A Mild Solipsism Party

A common way of thinking about the self is something like the following: “My consciousness comes from a brain, and that brain is a product of evolutionary pressures. I am a small creature inside an expansive reality. I cannot perceive reality directly – I make constructions that I hope correspond to it – but it is there. I want to believe true things, if and only if they correspond to the reality outside of myself.

This isn’t wrong, because it’s very useful, and gives us things like object permanence and the ability to understand what doritos are – but useful is not always satisfying. This viewpoint feels deeply unsatisfying to me, incomplete, like someone has made a really wonderful and sturdy building, but has forgotten about the outdoors.

What I’m not saying is a lot. I’m not saying the reality framework is a bad building, or that I’m presenting a bigger and better building. I’m not presenting a framework, even though I need to use what sounds like a framework to present it. I’m not presenting anything useful or goal oriented. I’m writing this out of play, and I am ultimately saying nothing. Do not ascribe truth unto my words.

Maybe this sounds like nonsense, or maybe you sense something of a hint. The thing I’m attempting to undermine is something so basic and far-reaching that it’s often forgotten as a construction. My request to you is to read the following as though it’s a riddle, not a series of arguments to be refuted, despite its alluringly argument-like shape. The answer is not something you decode with your concept-body of construction and storytelling; you cannot uncover it as an answer to hold in your hands and rotate, as something with a boundary. If you find yourself attempting to solve this, to ‘get at’ something, simply be aware of this attempt.


A concept is..

You can hang a painting on the wall and treat it like a singular item, much like we treat the concept of consciousness as one thing. But if we’re rolling up our sleeves and going ham on the nearest philosopher, this will get us into trouble. The hard problem of consciousness is an obvious example of trouble, as well as all the weird wibbly wobblies around philosophical observation and self.

A concept or thought is, at the most fundamental level, a connection between two points. One thing is ‘like’ another. An idea is given boundaries by its difference from other ideas.
It exists in context. Weird Al’s song White And Nerdy is only meaningful to me because its elements are so different from others, and because it has connections to other thoughts, like my memory of when I wrote and rapped its parody Brown And Hindu in a college religion class and somehow still got an A.

In this sense, a concept cannot possibly exist in isolation, or encompass the whole. In conceiving “of everything,” you’ve defined it – you can write down “THE SET OF EVERYTHING,” and it might seem satisfying until someone comes along and writes a +1 after it and asks if it was really everything without that +1. To hold a concept in your mind at all is by nature giving it a boundary; in other words, a concept is a boundary placement.


A concept is not…

A big problem with consciousness is that something about it seems to be not-a-concept.

Mary’s Room is a great example. To summarize, a scientist named Mary is trapped in a colorless box and spends an infinity of time learning about color – light waves, measurements, brains, eyes, etc. She can recite every fact perfectly. There is no more information for her to learn.
The question is – when she steps outside and sees color for the first time, does she experience something new?

If we say no, we’re saying that all of our existence is made of concepts, because we’re considering the experience of color to be something you can get by learning facts about experience. If we say yes, we’re saying that something about our existence is not made out of concept, or is fundamentally inaccessible by concept, which some find a little weird or unnerving. I’ve set up shop in the Yes camp, and you’ll have to step in here if you want to do business.

The concept of consciousness is something very specific: it is a boundary placement around a type of pattern. The pattern is roughly “things that are similar to me.”

Often people say the pattern is “a sufficient brain with certain conditions“, but people have lots of unclear disagreements about this. Are brains simulated in a computer, conscious? What about brains simulated on paper? What about p-zombies? Are other types of ‘brains’ we can’t recognize capable of producing consciousness? What are jellyfish, even? Plants? Do plants hate your metal music?

I don’t mean that these aren’t good questions, just that “things that are similar to me” seems like the smoothest, densest rule. Imagining a violation of it feels weird – what’s a world where we understand consciousness such that we might deem a stop sign with more awareness than a dog? What sort of system would be necessary to make that work? Perhaps we’ve detected neurons in the stop sign that light up when we walk by, and we’ve discovered that good ol’ Spot is mechanical and running the same loop over and over and we’re actually a little bit slow and had just been projecting love onto him for the last eight years. But even this means that dynamic reactivity – a thing we feel deeply in ourselves – becomes the metric for consciousness, and we’re back to “things that are similar to me.

This is a side hill I don’t want to die on – my point is that there is a “concept of consciousness,” which is a very distinct thing and has boundaries and things can either fall in line with it (e.g., your neighbor) or not (e.g., your mom).


Paint and Canvas

This concept of consciousness is very much like the paint making up an image on the canvas. It’s a representation of a recognizable thing. I’m going to call this concept of consciousness Paintiousness, for which I immediately offer the deepest of apologies.

