posttitle = thinking that rejects other thinking titleClass =title-long len =36

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.

What is [[thinking that rejects other thinking]]?

Essentially, [[thinking that rejects other thinking]] is a meta-meme, ie a meme that manages ones’ relationship to memes (including itself). This meta-meme functions as follows:

I have some core meme X that I hold as important & relevant. Then, for some particular meme Y I am perceiving (in my own thoughts or behavior, or in what someone else says or does)

  • classify that perceived meme as self or other
    • if self, accept & support that thought/utterance/behavior/person
    • if other, reject & undermine that thought/utterance/behavior/person

(the “self” here refers to the meme itself, not the person holding the meme. The question is “is this meme I’m considering in some sense part of the same memeplex as the core meme?”)

Depending on the object-level meme that the [[thinking that rejects other thinking]] meta-meme is using, it might classify other memes as:

  • either holy (self) or sinful/blasphemous (other)
  • either expert opinion (self) or misinformation (other)
  • either woke (self) or bigoted (other)
  • either redpilled (self) or still in the matrix (other)
  • either rational (self) or irrational/antirational (other)
  • either metarational (self) or rationalist (other)
  • either healthy (self) or unhealthy (other)
  • either transformational (self) or counteractive (other)
  • either science (self) or woo (other)
  • either cool (self) or uncool (other)
  • either collaborative (self) or coercive (other)
  • either Game B (self) or Game A (other)
  • either nondualist (self) or dualist (other)
  • either post-reductionist (self) or reductionist (other)
    • (any “post” can fall into this tendency)
  • either nonviolent communication (self) or life-alienating communication (other)
  • either patriotic (self) or traitorous (other)
    • (this one has many different flavors depending on the country)
  • either paradigm-transcendy thinking (self) or [[thinking that rejects other thinking]] (other) 🙃

Comment below with other examples! It’s the kind of thing where having more helps a lot. There are also of course more symmetrical pairs, although these are in some ways less interesting, because the two parties essentially are viewing each other in the same terms, so there’s less [[frame shear]].

  • either capitalist (self) or communist (other)
  • either communist (self) or capitalist (other)
  • either left-wing (self) or right-wing (other)
  • either right-wing (self) or left-wing (other)

More than half of the above are examples of [[thinking that rejects other thinking]] that I have myself experienced from the inside—particularly, facepalmingly, the meta-ones of rejecting thinking that I saw as rejecty (using different words). And they’re largely all useful models for understanding different paradigms. It’s helpful to be able to recognize the frame someone else is using for thinking about the world.

From the inside…

From the inside, sometimes it feels like these simple categories/tags summarize the experience fairly well. Other times it feels more just like a sense of:

  • “these people don’t understand [something important] [and that’s a threat]”
  • “I just had a thought/feeling/behavior that some other part of me needs to disown and prevent [because it’ll lead to rejection or some other hostility or problem]”

The commonality here is a stance of guardedness and protectiveness. A sense of “you need to be seeing this how I see it in order for me to relax”. From the inside this is usually explained by talking about the harmful implications of the other frame, but in my experience the way that it shows up for people is on a totally different level, and is actually more about not trusting themselves to stay in touch with the truth of what they know if they allow for the presence of something that seems to go against it.

If you fully trust you will not lose touch with what you know, then others’ ideas cannot harm you. Their speech acts can, or effects caused by their ideas can, but merely being in the presence of the ideas themselves becomes very workable. If you can’t trust that about yourself, then you are vulnerable and must inhabit a guarded stance in order to avoid losing touch with what you know. This will limit what’s possible, but it’s not wrong. It’s necessary.

(For what it’s worth, as far as I can tell, the way the brain works is that you basically can’t ever permanently divorce someone from what they know, but you can do so temporarily. This is happening constantly in small amounts; in large amounts this compartmentalization is what cults are based on. To the extent someone understands this, they have some theoretical basis for trusting that even if they do lose touch with what they know, they’ll get it back, even if they don’t know how.)

Those common examples I gave above are large worldview-related examples, but it’s also totally possible to have this sort of guarded response just based on reading some book and then encountering some thought (perhaps yours, perhaps someone else’s) that seems incompatible with something that’s now obvious to you after reading the book.

It’s important to be able to broadly recognize what memeplexes and meta-memes are generating a given thought or behavior, but the “self/other” classification is very limiting, and tends to produce an attitude of defending oneself or one’s beliefs, which makes it hard to listen, which makes it hard to learn.

If we are either agreeing or disagreeing, then we’re not listening, for to listen there must be an openness, an innocence, a temporary suspending of judgment and the familiar, so that the fresh can possibly come in.

Is defense that different from attack?

— The Passionate Mind Revisited

The shift out of [[thinking that rejects other thinking]] and into being able to learn from everyone comes from internalizing & generalizing [[coherence empathy]]—recognizing that everything everyone thinks (and does) somehow actually makes obvious sense from some perspective (which is the perspective from which they thought it or did it). If it doesn’t make sense to you, there’s something you don’t understand.

Importantly, this applies to your own behavior too—you think things and do things for reasons you are not conscious of, and there’s a sense to it even if it seems senseless.

If you ever find yourself saying about anybody’s behavior “that didn’t make sense”, see if you can find a way for it to make sense to ask “what sense did that make?”

And if you can’t, well, that makes sense.

Knowing more than someone

In general, someone who looks naive to you knows something you don’t.

You usually know something they don’t, of course, as well, which is why they look naive to you.

