Replicators vs Hypercycles: creation from atoms through brains

[Status: still being edited, pre-publishing for the LaTeX]

(~2000 words)

If you generated a random directed graph, you could tally facts about the vertices and edges, but it might be more interesting to determine whether the graph has a cycle. We find ourselves in a vast World filled with many objects coming into being (including ourselves), each one potentially participating in the creation of many others. If we built a directed graph pointing from catalysts to products, we could tally facts about the individual catalysts and products and reactions, but it might be more interesting to find the catalytic cycles within this graph.

Hypercycles and replicators

This has been done before. “Hypercycle” was a term coined in the abiogenesis literature in the 1970s to refer to a complete loop of molecules wherein each molecule is a catalyst for the next in the loop. The hypercycle is one of many examples of positive feedback in chemistry, but it is unique in that the variables subject to feedback are purely the abundances of each chemical species in a set, and no others like temperature or pressure. Because the concept depends only on numeric counts, it is totally generalizable beyond chemistry. Thus we could say that a hypercycle is any complete loop of entities, from the atomic to the astronomical, wherein each is a catalyst for the next in a loop. The important thing to note is that hypercycles are merely likely to exist wherever there is a robust ecology of catalysts, just like cycles are likely to exist in any sufficiently dense directed graph, and that a hypercycle running through a set of entities is an independent entity from those entities, just like a cycle in a directed graph is distinct from vertices and edges themselves.

A replicator is a special case of a hypercycle. Or rather, I am going to define it as a special case of a hypercycle, in a way that concords with most usages and connotations of the term “replicator,” even though many users are unaware that it could be a special case of something else. A replicator is a hypercycle whose directed graph is the simplest possible cyclic graph: one vertex with one edge starting and ending on the vertex. You could even say that replicators are the degenerate case and “qualitatively different from” the broader class of hypercycles. At least with non-degenerate hypercycles we can imagine complicated tangles of catalytic loops, wherein each selfsame catalyst might participate in more than one loop, but with replicators there is no participatory multiplicity, there is only pure selfishness and self-participation. If life originated as one or more large hypercycles that iteratively tightened into replicators by chopping or merging links in the cycle, then searching for the origin of life in the simplest possible replicator (e.g. by finding a minimal genome) may be totally misguided because the first life may not even have been a replicator.

Catalysis and watches

What is catalysis? A catalyst is something that greatly speeds up the creation of something else in a milieu furnishing the relevant resources, and is not itself consumed in the process (at least not stoichiometrically: it may wear out eventually). In our Universe, quantum fluctuations can produce anything: disembodied [Boltzmann] brains, Boeing 747s, watches. Anything large is so unlikely, however, that it would take many eons vastly longer than our Universe’s 13.7 billion years to produce it. But since it is possible with a probability strictly greater than 0, we can say things like “you can have a watch without a watchmaker, but a watchmaker is a catalyst that enormously speeds up the reaction.” Thus we can see a Universe where anything is possible, but the actual entities that exist continuously morph what is probable via their catalytic (and anti-catalytic) properties, and we see hypercycles as clever circularities that hack the probability-generating process of the Universe: every individual thing is so unlikely that anything unhacked has virtually no chance.

Some Notation

It’s worth creating some notation for hypercycles. Let’s denote a replicator as A \hookleftarrow, “the entity A directly participates in the catalysis of [other entities of the same type as] itself.” A slightly more complicated hypercycle could be A \to B \to C \hookleftarrow, “A catalyzes B which catalyzes C which catalyzes A again” (equivalent to B \to C \to A \hookleftarrow and C \to A \to B \hookleftarrow).

A simple circle of catalysts is the most straightforward topology of a hypercycle. There are two complicating considerations I’d like to add, which are novel as far as I know although I have not searched the literature exhaustively. The first consideration is that a molecule (or entity in general) may have multiple forms, such that A catalyzes B_0, which cannot catalyze C without first changing to conformation B_1, which can. In that case, B_0 violates the definition of a catalyst because it does get consumed [stoichiometrically 1:1] in the creation of B_1. We can expand the notation to write that as: A \to B_0 \mapsto B_1 \to C \hookleftarrow. The second consideration is that it is possible for a hypercycle to have a bifurcation. Molecule A may catalyze both B and b, each of which continues to catalyze its own sequence of molecules, with the two sequences getting to, say, molecules D and d (or D and c if there’s fewer in one of the two sequences), both of which must be together to catalyze E, which finally leads back to A, closing the bifurcation of the hypercycle. We can expand the notation one more time to write that as: A \to \genfrac\{\}{0pt}{}{B \to C \to D}{b \to c} \to E \hookleftarrow.

