Finding The Void 101

I don’t know a lot about spiritual traditions. I haven’t read any Buddhist books (minus the Tao te Ching), I don’t meditate regularly, and most of my knowledge about chakras comes from Naruto.

But I do have ‘episodes,’ which I’ve mentioned briefly elsewhere on this blog. I don’t know what these episodes are, if other people have them or how common they are. Some people on Facebook suggested it might be Kundalini, which I’m uncertain about because the wikipedia article involves a lot of jargon I’m unfamiliar with. It’s possibly Kenshō, though descriptions of Kensho seem to lack the intensity I feel.

A few people have asked me to make an effort to describe the experience in depth, as well as any suggestions on how to enter the experience, so here we are.


 

An episode usually lasts 3–20 minutes, with visible symptoms such as crying, gasping, writhing, laughing, and mutism. The mutism onsets several minutes before and lasts several minutes after, and is usually an early warning sign for me that an episode is approaching.

Physical symptoms vary a lot, but most often involve an extremely pleasurable tingling at the back of my head at the top of my neck, spread between my ears. Less often it occurs in my lower back on the sides of my hips, and in my chest, stomach, and throat.

Internally, I experience ego death, at least a little and sometimes a lot. I view ego death as a spectrum, not a binary, and these episodes definitely push me onto the spectrum. It’s a little bit dissociative (but not really in a ketamine way), with overwhelming feelings of gratitude, increased awareness of sensation, and overwhelming bliss or pain.

Some feelings are harder to describe. There is the sense of a great eye, slowly opening and turning towards me, and it feels like my existence is gouged out by its gaze, like a chasm has opened up inside of me and I look down and there is no bottom, and my skin is prickling up and down I want to scream but I’m too far away to scream and so I just rely on the automatic physical process of gasping.

There is the sense of like… cracks in dry ground, or clouds parting against a bright sky, or water evaporating off a surface, where I am the ground, the clouds, or the water, and I become aware that what was previously an uninterrupted image now has very distinct edges, and that the edges are moving closer and closer towards myself.

I’ve had at least one very intense experience in my life where it felt like the edges consumed me whole and I was gone — the clouds completely vanished — which was accompanied by blindness and total loss of memory and contact with my body. These episodes are not that intense, but they are absolutely on the road in that direction.

My thoughts themselves feel slower, less noisy, and like the spaces in between them are very great. When they do occur, they feel ‘suspended’ — as though my consciousness is thoughts painted on a canvas, and most of my awareness transfers from the painting to the canvas, and the painting becomes less notable, even though it’s still there.

The aftereffects are pretty great. Mutism lasts for 5–20 minutes afterwards, and fades slowly. I usually end up really tired. I feel grounded, centered, more peaceful, and, if I’m struggling with something like insecurity, anxiety, or fear, the episode wholly relieves that for days to weeks afterwards.


 

For how fancy and spiritual it all is, I have a surprising amount of control over where and when it happens.

Do you know that sensation in a lucid dream where you become aware that you’re dreaming? You then might get pretty excited about it, or think a lot about what’s happening, or about the things you want to do in the dream — but the more mental activity you put in, the more likely you are to wake up. So you might find yourself trying to push this awareness to the periphery, to not ‘look’ upon that thought so directly. You’ve gotta sidle up on the dream, casually.

This is an important aspect of how I induce episodes (or how ‘episodes are induced,’ as I rarely feel responsible for it). If I sit down and think very hard “I would like to have an episode now,” it will escape me. I have to perform a mental movement that pulls my awareness into the canvas behind the thoughts, while leaving behind the thoughts themselves. It’s a very ‘periphery’ type of exercise, and really meditative.

But it’s especially triggered when trying to explain my episodes or the type of ‘philosophy’ that makes it more likely to have an episode. The fastest and most reliable trigger is if someone looks at me in a way and context that makes me think that they understand exactly what I’m saying. That look will drop me like a rock, which ends up being pretty confusing for them if they don’t actually understand what I was saying.

A good chunk of what I write about on this blog feels like a gentle cycling around the edges of a vast funnel, like I want to try to point out how reality is sloped ever so slightly, and what might happen if we slow down and let ourselves slide? There’s a thousand angles, and sometimes the slope is right and other times it’s left, but there is only one place to fall.

I used to think doing psychedelics was the same thing as ‘having an episode.’ I thought the higher the dose, the more of an episode people had. It took me a long, confusing time before I figured out that people weren’t always having episodes on psychedelics, and in fact you can have episodes while not on psychedelics. Psychedelics lubes the entry quite a bit, but you’re not going to fall in if you’re still holding on.


 

So I’d like to attempt to describe some mental movements that I think might help induce an episode — or at least ones that induce episodes in myself.

In a similar vein to Mythic Mode, this requires taking on ‘beliefs’ that might seem incorrect, which might feel like asking a foot not to expel a shard of glass. It might help to practice this as taking on a mask, where you step out of your own skin and into a new one, and the more you unite with the new skin, the more powerful the effects of the new beliefs will be.

I feel as though I hold both beliefs (my old set and my ‘episode inducing’ set) simultaneously, and pick one according to usefulness or some unknown whim. They don’t feel as though they contradict, because I’ve abandoned the premise that “there is no Truth but One”.


 

To watch yourself split into a chasm, you must believe:

  1. Time is an illusion.

The universe could have popped into existence a half second ago, preloaded with your brain that feels like it has memories. Your memories, expectations, stresses: all of them exist right now. If you simulated a universe, picked out one single sliver ‘snapshot’ of time, and deleted all the rest, that single silver would feel indistinguishable from your existence right now. This might not be very ‘functional’ to believe, but this isn’t about functionality — it’s about inducing an altered state by changing your narrative about your experience.

