Feb 27, 2019

Non-duality as an Adaptation to Separation

Human psychology evolved for the hunter-gatherer lifestyle, but for many thousands of years most of us have not been living that life.

If you've ever been on an expedition or part of some intense team experience that lasted three days or more, you will probably have experienced a significant loss of "ego": far fewer thoughts about your "self" and your personal story and far more spontaneous responding in the here and now. Maybe you felt it at Burning Man, on tour, or during that week when your whole team was holed up in the office finishing off (or starting) a project.

Over recent millennia life has become more and more separate for most of us: the teams have become progressively smaller, the strangers more numerous, the cooperation less intense.

Chances are, if you're reading this, you are alone right now. The way you are living would cause profound anxiety to a hunter-gatherer, who would interpret the situation as fraught with danger.

You may even be living alone. That means cooking alone, washing alone, and cleaning alone. You've got a complete set of home conveniences which previously would have serviced a multi-generation household. And several generations before that there would haven't been any of those conveniences.

Things have gotten particularly "bad" in the past 70 years. Average household size in most countries is plummeting and will soon be below 2. In fact, household size is as good a proxy as it gets for how "modern" or "progressive" a country is. The larger the households, the more "backwards" or "traditional" the society.

In their unadjusted state, humans are bound to suffer in this unnatural lifestyle, like a polar bear at the zoo who endlessly paces back and forth in its cage.

But there is an upgrade, a "tweak," and it's been around for thousands of years — presumably as long as cities have been around: the experience of non-dual oneness.

Non-dual oneness is a shift in the experience of the self from a separate, localized self to a self which is impersonal and universal. It is the mental hack that frees you from the anxiety of living separately while being surrounded by throngs of strangers.

Without the mental upgrade, modern living is bound to leave you low in oxytocin, serotonin, and other neurochemicals, and high in anxiety. From a hunter-gatherer perspective, you are trying to get by on your own in a hostile universe. You're basically ostracized from your tribe.

But these feelings aren't based in reality. There is no one out to kill and eat you. All your needs are met. And nobody has ostracized you. But without the non-dual "hack" you cannot fully assimilate this truth. You may understand intellectually that there is nothing to worry about, but your subconscious doesn't believe it.

With the hack, you can continue your apparently "separate" lifestyle with no loss of neurochemicals and no persistent anxiety or stress.

Some of the first to systematically figure this out were hermit monks who would spend months living in inhuman conditions in caves to train themselves to produce oxytocin without human contact, serotonin in the absence of social support, and all the other neurochemicals they needed to feel good. Of course, to reach this level they had to first undergo extensive training — typically years of special mental exercises. An untrained person would wither and die from the experience.

Today interest in the "hack" is growing proportionally to the apparent dysfunctionality of modern life.

Could there come a time in the not-so-distant future when the non-duality patch comes installed by default?

p.s. There is at least one other "hack:" pets! :-) But it's not as complete a hack as non-dual oneness.

Feb 22, 2019

All the Serotonin You Ever Need

You can engineer your inner mental world to produce more of the neurochemicals you want. This is what enlightened people have managed to do.

What are "tranquility," "equanimity," and "mindfulness" if not a cocktail of serotonin, dopamine, noradrenaline, and other chemicals? — in combination with particular neural structures, of course. One without the other doesn't produce the whole effect.

Let's take serotonin as an example. Serotonin levels depend largely on the amount of respect you receive. Let's unpack this logically and find the hidden opportunity to switch on the inner fountain of serotonin in each of us.

Let's suppose you were a programmer tasked with programming serotonin-like pathways into a robot to get it to think and behave like a human. Your thinking might go like this:

Hm... I need to get this robot to evaluate respect and disrespect that is directed towards it. On a purely sensory level there are no signals that directly correspond to respect, so we're taking about a higher-order level of information processing. Much higher, actually. 
But the outside world itself is also an abstraction to the mental processing of the robot. The robot first has to be able to discern different entities or actors and keep them separate from itself, which is also a higher-order level of information processing. It has to then be able to perceive how much and what kind of respect these entities give each other, and compare that with what they give the robot. 
So what we actually want is a comparison mechanism on top of an entity separation mechanism and a 'respect signal identification' mechanism... 
But that's not quite enough to make it humanlike, because any negative outcome from a comparison would immediately send the robot into a permanent downward spiral where they behave as if they had less serotonin, receive less respect as a result, and then have even less serotonin. 
What we're missing here is a self-image. The self-image will be a kind of story or narrative constructed by the robot indicating how much respect it should be receiving based on past experience. Now the robot can compare how much respect it is receiving to how much it is supposed to receive based on the narrative of the self-image. 
This way, if the robot generally receives little respect, it can get used to it and be 'satisfied' enough with the situation to continue functioning with a low, but not too low, level of serotonin. Or, if it typically receives lots of respect, it can habituate to that respect and remain vigilant to possible threats to its status by not generating far too much serotonin.

