Introducing the Cast (of Malcolm Ocean)

Hi! I’m Interface. You may remember me from A ritual to upgrade my Face. I’m the part of Malcolm that navigates most social situations, and represents the bulk of his personality. I also like self-expression in the form of blog posts. You’ll meet the rest of the cast on the Malcolm show in a bit. Although most of the characters aren’t that visible from the outside, usually.

The rest of this intro will just be in first person as Malcolm.

Brief context—feel free to skip ahead—as a result of the sci-fi novel Crystal Society (it’s fantastic, go read it) the CFAR alumni list got talking about modeling one’s society of mind. One alum linked to a blog by someone named Mory Buxner, in which he plays a game where he has 8 different parts, each of whom gets a particular kind of score for the kind of thing that they do, and they take turns being in charge of what Mory is up to.

I shared this post on Facebook, which prompted Brienne Yudkowsky to try breaking down her different Drives to Action in this way. She did so by having a dialogue between the different parts, in which they try to map out who all of the parts are, by figuring out which parts were attracted towards different activities. Activities that she’d done while spending a week doing whatever she felt like doing. Her blog post.

And yesterday/today, what I felt like doing was following her lead and doing this myself. I didn’t spend a week doing whatever I felt like—this seems to not actually work very well for me. But I made a list, from intuition. Then I clustered it into groups (some of these will end up merged). Then I talked to myself a bunch and managed to create a decent list of motivations—including a part that had been kind of hidden until now!

Without further ado…

A list of activities I’ve felt drawn towards recently, organized into clusters.

Cluster A: read fiction, watch movies (and occasionally TV shows), look at art / illusions / trippy videos.

Cluster B: play Dominion, MtG, and other games… cuddle, make out, scroll my facebook newsfeed, watch music videos, wikipedia adventures, random research.

Cluster C: do yoga, dance around in my room, go to raves / dance parties, go for a run, explore places I haven’t been before, practice physical skills / flow arts, practice guitar.

Cluster D: connect with people at my intentional community, listen to someone, hold space for someone, talk about relationships, go for a walk with a friend.

Cluster E: try to figure out how people work, make people laugh, have excited conversations, go to parties, cowork with people, skype friends.

Cluster F: make a personal development or habit-hacking plan, write intentions/outcomes, weekly reviews, outline things in workflowy, make models of things, make things be downhill for future me.

Cluster G: tweaking my website, decorating my space, changing my desktop background, ui/ux design, experiment with food, give startups feedback on their apps, share links on facebook, edit blog posts, graphic design.

Cluster H: inbox zero, run errands, buy groceries, shave, call businesses to sort stuff out, declutter, organize my stuff, anki, laundry.

Cluster I: programming, software design.

Cluster J: write blog posts, write songs, naming things, free association, making puns.


A dialogue, to figure it all out.

Director: I’m the main modeling entity (Cluster F), and I’m calling myself Director for now. So. We’ve got a list. I’m noting that even after smooshing together some non-obvious categories, we still have 9, which is 1 more than Mory and 3 more than Brienne—not obviously too many, but worth flagging. Also it seems that the list is biased towards…

Dream: A, B, and C. relaxing and fun stuff and unwinding and dopaminergic stuff. (PS: I’m the one behind Cluster J)

Director: the issue here is perhaps that we’re cataloguing “drives to action” and that lots of the actions we feel driven to do are driven by dopamine

Dream: also it’s not at all obvious that—

[Part I]: I want to make a system for us to talk to each other in different colors.

Director: not just yet.

Dream: that interruption actually adds to what I was about to say! it seems like PartB, the mostly dopaminergic bit, for which I’ve so far generated the names Crave, Desire, Obsession, Grip, might have way more in common with the programmer part that we might naively assume.

Director: yeah… I’m currently thinking about neurotransmitters, and how like, stimulants often cause increased focus… okay, wikipedia says that eg adderall does increase dopamine activity. I was briefly thinking that maybe there are two kinds of focus, like a histamine-based one (where the modafinil effect comes from) and a dopamine-based one.

Director: …okay, we just got distracted by wikipedia briefly. I was going to say “I got distracted” because we’d put things like “reading non-fiction” and “read blog posts” under my list… but it doesn’t necessarily feel like the same drive there. Like I feel like I wanted to make a short loop to verify my neurotransmitter idea and come back, but then some other motivation wanted to read more.