  1. Nobody else is conscious.

When you look at your friend or lover and believe that they are aware, what does that belief feel like, as a sensation? You might imagine ‘being them’ and looking out of a different body and feeling a sense of “I”. You might experience different emotions, the different thought patterns that they must have because they react differently from you.

But at the core of it, their awareness rests entirely inside of your own experience. It’s like a dream where you talk intently with another character, where you believe that they must be real, and then upon awakening realize that it was an illusion. In the same way, the people around you are indistinguishable from a dream.

Again, this might not be a very useful belief, but you must believe it in order to let the great eye find you.

  1. You are the creator of reality.

Typically we imagine a great universe with a bunch of rules and history and a future, and we are a small part inside of this whole. We imagine that we have a limited perspective, that we can’t totally sense the world around us, that sometimes we believe false things.

This is a story we use to help us make sense of the feeling of novelty (the feeling of learning something, or of being surprised). But if this is just a story, what is it I’m experiencing right now? What is that couch over there, the music playing, the memories I hold?

Information does not lie in the content, and the meaning of a book does not lie in its pages. To summarize a possibly poorly remembered analogy from Gödel, Escher, Bach, imagine we have a beautiful record player, which plays records. We typically think of the information of the song as resting inside of the record. We play one record and one song comes out, and a different record makes another song come out.

But a genie comes before you and produces a new record player, its insides outfitted with new technology. “This is a more fashionable record player,” it says. You put on one of your familiar records, and find it the player pulls out an entirely different song – and you realize the information doesn’t lie in the record, but in the reading of the record.

Information as a concept is rendered null unless there there is the act of ‘witnessing’, or rendering meaning. It makes as much sense to claim there is a song contained inside of a musical record alone as it does to claim there is information inside of the universe alone. To imagine a universe without a reader might feel useful for things like prediction, but at its core it is an illusion.

So in this sense, you are giving rise to what you witness. To think of anything as meaningful without you is a mental trick. You can’t escape yourself. Thou Art God.


 

These ideas are ones that must be felt more than thought. Look down at your hands. Why are those hands yours? Who is it that is looking at your hands? Pay close attention to the meaning bubbling up as you take in your environment. Feel yourself forming the shape of that tree, or that cup, or your hands. Who is it that is looking at your hands? Feel the sense of identity, this character that you are looking through. Notice the stories that occur in your mind: your memories, the way you are different from others, your preferences and insecurities. Watch them occur as sensations, like a book you’re reading about someone you’ve never met. The thing that is observing is not your character. The thing that watches is not your identity. Who is it that is looking at your hands?

You may be familiar with the Mary’s Room thought experiment, but if you’re not, it goes like this.

Mary is a scientist who has lived her whole life in a black and white room and has never seen color. She is very intelligent and knows everything there is to know (i.e. everything that can be measured like information) or will ever be known about color. At no point can anybody present her with a piece of information that will surprise her.

But one day, Mary goes outside and sees color for the first time. The question is: Does she learn something new?

You can do a lot of things with this experiment, but in this case the point I want to make is that stories about the world (the wavelength of color) can never bridge the gap into being the world itself (experiencing color). Your stories about yourself, everything you know about yourself, will never bridge the gap into what it is to look down at the hands in front of you.

Abandoning everything you know is a form of death. This requires a deep surrender.

Sometimes I fear I won’t come back, but that fear comes from an attachment to my usual story. The more willing I am to never come back, the more easily the great eye finds me.

But I have come back, each time, probably for the same reasons that it’s difficult to maintain a lucid dream. It takes energy to slip into the periphery, and reality probably always comes back. It seems really unlikely that my brain can sustain a state like that for too long.

Plus, time is an illusion anyway.


 

I recently was the subject of a film that captured several of my episodes. It’s not released yet, but you can listen to a podcast with me and the filmmakers here.

And as usual: Nothing I say is true, do not ascribe truth unto my words.

Luna Answers

For those who didn’t know, I’m working with Luna, a blockchain-based dating app. Scott Alexander recently wrote a post about our project, which – along with the comment section – brought up some questions we don’t currently have good published answers for. So here’s some published answers!

This is written assuming you have a basic knowledge of how Luna’s platform works.

 

  1. Why a blockchain? This sounds like you are using it just for the hype factor and not because it actually brings anything to the platform. Why don’t you just use in-app points?
    Compared to other blockchain projects, we have a greater percentage of our focus dedicated to non-blockchain elements, such as marketing, incentive arrangement, and user interface of the platform. We aren’t just a blockchain company, we’re also a dating app company.

    Secondly, I am less interested in the question of the necessity of blockchain and more the question, “Would Luna have a greater chance of success in a world where it used blockchain, compared to a world where it didn’t?” I believe the answer is a resounding yes – based on actual utility of the app, not based on the idea of funding or general blockchain mania.

    Blockchain is just a technology, and it’s the technology best suited to the kind of world we want to create with Luna. There’s lots of small reasons why it is suited – the types of transactions done, the flexibility it allows us, the legal situation – but in my opinion the biggest one is psychological – “capturing the value of the network.”

    This basically means that the value of Luna’s token directly reflects the amount people value Luna itself. This isn’t the case with fiat – spending a dollar on a mega choco shake at McDonalds doesn’t mean anything special about McDonalds – because you could spend that dollar anywhere.