Multicellular organisms are rarely replicators

It may be surprising, but multicellular organisms are rarely replicators. That is, they are not A \hookleftarrow. Near exceptions include the New Mexico whiptail lizard, A_0 \mapsto A_1 \hookleftarrow (see development and asexual reproduction), among others. In contrast, all mammals are \genfrac\{\}{0pt}{}{A_0 \mapsto A_1}{a_0 \mapsto a_1} \hookleftarrow (see sex). Ferns are A_0 \mapsto A_1 \to B_0 \mapsto B_1 \hookleftarrow (see alternation of generations). Willows are \genfrac\{\}{0pt}{}{A_0 \mapsto A_1}{a_0 \mapsto a_1} \to \genfrac\{\}{0pt}{}{B_0 \mapsto B_1}{b_0 \mapsto b_1} \hookleftarrow (see dioecy). Jellyfish are \genfrac\{\}{0pt}{}{A_0 \mapsto A_1}{a_0 \mapsto a_1} \to B_0 \mapsto B_1 \hookleftarrow (see jellyfish life cycle). These could be even more complicated if we detailed gametogenesis and monozygotic twinning.

An exhaustive search

We may not have totally exhausted the hypercycles of conventionally-defined biological species, but the above is a solid start which covers all of the organisms most people know about. Let’s think beyond conventionally-define biological species. Does any single hypercycle flow through more than one species? Do the members of any species catalyze the members of another species which in turn catalyze them back? Certainly. Mutualism in all its forms is an example of this. You can draw a hypercycle that loops from yucca moths to yuccas and back, for example. In some instances, the symbiotic organisms engulfed each other, such as eukaryotes and their mitochondria, together becoming a new species (see symbiogenesis). A yucca plant and its moth will probably never be considered a single organism by science, but perhaps they should be, like two sexes of the same species.

How about beyond biology? Are there any hypercycles in astronomy? In the cosmological natural selection hypothesis, Universes are black\_hole \mapsto universe \hookleftarrow if each black hole pops out one Universe, but black\_hole \to universe \hookleftarrow if each black hole can pop out many. There can be a hypercycle through supernovas and stars since supernovas can trigger the collapse of nearby gas clouds into new stars that can themselves go nova.

Brains, culture, and macro abiogenesis

How about in human culture? A simple tool like a stone to crack a nut has a certain probability of being generated spontaneously in a human milieu—even monkeys have been observed with such a tool. Both the physical hand-stone-nut assemblage and the in-brain concept of the hand-stone-nut assemblage have a certain probability of being generated, but the concept is generated much more quickly when a human observes another human enacting the hand-stone-nut assemblage, and the behavior is generated much more quickly when the concept has been learned. Importantly, many humans can observe another human at the same time, so we have physical\_hand\_stone\_nut \to mental\_hand\_stone\_nut, and once the concept has been learned, a human can enact it many times, so we also have mental\_hand\_stone\_nut \to physical\_hand\_stone\_nut and thus together physical\_hand\_stone\_nut \to mental\_hand\_stone\_nut  \hookleftarrow, a hypercycle with two entities.

The situation gets more complicated when we consider tools that make other tools. The axe hews all of the canoe, the spear, the fence, and the thatch. One axe can hew many canoes, many spears, many fences, or many thatches, so we have axe \to canoe, axe \to spear, axe \to fence, axe \to thatch. Canoes, spears, fences, and thatches provide for the flourishing of human life, which re-creates the conditions to perpetuate itself, like the axe, so we also have, slightly hand-wavy, canoe \to flourishing \to axe and the rest, completing the hypercycles. Thus the bulk of cultural artifacts are not replicators: they are not A \hookleftarrow. The directed graph of catalysis in the human economy is vast and incredibly dense. Pencils, CPUs, billboards, beds catalyze myriads of other entities, including themselves, after many indirect deferrals. Drawing the hypercycle of any would take years of research and probably end up including most of the economy. The hypercycles of most of these even include each other, such that the “hypercycle of X” is a misnomer to the extent that it unfairly highlights one specific catalyst in a cycle of many.

