Sunday, April 24, 2016

The People In My Head Who Make Me Do Things

Me: Ok, so who’s here?

Worker: I was clearly here today. We got so much done! I want a different name but I obviously exist coherently already. Also, “me”?

Me: Well what do you want to call the part of us that does things like call to order a meeting of imaginary characters to begin an experiment in increasing the efficiency of goal pursuit?

Worker: How about you ask the part who would do something like brainstorm names to answer that question? Call them Dream for now and change it later if they want.

Dream: Well, what are your properties?

Me: I like planning things, imposing structure, leading people, organizing closets, making spreadsheets that do statistical analyses of my friendships, composing lesson plans, untying knots, writing performance reviews, building fires without matches or lighters, using Workflowy for everything even when that doesn’t make much sense, proving theorems, self improvement projects, and lojban.

Dream: I think you’ve actually just spoken for two different people. One of them is a facet of Beauty (which is too ubiquitous to be a single personality when we’re trying to cut at the joints of drive to action instead of value), and the other is a facet of Transcendence. The Beauty facet should maybe be known as Order, or possibly The Logician or The Ice Man. The Transcendence facet might be Will, Drive, Power, Executive, Leader, Lion, Ruler, Sovereign -

Sovereign: Yes. That. I am Sovereign. Thank you. And to be clear, I like planning things, imposing structure, leading people, writing performance reviews, building fires without matches or lighters, and self improvement projects. I am less fond of organizing closets, making spreadsheets, untying knots, using Workflowy just for the hell of it, proving theorems, and lojban. But I’m not sure that second set of things ought to get a personality. I think “Order” is something that runs through all of us, like Beauty, but it is not really a drive for action. I don’t think we need to give it entire days to ensure its values are satisfied.

With respect to the goal of ensuring all our drives are optimally exercised to achieve peak performance, I think the best way to structure this meeting is as follows:

  1. Identify the part that calls to order this sort of meeting. (Check.)
  2. Make a list of some activities we did during the week of “Doing What We Want instead of What We’re Supposed To Do”.
  3. Break those activities into clusters
  4. Look for motivation patterns.
I’ll re-evaluate at that point. Worker, 2 is a data entry task. Why don’t you take over.

Worker: Certainly.

A: Listen to 99% Invisible podcast, Listen to classical music, Surf stumbleupon for art for my beauty tumblr, Talk to Sam about art, Find new music, Find the best existing rendition of a given song, Hypnosis

B: Lojban, Learn real analysis, Prove theorems, Write things about philosophy of self, Statistics, Learn metaethics, Explicit modeling of friendship, Play piano,

C: Read fiction, Talk to Max, Leave Facebook for a week, Listen to Bossa Nova, Turn off computer by 10PM, Cook things, Go on a walk to get coffee

D: Listen to Writing Excuses podcast, Deliberately practice various cognitive habits, Reflect on various cognitive habits, Propose laundry room protocol for Godric’s, Talk to Russell, Write about inhibition, Compose an OKCupid profile, Learn new acrobatics stuff

E: Maintenance housework, Misc. chores, Inbox zero, Make a document of favorite posts on r/FifthWorldProblems, Friendship models spreadsheet data entry, Student loan tasks, Answer questions on OKCupid profile, Use a schedule

F: Go dancing, Go running, Hike 20 miles to Castro Valley, Practice acrobatics stuff

G: Begin to get to know new housemate, Write about empathy, Read about cryonics life insurance plans for people in their 50s, Counsel Eliezer, Talk to Marie about (stuff), Talk to Liz about (stuff), Read about Harriet Tubman, Hang out with Oliver, Watch a movie with the Godric’s Society, Talk to Brent about (stuff)

Sovereign: Great, thanks. Now I’ll go back and put them in some kind of order. Yes that looks better. Hm, I think I’m losing concentration. We didn’t sleep a lot last night. Let’s take a break. I’ll make sure we get back to this tomorrow morning.


Sovereign: Lemme just read back over what happened yesterday. I’m still a little unfocused but I think I’m probably strong enough for this to be worth it. Dream, tell us some stories about these clusters. The stories can be fictional as long as you’re inspired by our observations, so please do have at it and don’t pay any mind to Truth.