    The same is true with your standard cryptocurrencies, like ETH or LTC. Increased use of a currency also increases the value of all things that use that currency. This is fine for many projects that don’t benefit from a localized network, but for something like a dating app, where there are very explicit network effect pressures, an exchange system that captures value instead of bleeding it starts to make more sense.

    Steemit is a prime example. Crudely described, it’s like Reddit but with tokenized upvotes. This style of community shares a lot in common with dating apps – the more users use it, the more valuable it becomes. The most valuable thing on the platform is attention. Interaction with other users is the end goal.

    Why does Steemit need a token built on blockchain? Well, it probably doesn’t need one – but taking the token out of Steemit would change it deeply, and for the worse. Steemit has become its own ecosystem, an eddy sectioned off from the general flow of money, and this makes users more invested, increases the sense of community, and rewards early or dedicated users.

  2. Isn’t this going to be a sugar baby thing? 

    Integrating money and dating is a really tricky thing to do, and we’ve known from the beginning it’s a delicate balance to strike. We’ve been as careful and as thorough as possible to prevent this becoming anything close to a camgirling, prostitution, or sugar baby platform.

    A user can transfer tokens to another through the messaging system only once, ever. The amount they transfer is not determined by them – they pick the most they’d want to pay, but often what they actually pay will be lower. Tokens are necessarily discounted by compatibility rating. The amount a user receives is fuzzed and payout is delayed, so it’s difficult for people to tell who gave them what.

    Basically, if someone wanted to use Luna for sugary purposes, I suppose they could in theory, but it would take a lot of effort and be very inconvenient, and they’d be silly for not using any of the other many platforms that do it better.


  3. There’s already an imbalance in apps, won’t this just favor the rich? Isn’t this just going to be a bunch of wealthy people dominating the app? 

    Wealthy people will have some advantage in the app, yes – but this advantage is very specific and limited.

    On OKCupid (pre-changes), I got an average of around 14 messages a day. The messages were on a spectrum from unique and engaging to a 21% match spamming “hi beautiful wanna ride me” – and the spectrum was definitely skewed towards the latter. If those people want to waste my time, then I’d love to use a system where I at least get paid for it.

    And with Luna, we intend for it to be largely those people who pay. Once we have enough data for predictions, we plan on giving discounts proportional to the likelihood of response – so the people sending unique and engaging messages to me will have to commit a fraction of the tokens that all the others will.

    So wealthy people will have an advantage on the app – but that advantage will primarily lie in overcoming high cost to message someone incompatible, which means we’ll finally have a system where poor messages are both disincentivized and offset into something palatable.


  4. I don’t think Luna is going to solve my problems on dating apps. 

    If you give a bunch of humans the ability to upload photos of themselves and message each other, you will get an imbalance. Any correction of this imbalance means pressure on behavior, which means there is no possible solution to this where someone isn’t doing something they don’t want at least a little bit.

    I’m not saying that Luna will completely solve the imbalance or that everyone will get what they want. I am saying that I think it will do a better job at solving the imbalances – while also giving people what – they want than any other platform on the market.

  5. This system has dangerously high incentive for scammers. How are you planning to prevent fake accounts and bots? What about real people with no intention of actually using the platform to date? 

    There’s a list of increasingly severe steps we can take depending on the rate of fake users. Here’s a few:

    1. Verifying the user account through social media (hooking up with Facebook)
    2. Verifying the user account through unique photo means (using live-camera only and taking a photograph under specific instructed conditions, i.e., ‘place a hand on your head while sticking out your tongue’)
    3. Requiring additional verification for suspicious activity/accounts via video recording or live video questions
    4. Using information from real-life dates recorded with the Luna app
    5. Displaying behavioral information publicly on a profile – reply quality, rate, and real-life date frequency (fuzzed for privacy; likely a ratio of dates to time spent on platform).

    There’s no foolproof way to prevent someone who is very determined and goes through a lot of work to appear ‘genuine’ on the platform, but we have a lot of ways to make it very inconvenient and reduce the rates to something manageable – for example, identifying users with similar high-suspicion behavior, and grouping them in each other’s feeds and reducing their appearance in others.

  6. You say Luna’s incentives are aligned, but ultimately isn’t Luna still incentivized to keep users on the platform? 

    Luna’s incentives are aligned further down the relationship path than other dating apps are – we get rewarded when people respond to messages, and we also plan to collect data from real-life meetings.

    The total population of single-and-looking (or poly-and-looking!) is growing; it’s not like we meaningfully reduce our user demographic at all by giving them what they want. I think it’s a better long-term strategy to create a platform that absorbs, matches, and then pushes users off the app. Capturing the churn is what’s important, and for every person with a happy Luna success story we get dozens of friends to hear about it.

Getting Smaller and Quieter

Once, when I was lying on the floor in a hotbox of a room, one of my friends was leaving, and she said “Goodbye! I’m going to get smaller and quieter now!”

This was surprising to me at the time, but years later ended up being a great example of the sort of translation I find ideal – view things as close to granular perception as possible.

I don’t think ‘smaller and quieter’ is sheer perception itself, really – you still have to have the constructed concepts about smallness and quietness in the first place – but it’s at least a good stone’s throw down the scale. Here’s some examples of shifting down the spectrum:

* “Killing is evil” —> “Killing makes me feel bad”
* “I prefer objective facts over feelings” —-> “The sense of my beliefs matching something outside of myself is something that makes me feel safe”
* “I am such a disgusting person” —-> “I fear the rejection of others”

The idea is that all upper-level thoughts can be broken down into more basic emotion building-blocks; fear, love, pain, pleasure, etc. – it is the idea that, at the core, thinking is just sensation. It takes exercise to realize this regularly, to have the realization of it continually present in thought. It is not immediately obvious that someone walking away is “getting smaller and quieter”, much in the same way it is not obvious that our preference for “objective facts” is a learned frame to explain “a feeling of predictability.”

