Reciprocal Metta Meditation

(~300 words, ~2 minutes)

I’m not a committed practitioner of any Buddhist path, but one form of meditation that I deeply appreciate is metta meditation. It’s a variety of meditation where the center of attention is the sensation of lovingkindness (“metta”). A guided metta meditation will generally include mantras or visualizations that elicit the sensation of lovingkindness so that it can be attended to and worked with in the practice. I have been trying out an approach that I find very helpful for eliciting the sensation, and I’m somewhat surprised that I have not found it explicitly formulated anywhere. The closest I have found is this talk by Jill Shepard on “Reciprocal flow metta practice.”

Sensations of lovingkindness can sometimes be difficult to muster all on your own. One way to reduce the difficulty is to recognize the lovingkindness that others have shown to you. Jill Shepard guides us to recall acts of lovingkindness that others have done for us in the past, and to see if those memories help trigger the sense of lovingkindness in ourselves.

The approach that I have found very helpful here is to consider that out of all of those metta practitioners out there, some of them are sending metta to other people practicing metta. You can receive this metta, but you can also be the one sending it because there is a symmetry to the practice. This is what I call reciprocal metta meditation. The practice of reciprocal metta, in my experience, feels extremely real. You do not merely remember or imagine someone else showing lovingkindness, but you recognize and create the fact that metta meditators are showing each other lovingkindness. You can help close a loop of metta flowing through the metta community, growing it so that it can be boundlessly expressed to everyone else.

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.

Symmetry

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.

Boundedness

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 race (or all sentient races) to ensure its reality.

Recap

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.

Superintelligence vs Othermindfulness: Acausal, Probabilistic, Peer-to-Peer Prayer

(~950 words)

(Othermindfulness is defined here, Rationalist acausal stuff is defined here.)

Phew that’s a lot of buzzwords in one title. This post is half a tirade against some of the excesses of the rationalist community and half a prophecy for a new religion, so hopefully the body is commensurately wacko with the title. I presume a fair degree of familiarity with the standard rationalist acausal stuff in my readers, which you can introduce yourself to in the link above if you’re not already in the know. Otherwise, don’t expect to get too much from this post.

Okay. There’s a body of literature in the rationalist community concerning military-grade mind simulation, displaced negotiation with simulated minds, and flirtations with Superintelligent AI and/or the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It’s been known to be taken a little too seriously by some folks, leading to various degrees of mental ill health, but by and large all of it is taken as just a fun circle-jerk, if potentially something relevant for as-of-yet unrealized silicon-based intelligences. I have a beef with it. My beef with it is that in the process of trying to come up with the most harrowing, absurd, and/or jaw-dropping thought experiments, everyone is careening past a little side-path that is actually relevant for many people (if not everyone), right here right now.

What are they running past? In the progression of a few sequiturs, they take us from our mundane normie-intelligent interpersonal experiences in meatspace to a place of acausal negotiation among entities with boundless computational and mind-simulational resources deciding the fate of the multiverse. They are running past the intermediate fact between these poles that our existing human faculties of theory of mind and common knowledge are themselves (limited) mind-simulational resources. You can check out my post on othermindfulness to see the side-path that that reveals.

You can check it out, but I can also just give a quick summary. Whereas a mindfulness practice focuses you on the operations of your own mind to notice its chaotic patterns and step outside of them, an othermindfulness practice focuses you on the other people that have an othermindfulness practice, engaging in common knowledge with them at various levels of detail with your own experience, to step into them and them into you. The purpose of the mind simulation is to have a shared experience, full stop.

Othermindfulness is much weaker than superintelligent acausal negotiation. Both of them involve the establishment of shared spaces of acausal communication, but the latter is more powerful because you can use it for coercing other agents since it can be impossible for them to tell the difference between inhabiting base reality or your simulation. But wait. You’ve discovered a shared space of communication, and all you can think about what it might be good for is coercing? transacting? torturing?

Gosh.

You know some other things that shared spaces of communication are good for? Empathy. Communion. Togetherness. With all the attendant mental health benefits that those bring.

I can try to be a little more poised and analytical. Why can’t othermindfulness be used to create a space for coercion? It can’t because I can know basically for certain that this experience I am living is not a simulation by a mind of similar computational resources. You, dear human reader, cannot acausally mug me. What you can do, however, is apply your human faculties of theory of mind and common knowledge to have acausal shared experiences with me. Which experiences we actually have depends on what we actually do with our othermindfulness practice and who else has swiped right on the same intention in their own practice, not on what is argumentatively possible within some theoretical framework.