Crave: this is probably me.

Dream: Crave, do you like programming too? Or is that not your thing?

Crave: maybe, actually. I think perhaps there are multiple facets to programming. I like hacking! Making things nice is taken care of by Taste I think. And Dream, I think you do some of the solving of hard problems.

Director: I think that when we choose what to code in advance, that’s usually me, but when we just like, go off and randomly fix a bunch of bugs, that’s either Crave or Taste.

Dream: can we talk to Taste?

Taste: hmm, I mean, I think Crave and I actually overlap a lot. Or at least, what I have feels like a craving. But it’s a very different craving than the desire to play a certain game.

Taste: also this conversation would be easier to read if we’d created a thing that made each of our remarks a different color.

Director: I’m still not sure now’s the time for that, especially since we haven’t even figured out who’s who. Your response though suggests that maybe you’re the PartI who spoke up earlier?

Taste: it feels like the same impulse, yeah.

Dream: I want to describe Taste a bit more! Taste is convergence! Design! Systems! The main part of us that has a “getting it right” nature. Wanting quality, wanting… well, not quite accuracy… also wanting efficiency, in many ways. Taste also carries a substantial amount of our desire to improve the world, because currently the world is more dysfunctional than an sleep-tracking device with bright white lights on it. When we did the KonMari decluttering, Part H was executing the project, but it was Taste overseeing it and making lots of the decisions, and creating little systems in our room to make things nicer.

Director: Oh, interesting. We have “make things be downhill for future me” on my list, but it seems like maybe Taste does some of this as well?

Dream: I feel like we could also call you Hive Queen.

Director smiles.

Director: Okay, so Taste has a bit of obsession to it. Should we carve Crave et al differently then? We have a Part B (which we’ve been calling Crave) and a Part C, which is things like doing yoga, dancing, running, and also exploring. No, these still feel very different. We just did some pushups and stretching, pretty spontaneously (well, in response to a pomo bell and my arm being a little sore). Would the part that felt a desire to do that like to speak up?

Dream: Wait. I think I’m the one that likes exploring places I haven’t been. Like, wandering around has a free-associating quality to it. And playing guitar and practicing physical skills kind of have these qualities too. Like I’m not necessarily actually thinking new thoughts while I do them, but they feel regenerative to the ability to do so.

Director: Huh. I definitely buy the exploring part. Still not sure about the guitar bit, but we’ll try rearranging a bit.

Dream: Oh yeah, I see. Now it looks like running should be under me too, which I’m not sure about. I don’t think I have a coherent desire to go running. It happens for lots of reasons, ranging from crossing it off my list (Cluster H) to something more like Crave/Cluster B: just being excited about it in the spur of the moment.

Dream: dancing in my room can feel kind of introspective though, so I think it makes sense for me to take that. Like during this conversation we’ve sometimes danced around very briefly, and it often feels like me.

Director: sometimes me too though. I don’t think this is a clear action either, but more of a background habit / skill like “typing”. “Typing” is one way that we think. Dancing absently is another.

Taste: now we have “do yoga” and “go to raves / dance parties” as the only items left in Cluster C. I see how they’re related—they’re both a kind of caring for Body—but this is hardly a full drive at this point.

Director: I think the raves thing is a mix of Crave and the social stuff. And then most of our doing yoga at the moment is actually roughly me deciding that it’s important and putting it on the list, and then Part H wanting to cross it off the list.

[Part H]: I’ve been overwhelmed by how much stuff is going on the list lately, without a sense of who’s going to take care of it. Though today was nicer, though… only basically one item for each goal.

Director: Oh, yeah, that might be an issue with the selfref motivation thing. It kind of has the structure of me and Part H combined. But it would be good to employ Crave and Taste and Dream more.

Dream: Maybe Part H would be called “Clarity”. Like I was just contrasting it with Brienne’s “Progress” but it feels distinctively different, because it’s like, the thing that it wants is for everything to be in its place. Which sounds like “Order”. But also to have boxes be empty.

Taste: the desire for things to have good places to be is a lot me. I think I manage our gmail labels, for instance.

