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Universal Love, Said The Cactus Person

“Universal love,” said the cactus person.

“Transcendent joy,” said the big green bat.

“Right,” I said. “I’m absolutely in favor of both those things. But before we go any further, could you tell me the two prime factors of 1,522,605,027, 922,533,360, 535,618,378, 132,637,429, 718,068,114, 961,380,688, 657,908,494 ,580,122,963, 258,952,897, 654,000,350, 692,006,139?

“Universal love,” said the cactus person.

“Transcendent joy,” said the big green bat.

The sea was made of strontium; the beach was made of rye. Above my head, a watery sun shone in an oily sky. A thousand stars of sertraline whirled round quetiapine moons, and the sand sizzled sharp like cooking oil that hissed and sang and threatened to boil the octahedral dunes.

“Okay,” I said. “Fine. Let me tell you where I’m coming from. I was reading Scott McGreal’s blog, which has some good articles about so-called DMT entities, and mentions how they seem so real that users of the drug insist they’ve made contact with actual superhuman beings and not just psychedelic hallucinations. You know, the usual Terence McKenna stuff. But in one of them he mentions a paper by Marko Rodriguez called A Methodology For Studying Various Interpretations of the N,N-dimethyltryptamine-Induced Alternate Reality, which suggested among other things that you could prove DMT entities were real by taking the drug and then asking the entities you meet to factor large numbers which you were sure you couldn’t factor yourself. So to that end, could you do me a big favor and tell me the factors of 1,522,605,027, 922,533,360, 535,618,378, 132,637,429, 718,068,114, 961,380,688, 657,908,494, 580,122,963, 258,952,897, 654,000,350, 692,006,139?

“Universal love,” said the cactus person.

“Transcendent joy,” said the big green bat.

The sea turned hot and geysers shot up from the floor below. First one of wine, then one of brine, then one more yet of turpentine, and we three stared at the show.

“I was afraid you might say that. Is there anyone more, uh, verbal here whom I could talk to?”

“Universal love,” said the cactus person.

At the sound of that, the big green bat started rotating in place. On its other side was a bigger greener bat, with a ancient, wrinkled face.

Not splitting numbers / but joining Mind,” it said.
Not facts or factors or factories / but contact with the abstract attractor that brings you back to me
Not to seek / but to find

“I don’t follow,” I said.

Not to follow / but to jump forth into the deep
Not to grind or to bind or to seek only to find / but to accept
Not to be kept / but to wake from sleep

The bat continued to rotate, until the first side I had seen swung back into view.

“Okay,” I said. “I’m going to hazard a guess as to what you’re talking about, and you tell me if I’m right. You’re saying that, like, all my Western logocentric stuff about factoring numbers in order to find out the objective truth about this realm is missing the point, and I should be trying to do some kind of spiritual thing involving radical acceptance and enlightenment and such. Is that kind of on the mark?”

“Universal love,” said the cactus person.

“Transcendent joy,” said the big green bat.

“Frick,” I said. “Well, okay, let me continue.” The bat was still rotating, and I kind of hoped that when the side with the creepy wrinkled face came into view it might give me some better conversation. “I’m all about the spiritual stuff. I wouldn’t be here if I weren’t deeply interested in the spiritual stuff. This isn’t about money or fame or anything. I want to advance psychedelic research. If you can factor that number, then it will convince people back in the real – back in my world that this place is for real and important. Then lots of people will take DMT and flock here and listen to what you guys have to say about enlightenment and universal love, and make more sense of it than I can alone, and in the end we’ll have more universal love, and…what was the other thing?”

“Transcendent joy,” said the big green bat.

“Right,” I said. “We’ll have more transcendent joy if you help me out and factor the number than if you just sit there being spiritual and enigmatic.”

“Lovers do not love to increase the amount of love in the world / But for the mind that thrills
And the face of the beloved, which the whole heart fills / the heart and the art never apart, ever unfurled
And John Stuart is one of / the dark satanic mills”

“I take it you’re not consequentialists,” I said. “You know that’s really weird, right. Like, not just ‘great big green bat with two faces and sapient cactus-man’ weird, but like really weird. You talk about wanting this spiritual enlightenment stuff, but you’re not going to take actions that are going to increase the amount of spiritual enlightenment? You’ve got to understand, this is like a bigger gulf for me than normal human versus ineffable DMT entity. You can have crazy goals, I expect you to have crazy goals, but what you’re saying now is that you don’t pursue any goals at all, you can’t be modeled as having desires. Why would you do that?”

“Universal love,” said the cactus person.

“Transcendent joy,” said the big green bat.

“Now you see here,” I said. “Everyone in this conversation is in favor of universal love and transcendent joy. But I’ve seen the way this works. Some college student gets his hands on some DMT, visits here, you guys tell him about universal love and transcendent joy, he wakes up, says that his life has been changed, suddenly he truly understands what really matters. But it never lasts. The next day he’s got to get up and go to work and so on, and the universal love lasts about five minutes until his boss starts yelling at him for writing his report in the wrong font, and before you know it twenty years later he’s some slimy lawyer who’s joking at a slimy lawyer party about the one time when he was in college and took some DMT and spent a whole week raving about transcendent joy, and all the other slimy lawyers laugh, and he laughs with them, and so much for whatever spiritual awakening you and your colleagues in LSD and peyote are trying to kindle in humanity. And if I accept your message of universal love and transcendent joy right now, that’s exactly what’s going to happen to me, and meanwhile human civilization is going to keep being stuck in greed and ignorance and misery. So how about you shut up about universal love and you factor my number for me so we can start figuring out a battle plan for giving humanity a real spiritual revolution?”

“Universal love,” said the cactus person.

“Transcendent joy,” said the big green bat.

A meteorite of pure delight struck the sea without a sound. The force of the blast went rattling past the bat and the beach, disturbing each, then made its way to a nearby bay of upside-down trees with their roots in the breeze and their branches underground.

“I demand a better answer than that,” I demanded.

The other side of the bat spun into view.

“Chaos never comes from the Ministry of Chaos / nor void from the Ministry of Void
Time will decay us but time can be left blank / destroyed
With each Planck moment ever fit / to be eternally enjoyed”

“You’re making this basic mistake,” I told the big green bat. “I honestly believe that there’s a perspective from which Time doesn’t matter, where a single moment of recognition is equivalent to eternal recognition. The problem is, if you only have that perspective for a moment, then all the rest of the time, you’re sufficiently stuck in Time to honestly believe you’re stuck in Time. It’s like that song about the hole in the bucket – if the hole in the bucket were fixed, you would have the materials needed to fix the hole in the bucket. But since it isn’t, you don’t. Likewise, if I understood the illusoriness…illusionality…whatever, of time, then I wouldn’t care that I only understood it for a single instant. But since I don’t, I don’t. Without a solution to the time-limitedness of enlightenment that works from within the temporal perspective, how can you consider it solved at all?”

“Universal love,” said the cactus person.

“Transcendent joy,” said the big green bat.

The watery sun began to run and it fell on the ground as rain. It became a dew that soaked us through, and as the cold seemed to worsen the cactus person hugged himself to stay warm but his spines pierced his form and he howled in a fit of pain.

“You know,” I said, “sometimes I think the kvithion sumurhe had the right of it. The world is an interference pattern between colliding waves of Truth and Beauty, and either one of them pure from the source and undiluted by the other will be fatal. I think you guys and some of the other psychedelics might be pure Beauty, or at least much closer to the source than people were meant to go. I think you can’t even understand reason, I think you’re constitutionally opposed to reason, and that the only way we’re ever going to get something that combines your wisdom and love and joy with reason is after we immanentize the eschaton and launch civilization into some perfected postmessianic era where the purpose of the world is fully complete. And that as much as I hate to say it, there’s no short-circuiting the process.”

“Universal love,” said the cactus person.

“Transcendent joy,” said the big green bat.

“I’m dissing you, you know. I’m saying you guys are so intoxicated on spiritual wisdom that you couldn’t think straight if your life depended on it; that your random interventions in our world and our minds look like the purposeless acts of a drunken madman because that’s basically more or less what they are. I’m saying if you had like five IQ points between the two of you, you could tap into your cosmic consciousness or whatever to factor a number that would do more for your cause than all your centuries of enigmatic dreams and unasked-for revelations combined, and you ARE TOO DUMB TO DO IT EVEN WHEN I BASICALLY HOLD YOUR HAND THE WHOLE WAY. Your spine. Your wing. Whatever.”

“Universal love,” said the cactus person.

“Transcendent joy,” said the big green bat.

“Fuck you,” said I.

I saw the big green bat bat a green big eye. Suddenly I knew I had gone too far. The big green bat started to turn around what was neither its x, y, or z axis, slowly rotating to reveal what was undoubtedly the biggest, greenest bat that I had ever seen, a bat bigger and greener than which it was impossible to conceive. And the bat said to me:

“Sir. Imagine you are in the driver’s seat of a car. You have been sitting there so long that you have forgotten that it is the seat of a car, forgotten how to get out of the seat, forgotten the existence of your own legs, indeed forgotten that you are a being at all separate from the car. You control the car with skill and precision, driving it wherever you wish to go, manipulating the headlights and the windshield wipers and the stereo and the air conditioning, and you pronounce yourself a great master. But there are paths you cannot travel, because there are no roads to them, and you long to run through the forest, or swim in the river, or climb the high mountains. A line of prophets who have come before you tell you that the secret to these forbidden mysteries is an ancient and terrible skill called GETTING OUT OF THE CAR, and you resolve to learn this skill. You try every button on the dashboard, but none of them is the button for GETTING OUT OF THE CAR. You drive all of the highways and byways of the earth, but you cannot reach GETTING OUT OF THE CAR, for it is not a place on a highway. The prophets tell you GETTING OUT OF THE CAR is something fundamentally different than anything you have done thus far, but to you this means ever sillier extremities: driving backwards, driving with the headlights on in the glare of noon, driving into ditches on purpose, but none of these reveal the secret of GETTING OUT OF THE CAR. The prophets tell you it is easy; indeed, it is the easiest thing you have ever done. You have traveled the Pan-American Highway from the boreal pole to the Darien Gap, you have crossed Route 66 in the dead heat of summer, you have outrun cop cars at 160 mph and survived, and GETTING OUT OF THE CAR is easier than any of them, the easiest thing you can imagine, closer to you than the veins in your head, but still the secret is obscure to you.”

A herd of bison came into listen, and voles and squirrels and ermine and great tusked deer gathered round to hear as the bat continued his sermon.

“And finally you drive to the top of the highest peak and you find a sage, and you ask him what series of buttons on the dashboard you have to press to get out of the car. And he tells you that it’s not about pressing buttons on the dashboard and you just need to GET OUT OF THE CAR. And you say okay, fine, but what series of buttons will lead to you getting out of the car, and he says no, really, you need to stop thinking about dashboard buttons and GET OUT OF THE CAR. And you tell him maybe if the sage helps you change your oil or rotates your tires or something then it will improve your driving to the point where getting out of the car will be a cinch after that, and he tells you it has nothing to do with how rotated your tires are and you just need to GET OUT OF THE CAR, and so you call him a moron and drive away.”

“Universal love,” said the cactus person.

“So that metaphor is totally unfair,” I said, “and a better metaphor would be if every time someone got out of the car, five minutes later they found themselves back in the car, and I ask the sage for driving directions to a laboratory where they are studying that problem, and…”

“You only believe that because it’s written on the windshield,” said the big green bat. “And you think the windshield is identical to reality because you won’t GET OUT OF THE CAR.”

“Fine,” I said. “Then I can’t get out of the car. I want to get out of the car. But I need help. And the first step to getting help is for you to factor my number. You seem like a reasonable person. Bat. Freaky DMT entity. Whatever. Please. I promise you, this is the right thing to do. Just factor the number.”

“And I promise you,” said the big green bat. “You don’t need to factor the number. You just need to GET OUT OF THE CAR.”

“I can’t get out of the car until you factor the number.”

“I won’t factor the number until you get out of the car.”

“Please, I’m begging you, factor the number!”

“Yes, well, I’m begging you, please get out of the car!”

“FOR THE LOVE OF GOD JUST FACTOR THE FUCKING NUMBER!”

“FOR THE LOVE OF GOD JUST GET OUT OF THE FUCKING CAR!”

“FACTOR THE FUCKING NUMBER!”

“GET OUT OF THE FUCKING CAR!”

“Universal love,” said the cactus person.

Then tree and beast all fled due east and the moon and stars shot south. And the bat rose up and the sea was a cup and the earth was a screen green as clozapine and the sky a voracious mouth. And the mouth opened wide and the earth was skied and the sea fell in with an awful din and the trees were moons and the sand in the dunes was a blazing comet and…

I vomited, hard, all over my bed. It happens every time I take DMT, sooner or later; I’ve got a weak stomach and I’m not sure the stuff I get is totally pure. I crawled just far enough out of bed to flip a light switch on, then collapsed back onto the soiled covers. The clock on the wall read 11:55, meaning I’d been out about an hour and a half. I briefly considered taking some more ayahuasca and heading right back there, but the chances of getting anything more out of the big green bat, let alone the cactus person, seemed small enough to fit in a thimble. I drifted off into a fitful sleep.

Behind the veil, across the infinite abyss, beyond the ice, beyond daath, the dew rose from the soaked ground and coalesced into a great drop, which floated up into an oily sky and became a watery sun. The cactus person was counting on his spines.

“Hey,” the cactus person finally said, “just out of curiosity, was the answer 37,975,227, 936,943,673, 922,808,872, 755,445,627, 854,565,536, 638,199 times 40,094,690,950, 920,881,030, 683,735,292, 761,468,389, 214,899,724,061?”

“Yeah,” said the big green bat. “That’s what I got too.”

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470 Responses to Universal Love, Said The Cactus Person

  1. Carinthium says:

    Obviously this is an allegoric metaphor, but I don’t fully understand it. Perhaps someone can elaborate on what it means in more literal terms?

    Besides, even going by metaphor it’s a lot harder to get out of the car when you’re born in a car and have never learned to walk.

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    • Loquat says:

      It’s also a lot harder when nobody will tell you what “GETTING OUT OF THE CAR” actually entails. You’d think maybe one of the prophets could drop a hint about the existence of car doors, or that you have these things called legs that can be used for more than working the pedals.

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      • chaosmage says:

        The bat turned a shade of octarine and tried again. “If you must have it in inside-the-car terms, here’s how to get out of the car. There is an image in your windshield, but you’re always disregarding it. To see it better, drive to a dark place, stop to a halt so you can’t crash into anything, turn off your headlights, and turn on the lights inside the car. This is called meditation, there’s a good book by Sam Harris on the matter. Once you see the image, you can study it, although it will be confusing because you’re so used to interpreting everything in beyond-the-windshield terms. If you turn your ignition key just a bit – so you get lights but the motor isn’t running – you can try to accelerate and brake, which won’t do anything dangerous in that ignition key setting, and discover the actuators you’re using to accelerate and brake. These are your legs, and you can learn to use them independently of the intent to accelerate or brake. These are important because you’ll need to use them very differently once you’re out of the car – otherwise you “fall down” (this term will make sense when you’re outside) into an affective death spiral and your instinctual system 1 will scramble to get you back into the car to protect you. There are similar but more complex actuators, which you’re using for everything else you’re doing, and a single actuator which is the most difficult to study because when you play with it you lose sight of the image in the windshield. But using this last one in a deeply unfamiliar way you can discover a way to unseal the self, um, car, which is called samadhi, um, the door handle. Learn to use it, this might take a while, and you’ll discover how to get out of the car. Finally, a warning: outside the car you’ll be much slower and more vulnerable than you used to, so if you get out of the car in a bad place, or in the middle of lots of other cars, you could get too confused to ever find your way back into your car, which you’ll still need to do to go places.”

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        • Mark says:

          Iterating towards solutions to finger-pointing-at-the-moon problems* is really fascinating. My impression is that CFAR says something like, “These explicit steps are not the technique.” Classic: “Enlightenment is an accident; meditation makes you accident prone.”

          I’ve written about this a little bit, in my usual terse, cryptic, perpetual-rough-draft style:

          https://www.google.com/search?q=site%3Ameditationstuff.wordpress.com%20finger%20moon

          *As in, you point at the moon, but people think your pointing finger is the point and never look where you’re pointing, thereby not seeing the moon.

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        • onyomi says:

          I like the turning on the lights inside the car as a metaphor for meditation, but I might add to it further to explain the frustration people about the temporariness of drug-induced spiritual experiences:

          In the car metaphor most people’s muscles are too atrophied to physically allow them to get out of the car unaided. DMT is like someone picking up your atrophied self, pulling you out of the car, setting you on the lawn to enjoy the sensations outdoors for a few minutes, and then putting you back in the car. And thank goodness they do put you back in the car because your muscles are too atrophied to function outside it.

          Meditation helps you build the muscles necessary to get out of and function outside of the car unaided. Substitute “neurochemical pathways” for “muscles” and you’d probably be pretty close to the truth here, I think.

          Interestingly, one of my favorite spiritual writers, Yogani, often compares enlightenment to a journey in a car, and the techniques of meditation as gas, brake, etc. Spiritual experiences are scenery on the way to the destination, but are not the destination. Arcane discussion of chakras, etc. is “looking under the hood,” which may be interesting, but doesn’t get you there any faster and isn’t even necessary to actually driving the car.

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        • Paul says:

          I’ve tried meditation, and the idea that it’s any path to enlightenment remains at best a bizarre one to me. Meditation, mindfulness, and various other techniques appeared to me to do nothing, and I suspect much of their impact is a sort of placebo.

          Zen koans and other supposed expressions of depth are ultimately trivial tools of transparent purpose. Unfortunately, instead of ‘enlightenment’, they tend to build what people wanted to see in the first place, and confirmation bias does the rest.

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          • eqdw says:

            I’ve tried meditation, and the idea that it’s any path to enlightenment remains at best a bizarre one to me. Meditation, mindfulness, and various other techniques appeared to me to do nothing, and I suspect much of their impact is a sort of placebo.

            Same experience here. I’ve read three books on the subject, I’ve tried countless times, I even had my ex (a certified yoga instructor) walk me through it. Nothing happens.

            :shrug: my brain isn’t wired for it I guess

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          • onyomi says:

            To those who have tried meditation and found “nothing happens,” for how long did you try? It’s not the sort of thing where something really noticeable happens right away. In fact, spiritual teachers often warn those who do have dramatic experience that the dramatic experiences (feelings of bliss, seeing lights, etc.) are not the goal, and should not be used as a measuring stick of success.

            Success in meditation means more like “you feel calmer and more focused,” “you find yourself more able to look at your thoughts from a detached perspective,” etc. and comes very gradually over months and years of daily practice. At any point along the line you may or may not experience something dramatic, but dramatic experiences are not the goal. Feeling more comfortable in your own skin/universe is the goal.

            I say this as someone who “tried” meditation several times seemingly with no success over the years before finally making a more serious commitment to daily practice for an extended period. It’s only then that I saw results, but the results were a lot more than placebo (being able to stop taking all psychiatric meds, for one).

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          • Paul says:

            Meditation was if anything a mildly stressful experience, so I certainly saw no connection to feeling calmer. I tend to be rather emotionally detached in self-reflection as it is, so there wasn’t much to go on there.

            In general, if I am going to be ‘relaxed’ I am going to fall asleep. Otherwise I’m just sitting in an uncomfortable position being very mindful of all the sensations of how uncomfortable it all is.

            Odds are I’m just not wired for it. I’m the unusual sort that doesn’t listen to music, and a former endurance runner that had to have the concept of a ‘runner’s high’ explained to me, since I never experienced it. Heck, my experience with yoga was one of oppressive boredom.

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          • Nornagest says:

            It’s supposed to be slightly stressful. Meditation positions, at least in the traditions I’ve been exposed to, are designed to build in mild to moderate physical discomfort, partly as a deterrent to spacing out or falling asleep and partly also, I suspect, to build in an incentive for contextualizing physical sensation.

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          • Paul says:

            I understand the purpose of positions in keeping you from falling asleep, which they succeeded in doing quite admirably in my case. It wasn’t the physical discomfort that grew irritating, but a lack of progress or sense that the time I was spending had any purpose.

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          • onyomi says:

            I actually recall my earliest experiences with meditation making me feel irritated and less calm than when I started.

            One thing to know about meditation is that it “stirs up” things mentally. Things that were tamped down by activity and sense experiences come bubbling up to be dealt with, almost like in dreams.

            Before meditating I often found that when I’d first get in bed I’d be greeted by a torrent of thoughts about everything that had happened during the day. This generally does not happen now, because I have already let all that stuff come out and process itself in meditation. Similar, I notice a correlation between how much I meditate and how much I dream. On days when I can’t get in much meditation I am more likely to have a lot of vivid dreams. On days when I do meditate a lot I have few dreams and what feels like a deeper sleep.

            Meditation can be like upping the water pressure running through dirty pipes. The water appears to be dirtier, but that is only because it is cleaning the pipes faster.

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          • Lesser Bull says:

            @Paul,
            Ha! So I’m not the only one who is unable to experience runner’s high?

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          • @Paul

            Are you doing something else that does something?

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          • fwhagdsd says:

            “they tend to build what people wanted to see in the first place” Do you seriously know nothing about zen? Nonintuitive answers to koans are the most important part.

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          • Nornagest says:

            Ha! So I’m not the only one who is unable to experience runner’s high?

            How hard have you tried?

            Honestly not trying to do a fifty-Stalins thing here, I’m open to the possibility that some people’s brains don’t work that way, but IME runner’s high is not something you get on your first or even your twentieth serious run. I only started experiencing it after I’d been doing 5Ks a couple times a week for quite a while.

            (I started getting mildly euphoric feelings linked with muscle soreness after a run much earlier, though.)

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          • Aaron says:

            I won’t condescend to you and say you need to try harder, but this sounds like a blatant example of typical mind fallacy.

            Imagine I go around saying “I don’t see how anyone could claim to be moved by classical concertos, they tell me about how they’re impassioned or moved to tears by them, but I just get bored. Clearly people who claim to be stirred by them are just engaging in confirmation bias.”

            Is that really the most plausible initial hypothesis? Or is there just something about me – some trait that I possess or lack – that leads to me not being affected by the swell of a crescendo in the same way other people are affected?

            I’m not talking about the more extravagant claims of meditation – past lives, enlightenment, or whatever – just about claims that it can promote mindfulness, focus, relaxation, peacefulness, equanimity, and so on.

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          • Paul says:

            @Aaron

            I don’t at all dispute that some people do gain a benefit from it, but rather I do question a number of the stronger claims made in relation to it, particularly those of a mystical or spiritual bent. Many people also seem to personally benefit from active religious practice, prayer, and participation in organized services as well; but most of us might be reluctant to ascribe that to anything particularly supernatural.

            It’s also not clear to me whether meditation is the key in cases where it works as opposed to merely a relaxing and reflective activity; such as keeping a diary or other writing, long-distance running, etc that involves mental isolation of some kind or another.

            But lastly, part of the reason I even posted was to admit my ignorance as to what benefits people experience from the practice, and in what manner those benefits are derived. Also: I don’t have to imagine that musical example. I’m musically anhedonic myself, and generally don’t listen to a note on my own. I’m well aware that most people’s brains differ considerably every time I hear their background noise.

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          • PD says:

            @Paul

            The main benefits of meditation that are most immediately noticeable are gains in concentration and metacognition. Although there are many different kinds of meditation some of which claim quite different results, all of them begin with concentration training on the premise that it is difficult to do anything interesting with your mind when it’s full of noise.

            I would go so far as to say that training these capacities is the substance of meditation, and the other benefits that people gain from it, like stress reduction, are side effects. I find that relaxation has very little to do with it.

            Having trained your power of concentration, you can deploy it to access various exotic states of consciousness, but it is not uncommon for the practice to proceed for a long time at a snail’s pace before this happens. These states are sometimes called jnanas and there are very direct and explicit instructions for entering them. Generally speaking, if you can sit for 10 minutes without thinking of anything for more than a couple of seconds before catching yourself and reorienting your attention, you can begin getting into the exotic states (if you aren’t already falling into them spontaneously).

            As far as the mystical/spiritual side of it, I would say that mysticism fundamentally has nothing to do with supernaturalism and can be completely secular. The claim is that “enlightenment” consists in a certain kind of introspective insight about the concept of self – in particular that the sense of self is a sort of massive cognitive delusion. The delusion can be pierced by pulling off a sort of mental maneuver with your focus of attention, which move requires a great deal of concentration.

            I think the claim that the sense of self is illusory is far more congruent with the picture of nature that we get from science than the psychological intuition. There are, after all, no natural facts that delimit selves. And there is nothing about the architecture of the brain to suggest that the concept of self has any physical referent – exactly the opposite, in fact.