Communication feels much easier and covers a broader range with people who tend to shift to the “smaller and quieter” side. The building blocks are easier to share and harder to misinterpret, and if you can communicate more basic sensations, it is easier to trigger corresponding upper-level frames.

Permanent Mental Effects from LSD

These are permanent changes I’ve noticed after doing a fuckton of LSD. It’s been about 3 years since I ‘quit’ (though I still dose about twice a year), and these are the effects that still seem to linger.

Please don’t worry any of these will happen to you if you take LSD once in a while like a sane human being.

 

1. Worse memory. Or, rather, less accessible memory. All the things seem to still be in there, it’s just the queries pull out the wrong thing, or take longer than normal

2. Gaps in thought. Pre acid, ‘thinking’ felt like a tightly wound stitch, or stones in a river very close together, and now they often feel very far apart. I still get to the place I’m going, but a lot of the process of getting there feels like a suspended leap between two points, where I look down and I realize my thought is not beneath me, and I wonder where it went, and I see so much of everything else instead, until suddenly the next piece hits me and I’m like ‘oh yeah.’

The thoughts themselves don’t seem to be affected, but sometimes it makes conversation harder.

3. Feeling less like I am the thing that is thinking my thoughts – especially during periods of intense concentration or problem solving.
I ‘catch myself thinking’ from the outside much more often, in more unexpected circumstances, and during more mentally intensive periods.
Like, normally I am sitting in a glass box, and I’m popping out colorful little ‘reasonings’ and ‘conclusions,’ and of course I know they are popping out *from me* – but then sometimes I find myself standing outside the glass box looking in, and I am surprised to find that the ‘reasonings’ and ‘conclusions’ are continuing to pop out of the empty air where I used to sit. I realize that the “reasonings” and “conclusions” are independent of me, that I’m not the one popping them out.

4. Access to an intense altered mental state that usually lasts around 5-10 minutes. Triggering this generally long-term cures any stress, anxiety, or insecurity I’ve been going through recently. The effort it takes to trigger it is really inconsistent though. I often try to avoid triggering it. Sometimes it happens in dreams.

5. Permanently increased wellbeing in a way it’s hard to put my finger on.

6. Shifts in beliefs about myself, the way I work, the things I’m curious about, epistemics, philosophy, and ethics. These shifts were pretty severe and appear to be permanent. I like these beliefs a lot better.

7. Altered mental reactions to alcohol. Getting drunk now feels like a slightly psychedelic experience to me, which is incredibly weird and makes zero sense. Since acid, while drunk, I am more easily overtaken by awe, more likely to get the outside-the-glass-box feeling, and more in danger of saying cliche hippie phrases.

8. My internal experience and feelings of thought processes are now way more nonverbal, whereas pre-acid I used to be full of ‘words.’ I feel silenced, but not any less quiet.

9. The mental processes I take to explain my own behaviors to myself have shifted drastically – particularly ones surrounding the sense of agency. I rarely use mental movements around ‘sense of agency’ anymore. It’s like a word that’s dropped out of my internal vocabulary.
For example, in point 6 I mention ‘shifts in belief’, and the phrasing implies it ‘happened to me’ – doing LSD rearranged my beliefs. The glass box analogy also supports this – that I am clothed in ideas I did not choose to wear. But I equally could have phrased it as though I did all the choosing – “Doing acid helped me realize x, and I came to conclude z” – and it would still be true.
Whether or not “I did something” or “it was done to me” is no longer a relevant question, internally. I find no important distinction between the two.

10. Existential masochism. The sense of pleasure and pain – in a mental sense – have been seriously churned together. It’s not that pain is any less painful, or that pleasure is any less pleasurable (probably the opposite, really), it’s that they more often coexist, and tend to coexist at greater extremes.

11. Way easier laughter. More things delight me and I’m much quicker to giggle at things, anything. Everything is funny. I’m more easily entertained.

 

Overall I’m glad I did it and would do it again

Dating: Accordions Vs. Sitars

The accordion is much easier than it looks.

Each left handed button is an entire chord, and it’s arranged in an easy-to-memorize pattern. You pick it up, press down, and it booms with harmony. The instrument is constructed that you only need to engage with it minimally to get the song you want out of it.

Similarly, ‘accordion style’ partners are easy to play – engaging in a relationship with them is simple, and you need to engage with them minimally to get the ‘song’ of a good relationship out of them.

Accordion relationships don’t cost you a lot of energy. I don’t mean energy as in ‘they don’t talk a lot,’ I mean energy as in ‘they perform actions that make relationship-specific aspects with them very easy’ – such as excellent communication or being self-motivated about exercise.

Aspects that might bump someone towards the ‘accordion’ side of the spectrum are things like equal status to you, physical and emotional stability, identity independence (separating their self worth from their relationship with you), independent wealth, or their own social network.

The Sitar

Have you ever played a sitar? It’s leagues more difficult than an accordion. Not only do you play one note at a time – no easily organized chords – there are dozens of strings, and just holding the instrument properly is a lesson in itself. The process of using the sitar requires understanding the instrument well, and engaging with it closely is an integral part of making it sing. The accordion may feel like ‘playing a song,’ but a sitar feels like ‘playing the instrument.’

‘Sitar partners are high cost – in that functioning in the relationship takes a lot of energy. Mental or physical disabilities, childhood trauma, poverty, significant introversion, jealousy, or practical dependence can all contribute to being a sitar partner, as maintenance of the person themselves must be done before maintenance of the relationship.