Director: hmm, who manages the filters?

Taste: I think I design some of them but Clarity modifies them when they’re not capturing what they should be. Director, probably also also you do a bit of this, in deciding what’s important and how to classify things.

Director: Alright, what’s still left?

Clarity/Completion:

  • we haven’t settled on a name for me
  • Director seems to want a new name as well, though they haven’t said so
  • we haven’t done much investigation of the social/culture stuff at all (D and E)
  • we still haven’t quite understood Crave
  • we still haven’t quite mapped out our motivations for programming

Director: Haha cool. Clarity, can you help us wrap up this list at all?

Clarity: We can start with my name.


*We spent a lot of time (probably over an hour, some here and some later in the dialogue) trying to come up with a better name for Clarity, including trying out some Latin ones. Dream and Taste had a
lot of fun doing this. We considered using “Progress”, but then apparently that wasn’t quite right. It seems that we’re going to go with “Clarity”.*


Director: Okay, my new name?

Dream: Let’s follow Brienne’s lead again… what are your properties?

Director: I like planning out how we can be better… scheming about this, and setting us up with momentum to do it. I like modeling how all of us work, and I care about getting it right. I like coordinating things to happen, organizing events. I was pretty active in both the organizing of Focus Week and while we were there when we were strategizing and so on. (Although Clarity took care of a bunch of the little org tasks of course) I like trying things to see if they work. I like making models in general, but particularly about people and psychology.

Dream: The Mastermind.

Mastermind: Yesssss.

Dream: My pleasure. I think it felt as good to generate that as it did to have it resonate.

Clarity: 2 down, 3 to go!

Dream: I have a model of how programming works! We get working on something via Clarity or Taste (either something’s on the todo list or it’s out of place when we go to use Complice or whatever) and then once we’re going, Crave takes over.

Crave: that makes sense to me. When I’m not coding, Facebook or checking my email or like, basically the entire internet can be a lot more attractive. But once I’m coding, I’m a machiiiiine.

Dream grins.

Clarity: did you just kill two birds with one stone?

Mastermind: no, I don’t think we quite understand how Crave works yet. But here’s part of a model: Crave is indeed a machine as long as things feel tractable, but once he feels stuck, he flinches to superstimuli. In order for us to continue working, we’d need Dream or I to take over. Or Clarity, who can maybe be more exhaustive and rigorous about doing it even though it’s hard. Dream, possibly with my help, if it’s a creative problem with multiple solutions… and Clarity if it’s a messy bug that’s hard to grapple with.

Crave: that makes sense, yeah! But… we can’t use this to keep me from ever doing dopaminergic stuff on the internet! That would be sad. I feel scared!

Mastermind hugs Crave *(however that makes sense for two mental entities)*

Mastermind: let’s look at your list again… yeah, I think I reflectively endorse most of what’s on here, to be honest! We just don’t want to do it when we’re in the middle of a pomodoro, or some other period of focus.

Crave: Okay! Umm, this isn’t a threat exactly, but I do predict that if I don’t get enough of what I need, I’ll become flinchier.

Mastermind: That makes sense.

Dream: How do these map onto Brienne’s at the moment?

Dream: Dream
Clarity: Progress
Crave: Obsession
Mastermind: Sovereign

…Taste… is related to her Kodama & Ava, but quite different also.

And then I still have one, maybe two interpersonal parts. Also it looks like we’re going to have a reasonable number: 6-7, maybe 8.

[an as-yet-unnamed-part]: a question just came to mind, which is like, framing Clarity as the completer of tasks on a list is kind of accurate, but I think it’s worth also trying to figure out which kinds of tasks Clarity likes doing and which kinds of things are draining to handle with that sort of approach. That feels really important.

Mastermind: Agreed. Also it’s naptime. Have fun Dream 😉


Dream: I had lots of good thoughts! I don’t remember half of them of course, but the main idea I had was using this model to try to explain various issues. Like can this model explain why we’ve intermittently had trouble getting up lately? Can it explain why it was hard to get motivated about schoolwork back in University? Potentially. Right now, we’re gonna go make toast.


Mastermind: we connected with some people while we were gone, which seemed like it fit in with what’s going on, since the main thing remaining is to figure out how the people part(s) work(s).