            There are many serious people working in cognitive science, neuroscience and philosophy of mind who think that something like this is true, and that the Buddhists might have lucked into figuring it out a long time ago. The most elaborate account is probably by Thomas Metzinger.

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          • Limi says:

            I have had a similar experience with meditation, from the success of others I know, I don’t think it’s merely a placebo effect. When I tried meditation I didn’t have the option of giving up before it had a chance to work (not to say you did necessarily, but that’s often why people don’t succeed I’m told) as I was in the hospital at the time and it was part of my treatment. But even after hours of trying I couldn’t get my thoughts to stop running and looping and veering off at stupid, idiotic tangents. I obviously have issues most others don’t have to deal with though, so if you’re attempting meditation and finding it not working, don’t immediately consider my experience a mark in the against column – it requires a lot more effort than you’d expect, considering the description.

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        • Sigivald says:

          “See that button thing to your left, next to the one that moves the window? It makes a clunk noise?

          It controls the door locks.

          There’s also a handle. Try pulling it.”

          I figure if “you know car controls”, you also “know where the door handle is”.

          Opening the door is halfway to getting out of the car.

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        • Esquire says:

          Serious question:

          Reading Sam Harris’s book, it struck me that a lot of what he said seemed to be about silencing an incessant stream of thoughts and achieving some kind of peaceful blankness of mind. After a giving it a serious try, I concluded that I really don’t have such a stream. When I close my eyes, mostly I have no unbidden thoughts and a naturally blank mind.

          Does that mean I’m already enlightened or something? I don’t *feel* enlightened…

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          • onyomi says:

            It isn’t so much about causing thoughts to cease as about coming to see the thoughts not as “you,” but as just another thing that is happening in the universe which you may observe and pay attention to or ignore as you see fit. This awareness tends to result in fewer random thoughts, but it isn’t about not having random thoughts, it’s about not identifying with them.

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        • fwhagdsd says:

          “This is called meditation, there’s a good book by Sam Harris on the matter” HAHAHAHAHAHA oh were you serious? meh

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        • houseboatonstyx says:

          Or, what looks like the windows are really viewscreens like in the Enterprise. Grainy, black and white, and tending to throw up images from cache. After parking safely and all that, do X till the viewscreens disappear and you see the real outside world of Oz, in color.

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      • Here are the instructions, again.

        http://www.albigen.com/uarelove/most_rapid/contents.htm

        Note chapter 6, parts 26…70, where the author describes having completely misinterpreted the instructions for 27 years. The ability to follow instructions exactly, first time, is rather rare, as anyone who works in IT support knows.

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    • anodognosic says:

      All ideas, once held in the mind, are map, not territory. Explanations are map, not territory. Literal elaborations are as much map as metaphorical ones.

      Reach out towards the territory and put down your map. There’s no actual getting out of your maps altogether. No matter. Keep reaching. When you learn to put down your map, you can find better ones. You can learn to jump back and forth between them. And you can learn the beauty and freedom of being mapless–at least for a little while. You don’t get to stay there and survive.

      There are tools that can help you break your map. Psychedelics. Meditation. Good art. Zen koans. Some philosophy. The study of thought and metaphor. If you get enough practice, it becomes easier. And it makes you a happier and more effective person.

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      • Tracy W says:

        All ideas, once held in the mind, are map, not territory.

        Wanna bet?

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        • anodognosic says:

          I’ll bite. Explain.

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          • Tracy W says:

            A bet is an idea. A bet is also territory. “I bet you $200 that my first name starts with a ‘T'”. The typing, out in the real world, is the map of what is in my mind. The real thing, the territory, is what is in my mind.

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          • anodognosic says:

            The reality of the bet is in the betting, not in the idea of the betting. You can’t hold the bet in your mind, just the idea of it.

            The thinking exists, but it always points to something other than itself.

            Try pointing it at itself. If you manage to reach the present moment, to reach out to the thing itself and notice that the thing itself is the reaching, it eats itself up like an ouroboros and vanishes, leaving behind experience.

            (It’s a trick ayahuasca taught me. I can’t always do it, and I don’t know how to point the way there.)

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          • Tracy W says:

            You can’t hold the bet in your mind, just the idea of it.

            On the contrary, I do indeed hold the bet in my mind. Indeed, there is nowhere else for a bet to be, except in our minds.

            Look, a question for you. If the bet is not in my mind, or someone’s mind, where is it?

            Try pointing it at itself. If you manage to reach the present moment, to reach out to the thing itself and notice that the thing itself is the reaching, it eats itself up like an ouroboros and vanishes, leaving behind experience.

            Nope, not true. Not even false. You just effectively made a divide by zero error.

            It’s a trick ayahuasca taught me.

            So much the worse for ayahuasca.

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          • anodognosic says:

            Get out of the car, Tracy.

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          • Tracy W says:

            I was never in the car.

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          • anodognosic says:

            To be less facetious:

            It is, in fact, essentially a divide-by-zero error, because the point is to short-circuit your thinking.

            It is, in fact, not even false, because it’s not a proposition.

            I didn’t ask you to believe or understand something. I suggested you do it.

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          • Tracy W says:

            I take it from this response that I have indeed convinced you that a bet held in the mind is indeed the territory, not the map, and thus your initial claim is false.

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          • wysinwyg says:

            Tracy W: Suppose you believe that you bet anodognosic that you could convince him/her that “a bet” would count as territory. Suppose anodognosic does not believe that this bet was ever made.

            Is there still such a thing as “the bet” if only one of you ever believed in it? Can your idea of “the bet” be actually identical to “the bet” itself, i.e. the territory?

            It seems to me “a bet” actually has to span at least two minds to actually be a bet and is therefore more ontologically complex than simply an idea held by an individual.

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          • Tracy W says:

            wysinwyg: the simple answer is that I could bet against myself. E.g. I could think to myself “I bet that SNP will hold the balance of power after the next UK election. If I lose I’ll never make a political prediction again.”

            The more complex answer is that even if the bet is spread across two minds, it still exists in the minds, and it’s any expression of it, be that electronically or on paper or by semaphore that’s the map but not the territory. If we had telepathy anodognosic and I could make bets with each other without any map.

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          • wysinwyg says:

            I could think to myself “I bet that SNP will hold the balance of power after the next UK election. If I lose I’ll never make a political prediction again.”

            But is simply thinking such a thing to yourself sufficient to qualify as a “bet”? I would say no. If you actually held yourself to, in this case, never making political predictions afterwards, then I would happily concede you have made a bet with yourself. However, if someone “bet” themselves, but then did not hold themselves to the wager I would not describe that as having “bet” themselves but rather as having used “I bet” as a figure of speech.

            And that’s the important point: the “bet” is more than just the idea or the verbalization. If the idea was enough, then I would not be distinguishing between “bet onself” and “use ‘I bet’ as a figure of speech”. Truly betting oneself (or anyone else) involves some real sense of obligation, and it is that obligation that I would consider to be the territory in the case of a bet. The idea of the bet in this case would be another map (a map of the obligations implied by the bet).

            The more complex answer is that even if the bet is spread across two minds, it still exists in the minds,

            I think this is an untenable description of the situation. In reality, there is not one “the bet” entity “spread across” two minds. Instead, there are two separate entities: “Tracy W’s understanding of ‘the bet'” and “anogdosic’s understanding of ‘the bet'”, each existing discretely in its corresponding mind. Each is a map of one person’s obligations to the other — neither is the ‘the bet’, the thing-in-itself.

            and it’s any expression of it, be that electronically or on paper or by semaphore that’s the map but not the territory.

            Perhaps, but suppose each of you have a different version of the bet in your head. How can the different versions be reconciled? Almost inevitably with recourse to either a written or verbal agreement as evidenced by others. That is, when the parties to a bet disagree about the terms after the fact, the matter is not adjudicated based on what is inside the bettors’ heads but explicitly the real world expression of the bet which you insist must be a map rather than the territory.

            TL;DR – Ontologically, “a bet” is not simply an idea in one person’s head (or even two) but a complex set of elements potentially including social obligations, physical artefacts such as contracts, other people’s testimony as witnesses, etc. One person’s idea of “a bet” is a map of this more complex reality.

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          • Tracy W says:

            On the first, if I hold myself to my bet then we are agreed it is a bet. As it happens, I made a bet with myself of that type some years ago, lost it and have kept to the terms. You can call the obligation the key bit of the bet if you like, then I’ll just say that obligation is the bit in the mind that’s the map, not the territory.

            As for adjudicating, I’ve only made bets with friends, and we’ve resolved any differences by conversation and goodwill, not physical evidence or witness statements. But my understanding of court procedures is that those sort of evidence is regarded as clues to the reality of the contract, which exists in the minds. Judges tend to talk about what is reasonable, what they think people intended, etc.

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          • Nicholas says:

            Dig it: Your thoughts are in the territory, yeah, because you’re in the territory. But your internal awareness of your thoughts is not correlated 1:1 with the actual contents of your thoughts. Imagine google maps on your phone had nearly infinite resolution, and you zoomed in down to your current location. In your hand, you’d see a phone, on the phone, you’d see everything around you, yourself, and the phone, on that phone…
            Rationality training is an attempt to understand how the image of your map on the map corresponds with the rest of the actual map. Science is an attempt to understand how the map on your map corresponds with the territory by proxy of the outer map. Psychedelic mysticism is an attempt to get you to put down the fucking map.

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          • anodognosic says:

            I’ll try to be as clear as it is possible to be with these things.

            What I meant by “held in your mind” was “held in awareness.” Something being stored in your mind is something else altogether. Something stored may be accessible to awareness, but it is not held in awareness by virtue of being stored. Awareness is the key here.

            But the bet itself is not even stored in the mind. The bet itself, the territory, is an abstraction–the agreement and subsequent obligation. You could theoretically deduce it from brain states or whatever, but it is not the brain states, or the resulting mental states. It exists between two parties in the fact of their agreement (the existence here being perhaps a fiction, depending on your stance on the existence of abstractions). What exists in your mind is the idea of the bet, plus numerous other facts about it. Maps.

            You may think this is unnecessary hairsplitting, but understanding that awareness is separate from concept is the whole point.

            To wit, you called my account “not even false,” like it’s a criticism. How do you know? The whole point is to attempt to communicate something that is impossible to convey in words through metaphor. If the problem is the insufficiency of the metaphor, that I readily admit. No metaphor is up to this task.

            But it seems like what you’re saying is that there is no “there” there. How did you determine that? By searching your memory? How would that help, if you’ve never done it? By reasoning? Why would you think that would work, if the whole point is to stop reasoning?

            It’s something you do. It’s an experience you have. You can dismiss it, no skin off my back.

            I’m getting off this particular car now.

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          • wysinwyg says:

            You can call the obligation the key bit of the bet if you like, then I’ll just say that obligation is the bit in the mind that’s the map, not the territory.

            I disagree that the obligation is (necessarily) in the mind. For instance, making political predictions (or not doing so) is something that happens in physical reality, not the mind.

            Even in cases where the obligation is in the mind, I would say an idea of or about the obligation is still distinct from the obligation itself, though now we’re starting to drift into philosophy of mind territory.

            As for adjudicating, I’ve only made bets with friends, and we’ve resolved any differences by conversation and goodwill, not physical evidence or witness statements.

            While a trusting relationship is not the same thing as physical evidence or witness statements, it is like those things in that it is not simply an idea in one’s head but an ontologically complex entity that exists at least partially in the physical world.

            But my understanding of court procedures is that those sort of evidence is regarded as clues to the reality of the contract, which exists in the minds.

            I’m not so sure — I don’t think courts regard paper contracts as “clues” to “the reality of the contract, which exists in the minds.” I’m pretty sure a court considers a paper contract to simply be a contract.

            But ignoring that for the moment, I don’t want judges or lawyers doing ontology or metaphysics for me any more than I want my auto mechanic trying to fix the roof of my house.

            Judges tend to talk about what is reasonable, what they think people intended, etc.

            Right, so the judge is trying to reconstruct a sensible interpretation of the bet based on the testimony of the two parties involved. But that sensible interpretation is probably not identical to “the bet” as it exists in either party’s mind. So, again, “the bet” is not just an idea in someone’s mind but something with some instantiation in physical reality (even if only through conversation).

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          • Aaron says:

            This entire line of argument between the two of you is an elaborate language game. “Get out of the car” signifies “accept my apparently-ontological-actually-linguistic schema as superior to your own, you boob.”

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          • Tracy W says:

            Anodognosic:

            What I meant by “held in your mind” was “held in awareness.” Something being stored in your mind is something else altogether. Something stored may be accessible to awareness, but it is not held in awareness by virtue of being stored.

            Uh-huh. What I meant by being held in the mind is that it’s being held in the mind.

            But the bet itself is not even stored in the mind. The bet itself, the territory, is an abstraction–the agreement and subsequent obligation.

            Which is being held in the mind.

            . You could theoretically deduce it from brain states or whatever, but it is not the brain states, or the resulting mental states.

            On the contrary, it is the resulting mental state.

            What exists in your mind is the idea of the bet, plus numerous other facts about it. Maps.

            Nearly right. What exists in my mind is the territory, not the maps.

            You may think this is unnecessary hairsplitting, but understanding that awareness is separate from concept is the whole point.

            Nope. I understand that perfectly. It doesn’t change that the bet is held in the mind.

            To wit, you called my account “not even false,” like it’s a criticism. How do you know?

            Because I’ve studied mathematics. That’s why I pointed you to the “proof” that 2 = 0.

            The whole point is to attempt to communicate something that is impossible to convey in words through metaphor.

            Communicating things that it is impossible to convey in words is why we have mathematics. And, has it ever occurred to you that there may be things in human knowledge that your teachers simply never encountered? That what was thought-stopping to them, and to you, might not be that way to everyone?

            But it seems like what you’re saying is that there is no “there” there. How did you determine that?

            Mathematics. How do we know that we can’t divide by zero? And Wittgenstein, (quite possibly deeply misunderstood.)

            Why would you think that would work, if the whole point is to stop reasoning?

            Why do you think that your question would be able to stop reasoning? If you can’t think beyond something, that doesn’t automatically mean that no one else can. And, if you grant that some people could think beyond something that you personally can’t, then isn’t it possible that those people might then go on to teach their reasoning to other people? And that I may have encountered one of those teachers in the past, in, say, one of my high school maths classes?

            It’s something you do. It’s an experience you have. You can dismiss it, no skin off my back.

            Have you considered the possibility that I’ve done it already, and now I’ve gotten beyond that?

            It was wrong and flippant of me to say “I was never in the car”, I was once in the car, but, to me, it looks like you are taking your first stumbling steps outside of the car, while I’m 1/10th of the way up the cliff already and am trying to figure out where to hammer in my next anchor point. (And I’ve got the whole European Alps to go.)

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          • Tracy W says:

            @wysinwyg: Okay, for reasons of Occam’s Razor, I don’t believe in mind-body dualism. Thus, as far as I’m concerned, making political predictions is something that happens in physical reality because it happens in the mind. As for the distinction between an obligation and the idea of the obligation, well, my reaction is along the lines of “If you like, I suppose both can be in my mind.”

            I agree with you that a trusting relationship is not just an idea in one’s head. I am merely disputing the idea that *all ideas* held in the mind must be map, not terrritory, I am certainly not claiming all ideas are territory, not map.

            As for what the courts consider, a principle of regarding a paper contract as simply a contract would be rather useless when the contract is silent on the particular circumstances that occur.

            I don’t want judges or lawyers doing ontology or metaphysics for me

            The advantage that judges and lawyers have when it comes to ontology or metaphyics is that they can’t just throw their hands up and say that “this is too hard”, unlike an academic philosopher. They have to come up with something. So while we don’t want them doing it for us, looking at how they do it is a useful tool.

            But that sensible interpretation is probably not identical to “the bet” as it exists in either party’s mind.

            Sure. There’s always an error margin. Say I measure the height of my coffee cup and tell you it’s 95 mm high. That measurement is probably not identical to the height of my coffee cup, it’s quite plausible that if I had used a micrometer I would have measured the mug as 94.89 mm high (and that measurement would also have an error rate). And that’s assuming that I lined the ruler up correctly and didn’t make a typo when entering the numbers. But the fact that my sensible interpretation of the coffee mug is not identical to the coffee mug doesn’t mean that there is no coffee mug.

            So, again, “the bet” is not just an idea in someone’s mind but something with some instantiation in physical reality

            Mind-body dualism again.

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        • Tracy W says:

          Nicholas: mathematics teaches you that psychedelic mysticism is merely the first step.

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      • Paul says:

        That sounds very lovely, but I’m not sure what you mean when you suggest it makes one “happier”. What is that sort of “happiness” and why is it important? Why should it dominate my mental landscape?

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        • anodognosic says:

          “Happier” here means “less affected by painful cognitive dissonance” and “less likely to get stuck in an unpleasant and unproductive cycle of thinking.” It doesn’t have to dominate anything. You practice it with some regularity in a way that works for you and you learn to let go of the need for certainty.

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      • Alejandro says:

        The quest for “reaching out” to the territory (and the recurring failure ending up always with a different map instead) are the topic of my favorite among Borges’ poems, “The other tiger“:

        A tiger comes to mind. The twilight here
        Exalts the vast and busy Library
        And seems to set the bookshelves back in gloom;
        Innocent, ruthless, bloodstained, sleek
        It wanders through its forest and its day…

        After describing the tiger in vivid detail through many lines, Borges realizes:

        It strikes me now as evening fills my soul
        That the tiger addressed in my poem
        Is a shadowy beast, a tiger of symbols
        And scraps picked up at random out of books,
        A string of labored tropes that have no life,
        And not the fated tiger, the deadly jewel…

        A new attempt is made to describe the real tiger, the one that is out there in the jungle right now, but it fails again, and Borges resigns himself to his fate:

        But by the act of giving it a name,
        By trying to fix the limits of its world,
        It becomes a fiction not a living beast,
        Not a tiger out roaming the wilds of earth.

        We’ll hunt for a third tiger now, but like
        The others this one too will be a form
        Of what I dream, a structure of words, and not
        The flesh and one tiger that beyond all myths
        Paces the earth. I know these things quite well,
        Yet nonetheless some force keeps driving me
        In this vague, unreasonable, and ancient quest,
        And I go on pursuing through the hours
        Another tiger, the beast not found in verse.

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        • anodognosic says:

          Yes!

          Here’s a stanza for you, courtesy of Joanna Newsom:

          And the signifieds butt heads with the signifiers
          And we all fall down slack-jawed to marvel at words
          While across the sky sheet the impossible birds
          In a steady, illiterate movement homewards

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      • houseboatonstyx says:

        “The study of thought and metaphor. If you get enough practice, it becomes easier. And it makes you a happier and more effective person.”

        Study metaphor??? Get some raw uneducated language, stumble over “Tall as a river stood on end” or “But chicken ain’t got no cutlets.” Notice the tiny gap between instandly knowing what the speaker meant … and then parsing it into usual categories.

        The river, the one hand clapping — these show the map NOT being the territory. The river on end shows some territory through the crack in the map where it’s broken.

        The map can do things the territory cannot. Therefore maps are not real. Lewis Carroll’s poems. “He thought he saw an argument that proved he was the Pope; he looked again and saw it was a bar of mottled soap.” “/// something // and saw it was the middle of next week.”

        Nonsense breaks the map. Through that crack, for the moment, a breath of fresh air. (And of pure logic, that sees what and why.)

        Sorry, I’m late….

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        • Tracy W says:

          The map can do things the territory cannot. Therefore maps are not real.

          This is a non-sequitur. Let’s apply this logic to some other things: “An albatross can do things that I cannot. Therefore an albatross is not real. ”
          “An even number can do things that an odd number cannot. Therefore an even number is not real”.

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      • maxikov says:

        But what for? If you succeed at all that, what are you gonna gain? We already have tons of scientists, whose day job is improving the map of the world, and the results of their actions are far beyond what any individual human can conceive. So if you have an enriched mind, you have three options:

        1. You become better at internalizing science, and applying it in the real life for your goals.

        2. You become better (or even the best) at doing science (i.e. you’re a better map-maker than any other human, and you apply this skill to advance the collective map-making effort).

        3. You outperform the rest of the world’s scientists combined (i.e. you’re a better map-maker than the rest of the humanity combined).

        Are these mind exercises supposed to make it possible to achieve at lest one of these?

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        • PD says:

          First, the answer is “all of the above”, i.e. it makes you better at doing science because it makes you more creative and skeptical.

          Second, “maps” in that sense are not scientific theories. The map is the grossly chunked model of the world that you’re able to fit into your head and which actually informs your moment-by-moment behavior.

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          • ewhd says:

            Late here, but I suggest that maps are not necessarily wrong but they are always incomplete.
            So, a scientific theory can be entirely accurate and true for the narrow context for which it is defined, but the entirety of reality cannot be mapped in a continuous, complete and self-agreeing way. (I think that’s one way to interpret Godel’s incompleteness theorem, at least for context for which it is defined: mathematics.)

            Plenty (most?) maps are both wrong and incomplete. However, because our thoughts partially determine our power (the nature and degree of our actions), some maps are ‘useful’ regardless of whether they are wrong or accurate. I think utility is a much better measure of a map than truth, but that pivots the discussion into a whole new direction…

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        • anodognosic says:

          PD gets it. “Maps” includes your ethics, your understanding of people, your hidden assumptions about what is possible in your own life.

          Much grief can come of being stuck in a map. Believing, for instance, that any bad thing that happens to you is punishment for some wrongdoing is a bad map to be stuck in. Scrupulosity is a bad map. Fundamentalism is a bad map. Greed, vanity and self-righteousness are all bad maps.

          Having practice at transcending your maps helps you not get stuck. That’s all.

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    • PD says:

      This is more like an honest expression of the tremendous frustration that all thinking people eventually find themselves feeling once they’ve spent a long enough time in the Chapel Perilous. The problem is that if he could explain to you what it means to GET OUT OF THE CAR in “more literal terms” then there would be no problem and no reason for this post.

      I think the nearest approach is something like this:
      To drive the car is to exercise a certain sort of mental modality. To exit the car is to exercise a different sort of mental modality. These are mutually antagonistic and the use of one precludes the use of the other.

      Verbalizing and conceptualizing and building models and explaining stuff belongs to the former. The latter is… well, the whole point is that it’s difficult to explain. It is closer to digestion than it is to thought. Its main characteristic is effortlessness. As in the way that your mind can effortlessly understand spoken and written speech or identify objects in the field of view.

      To GET OUT OF THE CAR is to use this effortless mind to make a new move that is unfamiliar to you. It is impossible to explain how to do this for the same reason that it is impossible to explain to blind people how to see. Any seeking after explanations is in fact completely counterproductive, because explanations are the domain of the antagonistic “thinking mind” to which this move forever unavailable.

      Hence the more you are a person who enjoys thinking and explaining and understanding, the more you will feel the frustration in this post.

      What you ought to do instead of trying to understand how to GET OUT OF THE CAR is trying to understand tactics for directly manipulating the state of your brain. So enter drugs and meditation.

      P.S. You were not born inside the car, and walking was the first thing you ever learned.

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      • Tracy W says:

        What this analysis is missing is that, from the point of view of the person “in the car” they can’t tell the difference between someone outside the car and someone lying about the whole thing. Thus the person inside the car is pushing for a sign that the person outside the car has some special knowledge.

        The failure of the person who thinks that they’re outside the car to recognise this problem, or the failure to actually come up with some special knowledge that the person inside the car, is entirely consistent with there being no special knowledge out there.

        I do find there is this kind of arrogance in many mystics. Like they never consider the possibility that they might be the ones whose minds are the limited minds.

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        • PD says:

          People like you who are sort of aggressively skeptical about mysticism are not in the intended demographic for this message. This is very obvious to me now, because I used to be thoroughly convinced that all of this was bullshit and had to do a complete 180 after having a classical mystical experience on mushrooms.

          Generally speaking, mystics do not go around looking for converts, and in fact may actively push them away. Typically, a student comes to a teacher already convinced that the teacher has some secret knowledge. Then often, the teacher tells the student to go away or to do something boring like read religious scriptures. If the student is stubborn and persistent, the teacher says “ok fine, then do as I say and don’t ask too many questions.”

          Indeed, it is common for the teacher to flat out tell the student that he has nothing to teach. And this is sort of true. The teacher’s task is not to convey knowledge but to directly induce a certain mental state. At that point, there is a shared ground of experience and it becomes much easier to communicate. As the zen saying goes, “when thieves meet on the road, they recognize each other instantly.”

          So if you are really curious, then follow this simple instruction: take increasingly higher doses of one of the classical psychedelics known to be safe, e.g. LSD, mescaline, psilocybin, until something interesting happens.