The accordion/sitar spectrum is also not the same thing as casual vs. committed relationships, or compatible vs. incompatible preferences. Casual relationships can still require a lot of energy, and incompatible preferences can take very little energy to handle, if lubricated with good communication and self awareness.

Now, this might start to sound like I’m calling Accordions ‘desirable and good’ and Sitars ‘undesirable and bad’,

but I want to steer away from that sharply. Inheriting a lot of money from a relative might push someone towards the ‘Accordion’ side of the spectrum, and getting into a car accident might push them towards the ‘Sitar’ side – frequently a partner’s cost is affected by things entirely outside of their control, and having these things happen to a partner probably doesn’t affect how much the relationship is ‘worth it’ or how much you love them.

The benefits of Accordion partners might sound ideal, almost romantic, but I think a lot of people find relationships to be like the Sitar – it’s only fun when it’s hard.

Sitar partners have the ability to provide an intense sense of specialness – if they require a lot of energy to date, then you are set apart from others more distinctly by being the one to spend that energy. Not just anybody could/would spend all this energy! They also lure in people who feel they need to feel like they must work hard to feel like they deserve love from the other person.

There may also be a greater sense of satisfaction and meaningfulness when progression is made in the relationship. And often, the sense of ‘suffering with someone’ is tragically romantic and incredibly bonding – often we feel sharing our pain is a core component of achieving intimacy, and comforting a suffering partner – and being comforted by them in turn – can make you feel fused to each other so completely that it soothes that gnawing itch of constant aloneness. Such is the appeal of unhealed wounds.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone explicitly verbalize that they are looking for a partner who will cost them a lot of energy, but it seems very obvious from observation. For example, a few years ago I watched the dating life of one of my old roommates – she shifted through a lot of attractive, easy-to-date men, only to end up disappearing to love/take care of someone who was extremely high cost – aggressive and neurotic, with a few mental disorders. It took me a while to realize that she hadn’t been duped – she was doing this deliberately, and this is what she wanted. She didn’t date him in spite of the fact he was a Sitar, she dated him because of it.

I don’t think that any pairing of Sitar/Accordion Sitar/Sitar Accordion/Accordion is bad at all, but it does seem difficult for people who’ve ended up in the relationship rather accidentally, and not because they were actively seeking it like my old roommate actively sought it.

I’ve seen a few people who prefer Sitar partners date an Accordion partner and end up a bit unsatisfied. Usually their complaint (not explicitly verbalized!) is that of lack of passion – their Accordion partner is a little boring, or just friendly, or cold. And the other way around is just as bad – people who prefer Accordion partners are unhappy when they date Sitar partners, and the experience for them is exhausting and often feels like an unnecessary distraction, or a chore.

I think that often, in both of these scenarios, the people would still say their relationship is ‘worth it.’ Once you cross the familiarity threshhold, there’s no going back really until other factors break the relationship down from the inside, or they deal with it and grow old and die. The best cure is prevention.

This is why I think learning to explicitly identify the kind of labor you want to put into a relationship –

without judging that desire at all – would be very useful, because then you can avoid getting into a mismatched relationship in the first place. This may be difficult, as I suspect most people would tell themselves they want an Accordion one, because that seems like the ‘right’ answer.

I think the reason for this is that Sitar relationships tend to feature more intense points of unhappiness, and there’s a big “unhappiness is bad” narrative going on, and it’s nearly taboo to say “unhappiness can be fulfilling and meaningful.” Go watch a tragic movie goddamnit.

And sometimes people who want a Accordion relationship end up dating a Sitar partner – often because they feel that they would be a bad person if they let the difficulties affect their love for someone, or out of a sense of duty, or an unawareness that Accordion partners are an available option, or because they failed to recognize early enough that their partner was a Sitar. I usually see this in people who are so passively nice it ends up being a defensive maneuver. I belong in this category.

Basically, my point is make sure you research the instruments you buy beforehand, so you can learn to recognize signs of whether it will easily make you a beautiful song or if it will make you bleed as it slowly absorbs into your flesh and you don’t know anymore whether it is you or the instrument who is shedding those tears.
But hey, I respect the intensity.

“Me Too”: on Sexual Assault

I want to preface this by emphasizing that I in no way want to trivialize experiences people have had as victims of sexual assault. All feelings are valid, and it’s ok to feel hurt even at something that might seem trivial to others.

 

People on my Facebook and Twitter are posting “me too,” which is meant to indicate that they’ve been victims of sexual assault. The comments talk about how rampant abuse is, and I’ve read many anecdotes over the last few days of experiences that have left people living in a state of fear. “The world is not safe for us,” seems to be the message.

 

I felt weird and confused, because I have never felt this, despite having been a sex worker and living in a lot of different cities. I’ve generally felt quite safe my entire life, and never really witnessed this systemic harassment that I see people talk about. I don’t know what’s going on – how is it that everyone’s getting abused around me and I’m left untouched and ignorant to this? I started to write a post about this.

 

But then I remembered – I actually was a victim of sexual assault. There were many instances in my life that might qualify – I was molested as a child, stalked and chased in deserted streets, groped at a party, forced into a nonconsensual handjob, kissed without consent, and I still receive mildly concerning messages from a few very dedicated people. Also let’s not forget catcalling whenever I go outside alone wearing anything form-fitting.

 

So, I could also post “me too,” if I wanted! But posting it still didn’t feel right. Remembering these things didn’t make me feel less safe – in fact I had actually completely forgot about a few of the events up until this point. I never really considered them an issue.

