The next step for Twitter: Multi-Quote-Tweet

As someone currently experiencing substantial amounts of collective intelligence on Twitter, here’s some of what I’m seeing as the emerging edge of new behaviors and culture, and one bottleneck on our capacity to think together and make sense of the world.

Some of us are pioneering a new experience of Twitter that’s amazing, and that wouldn’t be possible on any other platform that exists today.

Conversation is thinking together.

Collective intelligence is, at its core, good conversation.

Many people, on and off Twitter, think of it as a shouting fest, and parts of it are. And… at the same time, on the same app, with the same features but some different cultural assumptions, there are pockets where people are meeting the others, making scientific progress, falling in love, healing their trauma, starting businesses together, and sharing their learning processes with each other.

Those sorts of metrics—as hard to measure as they are—form a kind of north star for Twitter. This creature has the potential to be the best dating app (for some people) and a way better place for finding your dream job than LinkedIn (for many people). And so on.

Cities have increased creativity & innovation per capita per capita, ie when you add more people each person becomes more, because more people & ideas can bump into each other. The internet is a giant city, and this is far more true on Twitter than any other platform, particularly because of how tightly it allows the interlinking of ideas with Quote Tweets.

Twitter is very much about “what’s happening [now]” but, as the world has been collectively realizing over the past decade, simply knowing “what’s happening” in some isolated way is meaningless and disorienting. Meaning comes from filtering & distilling & contextualizing what’s happening, and this is part of what Twitter is already so brilliant for, because everyone can talk to everyone and the ultra-short-form non-editable medium encourages you to tweet today’s thoughts today rather than drafting them today, editing them tomorrow, then scheduling them for next week’s newsletter.

When someone makes a quote-tweet, they’re essentially saying “I have some thoughts I’d like to share, that relate to the tweet here”. This might be a critique of the quoted tweet/thread, or it might be using the quoted material as a sort of footnote of supportive evidence or further reading or ironic contrast. This meta-commentary is very powerful, whether it’s used by someone reflected “I think what I really meant to say here was” or someone framing a thread they just read as an answer to a particular question they and their followers might care about.

Currently, however, it’s impossible to QT two or more tweets at once. This means that in the natural ontology of Twitter, there is no way to properly compare or contrast or relate different thoughts.

This contributes, I think, to the fragmented & divergent quality of thinking on Twitter: the structure of the app makes it hard to express convergent thoughts. You can use screenshots… but then all context & interlinking & copy-pastability is destroyed. You can have a meta-thread that pulls a bunch of things together… but each tweet in that thread is still only referencing one other tweet, so there’s no single utterance that performs the act of relating other utterances.

The amount of utterances that need to connect two other pre-existing utterances is huge. Thoughts shaped like:

  • X & Y are similar takes on the same thing by different people
  • X is a better articulation of Y
  • X is an earlier articulation of Y
  • X & Y contradict
    • (especially noteworthy if they were tweeted by the same person… did they change their mind or learn something new? or are they just saying what sounds good in a given moment, rather than from a deeper principle? or maybe there’s some deeper understanding they have where they don’t contradict)
  • X & Y are aesthetically related
  • X implies Y
  • which is better, X or Y?
  • if both X & Y are true, wouldn’t that imply Z!?
  • “How it started — How it’s going:”
  • responding to multiple similar questions in an AMA

Similarly to how the #hashtag & @-mentions evolved from user behavior, and the Retweet functionality evolved out of people copying others tweets and tweeting them out with “RT @username: ” at the start, and Quote Tweeting evolved out of people pasting a link to another tweet within their tweet… MultiQT is a natural evolution of the “screenshot of multiple tweets” and “linking tweets together as a train of thought using multiple QTs in a thread” behaviors.

I didn’t even realize quite how much I’d want this until I started mocking up the screenshots below by messing with the html in the tweet composer and being so sad I couldn’t just hit “Send Tweet”. I can already tell that like @-mentions and RTs, once we’re used to this it’ll feel absurd to think we ever lived without it.

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The meta-protocol for human trust-building

A protocol is a set of behaviors and expectations for interaction, whether explicit, such as Non-Violent Communication, or just the unspoken cultural norms of any social group. Shared protocols can dramatically increase people’s ability to collaborate and trust each other. But trying to get everyone to operate the same way is imperial, like trying to get everyone to speak the same language, and thus generates a ton of resistance if you try it.