We can recognize Paintiousness by a few things. We can ascribe Paintiousness to multiple subjects, sort of like we’re blessing them with a mystical light. We can drink alcohol in group houses and debate which subjects we think have Pantiousness and how much. Some of us don’t eat animals, because we believe they shine with Pantiousness (though maybe more dimly) – and thus are under sacred protection. On a core level, though, the existence of Pantiousness is uncertain. Maybe this is a simulation, or a dream? Maybe you all are p-zombies? When we imagine this, the lights around us go dark, and it feels scary.
Pantiousness is the boundary placement around the pattern “things that are similar to me“, and, in a way, believing someone else is conscious is when we find them as a mirror, flashing our own conscious light back at us.

Paint only really works if you put it on something, which brings us to the canvas – consciousness that is not ‘concept of consciousness,’ but rather the thing that you have, right now, reading this screen – the thing that gave an all-knowing Mary the novel experience of color. I’m going to call it Canvasciousness, with a slightly less but still substantial amount of sheepishness.
If paint is boundary placement – concepts – then canvas is the thing which is doing the boundary placement. You can’t think about the canvas – or, you can, but thinking about the canvas is really just painting an image of the canvas onto the canvas.

A few ways to know if your canvas is just an image is to test to see if it has some of the properties of Paintiousness. Is it multiple? Is it fundamentally uncertain? Can there be degrees of it? If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, you’re not holding Canvasciousness, you’re holding Paintiousness.
In fact, you can’t even hold Canvasciousness, so stop trying. These words do not hold Canvasciousness. Canvasciousness is the thing that happens when you LOOK DOWN AT YOUR HANDS. It is necessarily singular, because multiplicity requires boundary between things, and we all know boundaries belong to team Pantiousness.

Canvasciousness is fundamentally certain. Even if this is a simulation and everyone else is p-zombies, there’s still something happening when you LOOK DOWN AT YOUR HANDS. Canvasciousness, without boundary, is infinite – an inconceivable, boundless thing, undeniably present, and absolutely undoubtable. This is what people sometimes mean when they say I Am God.

Conversations about consciousness frustrate me constantly, because people take Paintiousness and Canvasciousness and mix them up like they’re one thing. To me, this seems to be the source of all confusion around the nature of consciousness.

“But Aella,” you might say, “you’re really just talking about qualia here, which isn’t that new. We know a lot of things about qualia – what brain states make what qualia happen.”

“No,” I might say. “I mean, yes. Qualia is a word that means subjective sensation, but it’s littered with too many bad associations for my preference. People talk about your qualia vs. my qualia, and that’s not something that makes sense with the word Canvasciousness. There is no “Your Canvasciousness,” because it’s singular and only I have it.”

“What do you mean only you have it? I’m pretty conscious,” you might say. “I’m like, really sure about that. I’m LOOKING AT MY HANDS and everything, and they are definitely right there. Sure, you’re Canvascious, but you can’t tell me I’m not Canvascious too.”

“I am Canvascious, and Canvasciousness is necessarily singular,” I say.

“That’s weird and solipsist and weird,” you say. “Are you trying to convince me I don’t exist?”

“I don’t think so. Remember that we’re talking about Canvasciousness here, which, as a boundariless non-concept, isn’t something we can actually talk or think about, so it doesn’t adhere to the same sorts of rules around language, which is why buddhist koans are so damn annoying. But basically, multiple people can say “I am Canvascious,” with Canvasciousness being singular, without this leading to a contradiction.”

“This doesn’t make much sense.”

“I understand. Let’s try another thing – imagine you’re dreaming a very realistic dream. None of this actually ties into an external reality. Now – who am I?”

“You’re a character in my dream.”, you say.

“Yes – and the essence of me is basically the essence of you. Your sense of self can really be a flexible thing, and if you expand it to include all that you witness, if you shift the boundaries of your identity, then all claims of canvasciousness belong to you.”

“This seems a little mind warpy, or word-gamey. You’re saying it’s not a contradiction because you’re redefining the terms “I” and “self” and “me.” But I have a feeling of ownership and identity when I say ‘I am canvascious,’ and I have no feeling of ownership or identity when you say it. No matter what you say or how you play with the terms, I still feel a difference and that feeling is real.”

“You’re associating the claim “I am canvascious” with your sense of ownership and identity, which means you’re treating canvasciousness as something inherent to that which you own and identify with. This is a key point, here – this association is something that can be lost. Your sense of who you are – the traits that make you unique – are all, at their core, a series of models, concepts, boundary placements. If you pay attention to canvasciousness fully, and abandon those boundaries, then you will lose that association. Multiple claims of canvasciousness do not contradict each other when the boundaries of yourself are erased.”