Our economy may be hypercyclically similar to those warm, abiogenetic pools busy with molecules. If every molecule catalyzed lots of others, it was virtually inevitable that one or a few hypercycles would run away with all of the probability-generating capacity, with all of the other edges and vertices in the directed graph withering as one or a few cycles flowed around and around, drawing everything else in. There might end up being hypercycles in the economy, initially somewhat random series of entities making other entities, that similarly find their own tail and runaway with the whole surface of the Earth. Some say that this has already happened.

Epilogue: Consciousness vs. Pure Replicators

Almost all agents exist in an advanced milieu that made it probable for them to come into being. The premise of the article Consciousness vs Pure Replicators is that there are two broad categories of motivation that drive agents: 1) the intrinsic value of conscious experiences which are knowable by agents (and formalizable mathematically) and 2) the forces of “replication” that use conscious matter merely in the service of “replication.” It should be clear why I placed the word in scare-quotes: replicators are actually quite rare, because most “replication” is the iteration of a hypercycle that is indeed larger than A \hookleftarrow. I’m not saying that the article makes that mistake, but that that is the ordinary but careless connotation of “replicator,” which I tried to capture as I alluded above when I defined it as the degenerate case of hypercycles.

The distinction matters because an agent that is concerned with replicators is likely to overfocus on circumscribable objects in the World and categorize them as “replicators” or “not-replicators,” which is much like trying to find cycles in a directed graph by looking at one vertex or edge at a time, rather than to study the landscape of catalysis and production in the World broadly, especially as they touch the agent itself. The important insight that might be missed is that anything can be in a hypercycle, even if it wasn’t meant to be, and crucially that hypercycles flow through you, with many of them not so simple as circling from brain to physical manifestation and immediately back to brain (i.e. “memes” as popularly conceived: A \to B \hookleftarrow) but rather long arcs that course through substantial portions of the entire World. If consciousness is to win, it must know what it is fighting.


I’m building a VR technodelic-style game/experience and I need a name!

Music visualizers work by turning sound into a visual experience. Dancing, especially in certain styles, works by turning sound into a kin[esth]etic experience. Here’s a diagram:

Fig 1. music visualization (top arrow) and dancing (bottom arrow)

My idea is to chain these processes, using computer vision and pose estimation, like this:

Fig 2. music visualization via dancing and computer vision

I’m doing this in virtual reality, and I have a working prototype that proves the concept. What should it be called so I can rename my files and launch a Discord?

What Color Are Your Vowels?

One of the most exciting trends in technology is the ability to hook up our sensory and motor systems in splendid new ways. One example is Soundself, a virtual reality “technodelic” that puts you into an audiovisual feedback loop with your own voice. Soundself promised to turn your voice into a psychedelic experience, and I wrote a review explaining my experience with it and why I don’t think it quite lived up to the promise.

In this post I introduce a little demo I made that I call “What Color Are Your Vowels?”, and my hope is that it can illustrate what I think is possible with technodelics. Without further ado, you can try the demo out here. I have only tested it on MacOS (Safari/Chrome/Firefox), Windows 10 (Internet Explorer/Firefox), and iOS (Safari) so no promises it’ll work elsewhere. You start by sustaining three vowels and capturing the background noise level (works better with total silence though) for calibration, and then you’re free to make any other sounds you want and see what color they make.

How it Works

The color space that humans see is three-dimensional because humans have three types of cones in our retinas. If you fix brightness, however, then color space is two dimensional, and you can call it chromaticity space.

Fig 1. Chromaticity space is two dimensional because it fits on an XY plane (Wikipedia)

The dimensionality of vowel space has more caveats, but it’s more-or-less two dimensional, corresponding acoustically to the two frequencies of the first and second formants in the frequency spectrum and anatomically to the two directions of where high-to-low and back-to-front the tongue is.

Fig 2. Vowel space is also two-dimensional (Wikipedia)

What I do with my demo is overlay these two space, mapping each point in vowel space to a point in chromaticity space.

Fig 3. Two 2D spaces, superimposed

It took me ~15 hours and ~200 lines of Javascript to make this demo. This is the kind of thing that I wanted from Soundself. Take my voice, do some linguistically-aware processing, and turn it into compelling visuals that represent it faithfully even in the radically different medium. To do this well you need to have some idea of the parameters that are generated in speech (formants, aspiration, sibilation, rhoticity, etc), some of the parameters that are used in sound visualizers (symmetry, repetition, color, shape, motion, etc) and an artistic flourish in mapping the former set of parameters to the latter set of parameters. There is a lot of potential here to make something truly splendid!

