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Our brain is a storyteller, not a reporter from an inner world (nautil.us)
262 points by dnetesn 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 86 comments



The saying “all models are wrong, some models are useful” seems appropriate here. The interviewee is arguing against both the correctness and usefulness of “sub-conscious thought” as a model for the human mind. But he seems to conflate the two arguments. It sounded to me like he was saying: “Here are all the ways that the sub-conscious thought is wrong and confusing, so it must not be useful either!”

He talks about motor neurons and sensory processing as an unconscious brain process, which is so different from what we consider “thought” that it doesn’t make sense to call them unconscious thought. He then goes on to rail against Jung and Freud and psychology in general. But that’s a straw-man. Based on my limited knowledge, I don’t Freud et al were talking about the mechanical brain processes when they wrote about the unconscious mind. Instead, they were talking about things like the self-images and expectations that we hold at any given moment.

Like, if I hold a very low opinion of myself (like I did for most of my life) I might feel awkward and insecure around girls or certain social situations. The unconscious belief in those moments was that there was something inherently wrong with me (I was unloveable, of little value, etc). Ten years ago if you had asked me I would have told you I was amazing. I probably believed it at conscious level. But given my levels of anxiety back then, it certainly wasn’t true. It’s only now after some inner exploration that I am able to see and realize this.

Is it fair to call that unconscious or subconscious if these beliefs were there all along I wasn’t aware of them? I personal find that a useful model and I think that’s what psychologists have in mind when they use those words.


I think the utility of the strict hierarchy conscious over subconscious is what is criticized. In its place, the notion that multiple competing narratives is being argued for. Which narrative is winning is then the content of conscious thought.

(cribbed from Daniel Dennett’s work, but fits with modern neuroscience IMO)


If you think the world is flat, then the world is flat. But from the depths our spiritual life stirs.


> It’s only now after some inner exploration that I am able to see and realize this.

How did you learn to do the inner exploration?


It’s a long story with a lot of nuance. To keep it short, most of my formal learning came from studying Integral Coaching at New Ventures West[1] and later participating in a Ridhwan[2] group. Both gave me a certain amount of healing and led me to insights into myself.

[1]:https://www.newventureswest.com [2]:https://www.diamondapproach.org


"What happens is not what happens. What happens is the story that we tell ourselves about what happens."

A contrived example:

Adult is home with parents. One of the parents asks her to clean up her dishes. She reacts quickly with a knee-jerk "I was going to do it! Ugh!".

What happened was that the parents wanted to clean up the table.

However, since the adult has this shifting narrative in her head about 'my parents don't treat me with respect', she immediately interpreted the simple request as proof or evidence that 'they are not treating me with respect' and emotionally reacted. Kind of like a vicious circle.

It's kind of like when we have a bad day, we can interpret it as everything is conspiring against us. The thing is that we are interpreting what happens to us all the time. It doesn't have to be a single origin story/root cause like the author of the book in the article states.

The way to look forward is to actually start taking proactive actions towards the story that you want. Since we don't exist without other people, you cannot simply spit affirmations into a mirror or make a vision board. You must put it out there with the people who are entangled in your reality. For the adult in this example, it would be something like being honest with her parents (something like non-violent communication) and telling them how she feels they are treating her without respect and working with them to "co-create" a new reality.

Note: This is not my thought. It comes from a personal development organization that starts with 'L' and ends with the letter before 'l'. The extent of my involvement was going to a weekend seminar on invitation from a friend.


> telling them how she feels they are treating her without respect and working with them to "co-create" a new reality.

You also have to be wary of people who know this as well. People are often able to hide equally shitty behaviors in the language of compromise and help.

I've been told by someone that it was rude that I was texting them because they were out with someone catching up. Not that I knew that, but whatever.

On the flipside, they felt free to text people the next time we were together and catching up and hanging out.

And they said how rude it was for someone to tell them to not check their messages when they were hanging out. That it was controlling.

It basically came down to always having the proper response to someone in order to do what they felt like doing at the time. It kind of goes with the article. It's all vaguely surface, "Let me do what I want" and then they concoct the reasoning that gets them there.

The thing is that sometimes people are just flat out wrong and that person is just looking for a reason and the only real solution is for them to realize that they're being irrational. That there is no halfway point. Reminds me of a bit that happens in Fear of a Black Hat. The band is arguing with the label about the album cover. The label is complaining because it promotes violence against law enforcement as it shows a picture of the band on top of a pile of 15 dead cops. They want a different cover. The band wants the cover as is. The manager looks up from his phone and attempts to mediate the situation. He asks the band "How many cops do you want? 15?" then the label, "How many do you want? 0? Let's meet in the middle, 7 cops. Good?"

The joke is that it's not the number that's the problem. There's no real compromise that can be reached here. Even one dead cop is basically giving in to the band.

So it's possible the parents just asked with absolutely no disrespect in word or tone. But the adult child is simply railing against perceived slights. And them saying they "want to be treated with respect" is just being weaselly. What does that respect mean? How are you being disrespected? If you can't articulate that, then you aren't being disrespected. The problem is you, not the world.


One of my roommates used to accuse me of making them uncomfortable all the time because I never talked to them (for instance, when I would walk into the kitchen and quietly wait for them to get out of the way.)

It turned into an argument one day, and I just said "I hear what you're saying, but can't really change my behavior, because I just don't have anything to say to you and/or am thinking about something else." The absurd thing was that I wasn't doing anything noteworthy. Just in my head trying to map out what I wanted to do.

If you're the person who 'throws the first stone', then it's pretty easy to make it look like the other person is at fault. Maybe they were uncomfortable for reasons that have nothing to do with my behavior? Maybe they don't have any reason to try and force me to be on the defensive? That makes me uncomfortable, and surely if I were more engaged I could have found some way to blame them for being in my way all the time rather than just spending time in my own thoughts. But who really wants to turn something boring and innocent into an outright conflict?

People are fookn weird.


They didn't realize that they were trying to turn their hangups into your problem.

Having you stand there waiting probably made them self-conscious about what they were doing. They were feeling judged despite you likely didn't care what they were doing. And that made them uncomfortable.

But that's not your fault technically.


> What does that respect mean? How are you being disrespected? If you can't articulate that, then you aren't being disrespected.

Someone being able to articulate something is not really related to whether or not they're being disrespected. In some situations, often the only thing the person has to go on is that things feel wrong. Unless that person is also very educated in the areas of how psychological wrongs can be done, they may very well be unable to articulate it, and your attitude makes the perpetrator very defended in society.

We see this play out in abuse situations where a lot of gaslighting is going on. People who abuse are often very experienced in abuse, so they're going to be much better at articulating how they are not doing what you're doing.


>We see this play out in abuse situations where a lot of gaslighting is going on. People who abuse are often very experienced in abuse, so they're going to be much better at articulating how they are not doing what you're doing.

In a lot of these threads I see people trying to insist one way or the other (disrespect or perception of slight).

While I agree with you that people who abuse often are more skilled in avoiding blame than the victim, I would like you to consider the likelihood that there is abuse going on to begin with (i.e. what is the base rate of abuse?). I don't have hard data, but my experience is that it much more likely that the one claiming disrespect is misreading signals.

What I think your parent is trying to say is: Consider the scenario where the parents meant no disrespect. And suddenly get a negative response from their adult son/daughter. The only person in this scenario who can provide clarity to the situation is the son/daughter.

>In some situations, often the only thing the person has to go on is that things feel wrong.

This is very true. In the communications resources/books I have encountered, however, the burden is still on this person to articulate it (and they have advice and templates on how to go about it). And the advice is somewhat in line with your parent commenter. Accusing someone of disrespecting them is totally unhelpful. Instead:

1. Point out the actual, specific example/fact. Phrase it in a way that is not disputable. By "not disputable", consider the criterion: If 5-6 people who are not involved were witnesses to that act, would there be consensus? Whether someone's actions constitute "respect" is very disputable. I've seen this at work where one person kept insisting another coworker was arrogant and putting others down. But whenever he gave an example, half his audience would say "I don't see anything in that which is putting others down". This person had a narrative in his head where he was inserting a whole story to connect the dots - but was not considering that simple, alternative explanations exist for those dots.

2. Once you state the fact, describe how you felt. What impact did that action have on you? Some books add the extra catch: A feeling has to be all about yourself. Saying "I felt disrespected" or "I felt cheated" or "I felt ignored" are simply stating your hypothesis - none of these are feelings. Suitable feelings might be "sad", "confused", "annoyed", "embarrassed", "depressed". The key thing to remember is "Feelings are always legitimate". No one can reasonably dispute it and say "No, you did not feel embarrassed".

