in being given a concrete problem, of the nature that Thinking Physics provides, that I could solve more easily with the tools/perspective you describe.

comment by Valentine · 2018-01-20T05:31:13.624Z · score: 19 (17 votes) · LW · GW

I'm a bit frustrated with you, Oli. I don't think you're engaging with the hypothetical in good faith.

A huge portion of my math teaching experience was with preservice elementary and middle school teachers. These were people who would come to my math class as part of a program to get a credential, because they like kids and want to teach kids. And most of them are at best bored of math.

They really didn't get proof. Proofs were a kind of social ritual. Conveying to them what the value of proving is was not on the table; they did proofs in order to navigate being graded. The only way I was able to get them to engage meaningfully with math was to point out to them that their knowledge of math and good math teaching would impact their students.

I'm guessing most of your math teaching experience is with UC Berkeley student caliber, yes? Of course you can convey proof to someone like that. Or someone like you.

If you imagine you're in a world where the people around you are more gruff mechanic types, or caring "people-oriented" types, etc., who don't understand what analytical thinking is… then you'll find yourself in the position I'm talking about. Giving them Thinking Physics type problems won't work because they won't engage with them. After all, you haven't convinced them of the value of proof-based thinking! You have to show them something that they consider practical.

Please work with me here, Oli. I know you're smart enough not to have needed me to spell out all of the above. Please turn off the "I must show my rational analysis skills by coming up with a sharp counterargument to literally everything" stuff and actually try to see my point?

I am interested in being given a concrete problem, of the nature that Thinking Physics provides, that I could solve more easily with the tools/perspective you describe.

I like that question. It's a tricky one, because knowledge of physics isn't enough to generate Thinking Physics type puzzles. Likewise, I don't know if I can give you a good puzzle for Looking off the top of my head. I'll think on that and see if I can come up with something.

Though I warn, even if I do come up with something, I expect you'll not find it satisfying. E.g., koans are a classic example of puzzles that are vastly easier to solve by Looking than by normal thinking, but Less Wrong style rationality now has a special toolset for hacking some koans apart that zen masters would consider totally and completely missing the point but give rationalists a kind of pride as though their toolset is doing something even better than answering the koans through Looking. ("Ah, but maybe it is better! After all, statistics and logic and blah blah blah!" :-P )

But… I will try.

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2018-01-20T05:45:54.084Z · score: 47 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, I don't think it is possible to convey the value that "understanding proof" provides to everyone. But even for someone who cannot easily understand, asking to be shown the value is a very reasonable response, and if they cannot be shown the value, it makes sense for them to not spend their time learning mathematical proof. Trying to teach them proof, without them seeing any value in it, seems doomed to failure.

I can imagine being in a world where it is similarly hard for me to understand the value of kensho. But in that world the necessary first step for me learning, is to be motivated to learn. As I said, it seems fine if the target audience for this post is not me. And it seems plausible, though obviously sad to me, that my mind is shaped so that I can not understand the value without spending dozens of hours on good faith on following your argument along. And if you continue writing this post-series, I will try to seriously engage with the things you are describing, even without seeing the value directly, because I do think you have some interesting perspectives and this whole area might have some value in it.

What I am trying to say is that for the goal of making me understand kensho, the most effective next step for you, would be to try to show me the value. And you might expect that not to work, or that might simply not be your goal, and that's completely fine. And in that case I will try to understand the things you are pointing at anyways, but I won't spend more than half an hour per post that you write. And if that won't be enough, then I will leave with a mostly unchanged epistemic state, which would make me obviously a bit sad.

comment by Ruby · 2018-01-20T06:58:16.079Z · score: 35 (15 votes) · LW · GW

I think that a) Val has obtained a real and valuable skill, b) Oli is engaging in good faith and making a reasonable request, and c) that there is a type of post that Val could conceivably write which Oli would find satisfactory.

I hope to eventually prove this by achieving enough skill in this area myself (making the assumption I'm correct in understand what Val's skill is), obtaining the value, and then conveying this in a convincing manner such that anyone reasoning as Oli does is motivated by my case.

comment by Ruby · 2018-01-21T19:29:26.153Z · score: 57 (16 votes) · LW · GW
Appreciation for you, Ruby. :-)
I’m honestly flummoxed about how to create the type of post you’re suggesting. Given the clarity of everything else you’ve written here about this, I’m inclined to believe you. And I’d much like to write that post, or see it written. Any pointers?

Thanks! Okay, some pointers :) You asked for them!

Your writing style is characteristcally evocative - the kind of writing I'd use to point at the majesty of stars, the tragedy of death, and the grandeur of all that could be. It's emotional, and that is perhaps both its strength and its weakness.

You have the right style to conjure strong feelings around things one already believes and endorses (perfect for Solstice), but perhaps less so to convince people of things they're skeptical of. A pastor's rousing sermon about Jesus's love for all mankind, while moving to his congregation, does little to convince me about the matter.

Attitude

Unfortunately, it seems that people who don’t know how to intentionally Look literally cannot conceptually understand what Looking is for . . .

I emphatically reject this. You've observed that you don't feel understood when you explain your experience and inferred that this is a deficiency on the part of the listener rather than the explainer. I think that's the wrong inference, even if many explainers have struggled similarly. Explaining is hard. But even supposing you are completely right, most listeners are not going to respond charitably to claims of "you couldn't possibly understand". (I'll be directly harsh and say I think accusing someone of not engaging in good faith rather than doubting your own communication is suggestive of the wrong attitude.)

Rightly or wrongly, beneath the post there is an undertone with a few sentiments: "Oh my god, guys!!", "This is something really, really important and you couldn't possibly understand, I'm frustrated", and "You don't get it! Only special people get it." (And perhaps a hint of enjoying the fact you have a special secret that others don't. We're all human, after all.)

The tone I think would be persuasive is along the lines of "I think I'm onto something big, I think it's had big benefits, I'd like you too benefit too, this is difficult to convey, but please hear out my best case."

Content

At the end of the day, I think this is about providing a clear and solid case for why you believe what you believe. Sketching out it lightly, the case I might make could look like:

Observations: I spent time meditating; I have experienced benefits X and Y.
Model: Meditation and minfulness consist of moving parts A1, A2, A3, which predict results X and Y. (Here are my models of neuroscience, attention, etc.)
Claim: Meditation and mindfulness practice has given me be benefits X and Y.

Listeners might then doubt any of the pieces. They might be incredulous that I experienced such exteme benefits (your claims are pretty extreme), they might doubt that even if I experienced these benefits, that they were attritutable to what I'm claiming is the cause (rather than say, placebo or mania), or they might find my model implausible (brains don't work that way!). But at least if I have a 3rd person, mechanistic model, we can argue about its correctness.

Maybe I should add that we can analogize Kensho/enlightenment to consciousness. If we imagine some unconscious AIs modelling the possible existence, possible purpose, and expected observations you would get if humans have this "consciousness" thing, I think they could reasonably do that even if there was no way for them to experience consciousness from the inside with their own minds. They could talk about how it worked and what its benefits were without "seeing" it from the inside. I think they could use that understanding to decide if they want to self-modify to have consciousness, and that a convincing case could be made "from the outside".

Summing up a rambly response, I think a good post on enlightenment has at least one of the following:

1) Your observations, inferences, and why the reader should trust them.

2) A 3rd party perspective, mechanistic model for how enlightenment works and the resultant predictions.

To close, the post I'd write would large be this is what I've experienced, this is the evidence, and this is my model for WHY.

comment by Ruby · 2018-01-21T19:52:50.814Z · score: 35 (9 votes) · LW · GW

One more pointer - clarity on the purpose of a post is paramount. From your comments, it seems like a few different purposes got mixed in:

a) Kensho/Looking are very powerful, I want to motivate you to try them.

b) There is a puzzle around communicating things which you can only conceptually understand once you've experienced them. (I'd focus mostly on the puzzle and make it clear Kensho is but an example in this post.)

There's a dictum: "1) Tell them what you're going to tell them, 2) Tell them, 3) Tell them what you've told them." Going by your CFAR classes too, I feel like you don't like telling people what you're going to tell them (you even want them to be confused). I think this unsurprisingly results in confusion.

comment by Valentine · 2018-01-21T19:48:47.694Z · score: 28 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks, this is clear and appreciated.

I do feel some exasperation. You’re right in picking up on that.

My experience is that even when I’m not exasperated, this doesn’t convey to people who haven’t done any Looking. I don’t mean that as a judgment against anyone; it’s just a really strong phenomenon, and I think it’s getting conflated with my frustration.

But I’ll take your push-back seriously and reflect on this.

Thanks. :-)

comment by ChristianKl · 2018-01-21T20:42:11.560Z · score: 12 (3 votes) · LW · GW
They might be incredulous that I experienced such exteme benefits

Even if the believe that Valentine has actually got those extreme benefits that's going to make them believe that Valentine is doing something special and not something very basic.

In New Age circles you have plenty of people who believes in the magical powers of enlightment and who spent years searching for it with nothing to show for it. The openness about making extreme claims is one of the key differences that distinguishes New Age thinking from other spiritual traditions and the empiric results of it are poor.

comment by Valentine · 2018-01-21T16:40:53.108Z · score: 10 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Appreciation for you, Ruby. :-)

I’m honestly flummoxed about how to create the type of post you’re suggesting. Given the clarity of everything else you’ve written here about this, I’m inclined to believe you. And I’d much like to write that post, or see it written. Any pointers?

comment by Valentine · 2018-01-21T16:37:01.476Z · score: 8 (4 votes) · LW · GW
But even for someone who cannot easily understand, asking to be shown the value is a very reasonable response, and if they cannot be shown the value, it makes sense for them to not spend their time learning mathematical proof.

I didn’t say, or think, that Ben’s response was unreasonable. I was trying to illustrate via analogy why giving him what he was asking for was going to be extremely hard.

I also wasn’t trying to convince Ben, or anyone else, to seek kensho or do meditation or anything of the sort. I had hoped that the self-reference of the problem would encourage some people to want to learn to Look, which is why I gave some guidelines at the end for going in that direction if one wants. Unfortunately, it seems that people who don’t know how to intentionally Look literally cannot conceptually understand what Looking is for, so if y’all need that before you’ll try (which is understandable but still kind of frustrating from over here), then I guess you ain’t tryin’!

…at least, not consciously as a result of this post.

comment by ChristianKl · 2018-01-20T12:27:33.807Z · score: 1 (2 votes) · LW · GW

>"actually try to see my point?"

How do you think that would help? :P

comment by Valentine · 2018-01-21T16:44:54.547Z · score: 9 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think what I was trying to say doesn’t require Looking to understand. The analogy of conveying the value of proof should make sense even if what it’s analogous to doesn’t.

My frustration with Oli there was about him arguing with the analogy rather than using the analogy to try to understand what I was saying. This is a communication problem I’ve had with him in person too, so I was hoping to cut through the whole process by pointing at the meta-level of the communication and saying “Come on, man.”

comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2018-01-20T05:53:53.268Z · score: 14 (4 votes) · LW · GW
I like you, and I think you like me, and I'd prefer we remember that even if we're talking online through text this time!

Ah, yes, I didn't respond to you as the person I know and have a relationship with in my comment. I regularly find it hard to connect online commenting to the person I'm responding to, and I think my comment does read as weirdly challenging. Sorry about that Val.

Nonetheless, there are important trade-offs against being social on a place like LessWrong - for example, I don't want to take up the time of the hundreds of people who read the comments, and in general, I won't be having a lot of social discussion in the comments. For example, I've just cut from this comment two paragraphs of my thought processes that wrote such an impersonal original comment (will send you them privately).

I just spent a while not talking about anything in your post, so I'll finish and not write more comments here (if you want Val, I'm happy to discuss this more offline). I'll now write an object level response to your comment :-)

Added: I might not, it's 6am here. I should really sleep soon.

comment by ChristianKl · 2018-01-20T12:25:42.610Z · score: 10 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'm at the moment wondering a bit whether I have what you are pointing at. What you are saying doesn't feel strange to me at all.

I can conceptually relate to most what you wrote. I have no problem holding space in the way you describe where I don't suffer. On the other hand, I'm filled with various unresolved stuff that drains energy. I remember commenting in the post you wrote about grief on LW about the day I processed the fact my father died. When I'm faced with strong emotions and there's no other way to deal with them, I'm forced to go to that mental state ;) but on a daily basis I frequently distract myself in various forms.

As far as interpreting the reaction of most people to your post happens to be, I don't see it as showing that the post isn't effectful. If it's effectful than my general model of how things in this nature are learned suggests that it will take months or years for readers to understand.

It's plausible that in 6 months someone who read this post now goes: "Ah, I think that's what Val meant back then". That's just the time frame this takes. People being confused at first is a good sign and the fact that rationalists don't like that state of mind and comment accordingly is no sign that anything went wrong.

comment by Valentine · 2018-01-21T16:49:16.073Z · score: 9 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Sounds to me like you have “it”.

…with the very slight caveat that there are lots of different things one can Look at, once one knows how to Look at all. And that one can get better at Looking, and thus better at coming to understand things that were falling outside of one’s ontology before.

So I don’t know whether you and I see all the same things as a result of Looking.

But it sounds to me like you know something about Looking at all… which fixes the hardest part of the communication gap. :-)

comment by lawrence-wang · 2018-01-20T21:37:06.637Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The fact that you recognize you have unresolved stuff that drains energy is actually evidence in favor of you having what Val is pointing at. It's much better than being completely unaware of it or believing that it's just how the world is.

comment by ChristianKl · 2018-01-21T00:44:33.544Z · score: 5 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not trained in a Buddhist tradition but have gathered my experiences about elsewhere. I have a lot of mental model for various related phenomena.

I have had a meditation experience after which I thought: "I think I have experienced the phenomenological basis on which karma is build." but I never had a proper Buddhistic teacher. Getting your mind "clean" is an essential part of the Buddhist way and my mind is at the moment anything but "clean".

Take the mental state of presence that Buddhist monks who have meditated very long have where they don't have the startle response (besides the Buddhist monks psychopaths also often don't have the startle response). You need a certain level of mental cleanness for that, that I don't have. Given what I knew about Val before his development before his enlightment experience, I think it's plausible that Val has this.

From my perspective it's plausible that this is part of what Val means with Kenshō.

While we are talking about this. There's a concept of the "distinction of completion" that I think comes from the Landmark Forum. If anybody here was at the Landmark Forum and can talk in their language I would be very interested in talking.

comment by RainbowSpacedancer · 2018-01-22T11:11:46.339Z · score: 8 (3 votes) · LW · GW
I'm not advocating trying for kenshō. You can't try for it in any useful way. That's not how it works. I honestly don't care whether I persuade anyone of its value, because it does not matter whether you try for it. Or rather, if it does matter, it does so by making you obsessed in a way that can actually block the seeing. So, there isn't really any good benefit to fighting with your analysis to try to persuade you of its value.

I understand where you are coming from. Efforting blocks realisation and kenshō doesn’t come from discursive thought - those are common traps. This is good advice for the experienced meditation practitioner. The practitioner that has already seen the benefit practice brings and has the momentum built up to carry them through difficult periods. Further effort and analysis blocks progress after a point.

The typical lesswronger is a beginner and needs the exact opposite advice. Kenshō needs to be advocated for because they need a reason to practice instead of doing something else. And they need to know that trying for it is useful so that they can establish the right discipline and mental habits.

comment by ChristianKl · 2018-01-22T15:04:23.391Z · score: 5 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You don't need to speak about Kenshō to talk about the value of meditation. You can advocate for taking up a meditation practice with arguments that are much simpler and that are about less time investment.

comment by crybx · 2018-01-24T19:47:38.106Z · score: 3 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm late to this comment thread. I had to read a lot of the comments (more than once) before it clicked in a way that I'm fairly sure *I recognize what Looking is* and that I already have the skill and use it more than I think is common (but not always or consistently).

"I can form deep, deep pacts with others who know how to Look. This is harder to explain, but I can point to an analogy clearly, I think: if you're in the cell phone world and you see someone else who has figured out how to look up, there's a kind of deep collaboration you two can do, and a level of communication you can have, that others literally cannot understand pre-kenshō. In the real-world analog, this creates room for a kind of bond that lets us sidestep most primate political baloney, because there's common knowledge that we can both Look at all that stuff, and that that's not what's important."

Now that I have a name/concept-shape for this "skill" of Looking, that paragraph brings up a lot of feelings of longing for me. These bonds are what I've rarely experienced and what feels to me like what I want out of interpersonal relationships. It's like most people aren't awake, or are NPCs, and it gets lonely.

Occasionally finding bits of these bonds is enormously rewarding.

Some comments ask questions about how you can know if someone else is "looking up from their phone." They want real world examples.

I think you can't know if someone is doing the real-world analog of "Looking up from their phone" if you don't interact with them on a level beyond small talk or polite conversation. You won't pass a stranger on the street and just see it. Looking is a frame of mind, so if you don't interact with their mental processes, there's nothing to see.

My personal examples of knowing someone else is Looking are composed of very private conversations that are, like I said, beyond small talk or polite conversation.

I don't want to get specific, but I can give a vague example interaction:

Imagine a friend is engaging in a behavior that isn't going well for them. You have an unflattering model of their motives and behavior that you don't think they've considered. If you shared these thoughts with most people, their feelings would be deeply hurt and they may lash out, deny, get defensive, etc. But your friend asks what your thoughts are about what's going on for them. If you're both capable of Looking, maybe you can tell them the brutal truth of what you think. You may preface it with "I don't mean this as a criticism of you, and this might be totally wrong," and that is also the truth. And when you give them the message they may feel a pang of hurt, but they are able to Look inside and say, "Yes, I can see that too."