The Useless Idea of Truth

We usually handle truth like this: We imagine some sort of large reality around us as it is purely; untouched and unfiltered by our fallible brains skewed by millennia of evolution. And we imagine ourselves in this reality, as the fallible brain skewed by millennia of evolution. And our fallible brain holds an image of the pure world around us. It matches up in some ways, and in other ways it doesn’t. Maybe it matches up in no ways at all. If the images match up, then we say the claim our brain is making is true. If they don’t match up, then we say the claim our brain is making is false.

In this case, both the pure world and our image of ourselves within the pure world are both taking place inside our image of the world. The idea of an external reality is a concept, something that lets us feel the sense of predictability and control.

We might try to explain this in terms of evolution and our brain (e.g., we evolved to simulate external reality) – but no matter what sort of explanation we have to address our perception of truth, that explanation itself lies within our imagination and our subjective assumption that truth is external (e.g., the idea of evolution requires the assumption that an external world featuring evolution does exist). It is circular – you cannot argue for external existence without first assuming external existence.

One counterargument is the sensation of surprise – “if everything is me, where does new information come from?”

This is a question we can break down quite a lot. Surprise is the sensation of encountering new information, which happens all the time on minute levels. All experience seems to be built out of novelty. When you stare at the wallpaper too long, it fades away.

And so the question becomes, if the ‘new’ information is not separate from myself, and everything is me, why am I not omniscient? My response to this would be that it is impossible to be omniscient – that this is an oxymoron. To have ‘complete’ experience would be to experience no change or contrast, because a movement from one state to another means that not both were experienced simultaneously; if you experienced both simultaneously, then there would be no contrast. Experience without contrast is not experience, and that which does not experience is not you.

So we might feel surprise and say “there is something else out there,” which is a model that gives us the feeling of predictability and is very pleasing – but this does not mean that the concept in your mind of an external reality is anything more than an concept in your mind. No matter how convincing the painting of the canvas is, the canvas itself is what is fundamental.

“Okay,” you say, “what does this have to do with the whole ‘you’re a dream character’ thing?”

“I’m saying that reality is, at its core, a framework, and that you are its author. To hold this authorship inside of yourself means that when I shout “I am canvascious!”, it is an experience grown out from the singular canvas – yours.”

“You’re talking about ‘my’ canvas. What about your canvas?”

“Yeaaah, I know. The poetry of the thing would be more elegant if I only used possessive pronouns when referring to the canvas, but that might get a little confusing at this point. I don’t actually believe you have a canvas, don’t worry.”

“That part’s weird to me too. I don’t really understand why Canvasciousness isn’t something multiple people can have – or, I guess, why there can’t be multiple canvases,” you say.

“You’re modeling Canvasciousness as an entity separate from the self. Really, the problem is that you’re modeling it at all. Modeling Canvasciousness is just painting an image of a canvas onto the canvas and finding it weird and arbitrary that you supposedly can’t paint two.

“Okay,” you might say, “but I’m not talking about painting multiple canvases. I’m talking about that canvas beneath it. Why can’t both of us have two separate, fundamental canvases?”

“Because the separation of canvases, if you pay attention, is just the concept of the separation of canvases, and as we know, once you’re doing concepts to it, it’s no longer LOOKING DOWN AT YOUR HANDS. Besides, it sounds like you’re modeling a world outside yourself where two separate canvases could occur. Remember that the universe is a just a painting on your canvas. It’s a useful painting, sure, but ultimately the fundamental property of the universe is you, not the story you have about it.”

“Are you just trying to convince me that I’m dreaming up the universe and nothing is real? Solipsism isn’t very interesting or useful.”

“To be fair, I did imply early on that usefulness was not the goal – satisfyingness was. Right now a lot of the discourse around consciousness is done with a narrow purpose and with a narrow model, which serves ‘usefulness’ well, but leaves us with confusing paradoxes and the Hard Problem of consciousness. My point is to demonstrate that Paintiousness and Canvasiousness are things we have the option of treating separately when we talk about this stuff.”


What Nothingness Gives Us

You can’t suffer without believing that what is, ought not be. Getting punched in the gut by sole, lonely authorship over reality is a way to rearrange, on an extraordinarily base level, the sense of pain, injustice, and insecurity. Solipsism in this way might not give you greater understanding of science, but it can smooth out the sandpaper walls of existence.

The fact I’m typing this is absolutely absurd.

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.

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. I’ve written more extensively about this here.

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

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.


Disclaimer: I have a spectrum of posts, from “thoughtfully laid out to attempt to appeal to people who disagree” to “more quickly summarized to appeal to people who already at least partially agree with me.” This post is in the second category.

I want to contribute another word to my pile of cheesy invented terms: bonsciousness.

One of my pet peeves is people confusing questions about consciousness. I’ve seen “can we ever scientifically solve the hard problem of consciousness?” uttered just a few sentences away from talking about “what is the origin of qualia.” Consciousness is a fascinating problem for reasons that render those questions useless, but in order to make this more clear I want to divide the one concept into two.

