Evolution of Consciousness one-pager

  • I’ve been getting increasingly excited about conceiving of a field of study called “the evolution of consciousness”. I’ve seen a lot of people writing and thinking into this field, some of whom seem to be aware of the larger field and others who are just exploring a piece of it. As I see it, it’s necessarily also the study of evolution in general—not just biological evolution but:
    • cultural/memetic evolution
    • pre-biological physical evolution
    • thinking as an evolutionary process (which can be framed in terms of relevance realization)
    • evolution as a tautology: the fact that wherever you look you’ll tend to see mostly the sorts of things that are better at sticking around and/or making more things like themselves
  • It’s also necessarily the study of what happens when evolution becomes aware of itself. As Tom Atlee’s Co-Intelligence Institute puts it:
    • > we are evolution — or at least one significant facet of it — becoming conscious of itself. Across many domains of society, life and spirituality, we are in the process of birthing ourselves as conscious evolution.
  • The field draws on cogsci and other “scientific” sources, on history & religious texts, philosophy, and also draws from wisdom traditions like Buddhism and Christian mysticism.
  • Necessarily, as a study of consciousness, most research in this field is aware that it’s not just third-person research but first-person: the study not of how things are but of how they seem, and the study of the “seeming” process itself and our relationship to it (and how changes in our relationship to it change it, as part of that evolution). There is no place outside consciousness from which we can study consciousness.
    • My particular research (the “Non-Naive Trust Dance”) focuses on inter/co-seeming; on the process by which things that seem one way to me and seem a different way to you can come to be seen in some shared way by us, together… and what gets in the way of that.
  • Anyway, a rough sketch of the evolution of consciousness (so far!) as I see it:
    • at some point in the past, our ancestors were not consciousness of their own consciousness. they lived as much in flow with the dao as cats and lizards
    • then they developed language and memes, but (I suspect) these memes were at first entirely un-self-conscious and there were no double-binds (and perhaps in some sense no lies)
    • then, perhaps through biological evolution but more likely through transformational ritual that may have involved snake venom and apples, we developed recursive self-awareness
    • thus, from previous unquestioned oneness emerged dualism: the ego, which was previously a mediating layer between the id (animal urges) and superego (social expectations) became aware of itself and started identifying with itself and seeing itself as separate from others, and became aware of its choices and of the option to “be selfish” or “be altruistic”
    • at this point, a new kind of evolution started occurring among the superegos/memeplexes, to incorporate deception, shame, & blame to control large groups into behaving in coordinated ways (outcompeting groups that were unable to do this). “anti-rational memes” in DD’s terms
    • in parallel, various mystical traditions emerged for helping people re-access an experience of nonduality, but they were never able to be mainstream as they were too in conflict with the societal structures of the day. also some tried/try to go back to pre-consciousness modes.
    • phenomena like the scientific revolution shifted peoples’ relationships to their memes, creating an attitude of “we can figure it out for ourselves rather than take things from authority” (though modernity threw many babies out with bathwater in rejecting traditional wisdom)
    • at present, many people from many angles are exploring how to live in conscious relationship to memes/superegos, and build a new recursively-self-aware yet ALSO nondual society 

Malcolm, explain the Non-Naive Trust Dance right fucking now, in one breath, standing on one foot

My friend Visa challenged his friends to explain their thing rapid-fire style, and specifically DM’d me to ask me to do one on my Non-Naive Trust Dance framework. So I’ll write a 6th introduction or whatever this is now, and try to get all the way through the basics to the depths in about 15 minutes of nonstop writing.