[Footnote] A slightly more technical “How it Works”: I record frequency spectra for your /u/ /a/ and /i/ phonemes, and then take the dot-product of future spectra with those recordings for the R, G, and B levels, respectively. Feel free to dive into the source code, also on my GitHub.

SoundSelf Technodelic Review

After weeks of anticipation in the midst of quarantine-fueled boredom, SoundSelf finally released today. SoundSelf pioneers the self-styled “technodelic” genre of games, and is the first to launch to a wide public audience. Technodelics harness the power of technology to create integrated experiences at the crossroads of psychedelics, meditation, song, dance, and music visualization. They are highly atypical “games”, as they do not have strategy or narrative, but for the most part they can be run on the same gaming platforms, virtual reality in particular. SoundSelf harnesses your microphone, speakers, and display to create a meditative tunnel of light and splendor that echoes your own ahs and oms into a session like you’ve never experienced before.

SoundSelf should receive praise for planting a tall flag in the technodelic turf. I must, say, however, that I was not blown away. I’ve been following technodelics for a year or two now and virtual reality for over a decade, so I’ve been itching to get my hands on those new experiences that I know are possible. What I want is to close the sensorimotor loop of my head, larynx, shoulders, knees, and toes on the one hand and my visual and auditory fields on the other. I want rich feedback between playful fluctuations of voice or step and color, flicker, timbre, beat, and fractals. I want to sing my way through the Mandelbrot Set and dance a virtual sun over a scintillating Dalí horizon. What I want is clearly much more than I could ever have expected SoundSelf to deliver today, but I was hoping for maybe 10% of it.

SoundSelf is essentially a meditation enhancer. Many of the features and constraints (like the smooth-spoken tutorial every time you launch it that you can’t turn off and the 3D perspective that resets whenever you move your head too far) are clearly built in to accommodate that one use-case. There is only one tunnel you can go through. You can’t modulate or change the gain on how your voice affects the visuals. You can barely tell what your voice is doing to the visuals unless you run careful and flow-destroying experiments lasting minutes at a time (I want to hum “ee” instead of “oo” and see something change—I’m not sure what, maybe a triangle turn colors—before I take my next breath). You can’t change the echo interval. You can’t change the music. If what you want is to lie back and be somewhat passively and mindlessly entertained, SoundSelf will work for you, but what I wanted was a vocal technodelic: nimble and pulsating audiovisuals responding to my every formant, susurration, yodel, and yawn.

Do I recommend SoundSelf? I definitely recommend putting technodelics on your radar, and SoundSelf is currently the best way to do that, and there’s no way to know what they’re about without experiencing them yourself. The creators are eager and energetic, so I have faith that they will continue to expand the experience, but keep your expectations tempered, and take it for what it is: a first impression on the debut of an entirely new art form. Throw in a few dollars with a friend and try it out, it’s definitely worth the cost of a theater ticket.

Dimensionality in the Annealing Metaphor

(~960 words)

The concept of annealing has escaped the materials science context where it originated. In the material context, it is straightforward to see how the characteristics of physical space might constrain annealing. For example, the 3-dimensional “kissing number” (with a value of 12) constrains the number of neighbors a 3-dimensional atom can have and thereby the possibility of movement, diffusion, and change within a 3-dimensional material. If the kissing number was greater than 12, a given annealing treatment regime would be more effective. The kissing number is merely one measure of the abundance and profile of interatomic associations in a material—associations which carry stress-energy, and which stress-energy is reduced in annealing via the shifting of those associations. In many systems, among them metals, societies, brains, each “atom” or basic unit has a number of associations, which in turn have their own associations, and the shape of the association network can be reckoned as living in a space with a certain dimensionality and geometry. Analyzing such spaces helps to enrich the annealing metaphor, pinpointing similarities and contrasts with material annealing in its 3-dimensional Euclidean space.

Let’s start where annealing began. A piece of metal essentially never has pure crystal structure throughout. On the one hand, the casting process usually proceeds in an uneven way, with multiple centers of solid crystalline order (“nucleation sites”) growing inside the molten metal as the entire piece solidifies, leaving irregular “grain boundaries” between the multiple “grains” that grew. Metal pieces that solidify quickly have many small grains, and pieces that solidify slowly have few but large grains. On the other hand, nothing is perfect, and even a mostly pure crystalline grain will have “point defects” like a vacancy where there should be an atom, or an interstitial atom wedged where there should be none. In a perfect FCC or HCP metal crystal, every atom would have 12 neighbors (following the 3-dimensional kissing number), but in any actual piece of metal, however, many atoms will not have 12, and their vacant or interstitial neighbors present opportunities. Metals anneal when vacancies and interstitial atoms march through the material (often along grain boundaries), readjusting grains to relieve stress or even creating entirely new grains within.

