When you can’t find the edge of the frame

I had a recent experience which is prompting this blog post, although I’ve thought a lot about the bits and pieces of it already. I’ll get to the recent experience in a bit.

Un-identifying with thoughts

Kaj Sotala started a fantastic thread on the CFAR alumni mailing list about un-identifying with desires. He described how when he experienced himself having conflicting desires in himself, he realized he could “step outside the two desires, and stop identifying with either one.” Instead of being one of the desires, he wrote,

“I was an external observer, watching two parts of me mutually figure out whose suggested course of action would be more useful for the organism’s overall well-being.”

Other highlights from the thread were some relevant questions and observations, including:

  • How does this relate to Kahneman’s System 1 & System 2? (roughly intuition vs analytic thinking) Sometimes the conflict appears to be framed as S1 vs S2, but there is actually some emotional resonance with “S2’s side” as well.
  • Mindfulness meditation seems to be about this disidentification. I totally agree with this, and will say more about it later.
  • This might be helpful for handling some experiences of anxiety
  • This seems very related to internal family systems (IFS)
  • It takes practice to do this consistently. While there can be an epiphany-like quality to realizing shifts like this, ultimately your habits are still what they were until you train new ones.
  • The act of un-identifying with our experience is kind of like waking from a dream. (The writer suggested that perhaps this was the reason for the title of Sam Harris’ recent book Waking Up)

Frames for identifying and not identifying with your experience

(This section was my contribution to the thread.)

I think that this ability to model yourself as having multiple parts and to step outside of being a particular one is really, really fundamental… to rationality and to a lot of other core skills such as relating with other people.

» read the rest of this entry »

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