So now we're already talking about four high-level processes:

1. entity separation, i.e. "I am not You, Him, or It."
2. respect signal identification, e.g. "She quickly looked away as soon as I opened my mouth."
3. comparison, e.g. "He smiled at her 5 times but never smiled at me."
4. self-image, e.g. "He should have smiled at me because... "

Notice that spiritual paths leading to enlightenment, union with the divine, or whatever else you want to call it reprogram these processes on a deep level. That's how they "trick" the body into producing neurochemicals when there is no "objective" (haha) basis for doing so.

Let's look at how these four processes can be undercut:

Vipassana, or "Insight" meditation teaches you to become aware of the lowest possible levels of sensory processing, undercutting process #2. You realize that "respect" is a complete mental fabrication based on multiple layers of interpretation. Cognitive-behavioral therapy and other modalities may be able to produce similar insights.

Disidentification with the false self, the "self-image," is an almost inevitable result of any genuine spiritual practice, undercutting process #4. If "I" is simply "awareness" or "aliveness" apart from all mental-emotional content, then that "I" is entirely immune to the vagaries of life.

Insight into "no-self," typically considered the foundational insight necessary for enlightenment, totally undercuts process #1. If my "I" is "awareness" and your "I" is also awareness — and the same awareness as "my" awareness, — and if I really believe that (not just as an interesting intellectual concept), then this whole idea of individuals exchanging signals of respect becomes an amusing game of appearances.

All this spiritual awakening, however, doesn't stop physiological systems from functioning. The body obviously continues to produce and depend on neurochemicals. However, the deep mental processing that tells the body how much serotonin to produce will have changed.

Here's what that processing might look like:

I am in me, I am in you and in everything. I give my "self" attention, which is the same as respect. Status and hierarchy are games of form which have no lasting significance. Today you have one status, tomorrow another. The status my physical form currently enjoys has nothing to do with me. I am awareness observing this game and acknowledging all awareness. Nothing can harm that awareness. I am invulnerable and invincible.

Some readers may be able to entertain these thoughts in their intellect. But for the nuerochemical systems to actually respond to them and start spitting out all the serotonin you ever need, you'd actually have to believe and accept this way of thinking on the deepest possible level. If you feel like, "well, those statements are interesting, but they're really not true, and I don't want to trick myself into believing things that are false," then you're clearly not there yet.

Feb 20, 2019

Why this Blog is Now Called "The Non-Ex-Socionist"

Six years ago I wrote a post called "Why this Blog is Now Called "The [Ex-]Socionist." Six months ago I wrote a post called "Ex-ex-socionist?"

From now on this blog will be called "The Non-Ex-Socionist."

The Non-Ex-Socionist Manifesto

There may be types. Actually, it seems like there are. We can pretend that there are. Sometimes it helps. Sometimes it doesn't.

The recognition that there are types (or appear to be, upon close observation) is more important than the particular choice of typology.

The close observation leading to the recognition that there are types (or appear to be) is even more important than the recognition that there are types.

A lack of awareness of types causes much bewilderment in the world. Many errors of judgment arise from a lack of recognition of types and from a lack of close observation into the nature of individual differences.

You can and probably should apply different typologies simultaneously. These typologies do not need to correlate. In fact, they will not. Attempts to map typologies to each other or somehow merge them are doomed.

Typologies are imaginary constructs and thus deserve to be treated lightheartedly. There is no good reason to get worked up about typology.

Treating typology as a non-imaginary construct (as reality) can and does become a source of suffering. The very inventors of a typology may be afflicted by it.

Strongly identifying with a type and defending that identification leads to suffering, though it may not seem so at first. At some point it will be useful to give up the identification.

Having relinquished your type identify, you will nonetheless notice type-related behavior in yourself and others. Now you're getting somewhere!

You are not your type. Your personality may seem to follow a type pattern. But even identifying with your personality is unnecessary.

Your interpersonal relationships and interactions appear to be affected by type. Actually, they are most strongly influenced by your identifications.

Your self-identifications can be interpreted in such a way as to seem type-related. This serves to strengthen the identifications, which contributes to suffering.

Changes in identifications and self-referential narratives cause changes in relationships. Show me a type-identified person, and I'll show you a person who is suffering in their relationships.

Nonetheless, there may be types. Actually, it seems like there are. We can pretend that there are. Sometimes it helps. Sometimes it doesn't.