Annealing is well known to be affected by the preexisting abundance of point defects and grain boundaries and the treatment temperature, but the theoretical angle to armchair about here is how different dimensionalities (and kissing numbers) would affect annealing. Given an abundance of point defects (say, 0.1% of lattice sites being irregular), how many of these any given atom has as a neighbor will depend on the kissing number. If this number is very small, then any atom will rarely have a defective neighbor, but if this number is very large, then any atom likely may. The more atoms with defective neighbors, the more possibilities for vacancy or interstitial diffusion, and the greater efficiency at minimizing stress. So the hypothesis is that increasing the dimensionality of a metal makes it easier to anneal. Unfortunately, our Universe furnishes us with zero tools to change the dimensionality of the space that metals are in, so this must remain a hypothesis.

Instead of a metal, one can imagine a society where every individual has 12 friends. Or instead of 12, maybe 6, or perhaps just 2. These three numbers are the kissing numbers in 3, 2, and 1 dimensions, respectively, and they are totally conceivable even for real humans in our ordinary World, albeit rather drearily. The point is that human society, which it ostensibly embedded in the 3-dimensional World, can have a structure that belongs to a different dimensionality. If everyone had 24 friends, then human society would be effectively 4-dimensional. These numbers are of course totally crude, but there is an actual fact of the matter as to how humans are associated in society. I have spoken to f people in the past week, paid g people in the past month, touched h people in the past year. If we had an appropriate dataset, it would be possible to reconstruct the effective dimensionalities of human societies, down to their local fluctuations across communities and time. The dimensionality of urban areas is certainly higher, for instance, than the dimensionality of rural areas.

Some societies are easier to anneal than others. Many people have too many associations or too few for their local social lattice, but in societies with high dimensionality, it is easy for people to diffuse and find their balance. Because of the parallel association of dimensionality and “heat” in annealing, to heat a society is to increase the number of interpersonal associations, and to decrease interpersonal associations (as in pandemic lock-downs) is to cool it.

The hallmark of brains is that neural tissue is not populated by oval-ish cells like everywhere else in the body, but instead by extraordinarily spindly cells that branch and reach and associate directly with myriads of other neurons, clearly many more than 12 of them. Axons and dendrites are the transcendence of neurons in neural tissue beyond the 3-dimensional kissing number. The brain is 3-dimensional but its neural network is not. The exact mechanism of annealing in brain is unknown but it certainly involves neurons changing which other neurons they are connected to and how strongly, and because of neural tissue’s higher-than-3-dimensionality, it is uniquely capable of doing so among all human tissues.

There are many more systems whose dimensionality and annealing properties could be analyzed. The fundamental picture is that, despite the 3-dimensionality of space in our Universe, systems inside of it can adopt effective dimensionalities that are quite different via various mechanisms, and because there is a keen relationship between spatial associations and annealing, annealing in these systems will vary in methodical ways from annealing in materials.

Remultiplication: a term for compositional analysis

(~360 words)

In my study of compositionality, I’ve found a rather blatant pattern that lacks a word-handle. When things come together to compose something larger, the things are extremely often similar or even identical things. I call this pattern remultiplication: the coincidence of similar entities in a composition, especially on the same level within the composition’s partonomy and often when every single one of the partonomic siblings on that level are involved.

Remultiplication is everywhere. From my vantage point writing this, I can observe the remultiplication of strings on a guitar, the remultiplication of pixels on a display, of keys on a keyboard, of fingers on my hand, threads in a shirt, legs in a table, panes in a window, leaves on a branch. This can even happen with words: “salad-salad” in English, “wiki-wiki” in Hawaiian (“very fast”), or “rikrikrik” in Molikese. In linguistics, such a doubling or a tripling of elements is called “reduplication” or “retriplication,” respectively, and I find “remultiplication” to be the natural generalization of that concept to quantities beyond three and entities beyond words.

