Posts

The Curse Of The Counterfactual 2019-11-01T18:34:41.186Z · score: 66 (17 votes)
Is there a definitive intro to punishing non-punishers? 2019-10-31T20:20:30.653Z · score: 13 (3 votes)
TV's "Elementary" Tackles Friendly AI and X-Risk - "Bella" (Possible Spoilers) 2014-11-22T19:51:37.699Z · score: 26 (30 votes)
[Link, Humor] The Best Christmas Ever 2011-12-25T23:14:04.223Z · score: 7 (18 votes)
[Link] The Typical Mind Fallacy, Illustrated 2011-09-02T17:22:44.526Z · score: 17 (17 votes)
Necessary, But Not Sufficient 2010-03-23T17:11:03.256Z · score: 47 (48 votes)
Improving The Akrasia Hypothesis 2010-02-26T20:45:19.942Z · score: 73 (82 votes)
The Dirt on Depression 2009-07-15T17:58:44.128Z · score: 4 (17 votes)
The Physiology of Willpower 2009-06-18T04:11:52.445Z · score: 21 (25 votes)
Rationality Quotes - June 2009 2009-06-14T22:00:28.697Z · score: 8 (11 votes)
Spock's Dirty Little Secret 2009-03-25T19:07:21.908Z · score: 55 (63 votes)

Comments

Comment by pjeby on The Curse Of The Counterfactual · 2019-11-14T03:53:43.644Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure I understand your question. In order to think that there's a problem with how much love he's providing, you have to have a counterfactual in which he's supposed to be providing more. For the amount of love to be insufficient, there has to be something to compare it to. If you aren't (implicitly) comparing, then there is nothing to draw it to your attention in the first place.

In other words, you wouldn't keep saying "I guess he didn't", because if you're not comparing, then there's not an issue any more -- it's just history, not an unresolved problem.

It sounds to me like the experience you're talking about is incomplete grief, like maybe a description of a situation where someone is accepting (at least intellectually) that they aren't going to get the love they want in the future, but has yet to accept that they didn't get it in the past. Because as long as they think they should have gotten it, the grieving is still incomplete.

As for deadening, letting go of things generally makes us more alive, not less, because we stop obsessing over the things we can't change, and move on to enjoying what we have (or can actually get). But before one actually lets go of something, the idea of letting go feels like it would be a loss.

As I suggested in the article, our brains treat unacknowledged losses like they are still assets on our inner books of utility. So the idea of writing off a loss feels like it is a loss. But once the write-off is actually done, then it no longer feels like a loss, because it's now the status quo, and therefore it doesn't keep coming back to conscious attention the way a perceived threat of loss does.

Comment by pjeby on Implementing an Idea-Management System · 2019-11-09T06:17:39.707Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That just means you've not seen that many wikis. ;-) For example, the ConnectedText personal wiki software includes backlinks, date-specific pages, and graph visualization of link structures, much like Roam. It also has the ability to include pages in others, and some of Roam's other features could likely be emulated using CT's scripting and templating systems, though it'd be a pain.

I actually own a copy of an older version of CT but stopped using it many years ago because it's not terribly interoperable with anything else.

Comment by pjeby on Skill and leverage · 2019-11-04T16:01:49.138Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This presupposes that you know what the difficulty level is for the person in question. It also ignores a ton of stuff that can get between "easy thing" and "actual doing", like what their priorities, interests, and abilities are.

Let's say Bob has a really important project he needs to work on. He's stuck and obsessed with it. Meanwhile, his room goes uncleaned and his dishwasher unloaded. He's not accomplishing anything, but he's not doing those simple things because he's pouring energy into something else.

Now let's consider Alice. Alice is a blind paraplegic computer programmer, who runs rings around her peers when it comes to coding. Programming for her is super easy, barely an inconvenience. But cleaning up the room or loading the dishwasher are not exactly her strengths.

And then there's Carl. He spends hours playing video games at insanely high difficulty levels that nobody else can match. But putting away dishes is boring, and doesn't get him that sweet sweet cred... or endorsement deals and advertising revenue. He'll do it tomorrow, for sure. Maybe. Or maybe his mom will.

None of these people's rooms are getting cleaned or dishwashers loaded, but that fact by itself tells you very little about what that person can accomplish. (After all, Bob could easily be a successful best-selling author who lets his place go to hell when he gets stuck in the middle of a book project.)

Comment by pjeby on The Curse Of The Counterfactual · 2019-11-04T15:49:04.495Z · score: 12 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Hey Kaj. I was actually looking for feedback in email, but this is good too. :) (I'll update the article to clarify on that point.) Thanks for the info about your friend's experience: the answer to their question is that the act of visualizing requires them to access implicit information from their memory from direct (if remembered) experience, vs. simply verbalizing cached facts. It is structurally similar to scanning one's memory for past experiences, looking for something that matches a pattern of feeling or behavior. I'm only using the term "felt sense" because there's no sense (no pun intended) in creating yet another name for something that is already described in other places. (Also, some people actually do access the turn information kinesthetically, i.e., by feeling their way through the recalled day.)

As to your transcript, I see you transitioned from the Quick Questions right to the Work, which is a good move in the event one objects to one's desires. But I think perhaps you've missed something (two somethings, actually) about how the Work works.

So, when you got to: "what happens, when you believe that thought?", you took the response you got as an objection from a part (mixing IFS in), rather than simply taking the response at face value. In other words, "What happens when I believe this thought? I feel like the reins are pulling me to my death". You actually got the answer to your question! When you believe the thought that it's impossible to do anything meaningful because you'll get pulled, the consequence is just that: feeling like you're being pulled to death.

The next question, "who would I be without that thought?" would then be helpful in targeting the specific belief, because objections to letting go of the belief directly imply the state of the world (or yourself) that your beliefs predict would result from you not believing it.

This might've avoided a lot of the going in circles you did from this point on in the transcript, and led you directly to the target schema with less... well, thrashing between ideas, for lack of a better word.

The reason I've moved towards using the Work as a prime investigative tool is that it lets you walk the belief network really fast compared to other methods. Getting your brain to object to getting rid of a belief forces it to reveal what the next belief up the branch is with far less wasted movement.

And as you can see, starting from a place where you already have a concrete objection (e.g. using a tool like the Quick Questions), you can move really rapidly to the real "meat" of an issue.

That being said, the Quick Questions are designed to solve logistical problems, more than emotional ones -- aside from the emotional issue of focusing on the problems instead of on solutions. A Minute To Unlimit You is just a mental jujitsu move to disengage your brain's planning system from "There's a Problem" mode and put it back into "Seeking Solutions" mode.

Of course, that's only one module of your brain's motivation system, as the ebook mentions. There are four other modules (like the two that handle punishment and virtue-signalling) that can be involved in a motivation problem, but it's usually easiest to begin with the Quick Questions to rule out a mode 1 mismatch first, even if the problems being predicted turn out to be coming from one of the other modules.

Comment by pjeby on The Curse Of The Counterfactual · 2019-11-01T23:43:36.885Z · score: 21 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Hi Ben, thanks for commenting.

What I'd first like to say is that negative reinforcement and punishment are actually two different things. What you're describing as "punishment" is actually just negative feedback: i.e. noticing that something you're doing isn't working. But punishment is something we do to raise someone's costs for bad action. This does not necessarily result in any reinforcement for the subject of the punishment.

In "Ingvar's" case, for example, he constantly punished himself for surfing the internet, but this was actually positively reinforcing for the behavior of self-punishment itself, and did nothing to discourage the internet surfing behavior!

Even within the technical context of behaviorist learning, "punish" and "negatively reinforce" are two different things... and punishment does not do what you seem to be thinking it does.

Technically, what happens when you punish an animal or person, is that you end up positively reinforcing whatever works quickest to stop the punishment. Punishment, in and of itself, does not actually alter behavior. The only thing it trains you (or any other animal) to do is to avoid the punishment.

And when you are applying social punishment of the type described in this article, the thing that stops it is (e.g. in Sara's case) ideation. The thing that turns off self-punishment is imagining a future in which you are a better person and the bad thing can't happen any more. So, in a behaviorist reinforcement sense, by punishing yourself in this fashion you are training yourself to imagine better futures, because that's the fastest way to stop the pain.

IOW, properly understood, the only functional use of punishment is to raise the costs of bad behavior. But in a self-applied case, raising your own costs is not a functional thing to do, especially when you factor in the moral licensing for being virtuously self-punishing, and effectively training yourself to imagine things being better, instead of actually doing anything to make them better.

So in that sense, I will say, no, it's not the case that punishing yourself (using either the social or behaviorist definition) is a useful strategy for anything other than convincing others not to punish you (worse) for the same thing. That is the one way in which punishing yourself is actually useful, and it's often how we learned to do it. (That is, to punish ourselves for the same things our parents punished us for, to lessen their desire to punish us.)

That being said, we probably have different definitions of what "punishment" actually consists of. In this post, I mean in the sense of "attacking reputation to raise the target's costs", not "negative feedback to shape behavior", which is something else altogether.

People routinely confuse these two things, because our moral bias tells us that we must not let wrongs go unpunished. So we distort what behaviorism actually says about learning into "reward and punishment", when in fact neither reward nor punishment are reliable reinforcement strategies! (For one thing, rewards and punishments are usually too far away in time from the actual behavior to have any meaningful effect, though that's not the only difference.)

The mindset of reinforcing actual behavior, vs. rewarding and punishing what we think should be done, are very, very different in practice, but our brains are biased towards confusing the two.

As for Sara, I think perhaps you are overgeneralizing from Carlos's example. I have different examples in the article because there are many different ways for "punishing based on counterfactuals" to manifest. What I did not cover in Sara's case (or Ingvar's for that matter) is that the surface-level "shoulds" being discussed were not the root issue. As I mention later in the article, one begins with whatever one is aware of, but working on these initial "should" statements then leads us deeper into the belief network.

For example, Ingvar believed he should have been working, and should have been able to finish in a certain amount of time. But the solution to this problem was not "grieve for not having worked"! It was discovering that the real issue was believing he was a bad person unless he was working. Removing that belief stopped him from generating counterfactuals about how he should have been working, which then led to him thinking of ways to actually get the work done.

IOW, it's the deactivation of the punishment system that's relevant here, because its activation blocked him from thinking about the actual process of work and the trade-offs involved, due to the "sacredness" of punishing himself for being a lazy evildoer who wasn't working.

In the same way, Sara's root issue isn't that she's punishing herself for her failed actions, it's that she believes she needs to prove herself... or else she's not a capable person. It's that underlying belief which motivates the generation of the counterfactuals in the first place.

The full chain of events (for Sara and Ingvar) looks something like this:

  • Step 1: Learn that a personal quality or behavior is subject to punishment by others (e.g. badness, incompetence)
  • Step 2: Try to avoid feeling bad by creating an ideal of some kind (e.g. punish one's self for evil, seek recognition to prove competence) that will counteract this and avoid future punishment
  • Step 3: Encounter situations in life that remind one's self of the quality learned about in step 1
  • Step 4: Generate counterfactuals based on the ideal to stop the punishment (Sara) or punish one's self for failing to make the ideal happen (Ingvar)

Here's the thing: the only part of this cycle that you can meaningfully change is the learning found in step 1, because otherwise every time they encounter a reminder in the world, the punishment will be remembered, and sustain the motivation for avoidance. Without this punishment cycle in effect, the person can actually think about what would be a good way to reach their goals. But with the cycle in effect, all the person can think about when it comes up is what's the fastest way to make the hurting stop!

I covered this more with the Ingvar example than the Sara one, but knowing how to do something doesn't help in this cycle, because it produces the "yeah, but..." response. From inside of this cycle, practical advice literally seems irrelevant or off-topic, or at best misguided. People inside the loop say things like, "yeah, but it's not that simple" or "you just don't understand", when you try to give them practical advice.

ISTM that you have overgeneralized from Carlos' example that this is process is all about grief. But even in Sara's case, it's important to understand that she cannot actually accept or act on negative feedback without first acknowledging what actually happened. If there's a semantic stop sign in her brain that pops up every time she tries to consider ways to behave (because in order to do that she has to think about what she actually did or might do), then she can't really think about how to act differently, only ruminate about how she ought to have done something else.

So when we say "we should have done X" or "I should do Y", we are not actually saying the full truth. What we are doing is denying the underlying reality that we did not do X, and we don't want to do Y.

Sara actually knew, going into the conference, that she tended to be stubborn, and specifically thought ahead of time that she should not be. The problem is that "I should not do X" is an argument with reality: you know full well ahead of time that you probably will do X, but see this as wrong (in a moral sense, rather than a functional one). This motivates you to deflect the perception (and associated punishment) by asserting that you should do the right thing. (Like Ingvar asserting he should get the work done in an afternoon.)

I hope that the above explanation clarifies better what this article is driving at. The issue is that anytime we start thinking about what we or other people "ought" to do -- as a moral judgment -- we immediately "taboo tradeoffs" and disengage from practical reasoning. We're no longer in a state of mind where feedback from what actually happened is even being taken into account, let alone learned from.

Finally, as for your comments on relationships, I'm just going to say that most of what you said has no real bearing on Carlos's actual situation, which I will not comment further on as it would reduce his anonymity. But I do want to address this point:

I read the section on Carlos, and it seems like the explicit content was that you should always give up on relationships when they're making you angry, and while there's a deep truth to that with long-term relationships, I don't think it should be the standard the solution. The standard solution to being angry at someone is to follow-through and make sure the cause is resolved, such that your anger reaches its natural conclusion. This is true even when it's built up for a while. Often there's something important that's been left unsaid, and needs communicating.

So, this is an overgeneralization, again, because nothing in this post recommends any object-level behaviors. What the post discusses is the fact that, when you are counterfactualizing with moral judgment attached, you cannot reason properly. Your brain hijacks your reasoning in the service of your moral judgment, so you have literally no idea what actually should be done on the object level of the situation.

The solution to this problem, then, is to disable the hijacker so you can get back in the cockpit of the plane and figure out where you want to fly. In Ingvar's case, he immediately began seeing other ways he could behave that would get to his goals better, and I had no need to advise him on the object level. The issue was that with his moral judgment system active, he literally could not even consider those options seriously, because they weren't "punish someone" or "make the pain go away NOW".

With regard to relationships, as with everything else this article talks about, the solution is to begin with whatever the actual ground truth of the situation is. If you are insisting that the other person in a relationship "should" be doing something, and that the only solution is to express anger in their direction, then you will miss the clue that sometimes, being angry at people doesn't change them... but positive reinforcement might.

(But of course, when we're thinking morally rather than strategically, we think it's wrong to use positive reinforcement, because the other person doesn't "deserve" it. They should just do the right thing without being rewarded, and they should be punished for not doing the right thing. So saith the moral judgment brain, so shall it be!)

Another problem is where you say, "make sure the cause is resolved, such that your anger reaches its natural conclusion". The thing is, our anger's "natural conclusion" is when somebody has suffered enough. (Notice, for example, how somebody who accedes to angry demands, but does not appear remorseful, will often result in the demander getting angrier. If it were about resolving the actual issue, this would not make sense.) And suffering enough doesn't always correspond with an actual solution, either: note how often people end up stuck in abusive relationships because the abuser is really good at appearing remorseful!

So, following anger to its "natural conclusion" can easily lead you astray, compared to clearing your head and acting strategically. It can be almost impossible to enact, say, "tough love", when you are stuck in your own moralizing about how someone ought to behave, both because you can't think it through, and because it's hard to do the "love" part while your brain is urging you to make someone to suffer for their sins.

Anyway, in summary: if you are arguing object-level recommendations from this article, you've confused your inferences with my statements. The only advice this post actually gives is to disengage your moral judgment if you want to be able to actually solve your problems, instead of just ruminating about them or punishing yourself for them. (And I guess, to avoid recursively making a "should" out of this idea, since that's just doing more of the problem!)

[Edit to add: I have added a new section to the article, called The Disclaimer, to clarify that none of the stories contain, nor are intended to imply, any object-level advice for the depicted situations, and that rather, the article's focus is on the problem of moral judgment impairing our ability to reason about the truth, and even perceive what it is in the first place.]

Comment by pjeby on Is there a definitive intro to punishing non-punishers? · 2019-11-01T04:08:13.608Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Before thinking of how to present this idea, I would study carefully whether it's true.

I'm probably referring to the idea in a much narrower context, specifically our inclination to express outrage (or even just mild disapproval) as a form of low-cost, low-risk social punishment, and for that inclination to apply just as well to people who appear insufficiently disapproving or outraged.

The targets of this inclination may vary culturally, and it might be an artifact or side-effect of the hardware, but I'd be surprised if there were societies where nothing was ever a subject that people disapproved of other people not being disapproving of. Disapproving of the same things is a big part of what draws societies together in the first place, so failing to disapprove of the common enemy seems like something that automatically makes you "probably the enemy".

(But my reasons and evidence for thinking this way will probably be clearer in the actual article, as it's about patterns of motivated reasoning that seem to reliably pop up in certain circumstances... but then again my examples are not terribly diverse, culturally speaking.)