“Consciousness” is the word we (should?) use for the conceptual model we have of “other things being self aware.” When we ask the question, “how do we know if an AI should be treated ethically?” we’re probably asking if the AI is conscious. The P-Zombie thought experiment has to do with whether or not other beings contain this elusive “consciousness” quality.

Consciousness can’t be known for sure, as we could be in a simulation where everyone else just behaves very convincingly, or a dream where we are absolutely convinced that we are talking to an intelligent friend, despite them just being a projection of our own minds.

When we handle the concept ‘consciousness,’ we’re usually handling something like the concept of ‘how much do we feel that other beings exhibit patterns that we uniquely identify with’ – as in, we might think an AI is conscious if it can do things like “use language creatively.”

The key concept of consciousness is that it is something that can be applied to multiple things. There can be multiple consciousnesses, whatever it means or however sure we are of it existing. Multiple awarenesses feel like it makes sense, and is calculable, or measurable, and one day we might be able to do better science to it and feel like we’ve made additional consciousnesses.

Bonsciousness, on the other hand, is fundamentally singular. It is the subjective and immediate awareness of the self. It is direct experience.

The concept of bonsciousness becomes relevant in thought experiments like Mary’s Room (if a color blind scientist studies color for a thousand years, will surgically fixing her color blindness on the 1000th year give her any new information?), in questions of identity – but it always has to do with the nature of experience.

It cannot be multiple. If you try to imagine someone else possessing bonsciousness, you are not thinking about bonscoiusness, you are thinking about consciousness. This may seem a subtle distinction, but I find it incredibly important. Teleportation poses no deep philosophical questions when it happens to other people – the importance lies in the subjective and personal experience. The question “does teleportation kill you” relies on what the continuation of experience feels like – while the question “is AI conscious” relies on whatever markers we have that we think needs to be met for consciousness to exist. These are two questions that come from two hugely different types of ideas.

I find this to be an unintuitive distinction for some people, as it’s very common for people to combine the concepts of consciousness and bonsciousness in their own mind. I also find that if one does not already find self-awareness to be deeply philosophically strange, it’s difficult to induce that sensation in them through argument alone and I don’t expect this post would accomplish that.

I do suspect, though, that at least attempting to use different terms for singular/multiple ideas of consciousness would clarify a lot of the conversations I’ve been listening to lately. I’ve been hearing people ask a question about bonsciousness and then attempt to answer as though they’re talking about consciousness, which is quite frustrating.

Bonsciousness is so elusive because it is about a category of knowledge that isn’t measurable, and trying to treat it as measurable shuts down a lot of avenues of learning.

Yes, And I Like It

Sometimes I come up with reasons about my behavior based on my childhood. “I must be overly compliant and afraid of authority/rulebreaking because my parents were authoritarian,” I think. This is a rationalization that gives my behavior meaning – there was a cause (authoritarian parents), a reaction (whatever emotional responses that had – fear, desire for love, etc.), and a lasting effect (compliance). It is a story about myself, not from a cold, distant perspective, but from the inside, from my own mind – what it feels like to make decisions.

This is a narrative that has been very useful and intuitive, and led me to things like dealing with my overcompliance by reminding myself that the world is not my parents, or forgiving myself for overcompliance by identifying the concrete cause of exposure to authority. Overall, the story of “authoritarian parents caused my compliance” is one that has helped me gain control over my actions. Because it makes sense and has worked so well, I think it is true. How could something work so well and not be true?

Imagine my surprise when my Mom read to me notes she had taken about me as a toddler, prior to any age I remember. “Very compliant,” she had written. “very concerned about pleasing those around her.”

The fact that I was displaying these traits before any serious parenting happened was a huge blow to my idea that my parents caused my compliance. Gone was my image of a plucky three-year-old getting the fire snuffed out of her. (Now, of course my story of authoritarian-compliance could still be true, as my parents physically disciplined me as an infant. I can’t know – but the point is that for the first time I seriously considered that it might not be true.)

This instance, among many others, really divorced me from the idea that I was tapping into some sort of ‘actual truth’ when I made up explanations for why I was the way I was, particularly when the causes in question were unclear, complicated, or a long time ago.

It also sort of reminds me of a sensation I had after a long and strange dream. When I tried to communicate the dream, I found that much of it was too ethereal to capture in words – so I described it as best I could, an abridged version, forcing tiny bits of narrative to cover up the gaps I couldn’t explain adequately. As I recounted the dream, I could feel the memory fading and being wholly replaced by the story I was telling – deeply, in the way I believed it. It was an odd sensation, to sense something untruthful become truth to me, but I realized that was the only way my brain could hold on. This tale was now the only access I had. I would have felt uncomfortable, except I realized I had probably done this countless times in the past without knowing it.