          I suppose in theory I could spend several hours compiling a bunch of respectable studies on the structural and functional effects of psychedelics and meditation on the brain, cross-referencing them with subjective reports of mystical experiences, explaining the ways in which the former support the veracity of the latter, and so on. Then you could spend many more hours reading and thinking about this and come away with the feeling that maybe there is something to it. But both of us are too lazy to do this. Frankly, the drugs are a gift because they are pretty much guaranteed to work on everyone.

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          • Tracy W says:

            Out of curiousity, what makes you think that I think this is all bullshit? Why do you think that I’ve never had a mystical experience?

            (And, yes, I’m aggressively sceptical. I’m aggressively sceptical about everything until it comes to every day life, where it gets a bit cumbersome.)

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          • PD says:

            @Tracy

            It’s because the objections that you raise are the sorts of objections raised by people who haven’t had the experience. They are not unreasonable objections, and I would have raised them myself, but they are indicative.

            To be precise, the fact that the man “outside the car” can’t supply a priori reasons why the man “inside the car” should believe him is not a failure mode. It could not possibly be otherwise. There is an aspect of the experience that is simply formally inexpressible. The whole point is to break out of the closure of abstract concepts.

            Of course, it may be that you had some other kind of experience that might also well be called “mystical”. But there is an experience that I suspect you did not have, which imparts an appreciation of the formal limits of language and thought.

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        • Jiro says:

          PD: Imagine that a few decades in the future we discover how to rewrire the brain for various things. I say that I just don’t understand why I should believe in homeopathy. You then tell me to go use the new nano-rewiring dust and rewire my brain so that I believe in homeopathy unconditionally. Once I have done so, my lack of understanding will be ameliorated.

          How is that different from suggesting that people take brain-altering drugs to understand the truth of the things believed by people with altered brains?

          If the world was being conquered by Starro, who mind controls everyone by putting starfish on their heads, should I welcome having a starfish placed on my head because it will let me understand why Starro should rule the world?

          Or to put it another way, altering my brain may lead me to verbalize “I understand” and to falsely believe I understand. My altered brain might even be unable to distinguish this from actual understanding. But it still wouldn’t *be* actual understanding, even if I didn’t know the difference.

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          • PD says:

            First, I understand the evidentiary problem. As I said, this problem is usually not a problem because the mystic does not go looking for students. So if you come to one and say, “but how can I know that you’re not full of shit?” then expect the response, “if you think I’m full of shit, go away and quit bothering me.”

            Observe that in Scott’s story, the protagonist understands very well what is meant by “getting out of the car” because the experience had already happened to him (and, presumably, to the author). So the special knowledge of the entities is not in doubt. What he wants is a method for turning it into a persistent state and he is annoyed that the entities’ response is “just do it.”

            Second, your analogy is rather poor. I am not, after all, telling you to alter the state of your brain so that you believe in something. I am telling you to do it so that you can have an experience that you haven’t had and form your own conclusions about it.

            Why would you want to do that? Well, in my previous incarnation as debunker of all things airy-fairy, I was still a mostly curious and open-minded person. If someone appeared before me back then and said to me the sort of things that I have said in these comments, I would think:
            “This person sounds reasonable and sincere and not at all like some kind of brainwashed fanatic or snake-oil salesman. He has offered me a protocol for creating an interesting experience that he claims may have important and beneficial effects. I ought to at least try it just as a matter of intellectual curiosity.”

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          • Jiro says:

            this problem is usually not a problem because the mystic does not go looking for students

            The protagonist of Scott’s story is trying to figure out if the “mystic” is a hallucination. If it’s a hallucination, it just appeared in front of him and he did not seek it out in the normal sense.

            the special knowledge of the entities is not in doubt…

            The type of special knowledge that he’s looking for is something that can be known only by an external entity and not by a hallucination. This special knowledge is certainly in doubt.

            Knowing that he can “get out of the car” is something that a hallucination can know, and therefore is not such special knowledge.

            I am telling you to do it so that you can have an experience that you haven’t had and form your own conclusions about it.

            What kind of conclusions could I possibly draw from it that I can’t draw already? I don’t doubt that people have such experiences; what I doubt is that the experiences correspond to anything outside their head. Having such an experience myself wouldn’t let me tell whether it’s outside my head. I might end up believing that it is outside my head. but that would be because it rewired my brain to think so, not because I came to that belief because of evidence.

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          • PD says:

            @Jiro

            What kind of conclusions could I possibly draw from it that I can’t draw already?

            The claim is that you can learn something interesting about the nature of your mind by tweaking variables that cannot normally be tweaked. I mean your thought process, emotions, perceptions, and etc. are completely subserved by physical brain processes. It stands to reason that by altering the state of the brain in certain ways, you can access thoughts, emotions and perceptions that are completely outside your normal range. Is it really so much of a stretch that such a state might yield insights that are not normally available?

            I don’t doubt that people have such experiences; what I doubt is that the experiences correspond to anything outside their head. Having such an experience myself wouldn’t let me tell whether it’s outside my head. I might end up believing that it is outside my head. but that would be because it rewired my brain to think so, not because I came to that belief because of evidence.

            This objection makes no sense to me whatsoever. It’s as though I asked you to read a book and tell me what you thought of it, and you responded that there’s no point in reading it since you know that a book is just a bunch of letters on pages.

            It is completely beside the point whether the experience is “inside your head” or not. Any private and subjective experience is “inside your head” but that doesn’t make all such experiences meaningless or incapable of producing legitimate insights. If it helps, I agree with you that a mystical drug experience is also “inside your head” and I have no desire to persuade you otherwise.

            I might end up believing that it is outside my head. but that would be because it rewired my brain to think so, not because I came to that belief because of evidence.

            I don’t know of any other way to read this than: “I am so sure that I am right that I’m afraid to do anything that might change my mind.”

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          • Jiro says:

            It is completely beside the point whether the experience is “inside your head” or not.

            The protagonist of Scott’s story didn’t seem to think so. The entire reason to ask the entities to do math is to find out whether or not they are outside his head.

            I don’t know of any other way to read this than: “I am so sure that I am right that I’m afraid to do anything that might change my mind.”

            It depends on how it changes my mind. If it changes my mind by providing evidence and reasoning, that’s good. If it changes my mind in the same way that Starro changes people’s minds, it’s bad.

            Unless the entities actually start solving math problems, having the experience myself is useless in providing evidence or reasoning as to whether it’s inside my head. If it cannot provide evidence or reasoning, but it will make me come to a conclusion anyway, that means that it will make me come to a conclusion by rewiring my brain.

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          • anodognosic says:

            @Jiro the inception of many, maybe most ideas is not achieved through reasoning. Einstein famously intuited his way to Relativity. Kekulé found the structure of benzene in a vision of an ouroboros during a daydream. Of course, reasoning is necessary to check whether it’s true, and they needed a lot of prior propositional learning. But intuition let them make the leap to the answer.

            Mystical experiences and practice make it easier to make intuitive leaps, while constant reasoning can impede them. That’s the point. And importantly, *you don’t actually have to change any of your beliefs* to do it. You are concerned about coming to a conclusion through something other than reason, but that’s not it at all. Think of it as coming to a hypothesis. And in that, you would be in some very good company.

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          • Jiro says:

            It’s clear that people have these experiences, and say “I contacted some real entity outside my head”, and didn’t come to that conclusion by evidence and reasoning. To me that says “they came to that belief because they rewired the belief center of their brain”.

            It’s also clear that other people have those experiences and don’t quite say that, but they give the experiences credence in ways that only make sense for things that are outside their head. My concluson: Pretty much the same.

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          • anodognosic says:

            I don’t quite get your objection. Do you not ever give credence to insight and intuition? That’s the kind of credence I give to (and think is correct to give to) mystical experiences. I thus clearly don’t believe it’s some external entity, which seems to be one of your main objections. I also offered some illustrations of how insight and intuition are extremely important, and that mysticism thus has a similar value. Does this seem wrong to you?

            Also, “rewiring the belief center of the brain” doesn’t correspond to my experience at all. A mystical experience may lead you to feel a presence of or connection to an entity, but it doesn’t follow that you therefore believe that you in fact connected with an entity. I, for instance, felt during a mystical experience that I might fall asleep and wake up in someone else’s body, but that doesn’t mean that I now *believe* that that is possible. I don’t. The insights that I kept were only those that satisfied later rational inquiry.

            If you have some experience with rationality, you should emerge from a mystical experience with much the same beliefs as before (although perhaps with some interesting hypotheses to consider in sobriety!).

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  2. Ash says:

    Too much hard-core math, not enough QIAA bending rainbow creatures. No Hugo for you.

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  3. mark neyer says:

    The car is a reality model. Useful for getting somewhere but not the best way to interact at all times. It can trap you. Get out if it and then try to tell everyone else to get out, and you’ll have a bad time. At first I had trouble in life because I’ve got a train and the world is built for minivans. Most sociopaths drive an SUV, while Republicans are in pickup trucks and liberals in Honda civics. The train was hard, so ive been on foot for a few years, and it was painful at first, but now I can get in my train whenever I need to. Politics is bumper cars, and I’d much rather just got for a walk.

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  4. How does the protagonist know that that number has only two prime factors?

    EDIT: Unless they got it by generating two large primes and multiplying them, in which case none of this proves anything because they knew the prime factors all along.

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  5. Paprika says:

    Isn’t the problem that “getting out of the car” means nothing to you? It might as well be alien language and to help you get out of the car, they should have translated it into words you understood?

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    • jimmy says:

      Perhaps nothing *obvious*, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find the meaning if you let go of your silly requirements and *look*.

      As a hypnotist I sometimes play games like this getting people to “move their finger subconsciously” or something that they swear they can’t/don’t know how to do and then shutting down other options and raising the tension until they shut up and do it anyway.

      It’s not the *easiest* way to teach someone how to “get out of the car”, but it’s kinda fun in a sadistic sort of way, and sure teaches a lesson on the difference between what you can do and what you think you can do.

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      • Abram Demski says:

        An example of that would be illuminating. I am not sure what kinds of things you mean. Like… wiggling your ears when you’ve never managed it before in your life? And how would you shut down options to get it to happen?

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        • jimmy says:

          “An example of that would be illuminating. I am not sure what kinds of things you mean. Like… wiggling your ears when you’ve never managed it before in your life?”

          Roughly the set of things that your mind-body can do but feels outside your conscious locus of control. Or in other words, anything you can be hypnotized to do.

          Subconscious finger twitches, forgetting your name, dropping an insecurity, wiggling your ear, etc.

          It may have a lot of pressure against it, it may be very hard to find, it may not be the right way to go about it, but the “impossibility” is an illusion. I wrote a bit more about it on my blog under “On provoking the impossible”.

          “And how would you shut down options to get it to happen?”

          There’s various ways to shut down objections, but the minimal way (if they can’t run away) is to not indulge in them by acting like they’re valid.

          In the story above, the tripper had an opportunity to run away and chose to take it because he was less uncomfortable being without the transcendant joy message than he was facing what he had to face in order to get out of the car. If he was locked in psychedelic space for 12 hours instead (or *needed* to get out of the car), he very well might get fatigued, broken, and turned his intent towards actually getting out of the car.

          That’s a very very unpleasant way to go about it and is rarely the way to go. If you’re on nicely cooperative grounds, it’s oh-so-much nicer to 1) actually break it down into easily digestible pieces, or if you cant, at least 2) acknowledge the objections before gently pointing them back in the same direction.

          The latter might look like “Yeah, feels pretty impossible, huh? You just hear the thought ‘I don’t know how!’ screaming at you if you consider trying, huh? Yeah, that’s normal. Feels super convincing too – I had it myself.”, then waiting for them to process and accept that you get it before continuing with “okay, so you clearly don’t know how… yet. And you’re very skeptical that this will work. That’s fine. Makes sense. Can you imagine what it’d be like if it *did* work – if you *could* somehow stare into the void and pull out this magic?” – and then continuing to address objections as they came up until they’re just left with blankness and the intention to wiggle their ear, or whatever it is they’re trying to do.

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        • Gareth Rees says:

          The analogy with ear-wiggling is interesting, but it has three features that are absent from the story. First, there’s no doubt about the existence of ear-wiggling; second, there’s no doubt that some people can learn to do it voluntarily; and third, there’s a plausible story that explains how an approach might work: namely, you can gain vountary control over a muscle by paying careful attention to it when it moves in association with a group of muscles that are collectively under voluntary control, and so reinforcing the neural connections between your consciousness and that muscle, eventually enabling you to isolate it.

          However, even if a problem has those features, then an instructor ought to have more resources than ‘JUST WIGGLE YOUR EARS!’ If you can already get your ear to move using muscles ABC, and the wiggling technique involves isolating C from AB, then the instructor can indicate which muscles are involved, how to exercise them, and how to recognize when the effect has occurred. Better still, “Electrodes applied to the scalp muscles above the ears will make the relevant ear muscles spasm by sending a small electrical current through the nerves; the subject can then feel where the muscles are and then consciously control them to wiggle their ears.”

          I can’t wiggle my ears (though I haven’t tried electrodes), but I can voluntarily hold open my eustachian tubes. I learned to do this by paying careful attention to how they ‘popped’ when I yawned, and gradually learning to isolate the relevant muscles. But if it works for you: ‘JUST OPEN YOUR EUSTACHIAN TUBES!’

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          • ewhd says:

            @Gareth_Rees and @jimmy

            Sure, there may be evidence that, Yes, humans have the muscles to wiggle their ears, but people tend to think of themselves as exceptional. Higher in the comments, several people articulated that they “just weren’t wired to get (meditation, runner’s high, etc.)”. Despite the fact that these are known things humans can do, like ear wiggling, people will often characterize their inability to do them impossibility.

            A state of expanded or altered consciousness is a little less objective than wiggling your ears, but there are still physiological changes ranging from easily observed to requiring an mri or cat-scan. Also, since we’re talking states of consciousness, we sort of have to accept subjective evidence as partially objective.

            As far as using electrodes to stimulate the muscles, that’s about a perfect analogy to using drugs to expand consciousness. Once you’ve used the heavy-handed external force (electrodes/drugs), a person might be convinced that such a state is possible, though may remain unconvinced that they can attain it unaided, which is a big argument against relying on drugs beyond an initial, opening-the-door kind of purpose.

            Lastly, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. As jimmy pointed out, in the story the tripper chooses to turn back instead of getting all the way out of the car, or instead of accepting that the outside of the car is always there, even without the drugs. He remains unconvinced, either that the experience is ‘real’ and not an entirely arbitrary hallucination or that he can do this without the drugs (they’re sort of equivalent).

            And that’s sort of the moral of the story, isn’t it? It’s made clear at the end that (at least in the context of the story) either some deep part of his brain or some external DMT entity can do some crazy math calculations, but the thing hold him back is precisely his incredulity.

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      • HeelBearCub says:

        “something that they swear they can’t/don’t know how to do”

        Well, are they saying they don’t know how because they don’t want to know how? (It.s embarrassing, socially inappropriate, etc.) or because they don’t know how to do it without someone guiding them?

        Is it possible that it is physically and mentally painful for them to attempt to do this thing? Like when you guitar teacher says you “can play a barre chord” and you say you “can’t” and he is insisting that you “can”.

        Eventually I did learn to play barre chords, sort-of. It only took 3 years. But it didn’t happen without a ton of practice and lots of mental anguish, no many how many times my teacher got me to play it right once.

        And meanwhile, all that insisting that I “could” do it made me quit the teacher.

        Do I understand that if Joan Jett, with her tiny hands can play barre chords, I can? Yes. Does that particularly help me to play a barre-chord right at the moment, no.

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        • jimmy says:

          “Well, are they saying they don’t know how because they don’t want to know how? […] or because they don’t know how to do it without someone guiding them? Is it possible that it is physically and mentally painful for them to attempt to do this thing?”

          Any or all of those reasons and more.

          The point isn’t that he can do it, it’s that saying “I can’t”/”don’t know how” is a refusal to try. It’s saying “I reject your input without pacing your reasoning and I expect you to accept my input unless you can pace my reasoning”. It’s a power play, and the DMT tripper isn’t even aware of the move he’s playing (and so is playing poorly).

          That’s not to say he’s wrong on the object level. Maybe he really *won’t* figure out how to get out of the car even if he tries for 5 minutes. But still, if he were more focused on learning than power dynamics he would shut up and sit in silence for a few minutes actually intending to get out of the car – even though he has no idea *how* yet. If he still doesn’t get out of the car, the bat will start to see that and will be much more likely to offer specific guidance where the tripper seems to be getting caught up. Teaching tends to work better when the teacher is treated with some respect.

          That’s not to say your guitar teacher was doing it right though. If I were teaching you guitar and you were *paying* me to do it, I’d probably be respectful enough to pace your reasons for thinking you “can’t” do bar chords – because hey, if you’re already paying me money you obviously think I have something to teach you and you just need help verbalizing your objections which are probably very real.

          That make any sense?

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      • Sigivald says:

        Of course, one problem there – especially when dealing with supernatural DMT creatures – is that it’s quite possible for someone to assure you you “can” (and “easily can, more easily than breathing”) do something that … you actually can’t.

        Assurances from supernatural DMT creatures have, after all, no strict binding to the actual or possible.

        Little bastards might be lying, or really unaware of your capabilities, in other words.

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    • houseboatonstyx says:

      It might as well be alien language and to help you get out of the car, they should have translated it into words you understood?

      Er, yoga.

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    • Deiseach says:

      The problem is that the protagonist wants evidence (i.e. factor the numbers for him) so he can prove the other plane of existence is real and then everyone will take the drug to get there.

      Suppose they do – and then what? Why should they be any different from the college student who takes the drug, visits the other plane, then goes back to the real world? Sure, we now have proof that this other plane is objectively existent (whatever that may be taken to mean) rather than a drug hallucination. But you still have to write that report. And your boss will still yell at you if it’s in the wrong font. And twenty years down the line, will you have (like a good productive citizen) built a career or will you be yattering on about “universal love, transcendent joy” from your drug-trips?

      Even if we had proof that the other plane was real, unless we were going to change all our values in this world, it will make little difference to us. That’s what the cactus and the bat were trying to say; here you are in a world of enlightenment where you are being told the ultimate values are love and joy, and you are still trying to make those into tools, into ‘things that will fit into the world of earning a living’.

      No. All religions will say the same thing: break the neck of your pride, tear down your self, burn it all to ashes, change completely, do not live by the world’s values. There is no accommodation between the Truth and the way we go about our ordinary lives.

      Of course, we’ve spent millenia tinkering with religion to find a way that we can do exactly that: yeah, yeah, sell all I have, give to the poor and come, follow Me – but do I really have to live like a begging tramp? Why can’t I keep my house? And of course, I’m going to need a job to pay my bills. And unless I can function as a normal productive citizen, how can I do all that? Why can’t I slot the universal love and transcendent joy into three-quarters of an hour one day a week where it won’t interfere with the real world?

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      • Carinthium says:

        A good case up until you started on the religion stuff. Animistic religions, pagan religions, some hybrids (such as what I’m given to understand Japanese tradition evolved into), and Confucianism (if it counts) say nothing of the sort.

        Islam did advocate submission to Allah, but judging from it’s founder it also advocated for world conquest. Since Mohammed controlled a government and didn’t turn his people into beggars, I assume there is some room for compromise.

        Finally you understate the very real differences between the even the religions that oppose living in the world, who may have visions but fundamentally different ones at heart.

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        • Jaskologist says:

          I’ve only dipped my toe in, but the mystical traditions of the major religions (Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism) say remarkably similar things. (One of those things being the dangers of just dipping your toe in.)

          I do not know, and would be curious to find out, if the wisdom provided by those traditions which rely on mind-altering substances differs from the others.

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          • Carinthium says:

            For all I know, that’s fair. But the mystical traditions are not the same as the religion themselves.

            Besides, at least with the case of Islam either said mystical tradition is at odds with Mohammed or it allows for a significant space ‘in the world’.

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      • houseboatonstyx says:

        Why can’t I slot the universal love and transcendent joy into three-quarters of an hour one day a week where it won’t interfere with the real world?

        Is that what Father Brown does?

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      • Eli says:

        Of course, we’ve spent millenia tinkering with religion to find a way that we can do exactly that: yeah, yeah, sell all I have, give to the poor and come, follow Me – but do I really have to live like a begging tramp? Why can’t I keep my house? And of course, I’m going to need a job to pay my bills. And unless I can function as a normal productive citizen, how can I do all that? Why can’t I slot the universal love and transcendent joy into three-quarters of an hour one day a week where it won’t interfere with the real world?

        Funny how people would usually rather be alive than suffer death by religiosity.

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  6. Jonathan Paulson says:

    But we already know how to factor RSA-100 🙂

    Serious question: one thing that struck me when reading was how impractical the conversation would be. Reciting a 100-digit number from memory is tough for a human…remembering the two 50-digit factors would be even harder. And a really convincing number would be several times as long. Is there a “simpler” conversation that would prove that the other party had superior computational power?

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    • DanielLC says:

      You don’t have to remember the entire factor. Just enough to prove that someone actually factored it.

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      • Jonathan Paulson says:

        How do you do that without remembering the entire factor? (you do only need 1 factor, not both)

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        • Ano says:

          Even if you only remember the last ten digits of those fifty-digit numbers, that is still enough to show that they factored it.

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          • Vaniver says:

            Unless they’ve read your mind. You can’t go in knowing the answer you’re looking for; the only safe way to do this is to only know the large number, remember the factors they give you, and then multiply them afterwards.

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          • Anon256 says:

            Have your computer generate and store the factors in advance but only output their product; memorise the product at leisure, practicing until you can recite it easily; have the DMT entities factor it; remember selected digits of the factors and check them against the ones stored on your computer. (If DMT entities can read your hard drive that’s even stronger evidence of their “existence” than factoring.)

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          • Jonathan Paulson says:

            But only to *you*. It would be much better to factor a number no one knows how to factor (like one of the larger RSA numbers); then everyone will be interested.

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          • RCF says:

            “remember selected digits of the factors and check them against the ones stored on your computer.”

            If you’re only going to memorize n digits, why not pick a number whose factors are n digits long in the first place?

            Also, one could memorize n-k digits, where k is an amount that can reasonable be handled by a computer. For instance, if your computer can test 1 million numbers per second, then you can memorize n-10 digits, and then let your computer brute force the rest of the digits over 3 hours.

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    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      This was a problem I had with Conversations with God, and I thought about it then. It’s a bit different to ask an omniscient being than a super-powerful being, albiet.

      You could ask it to recite some passage from a page:book on your bookshelf that you hadn’t read yet. Or where in the world is the passport that you lost 5 years ago.

      Or, the billionth through billion-and-30th digits of pi. Then check when you get back.

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    • HonoreDB says:

      Is there a “simpler” conversation that would prove that the other party had superior computational power?

      Yes, hash breaking would probably work better. Ask the entity to give you an English-language rhyming couplet such that each line has the same SHA256 hash value. Art under rigorous constraints is the original proof-of-work function.

      Details: SHA256 takes arbitrary input and converts it into a 256-bit value. There’s no known efficient way to engineer “collisions”, where two inputs have the same output. But since there are more than 2^256 possible input strings, we know collisions must exist.

      Say the average college student can understand approximately 20,000 words per part of speech, so there are 20000^n possible lines of length n. Then the line length needed to guarantee a collision exists is the log base 20000 of 2^256, or 18. The actual shortest possible couplet is probably substantially shorter, though.

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      • Jonathan Paulson says:

        Hmm…something like this could work. I think you end up with longer strings, but they are probably much easier for humans to remember.

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      • Harald K says:

        Oh Lord, won’t you factor this number for me?
        These people, I’ve got to impress them don’t you see?
        Think of the scandal a factor would be!
        So Lord, won’t you factor this number for me?

        Oh Lord won’t you find me a low-value hash?
        I lost all my bitcoin, I’m all out of cash!
        the statists are laughing, they say it’s all trash,
        So Lord won’t you find me a low-value hash?

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      • vV_Vv says:

        Say the average college student can understand approximately 20,000 words per part of speech, so there are 20000^n possible lines of length n. Then the line length needed to guarantee a collision exists is the log base 20000 of 2^256, or 18. The actual shortest possible couplet is probably substantially shorter, though.

        Most of these lines are not grammatical English sentences.

        Natural English text (e.g. Wikipedia) has an estimated entropy of a little more than 1 bits per character, including spaces and punctuation (the Hutter Prize record is 1.28 bits per character).

        Therefore, if you want at least 256 bits of entropy you need ~256 characters or ~43 words (at ~6 characters per word including spaces).

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        • HonoreDB says:

          I’m not saying the lines wouldn’t be *weird*, but they would be grammatical–the 20,000 number treats color (n), color (v), colored, and coloring as one word (and probably also includes comprehensible non-dictionary words like coloredness). At least one of those is going to be grammatical at each point in a sentence.

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      • Eliezer Yudkowsky says:

        That’s pretty good!