Now imagine the roles are reversed. Your friend has delivered honest feedback and it can sting. But you know the negative emotions don't matter much. You don't have to let them high-jack you into indignation. Your trust your friend understands you're only human and you also trust that they see more than the sum of your flaws. It is immeasurably *safer* feeling to know that they care enough about you to Look at you and try to help you grow as a person.

//end of crappy example

Other examples would not necessarily involve criticism.

I also think the terminology of "it's okay" is a terrible way to describe the feeling of Looking. It practically begs to have someone argue or get stuck on why things are not okay. I think the phrase I substitute for myself is, "Don't freak out." I'm telling myself I don't have to moralize reality.

What is, is. Don't freak out! Freaking out doesn't change reality. You can handle the truth. People can stand what is true, for they are already enduring it.

*Just Look up!*

(If I'm totally wrong about what Looking is...feel free to tell me. )

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-01-24T22:17:10.887Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Re: “it’s okay”:

Can you say what it would mean for ‘it’ to not be ‘okay’?

(This has been asked already in another thread, but I have not seen an answer.)

In other words, “it’s okay”… as opposed to what?

Or, to put it yet another way:

I—as far as I know—do not have this ‘Looking’ skill that we’ve been hearing about. I have certainly never meditated, experienced enlightenment, taken hallucinogenic drugs of any sort, or done anything else which might trigger “non-symbolic experiences” of a similar sort (to use the terminology from the paper linked elsethread).

However, I also don’t find myself “freaking out”, “moralizing reality”, or otherwise having any sense that ‘it’, or things-in-general, are “not okay”. Should I? What am I missing?

Edit: To add yet another rephrasing of my question: presumably, you have gained this skill of ‘Looking’ at some point, prior to which time you did not possess it. What, exactly, was “not okay” before that, and how?

comment by crybx · 2018-01-25T08:23:25.686Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I would not personally use the phrases "it is/things are/whatever is okay." But one way reacting like "it's not okay" could look is the instinct to make reality retrospectively not be how it is. Denial. We can affect the future, but there's no use denying what already is.

If the first thing you do is interpret that new info would make the world a bad place (moralizing reality), you may flinch into rationalizing ways it can't be so before you even notice what you did.

I don't claim that I gained this skill of ‘Looking’ at some point, prior to which time I did not possess it.

I claim I am recognizing a concept shaped thing that I already did more than average, and am now labelling it with the name Looking. I think I've gotten better over time and now that I label it, I think I could practice more deliberately. If I'm totally wrong, there's still this thing I think I could practice because I'm labelling it now.

I think people are hung up on the meditation/enlightenment idea. It's not the skill. It's an old fashioned way to practice. I think the paper being linked is going to confuse more people than it helps.

It is super basic and not as otherworldly or profound as people seem to expect it to be.

Edit: I don't mean to say it's basic, so you should already understand. I mean to say it's basic, and you're looking for something complicated. Like maybe you are rejecting or will reject the answer even if YOU think of it, or already do Looking, because it's just not an impressive complicated thing. You've invested a lot of effort in understanding this concept, and I wonder if the realization, when/if you get it, will be disappointing. Maybe it will be a relief though.

comment by Ruby · 2018-01-20T01:58:40.356Z · score: 17 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think you need to approach meditation as a wager of vast resources for a gain obtained only at the end. My experience is that a modest amount of meditation, properly approached, has offered me substantial benefits. My recommendation is to spend a modest number of hours trying meditation out, and use the information obtained to judge whether or not it is worth further investment.

I have some detailed models of what meditation accomplishes and why, and I hope to write about them eventually. Till then, I'm happy to chat. I'd also recommend the Science of Enlightenment by Shinzen Young; definitely heavy on the grand promises, but he offers more models of what's going on than most texts.

comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2018-01-20T02:15:31.176Z · score: 21 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for the offer Ruby. I've done a little bit of meditation (0.5-2 hours, 5-10 times) and think it may have given me a better phenomenological sense of my own focus and awareness, and slightly more control over it.

However, the improvement seems very low cost-effectiveness compared to the similar improvements in focus and awareness of my cognition I get from doing long stretches of math - noticing which strands of my mind think different things are useful to think about and focus on. I also find that most of the low-hanging fruit in improving my attention came from a CFAR class I had (that Val taught :-) ) about how removing drains on your working memory has increasing marginal value, and how to design your life environment accordingly (analagous to how rationality training on humans is very weak relative to being able to set up economic incentives to do well). This has helped me a fair bit, I think.

Regarding the practice of meditation, I'm currently at a level of skepticism where (I think) the only thing that will persuade me to do a bunch more will be someone doing something I personally regard as remarkable, and then telling me they believe it was causally due to their having done lots of meditation. It honestly just doesn't seem worth the time.

As I said, I'm very happy to read examples of people having accomplished impressive things, and then crediting it to the practice of meditation. Such examples will gradually move my credences up.

comment by Ruby · 2018-01-20T03:35:48.366Z · score: 8 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Glad to hear you've given it a decent shot. That being the case, I think it is pretty legitimate for you to not invest further time.

I do think that meditation/mindfulness can offer things not obtainable via the alternatives you listed, but I don't think I could make a successful case for it briefly. My only remaining recommendation would be, if you haven't, to spend some time meditating with a focus on your sensations and emotional state, instead of the more typical breathing. I especially recommend it when experiencing stronger emotions.

But I suppose I'll just have to go off and do some remarkable things!

comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2018-01-20T04:35:21.556Z · score: 5 (1 votes) · LW · GW

grins at your last line

comment by jacobjacob · 2018-01-28T19:15:04.920Z · score: 7 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Tim Ferris says some kind of meditation is one of the most common habits he finds in the people he interviews (regardless of whether it's actually listening to a Headspace episode, or a runner just repeating the very same song throughout the entire 1h run). E.g. this (haven't read, took me 5 sec of googling, but seems fine).

Also Ray Dalio says transcendental meditation is one of the key things that enabled him to cope emotionally with making mistakes and being wrong, and then building principles for never making the same kinds of mistakes again. He writes about that in Principles and talks about it here.

comment by Chris_Leong · 2018-01-20T13:32:19.250Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think the advantage of meditation is that there has been a significant amount of research into it that has found all kinds of benefits - self-control, happiness, lowered stress. I suppose you might be able doubt this in light of the replication crisis, but I don't know if there has been any similar research into doing maths. I'm not doubting that it works for you, just explaining why it comes so highly recommended.

comment by lawrence-wang · 2018-01-20T21:43:12.290Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You may find it worthwhile to read Loch Kelly's book Shift Into Freedom. It's a relatively quick and easy read and teaches a style of practice oriented around "small glimpses" which don't take much time. It doesn't focus on developing concentration, which it sounds like you have a lot of already.

comment by romeostevensit · 2019-05-01T03:57:22.871Z · score: 9 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I may have a better answer for the concrete thing that it allows you to do: it's fully generalizing the move of un-goodharting. Buddhism seems to be about doing this for happiness/inverse-suffering, though in principle you could pick a different navigational target (maybe).

Concretely, this should show up as being able to decondition induced reward loops and thus not be caught up in any negative compulsive behaviors.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2019-05-01T10:24:52.340Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

What is “the move of un-goodharting”?

comment by romeostevensit · 2019-05-01T21:24:50.564Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

noticing what candy crush is doing.

comment by Raemon · 2019-05-02T00:06:28.232Z · score: 5 (2 votes) · LW · GW

FYI, I think if I didn't already have a sense of what you were pointing at, this comment wouldn't help much.

comment by TAG · 2018-01-22T13:42:30.249Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW
Given the amount of people offering me something like the above, my background skepticism is very high.

Shouldn't the fact that a lto of people believe somethign count as Bayesian evidence for it?

But sometimes when someone has a hard time explaining something, it's because they're just confused.

And sometimes the person on the recieving end is not sufficiently prepared. One should not havet the expectation that everything is easilly communicable to everyone.

comment by Vanessa Kosoy (vanessa-kosoy) · 2018-01-20T07:49:20.904Z · score: 67 (19 votes) · LW · GW

I think that the only coherent way to convince us that Enlightment is real is to provide a model from a 3rd party perspective. To use your phone parable, you can send the other person a diagram of a person holding a phone, explain to them how eir current perceptions arise (e.g. the phone is a computer attached to an LCD display, the display generates light according to commands from the computer, light enters eye retina; brain controls eye muscles, neck muscles and leg muscles etc.) and then explain how the new perceptions can arise (if eye + neck muscles rotate your line of sight s.t. it doesn't intersect phone display...) Scientific epistomology can be in principle explained in a similar way, through models such as Solomonoff induction (although in this case it took a lot of time from the invention of scientific epistemology to the invention of a sufficiently precise model.)

The model doesn't have to be fully mathematically rigorous: as always, it can be a little fuzzy and informal. However, it must be precise enough in order to (i) correctly capture the essentials and (ii) be interpretable more or less unambigously by the sufficiently educated reader.

Now, having such a model doesn't mean you can actually reproduce Enlightment itself. Your interlocutor can understand the diagram but still fail to understand how to use eir neck / eye muscles in the right way. Indeed, one can imagine people whose brain was atrophied so that they are physically incapable of looking up from their phone. Similarly, it is possible that you are experiencing qualia that some (or even most) people simply don't have and I don't see strong evidence to the contrary at the moment (the vague notion that "we alright know" doesn't strike me as strong evidence.)

However, producing such a model would give us the enormous advantages of (i) being able to come up with experimental tests for the model (ii) understanding what sort of advantages we would gain by reaching Enlightment (iii) being sure that your are talking about something that is at least a coherent possible world even if we are still unsure whether you are describing the actual world.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2018-01-20T22:53:11.397Z · score: 20 (6 votes) · LW · GW

What if - these are probably the wrong words, but even so - thinking in terms of models and 3rd-party perspectives is part of what needs to be bypassed in order to understand the thing?

Try sinking deeper into the cell-phone world. You send someone a diagram of a person holding a phone. What does that diagram refer to, in the cell-phone world? It refers to other pictures, on the cell phone, of people holding phones. The Archimedes Chronophone game isn't so easy to win as this.

comment by paulfchristiano · 2018-02-20T16:52:21.286Z · score: 18 (5 votes) · LW · GW
What if - these are probably the wrong words, but even so - thinking in terms of models and 3rd-party perspectives is part of what needs to be bypassed in order to understand the thing?

This would be much more surprising than the situation with the cellphones (which, as Vanessa correctly points out, seems pretty easy for a rationalist). I would love to see a metaphor that explained how something like this could happen, even if that metaphor had to be much more of a stretch.

It looks like a normal scientific view should at least be able to talk about the experience of enlightenment in the same way that it can easily talk about the experience of "red" to a blind person, since ultimately it's just a thing happening with a brain.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2018-02-20T20:41:24.093Z · score: 10 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm using the word "understand" in a broad sense. Talking about the experience of seeing red is a far cry from actually experiencing red, which is more the relevant cluster. And for most of human history it's been easy to show people red things even though almost nobody understood the mechanics of human color vision.

comment by paulfchristiano · 2018-02-21T06:48:17.285Z · score: 13 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that talking about experiencing red is very different from experiencing red. That doesn't answer Vanessa's question though.

If someone was considering investing in curing their own blindness, it would be easy to explain to them what seeing is---even if you don't know how vision or light works, you can talk about the experience of seeing and how those experiences seem to relate to facts about an external world. If someone is considering learning to look up from their phone, it is easy to say lots of concrete things about what "looking" entails and how it works and why it might be useful.

One can tell similar stories for some of the claimed benefits of meditation. For example: there is a bunch of cognitive machinery that gives rise to our perception of reality but which humans don't usually perceive. We can learn to perceive the action of this machinery, rather than merely experiencing its effects. That's a simple, concrete, story about what is going on. (Though it omits the important details, e.g. what can you actually learn to perceive about this machinery and how?)

It's interesting to ask whether there are benefits of meditation beyond those that can be explicated in this way. My default guess is no.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2018-02-21T07:53:08.004Z · score: 5 (1 votes) · LW · GW
If someone is considering learning to look up from their phone, it is easy to say lots of concrete things about what "looking" entails and how it works and why it might be useful.

I don't agree. In the cell phone world as I picture it, it's actually very difficult to say anything to a cell-phone-worlder about what looking entails, because all of the referents that a cell-phone-worlder has for the relevant words refer to images on their cell phone, which are the wrong types of things entirely. I have in mind a conversation at least as frustrating as the one about getting out of the car in the SSC post on cactus people.

It's interesting to ask whether there are benefits of meditation beyond those that can be explicated in this way. My default guess is no.

Why?

comment by paulfchristiano · 2018-02-21T16:48:48.246Z · score: 17 (4 votes) · LW · GW
it's actually very difficult to say anything to a cell-phone-worlder about what looking entails, because all of the referents that a cell-phone-worlder has for the relevant words refer to images on their cell phone

The cell-phone-worlder has seen images on their phone, which comprise a model for the things outside of their phone. That model includes themselves, and all their actions and perceptions. You can tell them facts about that model, including facts about the consequences of actions they could take (though they may not have words for those actions). Yes, the cell-phone-worlder has not perceived reality (and neither have we). That's not how models work, they aren't supposed to be identical with the thing they are modeling, they are supposed to be used to draw inferences about the thing that they are modeling.

From my perspective your statement seems about as convincing as saying: "it's actually very difficult to say anything to a human about what a banana is like, because all of the referents the human has for the relevant words refer to photons impinging on their retina." That does not mean that our beliefs about the world are restricted to beliefs about photons.

If you want to talk to the cell-phone-worlder you can say:

There are parts of reality which you don't currently perceive. Here is a picture of the world <personholdingphone.jpg>. Your perceptions are restricted to the part of the picture marked "Phone," which is why the rest of that picture looks so alien to you. With practice, it is possible for you to exert control over what part of the world you perceive. By using that skill you will be able to have new kinds of experiences, and those experiences will be related to what is happening in the parts of the world not labeled "Phone."

You say:

I have in mind a conversation at least as frustrating as the one about getting out of the car in the SSC post on cactus people.

If you are talking to someone in a car, you can explain to them what it means to be a car, and how their perception of reality is related to cars and how their actions result in driving the car, and about how a different set of actions could result in a very different set of experiences. I don't see how getting out of the car is necessary to understanding that you are in a car. I don't think that Scott is sympathetic to the big green bat (I could be wrong), though he's probably more sympathetic than I am. I'm even less sympathetic to the teacher in the big green bat's story, who appears to be being intentionally dense.

comment by Vanessa Kosoy (vanessa-kosoy) · 2018-01-23T20:10:44.016Z · score: 13 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Taboo the word "understand".

The diagram in itself doesn't refer to anything, it is a representation of an abstraction, like the digits 123 are the representation of the number 123. However, the explanation that comes with the diagram shows you how to translate between qualia and concepts in your model. This is all the reference I need.

The Chronophone is not a good analogy. We are not communicating through a medium that clevery censores everything we say. We are communicating through a medium that allows transmitting rigorous mathematical constructions that we both can understand; and also less rigorous but still sufficiently inambiguous information, for the sake of convenience.

See also my reply to Valentine.

comment by Valentine · 2018-01-21T17:04:35.161Z · score: 11 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I have, in fact, given the model. Or at the very least, the generators needed and some instructions on how to build the model.

The problem is, your type signature for “model” is too low-dimensional.

…which, ironically, is literally the thing being pointed at. If you could generate more dimensions to the type of thing you’re tagging as “model”, you would be doing the thing.

Yay self-referential puzzles.

Can you imagine what it would have been like to be literally the first human to suddenly GET language? How it would have felt to try to get your fellow human beings to try language? How it would have felt a bit like it does today to talk to animals? And how insanely relieving and transcendently amazing it would be once another person GETS language and you two can have A CONVERSATION?

…and meanwhile, your non-talking tribe mates are grunting and doing ape politics and thinking you and your friend are making weird sounds and aren’t doing anything.

A dear friend of mine was with me when my kensho struck, and we were able to Look at each other. From that moment on, coordination has been trivial. He’ll go into spirals of deep depression sometimes, and I’ll be able to sit with him, caring but basically unaffected in terms of our ability to sync up. Others who care for him but haven’t had shared Looking cannot keep up with this pace, and I end up needing to support them. Which is fine and good; it’s in service of a much greater cause, and I’m happy to use my resources to pull this off. And I can give pointers to those other supporters — often about how they can be more fully themselves and kind to themselves as the means of giving support. (One person exclaimed after something like the fourth time I helped her find her own inner sense of stability, “How do you KNOW this stuff?”)

The model is really quite easy to give to you once you know how to Look.

I haven’t a damn clue how to give you a model before that.

…with apologies. I really would love to be able to.

comment by Vanessa Kosoy (vanessa-kosoy) · 2018-01-23T20:04:47.984Z · score: 19 (5 votes) · LW · GW
I have, in fact, given the model.

Where exactly? Are you talking about this essay or some previous one?

The problem is, your type signature for “model” is too low-dimensional.

Can you give me a model of the correct type signature of models? Or is it Kensho all the way down?

I want an explantion on my own terms. It doesn't have to a perfect explanation, maybe there are things which are ineffable or unknowable or whatever (although one can ask what does it mean to say that they "are"), but it has to be something like the best approximation possible in my language.

Is Kensho amenable to mathematical description? If not, how is it possible, given that your brain understands Kensho and your brain is governed by mathematical laws? Or, do you claim to have discovered new physics? I understand that the map is not the territory and understanding a mathematical model is not the same thing as experiencing something first hand, but all I'm asking for is the 3rd party perspective.

comment by ialdabaoth · 2018-01-31T18:17:25.082Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Okay. What is a "mathematical description"? What does it mean that "your brain is governed by mathematical laws"? How and where are those facts encoded, such that you emit those words?