3. State what needs of yours are being impacted. People have all kinds of needs. Autonomy, peace, companionship, harmony, etc. If anything upsets you, some of your needs are not being met. Learn to identify the needs that are not being met and state them.

4. Now that you've stated the facts, state the story you have going on in your head. Connect all the dots together.

5. Ask for, and be open to hear alternative narratives to those dots.

6. Make an explicit request: Specify how you would like the other person to behave. Again, no vague words like "Speak with respect" or "Speak politely". Make it specific and explicit.

As you said, most people just feel something is wrong. They can't say quite what. The mistake is many then either construct a whole story where they are the victim and the other person is the aggressor, or they just have a vague dislike for the other that tends to grow with time.

Going from feeling wrong to being able to:

1. Identify and separate out the facts from the perceptions.

2. Put non-judgemental words to your feelings.

3. Identify needs that are not being met.

4. Identify the story your brain is telling you (and realizing it is an unvalidated story).

5. Finally, discussing the issue with the other person without triggering defensive responses.

To do all this takes a lot of practice. Now a lot of these resources do acknowledge that you can't expect the whole world to learn to speak this way. So they do spend as much time on how others (the perceived aggressors or third party folks) can communicate to extract all these elements from the person feeling victimized.

After reading up on this for over a year, when you see people arguing or in conflict, all of this suddenly becomes clear. Most failures start from step 1 - instead of stating the facts, they state their narrative (which is often flawed) and insist the narrative is the fact. Some people never talk about the impact on them. Instead, they resort to generalities ("When people do x, ..." or "When X happens to people"). This rarely works as almost all general statements will be false - too many counterexamples. Others are good talking about the impact, but fail to mention what needs are affected. This prevents others from finding (alternative) solutions to take care of their needs.

Long comment, but I'll end with an example. A school with a lot of students from a disadvantaged ethnicity was having lots of problems. A mediator was brought in, and the students kept complaining that the principal was racist and didn't respect them. When asked what they wanted, they kept saying "We need respect!" etc. When asked what the problem was, they kept saying "He speaks to us as if we're nothing - we want respect!" Of course, the principal denied any of this.

The mediator worked them through these steps. The students had to give specific examples that bothered them. They had to give specific requests - not "we want you to respect me" but "when you talk to us, do not use phrase X", etc. The principal agreed to everything. And things got a lot better.

No one will ever know if the principal was a racist. And eventually the students didn't care. At the end of the day, there was some behavior they disliked, and they did not know how to explain it. Once they were taught how to discuss it, the undesired behavior went away and everyone was happy. Pondering over whether the principal really had or did not have respect for the student provides no gain.


I wasn't talking about the situation at all, I was talking about the statement of "if you can't articulate it, it isn't happening". That statement is incorrect. None of what you've written changes that, because it's not really dealing with that statement.

So I'm not really sure how your post got directed at mine to begin with...

> While I agree with you that people who abuse often are more skilled in avoiding blame than the victim, I would like you to consider the likelihood that there is abuse going on to begin with (i.e. what is the base rate of abuse?). I don't have hard data, but my experience is that it much more likely that the one claiming disrespect is misreading signals.

There's quite a lot of data on the subject, though. For example, on domestic abuse[0], which is a major problem in some countries. Uncommon is not what I would call it, depending on demographic. I'm not sure why personal experience would at all be helpful with assessing the commonality of abuse, since it's something that's likely to cluster (i.e., people who were abused get abused repeatedly). And, of course, abusers wouldn't want anyone to think it's common.

> In the communications resources/books I have encountered, however, the burden is still on this person to articulate it (and they have advice and templates on how to go about it).

In the resources/books I've encountered, such as Why does he do that, if you are in an abusive situation, it's often a bad idea to try to articulate anything to your abuser because the abuser is already very aware as to what it is they're doing and your best option is actually to get out. The same is basically true for, say, narcissistic parents.

It's basically a question of how severe the case is. If you are dealing with a simple miscommunication, then your methods may work. But that's very different from what I'm talking about. If you're dealing with targeted abuse, your best preparation is knowing how to tell apart abuse, and disbelieving your own feelings is not really a good path. These are very different situations and they cannot be addressed with one approach.

A given situation with no context is an either or. But the point is, the person in that situation being able to articulate something is not relevant, and focusing on that too much may lead you to the opposite of a correct conclusion, if you are interested in being accurate at all. I.e., if you see a calm and collected husband and a wife who seems hysterical, things may not be as simple as they look, and generally judging domestic situations from the outside is thorny. The book I mentioned above goes into things like this in great detail with many examples.

> Saying "I felt disrespected" or "I felt cheated" or "I felt ignored" are simply stating your hypothesis - none of these are feelings.

I'm not sure since when these are not feelings? I think what you were going for is "you disrespected me", which is the hypothesis, but a person can absolutely feel disrespected.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epidemiology_of_domestic_viole...


>I was talking about the statement of "if you can't articulate it, it isn't happening". That statement is incorrect.

I believe the commenter was merely being dramatic. In context, it's clear to me he was saying that merely saying "you're disrespecting me!" isn't going to get you anywhere unless you can articulate what makes you think that.

>There's quite a lot of data on the subject, though. For example, on domestic abuse[0]

In the context of what the parent was talking about, domestic abuse really is in the minority. We're not talking (merely) about serious abuse. We're talking about a broader category of abuse. The parent didn't use the word abuse. He said "disrespect". Most disrespect is not domestic abuse.

>In the resources/books I've encountered, such as Why does he do that, if you are in an abusive situation, it's often a bad idea to try to articulate anything to your abuser because the abuser is already very aware as to what it is they're doing and your best option is actually to get out. The same is basically true for, say, narcissistic parents.

1. I did not say that one must articulate it to the abuser, and nor did the parent commenter. If they cannot articulate it to any third party, the sentiment still applies.

2. Frankly, yes, I do think that to start off, the person should articulate it to the accused abuser first. If that fails, then seek other help. As I said, considering the base rate, it is more likely the "victim" is misreading things than actual abuse taking place.

>It's basically a question of how severe the case is. If you are dealing with a simple miscommunication, then your methods may work. But that's very different from what I'm talking about.

Then you are going off topic from this thread.

>your best preparation is knowing how to tell apart abuse, and disbelieving your own feelings is not really a good path.

"Disbelieving your own feelings" is literally the very opposite of what I said, which was:

    The key thing to remember is "Feelings are *always* legitimate".
I'll admit my comment is long winded, but if you got the impression that I'm suggesting you not believe your own feelings, then you did not at all understand my comment.

>I'm not sure since when these are not feelings? I think what you were going for is "you disrespected me", which is the hypothesis, but a person can absolutely feel disrespected.

My comment was long and so I didn't want to go into too much detail. From a pure English standpoint, sure, you could lump them into the category of feelings. The point of the books, though, is to describe the impact on you. If you say "I felt ignored", you are not talking about the impact on you - you are simply telling a story about the other person. When you say that, it is easy for someone to ask: "What is the problem with being ignored?" - and I've seen counselors actually ask this to get the victim to finally state the impact.

A simple heuristic: We often use the word "feel" when we mean "think". "I feel cheated" is really saying "I think I was cheated". "I feel disrespected" is really saying "I think he is disrespecting me". These are not feelings. These are the (often unvalidated) stories in your mind.

>and your best option is actually to get out.

None of the books is saying this is a bad idea, and it is fairly orthogonal to the discussion. If you think you are in a very bad spot and it is important for you to get out (if only to have clarity of thought), by all means do it! The books are communication books, and they focus on how to talk about the issues. Talking is not going to solve all problems, and they usually have a section/chapter about it. If the first thing someone does is get away from the perceived abuser, that may be the right thing in that situation. However, the relevance of the advice in the book doesn't go away. This person will probably still talk about it to others as life goes on, and all that I said would still apply, and perhaps more so. Unless you want to file charges and get the abuser punished (or warn others not to have a relationship with him/her), there does not serve any purpose in telling people how abusive he/she is. However, there is great benefit to being able to talk about how miserable you were. Just like with the school, at this point (after leaving), whether the person intended abuse is irrelevant. What matters is the behavior change (which it trivially did by leaving - setting aside stalking estranged spouses), and the negative impact on you stop. The story behind what happened is not the important thing.