Comment by pjeby on Is there a definitive intro to punishing non-punishers? · 2019-10-31T21:51:14.030Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, those are the things I found, but none of them are the thing I remember, which was something that explained how punishment is costly (risky) for the punisher due to free-riding by non-punishers, so we evolved the desire to punish non-punishers in order to ensure nobody gets away with free-riding. None of these articles cover that, which is a surprise to me since I had to have read that idea somewhere, and it feels to me like something that's part of the rationalsphere zeitgeist, yet I can't seem to place where I actually read it.

Anyway, I'm thinking what I'll do for now is link to this question from my article, so people can see all the collected answers here. ;-)

Comment by pjeby on On Internal Family Systems and multi-agent minds: a reply to PJ Eby · 2019-10-31T19:21:19.788Z · score: 7 (3 votes) · LW · GW

See, now this comment would have made a great article. ;-) I think it says more clearly what you mean than the article you actually wrote, and makes a much better case for your position.

Comment by pjeby on On Internal Family Systems and multi-agent minds: a reply to PJ Eby · 2019-10-31T19:15:10.370Z · score: 7 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Thank you for the consideration, and I appreciate the edits. This was just an unfortunate confluence of events and I'm not holding any grudges.

I have to admit that one of my faults is a healthy dose of the illusion of transparency. I tend to assume that other people can reach the same conclusions I have when they have access to the same information my conclusions are based on... even though there's a distinction between say, reading UtEB and grokking what it means about "legacy" approaches to therapy.

So some of the things you said in this article seemed to me like excessively belaboring points I thought were already made quite explicitly in the text of UtEB, so I interpreted it as you trying to argue in favor of IFS, not that you were just now realizing how IFS fit within UtEB's model.

The fact you posted an article about UtEB before made me assume that you understood it at least as well as I did (since in effect, you introduced me to it!), so I didn't see why you would only be now discovering those points... especially since I thought they'd been covered by our previous discussion and your restatement of my position.

Regarding Core Transformation, I'm glad you found it useful. Back at the time I mentioned it, it was one of the better techniques available to me, despite the tendency to sometimes get bogged down in "is that really a part or am I imagining things" or parts getting in circular arguments about things. But I later found that there were simpler ways to address the same things, because what CT calls "core states" are also accessible by simply not activating the parts of the brain that shut off those states. (e.g. by telling us we don't deserve love)

So if, for example, we don't see ourselves as worthless, then experiencing ourselves as "being" or love or okayness is a natural, automatic consequence. Thus I ended up pursing methods that let us switch off the negatives and deal directly with what CT and IFS represent as objecting parts, since these objections are the constraint on us accessing CT's "core states" or IFS's self-leadership and self-compassion.

In effect, you could think of the approaches I've been pursuing since then as shortcutting the process of CT by jumping as directly as possible to our objections to experiencing ourselves as lovable, okay, etc., and working backwards from there.

To put it in context of your changes using Transforming The Self, the shadow qualities (or "negative qualities" as TTS calls them), are the things I target first, since around 2012 or so.

That's because practical experience had shown by then that almost anything I tried to change in myself or others using other methods would often return in a few weeks, unless said negative qualities were somehow addressed. So, strategically, going hunting for them first makes things a lot more efficient, as you then don't have to worry about all the tactical-level behaviors and beliefs being regenerated from the persistent, strategic-level, negative self-image.

Interestingly, now that you've mentioned TTS (indirectly, by linking to your posts referencing it), it reminds me that TTS actually includes something rather like a reconsolidation-oriented approach to quality changes. It might be interesting now to go back and re-read it with our newer knowledge of reconsolidation in mind, to see if I can either improve on his technique, or use something from it to improve on mine.

Comment by pjeby on On Internal Family Systems and multi-agent minds: a reply to PJ Eby · 2019-10-31T03:15:00.202Z · score: 10 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I'm sorry you had a jarring experience being named in the OP.

Thank you. It is at least good to know that it was not his decision to put this on the front page, though the number of times I'm named still makes it feel a bit like it's a calling out, especially since he refers to "pjebyan" practices as if they were what we discussed, rather than the material from UtEB that he himself previously posted.

A lot of what we talked about in the original comments was actually what UtEB describes as reconsolidation, not what I do, because I specifically did not want to get into that here.

Rather, my direct discussion with Kaj was strictly focused on the reductionism issue with parts-oriented models, and the difference between deliberate reconsolidation (ala UtEB) and accidental reconsolidation (ala IFS). It was never supposed to be a referendum on my approach to working with clients or comparing my approach with IFS, outside of me mentioning some reasons why I don't like to use parts-oriented approaches (like IFS or any of its many predecessors), and how my experiences relate to what's said in UtEB.

Indeed, the only reason I felt safe to discuss what I did in that previous thread was because I could use UtEB as an example of a reconsolidation-oriented approach other than mine, because I did not wish to create an impression of using LW as a pulpit from which to preach my own gospel. The unexpected combination of "suddently frontpage" and "naming names/ascribing positions" was quite unpleasant, as it made it feel like I was being shoved into a frame of doing that in direct opposition to my attempts to keep the previous discussion focused on general schools of thought (e.g. behaviorism vs. "parts", deliberate vs. accidental reconsoldiation, etc.) rather than being about "my way is better than yours".

After all, as the guidelines say, "aim to explain, not persuade".

(That being said, I can also see how the frame shift probably seems way more visible and salient to me than it does to anybody else, and on a re-read of the article, even I can see that the parts that got me upset are really very tiny in comparison to the whole. It's also pretty understandable in retrospect why Kaj could easily have thought I was arguing for a model of my own, rather than speaking generically, without him having any intention to distort my views or attribute his own views to me... even as it's also understandable why the situation inclined me to give more weight to the reverse hypothesis.)

Comment by pjeby on On Internal Family Systems and multi-agent minds: a reply to PJ Eby · 2019-10-31T02:58:36.293Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

My visceral reaction upon reading your comment above this one, for example, was that you were trying to demote IFS because it sounds like you make a living promoting this other non-IFS approach.

That framing is actually part of what upset me about this article: it presents some of my arguments in a context that makes them seem as though they were made in support of my own approach vs IFS, rather than comparing and contrasting the material discussed by two of Kaj's own posts.

In one post, he presented reconsolidation-oriented therapy as described in Unlocking the Emotional Brain (UtEB for short), and in the other he discussed IFS. My comments in the previous thread were about how UtEB's arguments regarding reconsolidation showcase why IFS is an "accidental reconsolidation" model, and how a deliberate model is more efficient. (Using occasional examples from my experiences with both types of approach.)

This post seems (to me at least) to frame that prior discussion as if I was instead arguing for my methodology vs. IFS, when I was almost exclusively arguing "deliberate vs. accidental reconsolidation", with UtEB from Kaj's own post as an example of the former variety.

So taken out of context, this post makes it sound as if I were doing just what you say: demoting IFS to promote my own approach. But the original conversation was actually comparing two schools of thought that Kaj had written articles about, and by extension, other schools that divide along the same lines.

(But then, my view might be more than a little biased by the unexpected appearance on the frontpage, while thinking that said appearance was Kaj's choice rather than a moderator's, making me look extra-close for why he made a choice that he didn't actually make.)

Comment by pjeby on On Internal Family Systems and multi-agent minds: a reply to PJ Eby · 2019-10-31T01:58:32.060Z · score: 7 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I came away thinking that you think pjeby is right but some part of IFS is worth salvaging, and when I put my pjeby hat on, I can't figure out which part you think is worth salvaging.

Thank you, yes. That is basically my position as well, though it is also wrapped in a shell of "WTF am I being named in the title and throughout the body of this post when it's actually about Kaj's position and appears only tangentially related to what we talked about before, because although I did answer some questions people asked about what I do, when I was speaking to Kaj I was mainly talking about the distinctions available between IFS and UtEB, not distinctions between IFS and what I, personally, do with clients." So this not only feels like a weird and confusing post on the level you explain, it also feels like an attack on a strawman version of what I do, because Kaj appears in some places to have confused my generic discussion of "deliberate vs. accidental reconsolidation" with me saying something about my own, personal methodology.

Comment by pjeby on On Internal Family Systems and multi-agent minds: a reply to PJ Eby · 2019-10-30T21:01:29.214Z · score: 15 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Mostly, I'm confused as to why this is a post at all (especially frontpage); it reads as an attempt to defend IFS against my criticisms of it, without actually disagreeing with or refuting any of those criticisms. In which case, why post it at all?

You seemed to have criticisms about IFS which looked to me like they were based on misunderstandings of IFS, so I tried to correct them; and you seemed confused about why people found IFS valuable, so I tried to share my perspective on why people do.

I'm still trying to find out where you think I have misunderstood IFS. Your explanation of what you found valuable was useful, though, in that I can see the specific insights or experiences you are crediting to IFS that I was blind to because I consider them minimum requirements for a functional system, rather than bonus features of IFS in particular.

But that was largely answered in the comments of the previous thread, so as I said, I'm kind of confused by a frontpage post that seems to be positioning itself as a refutation of my criticisms, but isn't.

I feel like I came to this conversation mostly in a gears-oriented frame, where I don't have any very strong agenda

Me too... to the original conversation. This post seems like an odd escalation on your part, to move from comments to a frontpage post specifically naming me and making it less a quiet conversation between you and I to a public dispute worthy of frontpage attention. It's particularly puzzling because the post spends a huge amount of time vehemently.... not quite disagreeing, but disagreeing enough that a casual observer might think, "Oh, Kaj really gave PJ's ideas a smackdown", and interpret the situation through a dominance frame, even though in actuality you've barely disagreed at all. (In which case again, why post it? What new information does it actually add?)

So a lot of what you're seeing from me is puzzlement. If you were actually trying to inform me of a misunderstanding, this doesn't seem like a good way to go about it. But on the other hand, you haven't actually informed me of any misunderstandings in this post, and instead presented what looks like a weak promotion of IFS and some fully-general counterarguments. In which case, why bring me into it in particular?

I honestly can't make heads or tails of why this is on the front page and not either continued comments on the other thread, or a private conversation, as it doesn't seem to make sense to me no matter how I look at it, based on the intentions you've stated. Instead, it looks like an unnecessary (and possibly hostile) escalation. Rather than impute such intentions to you, my comments have been more trying to figure out what it is you were thinking, using my best guess for the apparent intention of the post (i.e. promote IFS/defend it against my criticism).

The idea that this post was to further mutual understanding is kind of beyond my comprehension, since if that were the case I would've expected you to ask questions in the post rather than simply stating your case. (Or in some parts, just assuming your case rather than even stating it!)

Comment by pjeby on What are some unpopular (non-normative) opinions that you hold? · 2019-10-30T17:16:24.183Z · score: 3 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Since your reply to my bringing up problems is to bring up more stuff that has problems, while not addressing most of the problems I previously raised, I don't see how a conversation can meaningfully proceed from here, without it feeling like a Gish Gallop. For example:

I cite the OKCupid data that specifically supports my statement here. I am saying men, as a class, do not favour a minority of women.

I read the article you linked, and it says that 2 out of 3 messages sent by men are to the women in the top 1/3 of attractiveness, while on the other hand, women rate 80% of men as below-average attractiveness... and then message most of them anyway.

This sounds to me like it 100% contradicts your statements about men and women's mating preferences.

If the very data you cite literally contradicts the premises you're citing it to support, I don't see how to have a sane conversation about this, given that you don't even remotely touch on the majority of my objections. Also, the part where we have thoroughly different value systems means that there's a ton of difference in what's considered even relevant, so a meaningful discussion is probably not possible.

Comment by pjeby on On Internal Family Systems and multi-agent minds: a reply to PJ Eby · 2019-10-30T16:40:28.625Z · score: 8 (3 votes) · LW · GW

But this sort of reminds me of my long-standing attempt to figure out what Friston-style models are doing that PCT-style models aren't (and vice versa), where actually the thing at play seems to be a question of "which underlying theory deserves more status?" than "what different predictions do these models make?", in a way that's quite difficult to resolve.

As far as differing predictions go, if IFS' model of how parts need to be treated is correct, then it should not be possible to directly alter someone's rules without any reference to parts. Yet, the fact that non-parts-oriented therapies also work is a trivial refutation of this prediction. Ergo, the idea of parts is an unnecessary addition from a theoretical point of view.

Comment by pjeby on On Internal Family Systems and multi-agent minds: a reply to PJ Eby · 2019-10-30T16:26:04.036Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Eh, I think that dissolving agency is actually pretty darn important, in a variety of ways, both practical and theoretical. But I think your attempts to salvage the idea of agency are tied to you seeing it as essential to the "positive intention" frame you see as part of IFS' main appeal or value.

So, I've written a separate comment to address that, and the other practical-side arguments of the article.

Comment by pjeby on On Internal Family Systems and multi-agent minds: a reply to PJ Eby · 2019-10-30T16:22:47.789Z · score: 10 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Having addressed the reductionist side (where you basically agree with me, yet still think "agency" is useful), let's now look at the practicalities.

As far as I can tell, your practical argument in favor of IFS has three main parts:

  • Meta-schema (e.g. of seeking to exterminate bad parts/rules) are a thing that exists
  • IFS can arrive at the same place as other models by different steps
  • IFS' frame of positive intention is useful, and isn't available in other models

But none of these arguments actually favor IFS over other systems, or even distinguish it at all!

For the first argument, the thing I previously described as "The Interdict of Merlin for Self-Help" prevents people with meta-issues from resolving them without either 1) banging their head on a wall till they notice there's a wall there, or 2) having another living mind say, "hey, did you know that's a wall you're banging your head against?". In short, meta-issues are a Fully General Counterargument because they apply to any method of change for human brains. So they don't distinguish IFS from other systems.

Second, of course IFS can arrive at the same place as other models; my argument is that it lacks both rigor and simplicity in how it arrives at those places compared to models based on passive schema, that use an understanding of reconsolidation to explicitly focus on contradicting explicitly-selected memory targets.

And the authors of UtEB specifically note that therapies such as IFS work -- to the extent that they do -- because they are doing things that unintentionally or indirectly result in reconsolidation. So this second argument doesn't actually distinguish IFS from any other therapy that accidentally (i.e., without explicit intention/targeting) produces reconsolidation.

Finally, the third argument is, I think, where the real thrust of this entire article lies. I get the impression in fact, that this third argument is the reason you're defending IFS so strongly in the first place: that this frame has had personal meaning and utility to you.

But that "positive intention" frame isn't new, and definitely isn't unique to IFS. Other therapy modalities had it long before IFS was developed, and you can use a reductionist modality without losing the benefits.

For example, I might say to someone that something they learned to was the best thing they could do in the situation they were in, and back that up by helping them experience how and why that was the best thing, leading to the same sort of subjective experience as you describe, of realizing that your brain is not, in fact, out to get you.

And this framing doesn't require me to postulate a part that has your well-being in mind, yet for some reason keeps doing the same thing over and over! "You learned to do this because it was good then, and it's not so good now" is IMO a simpler theoretical frame than "you have parts that are well-intentioned, but also kind of dumb".

(Of course, the way I do this, there's an even more basic experience, of one's rules being "think X, feel Y automatically". By the time we're talking about anything like the positive intention frame, it's already been established by simple repetition that the troubling thing acts like a rule that wires a button directly to a feeling. So the question raised is not, "why is this part doing this to me?" but "how did I learn that rule?")

So the third argument doesn't distinguish IFS from other methods, and the subjective experience of unblending via positive intention can be arrived at by other means, that IMO are more efficient as well as more epistemically correct, and allow for greater rigor and speed.

IOW, on none of these three dimensions is IFS substantially different from any "average therapy brand X", with the possible exception of its metaphor having intuitive appeal for a self-helping user. Nor do any of the claimed benefits of a "parts"-focused model not apply equally to approaches based on rules and learning.

Comment by pjeby on On Internal Family Systems and multi-agent minds: a reply to PJ Eby · 2019-10-30T07:59:07.489Z · score: 11 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Examples of phenomena that contradict IFS model would be even more useful, though I'm failing to think of what those would look like.

The reason it's hard to think of what it would look like is that viewing things through an agentic lens makes you miss those counterexamples by confabulation. For example, you can trivially explain any behavior by postulating a part that wants to do that behavior. In contrast, simpler models have to be grounded in something more concrete (such as what the rule(s) are and how they were learned), which means such models are less flexible... and thus more likely to tell us something useful about the world, due to what they rule out.

My examples of subagents appearing to mysteriously answer questions was meant to suggest that there are subtle things that IFS explains/predicts, which aren't automatically explained in other models

I don't see that, though: if you ask people questions, they are mysteriously able to answer them, and the answers can often be startling, and true. While I can't speak to your subjective experience, I can describe something from mine that sounds similar: if somebody asks me a question under certain circumstances, I find myself listening to an answer coming out of my mouth that I did not know before, and which I do not experience myself as knowing until after I hear myself say it.

This state of affairs does not involve IFS-style parts, so ISTM that IFS does not add anything special here to the idea that questions can trigger the appearance of information in the mind that one did not explicitly know beforehand... Almost as if it had just been prepared fresh by a chef in the kitchen, vs. something that was already in our refrigerator of knowledge. ;-)

Comment by pjeby on On Internal Family Systems and multi-agent minds: a reply to PJ Eby · 2019-10-30T07:40:25.327Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · LW · GW

So... is there any specific thing that you think cannot be modeled as elegantly as in IFS, by using simple reinforcement learning of when to do a thing or feel a certain way?