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-01-20T01:15:38.383Z · score: 65 (20 votes) · LW · GW

G’Kar: You must understand, Ta’Lon. I have had a revelation!

Ta’Lon: What kind of revelation?

G'Kar: A most profound and substantial one, Ta’Lon. The kind of revelation that transforms your mind, your soul, your heart—even your flesh—so that you are a new creature, reborn in the instant of understanding.

Ta’Lon: That was a stirring reply, Citizen G’Kar. Unfortunately, while all answers are replies, not all replies are answers. You did not answer the question that I asked. What do you understand now that you did not understand before?

— “Point of No Return” (Babylon 5, season 3, episode 9)

Ta’Lon’s reply is, basically, my reaction to this post.

So you’re enlightened. Ok. Now what? What do you understand now that you did not understand before? What do you know now that you did not know before? What can you do now that you could not do before? What have you gained? (And why should anyone want this thing? Or should they?)

Or, to put it another way: suppose that, just prior to reading this post, my view of enlightenment was “I suspect this ‘enlightenment’ business is mostly nonsense, though there’s a chance it’s not nonsense”. Would you predict that reading this post would shift my view? If so, in which direction would you predict that my view would shift?

Third, my kenshō was deliberately induced.

Can you say how? (Was it drugs?)

comment by squidious · 2018-01-20T01:46:56.175Z · score: 24 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I'm betting that this is what he plans on explaining in the next post, where this post is a precursor to explain why it's difficult to convey.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-01-20T02:10:20.903Z · score: 34 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Perhaps. If so, I certainly look forward to reading that future post.

However, I will say that before one begins to lay out an elaborate explanation of why something is hard to explain, one might perhaps begin by offering at least a taste of just why, exactly, anyone might be interested in having that thing explained at all.

An analogy: suppose I have invented a widget. Well, so I claim, anyway, having shown up in your office (you’re an investor, to whom I propose to license my invention). Upon entering, I immediately launch into a long, elaborate explanation of the fact that my widget is very difficult to manufacture—almost impossible, really. It’s quite a herculean effort, just making the thing! Yes, producing even one of these widgets is an ordeal worthy of song and story, because the process of its creation is long and arduous and complex…

Are you not liable to interrupt my tale, by saying “Yes, yes, but what is it? Do you have one? What the heck are we even talking about, here? Show it to me!”?

Coming back from the analogy, what I’d very much like to have seen first (and would still like to see) is a post along the lines of: “Observe, as I demonstrate unusual and impressive feats of thinking / writing / action! Are you not impressed? Yes, of course you are… and how did I accomplish these things? Enlightenment! And what is this ‘enlightenment’? Ah, now that’s a tricky one… settle in, because this’ll take a while…”

… or something. You know?

comment by Valentine · 2018-01-20T05:38:52.317Z · score: 10 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Your wish totally makes sense. And I might have tried harder at that. This is a teaching principle I understand well, I promise.

But… the motivation problem is subject to the same puzzle I'm outlining in the OP.

This is why so many meditation teachers and enlightenment gurus end up making claims about "lower your stress" and "improve health" and "increase concentration" and "better love-making" and "healthier relationships" and so on. Some of it is trying to point at things that actually can come from this, and some of it is people who have no clue what they're talking about copying the claims they've heard others make.

But if I'm being honest, the motivation is already in you, and I don't really care that much what your conscious mind has to think about it. I'd prefer to ease your passage as you keep doing you, but if I literally cannot get your conscious mind to understand, then oh well!

The thing I do hope is for your conscious mind to track that there is a kind of insight that it has trouble understanding the need for. "Well, why would I care about that?" Exactly.

With all that said, I really did try to give your conscious mind something to hold onto — but it looks like it didn't stick at all, which is unsurprising given, um, everything I've been saying:

Once you have any meaningful grasp of how to Look, you can use it to see things that prompt novel Gears in your understanding of the world. A lot of things that previously sounded kind of mystical or incoherent will suddenly change meaning and be made of obviousness to you. And some of them really, really, really, really matter.
Seeing these things will probably transform you, although it usually seems to feel more like realizing who you have always been and what has always mattered most to you. Your reflective priorities rearrange, you start caring in a different and deeper way, and most of the things you had previously been so stressed or concerned about stop mattering. You actually start to get what’s at stake and what’s worth doing.
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-01-20T05:56:39.081Z · score: 5 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I started writing a comment responding to things you said, there.

Then I noticed that nothing in your comment was actually responsive to my comment. Hm.

I asked you to demonstrate what you know, or understand, or can do, now that you’ve achieved whatever-it-is. But you responded by talking about what amazing (but, of course, hard to verbalize) things would happen for me if I were to achieve this thing (or, worse, not even what would happen as a result of achieving the thing, but reasons I allegedly already want this thing—without knowing it).

That seems like a non sequitur, and is definitely not at all a response to what I asked.

It would be as if—to return to the widgets analogy—I asked you to demonstrate your amazing widget, and you started telling me how great it would be if I made a widget of my own. I hope you can see how that might not quite be the most satisfying response.


Edit: This part…

A lot of things that previously sounded kind of mystical or incoherent will suddenly change meaning and be made of obviousness to you. And some of them really, really, really, really matter.

seems ripe for examples. You need not even tell us what amazing new insights you have gained; at least enumerate a few of these previously-confusing things which are now laid bare to you (and, preferably, tell us why they matter).

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2018-01-20T06:01:17.991Z · score: 9 (2 votes) · LW · GW
I asked you to demonstrate what you know, or understand, or can do, now that you’ve achieved whatever-it-is. But you responded by talking about what amazing (but, of course, hard to verbalize) things would happen for me if I were to achieve this thing (or, worse, not even what would happen as a result of achieving the thing, but reasons I allegedly already want this thing—without knowing it).

This doesn't strike me as much of a non-sequitur. At least the first part. Assuming that the benefits of the thing Val is describing are similarly for different people, then you getting benefit X after learning it, has a strong implication that Val got benefit X after learning it, and both are direct evidence for "you will benefit if you put effort into learning/engaging-with this".

You might still have found his arguments weak, but at least the specific thing you describe doesn't seem to fall into the specific category of "non-sequitur".

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-01-20T06:07:01.101Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Hm, are you saying that this part

“lower your stress” and “improve health” and “increase concentration” and “better love-making” and “healthier relationships” and so on

… was intended to be read as a list of benefits that I would get, and Valentine has gotten, from his achievement?

I did not read it that way, but if your reading was the intended one, then indeed, that is the sort of thing I meant.

Valentine, could you clarify?

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2018-01-20T06:09:44.755Z · score: 5 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, no. I was just responding to these two paragraphs in isolation.

I asked you to demonstrate what you know, or understand, or can do, now that you’ve achieved whatever-it-is. But you responded by talking about what amazing (but, of course, hard to verbalize) things would happen for me if I were to achieve this thing (or, worse, not even what would happen as a result of achieving the thing, but reasons I allegedly already want this thing—without knowing it).
That seems like a non sequitur, and is definitely not at all a response to what I asked.

While obviously context is always important, this comment of mine should be parsable without any knowledge of Val's original comment.

(And as such might also not be super valuable. The thing that generated this comment was more the part of my brain that goes through a proof/argument step-by-step and analyses its internal logic, and not the part of my brain that was trying to parse the larger context of the conversation.)

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-01-20T06:16:59.932Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Then, I confess I am having trouble grasping your point.

You don’t think that “let me tell what you will get from this” is a non-sequitur in response to “show me what you got from this”? I think it is… but, perhaps reasonable people can differ on this. It is, in any case, a very unsatisfying sort of response, even if it isn’t literally a non sequitur.

(There is also the fact that even as I try to think of just what specific benefits Valentine has made reference to, I find it hard to pin them down. Perhaps someone might make a concise list?)


Edit: It seems like you edited your comment shortly after posting, to add the second paragraph? Or did I just miss it the first time I read? Anyway, I retract the “trouble grasping your point”, in light of that, but the rest of my comment stands.

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2018-01-20T06:41:23.196Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, yes. I edited. I usually omit the explicit "edit" if I do it less than five minutes after posting, but I guess this time that was the wrong call.

comment by Valentine · 2018-01-20T04:42:07.421Z · score: 19 (8 votes) · LW · GW
So you’re enlightened. Ok. Now what? What do you understand now that you did not understand before? What do you know now that you did not know before? What can you do now that you could not do before? What have you gained?

(Quick terminology thing: "enlightened" is kind of a type error, but if we force it to mean something coherent, then I'm not enlightened. In Buddhism one might say that I've reached stream-entry but not full Buddhahood.)

So… I'll answer your question. But first, I'd ask you to notice the combative tone that I think is easy to read in what you've written. This puts me in an odd position: if I just answer, then you're incentivized to poke and prod in a combative way. If I object to the frame, it's easy for the audience to see me as weaseling out of falsifiability. I'm speaking to this directly because that's not the tone I want here: I'd rather just offer what I can and work together to see truth clearly. I know that's not the standard tone of Less Wrong; I've been around a while. But it's a tone I prefer, so it's what I'll use.

So! With that… I think I answered some of this in my reply to Ben. It's not exhaustive and doesn't really speak that much to what I understand/know now, but I currently think it's what you're looking for. Let me know if you were hoping for something different.

(And why should anyone want this thing? Or should they?)

"Should" is a broken concept here. All y'all can do what you like! You can want this, or not, however you see fit.

…but in that, I'm yanking your chain a little bit. In this case I think I can answer your question in a way you'll find more satisfying:

If you learn how to Look, you can see things that you can learn to interpret as novel patterns. This gives you a lot more room to do some pretty epic stuff.

…but explaining that more concretely is really best left for the upcoming post.

Can you say how? (Was it drugs?)

I'll say how in the upcoming post.

Also, as a matter of game theory: I currently think it's a bit dangerous to have people record in public whether they have done something that's currently quite illegal. For the most part, people will tend to say "no" if they haven't, which means answers of "no comment" are evidence of "yes". Because of this, I'm implementing a strategy of answering "no comment" along with this explanation to illustrate both that I say "no comment" regardless of the true answer, and also why.

comment by ChristianKl · 2018-01-20T12:57:33.841Z · score: 17 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It's illegal to take most drugs in most jurisdictions. It's not illegal to travel to a location where it's legal to consume then and then consume them in that jurisdiction.

Drug legality also differs a lot in different countries. Germany for example has at the moment legal 1PLSD which is an LSD analgoue that likely gets processed the same way in the brain (there's an additional group on it that the body likely removes before it has effects).

In cases where it's useful to communicate knowledge gained from drug experiments it might be worthwhile to create the plausible impression that the experiment was done in a jurisdiction where it's legal.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-01-20T05:19:31.631Z · score: 16 (11 votes) · LW · GW

It sounds like you’re basically saying “all will be explained in my upcoming post”. Fair enough. I look forward to reading it. (This ordering is very much not ideal, imo, but that happens sometimes.)

Re: how this “kensho” state was achieved, and whether it was drugs or not:

You are, of course, right that it’s imprudent to admit to illegal drug use on a public Internet forum. Your policy of a “no comment” response, if asked directly, is a sensible one. (It also sounds like it was not drugs in this case, because then—presumably—you would not be planning to tell us about it in your upcoming post.)

But, in the counterfactual case where…

  • … you did achieve your not-really-enlightenment-but-something-related state via drug use, and then…
  • … made a blog post about having achieved this state, without revealing how…
  • … because it would be imprudent to admit to drug use…

… then, in that scenario, you would have done this, knowing in advance that you would refuse to reveal this crucial fact, if asked.

(“Crucial”, I say, because let’s face it—“I dropped acid and had a mystical experience and uncovered Truths, which, alas, it is nigh-impossible to put into words” is… not, shall we say, an exceedingly interesting story, nor a particularly novel one.)

In that scenario, writing this post would, of course, be quite unethical!

Anyhow, it sounds like my concern doesn’t apply here, which is gratifying.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2018-01-20T01:32:57.331Z · score: 17 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Look, that's the question the entire post was attempting to answer, including the part with the metaphor about why it would be hard to explain with words, together with alluding to the existence of many other people who also had a hard time explaining it with words. You can claim that you still haven't understood but I think it's uncharitable to claim that there was no attempt to explain.

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2018-01-20T01:48:07.044Z · score: 46 (14 votes) · LW · GW

I do feel the post is not really trying to explain why you should care to achieve enlightenment. It highlights that it is difficult to talk about enlightenment, and that it is difficult to point at the benefits elightenment might provide, but it doesn't feel like it's actually trying to give me evidence about the benefits of enlightenment, and that's the part I am actually most skeptical about.

I believe we have many deep epistemic blindspots, and deep ontological frameworks we cannot easily break out off. I expect there are methods to expand your ontology in various ways, and this seems like one of them, but it is competing with hundreds of other ways I could expand my horizon (for example by studying math, or coming to deeply understand poetry, or going through intense social experiences like circling, or participating in intense religious experiences). Mindspace is deep and wide, and while I believe that you've had many internal experiences I haven't, just highlighting that you had them and I have not does not make me want to spend dozens of hours trying to achieve yours. It's not completely unconvincing, but a pretty weak sell overall.

My disagreement here is similar to the many discussions I've had with people about taking LSD. They usually go "the experience of LSD is really hard to describe, and I don't think you can get it any other way, and it's a totally novel way of experiencing the world" and my usual response is "cool, but does that now actually help you achieve your goals?", and sometimes when I dig into it like that, the response is "yes", but often the response is "not really" and sometimes "in retrospect yes, but I don't know whether taking it might have changed my values and that past me might not be happy about the changes".

Like, Scott Alexander's latest analysis of Mastering The Core Teachings of the Buddha seems to have mostly ended with the verdict "enlightenment is real, but also maybe not particularly useful and I don't think I can particularly recommend people to spend hundreds of hours on it", which is roughly my current epistemic state as well.

comment by Valentine · 2018-01-20T04:51:42.743Z · score: 2 (7 votes) · LW · GW

You're right, I wasn't trying to sell enlightenment. It really doesn't matter if I sell y'all on it. Promise.

I do think there's something to Looking, though. And I think it's interwoven into the core of a lot of rationality. And the failure to learn to Look, instead replacing it with a particular kind of intellectual activity that simulates some of the apparent effects of having Looked, seems to me to be one of the hulking reasons why the sense that more is possible is so hard to actualize.

Like, Scott Alexander's latest analysis of Mastering The Core Teachings of the Buddha seems to have mostly ended with the verdict "enlightenment is real, but also maybe not particularly useful and I don't think I can particularly recommend people to spend hundreds of hours on it", which is roughly my current epistemic state as well.

You are in fact doing a beautiful job of being you. That's very you. You make sense.

And also, I'm laughing.

(In good faith. Promise.)

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-01-20T01:44:18.728Z · score: 7 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Who said there was no attempt to explain…? I think you might be reading things into my comment that aren’t there…

(That said, I don’t actually see where in the post my questions are, in fact, answered. Do you?)

including the part with the metaphor about why it would be hard to explain with words, together with alluding to the existence of many other people who also had a hard time explaining it with words

I’m sure you can see how that might be, shall we say, rather unsatisfying.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2018-01-20T06:23:56.716Z · score: 1 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Man, alright, so I'm going to be honest here. I feel like you're being a huge asshole in this conversation, and I'm feeling a strong desire to defend Val from what feels to me like an attack on your part. I expect admitting this will give you plenty of ammunition to continue attacking if that's what you want to do, but I really wish you wouldn't.

I don't want to win this conversation. I think Val is explaining something important and if someone gets something out of his explanation that would make me very happy. It's looking unlikely that you're going to be one of those people, and that's okay, but it also feels to me like you're implicitly accusing Val of having violated norms - that's the attack I want to defend against - and if that's how you're feeling I wish you'd be more explicit about it.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-01-20T06:33:13.375Z · score: 13 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Now you are definitely reading things into my comments that aren’t there.

I would certainly like to get something out of Valentine’s explanations. It seems to me that I have been trying to do exactly that. That’s all.

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2018-01-20T06:39:12.539Z · score: 15 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It does seem like a somewhat common pattern that your comments get interpreted as hostile. I think this is both a reason to extend you more charitability, since I don't actually think those worries have ever been clearly demonstrated to be true, but is also a sign of something more general going wrong that I don't really know how to deal with.

(Happy to continue this thread via private chat or in meta. I am hesitant to have even more meta on this post.)

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2018-01-20T06:46:54.940Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Said, you do not get to decide what people read into your words. What you've communicated to others is what they get from your communication, no more and no less. There's a tight analogy to teaching: you do not get to decide what you teach to your students. What you've taught is what they've learned, no more and no less.

I believe that you're trying to get something out of Val's explanations, but there are other things you're doing in the course of that trying and they're really rubbing me the wrong way. That is at least as much a fact about me as about you, but I am a real human having a real experience of being pissed at you, and you don't get to define that experience away just because you don't see anything in your comments worth getting pissed about.

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2018-01-20T06:54:36.084Z · score: 9 (2 votes) · LW · GW

[Moderation Note]

Note that at this point the thread doesn't seem super valuable to continue to me, and that I might lock it down in case it continues in a way that I expect to go badly. Discussion via PM or in Meta is welcome.

comment by Elizabeth (pktechgirl) · 2018-01-20T06:26:21.971Z · score: -5 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I love Qiaochu's comment for its sincerity, good faith, and articulation.