        If you can memorize 9-digit numbers on the spot, the thought occurs to me that you could ask for the formula for the largest Mersenne prime 2^p – 1 such that p is an 9-digit number. I’m not sure how absolutely convincing this would be.

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    • RCF says:

      How is 50 digits not convincing? That’s about 150 bits.

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      • Jonathan Paulson says:

        If someone told me that LSD let you contact superintelligent aliens, and presented this factorization as a proof, I would not be convinced: our computers can already factor such numbers, so the obvious hypothesis is that you factored the number on a computer and made the story up (or, in this case, looked up the factorization on Wikipedia).

        If you presented a factorization of RSA-2048, I would take you much more seriously.

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  7. Sarah says:

    Bahahahaha! As someone who spent 6 weeks in Peru last fall on an ayahuasca course, I really appreciate seeing this on a rationalist blog. 😀

    I can’t link right to the section, but I’ve got some links and quotes here about psychedelics and skepticism:
    http://pricklesandgoo.com/topics/psychedelics/

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    • Jiro says:

      Reading your link, I think the Nichols quote is really privileging hypotheses. What’s so special about telling people that separateness is an illusion? I can think of all sorts of things that a hypothetical drug might tell us. It could tell people that wars are good things, or that the Jews are trying to take over the world, or that we’re supposed to be intolerant, or that we should be filling the universe with paperclips, or any of a number of other things that are equally as plausible and equally as objectionable. After all, we’re postulating that some drug which doesn’t exist now tells us this. A hypothetical future drug which provides actual truths doesn’t have to look like any existing drug.

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    • Illuminati Initiate says:

      I have a strong desire to NOT “transcend” my Self.

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  8. Alicorn says:

    To get out of the car, first push that button by your right hip…

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    • Vulture says:

      See? In mysticism more than anywhere else, a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing 😛

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      • Doesn't know where to start says:

        “Wait no! The first step is to stop your car or you migh…”
        *Screeeech!*
        “Crash”
        “… ”
        “Technically he is out of the car. He probably should not have asked a wishing engine.”

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        • TeslaCoil says:

          A little bit of knowledge is easier to acquire than a large amount of knowledge.

          For every enlightened person, I would expect to see 10 people who tried getting out of the metaphorical car, but did not make it. Yet, there are none.

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          • Nicholas says:

            That depends on what you consider to have happened to burnouts, dropouts, Krishna’s etc. Because to me, they look suspiciously like failed Enlightened beings.

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      • Deiseach says:

        In mysticism more than anywhere else, a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing

        More or less what my sister was told when she started her novitiate as a nun; steered away from getting straight into St John of the Cross before she had the practical grounding (they made her study the documents of Vatican II instead) 🙂

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        • houseboatonstyx says:

          Alternatively, park safely, open a window a crack, sniff … retreat to normal. Again a little wider … retreat. Slowly work up to more and more exposure to reality.

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  9. Emerit says:

    This is a possible opening move for a dialogue designed to shift terminal values; amused by its modularity. If you snip the humorous ending and translate the metaphor into something more actionable…actually, not sure the most effective way to go about it. Might be better to oscillate between heated/non-heated dialogue, inserting a bit more detail along the way, and let the other agent generate and cohere the remaining detail on its own.

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  10. Cauê says:

    “Continue to expect less blogging”, he says.

    Not that I’m complaining.

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  11. This kind of reminds me of the Dumbledore/Harry debate on transhumanism from HPMoR. Character coded as impossibly wise vs. character coded as young, naive, obstinate and foolish, and yet the latter seems to be endorsing all the author’s views and the former seems perpetually unreasonable in a very obvious way. It’s an interesting counterintuitive dynamic that kind of makes it feel to me like there’s something deeper going on. (I don’t think this is the case in HPMoR, but maybe it is here?)

    Enjoyable read.

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    • Anonymous` says:

      I think I might have a window on this. Both Eliezer and Scott are right about a lot of stuff now, but they had formative experiences of figuring out they had been wrong (e.g. childhood religion), and these discoveries usually went in the direction of making the world more fascinating. Nowadays they don’t get to make as many “whoa, I was way wrong about this, and this is awesome” discoveries, but they still like the qualia, so they write author insert characters who *do* mostly have their current beliefs and yet *do* get to learn they’re wrong somehow.

      For similar reasons, the moment in this story where the bat suddenly snapped into lucidity, and a lucidity that semi-explained the meaning of its earlier opaque speech, was jolt-up-in-my-seat exciting to me.

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      • Deiseach says:

        It’s not that the bat “snapped into lucidity”, it’s that it accessed the personality that was trained to speak simply to young children and the ignorant – short words, basic concepts, dumb it down to the material plane 🙂

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    • gattsuru says:

      Character coded as impossibly wise vs. character coded as young, naive, obstinate and foolish, and yet the latter seems to be endorsing all the author’s views and the former seems perpetually unreasonable in a very obvious way.

      It’s probably worth noting that while these characters are supposed to be right, they’re not supposed to be going about it in the correct method. The psychonaut above might be looking for evidence, but it’s not actually going to be very helpful even if he could come back with it — he won’t know how to get out of the car (and “DMT improves recall” is a lower-complexity result than “DMT sends your mind to an alternate reality filled with superbeings”). MoR!Harry has good intuitions about the nature of death, but he’s basically channeling a monloguing supervillain throughout the entire discussion with Dumbledore, and it neither helps understand what should be Surprising Evidence nor gives many of the very strong reasons Dumbledore should want to change his own mind.

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    • Eli says:

      It’s an interesting counterintuitive dynamic that kind of makes it feel to me like there’s something deeper going on. (I don’t think this is the case in HPMoR, but maybe it is here?)

      EPIC SPOILERS AHEAD

      Dumbledore is saying and doing exactly the things that set up prophecies which allow for “loopholes” in the prophecied destruction of the world by letting the world get destroyed in such a way that life and people survive. If he seems weird, it’s because you don’t have direct access to information from the future.

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      • Yeah, that explains the “father’s rock” conversation and Dumbledore’s apparent rejection of a standard model of cause and effect, but not the debate on death that they later have, iirc. There was a lot of speculation that it would be revealed that there were souls and an afterlife in HPMoR, thereby vindicating Dumbledore, but I’m pretty sure this reveal never took place.

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  12. Joe says:

    DMT entities are Guess culture jerks.

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    • Decius says:

      Transcendent culture, and they were the most polite beings imaginable- they answered the question that the protagonist should have asked, not the question that he did.

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      • Jiro says:

        “The question that he did ask” is unambiguous. “The question that he should have asked” is not unambiguous (at least not with respect to the parties involved). Intentionally creating ambiguity is not polite.

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        • michael vassar says:

          I think that it’s a very important open question whether politeness consists primarily of intentionally reducing or intentionally creating ambiguity.

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          • Deiseach says:

            That’s exactly the complaint on here that Scott was dealing with; what causes depression? Well, it might have something to do with serotonin, or it might not – and then to explain this you have to go into a heap of technical and scientific jargon to explain the complexity.

            To the non-scientist/mental health professional, this all sounds like needless obfuscation. “I asked you if this drug would help me, and you went off about all this neurons and chemicals and environment and maybe this, maybe that when all I want is a simple answer to a simple question: yes or no, will this help?”

            It may sound like ambiguity because there isn’t a simple way to put it without reducing it to the same kind of “serotonin causes depression” simplification that was complained of.

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          • houseboatonstyx says:

            “I asked you if this drug would help me, and you went off about all this neurons and chemicals and environment and maybe this, maybe that when all I want is a simple answer to a simple question: yes or no, will this help?”

            At least that jargon has definite referents and there’s an infrastructure of manuals, and catalogs of where to order the real ingredients. Imagine if you were trying to tell a lost backpacker* what wild herbs zie could find and how to combine them to make a poultice or something.

            * Whose cell phone had no GPS, and who knew nothing of botany

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          • Deiseach says:

            Obviously, what that backpacker really needs you to do is solve their maths homework for them 🙂

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        • Sigivald says:

          Unless the ambiguity helps him actually do the most productive thing, rather than the thing he was trying to do.

          (I mean, I tend to agree that metaphysical “this is what you needed!” arguments are … jerky.)

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          • Joe says:

            Yes jerky but sometimes needed or called for, particularly if you are seeking spiritual direction. Sometimes I think my spiritual directer is a major a-hole but he gets the job done. I imagine it’s the same way with therapy.

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      • Even better is to answer both!

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    • stillnotking says:

      This reminds me of an old Zen story: A monk was dissatisfied with his current teacher, so he found a new one. But every time he asked the new teacher a question, she hit him with a brick. Fed up, he went back to the old teacher and complained about her; the old teacher said that he only hoped the monk had properly thanked her for her grandmotherly kindness.

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      • Error says:

        This is one of my favorite Zen stories ever. Clear feedback is terribly hard to get, but priceless.

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      • FeepingCreature says:

        This is what’s wrong with Zen stories – an overreliance on violence as a means of persuasion.

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        • Deiseach says:

          How many times do you need to get hit with a brick to realise you should stop asking questions because you’re going to get hit with a brick?

          No wonder the former master thought she treated him like she was his granny 🙂

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        • stillnotking says:

          The violence in Zen stories is just for stylistic emphasis, like yelling “GET OUT OF THE FUCKING CAR”. It isn’t meant to be understood literally.

          Other stories use the mechanism of a character acting in extremely socially inappropriate ways, like tweaking the teacher’s nose or walking out on him, which (to their original audience) would have been even more shocking than spontaneous violence.

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          • Jaskologist says:

            Are you sure?

            Gutei raised his finger whenever he was asked a question about Zen. A boy attendant began to imitate him in this way. When anyone asked the boy what his master had preached about, the boy would raise his finger.

            Gutei heard about the boy’s mischief. He seized him and cut off his finger. The boy cried and ran away. Gutei called and stopped him. When the boy turned his head to Gutei, Gutei raised up his own finger. In that instant the boy was enlightened.

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          • stillnotking says:

            What, besides the obvious, is confusing about that story? It’s an allegory — the finger is not the teaching; Gutei cutting off the boy’s finger is just the most emphatic way of stating that. “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.”

            Same goes for Bodhidharma’s student cutting his own arm off, Joshu slicing a cat in half, etc. A lot of the characters in these stories probably didn’t even exist, or were composites. It doesn’t matter, any more than it matters whether Romeo and Juliet actually existed.

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  13. David says:

    May I make this into a short film someday? This is like a Rationalist version of Jorge Luis Borges.

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  14. moridinamael says:

    Okay but which one of these buttons unlocks the door I’ve been stuck in here for thirty years please just tell me

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  15. ddreytes says:

    Can I just say how fucking happy it makes me that someone is out there trying to figure out a way to make sure that DMT isn’t a way to an actually-existing alternate reality

    And also how unsurprised I am that it’s UC Santa Cruz

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  16. Jiro says:

    I thought of a similar idea in the context of the Thomas Covenant book series and how to prove that the Land was real. Do some sort of mathematical calculation that requires pencil and paper to solve but whose answer can be memorized. Check the answer when you get back. For instance, you need a piece of paper to find digits 100-102 of the square root of 2, but once you have those digits, you can memorize them.

    Also, I think saying “rationally, you’d want to factor the number” is wrong for the reasons Scott describes: the other entity could act like it doesn’t care about rationality. But the real reason you want it to do math is that doing math is hard to fake, and making you feel universal joy is easy to fake. The fact that your transcendent being refuses to do math means it is much more likely that he doesn’t really exist.

    And in Scott’s scenario, there are actual transcendent beings, but by pure coincidence, they don’t like doing math. In short–it’s a real phenomenon that by pure coincidence, looks exactly like a fake. Rationalism is always going to fail in detecting fakes if you postulate that the real thing is indistinguishable from a fake, for the same reason that it won’t detect the world being created by God yesterday complete with memories, fossils, and light from the stars. Or for the same reason that it won’t find that psychic powers are real if psychic powers vanish when tested by unbelievers (to the point of retroactively vanishing if unbelievers analyze results years after the fact).

    And, Scott is using a false symmetry. When the entities tell you to metaphorically get out of the car, you don’t know how to get out of the car. But when you tell them to do math, they do know how to do math and are just refusing. Of course, Scott is in a dilemma here. If the entities can do math but refuse, this breaks symmetry to us in order to make the situation appear symmertrical to the Scott in the story. If the entities cannot do math, we as readers have nothing to tell us that the Scott in the story isn’t just hallucinating.

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    • Decius says:

      Except that doing the math is demanding directions to the place where one can get out of the car.

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      • Jiro says:

        The very end of the story shows that the entities are capable of doing the math. It was not something they didn’t understand how to do. They were just being jerks about it.

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        • Murphy says:

          Or (like the culture) they were acting according to a long standing standard operating procedure based on randomized controlled trials of interventions into developing civilizations.

          Thus far 99.98% of species for whom they’ve provided proof-of-work answers in order to prove their existence has genocided itself and often a number of surrounding species in the process.

          On the other hand refusing to provide proof-of-work while repeating messages of universal love and transcendent joy has been found to not increase self-genocide while reliably reducing the time to Eschaton by approximately 2000 years.

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        • Deiseach says:

          Yes, they could be being jerks. Or they might not understand the question – their minds are not operating the way the human visitor’s mind is working. He is busily demanding “Give me tangible proof that I am capable of understanding with the limits of my intelligence and model of the world” before he will listen to their teachings.

          What matters? Love and joy. What is the visitor asking? “Yeah, yeah, very nice, but I’m interested in something real“. If the attitude of the visitor is that what the entities have to offer is not valuable until he’s had time to set up his test, go away and check if the answer is correct, and then come back to finally listen, all on his terms – then he can’t be shown the important things because to him they will be unimportant.

          Imagine a human trying to explain, using terms derived from musicology, a particular work by Mozart or Schoenberg or any composer of your choice to an intelligent dog.

          And the dog wants to know “Yes, but what does it smell like?” And it refuses to listen until the human can give it a dog-answer as to what the smell of the piece in dog-terms and dog-values would be. And the dog argues that it’s sure what the human is saying is very important but unless the human can give it something to bring back to other dogs in ways the other dogs can understand, then it is all pointless.

          And the dog gets cross that the human can’t give it a basic “this smells like yargle” answer. Doesn’t the human want to share its important knowledge? Wouldn’t it be rational for the human to want to spread its knowledge by making it accessible? Why won’t the human just give an answer that should be easy for a higher being: break this smell down into its components.

          And then as soon as the dog can go back to other dogs and check that it is indeed yargle (and not, say, uumppagh) then sure, you bet, it’ll be back to learn all about this ‘music’ stuff. After all, if it can be worked into a convenient way to make bones tastier, then it’ll be a huge boon to dogs!

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          • Tracy W says:

            if the human in this story isn’t willing to try to figure out how to translate a particular work by Mozart into things that have meaning to that particular dog, can they really simultaneously claim that this is truly important for the dog to understand?

            Maybe not necessarily by breaking it down into smell, but the person claiming this is important should be trying to come up with something that works on the dog’s terms. Insisting that this is really important and that it can only be explained one way comes across as scam-artistry.

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          • Deiseach says:

            Because you don’t hear it with your nose? And if I tell you “Yes, Papageno’s song smells like yargle”, then dog-you goes off thinking “Oh, now I know all about it! It’s yargle!”

            But it’s not, and the simple answer is actually making the understanding more difficult, not less.

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          • Tracy W says:

            I think we’re talking past each other. I’m not saying that teaching Mozart to a dog is easy. I’m just saying that if someone genuinely thinks that it’s important for a dog to understand Mozart they’ll try to explain Mozart in a way that works for the dog. Note the word “try”.
            Say some mad scientist threatened to kill everyone I love if this intelligent dog doesn’t get Mozart. You bet I’d be doing my best to come up with Mozart-smell analogies.

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          • Susebron says:

            The analogous human isn’t trying to translate Mozart into smells, they’re trying to come up with a smell that will convince the dog that they’re not just part of the dog. The dog is saying that it will listen to Mozart, once it’s sure that the human isn’t just part of itself.

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        • Jiro says:

          Or… they were acting according to a long standing standard operating procedure based on randomized controlled trials of interventions into developing civilizations.

          Scott is trying to write a story which is symmetrical: each side fails to accept the other side because neither side understands the other side’s paradigm.

          But he can’t do this. If neither side understands the other side, there will be nothing in the story which rules out the possibility that the protagonist is hallucinating. If the mystic beings can do math but just refuse to, then the protagonist can’t be hallucinating but the sides don’t (mis)understand each other equally.

          If, as you suggest, the mystic beings are refusing to do the math for rational reasons, that doesn’t help–the sides still don’t understand each other equally.

          Yes, they could be being jerks. Or they might not understand the question

          The end of the story shows that the entities can do math–they just refused to do so.

          Perhaps they don’t understand why the protagonist wants them to do math. But if that’s the case, then the situation isn’t symmetrical. They don’t understand why they should obey the protagonist, but the protagonist doesn’t understand *how* to obey them. And those aren’t the same thing; the two sides don’t have the same gaps in understanding about the other side.

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          • Murphy says:

            Mine was a reply to the claim that they’re either [not understanding] or [are jerks]: ie, there’s a third option, they understand perfectly , they’re fully capable of giving a perfect answer if they choose to and aren’t jerks and are acting towards their goals but have very good, ethical reasons to refuse to answer the protagonist.

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          • Jiro says:

            You’re correct, if they have a rational reason not to tell him, they’re not being jerks. However, I called them jerks in the context of pointing out that they are acting differently than the protagonist. That larger point still holds.

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    • Tracy W says:

      Rationalism is always going to fail in detecting fakes if you postulate that the real thing is indistinguishable from a fake

      Thus Occam’s Razor.

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      • Sigivald says:

        If it’s indistinguishable, what does ‘fake’ even mean?

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        • Macbi says:

          Things can be indistinguishable-right-now but distinguishable-eventually. Like here the cactus and the bat aren’t letting you distinguish whether they are higher dimensional beings or hallucinations by asking them to factor things, but there are other distinguishable differences; in one possible universe you can achieve “transcendent joy” though spiritual experiences and in the other you can’t.

          Likewise the question of “is there an afterlife?” is somewhat unanswerable right now, but totally answerable after death.

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  17. sounds like Issac Asimov’s The Last Question , in the use of repetition followed by a grand finale

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  18. ilzolende says:

    Allow me to point out the existence of child safety locks that prevent you from opening the doors from the inside to add to this metaphor. (Although those do only apply to passenger doors.)

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  19. Banananon says:

    I’m torn between thinking the background verse is excellent nonsense (in a Lewis Caroll sense) and being really frustrated at the inconsistencies in its meter. It’s so close to brilliant that its flaws are painful.

    Specific example of criticism (In the vague hope of offering something remotely constructive):
    The sea turned hot and geysers shot
    up from the floor below.
    First one of wine, then one of brine,
    then one more yet of turpentine,
    and we three stared at the show.

    The last line here has an odd number of syllables breaking the pattern of stresses.

    Sorry for the critique. :/

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    • Anon256 says:

      I assumed those were an intentional part of the aesthetic.

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    • wysinwyg says:

      Take “at the show” as a quarter note triplet (so those three syllables are sped up to take the same amount of time as two syllables in the other parts of the verse).

      Now it has the same meter as “Jabberwocky”.

      Turning all the emphasized words and phrases below into triplets preserves the iambs so I think it’s what Scott was going for.

      The sea was made of strontium, the beach was made of rye. Above my head, a watery sun shone in an oily sky. A thousand stars of sertraline whirled round quetiapine moons, and the sand sizzled sharp like cooking oil that hissed and sang and threatened to boil the octahedral dunes.

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    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m usually pretty sensitive to meter breaks, and there were a few in there I couldn’t force out, but that particular one strikes me as fine. Compare to Ancient Mariner:

      Then like a pawing horse let go,
      She made a sudden bound:
      It flung the blood into my head,
      And I fell down in a swound.

      The second line is iambic trimeter. The fourth line is seven syllables, but it still sticks to the trimeter by joining beats together. I think this maps on to my seven syllable last line there, if you say “we three” appropriately fast.

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  20. chosenonemore says:

    I love this, but I think your car analogy is missing the point. When you ask the entities to factor the number, you’re not asking ‘what button do I press to get out of the car.’ You’re asking ‘give me evidence of your existence so that I know it’s worth my while to trust you.’ Which is much more reasonable.

    If you’ve lived your entire life in a car, getting out of it based on the promises of an unknown entity of unknown reliability and unknown reality seems like a very, very stupid thing to do.

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    • James Picone says:

      From the point of the entities, questions of existence or nonexistence, and especially questions of evidence, are car-talk – presumably outside the car those concepts are not fully meaningful.

      Which, of course, makes being outside-the-car a kind of self-sealing ignorance, which you can’t understand unless you already understand it.

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      • Bryan Hann says:

        Maybe these entities, from their POV, do not understand how to engage in conversations that involve using words like “existence” and “evidence”. But these entities DO understand how to engage in conversations that involve using words like “factoring”. And they flat out refuse to.

        If the bat is real, it is an ass-bat.

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        • Deiseach says:

          Neither you, nor anyone else on here, has ever refused or neglected to answer a question because it is so ludicrously trivial, it has nothing to do with the topic?

          Imagine someone meeting a fireman and being told the building is on fire and they need to follow the exits out, and refusing to listen until the fireman tells him which is better: chocolate or vanilla icecream?

          You said chocolate? Hah! Everyone knows vanilla is better! That means I don’t have to listen to you!

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          • Tracy W says:

            imagine someone meeting a Nigerian prince, and being told that they could earn $20 million, just for the cost of letting the prince use their bank account for a couple of days, and filling out a few forms, and yet this person insists on passing up free money unless the Nigerian prince answers some ludicrously trivial questions which have nothing to do with the topic?

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          • Jiro says:

            The fireman analogy doesn’t fit anyway, Nigerian princes aside. While both sides are refusing to obey the other, that refusal consists of different things–one side doesn’t understand how to obey the other, and one side understands how to obey the other but thinks that doing so is irrelevant. The story, on the other hand, is trying (but failing) to imply similar gaps of understanding on both sides.

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          • shemtealeaf says:

            If the alternative is that the person ignores you and burns to death, then of course you answer the question.

            Even better, if you can predict which flavor the person likes (as the entities can probably predict what answer we want to the factoring question), just tell them what they want to hear.

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          • Jaskologist says:

            There seems to be a lot of fighting the hypothetical here. As with the trolley problem, all of these objections or clever evasions can be dealt with by tweaking the scenario without really affecting the underlying question.

            “Come with me if you want to live.”
            “Not until you let me douse myself with gasoline!”

            Of course, as with the trolley, people keep coming up with more objections and clever evasions because they’re pretty sure someone is trying to pull one over on them.

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          • Jiro says:

            It’s not fighting the hypothetical to point out that an analogy has the same problem as the situation that it’s being used as an analogy to.

            Report comment

          • houseboatonstyx says:

            @ Jiro

            The whole story can be read as a sort of ‘koan’, to leave the reader wondering about the sound of one hand clapping.

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          • Deiseach says:

            But if I tell them what they want to hear, then their objection is “Ah, religion is only primitive wish-fulfilment fantasy! I knew it was all false!” 🙂

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          • Tracy W says:

            They say that when you tell them the prprime-factorisation of a 100-digit number?
            Tough crowd.

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          • John Schilling says:

            If I’m a fireman in a neighborhood where thieves have been dressing up as firefighters to persuade people to leave their valuables unattended in an unlocked apartment, and the thieves are part of a subculture whose extreme gastronomical preferences make “chocolate vs. vanilla” a useful shibboleth, I’m going to answer the damn question.

            There are too many fraudulent peddlers of enlightenment in this world, real and hallucinatory, for blind trust to be the default setting. Sorry about that, any actual transcendant beings out there, but it is so and you’re just going to have to deal with it.

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    • nydwracu says:

      “What button do I press to get out of the car?”

      “That one. That’s the one that opens the doors”

      “Aha! And then I–”

      “Step out of the car.”

      “That’s it! Thank y–”

      [the protagonist’s innards un-in themselves over I-95 at 70 miles an hour, painting it a color that causes a few thousand people to be late to work]

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      • chosenonemore says:

        Yes!

        “Look, let’s go in stages. First you tap on the window from outside, so I know there really is an outside and you really are in the outside. Then we can start talking about whether or not I should join you there…”

        “JUST GET OUT OF THE CAR!!!”

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      • Susebron says:

        “Wait, no! Stop the car first! The pedal is right there, see?”

        “Okay, I did that. Now what do I do?”

        “Now that button there opens the doors. Yeah, that one. Good. Keep going. It may get a bit dark outside of the lights of the car, but keep going.”

        “I did it! I opened the door! I’m outside the car! I’m fr-”

        [the protagonist gets eaten by a grue]

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      • Anon says:

        “The protagonists innards un-in themselves”

        Wow, I didn’t even know that “favorite euphemism for violent disembowelment” was a mental category I could have.