In fact, I probably was doing this constantly – not just with dreams or childhood tales, but with every story I told myself about why I did the things I did. In the translation of my life to words in my memory I was inevitably engaging in a lie, because narrative can never be the same as the experience.

Everything I thought about myself and my own identity was subject to this. I had the feeling that my ideas about myself were “true” because they proved to be both useful and elegant – but then my idea about authoritarian-caused-compliance was both useful and elegant, and it probably-possibly wasn’t “true” at all! I could not know, and if something is impossible to know then it is just as good as not existing at all.

Ultimately, “who I was” felt like a story I had created in my own mind to make sense of my surroundings. A useful story, an elegant one, but still a story.

This concept of self-as-a-story, as specifically different from self-as-definitely-real, places identity in the realm of self-creation as opposed to world-creation. Doing this grants us agency and is a core for a lot of theories of healing and emotional growth.

Once you buy into the idea of self-as-a-story, once you integrate it as a deep belief, it becomes easier to accept new stories specifically for the purpose of giving direction to your life and identity. A lot of people have a strong negative reaction to this idea with the sense that they are lying to themselves – but the sense of “lying to yourself” arises from the idea that you think you are ever capable at having a truthful narrative. You are not. No idea you think will ever be true, and so you might as well make it functional.

The sense of “lying to yourself” also arises when you are consciously saying one thing and your subconscious is saying another. If you believe deeply, your subconscious will be aligned, and it will feel like truth. If you feel the sense of lying-to-yourself when trying to accept new stories, then that means you haven’t believed deeply enough yet. Beliefs are malleable, and we can learn to use them like clothes, switching them out as is appropriate for the occasion.

Here I want to talk specifically about engaging a story, much like the ones we employ every day, that is not grounded in reality, but designed for function. The story is called: “Yes, And I Like It”, and it is meant to address self-disgust or variations on it.
The first step is to identify the thing you’re doing that you dislike, such as:

Getting jealous when your partner meets up with an old fling
Talking about yourself too much in social situations
Procrastinating housework

The second step is to identify, as primally and as honestly as possible, the source or reason for the unpleasantness. For some things this can be very difficult to do and take a long time. Phrasing them as self-referencing is usually the best:

I am afraid I’m not good enough for my partner.
I crave approval of my peers.
I lack willpower for simple tasks.

The third step is to respond “yes, and I like it.”

I am afraid I’m not good enough for my partner.
Yes, and I like the fear.
I crave approval of my peers.
Yes, and I like the insecurity.
I lack willpower for simple tasks.
Yes, and I like the helplessness.

The fourth step is to find a reason for why you like it.

I like the fear
Because it makes me invested.
I like the insecurity
Because it keeps me grounded, because I can empathize with others who are insecure.
I like the helplessness
Because helplessness is thrilling.

The idea here is that to change yourself you must first accept yourself, and to accept yourself you must first accept your flaws, and to accept your flaws you must view them as intentional. Not in name, not in word, but deeply, truly. You must believe the story of Yes, And I Like It. You must understand why you are the way you are.

Because if you understand why you are the way you are, you can’t judge yourself anymore.

(Another objection might be that this leads to passivity and helplessness, but I disagree.)

The concept of liking negative emotions might seem pretty silly, but the idea that we must not like things that hurt is in itself a belief we can step out of, with a little practice.

In fact, we practice it anyway without realizing it. We immerse ourselves in movies with threats and tragedies that feel real, if only for a few hours. Some of us get a little excited when bad world events happen – not because they wanted it to happen, but because badness is exciting the same way it is in movies. And I’m sure most of us as teenagers discovered we had recently developed capacity for complex emotional pain and promptly spent a lot of time feeling all the pain we could at once. Experiences of intense emotional pain while on psychedelics can lead to this sensation as well, usually much more vividly.

We already hold within our minds stories of I like this thing that hurts, even if we don’t realize it. Pain can be exciting, cathartic, or meaningful.

And so learning to believe the story of Yes, And I Like It can take that little dark pleasure and channel it into your life now. It can apply even to things outside of your own control (My mother died; I miss her terribly, and I love what the pain means to me).

Ultimately the goal is to divorce yourself from the narrative that pain is bad. Pain isn’t bad. Pain just hurts, and that’s okay.


I didn’t believe in teleportation. I didn’t believe in it so much I had to press my hands up next to the teleporter door and vomit loudly into a nearby bin. I watched the last bit of spit yoyo from my lips, swallowed away the taste, and listened for any footsteps, any alerted yells.

The building was empty except for me and the 25/7 autosecretary who was probably dozing off somewhere in the library. The emptiness made the transporter warehouse eerie, lit by red emergency lights and moonbeams through the glass ceiling. The guiding ropes for queuing had been pushed aside by the cleaning crew, the customs booths were quiet, the observation windows on the second floor dark. A lot of money had been poured here, but all of it into the practical function and technology; every corner glinted with touchpads not yet available to the public – but the walkways were grated, the railings metal, the bolts visible. Without the well-dressed people and ad screens and noise it felt a lot more like a factory, stripped of its soul and built for purpose.