Without such examples, I don't think your article has really done anything to improve the case for IFS's validity as an actually-reductionist model of human behavior. That is, when you say:

the “passive” version sounds to me like it’s just a description of how the “agenty” version is implemented.

you're kind of making my point. If we're doing reductionism, then "how it's implemented" is actually pretty important! That sounds like a feature of the passive model, not a bug.

In other words, on at least the "IFS as a reductionist model" side, it looks like you have used an awful lot of words to basically concede my point. ;-)

Comment by pjeby on What are some unpopular (non-normative) opinions that you hold? · 2019-10-25T21:51:37.334Z · score: 10 (5 votes) · LW · GW

So, your response to my questioning your premises is to propose more premises?

Men do not favour a minority of women

What? Of course they do. I'm a man, I would think I would know if I favored the majority of women. I don't. Similarly, you state that "men" require reproductive opportunity. I don't. I don't want children. So I'm a trivial counterargument on both counts.

These seem to me like trivial refutations of large portions of your ideas about men, without even getting to such notions as "what social contract?" "Who made this contract with whom?" Or, for example:

Good luck trying to wring 60 solid years of slavish labour from a man that has checked out of the race and just wants to play xbox.

My response to that is, why on earth would I want to? I'm similarly baffled as to what value you see in the constructs you see as decaying. Many of them seem like things I'm more than happy to see us rid of. For example:

birth rate crash of the West

I'm not sure why I should see fewer people existing as a problem. Perhaps the people that do exist will be ones who feel wanted, rather than that they are being born into a society that expects them to do things they don't want in order to preserve a society full of people doing things they don't want to preserve a society full of... endlessly recursive suffering. If that is what children have to look forward to, then it's better they not be born in the first place. (Which is one of the reasons I'm not interested in having children.)

Another random point:

search for pictures of Leonardo DiCaprio on beaches with models. He's coming up on 30 years of dozens of models a week (although he does share them with his friends, so that's nice of him).

Does he have a collection that he keeps locked away in a harem? If not, he's not stopping them from pursuing "reproductive opportunities" with other men. Lots of women might enjoy a weekend with Lenny D, but a lot fewer actually want to stick around and have kids with him. Plus, that's what, 18000 women? There are still four billion left. There could be a thousand Leo DiCaprios not sharing any of those women and that's still only like one major city populated by women you no longer want to sleep with because apparently sleeping with more than one guy is (somehow?) a problem in some way I don't understand... and then there's still billions left.

And another thing:

virtually all women that want sex are getting it

On behalf of virtually every woman I have ever known... bwahahahahahahaha. Ha. No. No, no, no, no.

This is obviously, trivially false, as can be shown by observing the billion-dollar industries known as "romance novels" and "vibrators". (Let alone "Fifty Shades"... and for the two previous generations' versions, "Nine and a Half Weeks" and "Story of O".)

See also the research showing the main reason women are less likely to respond to random propositions than men do, is because they have a lower prior expectation for a randomly-selected man being a good lover. That is, they expect that on average, sex with a guy is a crapshoot with regard to the quality of the experience, such that they're better off going home to curl up with a good book and a vibrator.

(Which is one reason that a guy who is discovered to be even halfway decent in bed will sometimes get passed around a woman's circle of friends like a party favor... regardless of what the guy looks like on their OKCupid. The fact that people judge books by their covers should not be construed as them not caring about the contents, in situations where the cover is the only thing available to them to judge by!)

Anyway, none of these things are at all consistent with the idea that "virtually all women that want sex are getting it".

many men that want sex are not getting it

And? So? We live in a world where you can jack it to almost anything you can imagine... for free! Or you can pay a cam girl to act it out for you, or even hire an actual live person to do something for you.

So if what you are calling "sex" is not one of those things, it's not actually sex that's being sought, but something else that you can't actually buy... like love, or appreciation, or respect. (Which making more sex available will not give you, if it's from someone who resents you for making them, or who sees you as an obligation.)

Honestly, this whole thing sounds to me like, "women should want to have sex with me because social contract, blah blah". And my response is, why should they want to? If you're making a contribution to society, surely you have something you can contribute to them, personally, that they value? Arguing that another market participant should value something different than what they actually value, is not very good marketing, so it's not surprising your product isn't selling in that case.

I mean, as far as I can tell, 99% of this is "women want the wrong things, in my opinion, and should want things that benefit me", and/or "society should be restructured to force women to want the things that benefit me", with most of the rest being chaff and smokescreens for that fundamental point of view.

But if the person reading your arguments doesn't have the same value system as you, none of that is meaningful. All I can hear is "people should be made to want the things I do, or at least forced to do them whether they want to or not", which to me doesn't distinguish between you and J Random Fundamentalist of whatever religion.

the labour of one sex was the payment for the other

See, this is what continues to baffle me. If what you want is ownership of a sex partner, you can have that consensually, too, in this day and age. There exist plenty of women who want this arrangement just because it's their fetish, too, let alone the vast number of women who still live in cultures where that's just the done thing (if that's the sort of dubcon that gets you off). So if that's what you want, why not just go get it, instead of insisting that everyone must do it that way, or else? If that's what floats your boat to the tune of 60 years of backbreaking work or whatever, hey, go for it.

But that doesn't mean everybody else wants to live in a world that revolves around ownership fetishes.

I can't help but feel there's some kind of fundamental thing I don't "get" about people with this type of "men don't get enough sex" argument. The weird thing about it to me, is that it seems like an example of the same sort of argument that radical feminists make, i.e. "the other sex isn't doing it right, so let's make them".

Not, "how can we give them what they want to get what we want", but "how can we make them see how wrong they are to not value the same things?"

I really don't get it, especially since I apparently don't value the same things as either group of "the other sex is doing it wrong" people.

Given I specifically cautioned against people raising their own 'solutions' as objections

I don't understand. Where have I proposed a "solution" to your stated problem? I don't believe the problem you stated actually exists to begin with (or at least is not being stated coherently), so I don't understand how I have raised a solution as an objection.

Women aren't useless but let's not pretend they have equivalent utility to men.

Ok, this is just weird to me. Apparently, it's super important that women have children (because men want that), and men dying is bad. But when women take the risk of dying (by getting pregnant), this is not as important or valuable to society?

By your own arguments this makes no fucking sense. If the guy's prize for working is "me get woman", then how is the woman in that equation not of equivalent utility to the man her (literal) labor births, cares for, and raises to the point he can work, not to mention the part where, if she is also payment for his work, then her mere existence must be at least of equivalent worth, within your own framework!

So if, in today's society, the woman does all the same stuff she'd have done in a patriarchal society, and also makes some direct contributions in a job, isn't that a net gain for "society"?

(TBH, I don't even grok "society" as a coherent entity. Small towns can have a "society", churches can, and other small cultural groups. But "society" as a unified entity in the US started collapsing at least as of the advent of cable TV and the death of prime time, let alone the birth of the internet. The world is much more transactional now: more a marketplace than a society as such. If you were going to stop this trend, you would have needed to start by preventing the death of the "company man" with the collapse of pensions and lifelong expectation of employment, that started a few decades ago and birthed the "free agent" economy that has replaced the previous "society" now in all matters, not just those of employment.)

Comment by pjeby on What are some unpopular (non-normative) opinions that you hold? · 2019-10-24T15:23:26.694Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Women's agency causes there to be nothing to pay men with, because if women are given a choice they favour a minority of males, harem behaviour, promiscuity, childlessness, etc.

There are so many problems with this statement I hardly know where to start. First off, if men are being paid with sex (from women -- note that gay men exist and also make contributions to society, even if you want to ignore the non-natal contributions of women!), then doesn't promiscuity mean more availability of sex, not less? Also, when some women have agency, they work in porn or prostitution, further providing greater availability of sex to more men, and it's even mediated by money, so you can't argue it's going to men who aren't contributing to society.

I also don't think that your "favour a minority of males" holds up either. Any individual woman favors a minority of males due to individual preferences... just like each man favors a minority of women. Sure, there exist males that are favorites of lots of women, but this is vastly more relevant to short-term mating than pair bonding. There's a reason there's a game called "Fuck, Marry, Kill". Wilt Chamberlain might have had sex with a lot of women, but he didn't have long-term relationships with them.

Both men and women have differing interests for short-term mating vs. pair bonding, so promiscuity doesn't actually much affect the availability of pair bonding. (And paternity tests are a thing, for anyone who cares.) Polyamory, swinging, "hotwife" and other lifestyles often involve women having both a husband and either a boyfriend or multiple casual partners, so I'm really confused by how this choice leads to a restriction of available sex or reproductive opportunities for men!

In addition to attractiveness being on a bell-curve for men, it's also not uniformly distributed among women. This means that in your theoretical environment where a few men grab all the women, there's actually a limit to how many these super-attractive dudes will accept, since they have the pick of the best and limited time to go around... leaving the "rest" of the women for the "rest" of the men.

Most women are also not interested in a pair bond with someone who doesn't have time for them, and -- ironically enough -- the availability of choices for women that they didn't have before, means that women don't have to join a harem just to be able to live well and have a decent shot at providing for their offspring!

So I don't see how giving women options leads to more harems. After all, any historical example of harems has to take into account the historic lack of economic opportunity for women to provide for themselves or their children, and the threats that existed if they were independent.

Historically, as far as I can tell, about the only thing women needed men to "protect" them from... was other men! Because the "social contract" of the times dictated that women were property, and didn't have any agency.

But if you look at where polygamy is actually practiced today, in the sense of dudes with multiple wives, I would guess you'll find that it's in places where women don't have as many economic opportunities or the same amount of social safety. (For example, cults.) And if you look at what kind of "harems" exist where women have greater agency and economic opportunity, what you'll find is that it's overwhelmingly the women who have multiple partners, not the men.

Anyway, it seems to me that your argument relies upon "women" being undifferentiated beings with uniform desires... which if, you've ever actually been friends with any, would be obviously untrue. (Well, I might be biased because my friendships and relationships have been with smart women, and smart people's preferences vary more greatly than average people's do, of any gender. But most of the phenomena that keep women from say, forming a marriage harem around Brad Pitt, apply to most women.)

To sum up the unspoken premises you seem to be relying on:

  • Women have uniform attractiveness (nope)
  • Women all find the same men attractive (nope)
  • Women are willing to be part of huge harems as long-term partners when they have other options (nope)
  • Short term and long term mating preferences being the same (nope)
  • Women having economic options removes opportunities for men to trade their economic success for access to sex (nope, since even rich women still prefer financially-stable men, and sex work is also an economic option that some women prefer; see also the modern notion of an "arrangement" or "sugar daddy")

And apart from all that, I have to say as a man that I have hugely benefited from the greater agency women have now, especially with regards to sexual agency. So I'm really confused by this entire argument. (Note that fewer women being forced by economic or social conditions into sex work, "arrangements", harems, etc. means that the women who still do choose these situations are more likely to be willing and enthusiastically consenting than before... which IMO is an obvious good for the men as well!)

It's possible that your experience of "premise seems to be almost unconsciously accepted by everyone I raise it with" is actually "people haven't taken more than a moment to think about it", or "people who don't have much experience of women exercising their actual sexual agency and preferences, vs. what society (or some dude with a blog) says they're supposed to do or want."

Also, while I didn't even touch the premise of "Men do the bulk of the work when it comes to creating, maintaining, and defending everything in society," this doesn't mean I agree with it. My arguments here show, I believe, that even if one accepted that premise as true, the rest of your idea falls flat! (And I don't accept it as true, because even if you assume a patriarchal society with traditional gender roles, one could say that "women do the bulk of the work when it comes to creating, training, and supporting the next generation of society"... and it's still pretty true even without them being forced into that role.)

Finally, as the saying goes "never let your sense of morals prevent you from doing what is right". The women I know are people who deserve agency and choices... and make their own contributions to society, too, thank you very much. (Which would be even greater with more access to choices, since e.g. my wife was discouraged in high school from pursuing advanced mathematics, since she was a girl and "wouldn't need it".)

Comment by pjeby on Implementing an Idea-Management System · 2019-10-22T05:18:18.547Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · LW · GW

fwiw you can import text files (.txt or .md) directly

That's nice, but importing (or exporting) files is a huge pain compared to copy and paste, since most of the tools I use don't really have files as such, or if they do there's a multi-step process on both sides of finding the file, opening an import function, answering stuff, dragging the file (or worse, having to browse if the import-ee doesn't support drag/drop).

Compare that to 1) select, 2) Ctrl-C, 3) Alt-Tab, 4) Ctrl-V. No mousing unless it's for the initial select, if that. Plus, apart from Typora and Notebooks, most of the tools I use don't even have "files" that would be meaningful to import, so I'd instead be copy-pasting into something else to then create the export file...

Anyway, I'm going to stop here, because my use cases aren't necessarily what's best for your project. I'm a CRIMPer (Compulsive Researcher of Information Management Programs), which means I can miss the forest for the trees at times... especially since I have an awful lot of trees, in different software, in which I have a lot of data, notes, ideas, and half-written books.

(I haven't even mentioned Scrivener before this point... or ConnectedText, whose calendar your date-based pages reminded me of. I actually used CT for quite a while and then realized that I couldn't really use the text anywhere else; that was before I caught the markdown religion.)

Comment by pjeby on Implementing an Idea-Management System · 2019-10-21T20:40:51.439Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Paste out also works, but is hard to get right for all tools people use as different apps respond differently to the clipboard

The majority of outlining tools in my experience can accept a paste of plain text lines, indented with tabs. Certainly Workflowy, Ecco Pro, TkOutline, and Dynalist all do, and even OneNote handles it semi-reasonably. Roam (in Chrome) did not appear to accept or output tab-indented text as structured input. (Space-indentation is also produced by some outliners, but even the ones that output spaces will still accept tab-indentation as input.) Most will also let you select an item and its children and hit ^C to copy, without needing an explicit export step unless you need a specialized format.

Whatever format(s) Dynalist and Workflowy put on the clipboard as output, one of the formats is readable by OneNote and Typora as bulleted lists, which is also handy. The other format they produce on copy is four-space indented text, but since they accept tab-indented text as input, as do most other outliners, that should be one of the formats put on the clipboard when a copy operation is done in Roam.

tl;dr: I would suggest investigating what clipboard formats Dynalist and Workflowy use, and accepting either 4-space or tab-indented text on paste, and producing tab-indented text (plus whatever Dl/Wf do) on copy.

we plan for export to be html links of the text of block to the original block

Huh? Then what's the point of transclusion in that case? If I were using it for writing, it'd be so that I could have single sources of certain type of information transparently included in the markdown output as if it were written there. That way I could have blurbs that I'd share between various newsletters, ebooks, lesson materials, etc. that I could edit once and update across multiple documents as of their next production.

(Or maybe you're just saying you would wrap the included text in a link? That wouldn't obviate the point of transclusion, but it'd be an irritant for my use case if I couldn't turn it off. I just want to be able to transparently include stuff, and find other documents that include those things.)

rather than by responding to our onboarding email as every other user has so far.

I did reply to that email, with a link to the comment. The comment began as a comment here, and I ended up writing more into the comment box as I played with Roam.

you encouraging others to not try the tool

I said (emphasis added):

So, if you have trouble reading tiny text or weird alignments drive you nuts, or if you need to be able to use your writing outside the note tool itself, I wouldn't recommend signing up for this thing right now. If you intend to use it as a standalone tool and the above-mentioned quirks wouldn't bother you, then go for it.

That doesn't look to me like "encouraging others to not try the tool", so much as "expressing reservations that this is something you can use right now, today, if you have the sort of issues I do with it".

If you want some real criticism, you should try posting a link on https://www.outlinersoftware.com/. ;-) (Content warning: if you're into information management tools, that site is a time-stealing cognitohazard, not unlike TV Tropes)

Comment by pjeby on Implementing an Idea-Management System · 2019-10-21T02:39:07.248Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, one of the things that was interesting to me was that superficially, Roam's wiki markup was pretty darn close to what Gollum accepts, such that a suitable export from Roam might have been publishable by dumping stuff to git and pushing it to a Gollum-served website, or to a Wordpress instance by way of Postmark plus a filter to translate the links.

Comment by pjeby on Implementing an Idea-Management System · 2019-10-20T23:37:46.093Z · score: 25 (9 votes) · LW · GW

You try Roam if you've got some itch that there has to be something more for structuring thought than files in folders, or tree based outliners, and you are willing to deal with a few inconveniences to get access to features and workflows you definitely won't find anywhere else.

Yes, that's why I did try it. And found that I could neither get my data into it nor out of it while preserving structure or markup semantics. That's kind of a killer, since style issues I could theoretically fix with a user style sheet. Plus, having your own unique markup language means that I can't even write in it without conversion.

I am claiming that Roam users have an inside view that isnt super legible to those who haven't really tried it as a tool for thought

I'm not sure if you're speaking to me or someone else here. I was interested precisely because I understand what your tool would offer me, if only I could use it. It reminds me of some of Ted Nelson's innovative hypertext designs, like ZigZag. Or good ol' Houdini from my DOS days.