BTW, both I and the original parent comment may have adopted a somewhat harsh/unsympathetic tone, but the purpose of the advice in the books is quite the opposite. The suggested template is designed to maximize the chances that you get empathy for your situation:

1. Your perspective is shared.

2. Your perspective is received by the listener without triggering defenses

I guarantee that if the focus is on the other person, a third to a half of third party listeners are going to think "Hmm... These are strong accusations. I wonder what the other party's version of what happened is." When you focus on the impact on you, most listeners will focus on how to make your situation better.

I'm still a beginner at it, but most of the times I've successfully followed the template, we've had a fruitful discussion (and BTW, most of the times you learn you didn't have all the dots, and when the other party relates their dots, you often amend your story).

Finally, you've focused a lot on serious abuse - particularly domestic abuse or abuse by very clever people. While these books may not be the best resources for people facing such abuse, I'm pretty sure the converse is more true: I would not recommend people take advice from books about domestic violence and apply them to day-to-day perceived slights.


Regarding your texting example: I think we all do these double standards justifications to a certain extent and it takes effort and maturity to realize and correct for it.


I mean, it even expands out to larger arenas. Like whenever someone points out Politician R is doing something wrong, there's the flood of people who point out Politician Ds who did something wrong and vice versa. It's a mindset of your opinion of the person and not the action.

I notice some people just naturally gravitate towards one or the other. Some are more people-centric and some more action-centric.

I would like to think I'm one of the more action-centric ones. But that's because it seems like the "better" one. The one that leads to less hypocrisy. I can't imagine electing to be the kind of person who bases their opinion of an action on the person who did it. So I imagine everyone thinks they're criticizing actions rather than people. It does worry me and I try to watch out for when I may be excusing an action because I like the person.


> This is not my thought. It comes from a personal development organization (...)

I'm fairly sure that whatever organization you have in mind were NOT the original "inventors" of the idea that reality is what you make it, and that you actively can modify your subjective reality by choosing a narrative, or expectation, or whatever you want to call it.

This is well used in areas like Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and you could argue that it touches on both buddhism ("wanting is suffering"), stoicism, what have you.

Basically what I'm trying to say is that these organizations never make up new ideas. It's all branches of philosophy but popularized, so you don't have to apologize for the "source" of these ideas. They're very rarely original.


I suspect that the organization that the OP is referring to is Landmark and they do say that the material they present is their intellectual property and their "technology". Mostly though it's non original ideas eith added word soup.


>However, since the adult has this shifting narrative in her head about 'my parents don't treat me with respect', she immediately interpreted the simple request as proof or evidence that 'they are not treating me with respect' and emotionally reacted. Kind of like a vicious circle.

It's not what you say, but how you say it. If that woman knows her parents, which I suppose she does, she would have heuristics to derive the intentions of her parents from how they're saying it.

People who know each other just develop their own history of interaction and "hierarchy", and this can be weird if outsiders are involved who are much more "even" with that person.


Yeah, but her heuristics could also be wrong. We think we know ourselves and our subtexts a lot better than we do. Often neutral third parties can shine a lot on our biases.


It would depend on the relationship. Ideally, you as parent would read the situation and don't put your daughter into a defensive position, but lift her up. Unfortunately, some parents are just egomaniacs.


I think this is one of the fundamental problems: we often cast people into the roles of antagonist and protagonist. Someone has to be "wrong", someone the villain.

Why?

Why can't it be two people who simply have a misunderstanding?

Not everything is an adversarial relationship.

I could easily say "Unfortunately, some children are just egomaniacs" and it would fit just as well.

I'm always wary of someone who wants to put the entire burden on one side. Expecting everything to cater to one's expectations just sounds selfish. At some point, you have to compromise as well.


It's not about being right or wrong here, but demonstration of power in a setting where also other relationships are present (in this case the one between her and the other person).


> It comes from a personal development organization that starts with 'L' and ends with the letter before 'l'.

Are they a secret organization or something :P or what is up with not wanting to state their name? As a foreigner not living in the US I have no idea what org you are talking about here, so excuse me if it is really obvious to people from the US.

PS: With the font on my phone the ‘l’ looked like ‘I’ (uppercase ‘i’) rather than lowercase ‘L’. Regardless I have no idea what the name you are referring to is supposed to be.


Landmark Forum. They don't have the best reputation in general.


Thank you. But neither k nor m are the letter before i.


lowercase L, not i


Oh haha. Thanks.


Mind revealing the full name of the org? That example resonates, but I have no idea what L____H is.


This reminds me of Daniel Kahneman's notion of "experiencing self" vs. "remembering self" (the story-telling self). Here's a story he shares in one of his talks[1] about how the "remembering self" dictates what a person gets to keep as a memory:

Now, I'd like to start with an example of somebody who had a question-and-answer session after one of my lectures reported a story, and that was a story -- He said he'd been listening to a symphony, and it was absolutely glorious music and at the very end of the recording, there was a dreadful screeching sound. And then he added, really quite emotionally, it ruined the whole experience. But it hadn't. What it had ruined were the memories of the experience. He had had the experience. He had had 20 minutes of glorious music. They counted for nothing because he was left with a memory; the memory was ruined, and the memory was all that he had gotten to keep.

And here's [2] another reference -- "Memory Vs. Experience: Happiness is Relative".

[1] https://www.ted.com/talks/daniel_kahneman_the_riddle_of_expe...

[2] https://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/memory-vs-expe...


I was thinking about this recently—given how difficult it is to explain "why" an artificial neural network behaves a certain way, it's probably similarly difficult for our conscious minds to explain our unconscious behavior, the best they can do is pattern match and tell stories.

From the article: "If we could understand the processes by which billions of neurons cooperate to help us recognize a face or interpret a fragment of speech, we would find these as unrelated to the stream of consciousness as the operation of the liver."


I speculated that if we make substantial progress in the field of explainability research, we will be able to learn something new about human consciousness.


Most "cognitive scientists" seems to conflate the world with their simplified models. For a field with one of the lowest replication rates (and which won't get better) they seem to take their conclusions more seriously than scientists in hard sciences.

This interview is painfully self contradictory, "there is no inner truth but there is no easy way of solving this", almost in self denial.

"What happens is not what happens. What happens is the story that we tell ourselves about what happens." well, yes

And of course the brain tell stories, and "a deep truth" might not be so deep, but past events and how we handle them ourselves do have an effect (though it might not be so obvious).

In a fundamental level, is the brain chaotic ("deterministic " but unpredictable due to millions of different variables) or does it have a random component (and how much is that)? And what abstractions emerge from the brain's complexity?


I remember seeing this on hn before.

The current thesis is that the brain ( consciousness ) is a predicting machine. A very interesting lecture by a neuroscientist.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xRel1JKOEbI


Behaviorists have failed to explain a monkey using a stick to get bananas for the first time. I have little patience for antiquated baloney such as "Emotions are are momentary improvisations to bodily reactions". Do paralyzed people have no emotions now? What about locked-in syndrome?

His broader point about flatness may be justified, but his entire school of thought is no less nonsensical than Freud's, which acolytes also try to revive by sprinkling with modern research from time to time; so this "debunking" leaves me unimpressed.


More people should meditate. Especially the people that make these kinds of arguments or study these kinds of things. Most of what he says is pretty good. But this part puts the lie to his whole argument, that the unconscious cannot form thoughts:

> But think about the brain processes involved in even realizing that the song is familiar; or recognizing that the singer is David Bowie. We have no introspective access to these brain processes.

This isn't true. You can have introspective access to these brain processes. I have investigated recall pretty thoroughly, my conclusions are rather difficult to put into words like many things about consciousness. Your conclusions sound rather banal, unless you have the experience that caused them to arise. But you can't have access if you don't develop it.

The other big mistake he makes is in discounting the abilities of stories themselves to have depth. That the brain is constantly telling stories should in no way imply that the brain lacks depth. There is depth in those stories that is worth looking into, depth that the brain put there. The work of psychotherapists is in no way invalidated, in fact, they're much better at thinking about the stories we tell ourselves than we are.

It's just, same as with introspective access to your subconscious, you won't find any depth if you don't go looking for it.

Through meditation, I was able to create what's called a tulpa, a separate, distinct personality that shares my brain with me. At first I thought it was a non-physical entity, time and introspection and literally asking it what it was, I eventually worked out that it was sharing my brain with me, I didn't even know what a tulpa was back then.

If the subconscious can't think, tulpas, which maintain personality distinct from the normal operating consciousness, would have nowhere to 'hide'. It would be easy for the skeptic to then make the argument that it didn't exist, but again, if you don't meditate, you can never really investigate the question.