  • trust sure is important. it would be nice* if we knew the laws of trust-physics: in general what works and what doesn’t work for building trust. (* tbh it might be necessary for humanity’s survival)
  • it’s tempting to try to build perpetual motion machines w/ trust (assuming trust in order to build trust) but this is impossible with the laws of trust-physics. but it seems possible (& awesome) to build engines!
  • obviously trust-building is contextual. eg, in a tense meeting in Dune, a desert-dweller spits as a sign of respect (releasing precious water) and nearly gets killed when that’s interpreted as a sign of disrespect.
  • so what can be said about trust-building in general? well, one of the most important things that CAN be said is that it’s extremely contextual!! and a remarkable amount follows from this, eg:
    • the only way to build trust with someone is by doing something that builds trust with them. however, they may seem to want you to do something that’s abhorrent or senseless to you, which you refuse to do. somehow what needs to be found is something that works for both/all parties. there is a remarkable open space of possibilities here if we can get out of the trap of being frustrated that our first attempts didn’t work as we’d hoped
  • notice that the bolded line above is a self-evident statement; a tautology; something that’s true by definition. this is not a coincidence, because self-evident statements are another basis for building trust since anyone can confirm them for themselves (although of course we may have different interpretations of what the implications are, and that can get tricky)
  • the central tautology to NNTD is “you can’t trust what you can’t trust” (this is kind of the same one as the previous). inherent to this idea is the reality, not quite a tautology but also pretty self-evident once you consider it, that different people trust differently. (different parts of people trust differently too).
  • thus [me trusting something] and [you not trusting something] is not a contradiction in the slightest.
  • what do I even mean by trust? a few lenses:
    • trust as an unquestioning attitude (from C. Thi Nguyen’s paper of that title)
    • trust as “what truth feels like in first person”
  • we could describe naive trust as being an unquestioning attitude that comes from ignoring some sort of warning signs in order to deliberately adopt an unquestioning stance, and non-naive trust as an unquestioning attitude that comes from an absence of any warning signs, or having investigated the warning signs and discerned to one’s own integrated relaxed satisfaction that they’re not a big deal (or that one could handle the situation if the issue did occur)
  • when I use “trust” I’m generally referring to non-naive trust, since naive trust is fake & flimsy
  • I generally think in terms of trusting situations more than trusting “people”
  • there is a logic to (non-naive) trust and how it scales up:
    • if I trust a situation (eg this salesperson to not be scamming us) and you don’t trust it, then we don’t trust it
    • if I trust it and you trust it, but we don’t trust that each other trusts it, then we still don’t trust it
    • if we have common-knowledge of our trust, then we trust it
  • there’s a thing it feels like for this sync-up to occur
    • as an example, have you ever made a decision and there’s a clear sense of “yes this is obviously what we want”?
    • by contrast, have you ever made a decision and you’re left feeling either that something you care about wasn’t adequately incorporated into the tradeoff process, OR you feel like someone else isn’t actually totally satisfied with it?
  • in general, trust-building works via respecting that distrust contains the wisdom that allows trust to be non-naive (ie sane & robust) and finding a way to respect & dance with it, vs trying to bypass it. quoth Aurelius: “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”
  • since trust ~= subjective truth, this process is literally perceiving the world together

Whew! Not quite one breath or one foot, but it was all in one go and it did fit on one page. It took more like 20 minutes though.

For slightly more uhhh edited introductions to NNTD or elaborations, you can check out these posts:

alpha-test my template: How To Gently Blindly Touch the Elephant In the Room Together

Or more straightforwardly:

“how to give feedback to somebody about something that you’re noticing going on for them, where you suspect that if you try to acknowledge it they’ll get defensive/evasive & deny it”

One of the core principles of my Non-Naive Trust Dance framework is that it’s impossible to codify loving communication—that any attempt to do so, taken too seriously, will end up getting weaponized.

Having said that, maybe if we don’t take ourselves too seriously, it would be helpful to have a template for a particularly difficult kind of conversation: broaching the subject about something you’re noticing, where you expect that by default what will happen is that you won’t even be able to get acknowledgement that the something exists. This can be crazy-making. I often call it “blindspot feedback” although for most people that phrase carries connotations that usually make people extra defensive rather than more able to orient and listen carefully.