I appreciate what it could do for me in the realm of thought; my issue is that I'd like to be able to use it to help write things, things that will be shared in media that is not your program (e.g. blog articles, books, wiki-like websites, etc.) Which means I must be able to not only bring in text I already have, but bring out text I produce.

Also, I do appreciate the aesthetic criticism, and the bug report, it is a shame that that was enough of a distraction that you didn't get a chance to discover what separates Roam from everything else.

I spotted what was unique from your not-very-detailed screenshot and jumped at the chance to try it. I'm an extremely long-term power user of outlining, idea management, and thinking-enhancement software of all varieties, for some 30+ years, so I have a keen eye for novelty in such systems.

If I didn't understand what it could potentially do for me, I wouldn't have been so bothered by the interop and usability problems, nor would I have bothered to try it in the first place. I actually explored a fair handful of features that would have had me trying the tool more seriously, if I had any certainty of getting my data out again, in a useful format. (For example, in order to take real advantage of your transclusion feature, I'd have to be able to export usable markdown versions of the documents where said transclusion was occurring.)

On top of that, I took some time to reflect whether there was anything I was currently working on that could benefit from the tool without being able to take structured/formatted content back out, or having things go out but not able to come back in after outside editing.

And I concluded that this wasn't the case for anything on my "front burner" projects at the moment, and I can't currently afford the time to play with it for back burner projects right now. I do expect to revisit this decision at some point, but from my experience I would expect the big payoffs from your unique features to only happen with days, weeks, or even months of continued use. In the short run, without a lot of data in it, it might as well be Dynalist plus bidirectional wiki links, and I don't need that enough to spend the time learning or working around its particular quirks.

All that being said, I'm a little personally irritated that you not only jumped to the conclusion that I didn't get what your product does (or the implications), but that you also wrote off nearly all of my feedback as "aesthetic" concerns. If you're not concerned with feedback from people whose visual impairment is as lightweight as mine, I hate to think what you'd do with feedback from people with more serious vision problems. (Aside from you not acknowledging the many issues with editing, markup syntax, and interoperability that I took the time to write up for you and share, instead of saying "ho hum" and moving on with my day.)

As another software developer and entrepreneur, I consider even negative feedback from potential users or customers to be very helpful, especially if it lets me see their first impressions. That kind of information is something money can't buy, even from a dedicated UX tester... and most people won't take the time to give it to you. They'll just move on.

I thought about just moving on yesterday. And then I thought, "eh, true first-impression UX feedback is valuable, I'm sure they'll appreciate a write-up."

Oops.

Comment by pjeby on Building up to an Internal Family Systems model · 2019-10-20T22:48:40.276Z · score: 7 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Excellent summary! There are a couple of areas where you may have slightly over-stated my claims, though:

IFS "breaks down" behavior into mini-people inside our heads, each mini-person being equally complex as a full psyche.

I wouldn't say that IFS claims each mini-person is equally complex, only that the reduction here is just a separation of goals or concerns, and does not reduce the complexity of having agency. And this is particularly important because it is the elimination of the idea of smart or strategic agency that allows one to actually debug brains.

Compare to programming: when writing a program, one intends for it to behave in a certain way. Yet bugs exist, because the mapping of intention to actual rules for behavior is occasionally incomplete or incorrectly matched to the situation in which the program operates.

But, so long as the programmer thinks of the program as acting according to the programmer's intention (as opposed to whatever the programmer actually wrote), it is hard for that programmer to actually debug the program. Debugging requires the programmer to discard any mental models of what the program is "supposed to" do, in order to observe what the program is actually doing... which might be quite wrong and/or stupid.

In the same way, I believe that ascribing "agency" to subsets of human behavior is a similar instance of being blinded by an abstraction that doesn't match the actual thing. We're made up of lots of code, and our problems can be considered bugs in the code... even if the behavior the code produces was "working as intended" when it was written. ;-)

On the other hand, IFS assumes that there is dedicated hardware for each instance of an action pattern: each part corresponds to something like an evolved module in the brain, and each instance of a negative behavior/emotion corresponds to a separate part.

I don't claim that IFS assumes dedicated per-instance hardware; but it seems kind of implied. My understanding is that IFS at least assumes that parts are agents that 1) do things, 2) can be conversed with as if they were sentient, and 3) can be reasoned or negotiated with. That's more than enough to view it as not reducing "agency".

But the article that we are having this discussion on does try to a model a system with dedicated agents actually existing (whether in hardware or software), so at least that model is introducing dedicated entities beyond necessity. ;)

Besides the issue with luck, IFS does not really have the concept of a schema which keeps interpreting behaviors in the light of its existing model, and thus filtering out all the counter-evidence that the playacting might otherwise have contained. To address this you need to target the problematic schema directly, which requires you to actually know about this kind of a thing and be able to use reconsolidation techniques directly.

Technically, it's possible to change people without intentionally using reconsolidation or a technique that works by directly attempting it. It happens by accident all the time, after all!

And it's quite possible for an IFS therapist to notice the filtering or distortions taking place, if they're skilled and paying attention. Presumably, they would assign it to a part and then engage in negotiation or an attempt to "heal" said part, which then might or might not result in reconsolidation.

So I'm not claiming that IFS can't work in such cases, only that to work, it requires an observant therapist. But such a good therapist could probably get results with any therapy model that gave them sufficient freedom to notice and address the issue, no matter what terminology was used to describe the issue, or the method of addressing it.

As the authors of UTEB put it:

Transformational change of the kind addressed here—the true disappearance of long-standing, distressing emotional learning—of course occurs at times in all sorts of psychotherapies that involve no design or intention to implement the transformation sequence by creating juxtaposition experiences.

After all, reconsolidation isn't some super-secret special hack or unintended brain exploit, it's how the brain normally updates its predictive models, and it's supposed to happen automatically. It's just that once a model pushes the prior probability of something high (or low) enough, your brain starts throwing out each instance of a conflicting event, even if considered collectively they would be reason to make a major update in the probability.

Comment by pjeby on Implementing an Idea-Management System · 2019-10-19T20:16:33.111Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I use Workflowy for mobile capture and can copy to/from it just fine.

Depending on the direction of copy/pasting, I either ended up with huge blobs of text in one item, or flat lists without any indentation. i.e., I couldn't manage structure-preserving interchange with any other tool except (ironically enough) my markdown editor, Typora. A bullet-point list or paragraphs from Typora would paste into Roam with structure, and I could also do the reverse. But markdown bullet point lists aren't really interchangeable with any other tools I use, so it's not a viable bridge to my other outlining tools.

Comment by pjeby on Implementing an Idea-Management System · 2019-10-19T18:41:22.207Z · score: 36 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Um, isn't that basically a wiki? I looked at the website and don't see anything right off that indicates how it's different from any other personal wiki tool. It even seems to be using the same double-square-bracket link syntax used by many wiki tools.

On a closer look at the one available screenshot, I think I see that the difference might be that instead of just a list of "pages that link here", the tool provides a list of "paragraphs or bullet points that link here", and that perhaps the wiki pages themselves are outlines?

Actually, that makes a lot of sense... and probably is better than what I'm doing with DynaList right now. Signing up... and, ok, so it's interesting. The outliner UX is kind of basic and really lacking in features I'm used to with other outliners. For example, I can't paste anything into it from my other outliners -- pasting multiline text results in a single outline item with indentation, instead of separate bullet points.

Worse, I can't copy out either, or at least haven't figured out how to yet. That seems to make this an information silo that doesn't play well with other tools.

After some experimenting with "Export" I find I can copy and paste that into a markdown editor and get a bullet list, but not something I can paste into actual outlining tools using e.g. tab indentation or OPML. The export is also lossy, losing any line breaks or indentation in code blocks. And using it is awkward, as hitting ^A to "select all" in the export ends up selecting the rest of the page, not just the export bit. I was hoping "view as document" plus "export" would let me at least extract a markdown page, but it goes back to bullet points in the export. In order to get a non-lossy export, you have to "Export All" (meaning your entire database(!), and it uses a weird asterisk-indented format that is compatible with exactly nothing.

Overall this is an intriguing idea for a tool, but the execution isn't something I'd trust with important data, with the lack of interop being a killer lack-of-feature. The fact that the "markdown" isn't actually markdown, either, isn't helping. There's really no reason for a text markup syntax like this to not just follow the Commonmark standard, even if you're only going to support a subset. The fenced code block syntax is especially whack, as you either end up with blank lines at the top and bottom, or with something you can't copy as-is to another program. Also, the editor seems to be applying syntax for some guessed language, as it didn't understand shell script and indented it according to rules for some other language, fighting me all the way.

Last, but not least, I find the outlines really hard to read. This is especially visible on the "Writing Tips in Roam" page, where the vertical indent lines are too high contrast, making them distracting, the default font is too small and has no way to change it, the indentation width appears erratic when numbers are in use (because it's actually based on indentation from the still-there-yet-invisible bullet points), and the little avatar heads (at irregular indents due to the aforementioned) are distracting and repetitive.

In short: I can't effectively paste information into it, I can't read it or edit it while it's there, and I can't effectively copy it back out. I don't know what else I can do with it. ;-)

To be fair, these are problems one might expect with alpha software. But until they're resolved I can't see why I would do anything except play with it as a thought experiment in how useful and cool it might someday be if these issues were resolved. Certainly at minimum, it should be able to cleanly copy/paste to and from Dynalist and Workflowy, since it's presented as an alternative to those tools. And if you have something that's a "document", you ought to be able to copy it as a markdown document and paste it into a markdown editor, so that you can take your writing and do something like putting it up on the web or making an ebook out of it.

So, if you have trouble reading tiny text or weird alignments drive you nuts, or if you need to be able to use your writing outside the note tool itself, I wouldn't recommend signing up for this thing right now. If you intend to use it as a standalone tool and the above-mentioned quirks wouldn't bother you, then go for it.

In other words, in practical terms, you might be better off with a personal wiki, because even plain text copy and paste is more interoperable than this. And the backlinks of a personal wiki don't quite do what Roam does, but they might be a better choice if you're livin' la vida markdown as I do.

But hey, I'm sure the author(s) will fix some of these issues with time. After all, you know what they say...

Roam wasn't built in a day. [ba dum tiss!]

Comment by pjeby on Building up to an Internal Family Systems model · 2019-10-19T17:03:47.875Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Huh. This does not resonate with my experience, but I will henceforth be on the lookout for this.

To be fair, I doubt that my sample size of such individuals is statistically significant. But since in the few times a client has brought up IFS and either enthusiastically extolled it or seemed to be wanting me to validate it as something they should try, it seemed to me to be related to either the person's schema of helplessness (i.e., these parts are doing this to me), or of denial (i.e., I would be successful if I could just fix all these broken parts!), which IMO are both treating the parts metaphor as a way to support and sustain the very dysfunctions that were causing their problems in the first place.

In general, I suspect people are naturally attracted to the worst possible modes of therapy for fixing their problems, at least if they know anything about the therapy in question!

(And I include myself in that, since I've avoided therapy generally since a bad experience with it in college, and for a long time avoided any self-help modality that involved actually being self-compassionate or anything other than supporting my "fix my broken stuff so I can get on with life" attitude. It's possible that with the right approach and therapist I could potentially have changed faster, once you count all the time I spent researching and developing my methods, all the failures and blind alleys. But I'm happy with the outcome, since more people are being helped than just me, and getting people out of the kinds of pain I suffered is rewarding in its own way.)

Comment by pjeby on Building up to an Internal Family Systems model · 2019-10-19T16:46:28.093Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I've heard an acquaintance describe a session with Anne Weiser-Cornell where they kept trying to say "this is my feeling" and she kept correcting to "this feeling in my body", which again is more of a dissociative stance.

I was under the impression that IFS calls that "unblending", just as ACT calls it "de-fusing". I personally view it more as a stance of detachment or curiosity neutral observation. But I don't object to someone saying "I feel X", because that's already one step removed from "X"!

If somebody says, "everything is awful" they're blended or fused or whatever you want to call it. They're taking the map as equivalent to the territory. Saying, "It feels like everything is awful" or "I feel awful" is already one level of detachment, and an okay place to start from.

In common psychotherapy, I believe the term "dissociation" is usually associated with much greater levels of detachment than this, unless you're talking about NLP. The difference in degree is probably why ACT and IFS and others have specialized terms like "unblending" to distinguish between this lesser level of detachment, and the type of dissociative experience that comes with say, trauma, where people experience themselves as not even being in their body.

Honestly, if somebody is so "in their head" that they don't experience their feelings, I have to go the opposite route of making them more associated and less detached, and I have plenty of tools for provoking feelings in order to access them. I don't want complete dissociation from feelings, nor complete blending with them, and ISTM that almost everything on your chart is actually targeted at that same sweet spot or "zone" of detached-but-not-too-detached. In touch with your experience, but neither absorbed by it nor turning your back on it.

Anyway, I think maybe I understand the terms you're using now, and hopefully you understand the ones I'm using. Within your model I still don't know what you'd call what I'm doing, since my "Collect" and "Connect" phases would seem to be in the quadrant with Focusing, while my "Correct" phase explicitly uses The Work and variations on it. And my model doesn't have a notion of parts outside of mental muscles or a metaphorical description of the emergent properties of rules and schemas, such that I sort-of deny the existence of parts or an integrated whole!

To the extent that people have denial or disidentification of certain aspects of themselves, I consider that itself to be a behavior. It can be modeled as a simple conditioned response to the idea of the thing, as seen through a relevant predict/evaluate model. In Core Transformation and IFS, the approach is to treat that as if there is actually a part that has been exiled, but in my view it makes more sense to focus on the schema driving the rejection, than to act as if either metaphorical "part" actually exists.

The difference between my approach and most psychological models outside of NLP, is that I don't even view people as agents, let alone any of their parts as such! I teach them to look at the actuality of what their brain is doing (or at least what parts we are able to observe), and it is much more like rooting a cellphone or hacking a website or debugging a program you didn't write (and whose source code you don't have!), than anything involving interaction between agents. The only "conversation" is one of probing the system and seeing what responses you get, and for me that applies to techniques found in both your "embodied self" and "dissociated parts" quadrants.

Which is why I find the diagram confusing. Because if I understand your model, The Work and Sedona should be in the "dissociated parts" model, if you consider Focusing to be that. Or conversely, Focusing should be in the "embodied self" quadrant. Or alternately, the thing that I'm doing with people and calling Focusing isn't what you mean by Focusing, because all three of those techniques, AFAICT in practice, require precisely the same amount of detachment from one's feelings in order to operate, and none of the three require either the assumption or rejection of the idea of a part existing as a persistent entity, vs. simply responding to present experience, regardless of whether you treat that experience as a metaphorical "part".

I mean, even Sedona requires you to at least have the amount of detachment to say things like, "And could I judge that a little less?" You can't do that if you're fused with the thing. Same for The Work, as you can't consider whether a belief is true, without first defusing enough to consider it to be a "belief" rather than simply "how things are".

I suppose that's probably where our communication is breaking down, because the divisions on your diagram seem kind of academic, in that they don't tell me anything useful about actually doing those techniques successfully. Detachment is effectively required by all of the techniques on the diagram, at least to the extent of not being fused with one's experience. It's necessary to observe the experience as a thing other than the observer or "reality" in order to even conceive of performing some sort of operation upon it, if that makes sense.

So, technically, doesn't that make everything on that chart dissociative, in your use of the term? I mean, the unit I work with is in size and shape a lot like CBT and similar therapies' notion of ANTs, except I deal with them on an emotional/embodied basis rather than analyzing the logical content, and in practical terms I use methods from Focusing and The Work, so I don't see where my approach actually belongs on your diagram, other than "everywhere". ;-)

Comment by pjeby on Building up to an Internal Family Systems model · 2019-10-19T04:53:27.008Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What are you imagining would be the case if IFS was literally true, and subagents were real, instead of "just a metaphor"?

Well, for one thing, that they would intelligently shift their behavior to achieve their outcomes, rather than stupidly continuing things that don't work any more. That would be one implication of agency.

Also, if IFS were literally true, and "subagents" were the atomic unit of behavior, then the UTEB model shouldn't work, and neither should mine or many other modalities that operate on smaller, non-intentional units.

In fact, I dislike the word "subagent", because it imports implications that might not hold. A part might be agent-like, but it also might be closer to an urge or a desire or an impulse.

Ah! Now we're getting somewhere. In my frame, an urge, desire or impulse is a reaction. The "response" in stimulus-response. Which is why I want to pin down "when does this thing happen?", to get the stimulus part that goes with it.

To my understanding the key idea of the "parts" framing, is that I should assume, by default, that each part is acting from a model, a set of beliefs about the world or my goals. That is, my desire/ urge / reflex, is not "mindless": it can update.

I see it differently: we have mental models of the world, that contain "here are some things that might be good to do in certain situations", where "things to do" can include "how you should feel, so as to bias towards a certain category of behaviors that might be helpful based on what we know". (And the actions or feelings listed in the model can be things other people did or felt!)