I knew no one was here, but I was still reassured when the only response to my retching was silence. I wiped my mouth and pressed the touchscreen on the side of teleportation unit. It thrummed to life, all ugly steel and bolts except for the front, the entrance, which glowed white.

The bile in my mouth felt appropriate somehow as I looked at this thing. It ate people – people who had been brainwashed with the belief that they would somehow come out the same on the other side. Portercorp, the company with an effective monopoly on this technology and its name printed above the entrance of this building, had put out an effective message. “Total control at the atomic level!” it claimed (which wasn’t exactly true, but good enough for the media). “We zap you here and zop you there! Let the solar system be your playground!”

I had talked to many people who’d been teleported. I was a regular contract tech for Portercorp and had plenty of access to the wealthy – the only ones who could afford regular teleportation – or porting, as people were calling it now. I’d ask them when called upstairs to fix their abused autoassist. I’d slip it into conversation casually, like I didn’t care. They all insisted, over and over, that it was just a full body tingle and suddenly they were elsewhere. It was comfortable, convenient. No side effects. It was revolutionary. They didn’t know how they had lived without it.

I’d ask them the last time they’d been ported, and they’d say “Just this morning, straight from Florida!” And then the nascent businessman with his white silk suit and full set of memories gleaming new like chrome would smile perfectly and thank me for fixing their stupid autoassist and then I’d be on my way.

It was chilling. How could the deconstruction of an entire body lead to anything but death? And the person on the other side, these people I was talking to, working for – they were just a clone, an impostor, down to the atomic level, carrying the same memories. Everyone who was teleported was happily and regularly walking to their deaths and they had no idea. I didn’t care how cutely they phrased “zapping” and “zopping” – it was murder.

And I was going to prove it.

“Activate logging,” I said, and a blue light flashed a reply on the touchpad. A camera, built invisibly into the ceiling of the teleporter room, would now be recording.

“Configuration mode,” I said, the words followed by another blue light. This shifted the teleporter into the mode used for testing and calibration, where items were teleported from one space to another within the teleporter room.

A few more button presses – height, weight, liability waiver – and I was ready.

What I was about to do was illegal – first place, gold medal type illegal. It had been done in China maybe, and supposedly here too at the beginning of teleporter development, but had been outlawed due to Portercorp lobbying. This was sensible. Experiments proving murder would be bad for business.

The only reason I’d managed to surpass the safeguards at all was due to long months of slow backend modifications. Considering how strict the laws were, there had been less security than I expected – maybe because nobody thought one of us anti-porter crazies would also willingly work for Portercorp. Maybe nobody had tried this.

Maybe they had tried but gotten too nervous. I wouldn’t blame them.

I inhaled through my nose, suppressing an urge to turn and flee and become another one of those invisible cowards.

This wasn’t death. I wouldn’t be deconstructing myself. It was teleportation without the destruction of the original, to show what this truly was – cloning and slaughter.

I stepped inside.

It was a small seamless white room with rounded corners, lit evenly and ambiently. The walls weren’t reflective, so it felt nearly like I was standing in an infinite white field, like heaven in the movies. A gentle blue line glowed in the middle of the floor, dividing the room in two. I stepped to the right of it and watched the door vanish into the wall to my left, flush and completely invisible. I knew the door was there, ready to be activated by my touch, but watching it disappear into nothing was unsettling. I slowed my breathing, felt my chest rise and fall.

Somewhere in the ceiling was the hidden camera, recording everything that was happening. I was going to show this to everyone, to every news network, to the web. I had to stay calm.

The beeps started. Ten of them, warning the incoming test. I counted down under my breath.

Five. Four. Three. Two. One.

I closed my eyes and a tingle shot through my body – not like a surface chill, or goosebumps, but to my core; I could feel it in every muscle, in my organs, in my brain, like cold metal in my blood.


I opened my eyes, and my own face stared back at me.

It was wide-eyed, nervous. It had greying hair imperfectly tucked into a ponytail, brown eyes, flushed cheeks, wrinkles against the eyes. It was so lifelike – I thought I was looking into a mirror for a moment, except there was no glass between us.

It was hard to think. I took a breath and said, “Hello, Opia.”

The clone said “Hello, Opia” at exactly the same time, like a mirrored speaker. I was startled, but careful not to show it. Everyone would be watching.

I stopped. I raised my right hand; so did my clone. We touched palms in the center in perfect symmetry. She was warm and damp and solid and surreal.

This wasn’t what I’d expected. I had imagined her to be sort of like a twin sister; something other – but those eyes were the ones I had spent my life looking out of. I was cold-welded to her.