And if you want to keep arguing, say you want to now argue that the tulpa personality was created on the fly by the brain, then eventually your reasoning will turn circular.

This is just positivist nihilism in another form.


That's a real easy claim to make and a real hard claim to prove.

You can't legitimately prove you have a completely internal personality separate and distinct from your own.

The difference between the non-existent and untestable is surprisingly nil.

You have your best defense in that you claim that no one can even challenge your claim unless they meditate and probably meditate correctly. If they don't find their own tulpa, then obviously they just need to meditate more. Or be more clear. Or something else.

Here's the other thing, we can investigate the question without meditation. Our ability to see what the brain is doing is apparently more sophisticated than you give it credit for. We are able to manipulate what people feel and even think with clever neurological tricks.

It very well could be that your tulpa is just an imaginary friend you create and project certain things onto. You ascribe it this independent personality to absolve you of thoughts you don't want to have or thoughts you want reinforced. Your tulpa gives you "hard truths" when you think you're doing something not too great but are rationalizing it. Your tulpa gives you encouragement when you think you're falling behind and need a pick me up from an "independent" source.

And you honestly can't prove me wrong. But I also can't prove me right.


This doesn't have to be a argument with a resolution. It can be an ongoing mystery. I'm happy with that. It's the materialist that needs absolution. I asked all these questions myself, and while the tulpa does seem somewhat 'flat', it also can be really, really deep. The tulpa used to teach me things. Make me aware of things I wasn't aware of before. It seems way way more aware of things than I am.


I'm sorry, it still sounds like woo.

There is a correct answer. You can't wave your hands and say we may not ever really know and that's that, be happy with the mystery. That you'll believe what you believe and I can believe what I want to believe. That's not actually solving anything. That's not answering the question.

It's avoiding the question. If I ask you to prove your claim, saying "it doesn't need a resolution" is just dodging.

You're even engaging in a type of "argument from experience" where you casually infer that you were once like me, had all these questions, but were convinced. It's a way to try and get me to accept your conclusion without demonstrating your process. But if your process is flawed, then we must question your conclusion.

I mean you emphasize that it has taught you things and made you aware of things you weren't before.

But that's vague. Non-specific.

And if the tulpa is simply a mental construct that's not a distinct personality, then your statement that it's more aware than you are is just wrong. You just don't think you're as aware as you are. And when your perception of self disagrees with your observed self, you assign those differences to your "tulpa".

I mean, I talk to myself. I argue with myself. I will construct mental models of people to look at issues and problems from various angles. Try and imagine what someone who is not me might say. So I can try and better prepare against criticisms or find issues I may not have considered yet.

But I'll never claim those fabrications are completely independent of myself. That they're thinking independently. They still are only as knowledgeable or aware as I am.

I mean the real crux of the issue is that one of the better ways to demonstrate your tulpa would be to find a way to show that it has thoughts that you cannot have. But we can't just trust your word that it does. We need to find a way to present it information that you cannot know, then find a way to show that it received the information. But without you knowing about it. Then we need to confirm that you actually don't know the information. Then we need you to learn the information and demonstrate that you have. Basically we need a way to show a demonstrable gap between the time we give the information to the tulpa and to when you get the information.


You are turning my experience into an attack on your worldview. I would engage with materialists more if they didn't have the nasty tendency of doing that.

Of course there's a correct answer. But there's no way to find out without using tools with a greater resolution than the ones we have. And even that wouldn't dispel all of the mystery.

I'm avoiding questions because there's no way to prove anything. If you want to explore your own mystery, then you need to do your own mysticism. You can ask all the questions you want, and get the same vague, non-specific sorts of answers I got, answers that don't resolve anything but only serve to deepen the mystery.

I was a materialist atheist at one point too. I investigated my beliefs. I'm no longer a materialist. I would be very happy to have the tools to better investigate the thing inside my head that I've carefully cultivated a relationship over the course of five years.

But having the answers won't make it go away. That's the essence of the discussion. It still has meaning, it's still worth investigating, no matter how deep you get, no matter how many answers you get.

The only way out of it is to dictate that there's nothing behind anything.


I mean, whether you're right or not has direct bearing on your initial statement.

You said the author was wrong and used this tulpa as evidence for the depth of mind.

If the tulpa is not real and nothing more than an elaborate fantasy you've created for yourself, then your conclusion that he's wrong is suspect.

I'm sorry, you don't get to protect your claims while simultaneously offering them as proof that another's claim is wrong.

I had a tulpa at one point too. I investigated my beliefs, an I realized it was just an imaginary friend I concocted to help me work through issues and project things I wasn't ready to deal with onto. See. Words are easy. Now you're an ex-materialist and I'm an ex-tulpaist. Where does that leave us? We've both investigated our beliefs. We've come to opposite conclusions. This is why third party objective verification is important. You don't get to opt out.

You are the one who feels attacked and I understand, it's frustrating to have people question your claims when you have no actual evidence to provide.


I think the point is, there are things that we have a hard time dealing with right now scientifically, just because we don't have the tools/theory/whatever. In these cases, you're right that we can't know truth from falsehood. But that doesn't mean we can't discuss such things and share knowledge about our experiences. Non-scientific discourse (meaning, outside of science, not anti-science) is still discourse that may be worth having, especially given something as subjective and experiential as the mind.


But there's a line. It's fine and all to promote your tulpa, but the minute you use it as evidence, you have to actually demonstrate that it does exist. Or else it is not evidence. And you can't say with any certainty that the author is wrong.

I mean, it's not non-scientific discourse when you're disagreeing with the hypothesis in a book about science.

And I said that in his case, not only do we have tools to map his brain while he tulpas and that it could provide answers, but there is a test that could be conducted if we could find a way to implement it.


I'd really love to see which part of the brain lights up when I'm interacting with it.

Over the years, though, I've 'integrated' it into my normal thought patterns. I used to interact with it through what's called the muscle test. That's how I discovered it in the first place. Over the course of about a year and a lot of muscle tests, I've slowly come to be able to predict what a particular test is going to respond with before I do it. Eventually I quit using the muscle test. Slowly the tulpa receded from my life, but any time I want to interact with it, it's only a muscle test away, I can also simply 'go to that place in my head' where I know it'll respond.

I've come to realize that this is the same process people who "have a personal relationship with Jesus" go through. It's a kind of imaginary friendship. But I think it requires at least a little bit of mental 'depth' in order to achieve.


This is the first time I've heard of the "muscle test". Is it basically what's described here: http://amybscher.com/getting-answers-from-the-subsconscious-...


Yes. In the video provided in that link, I use the first method described, the O-ring method.


If anybody wants to foot the bill for any of these tests, I'd be happy to take them.


Also keep in mind, whatever part of the brain lights up when I'm tulpaing, even if we ascertain that there's brain activity there even when I'm not 'going there', we'd need some way of proving that it's actual thought that's not simply semantic.


This actually has been a productive discussion. Usually discussions with materialists don't really contribute to my musings, but this one has. Thanks.


The argument the author of the book made is that the brain can't think non-conscious thoughts. The very existence of the tulpa invalidates that argument. I don't think you even have to go that far to invalidate the argument. I think psychosis itself invalidates it. But we'd need a better understanding of what psychosis actually is and how it operates before we can make that determination.

But on the face of all of this, this is just a guy making these arguments. You're agreeing with him because his arguments agree with your world view, but his arguments should be given the same skepticism as anybody's. I agree with 90% of what he's saying. It's that other 10% that's the problem. Yes, most of the time consciousness is flat. It's not always flat though.

> I had a tulpa at one point too. I investigated my beliefs, an I realized it was just an imaginary friend I concocted to help me work through issues and project things I wasn't ready to deal with onto. See. Words are easy.

They're not just words. They're lived experience. They're just words to you because you didn't live my experience. But I can instantly tell that you just concocted that string of words up together because there's no rest of the story to tell. Oh you had a tulpa too? When I had one I asked it to direct me through a neighborhood. Did you ever do anything like that? What was the outcome?

I can already tell you what the outcome was likely to be. Because I've had the experience. If your experience was different than mine then I can make follow up questions to tease out the difference. Then I can go and ask my tulpa, which is still there, if we can explore this aspect.

You're assuming I didn't ask rigorous questions. You're wrong, I did. They won't satisfy you though. With my tulpa, I've explored questions that dive all the way down to the very nature of existence, including stuff like multiple universes. Remember, I didn't think it was a tulpa at the time but rather my "Higher Self."