To see more about how I think about this, you can read this twitter thread:

But I want the template to stand alone, so I’m not going to give much more preamble before offering it to you. The intent is that this template will help people bridge that very first tricky step of even managing to acknowledge that one person is seeing something that the other person might not be seeing, and having that be okay.

Why “alpha-testing”?

I’m calling this alpha-testing not beta-testing because while I know the principles underlying this template are sound, and I’ve tested the moves in my own tough conversations and while facilitating for others… as of this initial publication the template itself has been used zero times, so I don’t want to pretend that it itself is well-honed.

So I’d like to collect lots of perspectives, of what people think of the template just from looking at it, and of how conversations go when you try to use the template for them.

The template

Without further ado, here’s a link to the template.

I’d love if you gave me your thoughts while you read it. To do that, make a copy, name it “Yourname’s copy of Template” then highlight sections and leave comments on them, then give comment access to me (use my gmail if you have it, or malcolm @ this domain). That would be very helpful. Even just little things like “ohhhh, cool” or “I don’t get why you’d say this” or “would it work to rephrase this like X, or would that be missing something important?”

To try it out, make a copy, then fill it out, and do what you want with it. Then, if you’d like to help me iterate on it or would otherwise like your experience of using it seen by me, fill out this form and let me know how it worked for you (or didn’t).

confronting & forgiving the people who instilled fear in my heart

I’m back in the bay area for the first time in awhile

this has involved seeing some folks that I haven’t seen in a long time (4-6 years)

in a few cases, these were people that I was quite close to years ago (more like 7-8 years)

well, when I say close, I don’t necessarily mean emotionally close. but we had conversations, worked on projects together, and talked about important things

important things like the end of the world

important things like what we were supposed to do about the end of the world, and how to think about the end of the world, and how we were supposed to feel very scared and very determined to do something about it

and there were two people who, in order to be honest in encountering them again, I had to acknowledge that we had some reconciliation to do. it was scary but utterly necessary to say. any change of heart unacknowledged produces subtle weirdness. distrust unacknowledged makes it harder to get shared reality

as I wrote in 2021: Catching my Breath, I’ve done a bunch of healing over the past years about ways in which I was applying a kind of pressure on myself that made it hard to rest. physiologically I had a sense that there was something not right, something I needed to fix, something not okay about the world.

and I feel like my internal pressure has largely eased off. not that there isn’t more to untangle—I’m sure there is—but overall it feels quite integrated

thus in encountering these old acquaintances, I didn’t have a sense of needing something from them, for my own wholeness. but I needed to have a conversation about it in order to for the two of us to have wholeness, and by extension, for the larger community we’re part of to have wholeness.

I’ve been practicing confronting people, to acknowledge past boundaries crossed, even when there’s nothing to be done about it at this point. It’s really profound, just to have my anger heard and received—to have the loop closed. something laid to rest. I did a bit of that with my parents last fall.

1…

in the first case, you arrive midafternoon, and you see me in the co-what-now corner and come over to talk. you start to just dive in with me about something interesting and timely and quite personal, and I’m finding myself needing to just slow down and acknowledge the tension from years past. you seem disappointed locally by the interruption, but overall appreciative that I’m naming it, and unsurprised to hear that it’s there. we agree to talk about it later. you ask if it’s okay that I don’t trust you, observing that in some sense it seems it might not be, and I say I’ll ponder that. I muse to myself that maybe there’s something in you that feels not okay with it, that is splitting and afraid of being tarred as plain bad.