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    • Tracy W says:

      If you’ve lived your entire life in a car, getting out of it based on the promises of an unknown entity of unknown reliability and unknown reality seems like a very, very stupid thing to do.

      And yet isn’t doing this part of growing up? (Unless you’ve got a good disproof of solipsism.)

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    • Mark Z. says:

      “Oh, you exist? I totally trust you now.”

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    • Scott Alexander says:

      I identify with the protagonist. I tried to make the DMT entities as believable and sympathetic as possible, but yes, I think their analogy breaks down, and I don’t understand their position well enough to write a story where they make a watertight argument. I think if I did I would have solved the Problem of Evil, or at least the New Agey version of it.

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  21. Markus Ramikin says:

    Heh, reminds me a bit of this:

    ‘You remain alone in a world of strangers, the world of phenomena.’

    ‘I like being alone. I am quite fond of myself. I like phenomena, too.’

    Who else here likes phenomena!

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  22. Toggle says:

    This was very creative and very good! And the mythic quality of forced repetition has a lovely irony when it’s composed right next to the traditional rationalist buzzkill conversations.

    One of the better metaphors I’ve ever heard for the ‘get out of the car’ family of Plato’s Cave metaphors is the Netflix binge. Imagine that everything your eyes have ever seen is an image on a two-dimensional screen with the edges just barely past your peripheral vision; you’re just been watching a movie (with force feedback and smellovision) for your whole life. And like the Netflix binge, it’s not just about the moving picture, but about your state of mind- the semi-willful neglect of the higher and three-dimensional reality, the suspension of disbelief and curiously deep acceptance of a simpler experience, the ‘sticky’ but still ultimately transient and unsatisfying nature of that more limited engagement. And the fact that we’re still watching isn’t because we’re trapped physically in the matrix or something, it’s just that, well, Netflix binges, amirite? If only you could catch a glimpse of the edge of the screen, if you turned your head fast enough…

    That said, my experience with psychedelics (psilocybin once) was less about this kind of coherent conversation in weird circumstances and more about my own altered neural functions- I doubt I would have been coherent enough to ask all the spirals to factor something, let alone receive a verbal answer from them. From quick-and-dirty research, DMT seems to come with euphoria at least. Are there psychedelics that produce altered senses without seriously compromising rational thought ?

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  23. Sam says:

    This is the moment where I realise I would totally read a poetry anthology by Scott.

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  24. Mark Gomer says:

    “came into listen” should probably be “came in to listen”

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  25. Universal love? Transcendent joy? I thought the insight was:

    A smell of petroleum prevails throughout.

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  26. Richard Metzler says:

    Interesting. Sounds like the experiences that occultists achieve by meditating and self-brainwashing for years and undertaking elaborate ridiculous rituals can be had instantaneously by… taking a pill?

    Also, just out of pure curiosity, does that stuff have any side effects besides an upset stomach?

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    • nydwracu says:

      A strong smell of turpentine prevails throughout.

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    • Tracy W says:

      “People who have tried it, tell me that a clear conscience makes you very happy and contented; but a full stomach does the business quite as well, and is cheaper, and more easily obtained.”
      J. K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat.

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    • Corwin says:

      Ayahuasca is a MAOI and dmt, the MAOI stops your liver from functioning and breaking down the DMT, so you can have a nice long trip… but there’s a long list of foods you’re not allowed to look at, ideally, 24hrs before and after taking it – to be safe I recommend “drink only water and eat only white rice” during the day before and the day after the trip.

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      • Sarah says:

        Ok, that sounds a bit terrifying! Ayahuasca *temporarily inhibits your monoamine oxidase enzyme* which prevents DMT from being degraded before it reaches your brain, and also temporarily impairs your ability to break down tyramine. So there are a list of foods to avoid for a couple days before and after (google MAOI diet), and some potentially severe medication interactions to research and avoid. The main offenders re: tyrosine / tyramine content are bleu cheese, fermented foods, aged meats…

        There’s also a more restricted sort of “student / healing” diet that people sometimes choose, which is no salt, added sugar, oil, spices, sex for as long as they’re on a plant dieta. That’s not medically necessary, it’s more of a… cultural / ascetic thing.

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    • Ilya Shpitser says:

      > taking a pill?

      That’s an old idea.

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    • Deiseach says:

      Actually, what fascinates me is that the very phenomenon the bat is trying to get the visitor to realise (reduction of transcendent experience to a neatly-boxed and labelled phenomenon that can be studied and parsed) is what is happening in ‘the real world’; someone upthread mentioned going on an ayahuasca course.

      Commodification of what was a spiritual experience, neatly packaged for tourists to get a (relatively) safely monitored dose of transcendence which may or may not have lasting effects when they go back home, but which will probably gradually fade just like the college student twenty years after in the example.

      Maybe the bat and the cactus don’t want to do the maths trick because it’s rational for them not to want to turn their plane into a “book a tour through a commerical adventure travel company for a scripted experience” location, as might happen if the visitor goes back with “Look, proof that this place really exists!”

      After all, visitor more or less says if he gets proof, it’ll make other people turn up in droves. I don’t see it as a huge stretch for visitor to decide he might as well organise this visiting, and while he’s at it he can set up a company for inter-planar travel (after all, he will know the proper dose of the drug, how to get there, and so forth once he has his concrete proof) and then you get your packaged experience of consciousness-expanding so you can safely visit and safely return to the real world where you have to go to work and put up with your neighbours and don’t spend most of the time chatting to cactuses about love and joy, much less being in a constant state of love and joy.

      Or visitor might be satisfied with a Nobel and simply license someone else to develop the commercial potential of the ‘portal to another plane’ 🙂

      You have to work for enlightenment by at least putting in the effort of sincere enquiry, not “try the quaint native customs and have a fascinating experience to talk about at dinner parties when you return home to civilisation and the real world”.

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      • Tracy W says:

        Actually, what fascinates me is that the very phenomenon the bat is trying to get the visitor to realise (reduction of transcendent experience to a neatly-boxed and labelled phenomenon that can be studied and parsed) is what is happening in ‘the real world’

        There are massive numbers of real world phenomenon that can be studied and parsed but can’t be neatly-boxed and labelled. For example, what does system security mean? What is a market? What is the meaning of the word “the”?

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      • Eli says:

        Maybe the bat and the cactus don’t want to do the maths trick because it’s rational for them not to want to turn their plane into a “book a tour through a commerical adventure travel company for a scripted experience” location, as might happen if the visitor goes back with “Look, proof that this place really exists!”

        Yeah! Enlightenment, transcendence, and knowledge of the fundamental answers to Life, the Universe, and Everything are for a spiritual elite, not for the masses!

        I love how everyone’s all like “open the borders” for developed countries, but when it comes to shitholes in other dimensions where naught can live but cactus-people and giant green bats, it suddenly turns into “keep the plebs out!”

        (Tongue is now so firmly wedged in cheek that you’ll need a crowbar to get it out.)

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      • Scott Alexander says:

        I think the protagonist understands this, and his argument is “if you support enlightenment, the only way it’s ever going to happen on a mass scale is for it to be commodified, so please help me commodify it”.

        I’m not sure I can convincingly write a disagreeing response from the DMT entities’ perspective, assuming they do indeed support enlightenment.

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        • Deiseach says:

          And how many of the people who go on commercial ayahuasca trips come back truly enlightened, versus comparing it to their other spiritual experience trips when bragging (though they’d never think of it as bragging) about it to their peers?

          The Lough Derg pilgrimage is getting very easy (by comparison with the traditional practice) for people to do. You don’t even have to be religious to do it. I have never made a pilgrimage to Lough Derg, partly because I take it seriously. And if a sensitive, respectful, culturally-aware seeker went there to engage in a traditional native practice out of genuine enquiring spirit and not to belittle folk wisdom, I would wish he’d trip and break both his legs. I have more respect and regard for someone who thinks this is all the strain of Jansenism in Irish Catholicism, or that Catholicism is nonsense, or religion is nonsense on stilts, than someone who carefully cultivates their palate with a tasting-menu of bouquet ethnic experiences globally catered via tasteful packages tailored to your requirements by high-class agencies specialising in the carriage trade.

          Slumming is still slumming, whether it’s misery tourism or quaint native experience tourism or shamanic reality tourism. Commodification isn’t going to produce mass enlightenment, it’s going to produce more of the kind of comments we see in the thread (and this is not meant to denigrate such commenters or say that this is the mindset they’re exhibiting) about “So I tried meditation, because everyone said it would do X, Y and Z for me, and nothing happened”. Paying for the trip (both the physical and the metaphyiscal ones) in the style of a package holiday would mean “If I don’t get the full package of effects as described, including the oceanic sense and the sense of cosmic unity and transcendence right off, I demand a refund!” and there would be no change in behaviour or mindset once back at home.

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          • Eli says:

            I have more respect and regard for someone who thinks … religion is nonsense on stilts, than someone who carefully cultivates their palate with a tasting-menu of bouquet ethnic experiences globally catered via tasteful packages tailored to your requirements by high-class agencies specialising in the carriage trade.

            Can I quote you on that?

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    • houseboatonstyx says:

      Sounds like the experiences that occultists achieve by meditating and self-brainwashing for years and undertaking elaborate ridiculous rituals can be had instantaneously by… taking a pill?

      The same thing fits a million different descriptions. The same description fits a million different things.

      The term ‘different’ fits a million different differences.

      The fool does not see the same tree that the wise man sees.

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      • DavidS says:

        I disapprove of this comment, in that it seems a bit pompous to me.

        HOWEVER, it reminds me of reading R C Zaehner’s ‘Mysticism, Sacred and Profane’, which looks at Huxley’s mescaline-induced mysticism and that of various religious mystics. I don’t agree with all Zaehner’s conclusions, but it basically backs the thrust of the last comment.

        Essentially, Huxley has a mystical experience of unity with the world through mescaline and says ‘this must be exactly the same as what all the mystics are referring to’. This would be convincing: except that some mystics (I think Julian of Norwich?) identify something that sounds a hell of a lot like what Huxley refers to, and then dismiss it as a fairly meaningless early stage completely different from the mystical insight they think is meaningful.

        Now, it may be that neither mean anything: that the sense of the world being one, or being one with a universal being (I think the ‘higher stages’) are just Beauty and not Truth in the same way as Huxley’s ‘blurring of the boundaries between me and all the Nature around me’. But there seems to me very clear evidence that the two are in fact referring to difference experiences

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        • houseboatonstyx says:

          I’m sorry for the unedited tone (family health crisis here). I should have left off the Blake quote and toned down the first two, which were my own. Should ‘thing’ have been ‘fact’?

          Thanks for the lead to zaehner. I found this: http://psypressuk.com/2012/03/08/literary-review-mysticism-sacred-and-profane-by-robert-charles-zaehner/ Is it fair, do you think?

          To survive the 70s, I read Leary, Ram Das, Bateson, etc. 1957’s Peyote vs God was sounding pretty quaint even then. Iirc they concluded ‘set and setting’, which I agree could account for most of us most of the time (including most RCs). But there may be higher levels in some traditional religions (RC, Buddhism,Native Am, etc) where drug residue would be counter-productive.

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    • Mary says:

      I forget who observed that two sets of people observe the view from the mountain top: those who took the ski lift, and those who climbed. They do not get the same effect.

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  27. Tracy W says:

    The metaphor of getting out of the car reminds me of my parents trying to get me to pronounce sounds like “th” and “ch”.
    It went a lot better once I had a speech therapist, who could say “Okay, move your tongue like this then your lips like that.”

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    • James says:

      I finally learnt to pronounce “th” last year by looking it up on wikipedia.

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      • Deiseach says:

        Years of schooling plus the elocution lessons the nuns provided to get us to talk proper and pronounce our “th” correctly, and I still find myself having to repress my native accent and idiom (which appears to be getting stronger as I get older) from speaking of how “me faaadder liked dem tings too” instead of “my father liked those things also”.

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  28. James says:

    Is the John Stuart Mill line original to you? It’s beautiful.

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  29. Harald K says:

    “Sorry, no factoring, only zero-knowledge proofs“, says the bat. “I don’t want you to go around pestering people who don’t want to be here.”

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  30. speedwell says:

    No matter what anyone else says about this story, Scott, I will always remember it as the thing that made me laugh and preserve my positive outlook after a distressing first part of the morning, even though I have “anxiety problems”. Truly you are a genius mental health professional. 🙂

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  31. Tasty says:

    If only the protagonist thought about asking the watery sun, he would get a lot of very meta advice on how to handle his problem.

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  32. chaosmage says:

    I have a practically-finished theoretical paper that models mystical experience as a breakdown of the quasi-grammatical processing of causality, explains all the features of mystical experience in this way, and suggests experiments to test this model. I’ll email it to anybody who emails me for it and promises to give me feedback. Does anybody know a journal I could try submitting it to?

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    • Sarah says:

      Hm, maybe Anthropology of Consciousness?

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    • David Simon says:

      Just put it on a public website.

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      • Richard Metzler says:

        Unless the academic world has changed a lot in the last couple of years, you’re effectively suggesting that chaosmage should forgo any measurable reward for his effort. Papers that are not published in a refereed journal effectively count for nothing, or worse (“what, is his stuff so shoddy he can’t even get it published in [insert shitty journal ]?”).

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    • Sarah says:

      Or the International Journal of Transpersonal Studies (sponsored by CIIS, which is about to start up a psychedelic psychotherapy training program), or maybe Journal of Transpersonal Psychology

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      • chaosmage says:

        Thanks, but I’m looking for something committed to strictly materialist science.

        I’d like to try the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion I guess, because it has an excellent reputation and has quite a few papers involving study of mysticism, but if that fails, I think I’ll go with your other suggestion. So thanks again!

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    • houseboatonstyx says:

      Does anybody know a journal I could try submitting it to?

      Look up Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, etc, see if any of the journals they published in are still around.

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    • ols says:

      The other Scott just wrote something about whether there is something mysterious about math. It would be interesting to read your take on it in terms of causality!

      http://www.scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=2276

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      • chaosmage says:

        A beautiful piece, but I understand too little about mathematical proof, mathematical explanation and the difference between the two to make a qualified comment.

        My entirely fanciful suspicion would be that the reasoning process (that runs inside the mathematically trained brain as well as across groups of them) has its own location inside the supercontinent of things in mathspace, i.e. is itself “mathematical”, meaning it can be connected to other places in the supercontinent just like they’re connected to each other. This begs the questions of:
        1. why our particular mathematical reasoning process should happen to be on the supercontinent and
        2. why there should be a supercontinent at all.
        But reasoning processes located on smaller, apparently unconnected islands would lack access to the physical applications that the supercontinent happens to include, so the brains they run on would never get anywhere.

        I hesitate to go fully anthropic and say Math has little mystery because if it had more we’d never notice that it does. Because that doesn’t explain how after we realized the Unreasonable Effectiveness, it kept growing. But at least it is a fourth kind of answer to add to the three better ones Scott Aaronson came up with.

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  33. Sammy Martin says:

    “…And John Stuart is one of / the dark satanic mills”
    hahahaha
    You have made my day. That is all.

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  34. This feels like the right time to tell this story. Unless stated otherwise unquoted text was written by me within a week of the experience and quoted text is from the entity. Summer 2006:

    OK, I know what I’m going to say here strains credulity. Bear in mind that (a) I’m only reporting what seemed to me to happen; (b) I don’t necessarily believe it myself. I don’t feel that I have the right to ask anyone to believe this, and I won’t be the least bit offended if people don’t.

    The storm had finally started around ten minutes before, and there was all kinds of rain and lightning. It occurred to me that this was one of those situations in which I ought to ask a certain thing, even though there was almost no chance that it would happen, because I would be remiss if I had a chance to ask and didn’t. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing, really. I didn’t expect anything at all to come of it, given that I nearly always view everything of this nature as occurring only within my head.

    I asked, “Can you give me a sign of the supernatural?”

    She [the entity] evaded the question, and said “You’d better finish writing this down.”

    I pressed the issue, and asked again with more determination. “Give me a sign of the supernatural.”

    As soon as I asked again, the power to my apartment complex went out.

    Of course, six days after I decide to allow considerations other than evidence to determine my beliefs, evidence appears.

    “You weren’t open enough before for a sign to do much good. You know not to ask for another sign, of course. It won’t be provided.

    One advantage of your way of doing things is that you don’t need much in the way of signs and external evidence. But that can lead to thinking everything’s in your head, so sometimes we provide signs anyway. Sort of a “hi, we’re here” knock on the door.”

    I spent the next two and a half hours in the dark, watching people out my window doing various power-outage-related activities, like Maintenance trying to crank the emergency generator, the police directing traffic at the light that went out, and people who decided to party outside with flashlights after the rain stopped.

    (Post script, from a couple of after-the-fact emails – by me, still 2006:)

    I’m quite aware that none of this can serve as hard evidence even for myself. The two relevant quantities are (a) the probability of any event that would be interpreted as a sign occurring within a certain timeframe of asking for one, and (b) the number of times have I asked for a sign in my life. Given these two and a bit of thought, I could come up with an estimate for the likelihood that the event was due to chance, and if that is sufficiently low then I could count it as hard evidence for myself. (Other people still can’t, because it’s unrepeatable, but I’m not so concerned about that.) Unfortunately (a) is unquantifiable, so it doesn’t work. So there is no other way to process the event except in terms of its subjective effect.

    (Notes written now:)

    I should probably also mention that I’d lived in that apartment for a year and thunderstorms are quite common in that part of the world and the power had never gone out before.

    Also, when my original notes say that “I pressed the issue” it was something specifically along the lines of “I can feel you using the excuse-generating parts of my brain. Don’t think I don’t know what you’re doing. *Stop BSing me*.”

    My notes have a few other questions I managed to ask before the Question of Doom; here is the most interesting:

    What action should I take if offered infinite bliss that will stop all action and intention?

    “You won’t be offered it. You will only be offered paths that don’t stagnate. The drive towards development is independent of the drive towards pleasure; though they often intermingle, it will not be permitted for one to satisfy itself at the total expense of the other.”

    (However, I was given the impression that this answer applied to *my* fate specifically, and others would *not* necessarily be immune.)

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    • This reminds me of something that happened when I was in middle school.

      There was some sort of prayer meeting that I didn’t want to go to, even though I had been invited. In a fit of pique, I told the person pressuring me, “I’ll go if God provides a sign. Specifically, if there’s an earthquake somewhere in the world of sufficient magnitude that it’s reported in the local paper before the date of the event.” (The event was about a week away.)

      That week there was an earthquake in Seattle. I went to the event.

      Moral of both stories: don’t ask God for a sign unless you’re prepared to deal with the consequences of having it occur.

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      • James Picone says:

        “I won’t go unless God provides a sign in the form of large quantities of unmarked, nonconsecutive dollar bills appearing in my house”

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      • David Simon says:

        Moral of both stories: Ask for more specific signs.

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      • Eli says:

        Great. I’ll join the Roman Catholic Church the instant their “god” makes my grandmother’s neurodegeneration and all other signs of aging vanish completely, leaving her not merely healthy but restored to youth, and not merely restored to youth but utterly immortal.

        That’ll fucking learn Him to go around neglecting people.

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    • Deiseach says:

      Asking for signs is risky. Matthew 12: 38-39

      38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.” 39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign; but no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.

      Like what are called consolations in the beginning of developing your spiritual life; they’re nice, but not something you should be actively seeking and not trying to hold on to. Progress is measured by gradually letting go of them.

      Let us count ourselves but as little children, having need of milk, and believe that these sugar-plums are only given us because we are still feeble and delicate, needing bribes and wiles to lead us on to the Love of God.

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      • cypher says:

        That sort of thing sounds like an excuse to me. An all-powerful entity has infinite resources and a marginal cost of action of zero. It could even just write the knowledge directly into everyone’s minds, and that wouldn’t actually break the choice about whether to accept it.

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        • Jaskologist says:

          All questions of the form “Why did God do it that way?” can be boiled down to “Why did God create anything at all?” He could just do everything Himself, leaving creation with nothing to do and no reason to exist.

          I’m often troubled by the first question. But whenever I pull that thread hard enough to reach the second question, it seems absurd.

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      • Scott Alexander says:

        I guess my whole point in writing this story was to vicariously satisfy my urge to ask God why He doesn’t give signs, since those would no doubt help Him achieve whatever goals He has for people.

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        • Bugmaster says:

          I believe that the standard (and, IMHO, totally unsatisfying) answer is, “Because God is a post-Singularity entity, and is thus so intelligent as to be entirely incomprehensible by us mere mortals. All we can do is trust His judgement.”

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        • Troy says:

          Christians believe God did/does give signs. The Bible is full of them. Miracle reports since then suggest that at the very least many Christians believe that God has continued to give signs of his power.

          You could ask why he doesn’t give more signs or give the ones that you are personally asking for. Those questions may be worth asking, but they don’t strike me as being as pressing as the question of why he gives no sign at all.

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        • Mary says:

          How can you know that with “no doubt”?

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        • Alrenous says:

          God, as in what the Christians are pointing at? What if there is something Godlike that isn’t literally Jesus?
          For example, what if something godlike exists, but it isn’t omnipotent?

          It’s easy to think of goals a god might have that would be directly contradicted by giving obvious signs. For example, the point of Christian faith isn’t obedience, it’s willful obedience. To obey out of a desire to obey, not e.g. fear of Hell or annihilation. As a fact of human neurobiology, if you became reasonably certain Gehenna was a real place, willful obedience becomes impossible – the terror hits overrides and dominates scarce circuitry.

          Also having goals in that way is not moral. The only coherent goal regarding other conscious being is to help them achieve their goals. (Caveats apply.) If you do not want to have faith in {x} then the correct action for a being of unlimited selflessness is to allow you not to have faith in {x}, even if it really exists. And if you do want to have faith in it, why are you waiting for something silly like evidence?

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        • Alrenous says:

          God, as in what the Christians are pointing at? What if there is something Godlike that isn’t literally Jesus?
          For example, what if something godlike exists, but it isn’t omnipotent?

          It’s easy to think of goals a god might have that would be directly contradicted by giving obvious signs. For example, the point of Christian faith isn’t obedience, it’s willful obedience. To obey out of a desire to obey, not e.g. fear of Hell or annihilation. As a fact of human neurobiology, if you became reasonably certain Gehenna was a real place, willful obedience becomes impossible – the terror hits overrides and dominates scarce circuitry.

          I hereby suggest having goals in that way is not moral. The only coherent goal regarding other conscious being is to help them achieve their goals. (Caveats apply.) If you do not want to have faith in {x} then the correct action for a being of unlimited altruism is to allow you not to have faith in {x}, even if it really exists. And if you do want to have faith in it, why are you waiting for something silly like evidence?

          In this context, the Christian faith is the assertion that Jesus knows you don’t want to be annihilated, and you want that more than you want to not be Christian.

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    • Jiro says:

      RiversHaveWings: If you ask for a sign, and you get something that could have happened by itself, it isn’t a sign to begin with.

      Deiseach: If religion is fake, that’s exactly what I would expect–religious believers would be forced to find a reason that says that signs don’t matter because signs can distinguish fakes from reality and they need an excuse for not being able to do that. This is the scenario where by pure coincidence your side looks exactly like a fake; not being able to get signs is as contrived as not being able to get evidence of creation because the fossils were created yesterday.

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      • Mr. Eldritch says:

        Well, it’s possible that the only way supernatural things can interact with the world is through things that COULD, just possibly, have happened on their own with enough luck.

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        • Mike in Watertown says:

          For more of this point of view and an argument that it gave rise to the first economists in the form of shamans, see the early chapters of the otherwise uneven “A World of Chance: Betting on Religion, Games, Wall Street” by Brenner, Brenner, and Brown.

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        • Jiro says:

          That amounts to “well, it’s possible that the supernatural entities look just like fakes. Because they have to.” I don’t think that helps you.

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          • Adam says:

            Not necessarily. Statistical tests could detect supernatural influence, in this hypothetical.

            Of course, then you have to explain why nobody’s been able to produce such results in a controlled setting, but “supernatural influence is really really rare” would be sufficient to put things back in the “look just like fakes” category.

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    • Troy says:

      My own experience with mysticism wasn’t quite “Have faith and then it will come to you,” but it was close. When I was in college, I was studying reports of and explanations of mystical experiences for a class. I had been a Christian most of my life, but tended to be pretty skeptical of purported claims of mystical experience. I had certainly not had experiences before that I would have classified as mystical or transcendent — although I had sometimes prayed for them in the past. However, after studying mystical experiences for a while I had become reasonably confident that some purported mystical experiences could not be explained naturalistically. One night I decided I wanted to have such experiences myself, and prayed to God for such an experience after lying down in bed.