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2018-01-20T06:28:32.597Z · score: 5 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Good faith strikes me as a weird descriptor. Do appreciate the sincerity and articulation. (I do think it's important that Qiaochu doesn't undeservedly get the label of "good faith", in particular in a conversation in which he is suggesting someone is lacking exactly that attribute)

edit: replaced "accusing" with "suggesting" for less combatative framing

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2018-01-20T06:48:42.297Z · score: 9 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I also think good faith is a weird descriptor of what I said.

comment by RainbowSpacedancer · 2018-01-22T07:55:43.289Z · score: 49 (16 votes) · LW · GW

The awakened community definitely needs more rationality and the rationality community could probably benefit from some Insight, so thank you for starting this conversation. Hopefully it's just the first step. For anyone interested r/streamentry is a mostly woo-free, friendly community for discussing this sort of thing.

A particularly useful and traditional guideline is to wait a year and a day before claiming an attainment and completely making up your mind. This is slippery stuff sometimes, and many states and stages can easily fool someone into thinking that they are something they are not.

Do you have a teacher? I ask for two reasons. Firstly a reputable teacher will be able to provide confirmation of your attainment. Secondly what you’re describing doesn’t sound like stream entry, it sounds like A&P. There’s typically a difficult period after this which can be brutal if you’re not expecting it and it’s extremely useful to have the support of a teacher who knows the territory to guide you through it. Whatever it turns out to be it sounds like it's reduced suffering considerably, so congratulations.

You linked to Rinzai Zen, is that the tradition in which you’ve been trained? The impression I get from your comments is that the “sudden enlightenment” paradigm is operating as a background assumption and that’s leading into conflict and unnecessary dead ends in some comment threads. The “I want cake”, “I’m giving you cake” thread is the best example of this. I think gradualism better maps onto reality, provides a better support for a daily practice and provides a better explanation of enlightenment as a concept. Gradual versus Sudden is an old debate (I'm not sure how familiar you are with it) and I don’t want to simply rehash that but I do want to point towards a few advantages that can help avoid the pitfalls I'm seeing here.

Telling people (rationalists in particular) that everything is already perfect or it doesn’t matter if they get “it” just annoys people. Gradualism provides a better framework for learning and leads to less frustration. Small steps are easier to take than a huge inferential gap. The success of The Mind Illuminated is testament to this.

Stream entry is a good example of the blurry line between sudden and gradual attainments. It’s seems like a discrete stage, you either are or you aren’t a stream enterer. Except there are many different definitions of what stream entry is and where you should place the dividing line. It’s better described as a spectrum with several significant shifts along it.

comment by Benquo · 2018-01-20T21:20:26.317Z · score: 45 (14 votes) · LW · GW

I think you're talking about doing your own perceptual chunking, instead of projecting socially received models (or your own prior models) on top of something. This is absolutely critical for being able to do anything new, and almost definitionally difficult to verify based on legible standards. I don't actually think the problem is that people don't know how to do it - it's usually that they perceive an incentive not to do it, and to cover up this fact. And sometimes they're right!

Related: Do One-Eyed Rule Blind?, The order of the soul

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-01-20T22:06:36.385Z · score: 19 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I would love to see an LW post that talks about this in detail.

comment by Benquo · 2018-01-21T07:10:31.576Z · score: 6 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Which aspect?

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-01-21T07:21:32.393Z · score: 9 (3 votes) · LW · GW

“doing your own perceptual chunking, instead of projecting socially received models (or your own prior models) on top of something”, and how/why this is “absolutely critical for being able to do anything new”, and also, of course, the bit about incentives not to do it, and covering up.

So, all of it.

comment by lawrence-wang · 2018-01-20T21:54:01.159Z · score: 7 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting. One of the terms that is used in Buddhism is "ego-identification" -- this is the belief that all of my perceptions come through a specific physical body, and therefore I am this body. I'm probably oversimplifying, but my understanding is that this belief should be understood to be erroneous, and actually seeing through and letting go of this belief is a major milestone. It occurs to me now that ego-identification is a kind of perceptual chunking, perhaps the most fundamental one.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2018-01-22T02:29:02.384Z · score: 42 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Meta: it looks like a few people (including me) are getting confused about comments disappearing on this thread. The page by default only displays 100 comments, presumably chosen by magical algorithm, and you need to request at the top to get it to display more comments.

To me this effect is jarring because when I see that a comment I wrote has disappeared I don't know whether it was 1) eaten by a bug, 2) put on another thread by a bug, 3) deleted by a moderator, or 4) hidden in this way, which is not a hypothesis I had before looking more carefully because I already had 3 other excellent hypotheses. I don't have concrete suggestions for what to do about this.

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2018-01-22T06:58:24.850Z · score: 21 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Yep, this is horrible and I apologize. We only had two threads with over 100 comments since he start of LW2, and so this is not something that I ended up optimizing super much for. But I will try to fix it soon.

comment by lawrence-wang · 2018-02-04T02:46:03.583Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Since we're talking about the behavior of comment threads, I hope you won't mind me mentioning here that I would love to be able to collapse a comment from below its nested replies in addition to the top of the comment. I'm finding that I often am scrolling down a chain of nested replies to see if anything new has been added, discovering that nothing has, and then scrolling up to collapse.

EDIT: never mind, that's what the green bar is for! I just hadn't seen any new comments yet :D

comment by Moral Of Story (moral-of-story) · 2018-01-21T22:44:45.364Z · score: 39 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I think drawing may be a similar skill. I can't actually draw well, but my model of how one does this is by not interpreting your visual field by the laws of perspective and instead making lines that correspond to your actual sensations. This is why sometimes one sees it recommended, as a learning technique, to put a photo upside down and then try drawing that. It forces you to pay attention to the lines instead of performing the visual parsing step one ordinarily does. (The other half of drawing is causing the lines to show up on the page in the place where you want them to; this is not part of the analogy.)

One could consider this Looking at one's raw visual phenomena. The skill described in the OP would be Looking at one's own mental phenomena, a layer or two further up the stack from the raw visual phenomena. It's possibly important not to think one has the generalized skill of looking if one just knows how to draw (it may block you from actually learning how to Look). However, if this analogy holds as strongly as I think it does, then one ought to be able to learn both skills with similar techniques?

For drawing that implies perhaps spending time studying your visual field without parsing it may improve your skill, even without practice (clearly at some point you also have to learn the skill of putting lines where you want them). This sounds a lot like meditation, but applied to different sensory input. This seems like a testable prediciton of this hypothesis/theory.

Then again, I might be normie-splaining; I don't draw well, and I either haven't had the experience described in the OP or have but don't consider it remarkable (honestly can't quite tell). But this seems like a stronger analogy than any I have had heard.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-01-21T23:33:01.723Z · score: 32 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I like this analogy!

Of course, it suggests ever more strongly that—if ‘Looking’ is a real thing (i.e., a skill or ability that it’s possible to have, and that perhaps some people do have, but which most people don’t have)—then it should allow one to produce unmistakeably impressive artifacts or feats.

After all, what can one do with this ‘visual Looking’ skill you describe? Why—draw pictures! (Specifically, one can draw pictures that look much more realistic than those drawn by people without the skill, such that the beholder says—“My god! That actually looks like the real thing!”.)

There can be absolutely no mistaking the impressiveness of pictures drawn by a person with the ‘visual Looking’ skill. Crucially, their impressiveness is perceivable…

  1. … without the beholder himself having the skill; and even…
  2. … without the beholder even knowing about any such skill, nor, indeed, having any knowledge of drawing techniques.

(That’s not the only clearly real and tangible skill or ability gained by someone who has this capacity to perceive their raw visual field; there are others. Drawing realistic pictures, however, is one of the most unmistakeably impressive ones, and one of the easiest to demonstrate.)

What is the analogous product of general ‘Looking’—one which is impressive to someone who does not themselves have the skill, nor even know that such a skill exists?

comment by Richard_Kennaway · 2018-01-21T23:57:51.117Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Another dimension to that analogy is that "visual Looking" can be systematically taught. Art schools do that for generation after generation of students. They provide (to borrow another analogy) the recipe, the cooking instructions, examples of well-made and ill-made cakes, and give critiques of the students' work. There are books and videos showing you how to do these things. There is no mystery about how to learn "visual Looking".

None of which seems to be available for Valentine's "Looking".

comment by ChristianKl · 2018-01-22T02:47:42.235Z · score: 5 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Telling whether someone draws a realistic picture is quite easy because you can compare the picture to a photo. You don't have a similar comparision for subjective experience and ontology. In both cases getting better at those will allow you to make better predictions in specific cases but it's hard to put that into a structure.

comment by ialdabaoth · 2018-02-16T23:20:35.087Z · score: 4 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Actually, there absolutely can be mistaking the impressiveness of pictures drawn by a person with the 'visual Looking' skill. If you get certain stylistic aspects wrong, or come from the wrong class/race/etc., it gets called "degenerate" instead of impressive.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-02-17T00:22:45.801Z · score: 5 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Examples?

comment by Moral Of Story (moral-of-story) · 2018-01-22T00:20:27.026Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Not all domains have obvious outputs. It's entirely plausible to me that there is no equivalent of "drawing" for the skill of Looking-at-mental-phenomena.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-01-22T00:28:13.265Z · score: 17 (4 votes) · LW · GW

This is an interesting perspective. I could respond by asking “then what good is it?”—but let’s dig deeper:

What examples can we think of, of other domains which have no obvious output, but which, clearly, are real and valuable?

No doubt there are some. Comparing them to ‘Looking’ may yield useful insights, yes?

comment by abramdemski · 2018-01-21T23:14:54.007Z · score: 27 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I think I get what Looking is now. This draws together most of the things I thought Looking might be, and explains how they're the same skill applied to different things. The skill of drawing is transformative for some people. There's a phenomenon I've heard repeated a few times (most prominantly in the book IMPRO) where a person "lives in their head" so much that they become distant from their sense-data, things literally losing color and taste, or noticing that you aren't feeling touch very sensitively, and drawing can help you break out of that.

Learning to draw in itself might not help with Looking or might even hurt (if you get in the habit of thinking that all internal experiences reduce to atomic sensory observations), but it maybe if you learned to draw in conjunction with learning Gendlin's Focusing, and meditation, and another introspective/phenomenological skill, you might get the general thing!

So, my model is that Looking is the ability to see your experiences for what they are. Whereas learning to draw, or learning to pay attention to what your body is feeling allow you to Look at sense-data only, the general skill has to do with perceiving what you experience (which is not just sense data -- when you look at an apple there is a part of you which sees an apple and experiences it as an apple).

I don't think I really have the general thing? At least not in a condensed skill. The idea of trying to Look at something seems like it would be too distracting from the experience of the thing, sort of like the learning-to-draw kind of Looking can distract from being able to Look at whole objects without splitting them into parts.

comment by Ruby · 2018-01-20T01:42:23.196Z · score: 38 (12 votes) · LW · GW

My sense is that "enlightenment" is a perceptual-emotional shift rather than any change of belief or judgment, and this makes the communication difficult, same as communicating any other qualia to a person who hasn't had it. It's not unlike trying to communicate what a hypothetical novel color looks like to someone who hasn't seen it.

Of course, if I can see ultraviolet colors (due to some novel Crispr treatment or something), I can offer a good description of the mechanics which are producing my unique experience , i.e. "I can see a wavelength you can't." In the case of enlightenment, however, we don't have commonly accepted and understood models like wavelength of light. If we did for qualia too, I think Val could communicate in an understandable what was going on his mind, even if the mechanical description cannot convey the actual experience. (I'm reminded of the Mary's Room thought experiment.)

In the case of Val's Kensho, I don't think I've ever occupied that mental state, but I've experienced enough variations in relevant dimensions of perception, emotion, and relation to reality that I get that he's gone in a certain direction in a certain coordinate system of sorts. I don't occupy the same perceptual-mental state though through my understanding alone, but I feel like I could follow if I did the right things.

I think the advice to get used to using fake frames as leading towards this is on point since it's close to the skill of shifting one's perceptual-emotional state. Rationalists focus on having a map which matches the territory and are therefore constanty drawing in new lines and editing old ones; Val's pointing at the skill of reconsidering the ontology of the representation. What if roads, houses, and trees weren't the basic units of a map? This thought maneuver requires a pulling back from one's "object level models", and I see that pulling back generalizing to pulling back entirely from models and being able to see "raw perception-emotion". At that level, there are mental transformations possible which aren't about beliefs or judgments. You don't shift to consider death less bad, but your relationship to it is changed, even if it still horrific.

"Okay" is such an underqualified word for what I think Val is trying to convey. At least if it's the same thing I have a sense of.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-01-20T01:53:42.288Z · score: 22 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Of course, if I can see ultraviolet colors (due to some novel Crispr treatment or something), I can offer a good description of the mechanics which are producing my unique experience , i.e. “I can see a wavelength you can’t.” In the case of enlightenment, however, we don’t have commonly accepted and understood models like wavelength of light. If we did for qualia too, I think Val could communicate in an understandable what was going on his mind, even if the mechanical description cannot convey the actual experience.

If you could see ultraviolet colors, you could use that perception to, e.g., distinguish between an object that is radiating in UV from one which isn’t (which normal humans cannot do). It would be trivial to verify that you had some perception that others lacked (using any or all of a myriad reliable, repeatable, unambiguous experiments). No description of your internal state, or the true mechanism of your new power, would be necessary.

What is the analogous trivially-verifiable power that is bestowed by enlightenment?

comment by Ruby · 2018-01-20T02:11:06.208Z · score: 50 (16 votes) · LW · GW

I haven't achieved any state profound enough that I'd consider it enlightenment, but I'll answer based on my understanding and what I've experienced so far.

I don't think there is a trivially-verifable power conferred by enlightenment, but I would wager that people who have experienced enlightened will perform systematically better at certain tasks, including:

  • Maintaining emotional stability and wellbeing regardless of circumstance, e.g. intense stress, uncertainty, tragic loss.
  • Better ability to stare directly at uncomfortable truths, and resultantly, less motivated cognition.

It's a useful state to achieve if you plan to wake up each day, confront the sheer magnituted of the suffering that exists in the world, or carry the burden of trying to ensure the far future is as good as it could be, while hoping to be a psychologically well-adjusted and effective human. All the more so if the tasks you carry out push you to your limits[1].

It'd take resource-intensive experiments to measure these effects, but I'd still wager on their existence. Much of my confidence is because each time I feel myself move along theses dimensions, I reap marginal benefits.

[1] I think many EA's suffer because they take on these tasks without the mental infrastructure required to bear them and still flourish.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-01-20T02:18:06.172Z · score: 24 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting! This is starting to sound quite a bit like something resembling verifiable claims (not quite, but much closer than most other stuff in this vein!).

Could you say a bit more about what sorts of experiments you envision, that could verify the effects you allude to? (Or, to put it another way: you said you’d wager on the existence of these effects—do you mind sketching out in more detail how we might construct the conditions of such a bet, with sufficient rigor to make it definitely resolvable?)

In any case, I very much appreciate this sort of response, thanks.

comment by Ruby · 2018-01-20T02:47:16.034Z · score: 18 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Glad it's helpful!

Psychological resilience and motivated cognition are difficult to measure, but I'm very certain they're real things. Not everything real and which has a large causal effect on the world is easily measured. I'm not inclined to sketch out protocols for measuring these things in this comment thread, but I'd recommend How To Measure Anything as the book I'd turn to if I was to try.

comment by Valentine · 2018-01-20T04:20:58.132Z · score: 11 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Likewise, I really appreciate Ruby's replies here. I haven't reflected deeply enough on the "perceptual-emotional shift" thing to know whether I fully agree, but it seems very plausible to me, and the claims he's putting forward sound right to me.

comment by abramdemski · 2018-01-21T09:11:24.999Z · score: 36 (11 votes) · LW · GW

[Edit: this comment starts off on a critical tone. After reading more comments which are very critical, I wanted to edit my comment to first at least indicate that I think you are communicating about it as best you can and am somewhat annoyed with those suggesting otherwise. Nonetheless, my comment focuses on a single paragraph in which you make a decision about how to communicate which I disagree with. This is neither a criticism of the central point of the essay, nor a criticism of the overall way in which you try to make your point here.]

[Edit 2: I think I get what Looking is now; see my reply to Moral Of Story's comment.]

Another way I could try to say the “it’s okay” thing is something like, “The world is real in your immediate experience before you think about it. Set aside your interpretations and just look.” The trouble is, most people’s thinking system can grab statements like this and try to interpret them: if you think something like “Oh, that’s the map/territory distinction”, then all I can say is you are still looking at your phone.

There's something very frustrating about this. Explaining in-parable: if you're trying to tell me to look up, and I send a diagram of person-phone-gaze theory with anatomical markings indicating what I think you mean by "look up", I know that understanding the graphic is not the same as "looking up". What I want from you is any corrections you might have to the graphic. This may not actually help me to look up, but it may help -- and more likely, it'll help me know roughly the sort of thing I'm missing even if I can't move my eyes as a result.

If someone doesn't yet get the map-territory relation, you wouldn't keep trying to show them the territory. It would help to make a map of the way the map-territory relation works, even though the ultimate goal is to help them look past maps in a sense. It could also help to show them some places where reality doesn't work the way they think it does, to remind them that there's a difference between what they think and what's real. But if they don't yet see an alternative they'll just think you're being mean, and say things like "just because I'm wrong sometimes doesn't mean I should stop trying".

Out-of-parable: my understanding is that there are two different things you're getting at: the Kenshō itself, and the epistemic operation of Looking. The paragraph quoted above makes me think that the two are closely related, though.