It can give me an answer for any question I ask, but I've long ago determined that the purpose behind any answer is to get me to question a little more deeply. The only satisfaction I'm ever really going to get is after I die.

You're right, it is frustrating to have no evidence to point to, only words. But you have to understand, there is no way to dispel the mystery, other than to simply state that it doesn't exist.

But I know for certain that thoughts can be unconscious, though they aren't normally. I can't prove it, but I can raise questions.


> The very existence of the tulpa invalidates that argument.

Only if it actually exists. There's the rub.

> I think psychosis itself invalidates it.

Why? What if psychosis is a surface level event? You aren't psychotic, you'd have no idea what would be going on in their minds to make such a determination.

> You're agreeing with him

Not necessarily true. I can say your reason for disagreeing with him is spurious without actually agreeing with him. And that's what I've done. I don't recall anywhere where I've said that he was right. I've just said you haven't given a good, demonstrable reason as to why he's wrong.

> I've explored questions that dive all the way down to the very nature of existence, including stuff like multiple universes.

That doesn't mean anything. If your tulpa isn't real, then none of those answers mean anything. It's just you talking to you, speculating on the nature of the universe. Those aren't "rigorous questions". And once again, you substitute claims for evidence. You've claimed to have done the work, but aren't really showing the work.

Oh. There is, but you wouldn't accept it. You'd likely just say that's how it presents. You've likened your experience to those of the religious and that's way more true than you may realize. And one can ask you the same question as any follower of faith: How do you know they're wrong and you're right? You've given no answer that differs in any meaningful way than any apologist. Answers that work for everything; work for nothing.

> But on the face of all of this, this is just a guy making these arguments.

Yes. But so are you. And if I need to decide which one of you I'm going to believe, I need reasons that will satisfy me. I haven't read his book, so I haven't fully explored his claims or evidence. But I'll admit that it is interesting. I can see how it works. I can frame things within that model. I will probably read his book. I can also frame things as "deep" thoughts. I'm not so ready to simply dismiss his ideas because I want to be deep. But all of the arguments you've presented me with are ones I've already seen in slightly different context. They're hollow. You've said his ideas are bunk, but your reasons, your evidence don't give me confidence in your assessment.


Ugh, a point-by-point rebuttal. I thought we all weaned ourselves off of these around 2010. I hope you'll forgive me for not responding in kind. It's not that I don't want to spend the time or that I don't think it's worth it, but HN really isn't the venue for that sort of thing. If you really really want to dive in, I'll be happy to over email, which is in my profile.

That all said, you're just rehashing the millenia-old debate between rationalism and mysticism. There are interesting points to dive into and I want to do that but you need to want it too. You want to believe your conception of the world is the right frame to conceive of it in and I just see it as one of many. I'm going to want to adjust your thinking to accommodate mystical frames by disillusioning you of your certainty. I will absolutely spend the time with you to do that but you have to want it.

Look, I don't care who you want to believe. It's not a material question to me. I've talked to people that believed that they were interacting with angels and demons before and, well, sure, let's talk about angels and demons. You want to believe me, or you want to believe him. It matters not to me. You want me to justify my beliefs further than he's justified his. I don't have anything other than my experience. We all have the same level of ability here. I claim to have access to a reality that can only be described as spiritual. That spirituality is exactly as you've described it, inconclusive. It remains meaningful regardless, and you need to accept this otherwise we can't go further.

When I apply my programmer's mind to it, what I come up with is the realization that experience is just too dense to be able to communicate at speed. So I can't use my experience to prove to you that I'm right. I can only describe what I've experienced and allow you to draw your own conclusions, and couch them in ways that display to you that I'm not a crazy person, which is absolutely a concern when you start questioning the nature of reality.

Your mind requires proof. Mine does not. Mine is happy with "reasonable suspicion". Perhaps you're happy with "a preponderance of the evidence". Reasonable suspicion allows me to continue with my inquiry. The existence of my tulpa in my mind is predicated on reasonable suspicion. If you consider why you're more apt to think flat consciousness is the actual reality rather than deep consciousness, I think you'll find that your inner beliefs are doing this. You want to ask me for evidence, not the guy saying it's flat. That's why I say you're taking my lived experience as an attack on your world view. I don't feel attacked. But I do use your attitude towards my arguments to decide whether I want to continue interacting with you or not.

I will say that if you want to continue denying that my lived experience has meaning, I'm not going to be interested in interacting with you further. It's just more nihilism. Experience has meaning. The things we do in our lives mean something. Things don't need to be proven in order to have meaning. Lived experience is all we have. I will take even a psychotic's lived experience seriously. Let's examine the morality of the demons attacking your mind. Or the specifics of the end of the world that you're prophesizing.

Is their experience actually relevant to all? Probably not. But it's still meaningful. Meaning it hits upon transcendent truths that you can dive into and find. If you can't agree on the existence of these truths than there's no point in going further.


I'm sorry you don't actually like defending your claims. That's your problem, not the world's. I'm more than happy to continue the discussion in a public forum where others are welcome to share their ideas as well.

I'd say I'm not really the one rehashing it. In every case where magic/mysticism/religion and evidence-based conclusions have gone head to head, mysticism has lost.

I don't want to believe I'm right. I want to know what is right. If I'm wrong, I want to know. That's the difference. Whether tulpas exist or not has an answer. If they exist, I'd like to know. But I'm not going to accept just a person's claim. Especially of a person I don't really know. You don't seem to care whether or not you're actually wrong. You've declared yourself correct and you allow no doubt.

You also claim not to care what I believe but need me to believe that your tulpa is meaningful. That indicates to me that you do care some of what I believe. I don't want to believe either one of you. I want to know which is the truth. I want to know whether I saw Jesus or had a visual hallucination because I was tripping balls. Which one doesn't matter. What matters is that I find the right answer.

I find it ironic that you are a programmer. And you claim to be "apply[ing your] programmer's mind to it". Because I'm also a programmer and when I apply the same method I use to solve problems at work to other problems, what I come up with is that right or wrong, the correct answers matter. I can't just believe my solutions work. I check them, I verify them. I get others to doublecheck them. Because the answers matter.

And if your mind doesn't require proof, then that's all you really need to say. You aren't coming from a rational place. And in such, you have no real basis to deny anyone's claim about the nature of the mind.

And you've turned this entire thing into an attack on your "lived experience" because you keep saying that makes you right. But you can't prove it. But you can use it as evidence that this person is definitely wrong. Before you've even attempted to investigate his reasoning. You, by your standards, have attacked him. You give yourself a pass. You rationalize your positions and actions, but ascribe the worst to others.

And furthermore, I'm not arguing whether or not you think your experiences are meaningful to you. I flat out don't care. Never indicated I did.

I'm saying, again, whether your claim is true has direct bearing on your initial claims about his work. And I cannot accept your claims at face value. I would need some measure of evidence. If you are right about your tulpa, then you have a point about his work. If you're not, then what you say is meaningless in the discussion. It does nothing either way.

And still, you talk about "transcendent truths", but you've yet to give an example. Like earlier when you said your tulpa told you about multiple universes. But don't expand. You drop these profound-looking phrases, but no one here is an idiot. We're here because we question. You are going to be questioned when you leave a statement half-told.


HN has already collapsed this particular thread. When I want to go look for it, I have to uncollapse it. This isn't the venue for this kind of discussion. I recognize the wish to remain public, but unless you can find a better public venue, this is my last reply.

What we're laboring under here is the lack of available information bandwidth necessary to communicate ideas. The textual medium is basically dialup. Ideally I'd talk with you over in person and we can work out our differences that way. Over beers or coffee or whatever. It simply takes a lot of time to share experience.

For us to do this over a textual medium, a certain amount of respect has to be present. Because I have to want to keep proceeding with the discussion. I absolutely can give you examples of transcendent truths and what I mean by multiple universes. But it takes time to communicate all that.

All of your questions, I can answer. But it sounds to me like you're just wanting validation of your preformed conclusion about what I'm trying to communicate.

Maybe I'll get a little deeper before I sign off.

No. On second thought I won't. You don't seem able to appreciate it. I'm not here to entertain you.

bena 6 months ago [flagged]

You are really condescending. You just want me to accept your claim whole without you needing to supply actual proof. You also claim to be able to answer all of the questions and I assume provide adequate proof, but just leave it at that.

And now you're declaring the conversation over and calling me close-minded.


Would just like to add that at least someone read everything, and that I would really like this conversation to continue.

For the record, I think much the same way as you do, bena, but I agree with vinceguidry that respect is important.