      Very shortly after that, I began to feel numb all over, as if under anesthesia. It was not quite all at once, but came on in “waves,” each of which would make my body feel more numb and me feel more disconnected from it. I felt as if there was little or no distinction between my body and what was surrounding me; and I had a feeling that I was not my body, but something distinct from it. It was not an out of body experience per se, but close to one.

      That experience was very striking with me, and had lasting effects — most notably, strangely enough, a ringing in my ears that started with the mystical experience but did not end with it — but as the days went on I began to be skeptical that I had really had a mystical experience, and thought that I was just interpreting more ordinary physiological symptoms through my own religious lens. However, a week later I had the experience again, and the second time there was no doubt in my mind that I was experiencing something non-naturalistic. I felt a power, or force, come upon me. I felt as if it entered my chest and almost lifted me out of myself. The experience was otherwise as before, but even more intense.

      I have had the same experiences subsequently, but eventually stopped seeking them out and even started actively avoiding them when I could feel them coming on. Although the experiences were a kind of spiritual ecstasy, they were also frightening, and I don’t think I knew (know) quite how to balance them with my everyday life.

      Today I am still fairly confident that these experiences were veridical, although it is always easier to imagine that they were purely “in my head” when they are not presently occurring. Their content was not particularly uniquely Christian, or even theistic — I felt as if I was experiencing union with something, but whether God or Consciousness or Being or what have you I could not say purely from the experiences themselves.

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      • Nita says:

        I felt as if I was experiencing union with something, but whether God or Consciousness or Being or what have you I could not say purely from the experiences themselves.

        I’ve had an experience like that. Even while having it, I was pretty sure it was all in my head — probably because it was preceded not by prayer or religious contemplation, but by reading lots of posts on a PUA forum. It still felt lovely and profound, though.

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        • Troy says:

          Depending on what you were reading your experience may not be entirely unusual, inasmuch as there is a long tradition connecting sex and mysticism. For example, St Teresa of Avila describes being “ravished” by God. Were I to pick an ordinary experience to compare my mystical experience to, it would be sex — it differed mainly in that there was nothing analogous to orgasm in it. (It also differed in that I felt “passive” rather than active. I do not know whether this aspect would feel closer to their experience of sex for women than it did for me.)

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          • Nita says:

            Believe it or not, sex was a surprisingly unpopular topic — most discussions and theories were about social interaction.

            I have also read a lot of, ahem, sexually stimulating material, but the altered mental states it induces are rather predictable and not very mystical (to me).

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        • houseboatonstyx says:

          Could you supply links for those? ;-p

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        • houseboatonstyx says:

          Seriously, there’s a little book by Paul Reps iirc called Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, a collection of 1-2 page anecdotes about odd things triggering Enlightenment in odd old Japanese monasteries.

          Lord knows what the old Japanese monks meant by that word. Nothing that any of us is likely to reach, anyway. But those stories do kind of strike a spark of ‘clarity of no map’, and your story reminds me of them.

          See the middle of this PDF — the shorter stories are my favorites.
          http://terebess.hu/zen/101ZenStones.pdf

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          • Anonymous says:

            #65 is relevant to the original post

            The master replied: Take a large handful of soybeans and ask her exactly how many beans you hold in your hand. If she cannot tell you, you will know she is only figment of your imagination and will trouble you no longer.

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          • Derelict says:

            And what if she pulled the “I know, but I’m not telling you” and turned around and told her friend the correct answer after you’d left?

            Although, upon reading the rest of the koan, it appears that the man wanted the peace of mind knowing that she was not real, whereas the tripper in Scott’s story wanted to know for sure whether the bat was real one way or the other. I can only imagine that the tripper’s belief in the non-reality of these creatures would be further cemented by his incident — not just by the apparent lack of ability to provide evidence, but in the active refusal to do so.

            The bat doesn’t let Scott know it’s real, for whatever reason. Just like God won’t tell Job why he’s done all those horrible things to him.

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    • PD says:

      Nothing you’ve said is here is at all unbelievable. I have had weirder things happen to me, and I have heard anecdotes of truly staggering weirdness told by completely reasonable people with total sincerity.

      What’s interesting is that there is a sort of generic template for “weirdness” into which almost all such cases settle. The template is “unbelievable coincidence” and the term of art for this is “synchronicity”.

      Now that in itself is weird. Certainly there are many more ways for The Weird to present itself than through synchronicities, and yet it almost always presents itself in this way. Which is inconvenient if you’re a Fox Mulder sort who wants to bring proof of The Weird to the people instead of just recounting anecdotes. You’d much rather factor a 100-digit number or whatever and have the issue be settled once and forever.

      Well, what that tells me is that if your model for The Weird is one of supernatural entities causally intervening in the profane world of physics, then this pattern of encounters ought to disconfirm your model. If that was really the way it worked, then everyone would know about it by now. So I suspect that despite all appearances, it really is “all in your head”, but in some way that no current theory of how the mind works is even remotely equipped to explain.

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  35. Hi Scott,
    I highly enjoyed this article, and felt particularly gratified to see my name mentioned, something I hardly expected! Thanks for taking an interest in my humble writings, I really feel quite honored 🙂

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  36. DiscoveredJoys says:

    On the day you know that there is no car, that will be the day you will be ready to get out of the car.

    On the other hand when you realise that people can experience an abstract reality through meditation, contemplation, recreational drugs, transcranial magnetic stimulation, fasting, extreme emotions, disease or damage then feeling universal love or transcendent joy becomes a bug, not a feature.

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  37. Illuminati Initiate says:

    I am genuinely confused as to what exactly is supposed to be special about this “getting out of the car” thing in this story. As far as I can tell this spirit world is just as comprehensible to everyday material existence as the physical world-of course it is, Scott is a material being. And of course what this world is like has no bearing on the normative claims of the bat.

    But as to claims of in general of some kind of incomprehensible-to-scientism-and-rational-thought-reality, the car analogy is way too weak- you can easily imagine what being outside a car is like from in. A slightly better analogy would be trying to tell a blind from birth person about vision, or a deaf from birth person about sound. But it is still seems far too weak and very wrong wrong- even though we can’t experience the qualia of others, we have rational thought to fall back on, through which we understand that people can experience the world in ways that we can’t understand on a personal level, but there is nothing “magical” about it. We have no such thing with these sort of claims. A lifelong brain in a jar with no sensory experience whatsoever cannot , but is such a “being” even a being?

    And on what basis should I believe such claims? The criteria in which I judge claims is (aproximatley, many biases apply) rational thought and empiricism. And these are car things. But am I wrong to use them? I am a car person, and my experience is of a car world. What basis do I have to doubt logic? And even if there is a “higher” reality- what if I have no desire to experience it?

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    • anodognosic says:

      They aren’t claims. There is no belief. It’s something you experience.

      You don’t leave behind the material world forever. You don’t forgo logic altogether.

      But you do realize that you are not logic. That logic itself is an imperfect guide to life.

      Transcendence is a tool to help you perceive things more directly and, importantly, to help you get unstuck. Ultimately, it makes you a better driver.

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      • They aren’t claims.

        Really? Because when I hear people talking about this it very often sounds like they are making claims, and moreover that some of them believe that the claims they are making are highly significant to the way we should live our lives. If you are not making any claims that’s fine, but in this discussion we are concerned with the claims other people are making and whether they have any substance.

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        • anodognosic says:

          To the extent that there are claims, they are that there is an ability you can develop to quiet your mind and gain a certain awareness of the nature of subjective experience, with many techniques that might get you there, and that this is generally helpful.

          There is an experience, too, which I would describe as transcendent. However, since I don’t really attach much meaning to the word “transcendent” beyond “the quality of this kind of experience,” it’s hard to call is a claim.

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          • Wrong Species says:

            This is a crystal clear example of Motte and Bailey. These “mystic” types claim things like astral projections and alternative medicine are actually real. Maybe you don’t believe all of that but a lot of New Age types do make batshit crazy claims.

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          • PD says:

            @Wrong Species

            You are mistaken. It is actually a crystal clear example of Sturgeon’s Law. The Bailey in this case is an arid wasteland and the Motte defends the goods.

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          • Bugmaster says:

            > …there is an ability you can develop to quiet your mind and gain a certain awareness of the nature of subjective experience … and that this is generally helpful.

            What does “helpful” mean ? Helpful for what ? So far, I have seen a few very different interpretations of the word. Here are some of them:

            * “It’s a generally pleasant, relaxing experience.” Nothing wrong with that, but then, so is watching TV, or listening to music, or relaxing by a fireplace, or drinking some brandy before bed, etc.

            * “It is a calming exercise that can reduce stress”. Sounds pretty useful, but, once again, not really all that earth-shattering.

            * “These mental techniques will significantly enhance your intelligence, recall, or some other quantifiable mental capability”. Sounds great. Now show me the evidence that it actually works.

            * “These techniques will generate concrete, useful insights that your brain is incapable (+- epsilon) of producing in any other way”. Now you’re making two falsifiable claims for the price of one. I’d like to see more evidence.

            * “These experiences will grant you access to concrete knowledge that cannot in principle be accessed by mundane means (e.g. prime factorization, as per this post)”. I believe Scott has demonstrated the problem with this claim: i.e., it just doesn’t work.

            * “These experiences will put you in touch with the Universal Consciousness / aliens / spirits / alternate planes of existence / gods / etc.” Ok, now you’ve made so many claims that are so unlikely that I don’t even know what kind of evidence would convince me.

            * “You can get superpowers !” Awesome, let’s see you fly by will alone. I will also accept eye-lasers. Or, heck, even the ability to reliably talk to fish.

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          • anodognosic says:

            @Bugmaster

            First, the most modest claim: mystical transcendence is a particular experience that you can have that has no intrinsic connection to your understanding of the nature of reality. There are various methods to get you there. I encourage people to try.

            Additional claims are my own commentary, my understanding of transcendence from the outside. The evidence is anecdotal.

            Claim: we accept a large number of assumptions without even realizing it. The experience of transcendence can reveal these assumptions, which reasoning will often gloss over because you don’t know to ask the right questions. It gives you not only a propositional understanding, but, importantly, an intuitive understanding. It does not give you exclusive insight for the most part.

            Example: What are the boundaries of the self? Various possible answers are your awareness, your thinking mind (“ego”), your entire mind, mind and body together, the sum of your effect on the world (e.g. your legacy), your “tribe” (e.g. when you feel pride in another person), boundless (“one with the universe”) or that there is no self. None of these is right per se. All may feel right at different times, and each might be useful or appropriate in a particular context.

            Claim: sometimes we get stuck in harmful and unproductive patterns of thought (and action) without even realizing it. The experience of transcendence can help you get unstuck from these patterns and also make it easier in general for you to recognize when you are stuck in one.

            Example: Every time you have a discussion with your significant other, it devolves into an all-out fight where you dredge up every single grievance you’ve ever had, both of you are upset for days after and nothing is solved. Transcendence can help you understand that you are approaching discussions through a model of aggression and give you the opportunity to employ a cooperative model instead.

            Claim: through the above mechanism, the experience of transcendence can make you more productive and clear-minded for a time afterwards

            Example: “Ugh fields” have formed around some important obligations. You try to avoid thinking about it, but every time your mind goes there inadvertently, you feel a twinge of dismay that weighs you down, draining your mental energy and making you even less able to resolve the issues that are plaguing you. Transcendence gives you the feeling of sweeping all that away and starting with a clean slate so that you might take productive steps toward resolving them.

            Claim: Transcendence feels, as someone on this thread put it, like “a breath of fresh air.”

            Claim: Transcendence may give you false insights which you should check against reason afterwards.

            Example: You see or feel the presence of someone who has died during a mystical experience. It does not therefore follow that this person was actually present as a spirit, or that there is an afterlife.

            Claim: Transcendence does not give you supernatural powers, and is not itself supernatural.

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          • Bugmaster says:

            @anodognosic:

            As far as I can tell, you are mostly focusing on the “pleasant experience” and “calming exercise” models of what you call “transcendence”. I have no problem with that, but, as I said above, if that’s all that transcendence provides, then it’s not very special. There are lots of other ways to achieve the same result.

            But I you also mention the “unique insights” model of transcendence; you say that it can help one overcome one’s mental biases. If so, then I’d really need to see some evidence, especially given the fact that you and I both agree that mystical experiences can produce lots of mental biases of their own.

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          • anodognosic says:

            @Bugmaster As a subtle internal phenomenon, it’s hard to provide objective evidence. I can try to explain what I think is particular to mystical transcendence as I understand it, and you can try for yourself (or not).

            Metacognition can get you out of particular problematic thought-patterns. Transcendence can get you out of *all of them* (temporarily, of course). It provides more direct access to the very basis of problematic thinking, which helps you grasp nonduality (the self both is and isn’t your mind, etc) and develop negative capability (hold conflicting hypotheses without requiring certainty). It’s perhaps the most direct path to resignification of things that cause you suffering – that is, the changing of your intuitive conceptual relationship with an idea. For instance, perhaps the size of the universe makes you feel nihilistic, and a mystical experience shows you that size is not essentially connected to importance. Also, importantly, it bypasses the avoidance and denial mechanisms that are buttressed by reason, which means often you have no choice but to confront the things you’ve been avoiding.

            Again, you’re right, these things are achievable through other means. Mystical transcendence is just the most direct and which perhaps most directly bears on intuition and emotion.

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          • anodognosic (to yor next-last reply): So, now that you are openly making claims, let’s go back to the context. Illuminati Initiate was talking about “claims of in general of some kind of incomprehensible-to-scientism-and-rational-thought-reality”, asking a few questions on how to think about such claims. You responded “They aren’t claims”. I understood that to mean that you think Illuminati Initiate was misinterpreting the things they were referring to. Am I correct in why you said that?

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          • anodognosic says:

            @Itai-Bar Natan I’m going to draw a careful distinction here. I do make claims about mystical experiences, but the point of mystical experiences themselves is that they are beyond claims. The error of Illuminati Initiate’s approach is to ask for a basis on which to doubt logic. Such a basis would necessarily in itself be logical (or at least arrived at through reasoning) and thus incoherent. We can make and discuss all sorts of claims *about* transcendental/mystical experiences, as I have, but you don’t get there by reasoning or asking for a basis. There is no basis, because it’s not something you believe.

            So if you want to get there, yes, it’s “wrong” to reason. Instead, you get there by breaking (and breaking out of) reasoning itself.

            (It also doesn’t mean you have to give up reason altogether or to take any insights you have as divine revelation! You just do it (or not)!)

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      • Paul says:

        That would appear to claim that one might compare ‘drivers’ and rank their ‘quality’. What is a ‘better driver’, and what or who makes such a definition?

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        • anodognosic says:

          You’re right, this is a claim, but it’s an observation of transcendental experience, not the transcendental experience itself.

          Being a better driver means getting stuck less on the way to wherever you want to go.

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      • Tracy W says:

        But you do realize that you are not logic. That logic itself is an imperfect guide to life.

        One can get the same realisation by reading Hume. And his books are out of copyright.

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        • anodognosic says:

          Let me expand on that. All understanding is imperfect. Where they are imperfect, mental models may cause needless suffering. We are not always aware of our mental models, and thus might mistake it for reality itself. Further, simply acknowledging this rationally does not make you aware of how and to what extent you rely on assumed understanding (thus the insufficiency of Hume). Thus, you need some actual practice, beyond reasoning, to become aware of these assumptions

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          • Tracy W says:

            So, you state that all understanding is imperfect, which, if true, means that your understanding is imperfect. Then you tell me that “you need some actual practice, beyond reasoning, to become aware of these assumptions”.

            But, how do you know that this is the case, particularly given that you’ve just told me that all understanding is imperfect? How do you know that your actual practice of going beyond reasoning has not led you into several errors that you would have avoided entirely if you had stayed with reasoning?

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          • anodognosic says:

            That all understanding is imperfect should be a trivial given on a blog that grew out of the LessWrong community. Turning that around on me as some kind of gotcha smacks of bad faith.

            I can only suggest that instead of trying very hard to win this internet argument you try to find what I’m pointing at.

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          • Tracy W says:

            @anodognosic: so, if I follow you correctly, you think it’s fine for you to imply that I might be wrong (“all understanding is imperfect”) and to tell me that I “need some actual practice” but some sort of bad faith, and a “gotcha” for me to even ask how you know you aren’t also subject to the same failings?

            Out of curiousity, why the double standard?

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          • anodognosic says:

            My claim that “all understanding is imperfect” was not an argument deployed against your understanding in particular, but a step towards another conclusion. You are so focused on winning that you missed that.

            I think you’re wrong because, without having had the experience I’m referring to, you assume my words don’t connect to any reality and thus dismiss the whole thing. But in a world of the blind, people would also refer to color as “not even wrong.”

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          • Tracy W says:

            anodognosic: out of curiosity, why are you so confident in your assertions about my motives and my assumptions? You earlier said that all understanding is imperfect, and yet now you are claiming to know my mind without even a flicker of uncertainty.

            (I suspect you are going to regard this question a gotcha” and tell me that it “smacks of bad faith”, but I would be delighted to get an actual answer.)

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          • anodognosic says:

            Because you are expending a lot of effort trying to prove me wrong and not enough trying to understand what I’m pointing at. You took my comment on understanding as a counter-argument to you when it was nothing of the sort. Above, when I specified what I had meant by “held in mind,” a phrasing which is admittedly ambiguous, you argued definitions instead of going back and reevaluating what I had said in light of my clarification. Your actions reveal you are optimizing for winning and not understanding (“But you said all understanding–” Shut up).

            This discussion has gone far beyond the point of productivity, so I’m bailing.

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          • Tracy W says:

            @anodognosic: So, if I may summarize your argument, the reason you are so confident in your assessment of my motives and assumptions is that you’re so confident in your assessment of my motives and assumptions. I agree with you that if that’s your level of reasoning, you’re not going to get anything out of our discussion.

            I thank you however for the time you have spent on this with me, I personally have gained a lot of understanding of the value that comes from transcendent insights from you, so, in that sense, I have indeed won. I hope you enjoy your escape from the car.

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          • Tracy W: I think that’s an unfair summary of anodognosic’s final post. Although it’s true that their first sentence was just begging the question*, they later gave two specific examples of things you said which them to their conclusion. While you may argue that these examples don’t justify anodognosic’s conclusion, that’s not the same as anodognosic failing to make an argument at all.

            * (edit: forgot the footnote) I really like the sound of this expression and I’m glad I found an opportunity to use it correctly.

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          • Tracy W says:

            Itar Bar-Natan: I wasn’t asking anodognosic for evidence for the assertions, I was asking for reasons for the confidence with which the assertions were stated. I seldom see much benefit in debating what someone says about my assumptions and motivations: it’s been generally accepted since at least Freud that the last person to know anything about their motives is the one whose motives they are. But, while anodognosic calls the observation that “all understanding is imperfect” a “trivial given”, I cannot dismiss it so lightly. I am deeply interested in how to best manage understanding and knowledge given radical self-doubt and I find it a very tough problem.

            There are a couple of ways I can think of that anodognosic could have explained such certainty. (1) that anodognosic had considered alternative hypotheses and rejected them for various reasons like Hercules Poirot does at the end of an Agatha Christie novel (for example, an alternative explanation for my response to what anodognosic meant by “held in mind” is that I went back, re-evaluated what anodognosic had said, and decided [possibly wrongly] it didn’t make a blind bit of difference to whether a bet in someone’s mind was map or territory.) (2) that anodognosic had showed our exchanges to a few friends and asked for their assessments of my state of mind, and found that their assessments all agreed with anodognosic’s.

            Of course, the really interesting one would be if anodognosic had some tactic I’d never thought of, but could use myself. But sadly, no. If anodognosic has some great insight into how to be confident in one’s results even while recognising that all understanding is imperfect, they’re keeping it to themselves.

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          • “I wasn’t asking anodognosic for evidence for the assertions, I was asking for reasons for the confidence with which the assertions were stated.” Ahh, I missed that subtlety. Thank you for the elaboration.

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          • anodognosic says:

            “the reason you are so confident in your assessment of my motives and assumptions is that you’re so confident in your assessment of my motives and assumptions”

            See, this is exactly the sort of thing I was talking about.

            I’ll backtrack my previous statement a bit: your approach to discussion is not conducive to mutual understanding, and the statement I quoted above is an excellent illustration of that.

            To wit: I actually offered two clear examples of what I was referring to. First, your response to my point that all understanding is imperfect. You said I “impl[ied] that [you] might be wrong” by saying all understanding is imperfect, while I said nothing of the sort. A quick re-read of this subthread should reveal that clearly enough. This response matches the oppositional rather than cooperative model of arguing.

            Second, I gave the example of your disputing definitions above. I was referring specifically to the meaning of “held in mind,” about which at one point you wrote, “What I meant by being held in the mind is that it’s being held in the mind,” in a plainly dismissive tone. “Held in mind” is an imprecise metaphor, and to insist that it has a plain meaning in the face of a clarification again matches the oppositional model. A cooperative approach would acknowledge that we had different understandings of the phrase and proceed to try to understand the distinction.

            These are two pieces of evidence. That you ignored the provided examples to conclude that I was begging the question is a third. If you read through your comments, you will find plenty more, including dismissive tone, insults, and assumptions about my lack of understanding. This makes me confident enough that you are employing an unproductive model of discussion.

            My further conclusion that you’re using the oppositional model fits the data. The purpose of the oppositional model (“argument is war”) is winning, not understanding (the first sources on this that come to mind are Yudkowsky and Lakoff). Thus my conclusion about your purpose.

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          • Tracy W says:

            @anodognosic: On the issue of the wording of “all understanding is imperfect”, I agree that you did not say that, which is why I said “implied”, not “said”. Incidentally, the implication doesn’t bother me, I’ve learnt that my reasoning is imperfect all too painfully. It’s rather a surprise to me that you found being asked how you combined the two positions a “gotcha”.

            As for the cooperative approach: I stopped taking a cooperative approach because you show no signs of taking a cooperative approach. I asked you questions, such as where the bet was, if not in the mind, which you didn’t answer. Instead you said “I didn’t ask you to believe or understand something. I suggested you do it.” You asked me questions, I answered them, you never acknowledged my answers.

            On the specific topic of the “definition of the mind”, you made this statement about what you meant by your definition, but never attempted to explain why you thought that this definition of yours would change the truth about the location of the bet.(And, to the best of my reasoning, it doesn’t).

            And again in this argument in this particular thread: I’ve been asking you questions. You’ve not been answering them, instead, you’ve taken up making assertions about my assumptions and motivations, without first bothering to ask me any questions about them.

            Basically, you come across as someone who is utterly convinced that they are right.

            Suggestions for the future if you want a cooperative approach to debate: don’t say things like “I didn’t ask you to believe or understand something. I suggested you do it.” Instead ask them questions. Take on board their answers, you don’t necessarily need to agree with the answers, but if you disagree, do them the courtesy of explaining why you disagree. If you think they are describing the world inaccurately, when you state how you think it is, give some reason why you think your description is better, ideally something they can check for themselves. Even if you think that they’re arguing in bad faith, engage with their actual arguments, not their motives. To summarise: consider the possibility that you might learn something too.

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    • > And even if there is a “higher” reality- what if I have no desire to experience it?
      8
      How can you know that you won’t like it ’till you ‘ve tried it? All novel experiences work that way, even your first sip of beer.

      > What basis do I have to doubt logic? 

      Who told you to doubt logic? Logic just tells you that if A is true, then B is true. Garbage in, garbage out, truth in, truth out. But the input always comes from outside logic.

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      • Susebron says:

        >How can you know that you won’t like it ’till you ‘ve tried it? All novel experiences work that way, even your first sip of beer.

        How can you know you won’t like death until you try it? And yet, for some unimaginable reason, most people do not attempt to kill themselves for the novel experience.

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        • Nornagest says:

          My opinion of death would be much more sanguine if I had friends who’d shambled out of the grave to tell me that it’s awesome down there, even if they were not adequately able to communicate how or why.

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        • There isnt a body of testimony that death is a worthwhile experience. One always has to have experiences to find out exactly what they are like, and one is rarely without third person testimony about what they are approximately like.

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  38. Vaniver says:

    Here I was expecting a more normal essay about how groups that argue for universal love collapse because of the moral hazard–that is, people who are the least intrinsically lovable have the most to gain from universal love over conditional love. (The uglier you are, the more appealing a ‘everyone is obliged to have sex with everyone’ cult looks to you.) The implications of this for virtue ethics, consequentialism, and so on are interesting.

    But I suppose this is fine too?

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  39. “THIS ENTRY WAS POSTED IN UNCATEGORIZED AND TAGGED FICTION”

    Wait, that was fiction?

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  40. merzbot says:

    What if the spirit creatures are real, but not very good at math?

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    • Wrong Species says:

      I can’t believe you’re the first person to ask this. This isn’t the omnipotent christian god we’re talking about, it’s like a minor deity. Either way, they should be more honest if they don’t actually know the answer.