The meta-protocol is the translation process, the dance by which trust is built between and within people. The meta-protocol is actually relevant even if two people think they’re already following the same protocol, because inasmuch as that protocol is inadequate… 

  • not able to be used for a particular situation
  • ambiguous and understood differently by each person
  • a person isn’t fully bought into the protocol as stated thus is unable to consistently use it

…the meta-protocol is what allows them to notice that and iteratively improve whatever they’re doing and patch those gaps. (Such patches might produce a new ongoing implicit or explicit protocol, or not.)

No matter how perfect a hypothetical protocol might be, it’s impossible to systematically address everything that arises in the complex experience of being human together. There will be gaps, including during the learning process for how people can come to use a protocol consistently. The meta-protocol is whatever fully and completely answers the question of “well, then what do you do in the meantime, or when those gaps occur?”

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What are you knot-doing?

You know that thing where you spend a lot of time NOT doing something?

Like you can’t actively do anything else (spontaneously nor decisively) because you’re supposed to be doing the thing, but you’re also not doing the thing because of some conflict/resistance.

I’ve decided to call this knot-doing. (I have another post in the works called knot-listening). You can just pronounce the k if you want to distinguish it from “not doing” in the daoist sense. Or call the latter “non-doing” and be done with it.

Here are some examples of knot-doing:

  • You feel like you should be working on your grad thesis… pretty much always… so it’s hard to make time to go out and have fun, or to go to the gym… but you don’t actually spend more than a couple hours here and there actually working on it.
  • You’re sitting at your desk at work and you don’t feel like doing your assignment so you’re sorta scrolling through your email and you sorta wish you were working on a side project but you can’t actually work on a side project on company time.
  • It’s a nice day and you’d love to be outside, but you’d decided you’re going to spend the day doing your taxes… and you will… any minute now… after you clean the sink, because you know, it could really use cleaning… and come to think of it the shower is also kinda gungy…

You might be inclined to just call this “procrastination” but I think that knot-doing is a more specific phenomenon because it points at the lack of agency experienced while being in the state of not doing something—your agency is tied up in knots. A student may be procrastinating if they go to a party instead of working on their homework, but if they’re letting go and having fun at the party then it’s not knot-doing. I’m arguably procrastinating on fixing my phone’s mobile data after a recent OS upgrade, but I’m doing loads of other stuff in the meantime.

Why does knot-doing occur?

Unresolved internal conflict, most fundamentally. You’re a bunch of control systems in a trenchcoat, and if part of you has an issue with your plan, it can easily veto it and prevent it from happening. Revealed preferences can be a misleading frame, but if you leave aside what you think you want for a moment and look at yourself as a large complex system, it’s clear to see that if the whole system truly decided to do anything in its capability, it would simply be doing it. I want to type these words, my hands move to type them. Effortless.

Sex can be a workout, physically, depending on the position, but until we actually become tired, we usually also experience it as effortless when we’re so in the flow that we just want to do it. Same with dancing. Being in a flow state, whether work or play, is basically the opposite of knot-doing.

I want to break down my above statement: “You’re a bunch of control systems in a trenchcoat”. First, what’s a control system? The simplest and most familiar example is a thermostat: you set a temperature, and if the temperature gets too low, it turns on the furnace to resolve that error, until the temperature measured by the thermostat reaches the reference level that you set for it.

But what prompts you to adjust the temperature setting? You probably walked over to the thermostat and changed it because you were yourself too hot or too cold. You have your own intrinsic reference level for temperature, which is like a thermostat in you. Except instead of just two states (furnace on, furnace off), your inner thermostat controls a dense network of other control systems which can locomote you to adjust the wall thermostat, open a window, put on a sweater, make a cup of tea, or any number of other strategies (habitual or creative) to get yourself to the right temperature.

Without explaining much more about this model (known as Perceptual Control Theory) I want to point out an important implication for internal conflict, by way of a metaphor: if your house has separate thermostats for an air conditioner and a furnace, and you set the AC to 18°C and the furnace to 22°C……. you’re going to create a conflict.

What actually happens in this scenario?

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Internal Trust Dancing case study 3: easy but impossible; welcoming suspicion

This is a sequel case study to Internal Trust Dancing case study: scheduling & cancelling dates. This was my second session with this client, and here we look something a bit deeper, less concrete, and more meta-conflicted. A lot of the moves are the same, but there were a few moments where something else was needed.


M: So I’m interested in knowing as part of part of going into this… what does the moment look like, when you tip over into the despair space? Like, what happens just before that happens? And you can share whatever’s arising, even if it doesn’t feel like an answer to that question.