» read the rest of this entry »

art is choosing what to breathe life into

note to self: art is choosing what to breathe life into

a whiteboard with some sketches, including the phrases 'I am free to be decisive insofar as I am willing and able to listen', 'what matteringness is...', 'art is choosing what to breathe life into', and a big 'THIS' and 'NOT THIS'. an egg is depicted being fertilized by a sperm, who calls to the other sperm behind him 'I win! I'm sure yours would have been beautiful.'

art is choosing what to breathe life into

this?

not this

this? not this. not this. this?

this.

this!

sometimes I get stuck because I have more urges than I know how to handle

“I want to write”

“no I want to take a shower”

“but before I take a shower I want to work out”

“but I’m still partway through writing”

“wait but I’m kinda hungry”

“wait no but I don’t want to eat if I’m about to work out”

…and on. and on.

so many urges. so many things to take care of. I can’t do all of them, not all at once. I can maybe take care of all of them eventually… but by then there will be more.

I can probably take care of what needs taking care of eventually, on some level of abstraction, somewhere up in my perceptual control hierarchy

even thinking a thought is sort of an urge

hi urge

you’re tryna take care of something

these urges are helpful

while it may be challenging when they’re all tugging in different directions

…these urges are all really helpful

honestly, they’re kinda… made of helpfulness

» read the rest of this entry »

Partswork doesn’t require reifying or naming parts

“Partswork” (usually “parts work” but it’s on its way to being one word like “cupboard”) is sort of a catch-all term for therapeutic or introspection approaches that involve orienting to yourself as having different parts, that have different desires, wants, needs, beliefs, experiences, perspectives, etc.

Speaking in terms of “part of me” is very common. I would be surprised to find a reader of this post who has never used a phrase like “part of me wants to go out tonight, but part of me wants to stay in” or “part of me distrusts him” or “part of me really just wants to finish this right now” or “part of me wants to do nothing but eat chocolate all day” or “part of me thinks nobody will ever love me”.

And this was the origin of Internal Family Systems therapy, the most famous form of partswork. When Dick Schwartz was working with his clients, he noticed them saying phrases like that, and started developing a theory of these “parts”. The term “parts” came from the common language of his clients. He then developed a powerful taxonomy of different types of parts (exiles & protectors (subtypes: managers & firefighters)) which relate in particular ways and have specific types of relationships with each other. In IFS sessions, it’s common for the parts to be given names (perhaps by asking the part what to call it) and to have fairly stable identities across different sessions over weeks or months.

People have different models of what’s going on there, and whether these parts truly “exist” or whether they’re just a useful interface or metaphor for relating with oneself. I don’t have a particular take on that—in fact, I’m not even entirely certain that those two views refer to a different world (Don Hoffman posits that all perception is interface). The parts obviously aren’t discrete in the way car parts are; they’re much more organic and intertwingled.

What I do have a take on is that you don’t need to reify or name parts in order to do partswork. You can—for big issues this can be really helpful. The IFS model is good and seems to track for a lot of people.

But it can also add unnecessary overhead, and make it hard to notice that the same principles of internal conflict apply on other scales as well.

This is particularly salient to me since my introduction to the importance of inner conflict wasn’t IFS, it was Perceptual Control Theory, whose parts are very tiny and in some ways ephemeral.

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2022: Deepening in a Different Direction

Ahh, year themes. For 2022, I chose the theme Deepening, figuring it would be a good fit with me settling down in BC, doing more deep work now that I finally had a proper office set-up for the first time in a year, deepening my relationship with my partner Sarah after years of difficulty there, and deepening into friendship & collaboration with my old friend Eric (the three of us had just started living together with the aim of creating an intentional culture node).

Instead, my marriage with Sarah ended and I ended up spending almost the entire year travelling.

And yet, much like 2020 when “Free to Dance” ended up not being much about physical dancing (which got locked down for covid) but instead being a beautiful description of my experience of moving out of the community I’d lived in for 7.5 years in order to be free to explore my Non-Naive Trust Dance framework (which itself is very much about fundamental freedom)…

…my 2022 was indeed very much one of deepening. Just… not in the ways I expected.

