Narrative and Metaverse
Part 3: The Luther Protocol
Our story so far …
The metaverse is real. It is an invisible, yet physically instantiated world of quadrillions of clustered human neurons alive in an electric ocean of neurochemicals, networked across billions of human brains through shared linguistic structures. These linguistic structures are the grammars of narrative. Like a microbe, these narrative grammars are profoundly alien to our conception of life, but a biological conception of narratives and a physical conception of their environment – the metaverse – is as important as a biological conception of viruses and bacteria.
Why? Because also like viruses and bacteria, these narrative grammars can be altered at a fundamental level through gain-of-function technologies. They can be weaponized. Big Tech, Big Media and Big Politics have made a conscious effort to weaponize these narrative organisms by inserting specific linguistic triggers that in turn shape the physical clustering of human neurons in ways that serve their interests. Big Tech/Media/Politics are changing the way we think.
Today we begin the battle to reclaim our humanity and our autonomy of mind.
A gentile came before two teachers, Shammai the strict and Hillel the tolerant, and to each in turn said, “I will convert to Judaism if you can teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.”
Shammai chased him away.
But Hillel said to the gentile, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary. Now go and learn it.”
The Golden Rule is one of the Oldest Stories. It is certainly the Best Story. It is written in ancient Egyptian fables, preserved in papyri from the Middle Kingdom. It is written in the Sanskrit epic “Mahabarata”, as the way in which dharma manifests itself in human affairs. It is written in the Greek texts of Thales and Pythagoras. It is written in the Persian texts of Zoroaster. It is written in the Sermon on the Mount.
We're going to write it again.
The rest is commentary.
The Three Theorems of Psychohistorical Quantitivity:
1) The population under scrutiny is oblivious to the existence of the science of Psychohistory.
2) The time periods dealt with are in the region of 3 generations.
3) The population must be in the billions for a statistical probability to have a psychohistorical validity.
We are all susceptible to the pull of viral ideas.
Like mass hysteria. Or a tune that gets into your head that you keep humming all day until you spread it to someone else.
Jokes. Urban legends. Crackpot religions. Marxism.
These two quotes are at the core of my thinking about narrative and metaverse, and how we can write the Old Stories and sing the Old Songs again.
- From Isaac Asimov, there is a knowable, scientific structure to how unstructured data shapes the behavior of humanity, and that knowledge can be used for good or for evil.
- From Neal Stephenson, language is literally a virus, and the technology of digital networks can and will be used for the intentional pandemic spread of gene-spliced linguistic structures.
As importantly, though, these two books are at the core of my thinking about narrative and the metaverse, and how we can write the Old Stories and sing the Old Songs again. I was 16 when I read the Foundation Trilogy, 28 when I read Snow Crash. They're books that I read at just the right time in my life, books that have informed and influenced everything that came after them. Books that left a scar.
We've all had that experience, right? Books that we read at just the right time? And books that we didn't. We've all that experience of telling a close friend that they must read one of those special books, and they do, and ... ehh. Vice versa, too. Honestly, I've started Godel, Escher, Bach half a dozen times because friends have said that it's so great, and I've never been able to get into it. And for the love of god please don't talk to me about Ayn Rand.
So why is THAT? Why would a book need just the right timing to hit us so hard, to change the way we think for the rest of our life, and if it misses that timing, then ... ehh. And why do we all read these life-changing books in our teens and 20s?
I think that the key line here is “The Old Stories have been inside of us all along!” And I’d say that the key word is “inside.” For the past 300 - 400 years we’ve been on an “all outside no inside” trajectory. “Inside” is relegated to the subjective and only what is “outside” and measurable can be regarded as the truth. If the Old Stores are indeed “inside us” - and I do believe that they are - then that means that there is an objective truth inside of us that will never be verifiable via our standard “truth metrics” of today.
Sure the Old Stories can be typed out and turned into digital bits - but the “inside” part of the Old Stories can never be digitized. The “inside” isn’t physical. It’s meta-physical.
An old story:
Abba Anthony said, “I saw the snares that the enemy spreads out over the world and I said groaning, “What can get through from such snares?” Then I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Humility.’”
Thank you for the effort invested into “the fight”, and into the creation of the ET community.
As for the problem:
I commend you in your laying out of the metaverse concept across this trilogy. It’s bold in its erudition, and brave in the occasional lack of. The passion is contagious. I read it sequentially after listening to a few thinkers approach the metaverse from slightly different angles and can recommend this podcast as a supplement to this discussion, which I expect to be rich.
As for the solution:
I don’t see it. Old stories are artifacts of the past. The metaverse is not the past, it is the future. I think that new stories are required to meet the novel crises, versus cherry-picking/close-reading the sexier outtakes from the old. I’m not suggesting turning our backs on the the classics, or history, or philosophy. I am suggesting that we need new answers, and that the old will not shield us unless we choose (or are handed) a wholesale de-evolution as a path forward.
To pick on a specific example:
You laud the Golden Rule. What makes the golden rule so goddamn golden in our society? I view it as a developmentally infantile and self-centered approach to understanding interpersonal relationships. “Do unto others as you would others do unto you.” This requires giving absolutely no thought, modeling, or sensitivity to the mental states and motivations of others and yet it’s often used as a paragon for interpersonal behavior. I’m not suggesting that we need to be respectful of everybody’s “personal truth”. But the Golden Rule just turns us into morons by excising the context of others.