C: I can feel exactly where it starts… it’s when I think about doing something that I want to do, like, think about a goal, a work goal or personal goal. And it’s almost like, it loses value, you know? But I’m trying to move back to that moment… There’s some kind of aversion, like, “No, no, go back. Don’t do that.” And it’s not fear, it’s almost…

M: Wondering if this feels related to the thing you said earlier around feeling like “not allowed to do that, shouldn’t do that”

C: Yes, definitely. Wow, yeah! This sense that you’re not allowed to take that step. When I say “step”, I mean “everything”. Like you’re not allowed to move to that location… go to that other place. It feels really physical, like, there’s a gap. Like “No, no, don’t do that. You shouldn’t go there, you’re not allowed to go there.”

M: What kind of “not allowed” is it, in the physical metaphor?

C: It feels more like a gap, like something that I cannot jump, you know?

M: So even more physical, like, not allowed by the laws of physics.

C: [laughs]  yeah.

M: …but we usually don’t frame it that way, like “I’m not allowed to levitate”… so, there’s something kinda funny there.

C: Yeah.

M: Huh, maybe it might occur more like that to a little kid though, it’s like… if I’m a little kid, “I wanna levitate! I saw a guy do it in the anime I watched! Mommy how do I levitate?” and she says it with the same tone that she says “Sorry, you can’t have a fourth cookie.” And you don’t realize that the “can’t” is a different kind of “can’t”.

C: [laughs]  huh, yeah.

M: I’m going to offer what’s called a sentence stem. Basically, it’ll be like the first half of a sentence and you can just try saying it a few times and sort of see what comes out as the second half. So: “if I try to jump this gap…”

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“Mindset choice” is a confusion

I said that to some friends—“mindset choice” is a confusion—and they were like “what?” and I wrote this response.

In order for this post to make much sense, you’ll need some referent for what I’m calling below “the complete stance” and “confused stances”… these are pretty obscure terms used by David Chapman on meaningness.com. I sent a draft of this to David and he said “it makes sense”. I used different terms in the original, which are even more obscure.

Arguably this point might hold for terms like “growth mindset” and “fixed mindset” but these are often treated pretty shallowly, and growth mindset has to be seriously steelmanned in order to be anywhere near as complete as the complete stance. In any case, we’re talking about constellations of foundational assumptions.

I refer below to “the complete stance” as having certain self-evident properties. If those properties aren’t obvious to you, then I must be pointing at something else than what you think I’m pointing at—either something completely different or something approximately the same but with some other detail. The thing I’m pointing at is precisely the thing that has those properties. So insofar as you have a referent that seems to work, try it on, but if it doesn’t fit, aim towards one that does. This is central to what I’m saying here.


To get started with, here’s another important not-what-I’m-saying: I don’t think “choice” is always a confusion. There’s something people experience that we created the word “choice” for… but that doesn’t mean that this is the best concept for the job. We created telegraphs, but now we don’t use them because we have email & phones. Newton created a model of mechanics, which is still the best model for doing most human-scale engineering but fails when things get really tiny or really fast. Nor does it mean that the thing it was originally invented for is the thing it’s being used for now. It might be a metaphorical application for which it is ill-suited.

It seems to me that “choice” is best suited for things like “do I choose to get on the plane to Paris or the one to Dubai?” Once the plane is in the air, the choice has been made and no further choice is needed—or even possible. Mindset is clearly not like this—one tries to choose, then discovers one has apparently unchosen without even noticing. Wat.

It seems also that “choice” is somewhat well-suited for situations like Malcolm & Sarah choosing to go to British Columbia. We were in the state of not having chosen for awhile, but being aware of such a choice, and then there was a moment when we chose. And ofc, if Sarah’s car had completely fallen apart, or an avalanche had completely blocked the entire Rocky Mountains, or we had had the worst fight of our entire relationship, or we’d gotten invited to an epic context somewhere else in the world, maybe we would have then chosen something different. But in the absence of some major unknown unknown, we were now in a state of intending to incorporate all emergent factors into a plan that included going to BC. To not let letdowns or breakdowns or meltdowns or lockdowns otherwise disturb that overall plan.

Mindset/stance, still, does not appear to me to be like this, inasmuch as with mindset:

A) people “choose” but then this choice appears to later get reverted without a conscious intention to choose otherwise. This would be like Sarah and I forgetting that we chose to go to BC. This does sometimes happen in relation to concrete choices too but it’s weird and indicates unconscious resistance here as well and more choosing is NOT the answer.

B) the complete stance is by definition better than confused stances in all ways, so if you appear to have a choice and the answer isn’t obvious, then the thing you have labelled “complete stance” isn’t the real thing. It’s missing something. And if the answer is obvious, why bother calling it a choice? (except perhaps as an interesting exercise… I’ve done this exercise on mundane things sometimes—it’s worth doing!)