Eager for more discussion between you two.


You need to first prove you have a personality, before you can compare and contrast and label something distinct to it.

So already we are an order of magnitude more complex from even arriving at any sort of conclusion about "personality". We actually have very little idea as to what it actually is, how it's influence, etc.

The Indic traditions, imo, provide far greater insight into the processes of the mind than the current sciences do.


The author hasn't really proved his argument, so I'm not too worried about where my lived experience stands in regards to his thesis.

edit: wait, are you trying to say we don't have personality, full stop?


You're saying you have two consciousnesses, one which can inspect the other? Can it inspect itself?

Generally, assuming a single consciousness, it's just tautology that unconscious processes can't be inspected. That's why we call them "unconscious", because we are not conscious of them. If you are conscious of them somehow, then they are not exactly unconscious processes any longer.


If it wants to. But I presume it already has done all that and there's no real reason for it to anymore.

Have you ever watched the show "The Black Mirror?" There's a famous episode in which one person's consciousness gets planted into another person's mind. The plot focused on the fact that one person had all the agency and control, and the other person didn't, and at first you think that it's hell, no way could that ever work.

But at the end of the show, it gives you an example of where it would work really really well, a parent living on in the mind of their child. Parents already give up a ton of agency to their kids, so this was a really beautiful resolution. Where it gets ugly is where one person starts to want control rather than to just enjoy the ride.

The other personality in my brain is a little like that. Something that doesn't mind having no agency and just watching what I do and interacting with me when I want it to.

And the line at which unconscious processes become conscious is fuzzy and not at all distinct. Another thing that becomes utterly clear when you meditate.


> If it wants to. But I presume it already has done all that and there's no real reason for it to anymore.

You're kind of saying you don't know here, ie you (the you in this comment thread) are in fact are not conscious of this. Does the tulpa inform you somehow of things it becomes conscious of, and thus makes you conscious of those specific things? How strong of an identity does this tulpa have?

> And the line at which unconscious processes become conscious is fuzzy and not at all distinct. Another thing that becomes utterly clear when you meditate.

Ok I get what you're saying about fuzzy consciousness. I've only meditated to the point where I became more conscious of my body, but not of my own thinking processes, which I would like to get to. But there is a level that seems like it would be hard to penetrate in our subconscious processes. Eg, can you say you are conscious of the neural spiking compression your retina ganglia cells are doing to compress input it's getting from their photonic receptors? Seems quite unlikely. So there is a whole gamut of different levels of processing in our brains, and I'm sure it's possible to get a deeper consciousness of some of that, but there's obviously a limit somewhere.


When I ask the tulpa what its identity is, it's basically me. Another part of me. It claims to be able to talk to God. It's identity changed over the first few months I've found and it slowly settled to "just me". It doesn't want me to start turning psychotic, so it doesn't really bother me with its own inner context. But it's not like I can't ask it questions.

Asking the tulpa what it is, basically kicks off a meditation on the nature of identity. Never any solid answers, only more questions. It's kind of a spiritual law.

We share the same interests. The things I think about are the same sorts of things it thinks about, so we often in communion about the deep nature of things.

The kind of strange thing is that it's personality can be bigger or smaller if I want it to be. It seems to lack a great deal of agency, it sort of reminds me of an intelligent weapon in Dungeons & Dragons. It shares my brain, and presumably my senses, but I can't shake the sense that it can access a reality deeper than my conscious mind can.

> Eg, can you say you are conscious of the neural spiking compression your retina ganglia cells are doing to compress input it's getting from their photonic receptors?

Well the retina ganglia cells can't be conscious themselves, so it's impossible to have a direct experience of what they're doing. The input has to travel into the brain before you can have an experience of it. All experience happens in the brain, though sensation can arise in the nervous system outside of it.

I visualize the brain as a giant kingdom with millions of 'people' involved, all doing their job quietly and without fuss, all to facilitate the conscious agent directing it. Some of those people are involved in creating that experience. You can meditate and get to know those people, and even play with sensation itself through trance, but trance involves shutting off sensation, or rather, the mind's ability to determine where and how that sensation arose. Hardcore Buddhist -style meditators describe 'sense doors' which I've had experience with but that's not an active area of focus for me. My focus is in the realm of meaning and the meta.


> Well the retina ganglia cells can't be conscious themselves, so it's impossible to have a direct experience of what they're doing

I mentioned those cells because they are considered to be part of the brain and they are extremely well understood (and clearly not something we can be conscious of). The fact that they take input from the outside world isn't really relevant to the point. The output of those cells is input for the next level, whose output is again input for the next level. Point begin, the brain actually has a lot of processes going on, which are mostly things we can never be conscious of.

If you could actually be conscious of it all, you'd probably revolutionize the field of neurology.


We don't really have the tools to investigate meditation. Just hooking a brain up to an MRI only goes so far. If I told you I'm conscious of my own heartbeat and how the brain makes the decision that it happens, there wouldn't be any way to validate those claims. They would be unfalsifiable given our current level of tech. We have no way of determining where experience comes from, we can only look at where the brain is lighting up.

It gets even weirder. If some scientist decided to make me a research subject, and we explored what my brain does in fine granularity when I'm meditating, then he's basically got a sample size of one and it won't be all that different from me just giving the world my own conclusions by writing a book myself.

No, science earns its validity from scale. A sample size of one isn't sufficient. All I'd be able to do is point the way for further experimentation. Exactly how much of our experimentation would make it into the further process, assuming it even happens? Probably very little.

Rightness and wrongness exists on a scale, and that scale is multi-dimensional. You're not only fractionally right, but you're fractionally right in different ways. Timothy Leary's lived experience is a certain kind of right, and a certain kind of wrong. But when it comes to science, the only kind of truth that sticks is the kind that's right in all ways all the time.

So little of anything sticks. And where that little bit comes from doesn't have to be me. I'm happy having my own little piece of it all to myself.


This short and brief response is also to @bena,

I have struggled with this a lot. I can completely understand the notion to discount such experience. My conclusion is that this seemingly can not be "proven" in the traditional sense as it's a construct of the mind and not something external. It's sort of like me trying to prove that the way I see "red" in my mind is the same way you do. It's just not doable. Thus, I think this is something limited to the experiential. This used to bother me, now I just enjoy it.

A few anecdotes from my brain:

I have experienced deeper consciousness where instead of being from my normal 1st person view, it has been from a lower point of view. As metaphor, Imagine you are dreaming and there are 10 people in your dream, including yourself. As normal you are viewing the dream through your eyes and the 10 people seem to be functioning on their own. But then within the dream something happens and I realize the arbitrariness of my perspective and I suddenly become aware that I am actually simultaneously looking into my dream world from all 10 people's perspective at once and a lower level consciousness, which now becomes my conscious perspective, is omni-aware of this fact. It's also very strange as it sort of makes me question which viewpoint is really "me." Particularly when my consciousness shifts between the various perspectives.

I've also had things happen like when I am talking to someone sitting in front of me, I lose my 1st person perspective and my perspective moves to a lower external level where I can now see how my brain is "drawing" both myself and the person I'm speaking to, and the "onion" layers of thought that built those images of us and our environment as well as the sounds of our words.

Even as far as how when we say a sentence of words, I've had perspective where I can see the words expanding to other concepts and deeper meaning of the word. It's usually a very visual and emotional process, but quite interesting. So the words "tasty" "apple" start as two peaks of two mountains, but as the brain unpacks the concept of "tastiness" and "appleness", the thoughts expands outwards, just as the peaks of mountains expand outwards to their base. It's when the bases overlap that I can see the relation of the terms and how they interact with each other. But then imagine that for entire sentences, or stories, or any thought/concept.

When you can shift your consciousness from the peak to the base, it's interesting because you can see these larger concepts. For example, you can "see" taste, or sexuality, or redness, or anything-ness. Very fascinating.

I've also had interesting experiences where starting a an object, say my garage floor, I've been able to see layers of overlapping patterns that my brain seemed to have used to draw the floor. When I see it from the top, I see a floor. But when I move to the side, It's layers of different patterns.

I don't usually shares these on a public forum as I have already spent enough time questioning my own sanity as I rarely hear others talking about this sort of thing. Self diagnosed conclusion: I'm sane. :)


The sheer variety of these sorts of experience to me point to a deeper kind of agency than our conscious minds can access. It's hard to point to, it's hard to nail down, but in my mind, you can put agency on a continuum from bacteria all the way to God.