 

I think this is because very few of the events made me feel afraid for my life or well being. The forced sexual contact was really annoying and uncomfortable, but I wasn’t afraid they would hurt me, and I think on a gut level I don’t view ‘having my hand shoved onto a dick’ as much different than ‘having my hand shoved onto a forearm.’ It was mostly uncomfortable because of social anxiety – I wasn’t sure how to effectively communicate without ruining my social ties later on.

 

The only thing that left lasting impact was being chased through Istanbul’s deserted streets by a hooded man – to this day I have trouble walking alone at night, even in safe areas. But I never really considered this part of a systemic problem – I don’t know if he wanted to rape or mug me, but both of those things seemed equally physically threatening, and I know several other people who’ve been mugged, most of them men, and I sort of classed it as just an unfortunate thing that happens sometimes. I never once thought of this as having to do with rape (or mugging) culture, and more thought of it as “sometimes psychopaths get born, and sometimes I’m in the wrong place at the wrong time.” I don’t feel like a victim.

 

I have a weirdly high resilience to these experiences, but I don’t want to insinuate that those who don’t are weak. I did not choose to be unaffected, and it’s likely that the reasons for this are random factors in my childhood, or a genetic balance of brain chemicals, or something different and unknowable. I am not stronger, I take absolutely no credit, I just happened to find myself in this position.

 

But with the “Me Too” campaign, I felt a pressure to view the things that had happened to me as part of this ‘systemic abuse’ narrative, as important somehow, as something I should be more upset about. Was there something wrong with me for being so unaffected by sexual assault? Should I get more angry? The idea of offering up my experiences as part of the cause felt sort of appealing, like I was special.

 

And the problem here is that if I did choose to label my experiences as something important and troubling, that I would become unhappier and more fearful. People who view their experiences as important and troubling seem to also have a lot of distress associated with it, and it seems like it would be an improvement if they could reach a mental state where they no longer saw them as important and troubling.

 

I’m not at all saying they are failing by “Me Too”ing their experience, only that the state of “Me Too”ing is more unpleasant than a state without labels – and more importantly, that the “Me Too” program might actually increase the amount people feel their experience has been traumatic for them. I’m reminded of my experience leaving home. I was raised a homeschooler in an incredibly sheltered environment by an abusive father. The experience itself really sucked, and was very uncomfortable, but I did not assign it a special label. I didn’t know that my experience was special or important – until I left home and started talking to people from the outside world.

 

People reacted in horror when I mentioned things from my childhood that I thought were normal and common. They said things like, “are you okay? How are you coping?”. As I integrated with my new culture, I took on the horror they felt about my childhood. I started to feel horrified at what I had gone through, and this caused me pain at least as great as the experience had been itself. I felt like I was living with a gaping wound in my chest. I felt injustice and crippling rage and suffered through nightmares for years. I defined myself as a victim, and thus I felt like a victim.

 

I would not have been able to heal without shedding my label and the narrative about what I had gone through. The label and the narrative helped me adjust to my new culture, but it also locked me into suffering. I no longer consider myself a victim, and as a result I no longer suffer like a victim.

 

Now, I’m not necessarily arguing that people shouldn’t have reacted in horror. I think probably rejecting my upbringing as ‘deeply not right’ was super important for integrating into a healthier perspective, and I think to some extent suffering from an updated narrative was inevitable – but I do wish deeply, at some point, that someone would have told me to not make it special. I wish someone would have told me that I should feel and process whatever pain I need to feel, but to refuse to give it an identity, to refuse to make it part of me. I wish at least one person would not have reacted with horror. I wish someone had told me this didn’t need to be a story about the poor abused Christian girl who must feel the way a poor abused Christian girl should feel.

 

And in the same way, I sort of want to reach out to the people saying Me Too and I want to tell them that it’s okay to hurt, but this doesn’t have to be anything special. It can just be pain, and then healing. I’m afraid that the cultural attitude that sparks Me Too will lock people into the pain.

 

Please realize I’m not necessarily making an argument against the “Me Too” campaign. It’s very possible that the benefits are greater than this cost, especially in a world where sexual assault is a hidden harm – but I wanted to introduce the concept that going about it this way might also have a cost. I don’t know if Me Too is a net benefit or not, but I see nobody discussing the potential downsides, and I feel a cultural pressure not to. There’s a reason I’m posting this here on my blog and not on my social media.

 

It’s just, despite having a list of ways in which people have sexually abused or harassed me, I am happy. I don’t feel any urge to label those experiences. I don’t feel afraid, and I feel completely free. I want others to know that this is possible, and that maybe one path is by rejecting the urge to put those experiences into a storyline that designates them as special.

Tripsitting Tips and Tricks

This is written mostly for higher doses of acid, usually 200ug+, where a tripsitter may become seriously needed. This is all written with the assumption that you’ll be indoors, which is strongly recommended unless the person tripping has a lot of experience with the dose they’re taking.

1. Don’t try to interact with them too much.
Tripping people are closer to children. You won’t be able to communicate any normal adult things with them, they won’t always understand the questions you ask, and the experience they’re having is so different from yours that trying to talk to them will be more trouble than it’s worth. The amount of mental effort they need to put into understanding what you’re saying will be more distracting than useful.

2. Your role is parental. 
You’re there to serve as a buffer between them and the scary world around them. Answer the door, take their phone, give them coloring books and glasses of water. Asking what they want usually won’t help and will be distracting – instead of asking them if they want water, or to hold your hand, just give them a glass of water and see if they refuse, or take their hand and watch how they react.