In early 2022, heading towards my 30th birthday in March, I found myself thinking about how many people find that birthday scary—I’m not in my 20s anymore! Oh no! I’m old! I’m supposed to have my shit together, and I don’t!—and yet I found myself feeling very ready to turn 30. I was settling down into a place for the long haul, I had solid relationships I intended to build on for the rest of my life, I was starting to think about kids, I knew what my work was (both my livelihood from Complice, and my life’s work with the Non-Naive Trust Dance) and I was ready to not be a “young adult”.

Well.

January and February went roughly as I expected. I connected more deeply with the friends I was making on Vancouver Island. I did some deep reading, such as Geoffrey West’s book Scale (top book reco from 2022 for sure). I wrote 21k words on a doc called How We Get There, describing a pathway to collaborative culture which I had first envisioned the same day I had the NNTD insight back in 2020. It was a bit too high-context to publish, but I shared it with some friends and I might edit it into an ebook at some point.

I went to a really cool weekend event on Salt Spring Island called Deep Play Immersion, which was a dozen folks exploring mashups of Improv Theatre, Internal Family Systems, and Circling, by a fascinating guy named Aaron Finbloom. It was there that I discovered that apparently some young part of me thinks that when people (including me) aren’t talking, they in some sense don’t exist. This might explain why I love talking and find silence difficult.

In the meantime, since I love talking, I started making videos and posting them to youtube! Almost entirely single-take no-edit videos, ranging from 3 to 20 minutes long. This seems to be a really easy way to get more of my ideas out there, especially ones that don’t feel refined enough to make into a blog post. These videos feel a bit more ephemeral somehow. I’m at 54 videos out of an initial target of 100. I lost some momentum in the 2nd half of the year but I’m stoked to pick it up again and I’m sure over the coming years I’ll post hundreds of videos. It’s a cool medium.

In early March, I went to Vibecamp in Austin, TX. It was my first trip after the pandemic, and I was stoked to meet friends new and old, and to explore doing things like singing and dancing that we can’t do on the internet.

This is where the year took a turn in a totally different direction.

» read the rest of this entry »

The choice to open, the choice to allow

Another sequel to “Mindset choice” is a confusion. Here’s the first, which I wrote a year ago and published earlier this week: Mindset choice 2: expanding awareness.

I started exploring the implications of a simple question: what is within my power to choose?

This is something that we have to learn as infants and toddlers and kids—oh, I can choose to clench my fist… but I can’t choose to clench yours. Ooh… I can choose to look at something, but I can’t choose to make you look at something. Ah! I can choose to point at the thing, and maybe you’ll look, but I can’t directly steer your gaze or attention. In some sense, this is precisely where the boundary of self and other is located! And it’s also connected to how when we’re wielding a tool that works for us and it fades into the background, it becomes part of ourselves.

I can’t directly control you, although I might be able to invite or persuade or coerce you. And while I can’t quite control you, I can be trying to control you. Or I can be allowing you to be you and honoring the obvious-once-you-look-at-it reality that my choice ends at the edges of me. Society has historically involved a lot of the former, at great cost but also with meaningful results: lots of civilization was built by someone telling someone else what to do, on some level.

Then I considered that same structure, but applied internally to my own mind, and I realized that I have different parts that have different wills, and these parts also can’t control each other. They each have their own choice-making faculty, in this sense. To be clear, this line of thinking doesn’t require reifying these parts as persistent named entities as one might in IFS (Internal Family Systems). That’s an option, and might be helpful, but most fundamentally we’re just talking about some sort of subsystem that in a given moment is doing some perceiving, some wanting, some steering, etc.

And if those subsystems want something that’s compatible, I simply do it—no choice required.