Dream: so one drive that’s definitely present is a drive to have people pay attention to us—canonically, Face. This drive is what makes Malcolm want to make people laugh (although I’m often the one composing the jokes) and is also the main thing driving my sense of having a personality. I sometimes find myself wanting to call this part Interface, which we could do, you know, with Face for short 😛

(Inter)Face: I dig that. What else do I like beyond getting attention? I also like directing attention more broadly, sending it to other parts of the conversational system or whatnot. And recently I’ve been learning to listen a bit more. When we did the ritual in March, we decided to let it be me who pays attention to where other people are at and does context-sensitivity and stuff. So then the question is, if I’m taking care of that, have we missed some other drive?

Mastermind: I also wonder to what extent Face drives things like blogging. Even now, in theory I called this meeting to order, but there’s been a background sense that I might post this to the internet, and I suspect that the drive to do that is Face. Although I guess model-style writing is also driven by Dream and Taste, working in tandem. But Face is a large part of why we want to publish.

Interface: I think I may prefer to be called Interface, not just Face, actually. Or, hm. If we want to break me into parts, then I have an Inter part which pays attention to other people and how to connect to them, and a Face part which is like, ego or whatever.

Dream: This sounds dangerously much like the Homunculus Fallacy. Although as a counterpoint, maybe we just say that Inter and Face are each top-level parts, but part of the idea of the ritual was to get them sufficiently on a team that we can talk about Interface as a single unit, kind of like Amdijefri in A Fire Upon The Deep.

Taste: Okay, maybe. The alternative is that Interface is the upgraded version of Face, following the ritual in March, and that there is yet another part.

Clarity: I feel like the lists we have under D and E are basically covered by Interface.

Mastermind: Well, do we have a coherent non-Interface part who can articulate their drive to action?

Harmony: Hi, I’m… Harmony…? I care about there being flow in interpersonal systems, and connection. I get sad when two of my friends are having trouble relating.

Mastermind: I’m noticing some vague uncertainty among myself and the other parts around your nature. We don’t doubt you exist, but we don’t yet feel like we understand you.

Taste: for instance, I hold some caring around this sort of thing as well. It’s specifically people-oriented, but I want systems to be flowy and relationships to be good.

Harmony: I think maybe you only want this in a kind of abstract, from-the-outside way. I want closeness and comfort and safety, and to be able to express my needs to other people, and to be able to reach out to them when I feel lost or disconnected, and, and…

Dream: whoa, is this the part that Malcolm has only just recently been getting in touch with… that has been absorbing pain/trauma from upsetting interpersonal experiences, and is also feeling timid about the possibility of upsetting other people?

Mastermind: Harmony might also be the part we need to be able to get out of those traps where we feel ughy and unmotivated and out of touch.

Dream: kind of like Sadness in Inside Out!

Harmony: yeah!

Mastermind: okay, this is exciting. Nice to meet you, Harmony.

Harmony: I think I contain the yoga drive, as well.

Mastermind: …that makes sense!

Dream: I’m wondering what genders we might have… I think most of us feel pretty gender-neutral? Harmony is female I think. We used “he” for Crave. Clarity feels genderless in the way that an algorithm is genderless, and might even want to be called “it”? Or perhaps “they”. That leaves me, Interface, Mastermind, and Taste.

Interface: I feel genderfluid. Probably mostly male pronouns, but idgaf, like Malcolm-as-a-whole.

Taste: I don’t care, as far as I can tell.

Mastermind: I think I’m a large part of where we get stuff like “I sometimes feel like my gender is tiger.” Not sure that helps.

Dream: I have as much gender as the cosmos.

Mastermind: welp, that didn’t get us very far. Anyway, let’s wrap up. Anyone have any unresolved matters?

Taste: we don’t have have unique first letters… Clarity, Crave, Dream, Harmony, Interface, Mastermind, Taste. Everything’s good except the first two.

Mastermind: I think that’ll have to do for now. We might be able to upgrade Crave to be more like Brienne’s Obsession though, which could prompt a renaming. Like more into skill development and so on, less addicted to the internet.

Crave: I think I would like that—for my desires to pull us towards things that bring us long-term value, and that are life-enriching, not just rewarding in the short-term.