There are often very different reasons for remultiplication. The remultiplication of planets in a star system happened by them coalescing simultaneously out of a gas cloud. The remultiplication of cells in a body happened when one cell started dividing and the daughter cells stuck together. The remultiplication of bricks in a wall happened because a bricklayer iteratively put them there. The remultiplication of distributaries in a river delta happened because of iterated sediment deposition and channel switching. Regardless of the mechanism, there is a recurring compositional theme in all of these, and I call that remultiplication.

Figure 1. The remultiplication of stamina in a flower and of flowers on an inflorescence in Acacia dealbata.
(photo credit: me)

Remultiplication and fractals

“Fractal” is another term used for entities with internal similarity. Whereas remultiplication is concerned with similarity on one level of a partonomy, fractals also exhibit similarity across different scales and thus up and down the levels in a partonomy. It is possible for there to be up- and down-scale self-similarity without remultiplication, such as in a logarithmic spiral, whose zoomed-in center is self-similar to the zoomed-out whole.

Metatopes: a novel and simple mathematical construct for statistical ontology

(~400 words)


A metatope is a mathematical object constructed by a layering of spaces. For any space in a metatope, points can be plotted in it. These points in the space correspond to either (1) datapoints from a dataset with a commensurate dimensionality as that space or (2) spaces that contain either (1) or (2) (potentially ad infinitum).

A directed graph can be constructed from any metatope. The spaces within the metatope map to nodes and the connections from a space to the spaces plotted within it map to the vertices. A “highest space” can generally be identified, and that is the root of the metatope’s graph. The degree of a metatope is the maximum distance in the directed graph starting from the root. The degree counts the number of layerings in the metatope: a metatope of degree-0 is just a normal space, and its graph is just a solitary node with no vertices. If there is a root space in the metatope and all the other spaces connect upwards to exactly 1 space, then the graph of the metatope is a rooted tree.

For instance, consider a dataset of faces, both normal and cyclopean, parameterized by a robust set of features such as interocular distance, nose length, cheekbone position, etc. All the normal faces can be plotted in one space, and all the cyclopean faces can be plotted in one space, but these two spaces are incommensurate because there are several dimensions that are not shared (most saliently from the list above: interocular distance). Both spaces, however, can enter as points in a higher-level space that would have one dimension called “number of eyes.” This would be a degree-1 metatope, and its graph would have two nodes connecting upwards to the root node, for a total of three nodes.

Note that the structure of any metatope depends entirely on the relevant set of datasets (actual or theoretical) and the reckonings made in how to combine them, and that multiple metatopes can often be combined into one metatope.


My motivation is to develop a mathematical construct similar to the mere space that can be applied rigorously even when dimensionalities are incommensurate. I have often encountered conversations where “the space of x’s” is tossed around even when the x’s obviously or probably differ in the number of dimensions from one x to another x, such as “the space of conscious experiences.” I hope that the construct operates as an intuition pump and leads to interesting insights, from myself or others.

Symmetric vs Asymmetric, Free vs Bound Othermindfulness

(~700 words)

The practice of othermindfulness comes in various flavors, but generally as I have described it I have emphasized one specific form of it: symmetric, free othermindfulness. These descriptions of mine have centered on othermindfulness as a practice connecting you to someone in a similar state of mind (hence symmetric), and an arbitrary someone at that and not a specific person in particular (hence free). I’d like to describe the other forms of othermindfulness that can be found when the properties of symmetry and boundedness are allowed to be different.


A symmetric othermindful experience happens—just to recap—when a person having an experience chooses to share it othermindfully with someone else having a similar experience and someone else having such a similar experience reciprocates with the same intention. An asymmetric othermindful experience happens when a person having an experience shares it with someone else having a different experience and someone else having that different experience shares it back in turn with the person having a different experience. Symmetric othermindfulness is generally easier to engage in because empathy is more readily available for people who feel the same things, but asymmetric othermindfulness can be more rewarding.

If I am joyful and content and I engage symmetrically, then in my othermindful engagement I will connect with someone else who is also joyful and content, and we can enjoy our positivity together. If I am joyful and content and I engage asymmetrically, then I can connect with someone who is suffering or dejected, and they will know that I am joyful and content because they have chosen an asymmetric engagement also, and together we can find balance between our energies.

Symmetric othermindfulness accentuates and communifies what one already feels by providing a companion feeling the same thing. Asymmetric othermindfulness, on the other hand, allows someone to tap into a different state of mind. Someone suffering can find a commiserator with symmetric othermindfulness, but they can instead find someone with abundant, brimming-over positivity with asymmetric othermindfulness. One of my first applications of othermindfulness was in shuttling positive energy from my good days to my bad days during a depressive episode, and I couldn’t have done that without asymmetric othermindfulness.