But if one subsystem wants one thing and one wants another, and on a given level both aren’t possible—suppose part of me wants to keep writing and another part wants to go eat dinner—then neither system can simply enact its will since the other will oppose it. If one urge is particularly strong, eg because of a deadline or the smell of pizza in the oven, then that urge might overpower the other—it seems there are systems that track the size of urges as part of prioritizing and preventing such inner gridlock. Anyway, at that point, if the overpowered part releases and allows the first thing to happen, I’ll have full energy to do whatever it is I’ve found myself doing; if not, then I’ll experience friction and distraction—thoughts of food while trying to write, or thoughts of my blog post while eating. Or some more subtle indigestion of the mind and/or body.

What choice do each of these parts have, while in a conflict?

» read the rest of this entry »

Mindset choice 2: expanding awareness

Another piece I wrote a year ago that I want to publish as a kind of snapshot rather than try to get it perfect. My ideas here keep evolving and any version that I come up with seems simultaneously confused and clarifying.

A sequel to “Mindset choice” is a confusion.

My Non-Naive Trust Dance framework and its clarity that mindset choice is confused was a huge source of relief for me, because I’d been feeling pressured to somehow make a choice that I couldn’t make, and which on some level I knew I couldn’t make.

However, I have also experienced a perspective from which it seemed to be true that in some sense your mindset is certainly a thing that only you can choose, and in another sense perhaps even the only thing you can choose. So how does that integrate with “mindset choice” being a confusion?

Here’s some thinking out loud on the topic. I’m aware of some limitations—this feels like it’s sort of dancing around the puzzle, not getting right to the heart of it.

One piece of the choice puzzle is: via expanding awareness.

This framing of expanding attention (awareness) as including both doing and not-doing is really interesting. One of the core skills of Alexander Technique is that of inhibition, the constructive noticing and not responding to stimuli. You may notice that you have the urge to yell at your boss, but you don’t.

But this is an active process, one that is continually renewing itself. You are aware of what you are doing in response to your boss (having a conversation) and what you’re not doing in your response to your boss (yelling). Through the skill of inhibition, your awareness includes both of these processes at once.

The expanded awareness is what allows this to happen. If your awareness were collapsed down to the yell response, you wouldn’t have any choice but to yell. By expanding out you are able to monitor a wider field of processes and choose the one you want.

— my friend Michael Ashcroft‘s newsletter. Emphasis mine in the last paragraph

And elsewhere:

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Coercion in terms of scarcity & perceptual control

The following is a piece I wrote a year ago. A few months back I started editing it for publication and it started evolving and inverting and changing so dramatically that I found myself just wanting to publish the original as a snapshot of where my thinking was at about a year ago when I first drafted this. I realized today that attempts to write canonical pieces are daunting because there’s a feeling of having to answer all questions for all time, and that instead I want to just focus on sharing multiple perspectives on things, which can be remixed and refined later and more in public. So, with some minor edits but no deep rethinking, here’s one take on what coercion is. And you might see more pieces here soon that I let go of trying to perfect first.

Coercion = “the exploitation of the scarcity of another, to force the other to behave in a way that you want”

The word “behave” is very important in the above definition. Shooting someone and taking their wallet isn’t coercion, as bad as it is. Neither is picking their pocket when they’re not paying attention. But threatening someone at gunpoint and telling them to hand over their wallet (or stand still while you take it) is coercion. This matches commonly accepted understandings of the word, as far as I know.

A major inspiration for this piece is Perceptual Control Theory, a cybernetic model of cognition and action, which talks about behavior as the control of perception. I’m also mostly going to talk about interpersonal coercion here—self-coercion is similar but subtler.

Scarcity

If someone has a scarcity of food, you can coerce them by feeding them conditional on them doing what you want. This is usually called slavery. One important thing to note is that it requires you physically prevent them from feeding themselves any other way! Which in practice usually also involves the threat of violence if they attempt to flee and find a better arrangement.

In general, a strategy built on the use of coercion means preferring that the coerced agent continue to be generally in a state of scarcity, because otherwise you would be unable to continue to control them! (Because they could just get their need met some other way and therefore wouldn’t have to do what you say!)

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