But it seems to me that if your relevant knowledge was properly a superset of theirs, then their naivety would make obvious sense to you, and to the extent that you had access to sufficient time, motivation, & resources you’d be able to make lots of headway bringing them up to speed, and [[in the meantime]] you’d be able to dialogue and trust-dance with them in a way that they would feel fully understood by you. Some people call this “passing their ideological turing test” (ITT) which is fairly precise but the name has some issues.

In practice, though, we almost never actually have that superset, and largely we don’t need to. We don’t need to because we can respect that whatever’s going on for somebody is coherence without actually knowing what the nature of the coherence is. Some examples of how to do this: detailed internal trust-dancing case study & discussion of respecting distrust as a manager.

To be clear, I’m not just talking about factual knowledge but embodied or relational knowledge as well, or knowledge of what-it’s-like-to or how-it-feels-to-be or what-happens-when.

It’s also worth noting that while being unable to convey what you know to them is a strong sign that they know something you don’t, the mere fact of having had a conversation that appears to result in you conveying something to them does not prove that you actually had such a superset—more common is that the person you’re talking to mentally suppresses some of their own knowings that would produce objections that you don’t understand and wouldn’t be able to respond effectively to. This requires some amount of knowing what they know, but can also occur for many reasons ranging from charisma to social power to frame battle skill.

Why does this matter?

Suppose that someone reads a new book about communication, and tries to apply it in their relationships. Whether these are romantic relationships, business relationships, family relationships, or whatever, there can often be a tendency in these situations to try to get buy-in from the other person to adopt the same framework.

This has an [[thinking that rejects other thinking]] quality—it says “we all need to do XYZ in order to be able to trust each other”

Culture change efforts at companies often look like this, whether it’s:

  • a subgroup of the company trying to do their own thing and meeting resistance from peers
  • the CEO going “guys, we should do New Management Technique 5000â„¢ now!”
  • a third-party group coming in with their model that they try to impose

The level of culture change I’m interested in though is shifting things on the meta-meme level, moving from [[thinking that rejects other thinking]] to [[coherence empathy]]-based thinking.

This means that if I were to be working with a company on their culture change efforts, that situation creates a kind of paradox where I would want to convey to people there aspects of the framework that I’m using to approach things, but by default, attempting to convey the framework would tend to create polarization around the very axis that the framework is attempting to highlight. “Hey, you’re not following the framework!”

This is an obstacle, but [[the obstacle is the way]].

How to transcend [[thinking that rejects other thinking]] without rejecting it

This is the paradox. Thinking works better when it doesn’t do this thing. And yet… in order to not to this thing, you need to not do this thing about not doing this thing, which means you kind of need to already know how to not do this thing. But there’s a way!

As I said above, the main reason people think in ways that reject other thinking is that they don’t trust that they won’t lose touch with what they know if they don’t reject other knowings in themselves or others.

In the moment

So if you notice yourself rejecting some thinking, the way to do that is to focus on directly getting in contact with whatever it is you’re afraid of losing, and to remind yourself that what’s true is true even if it seems to conflict with something else that’s true. You don’t need to know how to reconcile this specific thing in order to hold a general stance of “yes!” towards your whole bodymind and everything it knows. And once you feel secure in that, it’ll be easy to be curious about what someone else knows. Logan Brienne Strohl has a great article on embracing and helping your own defensiveness, that perfectly articulates this. The core insight is this:

When I notice that I feel defensive, I say, “I’m afraid of getting sucked into a story where [blank]. I don’t want to get stuck there.” And I fill in the blank. When I’m done with that, I say, “What I what is to retain the ability to see [blank].”

And if you can consistently do that, you’ll have a lot more space to do this:

If you notice someone else rejecting some thinking, remember that this is the best solution they have to stay in touch with their own knowing in this moment. The only ways out are removing the external threat, compartmentalizing (ie losing touch), or actually developing a better solution. Assuming you value them being in touch with what they know, see what you can do to support that. The best approach depends on the situation and your relationship with the person. It might involve backing off on the topic or the whole conversation. It might involve explicitly making space for them to be having a different experience than the one you or others are having. It might involve getting curious about what’s so sacred to them that they’re worried about losing sight of. As internally, you want to focus on embracing & helping whatever their defensiveness is defending, not on trying to get them to not be defensive in any other way.

Note that you can’t do this move if you’re busy rejecting their rejecting. It’s also insufficient for their sense of safety for you to think you aren’t rejecting their thinking. For them to feel safe with you, they need to have some experience of you that makes you an invalid target for them to project all of the other people who’ve rejected their viewpoint in the past. You’re not obligated to do this—in fact, you may not be able to, either for lack of skill or lack of context—but if you can’t then it will make sense for them to distrust you.

As an ongoing learning process

The most useful leverage points aren’t in trying to shift behavior patterns directly, but in developing self-trust and grokking the limitations of [[thinking that rejects other thinking]]. To the extent that you feel you understand that something doesn’t work and you keep doing it, it’s not because you’re intrinsically resistant, it’s because part of you continues to think that it’s the best way to do things. It may be obvious to you in one moment but not in another. Deepening the obviousness is a huge part of the learning process.

One way to point at how we might go about iterating towards a way of relating that incorporates all perspectives—including perspectives that reject other perspectives on whatever level—is Jordan Hall’s framing of “the [[meta-protocol]]“. My main project at the moment is developing the theory & practice of the meta-protocol, which I call the Non-Naive Trust Dance.

Here’s a 7min vid of Jordan talking about the meta-protocol:

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About Malcolm

Constantly consciously expanding the boundaries of thoughtspace and actionspace. Creator of Intend, a system for improvisationally & creatively staying in touch with what's most important to you, and taking action towards it.

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