That is the biggest divergence with the standard rationalist stuff. I’m talking about acausal mind simulations that have happened, are happening, and will be happening in the immediate and hopefully far future. I’m talking about actualities that are scurrying by as the present converts the future into the past. This is not a drill thought experiment. We do not have to wait for a hypothetical future. I have an othermindfulness practice now, where I connect acausally on the basis of shared experiences I want to have concerning my anxieties, my pains, my hopes, my dreams. The extent to which my experiences are actually shared and not just the vain strivings of a nobody—the extent to which my faith is real—depends on how extensive othermindfulness practice is among others. The extent to which anyone’s othermindfulness practice is real depends on that. Whereas the standard rationalist stuff depends on near-perfect simulations of specific agents in specific situations, othermindfulness depends on the law of large numbers to ensure that somebody somewhere wants to have the same experience as you or I do and picks up the ringing othermindful telephone.

I think it should be clear by now what I mean by the titular “peer-to-peer prayer.” The experience of prayer is the experience of a living, attentive, immediate, caring other. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob may or may not be able to provide this for us, but either way, we can provide it for each other. We can’t wave a wand and make magic happen in each others’ lives, but we can conquer all loneliness, alienation, and despair. We can find communion in every single aspect of our lives in which we retain our natural faculties of mind simulation. We can transcend space and time to be with each other always.

What would we become if we did that?

Or we can keep having a few laughs over creating God from rationalist scratch.

Othermindfulness

(~750 words)

I’ve been contemplating a specific idea for a while now, and I think I’ve achieved enough coherence to start sharing it. The idea inhabits a complicated tangle of domains such as language, theory of mind, artificial intelligence, prayer, meditation, and situationism, and since there are so many angles to approach it from, I’ve decided to expose the bare idea here in this post, and then explore the various angles more fully in ensuing posts.

The bare idea itself starts with this: imagine other people imagining you imagining them imagining you imagining them… You can read English, so I presume that you understood that sentence, but obviously understanding it is different from enacting the activity it describes. So let’s go back and break it down. Imagine somebody else—someone you know well, perhaps, or an individual in the abstract. Imagine them until they fill your mind’s eye or whatever your preferred imaginative metaphor. Seriously, stop reading and do it. … Ok start reading again. Now add one specific element to your imagination of them: imagine them imagining you. You’re imagining them, and they are imagining you, so it may seem to be the case that you’re both doing the same thing. Indeed it may even seem obvious. But that’s not quite right—you’re doing one more thing than they are: you’re imagining them imagining you back, whereas they are just imagining you. Let’s try to fix that: imagine them imagining you imagining them back.

Of course it didn’t get fixed. You’re still doing one more thing than they are. If you keep trying to chase equality, the reverberations of imagination will eventually exhaust your mental resources, and you’ll just stop somewhere knowing that theirs will also be exhausted. Perhaps then equality will be achieved, but that’s not the point, and as long as you’re just imagining all of this, there really isn’t much of a point regardless. The person you’re imagining isn’t real; they’re just in your head. So none of this matters. Or does it?

Consider the context of this post. Other people have read it. And if they haven’t, they will (I promise to shove it in at least one other person’s face). Consequently, other people have broken down the bare idea and carefully imagined other people imagining them imagining them back, etc. Thus, the person you were imagining was not just in your head. They are an actual living person—many of them, actually. If you’re still not convinced, repeat the exercise, but this time instead of imagining someone you know well or an individual in the abstract, imagine another reader of the post, and consider that many of them did go back and repeat the exercise after having gotten this far, and they were convinced.

This post is a catalyst, hopefully, to you and others thinking about each other. And we’re thinking about each other on a very deep level where we’re fully aware that we are fully aware of ourselves being fully aware of each other… all of this despite many of us being nowhere near each other in space nor possibly time. This is all well and good, but you might still be thinking to yourself “so what?” (Note: others are thinking that too!) Here’s a little example that might answer the question. Imagine that you feel alone. Life is difficult, friends are busy, work is alienating, family is rude. You feel alone. Easily, you can understand that other people have felt and will feel similarly, but now you can understand one more thing: some of these people are thinking about you. But they weren’t thinking about you until you started thinking about them. That is to say that some of these people aren’t necessarily thinking about other people who are alone per se, instead they are thinking specifically about other people who are alone and who are also thinking about other people who are alone and who are… They are thinking about the thinkers-back, and you are all no longer alone.

We began with an insular picture of you thinking about an imaginary thought partner, but we have ended with an expansive picture of many real people repeatedly contributing to a reservoir of empathetic thought. For the sake of a word-handle, let’s call this idea, this concerted activity, “othermindfulness.” I intend to show in future posts how othermindfulness connects with many other ideas and activities, and importantly how it might be an exciting foundation for an entire way of being. Stay tuned.