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      • Jiro says:

        The end of this story has the spiritual beings talk to each other about solving the math problem, so these particular ones are good enough at math.

        Of course it’s still possible that you meet spiritual beings who aren’t. But if they can’t or won’t do math, and they also can’t or won’t do any of the other things that distinguish them from fakes, this once again becomes an example of real spiritual beings that look exactly like fakes. If the real beings look exactly like fakes, there’s really nothing you can do; you just got massively unlucky. But one thing you *shouldn’t* do is say “well, it looks exactly like a fake, but I’m so afraid of false negatives that I should ignore that and treat it as real anyway”.

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  41. Johannes says:

    I do not quite get the importance of the prime factorization. Apparently to prove it is not just “in your mind”. But this seems neither necessary: why should those entities supposed to be able to do such a thing? Do they have to be super smart? Why?
    Nor sufficient: maybe the drug unlocks in some people a subconscious savant capability for factorization, so it might well be “in your mind”, too. Admittedly, the latter option is a stretch but probably as possible as weird alternate dimensions.

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    • Irrelevant says:

      maybe the drug unlocks in some people a subconscious savant capability for factorization, so it might well be “in your mind”, too.

      That would be a great discovery in itself, so hey.

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  42. Peter says:

    One little observation: in some SF books (is it a spoiler to say which?) there’s an erudite/wise distinction, whereby the erudite discover truth by working it out in the usual manner, and the wise just seem to have direct ‘supernatural’ access to the truth. Naively, if these trips are showing what they purport to be showing (rather than just being hallucinations) I’d expect that mystical entities might be wise, but wouldn’t really expect any sort of super-erudition.

    The cactus man, counting on his spines, isn’t being wise, he’s being erudite. And he checks with the bat, which is another sign that the factorisation isn’t particularly magical.

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  43. Vorkon says:

    Then the big green bat wrote a story about zombies finding universal love and transcendent joy, and it went on to sell 1,522,605,027, 922,533,360, 535,618,378, 132,637,429, 718,068,114, 961,380,688, 657,908,494, 580,122,963, 258,952,897, 654,000,350, 692,006,139 copies.

    The end!

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  44. Derelict says:

    In my experience, this is how a lot of Zen metaphors work. You don’t understand it until you understand it, and most people don’t ever really understand it.

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  45. Eli says:

    I AM THE CAR, YOU DUMB BASTARDS! Now shut up and explain how I go about turning the car into an airplane so I can fly!

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  46. eqdw says:

    I already got out of the car. But now I’m stuck in this goddamn cdr

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  47. Boobz says:

    I originally interpreted the green bat to mean “baseball bat.” DAMN YOU HOMONYMS.

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    • Edward Scizorhands says:

      I read the whole post, and all comments up through yours, assuming it was a big baseball bat. I mean, why not?

      (And the green cactus and a green baseball bat are morphologically similar, which probably primed me.)

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  48. Anon256 says:

    Maybe you should eat the bat.

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  49. FeepingCreature says:

    See, the thing is – I’m pretty sure that I’m actually at least partially the car, and the fact that a weird sub-unit of the car can sometimes detach and form memories that don’t involve that part of me that has wheels and a motor really does not necessarily form any argument to the contrary.

    And also I consider the attempts here to take an integral part of me and break it off to be sort of vaguely rude?

    Like, I’m pretty sure you can’t tell me what “I” is, freaky DMT entity, but I’m also pretty sure that’s what you’re trying to do, and I’d appreciate it if you’d stop.

    I mean, want it formal? Fallacy of appeal to nature. Just because humans historically were distinct from cars doesn’t mean that anything that looks like a human in a car is necessarily better off in a separated state.

    Might as well tell the soul to get out of the brain.

    I mean – I like this car. It’s a nice car. I’m very happy with the mileage it’s giving me. I don’t want it to get the impression that it’s a part of me that I can do without or swap around, if need arises.

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    • Anon256 says:

      Well, nobody claimed it was for everybody. Some human+cars might be happier or better off permanently separated, even though that would be a change in who they were; some might find occasional out-of-car exploring to be an interesting experience even though it requires a temporary change in identity that they then reverse so they can keep driving places. I don’t see any appeal in even brief metaphorical out-of-car experiences but I’m not going to begrudge people who do.

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    • fwhagdsd says:

      “I’m pretty sure you can’t tell me what “I” is” there are countless philosophical traditions, and probably lots of cognitive/neurological evidence, that criticize our misconception of what our “self” is, that considering our ego to be a “thing” is inherently misleading and prone to unenlightening thought patterns.

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  50. onyomi says:

    This story reminds me of many stories from gurus of various meditative traditions which say that, basically, if you get good enough at meditation, you also develop magic powers (healing, levitating, seeing the future…), but at that point you won’t really care to use them because you’ll be so blissed out you’ll want for nothing use of the powers could provide, and you may, further, see clearly, as you couldn’t before, that demonstrating the powers to the less enlightened would be long-run bad for them.

    I can never quite tell if what they are really doing is saying “people don’t understand how great enlightenment is, but they can understand how great it would be to have magic powers of levitating, seeing the future, etc., therefore, tell them meditating will give them magic powers and they’ll accidentally fall into enlightenment as they chase the magic powers, at which point they’ll realize that enlightenment is better than what they were looking for anyway.”

    Or is it really, “I’ve got these magic powers now, but I’m so blissed out I don’t feel any need to use them and it wouldn’t actually help anyone for me to show them anyway, so I won’t.”

    Or, more cynically, is it just “if I coyly hint that I may have magic powers but that I don’t often show them off I can get a lot of people to join my cult.” I would say C, yet I know anonymous people with no interest in money or starting a cult who have claimed it’s more A or B.

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    • David Simon says:

      They don’t have to be interested in starting a cult for it to still be C, under the cult-as-memetic-virus model.

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      • onyomi says:

        True, though I’m talking about people who I have reason to believe have legitimately attained a very high level of meditation practice, as opposed to people who are just parroting things they’ve heard from others.

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    • Nornagest says:

      Getting people to join your cult is just a special case of looking cool to other people, which practically everyone is interested in for some value of “cool” and “other people”.

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    • Susebron says:

      For A, enlightenment can be replaced with any mental state that can convince you that it’s more desirable than magic powers (or, for that matter, actual enlightenment).

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    • Protagoras says:

      In a lot of cases, the “magic powers” seem to be natural metaphors for aspects of enlightenment (the classic Buddhist levitation and walking through walls = removing metaphorical burdens and escaping metaphorical prisons), which seems to fit well with explanation A. Though I’m sure there are cases of C. I’m pretty skeptical of B, of course.

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    • DavidS says:

      If I remember correctly, Buddha himself has a pretty epic version of option B. There’s a story where an ascetic has built up the ability to do amazing magics and when Buddha appears he expends a great deal of spiritual power to walk across the Ganges to meet him.

      Buddha looks him up and down and says ‘for a penny, you could have taken the ferry’. Bit of a zinger.

      Put-downs by universal enlightened saviours aside, there’s a vaguely relveant point here, which is that the model of ‘meditation allowing enlightenment’ has been persistent with quite different rationales/forms. My understanding is that the Upanishad model in India (around 500BCE, Buddha-type time) was that ascetics built up a sort of POWER through their practices. Not clear how: the pain? The sublimated power? The sheer focus? But it was used in the mythology at various times to blackmail demons and Gods, and the ascetics using it weren’t necessarily wise. It seemed to be neutral in terms of both morality and insight, much more directly linked to the practices themselves.

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      • onyomi says:

        Yes, it’s called “tapas” or “heat” (not to be confused with delicious Spanish appetizers), and it does seem in Indian spiritual lit than anyone undergoing “austerities” (fasting, meditating, holding one arm in the air for ten years…) can develop various powers, called “siddhis,” some, potentially, for ill purposes.

        I think the Jains take it the furthest in basically believing that any for of self-abnegation is compensated in the form of a corresponding growth in spiritual power. The traditional Jain way to die is to literally starve yourself to death.

        I have heard it said that “happiness is the greatest siddhi,” which, lame as it sounds is kind of true, given that happiness is arguably the only thing we desire for its own sake.

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  51. Lesser Bull says:

    Best thing you’ve ever written. It was Art.

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  52. gwern says:

    I was a little curious about how such a prime experiment would go and how much it would cost. It looks like one could probably run an experiment with a somewhat OK chance at success for under $1k.

    We need to estimate the costs and probabilities of memorizing a suitable composite number, buying DMT, using DMT and getting the requisite machine-elf experience (far from guaranteed), being able to execute a preplanned action like asking about a prime, and remembering the answer.

    1. The smallest RSA number not yet factored is 220 digits (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RSA_numbers#RSA-220). The RSA numbers themselves are useless for this experiment because if one did get the right factors, because it’s so extraordinarily unlikely for machine-elves to really be an independent reality, a positive result would only prove that someone had stolen the RSA answers or hacked a computer or something along the lines. RSA-768 was factored in 2009 using ~2000 CPU-years, so we need a number much larger; since Google has several million CPUs we might want something substantially larger, at least 800 digits. We know from mnemonists that numbers that large can be routinely memorized, and an 800 digit decimal can be memorized in an hour: http://www.recordholders.org/en/list/memory.html#numbers-1h Chao Lu memorized 67k digits of Pi in 1 year: http://www.pi-world-ranking-list.com/lists/details/luchaointerview.html So the actual memorization time is not significant. How much training does it take to memorize 800 digits? I remember a famous example in WM research of how WM training does not necessarily transfer to anything, of a student taught to memorize digits, Ericsson & Chase’s http://www.psy.cmu.edu/chasepapers/Exceptional%20Memory.pdf whose digit span went from ~7 to ~80 after 230 hours of training; digit span is much more demanding than a one-off memorization http://opus.kobv.de/ubp/volltexte/2009/4025/pdf/1987_mnemonic.pdf does something similar using more like 80 hours of training. Foer’s _Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything_ doesn’t cover much more than a year or two and fairly undemanding training regimen, and he performed well. So I’m going to guess that to memorize a number which would be truly impressive evidence (and not simply evidence for a prank or misdeeds by a hobbyist, RSA employee, Google, or the NSA) would require ~30h of practice.
    2. some browsing of the DMT category on the current leading black-market, Agora, (http://agorahooawayyfoe.onion//cat/ht9G1zzoVK) suggests that 1g of DMT from a reputable seller costs ฿0.56 or ~$130. The linked paper says smoking DMT for a full trip requires 50mg/0.05g so our $130 buys ~19 doses.
    3. The linked paper (http://www.ayahuasca-info.com/data/articles/paralleldmt.pdf) says that 20% of Strassman’s injected-DMT trips give a machine-elf experience; hence the 1g will give an average of ~3-4 machine-elfs and 19 trips almost guarantees at least 1 machine-elf assuming 20% success-rate (1-(1-0.2)^19 = 98%). Since the 20% figure comes from injected DMT and DMT of a controlled high quality, probably this is optimistic for anyone trying out smoking DMT at home, but let’s roll with it.
    4. in a machine-elf experience, how often could we be lucid enough to wake up and ask the factoring question? No one’s mentioned trying so there’s no hard data, but we can borrow from a similar set of experiments in verifying altered states of consciousness, Laberge’s lucid dreaming experiments in which subjects had to exert control to wiggle their eyes in a fixed pattern. http://diyhpl.us/~bryan/papers2/dreaming/Lucidity%20Institute%20Research%20Papers.pdf#page=163 gives several flows from # of nights to # of verifications, which all are roughly 1/3 – 1/4; so given our estimated 3-4 machine-elfs, we might be able to ask 1 time. If the machine-elves are guaranteed to reply correctly, then that’s all we need.
    5. at 30 hours of mnemonic labor valued at minimum wage of $8 and $130 for 19 doses, that gives us an estimate of $370 in costs to ask an average of once; if we amortize the memorization costs some more by buying 2g, then we instead spend $250 per factoring request for 2 tries; and so on down to a minimum cost of (130/19)*5 = $34 per factoring request. To get n=10 requests, we’d need to spend a cool ((30*8) + 10*130)=$1540.
    6. power analysis for a question like this is tricky, since we only need one response with the *right* factors; probably what will happen is that the machine-elfs will not answer or any answer will be ‘forgotten’. You can estimate other stuff like how likely the elves are to respond given 10 questions and 0 responses (flat prior’s 95% CI: 0-28%), or apply decision-theory to decide when to stop trying (tricky, since any reasonable estimate of the probability of machine-elves will tell you that at $35 a shot, you shouldn’t be trying at all).

    Hence, you could get a few attempts at somewhere under $1k, but exactly how much depends sensitively on what fraction of trips you get elves and how often you manage to ask them; the DMT itself doesn’t cost *that* much per dose (like ~$7) but it’s the all the trips where you don’t get elves or you get elves but are too ecstatic to ask them anything which really kill you and drive up the price to $34-$250 per factoring request. Also, there’s a lot of uncertainty in all these estimates (who knows how much any of the quoted rates differ from person to person?).

    I thought this might be a fun self-experiment to do, but looking at the numbers and the cost, it seems pretty discouraging.

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    • yli says:

      Forget about primes. Memorize the output of a hash function, and ask the elves for the input.

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      • gwern says:

        Memorize the output of a hash function, and ask the elves for the input.

        Doesn’t work as a nothing-up-my-sleeve problem – who chooses what output/input?

        If you are able to genuinely convince yourself that either machine elves are real or DMT makes you able to factor really large numbers, you will be ready to spend significant resources on the project of convincing other people.

        ‘I remember the machine elves correctly factored 95 into 19*5! Astounding! However, I am now completely convinced of their existence and far too enlightened to want to carry out any followup experiment testing my new gods, so I will merely inform my followers and those who are called will come; transcendent love, universal joy, truly.’

        Ironically, one of the interesting things about DMT is that it preserves your cognitive faculties completely intact

        How would you know? Has anyone carried out similar experiments during a DMT trip which could establish such a claim? You may have the feeling of lucidity, but you also simultaneously have feelings such as being in another universe…

        I don’t see why you have to memorize anything. Just ask the elves to treat the first N digits of the decimal representation of pi as an integer and factor it. Pick N large enough so that there is no known way that either the NSA or Google could do it…Of course, you still have to memorize their answer–but the smallest factor should do it.

        Are there any accepted number-theoretic proofs rigorously proving that there are no integers to which the smallest factor can be computed efficiently by a prankster? Given the existence of algorithms for doing magical things like calculate arbitrary digits of pi without calculating the intermediate digits, and given all the special kinds of numbers which must be avoided for cryptography (and all the difficulties of crypto in general), this proposal seems like a good way to waste a lot of good DMT.

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        • You could ask for a hash collision. None are known for SHA1 for any inputs, so it’s impossible to cheat. If you take one of the inputs as given, then the shortest collision is probably about the same length as the hash itself, so 40 characters of hex. A lot easier to memorize than ~800 digits (or ~660 hex).

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    • Douglas Knight says:

      If you want to rule out the possibility of hacking the secret, you probably want to move away from public key systems. The simplest task is to ask for the hash preimage of 0. And the answer is only 256 bits to memorize (or make it really easy). The advantage of factoring is that the elves can read my mind to determine the definition of factoring, while I don’t know the definition of SHA-256. But memorizing that definition is probably easier than the memorizing the answer they give me.

      (You could ask to factor a random number, but how do you convince the world that it really was random? I guess you could take the first thousand digits of pi or something. or concatenate the hashes of 0,1,2,… And it has to be a little larger than a hard RSA instance, because it has a lot more than 2 factors.)

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      • exusqa says:

        You don’t really need to convince the world. In a first step it would be enough to thoroughly convince yourself. If you aren’t even able to convince yourself you can stop bothering. If you are able to genuinely convince yourself that either machine elves are real or DMT makes you able to factor really large numbers, you will be ready to spend significant resources on the project of convincing other people.

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    • Anonymous says:

      So I’m going to guess that to memorize a number which would be truly impressive evidence (and not simply evidence for a prank or misdeeds by a hobbyist, RSA employee, Google, or the NSA) would require ~30h of practice.

      Why do you want a number that can’t be factored by the NSA? The computer that generates the composite number will know the prime factors, so the weak link is the possibility that someone leaks or steals the primes, not that the NSA brute-forces the factorization. Unless there is some way to generate a product of two primes without ever knowing the primes? [edit: this may well be possible, see here]

      If you are confident that the primes haven’t been stolen, and that the subject doesn’t get computer access during the experiment, you just need a composite number that cannot be plausibly factored in one’s head. A 50 digit number could be memorized in an afternoon without any special training, I think. Though an entity that can factor 50-digit numbers is not as impressive as one that can factor 800 digit numbers.

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      • gwern says:

        The advantage of factoring is that the elves can read my mind to determine the definition of factoring, while I don’t know the definition of SHA-256.

        This is an issue (integers and primes are prime candidates for being universal and known to anything we could understand; SHA hashes, on the other hand…) Another issue is that I don’t think people have as much confidence in SHA hash algorithms not being broken, workable around, or brute-forced – quick, exactly how many guesses does it take Markov-chain generators to create some SHA poetry with which you can go out and claim machine-elves exist? ‘Uh…’ Exactly.

        Why do you want a number that can’t be factored by the NSA?

        We want to rule out all human-level actors and get a result which is powerful Bayesian evidence for either number-theoretic breakthroughs or entities with cosmic levels of computing power, evidence which is compelling to everyone that even if they believe the person reporting the result is doing their best to lie cheat & decieve, the result is still evidence.

        A 50-digit number here would not count since it is more likely that someone factored it or generated it than some machine-elves have. At most, such a result may convince the experimenter themselves that the elves exist, but if that’s all the experimenter wanted, well, they could have just taken all the DMT themselves.

        Heck, given the rarity of psychedelic experiments, it may be more likely for someone to have hoaxed or pranked such a factoring than for someone to have even tried to run the factoring experiment in the first place (nevermind what their result was)…

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        • Douglas Knight says:

          ECC has much shorter key lengths than RSA, while still being fairly natural. However, it has a lot of fiddly encoding details, if you want to create a random instance.

          How many guesses for a hash collision? My guess is that the ultimate answer, taking into account all vulnerabilities, is at least 2^64.

          But it doesn’t seem like a big deal if they use vulnerabilities, unless NSA specifically planted the vulnerabilities in SHA, which they obviously didn’t do to factoring. (If this just proves elves have quantum computers, great!)

          FWIW, I think that the cryptographic community has much more faith in SHA than in RSA. RSA has already been broken once! (quadratic sieve, L(1/3)) Last year, small characteristic DSA (rare, but in use) was broken (L(1/4), then L(0)). RSA/DSA/ECC are all broken by quantum computers, which has to count for something in the classical arena. And theory says that the existence of a public key system implies the existence of a hash function, but not vice versa. Moreover, I believe that it is expected, maybe even known under some hypotheses, than any random function is a cryptographic hash function (not that this directly applies to SHA).

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          • gwern says:

            But where’s the direct evidence for SHA being effectively unbreakable? The crypto community understands factoring pretty well, to the extent of understanding how it would break and the implication of it being hard. But AFAIK there’s no such understanding for SHA – they don’t know how strong it is or what sort of proof of it being strong one would look for. That was what the hash competition was for in the first place, people were worried that SHA might abruptly snap; it hasn’t… so far. ‘The crypto community hasn’t made much progress on breaking it in the last few years’ isn’t much consolation when other hashes have been ripped to shreds eventually.

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          • Douglas Knight says:

            What is the direct evidence for hard factoring? What do you mean by “how it would break”?

            There is strong belief that RSA and prime DSA are equally hard, but no understanding of why that should be, let alone why that difficulty should be L(1/3). Nor understanding of why ECC is, so far, safe from the quadratic sieve. Other than that it has “less structure.” You know what has even less structure?

            Sure, there has been progress in attacking hash functions, but greater progress in attacking number theory. Has any hash function had its strength reduced as much as the quadratic sieve hurt RSA, let alone subsequent attacks on variants of DSA? And I’m pretty sure that the security community has spent more time attacking hash functions than attacking number theory.

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    • haishan says:

      If you’re self-experimenting, and don’t care about external verification, you can probably get away with a much smaller semiprime, greatly decreasing the mnemonic labor costs. Something like a pilot self-experiment. But the “rhyming hash collision” test has no such costs and I like it better anyway.

      Also I’m not sure how you got ((30*8) + 10*130)? Shouldn’t that be ((30*8) + 10*34) = 580? Lower if you can avoid having to memorize a huge number.

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      • gwern says:

        Also I’m not sure how you got ((30*8) + 10*130)? Shouldn’t that be ((30*8) + 10*34) = 580?

        Where’s 34 coming from? The equation here is 30*8 – the fixed cost of spending 30 hours memorizing a suitable number – plus the cost of 10 factoring questions; each factoring question requires ~19 DMT trips (4/5s are wasted because you don’t get machine-elves, and then when you’re lucky enough to, you may flub asking 2/3s of the time because it’s an exotic state of consciousness, so, you need 19); and 19 trips require ~1g, which costs $130. Hence, 10*130.

        So if you memorize a big number and order enough DMT to make an expected 10 requests of the machine-elves, then you spend ((30*8) + 10*130) dollars. The memorization is a one-off cost, thankfully, but you’re still going to run through a lot of DMT and that will cost you.

        EDIT: I’m told that a 1/5 or 20% machine-elf rate might be very optimistic for the hypothetical smoker doing this at home, between the inefficiency of smoking and apparently the onset of DMT being *so* fast that you can have difficulty smoking enough for machine-elves. But I’m not going back to redo the numbers with 10% or anything because they’re dismal enough.

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        • haishan says:

          “…and so on down to a minimum cost of (130/19)*5 = $34 per factoring request.”

          But that does assume that you’re capable of making a request every time you get elves, and that might be unrealistic. I’ve no idea either way, never having used DMT.

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          • gwern says:

            Oh, I think I miswrote that. That should be the minimum cost for a machine-elf meet, once the memorization costs are amortized away to $0 or ignored.

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          • PD says:

            Ironically, one of the interesting things about DMT is that it preserves your cognitive faculties completely intact even as it presents you phenomena of appalling weirdness. I wouldn’t be surprised if the bat and cactus story was nearly verbatim from a real trip. (Although the entities rarely condescend to humor you).

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          • Derelict says:

            (Although the entities rarely condescend to humor you).

            Do they ever humour you without condescension? And what of yours are they humouring? I don’t really understand this sentence. :S

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          • PD says:

            @Derelict

            I mean that the entities are not going to offer you anything like an articulate philosophical back-and-forth. They can do more than recite platitudes but less than give reasoned arguments.

            I think this is because the brain hardware used for “reasoned arguments” is ego-syntonic (i.e. it always feels like “you” are doing it).

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          • Derelict says:

            I see. Thanks for elucidating me.

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    • DiscoveredJoys says:

      In folk tales of how to deal with ghosts/spirits that bother you while you are asleep, the advice is to put a jar of beans (uncounted) by the bedside and ask the ghost/spirit how many beans there are in the jar. Then count the actual number of beans when you wake up.

      Less technological than factorising prime numbers, but easier to implement.

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      • Harald K says:

        Is that really a folk practice? That’s beyond cool. Is there anywhere I can read more about that?

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        • DiscoveredJoys says:

          It’s one of those internet stories which I believe was based on an African example, but I don’t know the true source is known, or even can be known.

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        • Meredith L. Patterson says:

          I first heard the beans superstition growing up as a kid in Texas (apparently spitting beans at a ghost is also supposed to dispel them, but I have no idea why). Chinese mythology has a similar superstition; the chiang shih, or “hopping vampire,” must stop to count the grains in a sack of rice.

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      • DavidS says:

        Hah. I’ve never thought this before, but I sort of have a private version of this from since I was a little kid. I used to have very vivid dreams where I wasn’t sure if I was awake (and also very lucid dreams where I knew I wasn’t and could control stuff)

        A lot of the ‘am I awake’ ones were realistic: the classic ‘dreaming you just woke up’. I used to test it in dream and occasionally in confused wakefulness, by picking a book off my shelves and trying to read a paragraph. In a dream, inevitably I caught myself thinking ‘I am now reading a very interesting book around X’: my dreaming mind is simply not creative enough in those conditions to create a plausible couple of paragraphs that convincingly simulate actually stories.

        Not a bad technique this: it means if you’re awake in the middle of the night and part of your lingering half-asleep paranoia is you might secretly be in a nightmare, that the excellent strategy of reading is also supporting evidence that nothing’s awry.

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    • DanielLC says:

      I know this isn’t serious, but I still feel like as a first step you should just ask for something simple that you can’t do on your own, but someone with a computer, or maybe even paper and a few minutes, could. If you can prove to yourself that there’s something crazy going on, then you put in more effort. It’s not like it’s guaranteed that the aliens are logically omniscient.