In other words, the desire or urge is the output of a lookup table, and the lookup table can be changed. But both the urge and the lookup table are dumb, passive, and prefer not to update if at all possible. (To the extent that information processed through the lookup table will be distorted to reinforce the validity of what's already in the lookup table.)

Even in the cases where somebody makes a conscious decision to pursue a goal, (e.g. a child thinking "I'll be good so my parents will love me", or "I'll be perfect so nobody can reject me"), that's just slapping an urge or desire into the lookup table, basically. It doesn't mean we pursue it in any systematic or even sane way!

So, what you're seeing as a coherent "part", I see as a collection of assorted interacting machinery that, when it works, could maybe be seen as an intelligent goal-seeking agent... but mostly is dumb machinery subject to all kinds of weird breakage scenarios, turning us all into neurotic f**kups, full of hypocrisy and akrasia. ;-)

Comment by pjeby on Building up to an Internal Family Systems model · 2019-10-19T04:33:48.453Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Well, when I talk with people at CFAR workshops, fairly often someone will have the problem of "akrasia" and they'll conceptualize it, more or less, as "my system 1 is stupid and doesn't understand that working harder at my job is the only thing that matters, and I need tools to force my S1 to do the right thing."

So my response to that is to say, "ok, let's get empirical about that. When does this happen, exactly? If you think about working harder right now, what happens?" Or, "What happens if you don't work harder at your job?"

In other words, I immediately try to drop to a stimulus-response level, and reject all higher-level interpretive frameworks, except insofar as they give me ideas of where to drop my depth charges, so to speak. :)

And then I might suggest that they try on the frame where "the akrasia part", is actually an intelligent "agent" trying to optimize for their own goals (instead of a foreign, stupid entity, that they have to subdue). If the akrasia was actually right, why would that be?

I usually don't bring that kind of thing up until a point has been reached where the client can see that empirically. For example, if I've asked them to imagine what happens if they get their wish and are now working harder at their job... and they notice that they feel awful or whatever. And then I don't need to address the intentionality at all.

And they realize that they hate their job, and obviously their life would be terrible if they spent more of their time working at their terrible job.

And sometimes, the real problem has nothing to do with the work and everything to do with a belief that they aren't a good person unless they work more, so it doesn't matter how terrible it is... but also, the very fact that they're guilty about not working more may be precisely the thing they're avoiding by not working!

In other words, sometimes an intentional model fails because brains are actually pretty stupid, and have design flaws such that trying to view them as having sensible or coherent goals simply doesn't work.

For example, our action planning subsystem is really bad at prioritizing between things we feel good about doing vs. things we feel bad about not doing. It wants to avoid the things we feel bad about not doing, because when we think about them, we feel bad. That part of our brains doesn't understand things like "logical negation" or "implicative reasoning", it just processes things based on their emotional tags. (i.e., "bad = run away")

[I'm obviously simplifying somewhat, but this exact pattern does come up over and over again at CFAR workshops.]

And I'm also not saying I never do anything that's a modeling of intention. But I get there bottom-up, not top-down, and it only comes up in a few places.

Also, most of the intentional models I use are for things that pass through the brain's intention-modeling system: i.e., our mental models of what other people think/thought about us!

For example, the SAMMSA pattern is all about pulling that stuff out, as is the MTF pattern ("meant to feel/made to feel" - a subset of SAMMSA dealing with learnings of how others intend for us to feel in certain circumstances).

The only other place I use quasi-intentional frames is in describing the evolutionary function or "intent" of our brain modules. For example, distress behavior is "intended" to generate caring responses from parents. But this isn't about what the person intends, it's about what their brain is built to do. When you were a crying baby, "you" didn't even have anything that qualifies as intention yet, so how could we say you had a part with that intention?

And even then, I'm treating it as, "in this context, this behavior pattern would produce this result" (producing reinforcement or gene propagation), not "this thing is trying to produce this result, so it has this behavior pattern in this context." Given the fact that my intention is always to reduce to the actual "wires" or "lines of code" producing a problem, intention modeling is going in the wrong direction most of the time.

My analogy about confusing a thermostat with something hot or cold underneath speaks to why: unlike IFS, I don't assume that parts have positive, functional intentions, even if they arose out of the positive "design intentions" of the system as a whole. After all, the plan for achieving that original "intention" may no longer be valid! (insofar as there even was one to begin with.)

That's why I don't think of the thermostat as being something that "wants" temperature, because it would distract me from actually looking at the wall and the wiring and the sensors, which is the only way I can be certain that I'm always getting closer to a solution rather than guessing or going in circles. (That is, by always working with things I can test, like a programmer debugging a program. Rerunning it and inspecting, putting in different data values and seeing how the behavior changes, and so on.)

Comment by pjeby on Building up to an Internal Family Systems model · 2019-10-19T04:05:12.758Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

According to my view, I would call "the reinforced pattern to activate the 'distress' muscle [in some specific set of circumstances]" a part. That's the thing that I would want to dialogue with.

And I don't understand how you could "dialogue" with such a thing, except in the metaphorical sense where debugging is a "dialogue" with the software or hardware in question. I don't ask a stimulus-respponse pattern to explain itself, I dialogue with the client or with my inner experience by trying things or running queries, and the answers I get back are whatever the machine does in response.

I don't pretend that the behavior pattern is a coherent entity with which I can have a conversation in English, as for me that approach has only ever resulted in confusion, or at best some occasionally good but largely irreproducible results.

And I specifically coach clients not to interpret those responses they get, but just to report the bare fact of what is seen or felt or heard, because the purpose is not to have a conversation but to conduct an investigation or troubleshooting process.

A stimulus-response pattern doesn't have goals or fears; goals or fears are things we have, that we get from our SR rules as emergent properties. That's why treating them as intentional agents makes no sense to me: they're what our agency is made of, but they themselves are not a class of thing that could even comprehend such a thing as the notion of agency.

Schemas are mental models, not utilitarian agents... not even in a theoretical sense! Humans don't weigh utility, we have an action planner system that queries our predictive model for "what looks like something good to do in this situation", and whatever comes back fastest tends to win, with emotionally weighted stuff or stuff tagged by certain mental muscles getting wired into faster routes.

To put it another way, I think the thing you're thinking you can dialogue with is actually a spandrel of sorts, and it's a higher-level unit than what I work with. IFS, in ascribing intention, necessarily has to look at more complex elements than raw, miniscule, almost "atomic" stimulus-response patterns, because that's what's required if you want to make a coherent-sounding model of an entire cycle of symptoms.

In contrast, for me the top-down view of symptom cycles is merely a guide or suggestion to begin an empirical investigation of specific repeatable responses. The larger pattern, after all, is made of things: it doesn't just exist on its own. It's made of smaller, simpler things whose behaviors are much more predictable and repeatable. The larger behavior cycles inevitably involve countless minor variations, but the rules that generate the cycles are much more deterministic in nature, making them more amenable to direct hacking.

Comment by pjeby on Building up to an Internal Family Systems model · 2019-10-19T03:42:01.655Z · score: 12 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know what you mean by this at all. Can you give (or maybe point to) an example?

So, let's take the example of my mother stressing over deadlines. Until I reconsolidated that belief structure... or hell, since UTEB seems to call it a "schema", let's just call it that. I had a schema that said I needed to be stressed out if the goal was serious. I wasn't aware of that, though: it just seemed like "serious projects are super stressful and I never know what to do", except wail and grind my teeth (figuratively speaking) until stuff gets done.

Now, I was aware I was stressed, and knew this wasn't helpful, so I did all sorts of things to calm down. People (like my wife) would tell me everything was fine, I was doing great, go easier/don't be so hard on yourself, etc. I would try practicing self-compassion, but it didn't do anything, except maybe momentarily, because structurally, being not-stressed was incompatible with my schema.

In fact, a rather weird thing happened: the more I managed to let go of judgments I had about how well I was doing, and the better I got at being self-compassionate, the worse I felt. It wasn't the same kind of stress, but it was actually worse, despite being differently flavored. It was like, "you're not taking this seriously enough" (and implicitly, "you're an awful person").

As it happened, the reason I got better at self-compassion was not because I was practicing it as a mode of operation, but because I used my own mindhacking methods to remove the reasons I had for self-judgment. In truth, over the last decade or two I have tried a ridiculous number of self-help and/or therapist-designed exercises intended to send love or compassion to parts or past selves or inner children etc., and what they all had in common was that they almost never clicked for me... and the few times they did, I ended up developing alternative techniques to produce the same kind of result without trying to fake the love, compassion, or care that almost never felt real to me.

In retrospect, it's easy to see that the reason those particular things clicked is that in trying to understand the perspective from which the exercise(s) were written, I stumbled on contradictions to my existing schema, and thus fixed another way in which I was judging myself (and thus unable to have self-compassion).

Anyway, my point is that most counteractive interventions (to use the term from UTEB) involve a therapist modeling (and coaching the client to enact) helpful carer behavior. If the client's problem is merely that they aren't familiar with that type of behavior, then this is merely adding a new skill to their repertoire, and might work nicely.

But, if the person comes from a background where they not only didn't receive proper care, but were actively taught say, that they were not worth being cared for, that they were bad or selfish for having normal human needs, etc., then this type of training will be counterproductive, because it goes against the client's schemas, where being good and safe means repressing needs, judging themselves, etc.

As a result, their schema creates either negative reinforcement or neutralizing strategies. They don't do their assignments, they stop coming to therapy. Or they develop ways to neutralize the contradiction between the schema and the new experience, e.g. by defining it as "unreal", "you're being nice because that's your job", etc.

Or, there's the neutralizing strategy I used for many years, which was to frame things in my head as, "okay, so I'm going to be nice to my weak self so that it can shape up and do what it's supposed to now". (This one has been popular with some of my clients, too, as it allows you to keep punishing and diminishing yourself in the way you're used to, while technically still completing the exercises you're supposed to!)

So these are things that traditional therapists call all sorts of things, like transference and resistance and so on. But these are basically ways to say in effect, "the therapy is working but the client isn't".

This is fascinating. When I read your stressing out example, my thought was basically "wow. It seems crazy-difficult to surface the core underlying assumptions".

But you think that this is harder, in the IFS framework. That is amazing, and I want to know more.

In practice, how do you go about eliciting the rules and then emotionally significant instances?

Maybe in the context of this example, how do you get from "I seem to be overly stressed about stuff" to the memory of your mother yelling at you?

The overall framework I call "Collect, Connect, Correct", and it's surprisingly similar to the "ABC123V" framework described in UTEB. (Actually, I guess it shouldn't be that surprising, since the results they describe from their framework are quite similar to the kind I get.)

In the first stage, I collect information about the when/where/how of the problem, and attempt to pin down a repeatable emotional response, i.e. think about X, get emotional reaction Y. If it's not repeatable, it's not testable, which makes things a lot harder.

In the case of being stressed, the way that I got there was that I was laying down one afternoon, trying to take a nap and not being able to relax. When I'd think of trying to let go and actually sleep, I kept thinking something along the lines of, "I should be doing something, not relaxing".

A side note: my description of this isn't going to be terribly reliable, due to the phenomenon I call "change amnesia" (which UTEB alludes to in case studies, but doesn't give a name, at least in the chapters I've read so far). Change amnesia is something that happens when you alter a schema. The meanings that you used to ascribe to things stop making sense, and as a result it's hard to get your mind into the same mindset you used to have, even if it was something you were thinking just minutes before making the change!

So, despite the fact I still remember lying there and trying to go to sleep (as the UTEB authors note, autobiographical memory of events isn't affected, just the meanings associated with them), I am having trouble reconstructing the mindset I was in, because once I changed the underlying schema, that mindset became alien to me.

Anyway, what I do remember was that I had identified a surface level idea. It was probably something like, "I should be doing something", but because those words don't make me feel the sense of urgency they did before, it's hard to know if I am correctly recalling the exact statement.

But I do remember that the statement was sufficiently well-formed to use The Work on. The Work is a simple process for actually performing reconsolidation, the "123" part of UTEB's ABC123V framework, or the "Correct" in my Collect-Connect-Correct framework.

But when I got to question 4 of the Work, there was an objection raised in my mind. I was imagining not thinking I should be doing something (or whatever the exact statement was), and got a bad feeling or perhaps a feeling that it wasn't realistic, something of that sort. A reservation or hesitation in this step of the work corresponds to what UTEB describes as an objection from another schema, and as with their method, so too does mine call for switching to eliciting the newly-discovered schema, instead of continuing with the current one.

So at either that level, or the next level up of "attempt reconsolidation, spot objection, switch", I had the image or idea come up of my mother being upset with me for not being stressed, and I switched from The Work to my SAMMSA model.

SAMMSA stands for "Surface, Attitude, Model, Mirror, Shadow, Assumptions", and it is a tool I developed to identify and correct implicit beliefs encoded as part of an emotionally significant memory. It's especially useful in matters relating to self-image and self-esteem, because AFAICT we learn these things almost entirely through our brain's interpretation of other people's behavior towards us.

In the specific instance, the "surface" is what my mother said and did. The Attitude was impatience and anger. The Model was, "when there is something important to be done, the right thing to do is be stressed". The Mirror was, "if I don't get you to do this, then you will never learn to take things seriously; you'll grow up to be careless". The Shadow (injected to my self image) was the idea that: "you're irresponsible/uncaring". And the Assumptions (of my mother) were ideas like "I'm helpless/can't do anything to make this work", "somebody needs to do something", and "it's a serious emergency for things to not be geting done, or for there to be any problems in the doing".

The key with a stack like this is to fix the Shadow first, unless the Assumptions get in the way. Shadow beliefs are things that say what a person is not, and by implication never will be. They tend to lock into place all the linked beliefs, behaviors, and assumptions, like a lynchpin to the schema that formed around them.

The contradiction, then, is to 1) remember and realize that I did care, as a matter of actual fact, and was not intentionally being irresponsible or "bad". I wanted to get the thing done, and just didn't know how to go about it. Then, I imagined "how would my mother have acted if she knew that for a fact?" At which point I then imagine growing up with her acting that way... which I was surprised to realize could be as simple as telling me to work on it daily and checking my progress. (I did initially have to work through an objection that she couldn't just leave me to it, and couldn't just tell me to work on it and not follow-up, but these were pretty straightforward to work out.)

I think I also had some trouble during parts of this due to some of the Assumptions, so I had to deal with a couple of those via The Work. I may also be misremembering the order I did these bits in. (Order isn't super important as long as you test things to make sure that none of the beliefs seem "real" any more, so you can clean up any that still do.)

Notice, here, the difference between how traditional therapy (IFS included) treats the idea of compassion or loving but firm caregivers, etc., vs the approach I took here. I do not try to act out being compassionate to my younger self or to my self now. I don't try to construct in my mind some idealized parental figure. Instead, what I did was identify what was broken in (my mental model of) my mother's beliefs and behavior, and correct that in my mental model of my mother, which is where my previous behavior came from.

This discovery was the result of studying a metric f**k-ton of books on developmental psychology, self-compassion, inner child stuff, shadow psychology, and even IFS. :) I had discovered that sometimes I could change things by remaigining parental behavior more in-line with the concepts from those books, but not always. Trying to divine the difference, I finally noticed that the issue was that sometimes I simply could not, no matter how hard I tried, make a particular visualization of caring behavior feel real, and thus trigger a memory mismatch to induce reconsolidation.

What I discovered was that for such visualizations, my brain was subtly twisting the visualizations in such a way as to match a deeper schema -- like the idea that I was incompetent or uncaring or unlovable! -- so that even though the imagined parent was superficially acting different, the underlying schema remained unchanged. It was like they were thinking, "well, I guess I'm supposed to be nice like this in order to be a good parent to this loser". (I'm being flippant here since change amnesia has long since wiped most of the specifics of these scenarios from easy recollection.)

I dubbed this phenomenon "false belief change", and found my clients did it, too. I initially had a more intuitive and less systematic way of figuring out how to get past it, but in order to teach other people to do it I gradually worked out the SAMMSA mnemonic and framework for pulling out all the relevant bits, and later still came to realize that there are only three fundamental failures of trust that define Shadows, which helps a lot in rapidly pinning them down.

That's why, this huge wall of text I've described for changing how I feel about important, "serious" projects is something that took maybe 20-30 minutes, including the sobbing and shaking afterward.

(Yeah, that's a thing that happens, usually when I'm realizing all the sh** I've gone through in my life that was completely unnecessary. I assume it's a sort of "accelerated grief" happening when you notice stuff like, "oh hey, I've spent months and years stressing out when I could've just worked on it each day and checked on my progress... so much pain and missed opportunities and damaged relationships and..." yeah. It can be intense to do something like that, if it's been something that affected your life a lot.

As I said above, I did also have to tackle some of the Assumptions, like not being able to do anything and needing somebody else to do it, that any problem equals an emergency, and so on. These didn't take very long though, with the schema's core anchor having been taken out. I think I did one assumption before the shadow, and the rest after, but it's been a while. Most of the time, Assumptions don't really show up until you've at least started work on fixing the shadow, either blocking it directly, or showing up when you try to imagine what it would've been like to grow up with the differently-thinking parent.