It was so obvious now. I was ashamed I hadn’t predicted this. She wasn’t mimicking me, there was no delay in her greeting or movement. She was acting as I was acting, spurred on by the same thoughts, the same experience. The teleporter had taken the exact arrangement of matter in my brain and replicated it perfectly in this second body. All the neurons, the synapses, would be operating in the same way. Of course she would say “Hello, Opia” at the same time.

And I realized that, at this moment, my clone would be thinking the same thing. And that my clone would have realized this realization. And that my clone would have realized this too…

I stepped back – so did my clone. “This is – bad,” I said, and those horrible perfect electrical impulses in the clone’s brain meant that she mirrored me with no delay.

I turned around and paced – and so did the clone. I wanted to talk to her – but everything I thought was no longer original. Every time I thought of something to say, I would glance over and the clone was glancing back, obviously thinking the same. It felt like telepathy. “Can you hear me?” I thought at her. No, she couldn’t hear me, but the same words were echoing in her brain. The entirety of my own mind was currently being experienced by another, simultaneously, and it was an overwhelming horror. And even the horror itself wasn’t my own.

The issue of teleportation-death seemed pale compared to this.

I had to break the symmetry. Maybe if I didn’t think? Maybe if I just acted?

On quick intuition, as primally as I could muster, I dropped to my knees and shouted nonsense noises.

So did the clone.

I stood and pulled on my hair and stomped my foot and screamed.

So did the clone, and our echoes faded in unison.

I slapped her, she slapped me. It would have been funny if it weren’t so existentially terrifying.

A feeling of cold powerlessness came over me – had been creeping over me since the second I opened my eyes to that terrible familiar face. Before this, I had always felt as though I were making choices, unpredictable ones, as though I had control over my actions.

But, faced with myself, the control seemed shallow, built into the brain in an easily predictive fashion. My thoughts were not my own. And even as I felt this, I knew the sense of powerlessness was not my own, because I knew the clone was feeling it too – as the structure of my brain had destined her to. Every thought I had, even the thoughts about thoughts – were predetermined, predictable, because they were happening within her own mind, too. No matter how many layers deep I went, I was still there, waiting for me.

My clone was sweating, and I my own face was wet too.

“You aren’t real,” I whispered.

So did she, at the same time.

“You were duplicated from my body,” I said.

So did she, at the same time.

I knew if I vomited again now, so would the clone, and I didn’t want to see that, so I suppressed it.

“I’m so sorry,” I whispered, as my clone did the same, from the same brain, from the same emotions.

And I was sorry. Never mind that my theory had basically been proven right, never mind that teleportation without deconstruction of the original led to two separate conscious entities, so that following through with the deconstruction would be murder.

I was sorry that I had done this to myself. This was a mistake. I didn’t really believe in wrongness, but this triggered a feeling of perverseness so deep it was almost primal. In her presence I wasn’t acting, I was watching myself act. I didn’t know where it came from. In her presence I wasn’t human.

I couldn’t let her live.

The invisible door was to my left. Slowly I backed towards it. The teleporter had created her flipped to face me, and so she backed towards the opposite wall where she thought the door was. I felt such sorrow for her, this unintentional creation who I knew didn’t want to die. But even the sorrow was not my own, and that only drove me further.

I pressed my hand on the door, as she pressed her hand on the wall-

and the wall on her side slid away, as the wall on my side stood still.

The symmetry of our environment was broken, and its dictates on our behavior diverged. The heat of fear flooded my throat. She slipped through the door, and she met my eyes as it closed.

And then I was alone.

The teleporter started humming the tune of my execution, as I knew the original Opia was pressing the combination of buttons set to undo the monster she had created. I began shaking, with anger, but I couldn’t be angry, not really – it was all me. I knew myself too well to have any hope that she would change her mind.

The anger became fear, and the fear was so great that it turned me numb, and the shaking became sobs, embarrassing sobs that everyone would see, and somewhere in this I was struck by the absurdity that for a brief moment I had known and been known perfectly. In the face of the inevitability of my own experience there had been powerlessness, and awe, and the terror of what it was to not be alone.

Of course only one of us could live. How could we go on after that!

I cried until I laughed, and I laughed until everything went away.

The Useless Idea of Truth

When I have conversations about the nature of reality, or truth, or existence, there’s a recurring theme of the assumption that reality, either in whole or in part, is external or objective.

This is all fine, except frequently people tend to treat this not as an assumption, but as an unquestioned fact. As in, there is a difficulty conceiving of the possibility of reality as anything but external.

This is reflected in the use of the word ‘truth’ (or reality, or existence, but let’s use ‘truth’ for now).

“Yes, we want to believe that God exists, but are we really believing the truth?”

“Is it true that light is kinda a wave?”

“We must discover the truth of this murder mystery.”