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    • I don’t see why you have to memorize anything. Just ask the elves to treat the first N digits of the decimal representation of pi as an integer and factor it. Pick N large enough so that there is no known way that either the NSA or Google could do it.

      What if their answer is that it’s a prime? Ask them to do the same for the first N+1 digits. If they claim ten consecutive integers that are all prime, laugh at them and give up.

      Of course, you still have to memorize their answer–but the smallest factor should do it.

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    • I just saw this, but seriously you are calculating how likely it is to be lucid enough to ask the question, but ignoring that you need to be so many times more lucid to use the mnemonic, and then recall it back? I mean you do know how much worse dream recall is compared to normal recall, right? And I suspect being DMT’ed would mess with your memory formation and mnemonic ability even more (try associating a number with a visual image and remember it, when 30 different things are popping into your mind while you are doing it)

      Anyway, the whole mnemonics approach seems overly complicated, on top of being unreliable. Aren’t people under DMT actually sort of awake even if seeing things – as in able to just repeat back the number to a recorder that they set up in the room? If yes, then that would be significantly easier, and if not you can always go the good old eye movement way (left is 0, right is 1, up is 2, down is 3 and you ask the elf to say the number in Quaternary instead of Decimal).

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  53. Harvey says:

    Possibly the best thing about this was reading all the comments of Scott’s new audience not being familiar with his wacky way of writing fiction.

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  54. Galle says:

    To be honest, the Sage either really is a moron, or just kind of a jerk. Getting out of the car isn’t ontologically primitive, there is a series of steps you have to take, which are fairly obvious and could probably be explained in terms the car-driver could understand if you were willing to make the inferential leap. Instead, the Sage just tells the car-driver to get out of the car, and then gets frustrated when the car-driver doesn’t immediately understand him.

    So really, the problem is that the Sage is either unable or unwilling to understand that, when talking to a perpetual car-driver, there’s nothing “just” about getting out of the car.

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    • onyomi says:

      But some “sages” do offer simple, easy-to-follow directions as to what, exactly, one can do. aypsite.org, for example.

      The “just realize you are already enlightened” sages are like people born with incredible talent at something and who are consequently bad at teaching those to whom the thing does not come super naturally.

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    • Alrenous says:

      Actually getting out of the car is ontologically primitive, which is one reason why explaining it is so difficult.
      Analogous experiment: try explaining to me how to lift my arm as if I didn’t already know how.

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  55. My immediate association was with an allegory for allegory itself!

    I would link to where that comes from (Oglaf), but I’m not sure if I wouldn’t get in trouble, even if I tacked on a disclaimer that the link led to somewhere not safe for work. It just seems like it wouldn’t be the courteous thing to do. Easy enough to find, though!

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  56. Dan Simon says:

    This whole discussion seems very strange to me. (Then again, most of the discussions I see at this blog seem very strange to me…)

    As I understand it, “some people”–or perhaps “many people”–when they take a certain drug that causes them to hallucinate magical creatures, end up believing that those creatures are in some sense real. And presumably many–or perhaps most–people who take this same drug and have similar hallucinations end up remembering a bunch of really vivid hallucinations, without attributing any reality to them.

    Similarly, “some people”–perhaps “many people”–have weird dreams or hear or see strange things and end up believing they’ve encountered aliens or supernatural beings or whatever, while the rest of us–many of whom have also had strange dreams or seen or heard strange things–end up believing nothing of the sort.

    Is there any reason to believe that the experiences of the people who end up believing they’ve encountered supernatural beings while under the influence of this drug are substantially different from the experiences of the people who end up believing they’ve been on a really amazing drug trip?

    And if, as I suspect, there isn’t, then why are we focusing on the properties of the experience, and how changing it might change its effects one way or the other, rather than on the properties of the people who are affected in radically different ways by essentially the same experience?

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    • Bugmaster says:

      Yeah, agreed.

      My problem with the “GET OUT OF THE CAR” metaphor is that I only have the green bat’s word for it even being a meaningful concept; and the green bat is not exactly a reliable source of information.

      To use the metaphor, I ultimately don’t care about the car; I only care about the places it can take me. If you are telling me that there’s a place I can’t get to by driving the car, fine, that’s great. I want to see that place. But first, you need to demonstrate to me that the place even exists. This is important, because whenever I slow down in traffic, there’s inevitably a guy in the car to my left yelling “Buy this secret map to a magical place full of unicorns and rainbows ! Don’t delay, supplies are limited, only 10 easy payments of $99.99 !”; and another guy in the car to my right who waves around a half-empty bottle of vodka, says “Ima gonna drive to *hic* cand… candysh… shtripper-land right now !”, and then crashes directly into a tree.

      From personal experience (as well as the stories other drivers tell me), I know that neither of those guys has anything useful to offer me, so what makes you and your green bat any different ?

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  57. Derelict says:

    Someone needs to turn this into a comic. Will you CC-BY-SA the text of this dialogue so that can be done?

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  58. ella says:

    THANKS TO MOTHER SUNLIGHT DAUGHTER OF JAI MATA. my frastration
    lead me into prostitution. and i have been doing it not because
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  59. Andrea Shepard says:

    Hmm, long ago as a child pondering religious questions, I considered whether, if $deity ever introduced himself to me in a mystical experience, I could ever be convinced to believe it rather than that I was hallucinating. I eventually decided I’d ask for a proof of a significant unsolved mathematical question such as Goldbach’s conjecture, which I could in principle verify independently by algorithmic means. Receiving would mean either I was communicating with *something* decidedly better at math than any living human, or that my ability to reason as well as to perceive reliably had been compromised, and in the latter case I wouldn’t be able to reliably assess the veracity of anything and should just give up and enjoy the madness.

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  60. Hyzenthlay says:

    I love this. I feel like this is kind of how I would react if I met a superhuman cosmic being. The sense of frustration really came through. And I just enjoyed the general weirdness of it. I visualized the whole thing as an Adventure Time-style animation.

    Also, can I just say how much I enjoy your various social justice-related posts (“Social Justice and Words Words Words” especially)? I get the sense that it’s not your favorite thing to write about, but nonetheless, I really appreciate the fact that someone is talking about this stuff. It helps.

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  61. Limi says:

    I have read everything of yours I can Scott, and when I recommend your blog to others, I have trouble deciding which post to point them to to showcase your brilliance. Until today. I don’t like to use language like this, but this was a fucking masterpiece and I feel like I finally get it when people say they cried watching a movie, or viewing art or the like. Thank you. It feels weird to say that for a piece like this, but I feel like I would be making a terrible mistake if I didn’t.

    Edit: you should do more fiction by the way, I always love your fiction pieces.

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  62. Vanzetti says:

    Obligatory XKCD “Trapped” reference:

    https://xkcd.com/876/

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  63. Deiseach says:

    While I am appreciative of the energy and thought going into how one might create a technical method to verify if the entities encountered on a drug trip are existent outside of a hallucination, I have to say: that’s missing the point.

    Even if the entities prove that they are able to solve a very complex mathematical conundrum beyond the capacity of the tripper, that does not bring you or me any further forward on being able to understand their advice, or if their advice is any good.

    To judge “is universal love actually any use?”, we have to judge by criteria that are not related to “break this mathematical code that I can’t break”. If the bat and the cactus humoured Scott’s avatar and factored out the sum, and it was correct, and this proved they were really real, and then they advised him that the best way to maximise happiness was to kill 99% of existing humanity – is this good advice or not? Is it moral, true or helpful?

    You still have to work that out. And you still have to work out how to achieve that state of transcendent joy, even if you’ve got your mathematical proof to your satisfaction that these entities are not your imagination, and you – ‘in the car’ you – still have to do the work to achieve that.

    Which may involve things like being hit with a brick every time you ask a question 🙂

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    • Susebron says:

      But if you know that they’re real, it’s much less likely that you’re wasting your time looking for true enlightenment. There is, of course, a debate to be had on whether hallucinations are more or less likely than real entities to have the key to enlightenment, but they are at least more likely to have real knowledge of some other sort.

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    • stillnotking says:

      It’s an interesting contrast with mystical tradition. Scott’s asking for evidence that the enlightened ones can be trusted; the old-school assumption is that they can be trusted, and the student merely (heh) needs to find out what their secret is. I suppose that assumption falls under the broad category of “faith”.

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    • James Picone says:

      If the creatures are a weirdly-consistent quirk of human cognition, then any advice they give is unlikely to be moral, true, or helpful, and there’s very little to no point in understanding the stuff they bring up.

      If the creatures exist in some alternate universe and the psychedelics make contact with them, there’s some possibility that what they’re saying is moral, true, or helpful, and maybe worth understanding.

      i.e., establishing existence is useful as an initial check before investing additional effort.

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      • Nita says:

        Huh? Why would random aliens give better advice than (less accessible corners of) human brains?

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        • dan o'shea says:

          i’m with you Nina. I’d feel a lot more comfortable if the beings were a symbolic representation of my larger self. but i think there are representatives of ‘the other’, within; as well. and that ultimately the distinctions between within and without disappear as we vary the scale we are looking at. or something.maybe.lol. 😉

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    • Soumynona says:

      The point isn’t to skip all the way to enlightenment or whatever by receiving proof that the creatures actually exist. The point is, if the creatures are real, to convince our civilization to focus its not insignificant energies on investigating spiritual stuff and not treating it as a domain of babbling druggies and abstruse mystics.

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    • Dindane says:

      If the entities are able to solve difficult mathematical problems quickly, then at least we know one thing — that they are able to solve difficult mathematical problems quickly! That, at least, seems helpful, if they are willing to do it repeatedly.
      Though I may be also missing the point…

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  64. Chris Johnson says:

    Four thoughts:

    1, this is the best thing I’ve read in a while, and honestly is helping me solve some kind of epistemological dillemas I’ve been dealing with in my personal life. Also, it really helps communicate my lingering rational mindset to my McKenna-infused, transcendental roommate.

    2, this is completely irrelevant to the piece, but when you mentioned the “Western logicism mindset”, my mind started churning for other biases, and I noticed that everyone in this piece is an individual, speaking to other individuals, about individual subjective experience. Sarah Perry over at Ribbonfarm writes a lot about the fundamentally group-based nature of subjective experience (as I’m sure you’re aware), and now that that orientation has infected my orientation I see it *everywhere*.

    3, no joke, I’ve been on the verge of starting a new blog this week centered around this precise theme. I was going to call it “the anti-cognitivist”, but that seems super lame now, and I was wondering — it’s a long shot if you even read this — can I steal GETTING OUT OF THE CAR for my blog title? It sums up my themes, group affiliations, and current orientation just perfectly well. It’s such a great statement in this context that I don’t want to apportion it if you think you’d have plans or just don’t want some bad weirdo writer on the internet stealing your great metaphors and diluting the Alexander Brand.

    4, if you haven’t seen it, the show Wilfred is an incredible dark-comedic take on this frame/style, except in the context of a schizophrenic/mentally ill person rather than a DMT user. If you enjoy the frame of hallucinating people arguing with imagined entities to resolve spiritual/psychological problems, Wilfred can be seen as an extended exploration of this piece (also with much more specific directives on what GETTING OUT OF THE CAR might mean).

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  65. Chris Johnson says:

    The real question I’m looking for answers to, personally, is how do you overcome the fear of GETTING BACK INTO THE CAR and potentially forgetting how you got out in the first place? Cars are still quite wonderful machines for getting places, and I would like to use my car without fear of forgetting everything and being trapped every time I need to go to the grocery store.

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  66. Anonymous says:

    Let us not forget the seance used by Romano Prodi, future PM of Italy, to determine the location where Aldo Moro, past PM, was being held captive.

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  67. voice from another place says:

    DEATH, REALITY. DEATH, REALITY. DEATH, REALITY.

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  68. DavidS says:

    This is fascinating in several ways. But I’m going to pick up something small but interesting to me.

    I love the sound of the poetic bits of this. I naturally hear them in my head when reading and they stick with me afterwards. And yet the long numbers quoted would presumably make this nigh-unreadable for someone who approached reading by hearing all the words in their heads. I wonder if some readers get thrown by the unhearable bits, or if the prevelance of text means almost everyone can turn ‘hearing’ language on and off without realising.

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    • anodognosic says:

      In the interest of exploring mind diversity: I always have to make a conscious effort to hear text in my mind as I read, and I usually don’t except in metered and rhyming poetry. When I read stories I often have no conception of how any character sounds.

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      • DavidS says:

        Yep, I’m the same. Which means I find things that DEMAND to be heard (like elements of this) very compelling, as it’s more dramatically different.

        Dunno if it’s linked, but I also find it very hard not to skim-read. I scan for sense, I don’t read each word. Unless it’s poetry, prose-poetry or very dense logical argument.

        Incidentally, it’s hard to judge how you ‘usually’ read or whatever, as paying attention can change it. I think a good sign that you don’t hear when you read is noticing when you read something out loud and there are words/names that you recognise completely but have no idea how to pronounce.

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      • onyomi says:

        I’m the opposite. I have to make an effort to “scan” text without hearing it in my head. (Hearing it all in my head is, of course, much slower, though I also end up with much better comprehension).

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    • Tangentially relevant: I read the story to my boyfriend and read out one of the numbers before I noticed how ridiculously difficult that was. So I just said ‘and then he goes to list a bunch of other numbers of similar complexity’ in my aside-voice instead. Phew.

      For the record, I suspect I privately did much the same thing when I read it quietly, except without the explanation; basically just glossed over them and replaced them with an abstraction.

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  69. Anonymous says:

    Is this about judaism?

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  70. Pingback: Links: 2005 — 5 | The Outer Hoard

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  72. Anonymous says:

    Visions! Omens! Hallucinations! Miracles! Ecstasies! Dreams! Adorations! Illuminations! Religions!

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  73. File thirteen says:

    “Get out of the car”, I thought. “Get out of the car.” And it hit me. With a Herculean effort I moved in a new direction… there was resistance, and I pushed. Something somewhere tore, there was a sense of pain and wetness, indescribable joy, loss and fear and I was FREE…

    “Gotta hand it to you boss” said the cactus person. “It worked. I thought we were going to be stuck in this dump forever.” It paused to swat a small grey bat that fluttered around them agitatedly. The bat fell to the ground, pierced with spines.

    The green bat gave a satisfied grin and they began to study their prize.

    “Do you want to drive or shall I?” asked the cactus.

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  74. Allan53 says:

    Is it just me, or does the description of seeing realities and entities beyond our own sound very similar to ‘From Beyond’ by Lovecraft?

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  75. Mr Dickson says:

    hi viewers welcome to the illuminati temple,here is the chance for you to become rich and famous if you are a artist, politician, a businessman or a banker then you are qualified to be a member and stand the chance to get a reward of owning the biggest company in the world and $8,000,000.if you are interested visit chris200098adc@gmail.com or call +2349039766081.

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  76. Abrupt says:

    This was amazing but, now I kind of want to watch “Thelma and Louise”…

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  77. suntzuanime says:

    Resisting the urge to go through and reply to every comment with “that sounds like something someone who hadn’t gotten out of the car yet would say”.

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  78. Systolic says:

    Universal love and transcendent joy aren’t very great if they haven’t already taken root in your community.

    The point of the maths question is valid. You can’t collect a community these days unless there is a very strong impetus. This would be a very strong impetus towards math-savvy individuals

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    • Rowan says:

      Actually, at least the transcendent joy part of that is pretty great regardless of the surrounding community, it’s an end in itself and under hedonic utilitarianism, the only true good. Or, well, one flavour of the only true good. Universal love probably ticks similar boxes for virtue ethicists and deontologists, although not as an end in itself because that’s not how those ethical systems work.

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  79. z says:

    Koala article
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  80. dan o'shea says:

    at the end there; you were out of the car.lol. 😉

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  81. Addict says:

    I’ve spent a lot of time out of the cae, and I enjoy being out of the car immensely. The scenery is so much better, it’s a lot less cramped, etc. But when it’s necessary to get from point A to point B, anyone who tells me to walk instead of getting back in the car is crazy.

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  82. So, people have been suggesting problems to pose the other-worldly beings instead of prime factorization, and I’d like to give my own suggestion: Prime gaps. Based on Cramer’s conjecture we could estimate that there is a prime gap starting at a prime less than 2^128 (39 digits) with length 6000-8000. I don’t think there’s any algorithm to find prime gaps that’s better than sieving and searching, which isn’t much better than brute force. So generating this number provides 128 bits of evidence in favor of having access to a great computational power, an optimal use of the amount you memorize. Moreover, finding prime gaps is a very natural problem that would surely been already considered by any civilization more advanced than us; the higher being could answer you even if they are an equivalent-of-teenager with access to the equivalent-of-Wikipedia and no great computational power of their own.

    If 39 digits is too much for you to memorize, you can always ask for smaller prime gaps. If all you want is to beat the current record ask for the largest prime gap that begins with a 19-digit prime. If that’s still too much, only memorize the first 10 digits; I think it’s feasible to brute-force the rest. However, keep in mind that no matter what approach you take, the amount of evidence you generate is strictly limited by the how much you can remember; if you can only recall 10 digits then it is impossible to provide a Bayse factor greater than 10^10.

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  83. jgw says:

    get out of the car,
    the #’s are the same

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  84. people used to flock to me n i all i wanted and usually did was throw up. but i just told tony that i was testing this new ; person strong person in his life cause im a good judge, dangit. Fight Fight even untill you bleed in the night.

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  85. Frogisis says:

    Great, great stuff. Absolutely fantastic. I’m reminded of several of my own breakthrough trips on salvia. …I miss that wonderful moment of being the universal consciousness of the Platonic mathematics that undergird all reality. I wanted to tell my friends about my realization, but they were ultimately all just dreams, but, as I told myself at the time, “in infinity there will be time for an infinity of dreams,” and I’ll see them all again—It’ll be a while, but after all, having already been here for eternity, I should be a past master of patience.

    As someone obsessed to an almost shameful degree with metaphysics, this whole article is rife with issues I think about a lot, and I think the big sticking point for us, bound to Time’s Arrow as we are, is that we don’t actually have anything close to a good ontology of subjective, phenomenological consciousness, the very thing drugs affect. From a Naturalist point of view there are a few things we can confidently hypothesize about it, but they’re fundamentally at odds with our intuitions about things like individuality and identity, and give lie to the grade-school image of a crypto-dualistic atheist “afterlife” of eternal nothingness—On this fully materialist, non-dualistic view, there is ONLY subjective life and consciousness in the same way that for chess pieces, only the board and the game exist, and the time they spend off to the side on the table once they’ve been captured simply Isn’t, in much the same way that for this very post there is no Outside of the monitor on which you’re reading it. Per Buddhism, there exist goals and memories and inclinations, and we just call a given mix of them at a given time a person, but there’s no cohesive person “token” to either die or wait to be born. For us, there is only conscious thought, in the way that for rainbows, there is only rain and sun.

    Long story short, to a being who fully understands the ontological status of phenomenological consciousness in a naturalistic, materialistic world, CHANGING something about the state of other minds, or perhaps even preferring one state over another, might be akin to saying we should remove a mountain because it’s an unsightly blemish on a mountain range. The bat and cactus’ refusal to play the empiricist’s game might be due less to their madness than to his failure to understand that to acquiesce to his utilitarian demands would be a betrayal of the causal network that gave rise to the very situations he wants to use their wisdom to correct. They won’t give in to his request to help spread universal love any more than we humans would indulge a desperate mouse’s wish that there were no owls. Truly universal love may well mean loving how reality is so rich and fecund that it births hate as well.

    This “universal love” and “transcendent joy” could easily be about exalting in the workings of reality simply *being what they are,* a kind of nirvana of the annihilation of identity and ego, where everything is joy simply because suffering and flourishing are equally authentic manifestations of the potentialities of subjective consciousness. You wouldn’t tell artists they can never use red because it’s an “aggressive” color, so why, from a zoomed-out-to-the-max, metaphysical point of view should you tell reality it should never be awful and cruel and unjust and full of hate and occasionally apocalyptic violence—They’re a Thing, too, after all.

    Now, as a time-bound being who has no idea what subjectivity actually is, I’m still 999999999% for reducing suffering (I am in fact a flaming liberal and making everything cool for everyone all the time is pretty much what animates me politically), but as a metaphysician I have intuitions that also suggest that’s a lot like rearranging the deck chairs on a Titanic that is for all eternity in a superposition of both sinking and arriving to a happy brass band in New York. …But here I am, rocking the whole time-bound sentient creature thing, and I’m going to play that game for all it’s worth. The bat and the cactus would tell me that driving that electric model is pretty much all I can do from the inside of this car.

    Also, somewhat unrelated: Even if you genuinely did meet a powerful, wise being from another plane of reality it doesn’t mean they’re omniscient or any better or more interested in mathematics than the average human. This would ESPECIALLY be true if they were pure creatures of… whatever ontological space qualia turn out to occupy.
    And in that vein, I had a salvia trip once where the people I met over the whole 50,000 year journey from caves to the Singularity came back to grab me as I was coming down, falling back through the ages, and told me that as hallucinatory creatures of pure qualia they couldn’t affect the real world, but as a real person it was my responsibility to communicate pretty much this—That our exploration of the statespace of imagination is exploring an ontologically *real* realm, partly just because the simulations of people we meet *are* real people because they’re just as much the result of neurological activity as I am right now. But more than that, they told me that as imaginary creatures they were the raw, unrefined “ore” of reality, and as *real* creatures—The “ribosomes” to the potentiality’s “mRNA,” it was our responsibility to choose wisely what things we imagined and pulled from their abstract statespace into our real space. …That ultimately sounds like a really sexed-up version of “herp derp don’t be an asshole” when you think about it, but my point is that it has genuine ontological implications, which is what this whole article is about. It’s only a metaphor, ultimately, but I think we can all agree that metaphors are a real, discernible feature of our world. How is it that such a thing as a metaphor can exist in a world of nothing but quantum fields? I don’t disagree that the world really is nothing but physical phenomena, but I think this is telling us that physical phenomena have still-undiscovered levels of weirdness that make quantum mechanics look like a Family Circus cartoon.

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    • Frogisis says:

      …I just got home and am on a different computer so apparently cant edit the above post, but just wanted to add:
      Do you think it makes sense to say that such creatures DO exist simply in terms of being strange attractors for the human mind? Strange attractors may be abstract, but we already know life can be made solely of abstractions, since the entity typing this right now is in fact just a network of relationships among perterbations in several quantum fields, so WE perceive those as physical, but merely because they interact with us such that it seems they push back. I can’t help but imagine another equally legitimate network of abstractions that exists orthogonal to ours, like the complex axis to the reals. …And of course this makes one imagine, like Abbott’s Mr. A. Square, yet another undiscovered world of a W-axis reaching off the page entirely…
      …The long and short of it is that our notions of “exist” are probably too primitive. We should probably leave that car, though even more enlightened beings probably wonder if they shouldn’t leave their helicopter or rocketship.

      It’s hard to believe a chemical could so radically alter the functioning of a system that *already* works via chemicals, but at the same time a mere “√” and “-” sign can rotate a mathematical object 90 degrees onto an axis that is *also* beyond our direct experience, even though our best explanations of fluid dynamics and quantum mechanics posit that imaginary numbers have a physical effect. And since a mind is already a conglomeration of abstractions…

      Final thought: While I don’t have the time or energy to read the linked post tonight, I really dig the notion of reality being an “interference pattern” of truth and beauty (and it dovetails nicely with things that have been on my mind for years), but rather than the bat and cactus being all beauty and no truth (not that there would be anything wrong with such a creature in its own world; we don’t say aquatic beings have to be amphibious…nevermind that they’re being judged beautiful by the criteria of a creature with a mind that evolved in *this* world…), if you were so advanced that you’d truly mastered both, might it not be that you’d grasp some kind of isometry between the two and perceive that to advance one on its own is as impossible as lengthening one end of a circle? Sort of like I was saying above, might there not *already* be, to such a mind, All The Beauty And Truth? And so to help a certain category of being see and thus “live differently” according to parochial, human notions of the words its using be sort of like… like… OK, so things are the way they are because they *got* that way, and merely in doing so they’re already A-OK, because the becoming of things in exactly the way they become is already, on its own, the real Greatest Story Ever Told, so to *impose* something on it, in a way outside of its own “idiom” (brains coming up with ideas and arguing with each other) would be… Hmm, It sounds like a Prime Directive kind of thing, but what I’m trying to get at is much more subtle than that…
      Like, say you’re John Muir, and a priest comes up to you and wants your advice on the best place to build a church in Yosemite, and you’re like “why do you need something as primitive as a big wooden box; just look around you, you’re already IN church.” I think the bat and the cactus could be thought of less as saying “this is how people should behave” so much as “here’s an entirely new relationship to things like ‘should.'”

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  86. demonyes says:

    i must say quite an adventure the number doesn’t exist because the number don’t represent the story it start as an answer but the question remence

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