My texting-you-a-diagram-of-phone-and-eyes-with-arrows-indicating-what-looking-up-would-mean:

It seems to me (based on this and other posts / interaction with you) like Looking has to do with the idea that we normally parse the world in pre-set ontologies, but there has to be a thing which builds the ontologies in the first place. Here, "ontology" does not mean the build-in framework of the hardware we run on (like telling a computer to look past bits and bytes to the thing which created bits and bytes in the first place -- something it can't physically do). Rather, "ontology" refers to provisional frameworks developed through experience. "Looking" intentionally engages the facilities which are involved in ontology-building-and-shifting.

For example, it used to be that when I would hear arguments for intuitionistic logic, I would interpret them in the framework of classical logic. This felt like using the best tools I had to evaluate proposed alternatives. Similarly, I still evaluate alternative ethical frameworks with a basically utilitarian lense. However, at some point, I gained the ability to evaluate arguments for intuitionism on their own. I think this was both an example of Looking and an insight which had to do with the nature of Looking (because it had to do with refactoring the map-territory relation). This instance of "Looking" seemed to basically require a lot of time with the subject -- if there's something earlier-me could have done to stop evaluating things through a purely classical-logic lense, I don't know what it would be.

You're claiming, as I understand it, that there's a skill of Looking which can be immediate -- not necessarily coming to the right conclusions immediately, I suppose, but immediately getting out of the evaluate-through-current-ontology trap. I mostly of believe you, and I can guess at mental motions which you might mean, but they are things like "use your inner sim rather than your inner narrative machine" or "try to look at a chair without seeing a chair, only splotches of light; then generalize this" or "turn your thoughts to what put the current ontology there in the first place" or "seperate your thinking about whether things 'make sense' from your thinking about whether they connect with evidence, so that you can notice when something has explanatory power even if it doesn't fit with your preconceptions". I don't know which of these things you mean, if any.

Now, more speculatively, the Kenshō itself:

I have an intuition that whereas Looking is epistemic, the Kenshō is instrumental. Just as we can set up an ontology which becomes so familiar that we forget our basic ability to look, we can set up a way of doing and being which becomes so familiar that we forget the place it comes from. (So far, this is essentially your CFAR-level-two class, The Machine of You.) The connection between "It's okay" and "The world is real in your immediate experience before you think about it. Set aside your interpretations and just look" is, on this understanding: once you engage your core rather than existing in your constructed way of being, there's something supremely silly about worrying all the time or using guilt-driven motivation.

comment by ChristianKl · 2018-01-21T17:32:11.630Z · score: 5 (1 votes) · LW · GW
There's something very frustrating about this.

Any good koan that can't be immediately decoded feels that way for a person who feels the desire to decode everything. It a basic effect of the teaching tool.

Telling koans is a time tested method for teaching these things and while it might be possible that there's a better way to teach it, but that doesn't mean that it's bad to go with it if you don't know of a better way.

comment by abramdemski · 2018-01-22T01:17:18.242Z · score: 4 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I agree with what you are saying. I think I addressed. Again using map-territory as an analogy: It can help someone's understanding of the map-territory distinction to show them places in the territory which don't match their map. I'm saying there's also a different thing you can do, which is to draw a map of the map-territory relationship. I read Val as objecting to this approach with "you are still looking at your phone", which doesn't seem like a right objection to me. If I ask "Is Kenshō the map-territory distinction?" It seems like the answer is "no, you can understand that without Kenshō; I can see why you thought what I said sounded like map-territory, and it isn't irrelevant.... but for one thing, I'm talking about an aspect of moment-to-moment experience rather than an intellectual distinction..." etc etc

comment by ChristianKl · 2018-01-22T02:38:45.658Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I think learning the map-territory relationship is about learning something new. Kenshō is in a fundamental sense not about learning something new.

When it comes to the person who looks at the phone and the person unlearns to focus on their phone they begin to see other things. The act of unlearning to look at the phone doesn't add something new and is qualitatively different than learning a concept like the map-territory distinction.

comment by abramdemski · 2018-01-22T09:27:40.259Z · score: 4 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that the map-territory example is disanalogous with the phone example, since there aren't a lot of people who respond to the map-territory distinction with "what would that even mean??? are you OK???". I think maybe I understand what you mean about "not adding something new" -- you're saying it is more like you could have looked up from your phone all along, and you once did, but you've forgotten? But I also take it you mean to be pointing out something I'm missing. If so, I'm still not seeing it.

Are you saying there's something fundamentally wrong with asking for a diagram of how the eyes point at the phone normally but can point away from it? The model I get from Val's post (and from reading comment threads here!!) is that this will mostly get a response like "I don't see where this gaze app is" (or worse). However, if someone is engaging with the question sincerely, it seems possible for it to be useful. With respect to enlightenment, this is like the method of direct instruction rather than meditation. (I don't remember the name of the school of thought I'm referring to, but it is discussed in Sam Harris' Waking Up.)

Granted, even that school has traditions against trying to explain directly to a general audience I think? So maybe there is a general case to be made aggainst the attempt.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2018-01-20T01:35:13.405Z · score: 36 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Fantastic. It's seemed to me for awhile now that the stuff that people are actually talking about in-person (e.g. at CFAR workshops) has far outstripped the pace of what's publicly available in blog post format and I'm really happy to see progress on that front.

For what such claims are worth, I don't think this has happened to me yet, but I think I've gotten near enough to it that I believe it exists.

comment by romeostevensit · 2018-02-12T20:28:37.543Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It is fairly effortful to write about because it is higher dimensional than the connotation space of words that you need to use to describe it. So you wind up having to halt every few sentences to say things in more ways in order to hopefully get your audience to triangulate on the correct thing. And it only sort of works.

comment by squidious · 2018-01-20T01:45:53.789Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Agreed, regarding CFAR stuff.

And Qiaochu, even if you haven't experienced this yet, I believe you are or have gotten closer than most.

comment by SquirrelInHell · 2018-01-20T14:49:05.572Z · score: 33 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Not to put too fine a point on it: through the tone and content of the post, I can still see the old attachments and subconscious messed-up strategies shining through.

I am, of course, not free of blame here because the same could be said about my comment.

However, I reach out over both of these and touch you, Val.

comment by Conor Moreton · 2018-01-20T01:09:09.146Z · score: 33 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Loren ipsum

comment by Valentine · 2018-01-20T01:38:35.639Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · LW · GW

No, actually, I think you know the basics of how to Look. I also think there are several different types of things one can Look at, and I happened to have my head pointed in one direction, and you tend to point your head in another. You made a LOT more sense to me after this.

comment by Veedrac · 2018-01-20T02:25:45.672Z · score: 11 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I would be interested in how you would falsify it regardless. I am confused about what I am meant to be confused about (what does it mean for it to not be okay?) and I suspect the excersise would remedy that.

comment by Valentine · 2018-01-20T04:24:32.823Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Apologies, I don't really follow what you're saying here. What "it" is being falsified? What exercise are you referring to?

Also, you're not meant to be confused by anything. It's just an observation, that pre-kenshō people tend to get confused when someone who has had kenshō tries to describe anything about what they've come to see and how they know they're seeing it.

comment by Veedrac · 2018-01-20T12:28:51.535Z · score: 12 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The exercise in falsification refers to Conor's last sentence, only no longer applied specific to him.

I'm wondering how you would falsify the claim (that I predict you will make and be justified in making) that I don't get it.

When I say I am confused about what I am meant to be confused about, I mean that I'm failing to identify as Alex. He at least has a command he knows he cannot do (Look above that! / That's the top.), whereas I am stuck in the realm of unknown unknowns.

Your paragraph on the "it" from your kenshō is a much closer description of how I currently feel than the inverse is; I don't understand what it would mean for this claim to be untrue except in the sense that it "not being okay" accurately describes external reality. But that feels like it falls into the same trap that your bullet points are said to, only in the opposite direction.

Your later post about the benefits does this more clearly; with absolute exception of the point about energy, and potential exception of the last, the other points seem oddly accurate representations of the difference between me and the average person. But I don't think I am enlightened.

So, on a concrete level, this comes through as the question of how would you differentiate someone who was born enlightened from someone who was not, but is perhaps mistakenly labelling a shallow surface immitation?

comment by ialdabaoth · 2018-01-20T21:50:25.814Z · score: 22 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Hi there. I think I understand Val's thing. (Specifically, I think I understand Val's thing enough that I am imagine Val being wryly amused by my saying "I think I understand Val's thing".)

Let's talk about the cellphone analogy for a minute.

Say you see someone who is looking down at their phone, instead of Looking around them. You're trying to explain Looking to them, and they keep staring at their phone and typing "yeah yeah okay, but how do you know I'm not Looking right now?"

And you type "I'm watching you stare at your phone. If your Looking, your head would be up and your eyes would be pointed at me."

And they type, "my eyes ARE pointed at you. I'm looking RIGHT AT YOU", as they look intently at your chat icon on their screen.

And you sigh, stop typing, and gently speak right into their ear, "no. LOOK AT ME."

They twitch uncomfortably and type, "I don't know what you did, but that was deeply uncomfortable. Please don't do that again."

And then you sigh and shrug, and they type "so anyway, how do you know I'm not Looking?"

And then you shrug and go look for someone else who's head is up, because trying to raise this person's head made them uncomfortable and you don't want to try any further.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-01-20T22:04:17.889Z · score: 9 (4 votes) · LW · GW

And you sigh, stop typing, and gently speak right into their ear, “no. LOOK AT ME.”

They twitch uncomfortably and type, “I don’t know what you did, but that was deeply uncomfortable. Please don’t do that again.”

What is this part an analogy for, in the ‘enlightenment’ case? What can you (or Valentine) do, that would make the un-enlightened twitch uncomfortably and say “I don’t know what you did”?

(Similarly, in the ‘parable’ part of the OP, Valentine alludes to the possibility of reaching over and raising the person’s head, forcing them to look up. He then gives what I consider to be some quite unsatisfying reasons for not doing this—but what actually would that constitute? Can you demonstrate, or could Valentine? Surely we can find a willing subject…)

comment by ialdabaoth · 2018-01-20T22:49:49.959Z · score: 43 (13 votes) · LW · GW

twitch I really REALLY want to explain why this is a bad idea, but explaining why it is a bad idea is currently a bad idea. Some local sociopolitcal stuff will need to calm down first, and then I can explain.

EDIT: No, wait. I think I can gesture at it, even if I can't explain fully yet.

There is something about ... concepts that I'm going to call "sovereignty" and "agency", which seem deeply connected with Looking.

Something I've learned to do, occasionally, is sit down with someone and say "Hey. You've been taught that you're not allowed to use your sovereignty and agency to Look. I really think you should Look." And then they flail a bit, like someone who doesn't know how to wiggle their ears trying to learn, and I sigh and say "hey. If I deliberately fuck with your agency, in a way that causes you to feel your sovereignty being attacked, you'll actually notice what your sovereignty feels like, and then you can learn to play around in that space. May I do that? It feels kind of scary and violating, so I don't want to do it without your permission."

And then they say "umm no?", and I go away.

But sometimes they look at me suspiciously, then say "okay go for it", and I do it.

And sometimes they react by saying "oh wow! THAT'S my agency! THAT'S my sovereingty! holy shit!" and then they take off like a rocket, and then I (or someone else) can start showing them how to use it to Look.

But sometimes they freak the fuck out and say "HOW DARE YOU TOUCH THAT I DID NOT GIVE YOU PERMISSION TO DO THAT I DIDN'T KNOW WHAT YOU'D BE TOUCHING NEVER DO THAT TO ANYONE EVER AGAIN!!"

But the thing is, people are touching them like that - pulling subliminally on their sovereignty - all the time, constantly. It's just below the threshold of their conscious noticing; most of the overt attacks on people's sovereignty in the West happen during childhood, when we're being trained to get used to the local incentives. So it's hard for them to notice that the attacks are happening at all, unless you do something pretty overt to knock them out of where their perception has settled.

I dunno, did any of that make sense?

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-01-20T23:13:54.285Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I dunno, did any of that make sense?

No.

I’d like the following:

  1. Concrete description of what you’re talking about. Please avoid vagueness. It doesn’t help at all.

  2. For you to bring in some of these people who reacted in the “oh wow!” fashion, and have them tell us just what you’re talking about, and what is this thing that they were suddenly able to perceive, etc.

#2 may not be trivial, I understand, but it would be very nice to have actual evidence (even of this weak sort) of what you’re saying. #1 would be a good start, and seems like it should be very easy to provide.

I appreciate you trying to explain. Please take my responses/questions as eager attempts to understand. I’d very much like to actually elicit (from anyone, not necessarily you) an actual, specific explanation, which is why I am following up with these requests for specifics, demonstrations, etc.

comment by ialdabaoth · 2018-01-21T01:35:03.387Z · score: 31 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Here's a concrete thing that actually happened once! (More or less. Small details have been modified to extract pith.)

A girl came to me for dance lessons. One of the things that she wanted was to understand how to "push through" things that she knew her body could do, but her mind couldn't.

We talked a lot about agency, about CARING. About how, when you know you really care, you can always find a way to push through. She wasn't getting it.

Finally, I looked at her hair. It was strawberry-blonde, down to her knees, and always meticulously brushed, conditioned, and perfumed.

Then I asked her, "what will you let me do, to explain to you what CARING feels like?"

She looked at me and said something like "at this point, do whatever you have to."

So I said, "watch this. This is what caring feels like."

And I picked up a hair clipper and turned it on, and with my other hand I grabbed a fistful of her hair...

And she freaked, and screamed at me, and I let go, and she pulled away, and she stormed out. And the next week, she came back and we had a long, intense conversation about CARING.

And I would never, EVER have actually cut her hair. But if I hadn't aggressively reached for it, and turned on the clippers, she would have seen through it. She had to get, in her gut, what was at stake.

The relationship was pretty strained after that, but she finally understood CARING.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-01-21T01:45:44.651Z · score: 23 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Cool! This is exactly the sort of answer I wanted: one where you literally tell us what actually took place.

Now, could you give exactly that sort of answer—one that involves a literal account of events—but about the thing we were talking about in the first place?

comment by ialdabaoth · 2018-01-21T03:04:06.851Z · score: 10 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Nope! Maybe some other time.

comment by ialdabaoth · 2018-02-22T04:08:04.101Z · score: 25 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Update: Just yesterday, I did a gentler version of "pulling someone's head up from their phone" to Eli Tyre. It was mostly wordless, and involved no action on my part that would be really perceivable to an outside observer. He said he would describe his experience here; hopefully he'll do so while the experience is still fresh in his mind.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2018-01-21T00:07:13.075Z · score: 24 (7 votes) · LW · GW
Please avoid vagueness. It doesn’t help at all.

Unfortunately, the vagueness is to protect him, not to help you.

#1 would be a good start, and seems like it should be very easy to provide.

Why does it seem like it should be very easy to provide? I imagine if you set a 5-minute timer and really tried to come up with a list of reasons a person might be some combination of unable or unwilling to provide a concrete description of something, you would come up with more than one possible reason.

I appreciate you trying to explain. Please take my responses/questions as eager attempts to understand.

I appreciate this. Thank you.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-01-21T00:56:29.120Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Unfortunately, the vagueness is to protect him, not to help you.

This boils down to “I can’t explain this, for reasons I also can’t explain”, right?

I mean, if you can’t explain it because if you do, the Secret Service will break into your house in a midnight raid to arrest you—fair enough. But you do understand, I’m sure, that this counts as “asked for an explanation or evidence, you failed to provide any”—yes?

Can we agree that the situation as it stands is “claims have been made, but not backed up in any meaningful way”?

I imagine if you set a 5-minute timer and really tried to come up with a list of reasons a person might be some combination of unable or unwilling to provide a concrete description of something, you would come up with more than one possible reason.

Unwilling? Yes, easily. (Most of them rather… well, ‘uncharitable’ is the word that’s typically used around here, but one I wouldn’t use myself; ‘disreputable’, perhaps. I can certainly think of some respectable reasons, though.)

Unable, though? No. What are some such reasons?

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2018-01-21T01:19:26.845Z · score: 6 (2 votes) · LW · GW
Can we agree that the situation as it stands is “claims have been made, but not backed up in any meaningful way”?

What would you get, if I agreed with this, that you want? (Try to use Focusing to answer this question.)

Unable, though? No. What are some such reasons?

In the local dialect, really long inferential distances.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-01-21T01:46:40.599Z · score: 10 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Long inferential distances would make you unable to report events that physically took place in the real world? How?

comment by ChristianKl · 2018-01-22T14:20:08.546Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Imagine trying to tell a hunter gatherer about why we build the Large Hadron Collider and tell him about how we discovered the Higgs Boson.

Then he asks you: "So it's somehow like the ritual our medicine man does to speak with ghosts he otherwise couldn't see?"

The inferential distance won't allow you to give the hunter gather a good idea about the event that happens at the Large Hadron Collider.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2018-01-21T03:30:57.761Z · score: 4 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Fair enough, I think I misunderstood you and also used a poor choice of words. I meant "unable" as in "unable to provide a concrete description that would actually promote understanding."

By analogy, suppose a layperson was reading about Fermat's Last Theorem and asked me for a concrete description of what a modular form is. On some level I could answer by quoting a textbook definition - that's what would count as concrete to a mathematician. On another level there is basically no answer that I could give short of teaching this layperson complex analysis that would allow me to give a description that would meaningfully qualify as "concrete."