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thinking that rejects other thinking

I want to point at a style of thinking that I’ll call [[thinking that rejects other thinking]].

(not sure this is the right name but it’s what I’m going with for now)

It’s a hard thing to point at.

Many have tried to point at [[thinking that rejects other thinking]], in many ways (and with many terms for it) and most of the ways that people try to point at it end up resulting in people ending up engaging in [[thinking that rejects other thinking]] about the very concept of [[thinking that rejects other thinking]], despite attempting not to. Sometimes the original articulator isn’t doing this but almost always the people around them still are. Usually the original articulator is too, at least a little.

This is unfortunate, not because [[thinking that rejects other thinking]] is bad, but because then they miss all the wisdom hiding in whatever other thinking they’re dismissing or distrusting because they’re seeing it as [[thinking that rejects other thinking]]!

Symmetrically, this is also unfortunate because it makes their own wisdom less accessible to those whose thinking they’re dismissing or distrusting.

On a meta-level, this is furthermore unfortunate because it creates a bunch of muddle around the very thing they’re trying to point at, which is an important thing to point at. (I clearly think so since I’m here trying to point at it.)

Perhaps, instead of pointing at [[thinking that rejects other thinking]], I will point at what kind of thinking isn’t [[thinking that rejects other thinking]].

Huh—perhaps I already have, by how I wrote the above paragraphs.

(If you want, you can re-read the above and feel into how I feel satisfied with it as a way of pointing at this kind of thinking while doing something different than thinking that rejects thinking myself. I genuinely wasn’t sure, when I started writing this 10 minutes ago, how I’d find a way to do it, and I feel pretty satisfied with how it turned out.)


But hey, I’m a verbal dude, and while ineffability abounds, I think it’s worth spelling this pattern out way more explicitly, giving some examples, and talking about how to navigate more effectively. So keep reading for that.

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Why you can’t beat your shadow in a fight

“Having is evidence of wanting.”

— Carolyn Elliott (eg here)

This is true, and useful, on net, but can easily encourage an Over-reified Revealed Preferences frame, in that it doesn’t account for the emergent results of conflict! …which is what’s underneath most behavior, particularly confusing behavior. By ORP I mean, assuming that you or others want exactly what’s happening, for some specific reason, as opposed to it being the attractor basin they found themselves in given various pressures in multiple directions.

When my partner Sarah & I walk, I sometimes end up about a foot ahead. We were reading some shadow shit into this (power dynamics!? respect!?) until we realized that I just have a faster default pace, & my system would only slow down once the error of me being ahead reached about 1′; she had a similar threshold for speeding up.

Hence me being one foot ahead was a stable point, what Perceptual Control Theory (PCT) calls a “virtual reference level” formed by two control systems in a tug of war (the tug of war being about walking speed, not position). The speed we were walking was also at a virtual reference level that was a compromise between our two set-points.

Neither control system wants the current situation, but neither has unilateral access to a move that would improve things in terms of what they do want. The gap was erroneous to both of us, but in order to close it, I would have to slow down or she would have to speed up, and neither of us had decided we would do that and shifted our overall mood towards walking to be compatible with the other.

So yes, the fact that part of you wants some shit that is socially unacceptable and/or bizarre from the perspective of your conscious desires, doesn’t mean that want is any more true or real than what the other parts of you want, and the want may not even really be direct.

Your shadow stuff may be “deeper” in the sense of “more buried” but that doesn’t make it “more profound” or whatever. All the things you consciously want also matter!

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Fractal Home

I’ve just moved into a new home (just north of Victoria, BC), and it seemed like a good time to publish a piece of writing I drafted in January about the nature of Home.

In the terms of my previous blog post, it could be summarized as something like “Home is where you have non-naive meta-trust”.

Naturally, people really really want this sense of Home, although they may think it’s impossible, theoretically or just pragmatically. In general, most people don’t have environments where they have deep meta-trust, and don’t have a workable roadmap towards creating such environments. But it’s possible, given enough shared attention and an adequate toolkit, to co-create this sense of Home.

And, moreover, the process of a group consciously co-creating Home can itself produce the feeling of relief that being Home produces, [[in the meantime]], if everyone feels a sense that the group is doing its best to take into consideration the careabouts of each group member—before it has actually solved all the problems. This is a collective version of what Mark Lippmann calls the “Handledness is Already Success” principle.

When I use the word “need” or “want” or “careabout” or “desire” in this piece of writing, I’m pointing at, fundamentally, a cybernetic control system set point. What makes something a need, vs a want, might be essentially, as my friend Catherio put it: “if this goes unmet, I will make substantial changes to my life”. These careabouts include things on every level from psychological safety & self-actualization & meaning, to food & water & shelter… and probably stuff Maslow forget to mention!