When I work with clients, the actual SAMMSA process and reconsolidation is similarly something that can be done in 20-30 minutes, but it may take a couple hours to get up to that point, as the earlier Collect and Connect phases can take a while, getting up to the point where you can surface a relevant memory. I was lucky with the "going to sleep" problem because it was something I had immediate access to: a problem that was actually manifesting in practice. In contrast, with clients it usually takes some time to even pin down the equivalent of "I was trying to get to sleep and kept thinking I should be doing something", especially since most of the time the original presenting problem is something quite general and abstract.

I also find that individuals vary considerably in how easy it is for them to get to emotionally relevant memories; recently I've had a couple of LessWrong readers take up my free session offer, and have been quite surprised at how quickly they were able to surface things. (As it turned out, they both had prior experience with Focusing, which helps a whole heck of a lot!)

The UTEB book describes some things that sound similar to what I do to stimulate access to such memories, e.g. their phrase of "symptom deprivation" describes something kind of similar in function and intent to some of my favorie "what if?" questions to ask. And I will admit that there is some degree of art and intuition to it that I have not put into a formal framework (at least yet). But since I tend to develop frameworks in response to trying to teach things, it hasn't really come up. Example and osmosis has generally sufficed for getting people to get the hang of doing this kind of inward access, once their meta-issue with it (if any) gets pinned down.

What are the "examples"? Instances that are counter to the rule / schema of some part? (e.g. some part of me believes that if I ever change my mind about something important, then no one will love me, so I come up with an example of when this isn't or wasn't true?)

I think I've answered this above, but in case I haven't: IFS has the therapist and/or client act out examples of caring behavior, compassion, "self-leadership", etc. They do this by paying attention, taking parts' needs seriously, and so on. My prediction is that for some people, some of the time, this would produce results similar to those produced by reconsolidation. Specifically, in the cases where someone doesn't have a schema silently twisting everything into a "false belief change", but the behavior they're shown or taught does contradict one of their problematic schema.

But if the person is internally reframing everything to, "this is just the stupid stuff I have to do to take care of these stupid needy parts", then no real belief change is taking place, and there will be almost no lasting benefit past the immediate reconciliation of the current conflict being worked on, if it's even successfully resolved in the first place.

So, I understand that this isn't what all IFS sources say they are doing. I'm just saying that, whatever you call the process of enacting these attitudes and behaviors in IFS, the only way I would expect it to ever produce any long-term effects is as the result of it being an example that triggers a contradiction in the client's mental model, and therefore reconsolidation. (And thereby producing "transformative" change, as the UTEB authors call it, as opposed to "counteractive" change, where somebody has to intentionally maintain the counteracting behavior over time in order to sustain the effect.)

Given that, doesn't it make sense to break down the different parts of a RL policy into parts? If different parts of a policy are acting at cross purposes, it seems like it is useful to say "part 1 is doing X-action, and part 2 is doing Y-action."

...But you would say that it is even better to say "this system, as a whole is doing both X-action, and Y-action"?

I don't know what you mean by "parts" here. But I do focus on the smallest possible things, because it helps to keep an investigation empirically grounded. The only reason I can go from "not wanting to go to sleep" to "my mother thinks I'm irresponsible" with confidence I'm not moving randomly or making things up, is because each step is locally verifiable and reproducible.

It's true that there are common cycles and patterns of these smaller elements, but I stick as much as possible to dealing in repeatable stimulus-response pairs, i.e., "think about X, get feeling or impression Y". Or "adjust the phrasing of this idea until it reaches maximum emotional salience/best match with inner feeling". All of these are empirical, locally-verifiable, and theory-free phenomena.

In contrast, "parts" are something I've struggled to work with in a way that allows that kind of definitiveness. In particular, I never found my "parts" to have repeatable behavior, let alone verifiable answers to questions. I could never tell if what I seemed to be getting was real, or was just me imagining/making stuff up. In contrast, the modality of "state an idea or imagine an action, then notice how I feel" was eminently repeatable and verifiable. I was able to quickly learn the difference betwen "having a reaction" and "wondering if I'm reacting", and was then able to test different change techniques to see what they did. If something couldn't change the way I automatically responded, I considered it a dud, because I wanted to change me on the inside, not just how I act on the outside. I wanted to feel differently, and once I settled on using this "test-driven" approach, I began to be able to, for the first time in my life.

So if psychology is alchemy, testing automatic emotional responses is my stab at atomic theory, and I'm working on sketches of parts of the periodic table. (With the caveat that given myself as the primary audience, and my client list being subject to major selection effects, it is entirely possible that the scope of applicability of my work is just smart-but-maybe-too-sensitive, systematically-thinking people with certain types of inferiority complexes. But that worry is considerably reduced by the stuff I've read so far in UTEB, whose authors work's audience does not appear as limited, and whose approach seems fairly congruent with my own.)

Comment by pjeby on Building up to an Internal Family Systems model · 2019-10-17T20:32:32.076Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting diagram. I don't really understand it, though, because to me it looks like Focusing is on the wrong side, since Focusing deals in a unified "felt sense" rather than disparate parts -- at least to my understanding of it.

Actually, I'm generally confused because without the mental state used by Focusing, Core Transformation, the Work, and Sedona don't work properly, if at all. So I don't understand how it could be separate. Similarly, I can see how CBT could be considered dissociated, but not Focusing.

Anyway, when I referred to "dissociating", above, I meant it in the casual sense of people wanting to dis-associate, as in, "I'm not with him..." Not the technical sense of a dissociative experience or D.I.D., though one can also have the desire to detach or disconnect from one's experience in a dissociative way.

In general, I was using the term to suggest something like, "the spectrum of ways people try to make an experience unreal or to deny its significance", which includes a variety of strategies including disavowal, denial, and deflection, as well as actual dissociation in the technical sense.

Comment by pjeby on Building up to an Internal Family Systems model · 2019-10-17T19:44:08.616Z · score: 11 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It seems to me that the emotional schemas that Unlocking the Emotional Brain talks about, are basically the same as what IFS calls parts. You didn't seem to object to the description of schemas; does your objection also apply to them?

AFAICT, there's a huge difference between UTEB's "schema" (a "mental model of how the world functions", in their words) and IFS' notion of "agent" or "part". A "model" is passive: it merely outputs predictions or evaluations, which are then acted on by other parts of the brain. It doesn't have any goals, it just blindly maps situations to "things that might be good to do or avoid". An "agent" is implicitly active and goal-seeking, whereas a model is not. "Model" implies a thing that one might change, whereas an "agent" might be required to change itself, if a change is to happen.

UTEB also describes the schema as "wordlessly [defining] how the world is" -- which is quite coherent (no pun intended) with my own models of mindhacking. I'm actually looking forward to reading UTEB in full, as the introduction makes it sound like the models I've developed of how this stuff works, are quite similar to theirs.

(Indeed, my own approach is specifically targeted at changing implicit mental models of "how things are" or "how the world is", because that changes lots of behaviors at once, and especially how one feels or relates to the world. So I'm curious to know if they've found anything else I might find useful.)

IFS in general is very vague about how exactly the parts are implemented on a neural level. It's not entirely clear to me what kind of a model you are arguing against and what kind of a model you are arguing for instead, but I would think that IFS would be compatible with both.

What I'm arguing against is a model where a patterns of behavior (verbs) are nominalized as nouns. It's bad enough to think that one has say, procrastination or akrasia, as if it were a disease rather than a pattern of behavior. But to further nominalize it as an agent trying to accomplish something is going all the way to needless anthropomorphism.

To put it another way, if there are "agents" (things with intention) that cause your behavior, then you are necessarily less at cause and in control of your life. But if you instead have mental models that predict certain behaviors would be a good idea, and so you feel drawn or pushed towards them, then that is a model that still validates your experience, but doesn't require you to fight or negotiate or whatever. Reconsolidation allows you to be more you, by gaining more choices.

But that's a values argument. You're asking what I'm against, and I'm not "against" IFS per se. What I am saying, and have been saying, is that nominalizing behavior patterns as "parts" or "agents" is bad reductionism, independent of its value as a therapeutic metaphor.

Over the course of this conversation, I've actually become slightly more open to the use of parts as a metaphor in casual conversation, if only as a stepping stone to discarding it in favor of learned rules and mental muscles.

But, the reason I'm slightly more open to it is exactly the same reason I oppose it!

Specifically, using terms like "part" or "agent" encourages automatic, implicit, anthropomorphic projection of human-like intention and behavior.

This is both bad reductionism and good metaphor. (Well, in the short term, anyway.) As a metaphor, it has certain immediate effects, including retaining disidentification with the problem (and therefore validation of one's felt lack of agency in the problem area).

But as reductionism, it fails for the very same reason, by not actually reducing the complexity of what is being modeled, due to sneaking in those very same connotations.

Unfortunately, even as a metaphor, I think it's short-term good, but long-term bad. I have found that people love to make things into parts, precisely because of the good feelings of validation and disidentification, and they have to be weaned off of this in order to make any progress at direct reconsolidation.

In contrast, describing learned rules and mental muscles seems to me to help people with unblending, because of the realization that there's nothing there -- no "agent", not even themselves(!), who is actually "deciding" or pursuing "goals". There's nothing there to be blended with, if it's all just a collection of rules!

But that's a discussion about a different topic, really, because as I said from the outset, my issue with IFS is that it's bad reductionism. And I think this article's attempt at building IFS's model from the bottom up fails at reductionism because it's specifically trying to justify "parts", rather than looking at what is the minimal machinery needed to produce the observations of IFS, independent of its model. (The article also pushes a viewpoint from design, rather than evolution, further weakening its argument.)

For example, I read Healing The Fragmented Selves Of Trauma Survivors a little over a year ago, and found in it a useful refinement: Fisher described five "roles" that parts play, and one of them was something I'd not accounted for in my rough list of "mental muscles". But the very fact that you can exhaustively enumerate the roles that parts "play", strongly suggests that the so-called roles are in fact the thing represented in our hardware, not the "parts"!

In other words, IFS has it precisely backwards: parts don't "play roles", mental modules play parts. When viewed from an evolutionary perspective, going the other way makes no sense, especially given that the described functions (fight/vigilance, flight/escape, freeze/fear, submit/shame, attach/needy), are things that are pretty darn universal in mammals.

And e.g. my own compulsive behaviors tend to have very specific signatures which do not fit together with your description; e.g. a desire to keep playing a game can get "stuck on" way past the time when it has stopped being beneficial. Such as when I've slept in between and I just feel a need to continue the game as the first thing in the morning, and there isn't any pain to distract myself from anymore, but the compulsion will produce pain. This is not consistent with a simple "behaviors get reinforced" model, but it is more consistent with a "parts can get stuck on after they have been activated" model.

I think you are confusing reinforcement and logic. Reinforcement learning doesn't work on logic, it works on discounted rewards. The gaming behavior can easily become intrinsically motivating, due to it having been reinforced by previously reducing pain. (We can learn to like something "for its own sake" precisely because it has helped us avoid pain in the past, and if it produces pleasure, too, all the better!)

However, your anticipation that "continuing to play will cause me pain", will at best be a discounted future event without the same level of reinforcement power... assuming that that's really you thinking that at all, and not simply an internal verbal behavior being internally reinforced by a mental model of such worrying being what a "good" or "responsible" person would do! (i.e., internal virtue-signalling)

It is quite possible in my experience to put one's self through all sorts of mental pain... and still have it feel virtuous, because then at least I care about the right things and am trying to be a responsible person... which then excuses my prior failure while also maintaining hope I can succeed in the future.

And despite these virtue-signaling behaviors seeming to be about the thing you're doing or not doing, in my experience they don't really include thinking about the actual problem, and so have even less impact on the outward behavior than one would expect from listening to the supposed subject matter of the inner verbalization(s).

So yeah, reinforcement learning is 100% consistent with the failure modes you describe, once you include:

  • negative reinforcement (that which gets us away from pain is reinforced)
  • secondary reinforcement (that which is reinforced, becomes "inherently" rewarding)
  • discounted reinforcement (that which is near in time and space has more impact than that which is far)
  • social reinforcement (that which signals virtue may be more reinforcing than actual virtue, due to its lower cost)
  • verbal behavior (what we say to ourselves or others is subject to reinforcement, independent of any actual meaning ascribed to the content of those verbalizations!)
  • imitative reinforcement (that which we see others do is reinforced, unless our existing learning tells us the behavior is bad, in which case it is punished instead)

All of these, I believe, are pretty well-documented properties of reinforcement learning, and more than suffice to explain the kinds of failure modes you've brought up. Given that they already exist, with all but verbal behavior being near-universal in the animal kingdom, a parsimonious model of human behavior needs to start from these, rather than designing a system from the ground up to account for a specific theory of psychotherapy.

Comment by pjeby on Building up to an Internal Family Systems model · 2019-10-17T19:11:23.025Z · score: 18 (3 votes) · LW · GW

For example, firefighters are called that because “they are willing to let the house burn down to contain the fire”; that is, when they are triggered, they typically act to make the pain stop, without any regard for consequences (such as loss of social standing). At the same time, managers tend to be terrified of exactly the kind of lack of control that’s involved with a typical firefighter response. This makes firefighters and managers typically polarized - mutually opposed - with each other.

In my experience, this distinction merely looks like normal reinforcement: you can be short-term reinforced to do things that are against your interests in the long-term. This happens with virtually every addictive behavior; in fact, Dodes’ theory of addiction is that people feel better the moment they decide to drink, gamble, etc., and it is that decision that is immediately reinforced, while the downsides of the action are still distant. (Indeed, he notes that people often make that decision hours in advance of the actual behavior.)

If we only talked about various behaviors getting reinforced, we wouldn’t predict that the system simultaneously considers a loss of a social standing to be a bad thing, and that it also keeps reinforcing behaviors which cause exactly that thing.

On the contrary, contradictions in reinforced behavior are quite normal and expected. Timing and certainty are quite powerful influencers of reinforcement. Also, imitation learning is a thing: we learn from caretakers what to monitor ourselves about and when to punish ourselves... but this has no bearing on what we’ve also been reinforced to actually do. (Think "belief in belief" vs "actual belief". We profess beliefs verbally about what's important that are distinct from what we actually, implicitly value or reward.)

So, you can easily get a person who keeps doing something they think is bad and punish themselves for, because they learned from their parents that punishing themselves was a good thing to do. Not because the punishment has any impact on their actual behavior, but because the act of self-punishing is reinforced, either because it reduces the frequency of outside punishment, or because we have hardware whose job it is to learn what our group punishes, so we can punish everyone else for it.

Anyway, it sounds like you think reinforcement has to have some kind of global coherence, but state-dependent memory and context-specific conditioning show that reinforcement learning doesn't have any notion of global coherence. If you were designing a machine to act like a human, you might try to build in such coherence, but evolution isn’t required to be coherent. (Indeed, reconsolidation theory shows that coherence testing can only happen with local contradiction, as there's no global automatic system checking for contradictions!)

you need names for those two categories anyway. So why not go with “manager” and “firefighter” while you’re at it? And sure, you could call it, say, “a response pattern” instead of “part” - but the response pattern is still physically instantiated in some collection of neurons, so it’s not like “part” would be any less correct, or worse at reductionism.

Because the categories are not of two classes of things, but two classes of behavior. If we assume the brain has machinery for them, it is more parsimonious to assume that the brain has two modules or modes that bias behavior in a particular direction based on a specific class of stimuli, with the specific triggers being mediated through the general-purpose learning machinery of the cortex. To assume that there is dedicated neural machinery for each instance of these patterns is not consistent with the ability to wipe them out via reconsolidation.

That is, I'm pretty sure you can't wipe out physical skills or procedural memory by trivial reconsolidation, but these other types of behavior pattern can be. That suggests that there is not individual hardwired machinery for each instance of a "part" in the IFS model, such that parts do not have physically dedicated storage or true parallel operation like motor skills have.

Compare to say, Satir's parts model, where the parts were generic roles like Blamer, Placater, etc. We can easily imagine dedicated machinery evolved to perform these functions (and present in other species besides us), with the selection criteria and behavioral details being individually learned. In such a model, one only needs one "manager" module, one "firefighter" module, and so on, to the extent that the behaviors are actually an evolved pattern and not merely an emergent property of reinforced behavior.

I personally believe we have dedicated systems for punishing, protesting, idealistic virtue signalling, ego defense, and so on. These are not "parts" in the sense that they weren't grown to cope with specific situations, but are more like mental muscles that sit there waiting to be trained as to when and how to act -- much like the primate circuitry for learning whether to fear snakes, and which ones, and how to respond to their presence.

An important difference, then, between a model that treats parts as real, vs one that treats "parts" as triggers wired to pre-existing mental muscles, is that in the mental muscles model, you cannot universally prevent that pattern from occurring. There is always a part of you ready to punish or protest, to virtue signal or ego-defend. In addition, it is not possible in such a model for that muscle to ever learn to do something else. All you can do is learn to not use that muscle, and use another one instead!

This distinction alone is huge when you look at IFS' Exiles. If you have an "exile" that is struggling to be capable of doing something, but only knows how to be in distress, it's helpful to realize that it's just the built-in mental muscle of "seeking care via distress", and that it will never be capable of doing anything else. It's not the distressed "part"'s job to do things or be capable of things, and never was. That's the job of the "everyday self" -- the set of mental muscles for actual autonomy and action. But as long as someone's reinforced pattern is to activate the "distress" muscle, then they will feel horrible and helpless and not able to do anything about it.