Dream: Cluster A corresponds at least in part to an obsession with beauty. It’s an isolated part, mostly cut off from the rest of humanity and the ordinary world. It is timeless, in the sense of feeling no time pressure. When it is in full possession of body and consciousness we are a cottonwood seed suspended far above the world, in contact with nothing but the object of our obsession.

Cluster B is quite similar to cluster A, but is more active. I think they’re two moods of the same thing. Cluster B wants to create, to become, to embody beautiful things. It is willing to engage with the world in order to shape it into correspondence with Forms in the Platonic Realm. It is also obsessed, but unlike cluster A, B’s obsession comes with compulsions. B is a student. It trains its mind on a body of knowledge, holds onto it, and will not let go until it has made itself a perfect reflection of that part of the world. It forgets to eat or sleep, forgets about plans and other people. Cluster B is DEDICATED and loves to strive. It’s only satisfied when it has pushed us as far as we can go, and has replicated, as perfectly as possible, a beautiful part of the world, in the form of thought, to assimilate and make a permanent part of us. I’d call the first two Obsession.

Cluster C likes simplicity, comfort, relaxation. It wants to be untroubled, to feel grounded, to be in direct contact with the outside world and to revel in its ability to connect with that world. It watches ants and feels awe and fascination. It hears a cow and laughs with joy at the sound. It finds a hidden tunnel and wants to explore. When we hear the sound of rain in a forest, it takes full control. It is Kodama. It hates cities. It is frightened of complexity, abstraction, noise, bustle. It used to be terrified of people. It likes My Neighbor Totoro, and collects pinecones and acorns. It is a simple, childlike kind of mind. It's the source of our phenomenological sensitivity, our mindfulness.

Cluster D is Sovereign, Growth, Opportunity. It’s the only one of us with distant time horizons. It sees what we might become, and it moves toward that vision as naturally as water flowing downstream. It is a leader. It has the power to re-structure our whole mind, to inspire all of us to organize, cooperate, align. Without Sovereign we’d be directionless, always at each other’s throats and accomplishing nothing.

Sovereign: Aw, shucks.

Worker: He’s right, though. Even I would hardly ever get anything done. When you’re sleeping we’re helpless.

Dream: She leads other people too. She wants to empower others. She wants to uplift entire species. She wants everyone to become, to grow, to thrive, by their own power.

Cluster E likes clear, concrete, quantifiable progress.

Worker: That’s me! Can we start calling me something else now? Please?

Dream: I’m getting there. Patience. When Cluster E steps in Shit Gets Done. Not just planned, not strategized, not motivated, just fucking DONE. When she’s in complete control we’re an unstoppable machine.

Obsession: Hey, I’m an unstoppable machine too.

Dream: Yes I know, I never said otherwise. Progress actually goes places, though. She has kinetic energy. You’re more like gravity.

Obsession: Hrmph.

Sovereign: The two of you are most spectacular when you work together, of course. Progress + Obsession. One of my favorite resources.

Dream: Progress loves checklists, outlines, executing plans, dry erase markers, physical labor, and anything that involves putting the world in order. (Did I miss anything?)

Progress: I also like climbing mountains and then looking down on the tiny houses and people far below. And I sort of like when we’re praised for our accomplishments.

Sovereign: But probably not as much as I do.

Progress: No, not as much as you. I like when my work is acknowledged, because then it feels more real, but I don’t care much about being admired. I’m not very social.

Sovereign: Let’s move on.

Dream: Cluster F might be Dancer, Body, Athlete. But honestly it feels to me like this cluster is just what happens when the rest of us focus on Body instead of Mind. We want to obsess, strive, grow, conquer, play, be grounded, and make progress.

Sovereign: But what is it we get from the bodily focus that we don’t get from the psychological focus? I mean, running does something to us psychologically that nothing else does.

Dream: Sovereign and Kodama get restless when they don’t get to use Body. Sovereign wants the concrete experience of physical power and exertion, and Kodama wants to touch the world with its hands and feet, to feel itself moving through space, and to give physical form to playfulness. Kodama has an intimate relationship with Body. Body’s important, but not a drive in itself.