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-01-21T04:02:02.208Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

All I wanted was for ialdabaoth to describe the thing he was talking about—the thing that could be analogized to “whispering in someone’s ear and making them twitch”. Perhaps his account would promote understand, perhaps it would not, but the account itself—being a simple reporting of events that transpired—would surely be perfectly plain.

comment by ialdabaoth · 2018-01-21T04:28:44.351Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I DID describe that thing! "Physically moving, with intent, to cut off the girl's hair" is EXACTLY what "whispering in someone's ear and making them twitch" is! EXACTLY. It's not a different situation! But you seemed to want something more salacious, so I refused to give it to you. I want you to understand, but I'm not here to amuse you.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-01-21T05:22:03.994Z · score: 9 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I… think there is a misunderstanding here, and perhaps it’s on my end, but it seems at least partly to be on yours.

First of all, I’m really not sure where you’re getting “salacious”, so let’s set that aside right away. Nothing even remotely like that is anywhere in what I wrote.

Secondly, let’s recap.

You said:

Hi there. I think I understand Val’s thing.

You then analogized this to the “whispering in someone’s ear” scenario. I asked what this is supposed to be analogy for; i.e., can you in fact do something to someone, and have them not understand what it is you did, or how? (This, presumably, would suggest to us that you had some capability that this other person did not; and this extra capability would be something-akin-to ‘enlightenment’.)

You also said some things about ‘sovereignty’, ‘agency’, and ‘Looking’. (These, too, it would seem—from your comments—are related somehow to Valentine’s ‘enlightenment’.)

So what I asked you was simple:

What is this unusual thing that you can do to someone, such that they are confused, or don’t know what you did or how; which signals some unusual capability that you possess?

Clearly, your story with the hair-clipper doesn’t qualify. In fact, it so obviously doesn’t qualify as an example of anything like what you implied you could provide an example of, that it did not even occur to me that you were, in fact, giving me what you thought was an example.

I mean—you (jokingly) threatened to cut off a woman’s hair. This showed her that there are some things she cares really viscerally about. Certainly a clever demonstration!

But what on earth has this to do with… well, any of what’s we’ve been discussing?

I’m sorry if I’m being dense, but I don’t see anything like a connection. Spell out your chain of reasoning, please. Even if I’m not convinced, I’d at least like to understand what you’re claiming.

comment by ialdabaoth · 2018-01-21T17:40:07.023Z · score: 10 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Ohhhh. Okay.

THAT I tried to cut off her hair isn't the "unusual thing". HOW I tried to cut of her hair is the "unusual thing". Specifically, the non-verbal signals of intent, dominance, objectification, and raw power, pointed directly at her, while threatening something she cared about, are the "unusual thing".

I'm starting to think you were accusing me of believing in something supernatural?

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-01-21T18:06:37.645Z · score: 7 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I’m starting to think you were accusing me of believing in something supernatural?

Indeed not; I can’t possibly be accusing you of believing in anything supernatural, since it has been quite unclear to me what, if anything, you are claiming to believe.

Now, as of this last comment, the “if anything” part is withdrawn; clearly, you are saying something. But what? That’s what I’m still unsure of.

HOW I tried to cut of her hair is the “unusual thing”. Specifically, the non-verbal signals of intent, dominance, objectification, and raw power, pointed directly at her, while threatening something she cared about, are the “unusual thing”.

I don’t quite follow. Could you elaborate? What is unusual about these ‘signals’ (and what are they, in particular)?

Following the analogy, it would seem that the young lady in your account should have been confused about what you were doing, or how; and, perhaps, that I, or other unenlightened onlookers / those to whom you relate the story, should also be confused about this.

But nothing in your story seems confusing to me. Should it? What you did seems to me to have been clever, but straightforward (which is not to deny the cleverness!). I don’t have any trouble fitting it into my perfectly ordinary view of the world; nor, I suspect, would any “man in the street”. Should I? What am I missing?

Edit: Or is the claim here simply that ‘enlightenment’ (apologies, I know the term has been objected to—I mean whatever-state-you-have-achieved that is unusual and is the sort of thing being discussed—feel free to provide a better term) helps to generate this sort of cleverness (which, though not itself mysterious or unusual, is nonetheless clever, and thus useful—i.e., constitutes ‘cake’)? That would be a reasonable enough claim. Let me know if this is what you meant.


P.S. In a sibling thread, I asked you for a similar sort of account, but one that was pertinent to the topic at hand. You said you might provide one “another time”. This implies that there is such an account, and that the one you’ve provided so far isn’t it. But now you’re saying that what you already recounted is ‘it’. Again—what am I missing?

comment by ChristianKl · 2018-01-21T01:06:05.467Z · score: 5 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Have you actually experience at explaining this to someone and getting this result?

I don't see theists going "HOW DARE YOU TOUCH THAT I DID NOT GIVE YOU PERMISSION TO DO THAT I DIDN'T KNOW WHAT YOU'D BE TOUCHING NEVER DO THAT TO ANYONE EVER AGAIN!!" after they read a good blog post explaining why God doesn't exist.

In the same way I wouldn't expect to get that reaction for anything related to this. I remember sitting for lunch after a lecture on a related subject and other people at the table simply didn't remember the relevant things that were said in the lecture. They didn't register the claims at all. Human minds are quite resilient to being changed on a basic level in a short amount of time.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2018-01-21T01:13:37.374Z · score: 16 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The thing that ialdabaoth is gesturing at with "fuck with your agency" is not an explanation (I don't know what it is, but it's not an explanation). An explanation would be a text message sent to someone's phone in the cell-phone world; ialdaboth is gesturing at the thing where you whisper directly into someone's ear, which is a very different sort of thing.

comment by ChristianKl · 2018-01-22T02:23:26.955Z · score: 5 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Do you feel there's a concrete thing he's gesturing at? If so, can you give an additional hint about what you mean that's not obvious enough that it doesn't do any damage?

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-01-20T23:04:28.369Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Write an explanation, and post it publicly, in encrypted form. Later, when you feel that it’s acceptable, post the decryption key. (In the meantime, send the key to some people—who will not to disclose it to the general public—so that they may immediately verify that your explanation is legit.) (Edit: Naturally, these should not be people from anywhere near ialdabaoth’s or Valentine’s social circles.)

Sound good?


Edit: I wrote this comment prior to ialdabaoth editing it with a lot more material. Reading now.

Edit 2: Ok, I’ve read the longer version now. Response in sibling. The initial part of my comment stands.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2018-01-20T22:58:55.372Z · score: 20 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I imagine there might be thorny consent issues around doing this to a person who doesn't or maybe can't understand what sort of thing it is.

comment by ialdabaoth · 2018-01-20T23:02:29.272Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Brother, you ain't just whistlin' Dixie.

comment by Veedrac · 2018-01-21T15:12:55.970Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I believe I understood this metaphor. However, it seems to me this isn't a good place to be, since I predict the metaphor is only useful to ground discussion about the thing that's actually taking place. It is that second step that hasn't worked.

Let's flip this around. How do you know when someone is Looking? Is there a way to do so based on external behaviours? What is your equivalent of the following?

"I'm watching you stare at your phone. If your Looking, your head would be up and your eyes would be pointed at me."

You give a good example with the hair clipper, but I don't know how much, if at all, that relates to Looking. If it is closely related I have a few follow-up questions that probably get to the crux of the issue I specifically am stuck on.

comment by nBrown · 2018-01-21T10:15:10.149Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What kinds of things are good to Look at? My guesses:

your own thinking (as Val stated earlier), your close relationships, group dynamics, the world. Anything I've missed?

comment by Elo · 2018-01-20T20:12:30.657Z · score: 30 (8 votes) · LW · GW
  1. https://www.liberationunleashed.com - the folks who focus on delivering people the "it was here all along" realisation. They have a book of transcripts and you can read the forum. From the outside it looks entirely gibberish. From the inside it looks like they are pointing at something, and as you get closer in you can see what they are pointing at.
  2. http://bearlamp.com.au/how-i-accidentally-discovered-the-pill-to-enlightenment-but-i-wouldnt-recommend-it/ My experiences in enlightenment states including links to a lot of things. This is woo-territory so you need to get people to not outright reject ENL before the conversation starts.
  3. PNSE paper. talking about enlightnment states. Which location do you think you arrived at?
  4. http://bearlamp.com.au/zen-koans/ My take on zen koans with a recording that I ran at a dojo in Sydney.
  5. http://bearlamp.com.au/filter-on-the-way-in-filter-on-the-way-out/ Some notes on convincing people of a thing. And how to frame the information.
  6. NVC - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7TONauJGfc Val would know this but everyone else might not. It's possible to transmit understanding easier by understanding the reverse of NVC. Say - by repeating the words, combining with focusing and talking about the resultant knots that arise internally.

There's a lot here and I am glad to see other people writing about it.

comment by Richard_Kennaway · 2018-01-21T19:10:45.483Z · score: 103 (32 votes) · LW · GW

That PNSE paper makes disturbing reading. The four locations the author identifies on a spectrum of deepness of PNSE display progressively increasing sense of well-being and equanimity. However, he also observed that this subjective sense was not evident in the subjects' actual behaviour. Three examples from the paper:

"Over the course of a week, his father died followed very rapidly by his sister. He was also going through a significant issue with one of his children. Over dinner I asked him about his internal state, which he reported as deeply peaceful and positive despite everything that was happening. Having known that the participant was bringing his longtime girlfriend, I’d taken an associate researcher with me to the meeting to independently collect the observations from her. My fellow researcher isolated the participant’s girlfriend at the bar and interviewed her about any signs of stress that the participant might be exhibiting. I casually asked the same questions to the participant as we continued our dinner conversation. Their answers couldn’t have been more different. While the participant reported no stress, his partner had been observing many telltale signs: he wasn’t sleeping well, his appetite was off, his mood was noticeably different, his muscles were much tenser than normal, his sex drive was reduced, his health was suffering, and so forth."

"It was not uncommon for participants to state that they had gained increased bodily awareness upon their transition into PNSE. I arranged and observed private yoga sessions with a series of participants as part of a larger inquiry into their bodily awareness. During these sessions it became clear that participants believed they were far more aware of their body than they actually were."

"Many participants discussed the thought, just after their transition to PNSE, that they would have to go to work and explain the difference in themselves to co-workers. They went on to describe a puzzled drive home after a full day of work when no one seemed to notice anything different about them. Quite a few chose to never discuss the change that had occurred in them with their families and friends and stated that no one seemed to notice much of a difference."

There was also a progressively decreasing sense of agency. In the final stage, Location 4, he reports: "These participants reported having no sense of agency or any ability to make a decision. It felt as if life was simply unfolding and they were watching the process happen. Severe memory deficits were common in these participants, including the inability to recall scheduled events that were not regular and ongoing." And yet, almost all of the subjects reported it as a positive experience.

The subjects, at whatever point they were in the scale, were often completely certain about the nature of the experience: "PNSE was often accompanied by a tremendous sense of certainty that participants were experiencing a ‘deeper’ or ‘more true’ reality. As time passed, this often increased in strength." They also tended to be dogmatic about their PNSE being the real thing (whichever location they were at) and descriptions of other people's different PNSEs as not the real thing. Another way to say "completely certain" is "unable to doubt".

So we have here an experience that takes away the sense of agency and self, floods you with feelings of well-being and direct contact with a deeper reality subjectively impossible to doubt, and yet which does not change any aspect of one's behaviour or personality visible to anyone else, except that in extreme cases it leads to memory loss and inability to handle day to day affairs.

This is not enlightenment, it is wireheading.

NB. I am talking only about PNSE as reported in that paper, not about whatever Valentine is intending to convey.

ETA: I think it's pretty obvious what Eliezer's Cognitive Trope Therapy would have to say.

comment by cousin_it · 2018-02-15T23:30:57.249Z · score: 44 (12 votes) · LW · GW

I've read so many reports from people claiming enlightenment that it's become something of a genre. The common thread is that they all claim better emotional skills, but the writing doesn't reflect any such skills. It's like a house with broken windows that says "elite real estate". All this time I thought it was just me, but in retrospect any incommunicable superpowers should've seemed fishy from the beginning. Your comment confirms that someone else got the same impression and they fact-checked it. Thank you!

comment by Richard_Kennaway · 2018-01-21T20:57:36.464Z · score: 19 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I looked up Jeffery Martin, the author of the paper, and found a remarkable disconnect between the negative things he has to say about PNSE and all of his other writings. He has a website for writing about these things, two organisations for researching them, and a string of books on the subject on Amazon.

The same four stages appear in the preface to one of these books, "The God Formula" ("A simple scientifically proven blueprint that has transformed millions of lives"). They are described in glowing terms. Producing those experiences is the very purpose of the book. And yet the book was published in 2013, and references his research on PNSEs, which was carried out over many years previous to that. I can't see enough of the book for free to see how he reconciles these drastically different views.

Apart from a two-volume work on Reiki (of which he is a "world renowned master"), his other books are a science-fictionalised account of what he calls the "Fourth Awakening". I am guessing that from behind the distance of fiction, this is more or less what he believes or hopes to be the case. From the blurbs: "For the past 500 or so years, the political power of religion has waned while the power of science has flourished. With videos of Space Shuttles exploding on cable news, both sides politicizing environmental science to serve their personal agenda and “safe” nuclear power plants melting down, science is now in retreat. When the big ideas from the previous Awakening start to collapse, a new Awakening is on the horizon."

comment by Wei_Dai · 2018-03-07T17:30:17.610Z · score: 9 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I looked up Jeffery Martin, the author of the paper, and found a remarkable disconnect between the negative things he has to say about PNSE and all of his other writings.

From viewing a couple of his interviews on YouTube, I gathered that there are two possible explanations for this. One is the he was initially motivated to study PNSE because he wasn't feeling happy despite achieving conventional success and saw PNSE as a possible way to achieve sustained happiness and well-being, so that could explain why he's not too bothered by PNSE being more like wireheading than making a person more effective at achieving real-world objectives. Two is that he didn't personally attempt to achieve PNSE until 2010, after he had done all of the research described in the paper (and probably after writing the paper itself), and having the actual PNSE biased him to think of PNSE more positively afterwards.

I am guessing that from behind the distance of fiction, this is more or less what he believes or hopes to be the case.

I wouldn't read too much into those books, because according to the interviews they were almost entirely written by a co-author, for the purpose of trying to reach people with PNSE and gathering them as subjects for his research project.

comment by Richard_Kennaway · 2018-03-08T18:43:20.025Z · score: 17 (4 votes) · LW · GW
Two is that he didn't personally attempt to achieve PNSE until 2010, after he had done all of the research described in the paper (and probably after writing the paper itself), and having the actual PNSE biased him to think of PNSE more positively afterwards.

So even when he knew it was wireheading (or at least, had observed all the parts of that concept without necessarily having a word for it), he got sucked in when he had the experience himself.

Wireheading does that.

comment by Elo · 2018-02-20T01:45:48.148Z · score: 4 (1 votes) · LW · GW

those books had such bad reviews that I didn't bother with them.

comment by PeterBorah · 2018-01-21T19:43:54.774Z · score: 15 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The question of whether enlightenment is wireheading is really interesting (and perhaps important) to me. Would love to hear Val's explicit take on that.

(Context: I am more-or-less convinced that there is a repeatable phenomenon called enlightenment, and also that both meditation and CFAR-style introspection have the potential to trigger it. I also meditate moderately regularly and find it very beneficial and insight-provoking. I currently suspect englightenment might be wireheading.)

Edit: This theory only makes sense if "the enlightenment experience" is a distinct thing from "the clarity of sight that accompanies a lot of meditation". I definitely think the latter is a good thing and is clearly not wireheading. But I am confused/turned off by stuff like the "everything is ok" paragraph, and that seems to be an important part of most enlightenment experiences.

comment by gwern · 2018-11-20T03:05:37.038Z · score: 11 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I wonder if Jill Bolte Taylor was temporarily enlightened? (Incidentally, The God Formula is now on Libgen.)

comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2018-01-22T03:14:42.806Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Holy crap wow.

comment by romeostevensit · 2018-02-12T21:10:38.336Z · score: 3 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Is the inversion on NVC your invention? I think it is quite beautiful.

comment by Elo · 2018-02-20T01:39:10.484Z · score: 4 (1 votes) · LW · GW

without explaining. yes. PM for more information.

comment by Raemon · 2018-01-22T00:16:51.448Z · score: 22 (6 votes) · LW · GW

FYI, I have an impression that 150 comments in some kind of progress in understanding was actually made by at least some people, and I'd be interested in someone who learned anything significant writing a (much condensed) summary of the output of this thread.

comment by Richard_Kennaway · 2018-01-20T16:09:49.767Z · score: 21 (12 votes) · LW · GW

In the dialogue between "YOU" and ALEX, not only does ALEX not have a place in their mind for "look up" to land, YOU does not seem to have a place in their mind for that fact to land. YOU just keeps on repeating "look up" and "you are not looking up yet", without noticing even after six repetitions that he is offering nothing that ALEX can use. Scott's green bat does the same thing in saying "get out of the car". Illusion of transparency, in spades.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2018-01-20T23:02:42.084Z · score: 24 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I think it's really uncharitable to read that dialogue as a description of anything like an optimal attempt to get Alex to look up; it starts "in your excitement" for a reason. Read it as a description of a person's internal experience of being able to look up and then being frustrated at how difficult it is to communicate that to Alex. Instead of asking "how could I attack this person's reasoning as much as possible?" you could be asking something more like "what kind of experience would cause a person to be so excited, in this particular way, that they would try repeatedly to explain that experience, in this particular way, without remembering to pause to come up with a good way to explain it first?"

comment by Richard_Kennaway · 2018-01-21T18:41:32.201Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It's an attempt to get Alex to look up, but a completely unsuccessful one. As Alex -- or to drop the analogy, as me reading Valentine's article -- I am never impressed just by someone's enthusiasm. That way lies susceptibility to clickbait. As I said in my other comment, I look forward to the promised next instalment.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2018-01-21T15:52:26.336Z · score: 19 (5 votes) · LW · GW

How accurate would it be if I characterized Looking as "the skill of being able to notice concept-shaped holes"? (with the difference that the "hole" in question may be an entirely different ontology that's necessary for making sense of something)

comment by Evan_Gaensbauer · 2018-01-21T11:59:58.554Z · score: 18 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I've been talking to some friends in philosophy for some time in what they describe as in the realm of post-rationality. Based on my reading of what post-rationality among ex-rationalists/rationalist-adjacents doesn't match what my friends have been talking about, so I guess they mean it in the sense that what they're pursuing seems thematically typical of what techniques rationalists tend to pursue after they feel they're not getting new value out of applying or re-applying mindsets typical of the rationality community. One feature that seems common among post-rationalist techniques is people find ways of reframing their perception that feel personally very meaningful in ways difficult to put into words, and are hard to find examples of in the territory. A hard part of that is the commonest type of example for such is specific and uncommon experiences, but people don't know how to spot that in the territory until they've experienced it themselves.