Resolving this challenge doesn’t require that one “fix” or “heal” a specific “part”, and this is actually a situation where it’s therapeutically helpful to realize there is no such thing as a “part”, and therefore nothing to be healed or fixed! Signaling distress is just something brains do, and it’s not possible for the part of your brain that signals distress to do anything else. You have to use a different part of the brain to do anything else.

The same thing goes for inner criticism: thinking of it as originating from a "part" suggests the idea that perhaps one can somehow placate this part to make it stop criticizing, when it is fact just triggering the mental muscle of social punishment, aimed at one's self. The hardware for criticizing and put-downs will always be there, and can't be gotten rid of. But one can reconsolidate the memories that tell it who's an acceptable target! (And as a side effect, you'll become less critical of people doing things similar to you, and less triggered by the behavior in others. Increased compassion comes about automatically, not as a practiced, "fake-it-till-you-make-it" process!)

I’m not saying that you couldn’t express unblending in a non-partisan way. But I’m not sure how you would use it if you didn’t take the frame of parts and unblending from them. To be more explicit, by “use it” here I mean “be able to notice when you have been emotionally triggered, and then get some distance from that emotional reaction in the very moment when you are triggered, being able to see the belief in the underlying schema but neither needing to buy into it nor needing to reject it”.

I think I've just presented such an expression. Unblending doesn't require that you have an individual part for every possible occurrence of behavior, only that you realize that your brain has dedicated machinery for specific classes of behavior. Indeed, I think this is a cleaner way to unblend, since it does not lend itself to stereotyped thoughts of agent-like behavior, such as trying to make an exile feel better or convince a manager you have things under control. It's validating to realize that as long as you are using the mental muscles of distress or self-punishment or self-promotion to try to accomplish something, it never would have worked, beacuse those muscles do not do anything except the preprogrammed thing they do.

When you try to negotiate with parts, you're playacting a complicated way to do something that's much simpler, and hoping that you'll hit the right combination of stimuli to accidentally accomplish a reconsolidation you could've targeted directly in a lot less time.

In IFS, you're basically trying to provide new models of effective caretaker behavior, in the hope that the person's brain figures out what rules this new behavior contradicts, and then reconsolidate. But if you directly reconsolidate the situationally-relevant memories of their actual caretaker's behaviors, you can create an immediate change in how it feels to be one's self, instead of painstakingly building up a set of rote behaviors and trying to make them feel natural.

I don't think that the distinction between "agent" and "rule-based process" really cuts reality at joints; an agent is just any set of rules that we can meaningfully model by taking an intentional stance

Except that if you actually want to predict how a thermostat behaves, using the brain's built-in model of "thing with intentional stance", you're making your model worse. If you model the thermostat as, "thing that 'wants' the house a certain temperature", then you'll be confused when somebody sticks an ice cube or teapot underneath it, or when the temperature sensor breaks.

That's why the IFS model is bad reductionism: calling things agents brings in connotations that are detrimental to its use as an actual predictive model. To the extent that IFS works, it's actually accidental side-effects of the therapeutic behavior, rather than directly targeting reconsolidation on the underlying rules.

For example, when you try to do "self-leadership", what you're doing is trying to model that behavior through practice while counter-reinforcement is still in place. It's far more efficient to delete the rules that trigger conflicting behavior before you try to learn self-leadership, so that you aren't fighting your reinforced behaviors to do so.

So, at least in my experience, the failure of IFS to carve reality at the actual joint of "preprogrammed modules + individually-learned triggers", makes it more complex, more time-consuming, less effective, and more likely to have unintended side-effects than approaches that directly target the "individually-learned triggers".

In my own approach, rather than nominalizing behavior into parts, I try to elicit rules -- "when this, then that" -- and then go after emotionally significant examples, to break down implicit predictions and evaluations in the memory.

For example, my mother yelling at me that I need to take things seriously when I was being too relaxed (for her standards) about something important I needed to do. Though not explicitly stated, the presuppositions of my mother in this memory are that "taking things seriously" requires being stressed about them, and that further, if you don't do this, then you won't accomplish your goal or be a responsible person, because obviously, if you cared at all, you would be freaked out.

To reconsolidate, I first establish that these things aren't actually true, and then predict a mother who realizes these things aren't true, and ask how she would have behaved if she didn't believe those things. In my imagination, I realize that she probably would've told me she wanted me to work on the thing for an hour a day before dinner, and that she wanted me to show her what I did, so she can track my progress. Then I imagine how my life would've been different, growing up with that example.

Boom! Reconsolidation. My whole outlook on accomplishing long-term goals changes instantly from "be stressed until it's done, or else you're a bad person" to "work on it regularly and keep an eye on your progress". I don't have to practice "self-leadership", because I now feel different when I think about long-term goals than I did before. Instead of triggering the less-useful muscles of self-punishment, the ones I need are triggered instead.

But if I had tried to model the above pattern as parts... I'm not sure how that would have gone. Probably would've made little progress trying to persuade a "manager" based on my mother to act differently if I couldn't surface the assumptions involved, because any solution that didn't involve me being stressed would mean I was a bad person.

Sure, in the case of IFS, we can assume that it's the therapist's job to be aware of these things and surface the assumptions. But that makes the process dependent on the experiences (and assumptions!) of the therapist... and presumably, a sufficiently-good therapist could use any modality and still get the result they're after, eventually. So what is IFS adding in that case?

Further, when compared to reconsolidation targeting specific schemas, the IFS process is really indirect. You're trying to get the brain to learn a new implicit pattern alongside a broken one, hoping the new example(s) won't simply be filtered into meaninglessness or non-existence when processed through the existing schemas. In contrast, direct reconsolidation goes directly to the source of the issue, and replaces the old implicit pattern with a new one, rather than just giving examples and hoping the brain picks up on the pattern.

(Also notice that in practice, a lot of things IFS calls "parts" as if they were aspects of the client, are in fact mental models of other people, i.e. "what would mom or dad do in this situation?", as a proxy for "what should I do in this situation?". Changing the model of what the other people would do or should have done then immediately changes one's sense of what "I" should do also.)

Anyway, the main part of IFS that I have found useful is merely knowing which behaviors are a good idea for caregivers to exemplify, as this is valuable in knowing what parts of one's schemas are broken and what they should be changed to. But the actual process of changing them in IFS is really suboptimal compared to directly targeting those schema... which is more evidence suggesting that IFS as a theory is incorrect, in spite of its successes.

Comment by pjeby on Strong stances · 2019-10-17T01:52:46.828Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Since RSS doesn't provide unique IDs for posts,

I notice that I am confused, as RSS has a guid field for precisely this purpose. Is it that LW's RSS generation does not include it, or is it some other site producing the RSS?

Comment by pjeby on Building up to an Internal Family Systems model · 2019-10-15T19:31:58.902Z · score: 5 (2 votes) · LW · GW

And like, the post you're responding to just spent several thousand words building up a version of IFS

The presented model of Exiles, Managers, Firefighters, etc. all describes "parts" doing things, but the same ideas can be expressed without using the idea of "parts", which makes that idea redundant.

For example, here is a simpler description of the same categories of behavior:

Everyone experiences things that are so painful, we never want to experience them again, even as a possibility. Since we're not willing to experience them, behaviors that allow us to keep those experiences from consciousness are negatively reinforced. What gets reinforced varies depending on our previous experience, but typically we will learn to deny, deflect, rationalize, distract, or come up with long term goals (e.g. "I will be so perfect that nobody will ever reject me again") in order to avoid the painful experience being even a theoretical possibility.

Voila! The same three things (Exile, Firefighter, Manager), described in less text and without the need for a concept of "parts". I'm not saying this model is right and the IFS model is wrong, just that IFS isn't very good at reductionism and fails Occam's razor because it literally multiplies entities beyond necessity.

From this discussion and the one on reconsolidation, I would hazard a guess that to the extent IFS is more useful than some non-parts-based (non-partisan?) approach, it is because one's treatment of the "parts" (e.g. with compassion) can potentially trigger a contradiction and therefore reconsolidation. (I would hypothesize, though, that in most cases this is a considerably less efficient way to do it than directly going after the actual reconsolidation.)

Also, as I mentioned earlier, there are times when the UTE (thing we're Unwilling To Experience) is better kept conceptually dissociated rather than brought into the open, and in such a case the model of "parts" is a useful therapeutic metaphor.

But "therapeutic metaphor" and "reductionist model" are not the same thing. IFS has a useful metaphor -- in some contexts -- but AFAICT it is not a very good model of behavior, in the reductionist sense of modeling.

a version of IFS which explicitly doesn't have "mini-people" and where the subagents are much closer to something like reinforcement learning agents which just try to prevent/achieve something by sending different objects to consciousness, and learn based on their success in doing so...

If I try to steelman this argument, I have to taboo "agent", since otherwise the definition of subagent is recursive and non-reductionistic. I can taboo it to "thing", in which case I get "things which just try to prevent/achieve something", and now I have to figure out how to reduce "try"... is that try iteratively? When do they try? How do they know what to try?

As far as I can tell, the answers to all the important questions for actual understanding are pure handwavium here. And the numerical argument still stands, since new "things" are proposed for each group of things to prevent or achieve, rather than (say) a single "thing" whose purpose is to "prevent" other things, and one whose purpose is to "achieve" them.

Comment by pjeby on Building up to an Internal Family Systems model · 2019-10-15T19:04:31.898Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure why IFS's exile-manager-firefighter model doesn't fit this description? E.g. modeling something like my past behavior of compulsive computer gaming as a loop of inner critic manager pointing out that I should be doing something -> exile being triggered and getting anxious -> gaming firefighter seeking to suppress the anxiety with a game -> inner critic manager increasing the level of criticism and triggering the other parts further, has felt like a reduction to simpler components, rather than modeling it as "little people".

Because this description creates a new entity for each thing that happens, such that the total number of entities under discussion is "count(subject matter) times count(strategies)" instead of "count(subject matter) plus count(strategies)". By simple math, a formulation which uses brain modules for strategies plus rules they operate on, is fewer entities than one entity for every rule+strategy combo.

And that's not even looking at the brain as a whole. If you model "inner criticism" as merely reinforcement-trained internal verbal behavior, you don't need even one dedicated brain module for inner criticism, let alone one for each kind of thing being criticized!

Similarly, you can model most types of self-distraction behaviors as simple negative reinforcement learning: i.e., they make pain go away, so they're reinforced. So you get "firefighting" for free as a side-effect of the brain being able to learn from reinforcement, without needing to posit a firefighting agent for each kind of deflecting behavior.

And nowhere in these descriptions is there any implication of agency, which is critical to actually producing a reductionist model of human behavior. Turning a human from one agent into multiple agents doesn't reduce anything.

Comment by pjeby on Book summary: Unlocking the Emotional Brain · 2019-10-14T19:47:31.028Z · score: 23 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Of course, this means that there does need to be some contradictory information available which could be used to disprove the original schema. One might have a schema for which no disconfirmation is available because it is correct, or a schema which might or might not be correct but which is making things worse and cannot easily be disconfirmed.

This view is ignoring the distinction between denotation and connotation, or as I like to think of it, between prediction and evaluation. Our memories don't just create factual prediction, they are also tagged with evaluations: meaning, feelings, etc.

So, it's quite possible to reconsolidate different evaluations for the same factual predictions. For example:

UtEB mentions the example of a man, "Tómas", who had a desire to be understood and validated by someone important in his life. Tómas remarked that a professional therapist who was being paid for his empathy could never fulfill that role. The update contradicting the schema that nobody in his life really understood him, would have to come from someone actually in his life.

The evaluation Tómas is making is itself based in some other memory that can be reconsolidated, so that it is no longer required for somebody else to understand him. The experience of "feeling understood" is not something that actually comes from outside, it is something your brain generates according to learned rules. In this case, Tómas has learned that only certain specific people's understanding counts or is meaningful... and this learning is just as subject to reconsolidation as anything else!

Another issue that may pop up with the erasure sequence is that there is another schema which predicts that, for whatever reason, running this transformation may produce adverse effects. In that case, one needs to address the objecting schema first, essentially be carrying out the entire process on it before returning to the original steps. (This is similar to the phenomenon in e.g. Internal Family Systems, where objecting parts may show up and have their concerns addressed before work on the original part can proceed.)

Yes, checking for objections is of critical importance, because if you don't, the thing you think you fixed can come back in a few days or weeks. But this isn't because there's an agent that "objects", it's just that the thing you were working on is reinforced by another prediction/evaluation.

For example, let's say that Joe is having trouble promoting himself or his work, because he's learned never to brag and that bragging is bad. He learned this because his mother always punished him for bragging and said "Pride goeth before a fall". We do some work and get rid of that immediate response, but don't check for objections, so we miss the part where the implicit, unspoken part of the interaction was, "If I don't punish you for bragging, you'll grow up to be an obnoxious selfish person who nobody will like".

So, because of that, we've removed Joe's semi-explicit belief that bragging is prideful and will lead to a disastrous "fall", but not his more-implicit belief that he needs to punish himself for bragging. In the high of having changed the first belief, Joe will go out and start promoting himself, but feeling weirdly bad about it, until he stops again.

IOW, the "objecting" schema isn't really objecting per se. The schema is rather reinforcing the previous schema, with a need or desire to punish himself for violating it, leading to a return of the old behavior and extinguishing the new behavior we tried to establish.

These reinforcing schema don't always show up with an obvious objection at the time you're making a change, and people who are eager to get the change done will often report over-optimistic predictions when they're doing the reconsolidation part. Sometimes, the "objection" is nothing more than a vague feeling that the new scenario being projected isn't realistic in some way, or "isn't quite right". When that is the case, I always dig deeper immediately to uncover what other predictions are being made.

(Of course, for this specific pattern of "if I don't punish X in way Y, I/they will become bad type of person Z", I have a standard format for finding it even before getting to the reconsolidation part, as it's super-common in issues of self-sabotage, procrastination, perfectionism, etc.)

Comment by pjeby on Building up to an Internal Family Systems model · 2019-10-14T19:14:02.013Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think IFS is good reductionism, though. That is, presupposing subagents in general is not a reduction in complexity from "you're an agent". That's not actually reducing anything! It's just multiplying entities contra Occam.

Now, if IFS said, "these are specific subagents that basically everyone has, that bias towards learning specific types of evolution-advanged behavior", then that would actually be a reduction.

If IFS said, "brains have modules for these types of mental behavior", (e.g. hiding, firefighting, etc.), then that would also be a reduction.

But dividing people into lots of mini-people isn't a reduction.

The way I reduce the same landscape of things is to group functional categories of mental behavior as standard modules, and treat the specific things people are reacting to and the actual behaviors as data those modules operate on. This model doesn't require any sort of agency, because it's just rules and triggers. (And things like "critical voices" are just triggered mental behavior or memories, not actual agents, which is why they can often be disrupted by changing the way they sound -- e.g. making them seductive or squeaky -- while keeping the content the same. If there were an "agent" desiring to criticize, this technique wouldn't make any sense.)

As for compassion, the equivalent in what I'm doing would be the connect stage in collect/connect/correct:

  • "Collect" is getting information about the problem, determining a specific trigger and automatic emotional response (the thing that we will test post-reconsolidation to ensure we got it)
  • "Connect" is surfacing the inner experience and memory or belief that drives the response, either as a prediction or learned evaluation
  • "Correct" is the reconsolidation part: establishing contradiction and generating new predictions, before checking if the automatic response from "Collect" changed

All of these require one to be able to objectively observe and communicate inner experience without any meta-level processing (e.g. judging, objecting, explaining, justifying, etc.), but compassion towards a "part" is not really necessary for that, just that one suppress commentary. (There are some specific techniques that involve compassion in the "Correct" phase, but that's really part of creating a contradiction, not part of eliciting information.)

With respect to trauma and DID, I will only say that again, the subagent model is not reduction, because it doesn't break things down into simpler elements. (In contrast, the concept of state-specific memory is a simpler element that can be used in modeling trauma and DID.)

Comment by pjeby on Book summary: Unlocking the Emotional Brain · 2019-10-14T18:46:00.664Z · score: 21 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Yep, that's it exactly. I metaphorically yank people's heads up from their phones for pay. ;-)

Actually, it's more like I keep sticking my hand in front of the phone until they learn to notice the difference and look up themselves. Fortunately, this doesn't take too long for most people, but how fast it goes depends on how good they are at fooling me into thinking they're actually looking up when they're really still looking at the phone.

The easiest way to detect "looking at the phone" is to ask someone a yes or no or question, and see how long of an answer you get. If somebody starts talking about the past or future, they're not actually paying attention to their inner experience, because inner experience is always present tense. e.g. "I see my mom yelling at me" is an experience, while "my mom used to yell at me" is a commentary on experience. Causal chains (x happened because y) are also commentary, as are generalizations.

(Incidentally, this is another reason I dislike IFS' model: it encourages adding commentary like "a part of me X" instead of just saying "X", which makes it more difficult to know if what you're hearing is describing experience, or commentary/abstraction on experience.)