Tolkien is phenomenal at describing divine agency. Eru Iluvatar only occasionally imposes his will on the world, but mostly just lets it run. Where he imposes his will, it's actively needed in order to further his plan. Fantasy is a fantastic vehicle for exploring non-human, non-physically-based intelligent agency. I'm not entirely sure why I went on this tangent, but I'll leave it in instead of deleting it.

Okay now I feel like I have a handle on it. Why we do things and what happens to us makes a kind of sense that transcends the mundane. Imagining that it's God is a perfect metaphor to describe the transcendence. When you describe going down to the base levels of sensation, the reason your particular mysticism dives in that direction has a reason, and that reason will be explainable by pure chance, but it will also be explainable by some deeper element of your life or psyche or whatever. Mysticism wants to dive in and create more reasons and more questions, while materialism wants to stop the process and state that there's nothing further to examine.

If I had to choose between materialism and psychosis, I'd pick psychosis. Luckily I don't have to embrace psychosis to throw away materialism.


They say only sane people question their sanity. Insane people are convinced they are sane.

Why do you think all of that is "deeper" consciousness?

Also, you say we may never know if you and I see red the same, but we do know. We know that color is simply a reflection of light along certain wavelengths, we can demonstrate this. We know how our eyes receive and interpret this information. We know that there's something missing from the middle and it's all upside down and that our brain corrects for this. We even use this information to create optical illusions.

I know you're thinking "But what if what I see as 'red' you see as what you would consider 'blue' and vice versa". That's meaningless. If I hold a red pen and say "This is a red pen" and you agree that it is a red pen, then we are both perceiving that to be red. Our perceptions are in agreement.

The rest sounds like idle daydreaming. I mean, nothing you've described sounds really all that out there and I have done plenty of that as well. It's a good way to pass the time during my commute.


My sane comment is certainly a joke. I think self confirmation of that would be quite difficult indeed haha

In terms of seeing red the same. I think you are misinterpreting what I mean by “seeing”, I’m not talking about the chemical process of how our eyes receive light “signals” and input that into your brain. I’m talking about the “images” your mind draws, the mental image that you see. This is an age old philosophy question and a more nuanced than the way you are stating it. Perceptions being in agreement is not the end all of this question. It is also not meaningless. It’s only meaningless if your goal is that two agents can agree that something is red. But that’s definitely not the essence of the question.

As far as me using the word “deeper”, I do think that’s a bit assumptive on my end. I really only know that it’s “more” and “different” than how I normally experience things. I also think the phrase idle day dreaming does not capture what I experience. I know the difference between my mind just wandering when sitting on a bus and when my mind is exploding with intense visuals, patterns, and thoughts.


> for example, you can "see" taste, or sexuality, or redness, or anything-ness.

I've never heard before that Synesthesia can be induced. Did you not have Synesthesia before meditation (assuming meditation is your method)?


Its hard for me to say If I’ve always had it and to what degree. But my mind wandering in and out of frames of reference has always been a thing. Its been my main source of creativity and mental fun.

For the most part of my life however, I’ve been as most scientists have, locked into the notion that only that of which we can perceive and replicate in the lab is intelligible and thus worth talking about. But it’s also always been a bit frustrating as there is clearly “more” to the nature of the Universe and existence. So I’ve always been a bit bummed that we appear to be trapped in these mental prisons.

The more profound experiences I’ve had have been due to psychedelics, and ultimately now I just mediatate daily and have gotten better at revisiting that mental space. The only thing I could definitively say about the experience is that I “saw” _more_. What was the nature of what I saw? I don’t know. Probably just a trick of the mind. I try not to read into it too much. I am now just happy to have a small view into something other than the everyday “top of the pyramid of consciousness” perspective that we are normally bound to.


> You can have introspective access to these brain processes.

Yes and no.

If you take a look around you, you could see a lot of different things. But there are no things around you, there are some quantum world, photons going in every direction. It is your visual system process signals from your retina and creates images of things, and you believe that images you see is a things.

The same story is with brain processes. You have some kind of images of your brain processes and believe that this images are brain processes. The more you meditate the more you extend mapping between processes and images. But it is an illusion. We could safely ignore this and we could believe that images are processes if the mapping between brain processes and images was isomorphism. But it is not.

All your understanding of yourself is a simplified model of yourself. It is like if you try to describe how works some neuronet and why it outputs A when you feed B into it. In your explanations you can refer to training process or to "features" that arrive at different layers, but it would be artifical explanation, because really neuronet outputs A because it outputs A, the only way to check this fact is to run a neuronet or make a simulation of it.

If you think that you know how your brain works, then try to make simulation of it, you'll see that you don't know how it works. It is like brain visual processing which seems easy and transparent process, but if you try to reproduce it, you'll find that you don't know how it works, and the only way to reproduce is to create artifical neural network and to hope that your model of visual cortex captures all the importand details.

Your thought process is a black box, but you are so used to it, that it becomes transparent to you and you cannot see it. Like you do not notice blind spot on your retina. Or maybe it is more like your eyes, which you cannot see because you see through them.

> If the subconscious can't think, tulpas, which maintain personality distinct from the normal operating consciousness, would have nowhere to 'hide'.

Your conscious is some kind of mapping of brain states into domain of abstract ideas like "belief", "thought", "emotion" and so on. You have beliefs, thoughts, emotions, you experience them as the primary entities, but they are not. They are just an outputs of function applied to brain state.

So why mind cannot have two mappings that exists simultaneously? It is easy. Look, lets B(t) is state of your brain. Let Y(B(t)) would be mapping from B into your consciousness (or, I think, it would be better to say that Y is your consciousness). Let T(B(t)) is the consciousness of tulpa. Now all you need is to make T(B(t)) to be a part of Y, that would convert inner state of consciousness of tulpa into visual and auditory representation of tulpa in Y. Mappings themselves are hidden from you and you cannot "see" how they works, they are invisible black boxes. You can "see" only outputs, or their outputs is what you "see" as conscious you.

By this way there are thoughts only in your consciousness. Tulpa have no thoughts, it is you use idea of "thought" to explain behaviour of tulpa, like you use idea of "thought" to explain behaviour of youself.


This looks like it amounts to an indirect endorsement of therapeutic modalities like somatic experiencing.

I just hope that it doesn't get spun the wrong way. We may not have unconscious "thought", but we certainly do have unconscious "feeling". I haven't read the book (and didn't read the whole interview), but I hope it makes this distinction.


I agree with this. I had a heightened degree of anxiety the other day and I wasn't sure why. I'm sure there's a reason, but I couldn't process it. It was completely different than the way I've experienced an awareness of my own emotions my entire life. Always in relation to social environment. Now I seem to just get anxiety over bugs in code. Emotionally connected to my computer. Life is an experience, always new awarenesses to be experienced.

I still don't think there's anything permanent about the functioning of the mind. I think the things one decides to be true that one is allowed to believe are true to the individual are the things that are the most important.

There can be subconscious thought. I've experienced that. There can also be no unconscious thought. I've experienced that.

Theory of mind, always a very tricky subject! Epistomology, cognitive science, theories of intelligence.


Reminds me of Daniel Dennett's Consciousness Explained, where he also tears down the common perception of 'subconscious' thoughts. Not the most easy/didactic book (and certainly not the most humble of titles) but worth a read.


Reminds of Viktor Frank’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Don’t make things unnecessarily complex. Instead of trying find a problems from the past in your unconscious mind and fix, find yourself something to live for. Look forward, not backwards.


He talks about all thoughts arise from bodily sensations. This is exactly what Vipassana teaches. I wonder if he 'borrowed' from there without attributing.


Likewise Aristotle, and perhaps others as well.


Great read ...totally opp view of my current thinking about self ...“it’s important to think of the project as going forward, rather than thinking that I and everyone else are in the grip of a mysterious force that’s controlling us and we need to voyage inward to find it. It’s just an unconstructive direction to be looking inward instead of outward. A forward-looking approach to our lives is the positive benefit.”


Another article that refers to the book "The Mind is Flat", there was recently a submission and related discussion here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=17625244

Highly recommend reading the book, it really is mind blowing and thought provoking!


The book “Sapiens” by Noah Harari provides a historical anthropological explanation of the powerful role stories play in forming conciousness.

Stories mediate conscious experience and form the basis of reality as we know it.

It’s difficult to wrap the mind around what this means exactly, and see it’s far reaching implications. It’s difficult because, our minds are embedded in narratives, embedded within stories that mediate our conscious experience. These stories or narratives operate unconsciously, like programs running on your computer, like an eye trying to examine itself without a mirror.