3. Reassurance
If they ask what’s going on, tell them, literally and exactly: “You took some acid about 3 hours ago, and we just got back from the walk. Now you’re in my house and we’re sitting on the couch.” You may need to tell them what’s going on repeatedly, but even with repeated questioning they usually still want the same literal answer, over and over again.  If they insist that something is going on that isn’t, for example “I need to give you this object so you can go back in time,” don’t tell them they’re wrong. Play along. They will probably forget what they’re doing soon.  They might be insisting on something false that is causing them a lot of discomfort, such as “my family hates me.” Don’t tell them they’re wrong, just listen. If it’s getting serious, you can try to redirect them, but don’t push back directly. For example, “your family doesn’t hate you” is not very good, but “your family took you out to dinner and hugged you last week” is better.

4. Language
Use very simple words and short sentences. Speak slowly and clearly. When tripsitting I talk to them the exact same as I do to children. They may be experiencing auditory hallucinations, and so will have trouble hearing what you’re saying. Their attention span will almost definitely be shortened, so they won’t be able to follow along complex concepts that require multiple points of data. More ideally, communicate with them physically, by demonstrating things with your body, using your face, pointing or laughing, or even drawing.

5. When not to comfort
Don’t ask them if they’re okay. You want to allow them to process things without worrying that they’re distressing you, so don’t act distressed or like you’re trying to fix the situation. Allow them to suffer if they need to. If they’re in pain, or sobbing, don’t say anything. Hug them if you think they might want that, or put a hand on their back. If a sad song is on and they’re obviously affected by it, don’t stop the song unless they ask for it (rather make sure a more happy song plays next, if you think that’s what they want; keep in mind they may want deliberately painful songs.)

6. When to comfort
If they’re experiencing fear, this is the time to comfort. They trust you (hopefully), and their ability to read minute body language is probably heightened, so make very sure that your body language remains calm and your smile gentle, even if you are stressed or worried. This is maybe the most important thing, to act as a stable and calm center for them to use to reassure themselves. No matter what, never allow them to see concern, even if you are actually concerned. But again, be careful of directly contradicting things they say. Redirect, don’t tell them they’re wrong. Don’t try to debunk any delusions they might develop.

7. Loops
Sometimes people get caught in loops, typically between 5-60 seconds, where they will repeat the same series of phrases or ideas over and over again. This is usually easy to handle – if they’re upset, they’ll forget in a few seconds, which means they’ll have trouble actually acting out on being upset. Figure out the things to say to reassure them. I recently tripsat someone who thought his hand was bleeding, and every 30-60 seconds he would say ‘am I bleeding?’, and every 30-60 seconds I told him he wasn’t bleeding. This went on for hours.

8. Mania
Some people, on high doses, lose contact with reality and become loud, aggressive, or just generally super physically active. This is really annoying to handle, because it’s extremely difficult to get these people to take vallium or whatever helps them calm down, and so usually you just have to ride it out. Never tripsit someone who is bigger than you, if you are alone. Be prepared to call a friend to help deal with them. Sitting on someone at this point to prevent physical damage is generally not troubling to the person tripping, as they’re probably going to experience memory loss and aren’t really that aware that you’re sitting on them, even if they say things like ‘get off.’ Thought loops at this point usually tend to be 5-10 seconds long.

9. Paranoia
They might not trust you, or think you’re from the CIA or something. This particularly pops up when you’re in charge of their belongings, such as their phone or keys. This is very difficult to deal with. If the paranoia gets to the mania stage, just sit on them and then you’re good. If they’re not manic, be sure to act very calm, not very defensive, and as gentle as possible. Your goal here is not to eliminate their paranoia, but to keep them calm until it ends. A possible technique here is to ask them questions about what they’re paranoid about – if they accuse you of being in the CIA, try to gently ask them what it means to be in the CIA, why they think that, and followup questions about whatever they are saying. Getting them to express their opinions is a good distraction.

10. Timing
You want to wait to see how intense a trip will be before taking them outside, and for this I generally recommend waiting 3-4 hours, assuming by that point they aren’t showing any signs of increasing the trip. I have seen trips get more intense after this point, though this is rare. You should start to see a comedown around 5-6 hours, though this can occasionally last as long as 8-9 hours.

11. Don’t fuck with them
Seriously, this is one of the cruelest things you can do. If you don’t understand why you shouldn’t, you need to take a high dose of acid. If you wouldn’t do it to a 4-year-old, don’t do it to the vulnerable person trusting you to care for them.

12. Beneficial tricks
These are mostly to use for anxiety or fear, not for sadness (you should not try to stop sadness!). Scenery change (from one room to the other, lights on or off, or music changing) can be extremely effective.  If they’re of a state of mind to follow instructions, try to have them sit cross legged with their back straight, and guide them in deep breaths. Mostly demonstrate this in front of them and gently encourage them to follow, but don’t worry or say anything if they just start rolling around or something.

13. Body quirks
Acid is extremely safe. People may experience temperature fluctuations, numbness, limb shaking, jitteriness, fast heart rate, nausea, or headaches. This is normal (unless they’re symptoms of an unrelated condition that happens to be striking at the same time). Be prepared to reassure them for any weird things their body does. The only real danger is environmental damage (if they run into a glass table, for example).

Up and Down Definitions

A tribesman from a hot place points at what you’re wearing. “What is that?”

“A jacket,” you say.

“What is a jacket?” he asks.

What he wants to know is the purpose for which the jacket is used, and so you tell him “It keeps me warm. It protects me from the sun. It is very fashionable.”

A computer compiling information about the world is trying to fill in gaps in knowledge. It scans you and asks “what is that?”

“A jacket,” you say.