Cluster G is social. It’s grown a lot recently, but it’s always been the source of our compassion. It cares about other people as ends in themselves (unlike Sovereign or Obsession, who use people to accomplish other goals). These days it feels pleasure when we experience empathy. It’s responsible for our social bonds, for feeling connected with a community, for wanting other people to get what they want. It’s the part that has always really meant the first Bodhisattva vow: “Sentient beings are numberless. I vow to save them.” When it’s in complete control, we are flooded with love, and it tries to reach out into the world to encompass everyone to protect them and nurture them and give them whatever they need. It would spend all its strength to destroy Azkaban, if the rest of us didn’t intervene. It is Avalokiteśvara. It is also the service submissive, the one who wants to anticipate Master’s needs and fulfill them before he has the chance to feel any lack. It feels pain at the distance between what humanity is and what it could be, and it begs Sovereign to heal the wound in time. It is the only one of us who understands others as people, and it is the source of our capacity to feel loved and cared for by the people around us.

Sovereign: So to recap, that’s Obsession, Kodama, Progress, Avalokiteśvara, and Sovereign. Does anyone else want to jump in and claim to be one of our major drives toward action?

Dream: I mean, I think I probably actually do belong on that list. I’m basically the source of our creativity. Without me you couldn’t make lesson plans, or mnemonics, or write or even appreciate stories. I was in charge for huge chunks of November, even though Obsession and Progress obviously had a share in Nanowrimo as well. We’re happier (and smarter!) when I get regular play time, and since I don’t force myself into awareness like the rest of you, it’s even more important I be explicitly included in negotiations and plans.

Sovereign: That’s a strong argument. Does anyone object to that?

Obsession: Nope, we get along great.

Progress: As long as he and Kodama and obsession don’t get together without any oversight. That’s how we end up spending whole days watching Sherlock or whatever, and nothing gets done even if we agreed to let me plan.

Sovereign: As long as we’re not depressed, nobody does anything without my oversight. I understand your concern, but that kind of thing basically only happens when we haven’t been taking care of Kodama. We’ll bring Dream in on this, and if you start to feel like it’s interfering, Progress, speak up and we’ll renegotiate.

Now then. The next order of business is to decide what exactly want to do with these personalities to start out. This seems like a good place to pause. Let’s take a break and reconvene later.

Progress: I say we reconvene immediately after lunch.

Sovereign: Of course you do. Ok, we’ll take a vote immediately after lunch about when to reconvene, with “now” as the default.


Sovereign: Dream, we didn’t hear your description of yourself. I guess we didn’t do much Dreaming in the past week or so, so you weren’t one of the clusters.

Dream: Yeah, I’d like to get more time. But I imagine you’d rather talk about that later.

Sovereign: Yeah, for now let’s hear about who you are.

Dream: I make connections. I strip mine the association network, and I weave together whatever I drag up. Like if I cast out with starfish: five, Sundiver, sentient ant colonies, rotten fish. A team of five intelligent starfish uplift a species of ant, but the corrupt leaders who funded the research then enslave the ants and force them to supply the starfish city with rotten fish to eat. It doesn’t tend to make sense, but that’s Somebody Else’s Problem.

When we taught mnemonics, most of that was me. When we made a story plot every day for a week, that was all me. Every act of improvisation, every insight, every joke or analogy or illustration - in short, our creativity - it all comes down to me.

At night when the rest of you are sleeping, I am fully immersed in the worlds I create. But they crumble in the morning, and the rest of you never even know.

Sovereign: You’re obviously very useful, but for present purposes we’re interested in the part of you that is a drive to action. What is it you want?

Dream: I want to dream. I want to be free. I want to create and explore and -

Progress: He wants to give boring damn speeches, is what he wants to do.

Sovereign: Hush.

Dream: Yes, she’s not entirely wrong; I want to communicate, because I want to turn the world into a dreamland.

Progress: The fuck is a “dreamland”?

Dream: A place where anything can happen and nothing has to make sense. Giant ground sloths wear tophats and monocles when they go to the opera. We’re married to Spock, who is suddenly an octopus and nobody finds that odd. The most fashionable sport this year is quake surfing, which involves manipulating the seismic activity of ocean planets to create controlled tsunamis. I can go on if -

Progress: Please no.

Sovereign: Clearly the two of you need to have a private chat later. I think some double cruxing is in order.