I am Home to the extent that (and in the ways that)

  1. I can relax knowing that the systems around me aren’t going to subvert my needs & wants (whether malevolently or carelessly) and will in general support them.
  2. I feel, and am, empowered to make changes to the situation in order to care for my needs.

This applies to any context, not just to a house. In particular, it can also apply to a group of people or a relationship. So I’m not talking about “home” as contrasted with “work” and “third places” here.

This applies to all sorts of meta dimensions but it’s also very concrete:

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Non-Naive Trust Dance—why the name?

“If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too” —Rudyard Kipling

I’m intending to write a whole sequence of posts that express various elements of the Non-Naive Trust Dance framework I discovered last year, and thought that a good piece to write early on would be an introduction that talks about why it has the name it does, answering in brief these three questions:

  • What do I mean by “trust”?
  • What do I mean by “non-naive trust”?
  • Why “trust-dancing”?

I suppose it’s worth noting that I don’t remember choosing a name for this thing when I discovered it last year—this was just sort of the obvious thing to call it as I was seeing it from my perspective at the time.

a graphic of two people dancing, with those questions overlaid
drawing by Silvia Bastos at my commission

What do I mean by “trust”?

My context for thinking about trust comes from my longtime colleague Jean Robertson, who points out that all trust is fundamentally trust in one’s own experience, or “self-trust” for short. Trust also needs to be qualified as trust in something in particular. There’s no general “I trust you” (or not). As someone put it:

“I trust Alice to return a $10 loan but not a $10,000 loan, Bob to return a $10,000 loan but not to babysit an infant, Carol to babysit but not with my house key, Dave with my house key but not my intimate secrets, and Ellen with my intimate secrets but not to return a $10 loan. I trust Frank if a friend vouches for him, a taxi driver as long as he’s displaying his license, and Gail as long as she hasn’t been drinking.”

From Bruce Schneier, Liars and Outliers — via Kaj Sotala, “Don’t trust people, trust their components

Elaborating on this, what the person is saying here is “based on trusting my experience of these various folks, I have predictions of what they would do, that I’m prepared to base my decisions on.” If Alice wanted to borrow $10,000, or Bob offered to babysit, this person would then be faced with a situation where their friend would be making a bid to be trusted in a way that the person actually doesn’t trust them.

That’s a tough situation to be in, particularly if it doesn’t feel easy to talk about.

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NNTD pith instructions exploration

I keep mentioning this “Non-Naive Trust Dance” framework I’ve discovered/invented but I haven’t yet published a proper introduction to it (despite many half-finished drafts)—update: here’s one!. A friend of mine recently wrote in a group chat:

Would/could you write pith instructions for NNTD? I’m curious but haven’t dived in, and would be more likely to if I could get a more concentrated sense of the flavor of it.

For those not familiar with the term “pith instructions”, it refers to condensed, direct, pithy core instructions, often for a meditation practice. Before I had the chance to reply, another friend linked my yearly review blog post 2020: Free to Dance, and the first friend replied:

Yeah that’s helpful! It definitely gets at the problem statement. I still feel like I’m missing something about what actually goes into doing NNTD.

It can be hard to give quick general instructions for various reasons, but fortunately I already had a tweet that I wrote in response to a prompt from my friend Romeo:

Challenge: make an elevator pitch for your current theory of healthy human relationships.

Hard mode: don’t reference existing popular theories or merely reword one of them.

@RomeoStevens76 on twitter

Here, with some tiny edits, is the elevator pitch I came up with for the NNTD (which is definitely a theory of healthy human relationships!)

  • respect that there are ways in which you can’t trust each other
    • and gently inquire into why that is
    • not trying to change behavior directly
  • trusting that new more workable behavior will emerge
    • when you can see why it makes sense to be doing what you’re doing
    • and see its impacts on others

I shared that in the group chat and offered to elaborate on anything listed in [[core principles of the [[NNTD]]]] and a discussion ensued between me and my friend. And so we hereby continue a trend of blog posts composed of lightly edited conversations, although this one is more theory than practice.

Friend: Ooh, this elevator pitch is really good! Interesting that there’s a meta-trust element too, in the process itself. I needed something like that, as opposed to the core principles page, which feels too big/complicated/rabbit-holey. It’s just very instantly practical.

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A portrait of Malcolm Ocean

I'm Malcolm Ocean.

I'm trying to figure out how humans work so I can help make humanity work. More about me.

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