Othermindful experiences can vary depending on whether the participants desire to connect specifically with each other. When I was connecting with myself between my good and bad days as I mentioned above, for instance, I was connecting very specifically with myself. That is bound othermindfulness, because the experience is bound to that specific person. Bound othermindfulness also occurs when two people regularly think about each other and know that they do so. Indeed, it is the ordinary state of two people in love, and it is the essence of reciprocated limerence. Bound othermindfulness can also be transient. It often occurs in the few hours or days after sharing the idea of othermindfulness with a new person; both may have othermindful experiences with each other as long as the conversation remains fresh in memory.

Free othermindfulness is the more radical version, and it is the one that as far as I can tell is the true conceptual innovation. Free othermindfulness expects no specific person to reciprocate the othermindful experience, instead relying—essentially on faith—that someone somewhere reciprocates. It relies on no set expectations or plans, merely harvesting the law of large numbers and the magnitude of the human (or sentient) race(s) to ensure its reality.


Symmetric, bound othermindfulness: two people who know (about) each other, (othermindfully) sharing each other’s similar experiences, such as two people who are in love.

Symmetric, free othermindfulness: two people who don’t know about each other, sharing each other’s similar experiences, such as two random suffering people on Earth giving each other empathy.

Asymmetric, bound othermindfulness: two people who know (about) each other who are not having the same experiences but desire to (othermindfully) connect, such as the friend who promises to send good thoughts and vibes to another.

Asymmetric, free othermindfulness: two people who don’t know about each other, sharing their different experiences with each other, perhaps entirely altruistically.

Praxis for Open Individualism

(~1500 words)

Philosophical analysis is necessary but insufficient. Often when engaging with interesting philosophical perspectives, the only drive is to understand, dissect, compare and contrast. If the primary vehicle for philosophical encounter is words on a page, the straightforward philosophical participation is to muse and write new words on new pages. There’s nothing wrong with that; my words would not be here without such a drive. There is, however, a well-known complement to the mind’s remapping of read words into written words that engages the mind in something other than mere verbal transformation. Aside from the digestion and regurgitation of theory, there is the embodiment and the practical living of theoretical precepts, which is called praxis.

Open Individual (OI) is the theoretical perspective on personal identity that holds a single experiencer as the subject of all experiences. The single experiencer in OI is seeing through my eyes right now and saw through them yesterday, but it is also seeing and saw through your eyes and everyone else’s too at all times. Open Individualism contrasts with Closed Individualism, the more conventional view in Western philosophy that holds a distinct experiencer for every body, remaining stable throughout each body’s life, and it contrasts with Empty Individualism, which holds a distinct experiencer for every experience, tearing apart even all of the back-to-back experiences in single bodies that CI would bind together.

That’s a short introduction to Open, Closed, and Empty Individualism—probably way too short for the reader that has never encountered them before (if that’s you, here is a good resource). My goal, however, is not to develop more theory about them, but to imagine what a praxis or praxes of OI might look like. Praxis can be described abstractly, but it is better to derive it concretely. Thus I trace my imagination through a specific example that I’ve cultivated for several years. I don’t doubt that this is but one example among many. Still, I haven’t searched the space of OI praxis particularly thoroughly, so I can’t be certain of that certainty. My mission is thus both to expound my example of OI praxis and to demonstrate a process for how other examples might be found.

Before I begin with my own example of praxis for OI, I can identify one recurring soundbite that might also be an example, but which on closer inspection I do not believe is particularly compelling. The claim often (if not generally) surfaces in presentations of OI that if Open Individualism were a widespread belief, then human society would express much more compassion and empathy. Certainly this is a likely consequence. A shift in perspective about the connectedness of our minds with those of others would likely lead to a shift in altruistic vs selfish behaviors. To adopt such a futuristic possibility about human society as a praxis, however, would involve its immediate politicization and its shoehorning into a social movement. Such a praxis would be little more than ordinary human organizational behavior with an extraordinary goal notwithstanding: to spread a message about the nature of who we are. Adopting such a praxis may certainly be noble, but to do so in an exclusive way would be to ignore OI qua OI and its fascinating and unique contributions distinct in kind from all different beliefs that would also induce compassion and empathy at scale.