I imagine it would be possible to create a training program for people to recognize these verbal patterns and to then verify their own spoken or written statements using them, but it would be harder to get people to go through such a program vs. paying me to help fix a problem of theirs, and learning it by doing it along the way.

Comment by pjeby on Book summary: Unlocking the Emotional Brain · 2019-10-13T23:37:10.490Z · score: 36 (6 votes) · LW · GW

the CFAR techniques as a whole never went meta enough to catch "meta-issues," not in any really systematic way.

There is no level of meta systemization that can overrule a person's meta issues, because their meta issues are always "one level higher than you". ;-) To put it more precisely, no passive information-passing process can bypass a person's meta issues, any more than you can turn a shredder into a fax machine by feeding it a copier manual. The incoming information gets processed through an existing filter that deletes any information that doesn't fit the paradigm, or mangles the information until it does fit.

As I was joking above, self-help really is governed by the Interdict of Merlin: you can discover powerful "spells", or you can pass them mind-to-mind, but you can't learn them from a book, except insofar as the book might give you enough clues to rediscover the spell for yourself.

There are towers of meta-issues, meta-issues that prevent themselves from being looked at... what a mess.

Actually, meta-issues don't have meta-levels, they only simulate recursion via iteration. A meta-issue might be something like, "when you are learning something from a teacher, then try to suck up by being super-successful really fast". This is only one meta-level, and while it can look recursive in effect, it's just an illusion.

Let's say I tell the person with this meta-issue they need to inquire about some emotional state. If we're at a part of the process where there's a possibility for them to have succeeded in fixing the problem we're working on, they will under-report issues and problems (like a lingering negative feeling) or describe hyper-optimistic scenarios that don't match what they're really feeling.

Then, if I point this out, they may now apply the pattern again, by trying to prove even harder that they've already learned what I'm telling them, even though they haven't.

(This isn't really recursion or a new meta-level, it's just the same pattern being applied to a new stimulus or situation that only incidentally happens to be at a different meta-level, if that makes sense.)

So the only escape from this iterated pseudo-recursion is for them to catch themselves in the act of this automatic response, which requires either a lot of iteration (like it did for me when I was learning my own meta-issues), or an outside party who can spot it and say, "stop that! you're doing it again..." until the person can recognize themselves doing it.

Comment by pjeby on Building up to an Internal Family Systems model · 2019-10-13T23:15:32.136Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I will note that, in my own practice, IFS and subagents are never presented as "separate from you," but rather "parts of you."

Yes, but "part of you" can still be disowning/deflection. It allows one to remain disidentified from the "part", i.e., "oh, it's just that part of me, it's not really me". It allows you to disclaim endorsement of the "part's" values.

Some people just find the idea of breaking themselves down into sub-agents or "child vs teenage vs adult self" really clicks with the way they relate to their competing desires and goals, without quite giving up "responsibility" for them... but that opens up a new conversation about how important the sense of "responsibility" for our flaws actually is toward addressing them, which also probably depends a lot on how motivated the client is toward change.

I can see how it might work for some people. I just avoid it because the clients I work with usually have a metric ton of stuff they're other-ing or judging themselves about or disavowing, so dealing with that issue is already on the critical path for getting done what they came to me for. (And the people who come to me talking about how wonderful IFS is, frequently seem to be the ones with the worst denial issues, so that's probably why I get a bit passionate about explaining why, at least for them, it's a really bad idea to keep doing that.)

But yeah, any modality can be abused by anybody in order to keep themselves from changing, and all self-help advice can be trivially weaponized for self-destruction.

After all, somebody could easily take what I'm saying about IFS and turn it into ammunition to punish themselves more, because they need to "take responsibility" for all their awful, awful parts. ;-)

That being said, I don't say that people need to "take responsibility, just that they need to admit the truth about what they want. It's okay to wish you didn't want something you want, but trying to pretend you don't want it or that it's not you who wants it isn't always a viable coping strategy, and in fact is often crazy-making.

That is, the brain's decision-making system appears to be able to handle, "I want this but it's not a good idea", much better and more sanely than it handles "I want to not know that I want this"! The latter is just begging to end up with compulsive behaviors outside of conscious control (because if they could control the behavior, it would mean that they're the one who's doing the wanting).

Comment by pjeby on Book summary: Unlocking the Emotional Brain · 2019-10-13T22:56:43.329Z · score: 31 (7 votes) · LW · GW

My search grids don't look much like anything from NLP, least of all metaprograms. Instead, they're patterns of common bugs in the brain that I believe are evolutionarily defined, and likely to be universal.

For example, working with people on self-image problems, I've found that there appear to be only three critical "flavors" of self-judgment that create life-long low self-esteem in some area, and associated compulsive or avoidant behaviors:

  • Belief that one is bad, defective, or malicious (i.e. lacking in care/altruism for friends or family)
  • Belief that one is foolish, incapable, incompetent, unworthy, etc. (i.e. lacking in ability to learn/improve/perform)
  • Belief that one is selfish, irresponsible, careless, etc. (i.e. not respecting what the family or community values or believes important)

(Notice that these are things that, if you were bad enough at them in the ancestral environment, or if people only thought you were, you would lose reproductive opportunities and/or your life due to ostracism. So it's reasonable to assume that we have wiring biased to treat these as high-priority long-term drivers of compensatory signaling behavior.)

Anyway, when somebody gets taught that some behavior (e.g. showing off, not working hard, forgetting things) equates to one of these morality-like judgments as a persistent quality of themselves, they often develop a compulsive need to prove otherwise, which makes them choose their goals, not based on the goal's actual utility to themself or others, but rather based on the goal's perceived value as a means of virtue-signalling. (Which then leads to a pattern of continually trying to achieve similar goals and either failing, or feeling as though the goal was unsatisfactory despite succeeding at it.)

Simply knowing this fact is hugely helpful in narrowing down the search space for the memories needing reconsolidation. All you have to do is look for emotionally salient instances or patterns of learning that problematic behavior X equated to judgment flavor Y. If you've ever done something like Method of Levels or similarly undirected "theories of everything", you'll know you can wander through somebody's conscious understanding of the problem for ages without getting anywhere or even being sure you are getting somewhere.

In contrast, if somebody tells me that they've been pursuing X goal for years and keep failing at it, or even when they do achieve it, it feels awful, or if they have impostor syndrome, I can go after it immediately by looking at what virtue they're trying to signal (or flipping it and asking what bad judgment they would have of themselves if they had to give up on the goal or it were impossible for them), and then we're off to the races of tracking down examples of where they learned that judgment from, the various implicit learnings that went with it, and the underlying social values and assumptions they absorbed in the process.

Along the way, this also helps pinpoint self-destructive and self-undermining behavior and self-talk (and gets rid of them), without having to first dig around in someone's self-talk to get at the beliefs. (Which is a big win, because people are rarely aware of the ways they treat themselves badly, and often think they are helping or "motivating" themselves by being pessimistic or self-critical or having overly high expectations. So if you ask people what they think is their problem, they will often insist they need more of precisely the thing that is causing the problem in the first place!)

What I found interesting about this article was that it highlights why I've needed to pinpoint which "flavor" of low self-esteem was involved in a memory in order to fix the relevant behavior or belief: without that key piece of information, you can't generate a correct contradiction for it!

In my early use and development of the implicit beliefs framework (SAMMSA) that I now use this grid in, I was just asking the client what positive quality the other person in the memory thought the client lacked, and then helping them discover how they in fact possessed that quality at the time. But this process was still a bit hit or miss until I worked out that there were really only those three kinds or flavors of quality, regardless of how the thing was named or presented, which made things easier because I could point to the three things and ask "which of these is it more like?"

Sometimes people hesitate a bit, and think it's between two of them, and we might have to try it both ways in such a case. But that's still a lot faster than wandering around with no idea where to start or if you're getting anywhere. Discovering the three "EPIC failures of trust" (flavors of moral judgment) made the process reliable because it adds a well-formedness condition that can be checked before completing the technique, thus allowing earlier error correction and early trimming of dead-ends from the search tree, so to speak.

And now, thanks to this article, I have a better understanding of why this was needed, in a higher-order sense, which might lead to the development of new techniques, or at least a filter for better understanding or improving other techniques that appear to work via memory reconsolidation.

Comment by pjeby on Building up to an Internal Family Systems model · 2019-10-13T04:36:07.064Z · score: 35 (5 votes) · LW · GW

It doesn't really much matter whether this is true or not.

I think it matters from the perspective that if subagents are simulated at query time, then a non-subagent model should be able to produce similar results to IFS, with fewer complications.

My own experience comparing subagent-oriented approaches (e.g. IFS, Core Transformation) with non-subagent ones, the non-subagent ones generally require less work to figure out what is going on, because simulating parts that want to hide or deflect stuff is more energy-intensive and frustrating than just helping someone notice that they are hiding or deflecting things.

For example, when I segregate my own desires into parts, it increases the odds of an argument or of parts withholding information or motives, vs. presupposing that all my desires are mine and that I have good reasons even for doing apparently self-destructive things.

That being said, I can think of all kinds of situations where IFS as a metaphor would be superior to more direct approaches... but they all involve people for whom the subagent metaphor is an easier introduction to metacognition, and/or the stuff being dealt with is traumatic enough that you really want to keep it mostly out of consciousness until necessary. I mostly don't work with either group, so for me it's vastly more efficient to simply point to the hiding or deflecting and say, "that thing you just did there: don't do that," than to make up new parts for each thing being avoided.

I can take that stance, though, because I work with people who are highly motivated to change and have put me in a position to give them that type of feedback. But IFS therapists need to be able to work with people who don't always have that degree of trust and compliance with them, or who aren't as willing to accept the existence of their less-acceptable thoughts and desires. In that situation, you're going to have complications no matter what, so you might as well let people pretend they have subagents.

I'm actually kind of surprised that IFS seems so popular in rationalist-space, as I would've thought rationalists more likely to bite the bullet and accept the existence of their unendorsed desires as a simple matter of fact. In retrospect, I suppose that the ability to project (at least temporarily) those desires onto imaginary subagents would be helpful, at least as "training wheels" of a sort... and that the kind of people drawn to rationalism might be extra-likely to want to disavow all their "irrational"-seeming desires!

The reason I call it "training wheels" and dissociation is because imagined subagents allow you to disavow those desires from really being "you". If it's "5-year-old you" who has that desire (for example), then that can be more acceptable than admitting that you are the one who had -- and still has -- that desire. (My approach to this kind of thing is to first target whatever judgmental beliefs say the desire is only acceptable if you're a five year old (if at all), because if you don't reject the desire then disavowing it is no longer required, and you don't need to project it onto an imaginary agent.)

To put it another way, conscious negotiation between subagents is a kludge. The brain already has systems for mediating between desires, and they function normally except when people also have judgmental beliefs that reject those desires' validity and try to squash them. The underlying decision system still tries to run them, but runs into problems because the conscious mind has arranged its life in such a way as to not leave any opportunity for them to manifest, and rejects explicitly pursuing them. So they end up coming out in dysfunctional ways that allow for continued deniability.

Or to put it another way, if you desire something, and you also desire that you not desire it, your brain resolves the conflict by making the desire's fulfillment appear to be outside your control. Believing that there is a "subagent" or "part" in play, allows you to maintain this facade... which is useful if you're a therapist and don't want to piss off your unsophisticated clients who will think you're insulting them if you tell them all their desires are theirs, period.

But if you're working on yourself, there is IMO little use for maintaining this facade, since if you're going to negotiate successfully, you're ultimately going to have to accept the validity of the desires... so you might as well bite the bullet and start from there in the first place!

On the other hand, if I reflect further, there is actually one area where I do find subagent metaphors of a sort to be kind of useful, and that is when I feel "taken over" by some past experience that I'm flashing back to. In such cases it's helpful to see it as being temporarily possessed by a ghost of my past self, in order to detach from it, and step back into the "everyday self" that can weigh things rationally without being consumed by a past emotion. But these don't involve any negotiations; they're more like, "is this thing I'm feeling actually happening now?" or "is this the most useful mindset to be in right now?"

So it's less subparts and more, "who am I acting as right now, and who would I like to be acting as?" I don't assume that these aspects of me have agency of their own, because they are roles that I can play or not play, hats I can put on or take off at will. I think that's the closest thing to anything subagenty that I've actually found useful, personally, and IMO it's a more empowering metaphor than seeing oneself as a collection of squabbling not-really-you parts.

Comment by pjeby on Book summary: Unlocking the Emotional Brain · 2019-10-13T02:10:58.209Z · score: 34 (9 votes) · LW · GW

a problem with cramming an attempt at powerful introspection into expensive 1-hour blocks.

The hard part of implementing this isn't the reconsolidation part. That part is like 10-20 minutes, especially with practice. The hard part is identifying the things that need to be reconsolidated in the first place, and because that is basically a debugging process, it can take a fair amount more time.

I've seen a lot of "one theory fits all" therapeutic methods in the past (like Method Of Levels), but in practice for the type of work I do with people, none of them are very good at quickly identifying things because they're too good at describing everything, and the brain isn't just one thing.

So now I work with what I call "search grids" -- common patterns of bugs that I can go through and check, is it this? is it that? is it more like X or Y? -- and it saves boatloads of time.

(To be fair, though, I work with only a select audience with selected problems, so it's quite possible that the applicability of my grids isn't that good outside that audience, even though I think I've a fair shot at an evolutionary justification for drawing the lines on my grids where they are.)

Still, I can't even imagine trying to really solve somebody's problems in an hour a week, unless they were already trained and had been coached through the methods once or thrice. And if they're at that point, I 'd work with them via email anyway. The only part of these processes that actually requires real-time interaction is getting people over what I call their "meta-issue" -- the schema they have that gets in the way of being able to reflect on their issues.

For example, I've had clients who had what you might call a "be a good student" schema that keeps them from accurately reporting their emotions, responses, or progress in applying a reconsolidation technique. Others who would deflect and deny ever having any negative experiences or even any problems, despite having just asked me for help with same. These kinds of meta-issues are the hardest and most time-consuming part of getting someone ready to change.

Ten or twelve years ago when I thought I'd unlocked the secrets of the universe and that memory reconsolidation was going to change everything and everyone, I didn't realize yet that hard part 1 (needing to identify the things to change) and hard part 2 (needing to get past meta issues), meant that it is impossible to mass-produce change techniques.

That is, you can't write a single document, record a single video, etc. that will convey to all its consumers what they need in order to actually implement effective change.

I don't mean that you can't successfully communicate the ideas or the steps. I just mean that implementing those steps is not a simple matter of following procedure, because of the aforementioned Hard Parts. It's like expecting someone to learn to bike, drive, or debug programs from a manual.

This doesn't mean it's impossible for someone to teach themselves from such material, but it's not trivial, and my dreams of revolutionizing personal development by mass-producing books or workshops died an ignoble death almost a decade ago. (Incidentally, this limtation is also why for almost any given school of therapy, you will find that people who advertise doing therapy in that school, aren't always capable of doing more than giving it lip service or cargo cultery.)

It's a bit like the Interdict of Merlin in HPMOR: successful techniques can only be passed from one living mind to another, or independently discovered. You can write down your notes and share the story of your discovery, and then people either discover it again for themselves, learn it from interacting with someone who knows, or go through the motions and cargo-cult it.

Comment by pjeby on Book summary: Unlocking the Emotional Brain · 2019-10-13T01:46:04.591Z · score: 25 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Richard took in the question, gazed at the therapist in silence for a few seconds, and then replied, “Well, I don’t know what to tell you. All I can say is, that doesn’t trouble me any more. And hearing you say it, it seems a little strange that it ever did—like, what was my problem?”

Hah. I've had that experience with clients (and myself) so many times I coined the term "change amnesia" -- it's extremely common following successful reconsolidation, and a good sign that the specific change made is going to "stick".

I was going to say that my approach doesn't use side-by-side comparison, but then on further thought the critical stage in my SAMMSA model involves the contradiction between someone else's view of them as lazy, incompetent, stupid, selfish, etc., and their actually not being those things at the time the judgment was made.

But that in and of itself isn't sufficient to make a change, AFAICT. It might open things up to allow the reconsolidation that follows, but it's necessary also to make new predictions in light of the thing that's been opened for reconsolidation.

Huh. This is interesting. It explains why certain things I've been doing work, that I knew you had to do in order to get results, but which I didn't know why they needed to be done. Metaphorically, I've been telling people they need to open the right "file" in their brain before they can make a change, but it seems that I've also been having them flag errors in the file first, before adding new data to the file.

The Work of Byron Katie also follows this general pattern, i.e. : He should listen to me -- is that true? (reflect on experience) Can I absolutely know that's true? (generate alternative possibilities) How do I react when I think this thought? (predict negative consequences for continuing with this pattern) Who would I be without that thought? (predict positive consequences of thinking differently) And finally turnarounds (e.g. "I should listen to him", "he shouldn't listen to me", "I should listen to me"), to generate alternative schemata that might apply to the trigger situation.

Comment by pjeby on Everybody Knows · 2019-09-28T22:53:33.877Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, I didn't mean all in one spot, I meant doing little pieces as you introduced the related arguments, and a bit at the closing, as an overall thematic/framing device.