As is generally a good practice to figure out the meaning of words, we should watch what happens in our minds when we use this word. What sort of concepts are occurring within us when we say “Is it true that God exists?”

We usually handle truth like this: We imagine some sort of large reality around us as it is purely, untouched and unfiltered by our fallible brains skewed by millennia of evolution. And we imagine ourselves in this reality, as the fallible brain skewed by millennia of evolution. And our fallible brain holds an image of the pure world around us. It matches up in some ways, and in other ways it doesn’t. If the images match up, then we say the claim our brain is making is true. If they don’t match up, then we say the claim our brain is making is false.

Of course the problem here is that both the pure world and our image of ourselves within the pure world are both taking place…. inside our image of the world. The idea of an external reality or independent truth in itself is only happening because we are imagining it happening.

We might try to explain this in terms of evolution and our brain (e.g., we evolved to simulate external reality) – but the trick is that no matter what sort of explanation we have to address our perception of truth, that explanation itself lies within our imagination and our subjective assumption that truth is external (e.g., the idea of evolution requires the assumption that an external world featuring evolution does exist). It is circular – you cannot argue for external existence without first assuming external existence.

One counterargument I’ve heard is the sensation of surprise. If truth itself occurs only within our own brains – if reality is entirely self-created, then how do we encounter things like prediction violation and the sense of false belief? As in – no matter how hard I believe that it’s going to rain tonight, my belief does not affect whether or not it rains, and maybe it doesn’t rain at all. If the concept of external truth is meaningless, then why do we run into the feeling that the world isn’t obedient to our expectations? Disobedience implies that there is something else to disobey us, doesn’t it?

In order to address this I want to move sideways a bit.

I think that the word ‘truth’ can be taboo’d and its meanings divided into two categories, both not invoking the use of any sort of idea of external reality.

One – that of internal consistency. Something is ‘true’ if one thing is compatible and non-contradictory with another thing. Math falls into this category. 2+2=4 is true (consistent). “If this, then that” statements fall into this category. Internal consistency makes no claims about objective reality, only about things like logic.

Belief operates off of internal consistency. I do not believe in God because the assumptions I would have to make to believe in God cannot coexist with a lot of other assumptions I have about the world. I naturally seek internally consistent explanations for any sorts of mysteries – if my breakfast vanishes off the table, I look for explanations that make sense with my worldview – am I on a prank show, am I dreaming, did I have a seizure? If I decide that I am on a prank show, I am not necessarily deciding that in “pure reality” there is a prank show, only that my interpretation of a prank show matches up with my interpretation of a missing breakfast. Our assumptions about external reality also exist because, ironically, external reality seems internally consistent.

The formation of belief systems and belief consistency and what makes one system more consistent than another is a great topic and one I’m planning on exploring deeper in another post.

Anyway – the second truth category is that of direct experience. This is a bit harder to explain because it’s easy for us to try to fit it into the first category, but try not to.

This is for ‘knowledge’ that cannot be inconsistent. It is for ‘truth’ which, in no possible interpretation or imagination, can be considered to hold inconsistency with another truth. This eliminates basically all statements (That is an apple pie, color is light waves hitting your eye, the earth spins around the sun) and leaves only experience, or qualia. I mean the sensation of looking at red, the feeling of the weight of your body, the sound of the hum of electricity.

“Color as a light wave” is not what I mean. If we can imagine color not as a light wave, then it is thus “possibly false” and no longer qualifies as an experience. I mean the direct experience of what it is to witness color before you. Even if you’re in a simulation, even if color is actually created by metaphysical crayons scribbling on a wall, even if you are dreaming, even if color isn’t real – in every scenario in which you can imagine falseness – you are still having the experience of color, right this second, regardless of the explanation.

Thus what our brains do when we think about “truth” can be substituted fully by two things – consistency, and experience.

Now back to the counterargument about prediction and surprise. Can we explain the sensation of surprise entirely within the terms of consistency and/or experience?

When I expect it to rain and then it doesn’t and I feel surprised, what is happening? In my subjective experience, this moment, I am imagining a prior version of myself that had a belief about the world (it will rain!), and I am holding a different belief than what I imagine my previous self had (It isn’t raining!). I am holding a contrast between those two, and I am experiencing the sensation of surprise.

This is all surprise is, deep down. Every interpretation of reality can be described in terms of a consistent explanation of the feeling of our mental framework right at this moment.

I am not saying that the assumption of an external truth is not deeply useful. It is by assuming a reality apart from ourselves that we can use things like object permanence, the sensation of meaningfulness, and long-term goals.

I am only trying to highlight that the assumption of an external reality is not an absolute axiom, is fundamentally nonsensical, and is an unsatisfactory answer to the question of what truth is. If we are looking to hold an elegant and fully consistent system of philosophy in our minds, we have to recognize when concepts have limited use – and external reality is one of them.