Progress: It’s no wonder your worlds crumble every morning, Dream. We don’t have room for all that shit. There’s too much other shit to get done, real shit, shit that matters. If we just spend our time making up -

Avalokitesvara: Excuse me. Dream’s instrumental value is clear to me, and more importantly his imaginative nature is a lot of what I love about humanity. I want to exalt that in us just as I want to exalt it in others.

Obsession: I concur. Dream makes some beautiful stuff when given the chance. Plus, without Dream there would be no novelty in our obsessions. I’d be trapped.

Dream: You ARE trapped!!! All of you are! We could be so much more if you’d just get out of my way! Sovereign can see it, can’t you?

Sovereign: Clearly yes, or I wouldn’t have us studying inhibition.

Dream: I could set you all free! da’i mi’ai ba zenba!!!

Sovereign: I appreciate your enthusiasm - really, I do, I suspect you have a kind of passion that not even Obsession can match, if I can figure out how to tap into it - but it takes more than a resolution to start a revolution.

Dream: Heh. Nice.

Sovereign: So, for the moment, please try to calm down and cooperate. We are going to give you our full attention to help you solve this problem - we’ll even temporarily suspend Progress if it comes to that - but we need an adequate framework in which that kind of thing can happen. Which means we probably need to test an inadequate framework, which means we need to take a first step. The sooner we move, the sooner we can address your problem.

Avalokitesvara: We’ll take care of you, Dream. You know how Sovereign gets when she’s made up her mind. Remember what she did for Kodama when we were afraid of people? And I’ll fight for you, too. We have friends who can help. You are loved.

Progress: Whatever… I don’t like the points system in the original version of this. It strikes the wrong balance, requiring too much of my energy without a commensurate payoff.

Sovereign: I agree. We should try this without points, and possibly even without measurement at first. Yesterday, simply deciding to be Progress and letting her make a plan for herself was quite sufficient to solve the problem at hand, even though we hadn’t slept enough. I’m going for effective here, not meticulous. But we do need data, so this is going to take phenomenological sensitivity. I think it’ll mostly be the usual protocol for new tortoise skills. Kodama, are you feeling up to this?

Kodama: I think so, but I want to hear more of the specifics to be sure.

Sovereign: Right, let me look at our calendar. Hm, it looks like it might be a bit of a rough week. I wasn’t anticipating these sleeping problems, sorry about that. All right, well tomorrow’s free, so I think we can do some super fast prototyping and try being several people consecutively in a single day. Maybe even cycle through a couple times. Kodama starts. Then Progress, then Obsession, Ava, Dream, and finally me.

Ava: I think we should give Kodama the rest of the day after that, instead of repeating. She seems strained, and we need her strong for a new project like this.

Obsession: You just wanna help because she looks all cute and sad.

Ava: No, actually, I always want to help. Besides, her looking sad is evidence that she’s strained.

Sovereign: Well why don’t we ask her.

Kodama: Thanks Ava. Yeah, I could use some time. Maybe take a hot bath and then read a story with Dream or something.

Sovereign: That should be fine. Progress, would you like to clean the tub, and maybe the rest of the bathroom while you’re at it, during your hour tomorrow?

Progress: If nothing more pressing comes up, I’d love to!

Dream: This is neither here nor there, -

Progress: Of course it isn’t.

Dream: - but I observe that we’ve all settled on genders. Obsession and I are men, and Sovereign, Progress, and Kodama are all women. Avalokitesvara has no gender. Which I suppose is traditional.

Sovereign: Let’s make sure we each have at least one thing in mind to do. We don’t have to stick to it, but it’s nice to have a default.

Kodama: I’ll go for a walk in the sunshine, and stop for all the flowers.

Progress: I’ll clean the bathroom.

Obsession: I’ll start translating la alis. cizra ja cinri zukte vi le selmacygu’e (By the way, thanks for getting that printed, Progress.)

Progress: (My pleasure.)

Ava: If I’m up to in-person stuff, I’ll see if Marie wants to chat. Otherwise I’ll respond to Ruby’s email, or see if Master needs laundry done.

Dream: If I can focus, WriterKata. It’s been too long. Otherwise, I want to color.

Sovereign: And I’ll confer with Kodama to reflect on the experiment, then hand things over to her. I’ve done a lot here already so I might not need to take my full hour.

I think it’s settled then. Progress can write the schedule on the fridge when we’re done here. Thanks everybody. Let’s get some sleep.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This was well written. Thank you!