Anyway, some of what I've experienced feels like I'm at least beginning to know how to Look. I haven't read the philosophy which try to capture what Looking is, as I've mostly tried things passed along to me by friends who have, and have tried introspection by myself. It seems learning how to Look is related to:

  • phenomenology, in particular learning to notice things you hadn't noticed before, i.e., noticing existing parts of your own experience you weren't previously paying attention to.
  • focusing
  • altered states of consciousness
This is particularly vexing in the case of kenshō because enlightenment isn’t an insight. I claim it’s not a matter of inferential distance. It’s more like bothering to notice what you already know. When the moment of seeing struck me, I fell over laughing and basically didn’t stop laughing for two days, because it was so incredibly stunningly obvious. There isn’t something to learn: it’s already always here.

This certainly feels similar to my observation of my friend Daniel's relation of what he's called "the phenomenological ontology" to others. People take for granted the lenses they're always looking at the world through to the point they don't notice the lenses and when you ask them to look at things directly without the lenses, i.e., preconceptions, they're unable to.

In the last couple years, I feel like I've shifted how I think so the the below statement resonates with me more than it would've in the past. For example, reading this now, I don't find anything wrong with this; it doesn't at all feel wrong; I have no urge welling inside me to push back against it.

Here’s one way I used to try to convey part of the “it” from my kenshō:
“I’m okay. You’re okay. Everything is fundamentally okay. Whatever happens, it will be fine and good. Even our worry and pain is okay. There is something deeply sad about someone dying… and their death is okay. Obliteration of humanity would be tragic, but the universe will go on, and it’s okay.”

However, I don't know what to do with this info. My object-level goals seem to still be to prevent the conventionally bad things in the world despite however much they may be in another sense okay. I know some rationalists and effective altruists struggle with anxiety thinking about such things. A practical benefit of feeling in sync with the above statement is that doesn't happen for me anymore. But other than that upon self-reflection I can't identify a reason I'd act differently. Switching between ontologies doesn't produce results that what I do should be different. After reading your post, I'm noticing perhaps the point is to change how I do things. It seems recalling what our goals are in the moment by Looking would be effective in not switching out the pursuit of a goal for an unendorsed behaviour and not noticing.

But ultimately that the differences don't seem substantial enough is why I'm not making an effort to Look more often. If I can't discern how or why to apply the induction of different mental state, I'm left with a feeling of "what's the point?". I'm at a loss of where to go from here. Do you have any suggestions for next actions I could pursue?

comment by romeostevensit · 2018-02-23T19:03:03.599Z · score: 11 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Ontology shifts don't get you immediate gains (other than a few feelings of epiphany as you recompress things more efficiently). The gains come when you are able to perform more complex maneuvers in the re-ontologized domain because what were formerly thoughts that were expensive to think are now primitives out of which you can build more complex data structures. Notice the similarity between psychological development models and the kuhnian scientific paradigm model.

comment by Valentine · 2018-01-20T00:17:21.983Z · score: 16 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Brief footnote:

The post I mention at the end was already planned before September. It's (to me) the natural follow-up after Fake Frameworks. Having it work so quickly to result in kenshō just came as a surprise and had me delay the sequence I'm writing.

Not critical for y'all to know. I just thought it was amusing.

comment by Aella · 2018-01-20T07:05:51.880Z · score: 15 (6 votes) · LW · GW

-edit: did not know about the pm feature

comment by ialdabaoth · 2018-01-20T21:56:22.218Z · score: 8 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Oh man, I'd LOVE to hear what comes of this.

comment by whpearson · 2018-01-21T11:46:46.614Z · score: 1 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Some of your comments appear to be hidden. I shall reply here with a question they bought to mind.

"then they take off like a rocket,"

I think it worth talking about whether it is sustainable. Whether they can do what is needed to be done at the current time when going at that high speed? Before people go too far down that path. Basically I'm asking, "But at what cost?"

comment by tristanm · 2018-01-21T07:21:12.514Z · score: 14 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'm trying to decide whether or not I understand what "looking" is, and I think it's possible I do, so I want to try and describe it, and hopefully get corrected if it turns out I'm very wrong. 

Basically, there's sort of a divide between "feeling" and "Feeling" and it's really not obvious that there should be, since we often make category errors in referring to these things. On the one hand, you might have the subjective feeling of pain, like putting your hand on something extremely hot. Part of that feeling of pain is the very strong sensation on your hand. Another part of the pain is the sense that you should not do that. This Feeling is the part that sucks. This is the part that you don't want. 

It turns out that those two types of subjective experience aren't one in the same and aren't inseparable. For the vast majority of situations where you notice that one occurs you also notice the other. However, (and it's a big however), there are some times where the first type appears without the second type. It just so happens that our brain is wired so that you never notice that specific situation. But it occurs frequently enough that if you could notice, if you could Look, you would immediately discover that it's always been a factor of your experience. And that's what I'm guessing Valentine means when he says "just look up, it's so obvious!" It IS obvious, once you see it, but seeing it for the first time is probably hard. 

To describe a situation where I think this is likely to occur, imagine accidentally stubbing your toe, feeling the pain from it, then shortly after being told some stunning news about the death of a loved one from someone else. In that brief moment where you are stunned by the news and your mind shifts to that new piece of information, it briefly loses the sense of suffering from the pain of the stubbed toe, although the sensation is still there. Once your mind has completed the shift, it may return to feeling the unpleasantness of the pain combined with whatever new feeling it received. 

But importantly, it turns out your brain is doing things like the above constantly. I used that example only because the effect would be much more pronounced. But your mind does these awareness shifts so frequently and so quickly that it's usually unlikely to be aware of the brief moment where there can be a sensation of something before the associated emotional response. Learning to Look is basically learning to detect when these shifts happen and catch them in the act, and that is why meditation is usually prescribed to make this more likely. It's also about learning that this effect can be controlled to some degree if you have some mastery over your attention. 

It also is not really limited to physical sensations. Any kind of thought or state of awareness may have associated positive or negative mental states, and these too can be sort of detached from in a similar way. 

When phrased like the above, the benefits seem obvious. If you had the choice not to suffer, wouldn't you take it? The reason I think Valentine may not state that so bluntly is that there is an equally obvious objection: if I could choose to not suffer on demand, what would prevent me from doing harmful things to myself or others? Would I even be aligned with my current goals? And I think that question needs an extremely careful answer. 

I think the much less obvious and surprising answer is that you are still aligned with your previous goals, and may even be better equipped to reach them, but I don't feel like I have the skills to really argue for this point, and will completely understand any skepticism towards this. 

It's very possible I'm describing some thing either completely different or at least much more mundane than Valentine is. The biggest factor that leads me to believe this is that Kensho seems to be a much more black and white, you either see it or you don't sort of thing, whereas what I'm talking about seems to require a gradual process of noticing, recognizing and learning to influence. 

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-01-21T07:25:10.981Z · score: 11 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I would very much like to know whether this is, in fact, related to what Valentine is talking about. (I have much to say in response to this comment, but don’t want to start a long thread about it if it would be off-topic.)

comment by ChristianKl · 2018-01-21T09:16:56.633Z · score: 5 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Given what Val did with his shoulder after the operation it would surprise me a lot if he wouldn't have been able to make that distinction pre-kenshō for a sensation like pain. I have the impression that Val points to things that are more advanced than that.

comment by moridinamael · 2018-01-22T17:37:58.572Z · score: 4 (1 votes) · LW · GW

My understanding is that the skill you describe here is a prerequisite for what Valentine describes as Kensho or stream-entry. Stream-entry/Kensho refer to a broader kind of "getting it", a brief grasping of the illusoriness of the self and comprehenion of the oneness of all things, etc.

I would add that there appear to be numerous different schools of thought on what these terms actually refer to. Some will say that you haven't achieved the target state unless you've experienced a jarring "cessation event", in which you witness your conscious mind blink out and then come back online, and this event prompts a certain set of realizations about the nature of the mind. Some other schools don't seem to regard the cessation event as necessary.

I too would like to get a clear answer on this, because terms like "kensho" tend to have more than one possible interpretation.

comment by Richard_Kennaway · 2018-01-26T14:37:17.751Z · score: 10 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Earlier I quoted this from the PNSE paper:

"Many participants discussed the thought, just after their transition to PNSE, that they would have to go to work and explain the difference in themselves to co-workers. They went on to describe a puzzled drive home after a full day of work when no one seemed to notice anything different about them. Quite a few chose to never discuss the change that had occurred in them with their families and friends and stated that no one seemed to notice much of a difference."

I am wondering, has anyone, after achieving some great insight, or doing some sort of personal development work, received, from people unaware of it, unsolicited favourable comments on how they have changed?

comment by malcolm.m.ocean · 2018-01-20T05:11:53.117Z · score: 8 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Seems worth linking to Universal Love, Said the Cactus Person, given that it contains a parallel to your phone analogy in the form of a "get out of the car" analogy.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2018-01-20T06:06:32.875Z · score: 13 (5 votes) · LW · GW

He did; it's the link called "You are still looking at your phone."

comment by Ruby · 2018-01-20T01:10:52.319Z · score: 8 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Good post! I'm excited for your milestone. I'm not sure if I can discern between my having enough experience with mindfulness and acceptance to get what you're pointing at, or if I'm simply using my closest conceptual bucket, but I believe your experience is real (if not always your interpretation of it).

comment by Erfeyah · 2018-01-21T20:37:27.026Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you for your very interesting post Valentine.

I am coming to this topic from a quite different viewpoint than most of the comments I read (did not read them all). That is because I believe I know exactly what you are talking about due to having this experience myself. Nevertheless, I think you are mistaken to call it enlightenment.

The base of what you are describing as 'Looking' is that there is a different way of perceiving the world. Something like a separate perceptual channel or mode. This concept and its various distortions can be indeed found in all the mystical traditions as well as in all kinds of gurus, cults and New Age formulations.

If you study primary material more in depth you will find a good description of the phase you are (to my estimation) in. You got a glimpse of something existing and you try to teach it. This is analogous to understanding that something called number 1 exists, ignore the rest of mathematics and try to convince others of the existence of the number 1. This is very common when people have what can be called a 'mystical' or 'religious' experience through drugs or application of certain exercises without prescription. What is called in some systems the ‘commanding’ or ‘lower’ self consumes the experience as a status/ego inflating mechanism. Jung encapsulates this issue in his warning to “beware of unearned wisdom”.

My suggestion would be to study the works of Idries Shah. Not skim, study. Start from the more psychological books like Knowing How to Know and Learning How to Learn. Most people will not read his writings because they refuse (for good rational reasons) to entertain the hypothesis of extrasensory perception. But since you are accepting the hypothesis, I guarantee you that you won’t find a more lucid exposition of what the mystics refer to as ‘the science of man’. Just a warning though. You will have to let go of the conviction that you have already achieved something, together with its associated positive feelings. That is the minimum sacrifice you have to make..

Let me know what you think of all that :)

P.S: Concerning your attempts to communicate your experience you might be interested in my description of the problem in my post Too Much Effort | Too Little Evidence

comment by Valentine · 2018-01-22T02:05:20.108Z · score: 13 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Mmm, thank you. I will take a look.

You will have to let go of the conviction that you have already achieved something, together with its associated positive feelings.

Gut reaction is confusion. I’m watching myself able to do things I couldn’t do before, and I understand both why I can do them now and why I couldn’t before. That seems… incoherent to “let go of”.

…but I’ve learned enough to know that clinging to that kind of thought usually just gets in the way. So, I am sincerely listening. I will look where you’re pointing.

Thank you.

comment by Richard_Kennaway · 2018-01-26T21:37:08.142Z · score: 3 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I second the recommendation of Idries Shah. with the caveat that while I believe he Had Something, I have always been unsure just how much of a charlatan he also was.

comment by kittain · 2018-01-21T12:26:44.152Z · score: 7 (4 votes) · LW · GW

If no-one sees the beauty, then beauty will cease to exist.

But the flowers will still grow.

comment by nBrown · 2018-01-21T11:03:17.517Z · score: 7 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This post really captured my attention. So much so I read it and most of the comments thrice.

Two of Valentine's claims:

A) Certan types of things are meta-cognitive blindspots (cfar jargon). For example, alcohol impairs your driving ability, it also impairs the ability to tell whether or not you're okay to drive. Given you've had N drinks, the feeling of "I'm okay to drive" is not to be trusted. Another example is recognising good outfits, If you're lacking in fashion sense you can't tell whether or not the clothes you are wearing look good, or even notice if your outfits are a problem.

It's a blindspot on the object level and the meta level. So how does your epsitemology deal with this? There's this new skill X however you need a certain ammount of X to realise X is a skill worth having.

B) There's this thing "Looking" that's hella beneficial. Really hard to tell you why.

I'm on board with A. So here's my take on "Looking":

My first time focusing, was a new kind of experience. In some sense I'd been doing it all along. But also it was totally new.

Looking at the phone screen is perhaps the talky part of my brain. You can't do focusing with only your verbal models. I've had a few experiences trying to teach focusing with similar responses to the ALEX dialogue above. You need to consult your gut. And feel your response to an issue physically and seek its name. This can't be done with only your verbal monalogue.

So I'm left in the positon, that there's some quality/flavour of experience I'm missing. It's seriously benficial. Or the process of updating your previous epistemology in this direction is benfical. I can see that these types of updates are very difficult to convey in words. Yet I don't have the qualia. alas. :)

comment by Charlie Steiner · 2018-01-21T04:05:12.617Z · score: 7 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I remember that I had enlightenment for about two days, back in fourth grade.

But of course, it wasn't real enlightenment, because I can explain what I mean.

When you consider whether to do something (e.g. my fourth-grade homework), you do many things. You think about what other people will think. You execute habits, both good and bad. You might let yourself get distracted, which is itself a sort of habit. And there is also some small part of you that can predict the costs and benefits of doing the thing.

In my state of enlightenment, I felt the costs and benefits, and then I did the thing. And what this felt like was that I was just able to satisfy or turn off all those other things I do when planning. There is a relationship here to generating validation from within - and then using that validation to fix some of your mental machinery, like the mental machine that worries about what other people will think, in one state.

So, either enlightenment, or someone spiked my water with Ritalin.

comment by c0rw1n · 2018-01-20T01:58:47.802Z · score: 7 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Is this enlightenment anything like described in https://aellagirl.com/2017/07/07/the-abyss-of-want/ ?

Also possibly related : http://nonsymbolic.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/PNSE-Article.pdf (can you point on that map where you think you found yourself)

comment by malcolm.m.ocean · 2018-01-20T05:32:58.999Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I clicked on a link in the first one and found my way to this post: https://aellagirl.com/2016/08/21/421/

The kind of nothingnessness that she describes in this post seems like it might be connected with why awakened states haven't been able to scale effectively. It seems to me that it is a non-obvious step to integrate a high level of awakeness with ongoing meaningness. I think that among other things, it requires having a community of people with a shared sense of awakeness. This makes sense, since humans are socio-cultural creatures. And then if the only sorts of communities that can maintain such a state tend to be unproductive (genetically or economically) because they are monasteries... then there are natural scaling limits.

This raises questions like "what would an enlightened family look like?" and "what would an enlightened company look like?" and "what would an enlightened school look like?" It seems that (for lots of reasons) the cultures would be very different than what we're used to.

I am interested in knowing if Valentine or others have thoughts on these questions or any other questions related to scaling or avoiding what are in essence nihilist traps!

comment by Valentine · 2018-01-20T04:16:02.215Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The first one looks related. Hard to say though: a lot of it comes across to me as navigating conceptualizations until the concept circle broke. Something like that happened during my kenshō but it wasn't the focus for me at all. That was the distraction I had to set aside in order to Look.

The second one looks longer than I want to dig through right now. Apologies. Is it easy for you to sketch what the map you're referring to is?

comment by RainbowSpacedancer · 2018-01-22T11:04:57.427Z · score: 8 (3 votes) · LW · GW
Is it easy for you to sketch what the map you're referring to is?

Not OP, but I can describe the map he’s referring too. Jeffery Martin interviewed 1,200 enlightened individuals and found that while their reported experience was different, their descriptions of their new phenomenological experience fell into similar clusters or ‘locations’. There’s around 20-40 locations in all (he is vague about exactly how many there are) but Jeffery only talks about the first 4 because that’s where the vast majority of people spend their time and he believes talking about the later locations is dangerous. The project is a little sketchy but there's no one else doing what he's doing. People have noticed a resemblance between the locations and the Theravadan 4 path model but locations are typically temporary ‘states’ whereas paths are irreversable shifts.