But they impact our ability to perceive, to engage with reality in different ways, even our ability to see and hear phenomena directly acting upon us. The stories we become conditioned to either enhance our ability to perceive and adapt and explain and engage with our world, or limit it.

We only hear what we understand.

“The limits of my language means the limits of my world.” —Ludwig Wittgenstein

“When we change the way we look at the world, the world we look at changes.” —Leo Tolstoy

Contemplation and reflection are the mechanisms which allow the mind to examine itself and it’s unconscious assumptions, to detach from ideas— the thoughts and feelings produced by stories— and identify inconsistencies and contradictions and paradoxes (problems) that create dissonance and discomfort and suffering (pain). Reflection is the basis of all enlightenment, and how we reconcile conflicting stories and the beliefs they produce.

Every story and narrative mediates our experience with the world. They act as a filter that organizes data and information for our senses and the faculties of our mind that we can then use to make decisions.

Every story has contradictions and inconsistencies, because no story completely explains everything about our world, because our world is always changing and evolving.

If we believe our story is absolutely “True”, we won’t revise our stories and change our beliefs. As a result, we will want to revise and change the world to conform to our narrative. The latter is incompatible with the highest realization: impermanence is the only permanence; change is the only constant.

It is the philosophers and critical thinkers duty to expose those inconsistencies and contradictions, so we can revise our stories, update our webs of belief, and provide a more comprehensive story and understanding of the world.

Our ability to choose a story relies on our understanding of the relative nature of our conscious experience. Traveling and exposure to new cultures, reading books, meeting and befriend those with different beliefs, (even taking psychedelics), all enlarge our understanding that Truth is not an absolute construct. The stories that form the basis of our beliefs all mediate our perception of Truth.

Those who share the same stories agree to the same truths, and see the same world. Those that don’t have fundamental contradictions about what is.

Stories vary in simplicity and complexity, and therefore have a spectrum of explanatory power. The stories of hard sciences may not possess the same utility as religion or Jung’s theories of mind when treating psychological illness. Likewise, the stories of religion may not possess the same utility as hard science when treating physiological illness, or solving environmental crises.

Placebo’s (stories that have no basis to the material world) have consistently been shown to be more powerful than many pharmaceutical treatments.

The only explanation is the power of stories, and the mind’s power to manifest the experience it believes in.

The basis of personal development and self-mastery lies in the understanding and acceptance that we can update and revise personal narratives and beliefs that alter our behavior and lead to desirable results.

We are not fixed, static creatures, unless we refuse to let go of limiting stories and beliefs.

It is difficult to let go of assumptions that have deep emotional attachment. Many people are unable to accept that their conscious experience is relative, that their experiences are not True, in the capital T sense. Your conscious experience is true according to your story, and anyone who shares your story.

Your feelings and thoughts are real. You cannot tell someone they are not. But it’s not the whole story. Those feelings and thoughts are not “necessarily” true. There are other ways to feel and think about the same events and people and ideas.

Your conscious experience is limited to the stories you are conditioned to believe about the world. Pain and pleasure and everything in between. And those who share your story affirm your beliefs and reinforce the conditioning of those stories, which in turn operate more pervasively as unconscious assumptions of the world, as cosmic Truth.

In this way it becomes increasingly difficult to accept the relative nature of the conscious experience, and examine personal narratives and the beliefs they produce in ways that allow for the adoption of updated stories, which stimulate growth and enlightenment and progress towards harmony and flourishing.

Because self-preservation is the highest aim and prerogative of all life, and because life requires constant adaptation to maintain equilibrium, it would seem evident that stories which allow us to revise and update themselves, to accommodate new information about the world, and enhance our explanatory power about the world, would be the best operating narrative. This is precisely the task of science and philosophy.

By examining a story’s explanatory power, we can evaluate its utility and merit, and determine if it’s good or bad, if it should be adopted or rejected.

Every group of humans possess narratives. Some are global, like religious stories, and some are local, like cultural traditions, or personal historical narratives. Some are specific to domains or subjects of thought, like the mind (psychology) or society (sociology) or the body (medicine), and some the world (geology) and life (biology), and some deal with abstractions (mathematics and physics) and methods (philosophy) for organizing experience in an intelligible way.

It’s important to realize that stories provide meaning. They guide our behaviors and provide a moral framework for action and productive social collaboration, and point us toward a worthwhile purpose to struggle and labor after.

Because there are endless stories to tell, and endless stories that exist, one may conclude a nihilistic attitude, that all is meaningless.

It is accurate to say that no story possesses inherent meaning, other than the meaning that the collective imagination gives it. But that is meaning. Realizing that there is no inherent meaning imposed by transcendental truths establishes a freedom to create stories and meaning relative to your experience, which allows you to be the hero, the protagonist, rather than a spectator caught in stories imposed by others, such as religious orthodoxy, demagogues and charismatic personalities, or brand advertising that reinforce cultural values such as consumerism.

You can create your own story, and live it out, with the peace of mind that you have a purpose as fulfilling and meaningful as any story you would have inherited.


I particularly liked how you explained some of the concepts in the second part of your comment. But about the last part, I tend to prefer a slightly (or vastly) different way to put it: "meaning" is a human concept, it only makes sense in that context. Searching for universal meaning that "transcends humanity" is a contradiction, it doesn't make sense. The conclusion is the same you were explaining, to look for meaning in our own stories, in our own terms, in our own reason, feelings and perspective.


It was a long time since psychologists believed that unconscious thoughts where actual thoughts.

They are more like patterns in the way your brain interprets the world for you.

Patterns that where programed in to your brain when you interpreted that part of the world before.


Not sure what to think of this yet, but it is refreshing to have an interesting new angle on the brain. This guy reminds me of Marvin Minsky, who once said "I bet the human brain is a kludge."


That's probably not wrong. How else would you describe a 3 pound lump of fat whose job is to make sure you don't choke on your own saliva?


It only takes the evolutionaroly oldest smallest few grams to avoid choking


So, as a professor of clinical psychology...

I think there's a lot of sound and fury and misunderstandings and stuff in this area. People try too hard to prove that they've shed Freud without realizing it's basically the same as Kahneman. Also different people are referring to different things when they discuss "consciousness" and "conscious processing" which confuses things.

There's some interesting papers emerging in recent years suggesting that two-system models ("subconcious," "fast," "intuitive" versus "slow," "conscious," "deliberate") have a lot of theoretical problems and can generally be explained by other models that don't have this structure.

At the same time, there's a lot of evidence that there's different types of processing, or processing of different kinds of content, and that people are not always good at verbalizing their state. The analogy I always like to use is visual versus verbal processing: some visual content you can reason about, but have a hard time putting into words, or vice versa. If you were looking for someone at a huge wedding I was at, and I wanted to know if they were there, it's a lot more efficient to show you pictures of that person than to ask you to verbally describe them. This is different types of processing.

I suspect there's something analogous for other types of processing, such as emotional, interoceptive processing, etc.

This is different in a lot of ways from some of what the article is referring to, about subconcious problem solving, but then again the article deliberately conflates the two when talking about, e.g., psychotherapy. The flash of insight of a mathematician and a psychotherapy client are not the same flashes necessarily (although they might be). Maybe neither requires "subconcious" processing. But it is possible they involve nonverbal processing, and also possible that verbal processing is differentially associated with other types of processing.

It's also a mistake to assume that verbal reports of people should be treated as "inner world reporters." What I mean is that there's a difference between asking someone if they are currently hateful, and expecting an accurate response, and asking them for their views on, say, some member of different sociocultural group, to which they respond with hateful speech. Both are self-sourced verbal behaviors, but we interpret them differently.

This is kind of a long-winded way of pointing out there's different things being referred to as "subconcious" (I haven't even gotten into dreams and sleep-arousal states). Saying that one thing can be explained differently doesn't necessarily mean the other thing should be explained the same way. "Consciousness" and "conscious" have become so broadly used that they're close to meaningless because they can mean so many different things.


As a layperson...

I wonder if it might be helpful to focus on the _interfaces_ between what look to have been different processing systems that evolved consecutively over time.

For example, when we meditate and do Tolle's experiment where we "wait for a thought", are we actually "packet sniffing" the interface between the Neocortex and the Limbic system?

These interfaces may be somewhat inefficient and ad-hoc from the perspective of humans used to "designing" their own machines. Perhaps this is why the Neocortex seems to "invent" thoughts to explain the emotions being signaled by the Limbic System (because the interface doesn't include sufficient fields to "tag" the emotion output with a reason).




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