Dream: this is unrelated, but… I kind of want to connect our parts model to the intentions quadrants and enneatypes and stuff.

Mastermind: later.

Dream: hmm… what if we called me “Fractal”? Although Dream is just as good and is convenient since I am basically the analogue of Crystal Society’s Dream, and that way this is more legible.

Mastermind: Dream you can have these thoughts offline. Okay, what’s on for the rest of the day? About 2h until the Monday evening community meeting.

Interface: I’d like to publish this on the blog.

Mastermind: I think that makes sense!

Clarity: after that… we have a lot of stuff on the list today that we’ve been meaning to do since last week. It’s really dragging me down. I want it done, but ideally someone else could get excited about doing it.

Mastermind: cool, we’ll approach that after publishing. I’m also noting that I’m wanting to give Harmony some space since we just met her.

Harmony: I really appreciate that… and I think that the meeting this evening will probably actually be a good way for me to unpack what I’ve got going on, or in conversation after that. I don’t need to do it before.

Mastermind: cool! Interface, you’re up!


EDIT: after a bunch of dialogue on Facebook, in which people expressed various reservations about this sort of thing, it seems worth noting that it’s not exactly designed to be figuring out the truth of what sort of thing I’m made of. Not that I don’t think I understand things better now than I did before, but like, this is intended to be a practical system, a sort of experiment to see if acting as different characters can make motivation easier. Kind of like Work Hard, Play Hard, except it’s Dream Hard, Interface Hard, Mastermind Hard, etc. Or like Maker/Manager’s Schedule.

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About Malcolm

Constantly consciously expanding the boundaries of thoughtspace and actionspace. Creator of Complice, a system for achieving your important goals.

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4 Comments

クリス » 27 Apr 2016 » Reply

From Brienne’s and your post it seemed like fun, so I tentatively started to do this… and WHOOOSH it turned out much for fun than I had suspected.

I don’t know if you both just skipped that part of the description, but in my case it is *much* more vivid.

My characters have not only names and genders, but also separate…

… ages, races,

… clothes, or objects they hold in their hands,

… body language, gestures, mannerisms, facial expressions, tones of voice,

… favorite places in which they sit, walk etc.

At some point they are like, who needs *names*? We know who we are!

クリス » 27 Apr 2016 » Reply

It’s getting crazier and crazier.

In the meantime, we seem to have settled on using loose nicknames, which get bandied around in various forms and languages, and which no one identifies with too much.

One mute animal and one inanimate, mute object have entered the scene.

One character got into the habit of putting on a special hat and standing in for another related persona.

Yet another one is constantly making fun of another one’s fake beard.

Also, some of us have already started to settle in – bringing in chairs, blankets, yoga mats etc.

    Malcolm » 27 Apr 2016 » Reply

    Haha that sounds like total chaos. Glad you’re enjoying it 😛

    I don’t have that much vivid mental imagery… there’s a bit of tone of voice stuff, but not much more than that.

クリス » 28 Apr 2016 » Reply

I wanted to report an important tip for anyone who’s trying this: don’t consider your list of “threads” closed on the first day!

(And probably it’s a good idea to always keep the door open for whoever may happen to manifest themselves, and make them feel welcome.)

Our D has been thinking on the first day that he had gathered everyone (and our C had been pushing the issue a little to have a neat and complete list).

On the second day, no one new appeared, apparently confirming the status quo (though D was surprised to see in the morning that not everyone woke up at the same time!).

However today (the third day of our explicit existence), we unexpectedly had someone new reveal herself, and it makes a lot of sense for her to appear late: it turns out she has a preference *for herself not to exist*.

That’s why she didn’t come out immediately, and even tried to dodge our attempts to explicitly include her in our group!

Though now that we have seen her, everyone agrees she is as important as any of us, and may even be the second or the third in terms of sheer firepower.

To be honest, I think our P is a total psycho in many respects.

She admits she would like to see not only herself, but *all* of us ceasing to exist.

I am hopeful that we can win her favor in time, and our explicit cooperation will give her better results than continuing to be a lone wolf (though I admit it is in my nature to be biased towards sharing and cooperation).

Greetings for Malcolm’s Interface, and please give my regards to every other part too!

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