The quick summary of the distinctive characteristics of each location are,

Location 1

  • Expansion of sense of self, connection to divine
  • Much less affected by ‘self’ thoughts
  • Distance from but still have positive and negative emotions
  • Deep peace but can be suppressed by triggered conditioning
  • Effects from perceptual triggers fall off quickly
  • Deep peace and beingness feels more real than anything previous
  • Trust in ‘how things are’
  • Personal history less relevant, memories less

Location 2

  • ‘Self’ thoughts continue to fade
  • Peace increasingly harder to suppress/conditioning fades
  • Shift towards increasingly positive emotions, until only very positive emotions remain
  • Intermediate levels of perceptual triggers increasingly fade
  • More likely to feel that there is a correct decision or path to take when presented with choices
  • Higher well-being than location one

Location 3

  • Only single positive emotion remains
  • Feels like a combination of universal compassion, love, joy, …
  • Higher well-being than location 2

Location 4

  • No sense of agency
  • No emotions
  • No ‘self’ thoughts
  • Perceptual triggers at their bare minimum
  • No sense of divine or universal consciousness
  • Life was simply unfolding and they were watching the process happen
  • Memory deficits/scheduled appointments, etc.
  • Highest well-being reported
comment by c0rw1n · 2018-01-20T05:19:25.681Z · score: 3 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Not easy, no. But there is a shorter version here : http://nonsymbolic.org/PNSE-Summary-2013.pdf

comment by Richard_Kennaway · 2018-01-21T20:25:42.835Z · score: 3 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'd be interested in Valentine's opinion of the paper. I read it and posted a long response to it in a reply to Elo.

(Does LesserWrong support links to comments?)

ETA: link to that comment.

comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2018-01-21T21:01:49.532Z · score: 5 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yep, just click on the timestamp of a comment, and you get a link to it.

comment by ChristianKl · 2018-01-22T14:25:11.152Z · score: 10 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That UI decision seems to be nonobvious, how about instead adding it to the menu that currently contains Subscribe/Report?

comment by squidious · 2018-01-20T01:44:13.473Z · score: 7 (4 votes) · LW · GW

So glad you wrote this, and looking forward to where you take this thread of posts. There is a whole bunch of stuff here that doesn't get touched upon enough for what we're all trying to do, and I think writing about it needs to happen more.

comment by ShardPhoenix · 2018-02-17T17:28:56.217Z · score: 6 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm a very occasional meditator but I think I mostly get what you mean by Looking. But it's 4am and I'm commenting more to report that something weird happened as result of this post. I read this earlier today, then later via Scott's review read this page about A&P events: http://integrateddaniel.info/the-arising-and-passing-away/

Then tonight in bed I started having some strange sensations. I started seeing some of those vibrations, maybe. This part was only visual and could have been imaginary. Then I started getting a strong sense of "inadequateness" of all sensation which was quite disturbing. Again I might be been tricking myself somehow - though it kept going even when I was up and out of bed. This went on and off for a while. Then when I was in a hypnogogic state (and seeing vibrations), I started to experience strong flow of "energy"* flowing up my upper spine into the back of my head, while my upper body was tense and shaking, which lasted a few seconds. Unlike the previous stuff this was an undeniably real thing. During this time the visual that popped into my head was something like a webcomic featuring crudely drawn anthropomorphic toasters(!) with no legible dialogue, which gave the whole thing an almost comical sense of un-profundity. The sensation was perhaps somewhat enjoyable but not exactly euphoric or anything. This seems like the basic physiological description of an "A&P" event, but as mentioned, no accompanying euphoria or sense of understanding the universe or whatever.

Also, while I don't recall having had this happen before, the "A&P" bit didn't seem entirely unfamiliar and I wouldn't be shocked to learn I'd experienced something similar in childhood. But I wouldn't be surprised if not either.

Anyway I'm a little disturbed by this whole course of events (feels like I was somehow hypnotized into having strong mental sensations) and hope there won't be any bad outcomes. Advice welcome.

* That's a vague way to describe it but it wasn't really like burning or electricity or anything, just some sort of "rush" of... something.

comment by Nick Nolan (nick-nolan) · 2018-04-20T22:35:01.513Z · score: 5 (2 votes) · LW · GW

From Buddhist Phenomenology by Henk Barendrekt

1.7 Explaining apparent contradictions
Now we will explain how contradictions, which happen to occur in some buddhist texts, are possible. Suppose some part of reality U is described using some language L. Some of the regularities observed in L are in fact physical laws, but may be confused with logical laws. If we extend the reality U to U+, but keep as the describing language L, then statements may result that contradict statements made about U. Although the contradictions are only apparent, because the statements are about different `worlds', it may seem that logical laws are violated.
An example will be helpful. Consider a tribe living on an isolated island. Vision of the tribesman is such that they can only see the colors black and white. In their description of the world they say: ``Something is either black or white." Although we know that this is for them in fact an empirical law, the people of the island are tempted to consider this as a logical law. Sometimes they use the words `white' and `non-black' interchangeably. On some day someone has a mystical experience. In our language we can say that that person has seen the color green. In the language of the tribe she says: ``I have seen something very impressive. It was neither black nor white." For most of the people of her tribe she was saying: ``It was neither black, nor non-black." Therefore on the island one may think she is speaking nonsense. However, we know that she is not.
There are, however, stronger contradictions. In his book Exploring Mysticism already mentioned, F. Staal discusses the following so called `tetra lemma' occurring in buddhist texts.
It is not A; it is not non-A; it is both A and non-A; and it is neither A nor non-A.
Even this contradiction may be explained. Simply consider again the tribe seeing only black and white. But now our mystic sees the color gray. Indeed gray is not white, not black. And it can be said that gray is both white and black. But also that it is neither white nor black.
I hope that the examples show that contradictions occurring in texts of mystics are not a sign that something essential is wrong. Nevertheless it is preferable that descriptions of altered states of consciousness are free from contradictions in the sense of logic. I will try to fulfill this requirement in sections 2 and 3.
comment by Adityra · 2018-01-21T15:52:43.900Z · score: 5 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I feel like this is correctly pointing at a thing. I would also like to try to put it into my words to see what Val thinks about them:

The map/territory analogy illustrates a way to eventually be able to engineer the territory. Engineering the territory is not a goal in itself though so we need to continuously Look to remind us of there being an actually desirable end state. That end state is there, always, we can access it even now. It's just that our current reality will not enable us to access it nonstop and accessing it too much will either kill us or detach us into a happy bubble, leaving everyone else in chaos.

Unlocking permanent access for all to the end state is only of instrumental value. But to those who cannot see the goal, freeing up the path becomes a wonderful thing to do. Only they will eventually not have anything to care for anymore, once the path is free and also they lack an experience that is beyond what they can imagine. But it still isn't bad. It's perfectly okay. It doesn't make their experience worse or less true. They just don't know what they are missing even though it's right there.

Or differently put:

We can always develop and acquire better glasses to see further, wider, in more detail etc. And for the most part that's crucial to create better maps of the territory. Only once we learn to Look without glasses (or blindly), though, will we understand why it is worth wearing them and why it's worth trying to create better maps.

The territory isn't perfect, so we need to understand how to improve it. But the actual goal is not to create ever better glasses to create ever better maps. The goal is to be able to take off the glasses one day and not have to worry about the territory because it'll be perfectly reengineered.

People get obsessed with improving the glasses and anxious when people aren't using the best glasses available, they lose sight of the goal. Only if we know that not wearing glasses is the goal, it is useful to put on glasses. Otherwise we will get attached to our glasses that will become outdated.

comment by Chris_Leong · 2018-01-20T14:25:08.961Z · score: 5 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I feel that this is an area where engaging in some ameteur phenomenology may help clarify what you mean, or at least provide insight into what you don't mean.

So, as a very rough and off-the-cuff attempt to clarify the kinds of mental operations, we have the following:

  • Beliefs - Here I'm only referring to the cognitive component, not to aliefs or the emotional component. I'm including the cognitive component of doubts or fears here as well, including the cognitive component of beliefs that people are in denial about.
  • Qualia - This includes any emotions or sensations, including aliefs and motivation, including blocking out qualia.
  • Focusing - This includes not only what you pay attention to, but what you don't pay attention to and things that you hold in your mind.
  • Thought Generation - This includes all kinds of creativity, from music and art to maths and ideas about what you might have for lunch and whether conscious or unconscious.

I could also include physical actions or memory operations and even more if I wanted to spend the time, but I suspect that the four above are most relevant.

Now the first thing that we will note is that they are all linked. Beliefs affect your emotions, what facts seem most salient and the thoughts you generate. Qualia strongly directs your attention in particular directions and also what thoughts are generated. And you're more likely to generate thoughts related to the ones that you are holding in your mind.

So it might help to clarify which of those categories enlightenment falls into. From the accounts that I've heard, if they are true, it certainly seems to have a qualia component, related to calmness or equinamity and possibly even towards blocking certain emotions ect. I think it is also clear from your post that it doesn't seem to affect your beliefs directly, except for you beliefs about Enlightenment. Here, I mean in the sense that awareness of a new mathematically thereom would. This provides an interesting theory of why it might be so hard to explain: the qualia component is the easiest component to be put into words, which is why it is always mentioned and people also claim that it improves their beliefs, but not directly, so the whole story ends up sounding suspicious.

But what if it affected the focusing or thought generation operations? Or maybe even the aliefs? I think that it is pretty clear that if you read through an argument and focus first on the reasons why it might be true and second on the reasons why it might not be true, then you'll probably generate different ideas in each pass. Secondly, I know that I'm much better at generating thoughts when I have a clear head, than when I'm distracted by worry.

This last possibility, I want to give a bit more detail. Let's suppose you experience compassion, having never experienced this before. I mean, everyone has to experience things for a first time. You now have that experience and it feels like it is knowlege - I mean, it's widely accepted that experiencing things yourself gives you insight, even though it seems totally unlike any factual information. Part of it is that you can focus on that experience and make certain predictions - for example how other people might react to a situation and the kinds of thoughts or emotions they might have. If someone makes an argument and it is not well presented, but you have compassion for the group, then you are more likely to be able to generate a reasonable thought patten, ie. fill in that gaps. So experiencing compassion will shape your thoughts, but not directly.

Similarly, thinking of a pleasant memory would seem to be a good way to improve your ability to generate solutions to a problem without involving conflict. Looking at your reply to Ben Pace, it sounds like enlightenment involves certain ideas becoming more salient. What's not clear is whether this is because it fits into one of the models above. Maybe I'm still failing to look up from the phone, but I think this could help you clarify your claim.

comment by ChristianKl · 2018-01-20T20:25:49.016Z · score: 5 (1 votes) · LW · GW

To me the terms you use don't seem to be helpful. Not everything we pay attention to is in focus. It makes sense to separate attentionality and intentionality and the word focusing seems to me to apply only to the intentional part. It's possible to shift the object of your intentionality by trying. It's not possible to do the same thing with attentionality.

That's where the Joda saying "Do. Or do not. There is no try" and related thought comes from. There are many things you can achieve via intentionality but the common idea is that you can't achieve enlightenment that way but things come via attentionality.

Saying that aliefs are the same thing as qualia's feels wrong to me. My own model would say that an alief causes certain qualia to appear under certain circumstances. Modeling aliefs as only being there when they come to the surface and produce qualias seems misguided t me.

As far as "blocking emotions" goes, that term seems like a misnormer to me. If you take a Buddhist monk with a lot of experience can make a loud noise next to them while they are present in their meditation there isn't a startle response. Given my own experience the related Qualia feels like letting an emotion flow through yourself. If you put up any kind of block than there's resistence when the stimulas hits the block and you will have a startle response.

It would be interesting to know whether Val has this ability to show no startle response. Being able to not show a startle response isn't a useful skill but it's a lot easier to measure than more complex interactions with emotions.

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2018-11-07T10:58:25.788Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Third, my kenshō was deliberately induced. I think I understand the mechanisms behind how, and I believe I can convey them in a usable way. I plan to do so in an upcoming post.

If you learn how to Look, you can see things that you can learn to interpret as novel patterns. This gives you a lot more room to do some pretty epic stuff.

…but explaining that more concretely is really best left for the upcoming post.

The next post isn’t about evidence about why Looking has something important to say about epistemology. It’s a model of how I have done several things like reach kensho, and the model has been refined as a result of what I’ve come to see as a result of Looking.

Has this follow-up post been written? (Apologies if I missed it; could I get a link, if so?)

comment by Sjcs · 2018-01-21T01:40:53.450Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW
The thing is, I don’t mean “it’s okay” as something to think. I mean it more like an instruction, like “look up” in the cell phone parable. Trying to understand the meaning is analogous to Alex posting a photo of their phone and then scrolling above it in the text chat.
Another way I could try to say the “it’s okay” thing is something like, “The world is real in your immediate experience before you think about it. Set aside your interpretations and just look.” The trouble is, most people’s thinking system can grab statements like this and try to interpret them: if you think something like “Oh, that’s the map/territory distinction”, then all I can say is you are still looking at your phone.

Is this related to non-judgemental observation/awareness that is talked about in the spheres of mindfulness? Ie, the things that are happening just... Are, and we are observing that the Are. While these things may ellicit emotion and judgement in ourselves, we can put that aside to another part of our minds and just observe how they Are. Is this what you are experiencing with Looking, or a precursor to it/part of it?

(I may just be replacing "It's okay" with "It just Is", without the positive conotations of okay)

comment by Richard_Kennaway · 2018-01-20T14:19:18.479Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'll be looking forward to your next post, but meanwhile, is this something different from consciousness of abstraction?

comment by lawrence-wang · 2018-01-20T21:55:42.607Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Do you count your personal identity and history as abstractions?

comment by Richard_Kennaway · 2018-01-21T18:34:05.986Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

All of our experience is a hierarchy of abstractions, built from the lowest level of sensations, those coming from outside that hierarchy (whether outside our skin or not).

"Consciousness of abstraction", btw, is a term of art with a specific meaning, coined by Korzybski. It's googleable, although I didn't see an individual web page specifically about the topic.

comment by lawrence-wang · 2018-02-04T03:54:21.846Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I see. Having now briefly read about Korzybski on some web pages, I'd venture to say that consciousness of abstraction is a very sophisticated way of organizing what you do and say when you're not Looking.

comment by Oliver Sheerwater (oliver-sheerwater) · 2019-08-27T21:02:16.849Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Howdy Valentine! Will you be posting anymore content related to Looking and Kenshō? I would really like to try and flip my perspective and Look for myself, but feel a bit like a rabbit caught in the headlights... What I’m sensing is that ‘Looking’ is an apprehension of things before the ‘claiming’ mind jumps in ...which is harder to say than do. Do you have any practical advice for an aspirant? Many thanks, Oliver

comment by amba12 · 2018-10-14T16:21:49.554Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Another metaphor that emerged from what i recognized as a kenshō experience.

We were in the ER for one of my late husband's health crises, I don't remember which. (As a survivor of a Soviet prison camp and a midwinter escape with gangrene in his legs, he had a few.) I was already in an extreme state. An apparently incorrigible alcoholic derelict, ravaged, scabbed, ragged, was also in the ER. Listening to him rave to the intake people I had all the usual feelings of deploring addiction and the damage it does to people's lives and our parlous, weak inability or unwillingness to withstand it. The physical sensations of deploring: my face drawn into an unhappy, disapproving rictus, my gut weighed down with a red-hot cannonball of protest and despair.

And then THE NET TORE.

That too was a physical sensation. The neural networks of conceptual moralizing in my brain, perhaps, simply ripped apart. The cannonball of anxiety fell away and I was in the ease of free fall. Everything was fine. The drunk was as he was and it was fine. Dear, even. The physical vulnerability and mortality that had brought us to the ER, that we struggle against and that eventually destroys us, that too was fine. THERE WAS NO PROBLEM.

I've had this experience a few times. Do I stay in that state? No way. Yet I know it's there, and even though that, too, is a concept, it relativizes and somehow belittles whatever my obsessions of the moment may be. Somewhere behind the scenes there is always a smile of serene and tender amusement at all the fuss we make.

comment by Elo · 2018-10-14T20:17:02.108Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yup. I'd probably call this one of the other paths, not kensho. You seem to have a problem maintaining the realisation. That can usually be solved with a combination of looking at the remaining attachments and the things that rip you out of that knowledge and working to see them as illusion too.

There are 3 doors of realisation. Impermanence, suffering and no-self. You seem to possibly have the impermanence door. I wonder if you have the other two.

In any case I suggest the book "mastering the core teachings of the Buddha 2", to help you compare concepts with other people.

comment by amba12 · 2018-10-16T19:59:48.242Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you!

comment by David Shaffer (david-shaffer) · 2018-03-06T01:39:13.532Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Curious if you're almost done with the followup post. This sounds extremely interesting, and I'm curious to see what you have to say on how to reach kensho.

comment by dksolo · 2018-02-26T06:52:19.970Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm just commenting to give you another data point (and to reinforce to myself what I'm saying): your quote about everything being okay, and the way you describe the general reactions, resonates strongly.

Some days, I think "everything is okay" and it just is. Other days I fall off one side into nihilism, and yet other days I fall off the other side into boundless optimism. Rarely do I settle into the knowledge that it just is, and even more rarely does the resulting acceptance or (cliche) tranquility linger.

I haven't had words to describe this, so I've just been placing emphasis on certain words in phrases like "we just are" and "everything just is", and hoping that people who've had the same experience have that resonate with them. Your examples seem similar but more precise.

These may or may not resonate, but either way, kudos and I'm very appreciative of your post.

comment by playablecharacter · 2018-01-21T06:13:32.779Z · score: -13 (9 votes) · LW · GW

A REAL LEVEL 5

comment by lawrence-wang · 2018-02-04T03:54:55.833Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Kegan's model?