“What is a jacket?” the computer asks.

What the computer wants to know is what it matches to most closely in its existing stored knowledge. You tell it, “It is like a trenchcoat, a sweater, a coat, or a hoodie.”

An alien artist is unfamiliar with the structure of your world. It gestures its tendrils at you and asks “what is that?”

“A jacket,” you say.

“What is a jacket?” the alien asks.

What the alien wants to know is what it is that gives rise to the jacket, what the essence of jacketness is. You tell it, “It is a bunch of pieces of fabric stitched together with some thread.”

These are three ways in which a word can be ‘defined’ – the role it plays in the world around it (the up-definition), synonyms (lateral-definition), and the parts which construct the thing (down-definition).

Generally speaking, up-definitions are the most commonly used and the most practical. What we want to know about an object is what we can do with it. The same is applied to concepts – Love is “the thing we have for our children or parents,” surprise is “the thing that happens at a birthday you thought everyone forgot about,” and “existence” is “all this stuff you’re looking at.”

Up-definitions is also one of those things that can ‘feel like’ a satisfactory answer when what you really need is a down-definition. Discussions about morality frequently fall into the up-definition trap, where everybody’s idea of ‘wrong’ is a strictly functional thing, and then people get into conflicts over why different functional ideas are clashing with each other.

I’ve seen a few discussions of free will that also fail to recognize down-definitions; the up definition of free will is something like ‘making decisions independently’ or ‘conscious choices’ – or lateral definitions like “agency” or “my soul.” To ask about a down-definition is to ask about the fabric and thread of free will, about what little bits that idea has been built out of. Generally the down-definition I like the best is “a specific subjective sense”.

Up-definitions are useful, but down-definitions aid in presenting a more cohesive idea of what your mind is doing when it thinks. With some concepts it’s difficult to put any down-definition into words, but paying attention to the feeling of thinking about the concepts can also suffice.

Probably all concepts we use are built out of many smaller concepts, and those built out of smaller still, and oftentimes we forget this so deeply that as soon as we identify an idea like free will, we view it and wield it as a solid unit, and our debates with others feature challenging how our solid units serve functionally in the world around us. It’s like knowing how to swordfight without any knowledge of what swords are made out of – it works just fine, but it’s not holistic, and might one day prevent advancing to an expert level.

 

 

The Abyss of Want

disclaimer: this post is very silly and should not be taken seriously if you don’t take it seriously

If you ask the question ‘what do you want,’ and then follow it up with an infinite series of ‘why do you want that’, and ‘well why do you want that?’, it quickly gets murky.

When I took acid, my primary (goal?) activity was learning and fulfilling what I wanted. I realized that I wanted to become more confident. To fulfill this, I had to then realize what I actually wanted was to avoid the pain of rejection. To fulfill this, I had to then realize what I actually wanted was to know myself more. To fulfill this, there was more to know, and more to do, and more to know…
Over time I progressed down each rung of the ladder, shedding bits of myself each step, until I got to what I thought was the bottom. I thought it was the bottom for a long time. It went like this:

“I want nothing. I am nothing. I know nothing. I am no one. I have no attachment, because there is no one to have it. There are no beliefs. There is no difference between what ought to be and what is.”

I had wanted to fulfill my wants. The fulfillment of want meant the abolition of want, for a fulfilled want is no longer a want at all – and such was the floor of the abyss. In full self knowledge, there was nothing else to look for.

I was a mess of contentment. I was nothing, I was dead.

The experience of being dead is a funny thing to think about, because we always substitute something in to serve as a model for ‘death.’ We think about being huddled in a dark room forever, or sleeping, or the loss of everything we loved, or a great cloaked figure with a scythe, or our loved ones who’ve passed – but death isn’t any of these things. As soon as you think about “what death is,” you aren’t thinking about death at all, you’re thinking about an experience that you might have. What “death is” is every experience you are not having, right now, and haven’t before, and will never have again.

Subjective death, by its own definition, is impossible to understand, and that which is definitionally incomprehensible is synonymous with nonexistence.

I’m attempting to explain the reason why the floor of the abyss was not the end. Life is inevitable. The movement away from nothingness is an absolute necessity.

The floor opened up and I fell (because falling was an absolute necessity) to a level that looked familiar. And it was here that I realized that moving away from wanting nothing meant that now I had to want something, because what else is there?

I wanted to feel tension again, answerless and longing. I wanted to unknow what I had learned. I didn’t want to feel the benevolent god of my own watching eye, in all its infinite love, destroying my ability to feel unsatisfied – because being something again meant being unsatisfied.

I was back at the beginning, and it was here I saw that the abyss of want was a circle.

This realization was deeply humbling. A good friend once told me that the very last trap on the path to enlightenment is thinking that you are enlightened, and this has come back to knock me down again and again. The circle brought me right back around to where I had been before, to where everyone else had already been all this time. What I’d ‘truly’ wanted was to feel desire, and everyone else had already been doing it. I felt a little sheepish, that I’d had the audacity to think my chase had been better than anyone else’s. Everyone I’d looked down on, even a little – deeply religious people, shallow people, angry people, ‘overly rational’ people – they were all exactly where I was, desiring things even more than I was. They were the ones who had beaten me to my destination, without even moving.

Enlightenment is a great joke. Enlightenment is nothing at all. I am something now, clinging hard to somethingness, and so I am not enlightened. Neither are you, or any other something in existence; really, you should only try to go get enlightened if you are fond of great jokes.

How Taboo Are These Sexual Fetishes?

 

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The correlation between tabooness and sexual interest was statistically significant at p < 0.01.

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