Open Individualism makes some radical claims about our relationships with each other and our relationships with our experiences. These claims may not be “true” in a way that permits empirical or technological advantages over Closed and Empty Individualism, but they do offer a framework for constructing new thoughts and identifying new connections. Most importantly, that framework may allow us to see alignments between conceptualities and deliberate behaviors that are the very substance of praxis. We can consider ordinary activities and then cast them into the extraordinary framework of OI and see what kind of hopes and motivations come out.

One activity that seems to be extremely common among humans is talking with oneself, and it is the basis of the example I will use. In particular when it is done with the movement of no muscles, we all have the experience of engaging, silently and effortlessly, with each of our own self as an audience. Often it’s just a brief monologue, sometimes a more intense dialogue. What happens if we consider such talking with oneself in the context of Open Individualism? Well, if we’re all just one experiencer, then the ability to talk with oneself silently and effortlessly would include the ability for anyone to do so with all the other pseudo-I’s elsewhere and elsewhen. Obviously this isn’t a deduced claim about the nature of OI (else it would be immediately disproved!), but instead more of an aspiration—a child’s gleeful dream sprouting after Open Individualism is sown on the fertile ground of their imagination. When the goal is praxis, what follows after a gleeful dream is not a return to rigor and a proof or disproof, but a creative pursuit of the dream—a good faith attempt to reconcile the dream with the theory in a way that motivates behavior.

So let’s try to reconcile this dream resulting from the collision of Open Individualism and talking with oneself. A hallmark of OI is that it understands the relationship one has with oneself at different times to be substantially similar to the relationship one has with others. Thus OI can inspire us, as a first step, to think about talking with oneself as an activity temporally displaced across experiences in one body. Usually we think about talking with oneself as something that can be packaged up into a short, self-contained episode happening at a specific time, but we can imagine what it would be like for one to talk to oneself in the past or the future. I could bury a letter to myself in a time capsule or upload myself speaking to myself to YouTube, but let’s stay with the silent and effortless motif suggested earlier. Silently and effortlessly talking to myself with temporal displacement would require me to start an intentional dialogue with myself that I would set down and then continue later after a period of time doing other things. I can think to myself “I hope you’re doing well :)” while imagining myself later thinking “Why yes, thank you, I’m doing well :)” and then later remember myself thinking “I hope you’re doing well :)” while thinking to myself “Why yes, thank you, I’m doing well :).”

This is nothing particularly revolutionary yet. Open Individualism, however, encourages us to analogize the temporally-displaced relationship with oneself with one’s relationships with others. I can think “I hope you’re doing well :)” and someone else can think “Why yes, thank you, I’m doing well :).” A problem arises here. The reason I am capable of enacting both sides of the dialogue as illustrated beforehand is that I have memory that connects my temporally displaced selves. Unfortunately, I have no such shared memory with others. Is memory actually necessary for this feat, though? This is the junction where the dream is most a dream. Memory is sufficient, evidently, because it’s responsible in at least that one case. Responsible for what? Responsible for two instances of the cosmic experiencer engaging silently and effortlessly with each other. Are there other media that can accomplish the same bridging as an individual memory can? Are media strictly necessary at all?

Telepathy makes an entrance. Unfortunately, telepathy does not appear to be a real phenomenon. Telepathy is disproved by the impossibility of causally disconnected information transfer. But information transfer is not the specific praxis we seek; we seek mindful engagement: silent and effortless talking. Telepathy lies disproved, but such engagement is, conceptually, something different. People accurately anticipating and responding to each other’s silent and effortless talking does not have to be telepathic. Perhaps they conferred on what to anticipate beforehand, or perhaps the anticipated is so quotidian that it is likely to spontaneously happen among a set of individuals practicing half-dialogues. The former is a medium leveraging memory, but instead of one memory it is two memories joined at a prior conversation. The latter is no medium at all. Both allow disconnected people to engage in silent and effortless talking; both are the cosmic experiencer communing with itself.

We have hit upon engaging in half-dialogues as a praxis for Open Individualism by building from talking with oneself. It is inspired by what Open Individualism has to say about the commonalities among the relationships between entities that experience, and then it enters back in as something whose practice makes those relationships more tangible and manifest. I’ve elsewhere called this Othermindfulness, and I consider it a praxis for OI. There is more work that can be done to take other activities and cast them into the framework of OI in order to get other or more developed praxes. I hope that you’re inspired to do so, and I hope that you’re also inspired to practice half-dialogues, but if not I hope that you’re at least more familiar with the ways in which others live the principles of Open Individualism.