On the one hand, something like “try to understand Jimmy’s mind-set” seems like low-hanging fruit. On the other hand, I’m not sure that 95%+ of the population has ever been given any tools “to understand Jimmy’s mindset”.
In today’s world (and in worlds past), there seems to be very little formal development on how to understand oneself, others, and the world. Meanwhile, informal development is provided by family (with a huge variance in amount and quality) and society (which today means navigating hundreds/thousands of competing narratives). As such, there may be quite a few people still at very early stages of development when it comes to things like emotional intelligence. So yeah, the old story of the “Golden Rule” is certainly an upgrade on barbaric egotism. But it’s still egotism nonetheless.
Perhaps there was a pre-metaverse time and place were humans were better en masse. I am certain that there were times when we were, at the very least, quite different. SA’s brilliant review of Julian Jaynes’ The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind points to an example.
Personally, I’m hungry for solutions (even at the most micro level), but I want fresh, not old. Maybe it’s just a matter of packaging, or marketing.
So, for now, I’ll skip the bible study. I’ll read Dostoyevsky and listen to Very Bad Wizards on my time off. But when it comes to getting my hands dirty, I’d like to do it in service of some new form of genius.
That’s a shame, because you’re missing out on some universal truths that are quite valuable, even to nonbelievers.
“Unless you people see signs and wonders” Jesus said “you will never believe.”
Chapter Four of John deals with Jesus and the Samaritans, then his return to Galilee. The stark contrast between the two is illustrative of the notions of human greed and the desire for instant gratification vs delaying something in order to get a much greater reward after time and faith to a cause. Sorry, I’ll end the Bible study at that.
We’re seeing this happen somewhat in regards to Ukraine I feel. They are tapping into the old song of “Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Happiness” that rings for so many.
The old songs are old for a reason. They have lasted for millennia for a reason.
Finding ways to remember and implement them in our lives is “Make, Protect, Teach” in my mind.
I deeply appreciate your efforts to think about and articulate possible paths forward. Over time I have been trying to think through the structure of your thinking/approach.
For a long time ET analysis/proposals struck me as being structured along the lines of setting up a new political movement. The Pack. Not in any sense copying the exact approaches of traditional political parties but responding to a world where the forces tearing apart society were (well) organized along those lines. It made intuitive sense that efforts to resist/overcome those forces would require some serious level of organization, even if you were careful not to allow those forces to completely dictate the playing field and the rules of engagement. As you said here your “original idea for how to save the world was to use the tools of the Snake to beat them at their own game….a secret priesthood of psycho-historians, properly armed with the knowledge of a Narrative Machine, could set the world straight by nudging humanity onto a better path.” Whether you could literally beat them at their own game,
You now seem to think that a quasi-political approach can’t work. “[B]efore long the project would be corrupted, maybe by me, maybe by someone else. Not intentionally, I’m sure, but eventually, for sure.” Despite all of ET’s efforts the narrative devices the governmental/oligarchical forces are using are too powerful.
You now seem to have pivoted to a quasi-religious approach. Go back to eternal truths. But your discussion seems to openly concede that all of the wise men/prophets you’ve evoked as models have been subverted/drowned out just as readily as the people who tried to fight on political/secular grounds.
I was originally raised Roman Catholic so am acutely aware of how powerful forces can corrupt a faith based on eternal truths and that sincere belief in those truths can survive among a subset of followers despite the larger corruption. My recollection is that you and Rusty were raise as evangelical Protestants, and so the central notions that individuals should pursue faith and truth independently and should reject the notion that a powerful bureaucratic organization can control that “truth” makes plenty of sense. But as I think you fully understand (your podcast #5 about factions with evangelicalism was awesome) this “individual focus on eternal truths” is every bit as subject to subversion and corruption as any other.
Absolutely respect that any given approach can work well for some individuals. But ET has been raising issues that go far beyond individual behavior or what isolated individuals could possibly address. I hope you will explain at greater length while this “individual focus on eternal truths” approach won’t get beaten back on the larger political/corporate playing field as readily as your original approach.
Bravo, Ben, this was profound to me. I’m looking forward to more details, and seeing the work of the narrative research center and related projects.
Proud to be a member of the pack!
Thank you, Tanya! Wonderful to be in YOUR pack.
Interesting tidbit on this. A broad set of observations have shown a decline in human brain sizes in recent times; seems to be linked to changes in social structures, with some suggesting the cause is increased reliance on group cognition.
This would be an outstanding time to brush up on your Ecclesiastes…
Part 3 is more than I expected. It speaks to me in a kind loving way. Thank you.
My life has gone full circle from an infantile clean slate to a senior clogged brain.
At my age I’m losing some of my short term memory (why did I walk into this room?), but re-enabling my long term memory to go back to my early neural networks. I’m finding a sense of that remaining infintile kernal, with the realization that I can now edit its code by booting up again from the default. Just my operating system, of course.
When I do that I get the feeling there is no seperation between the I in me and the thy in thee in a very secular way. I find my journey happier and funnier.
Lots of stuff going on with Epsilon Theroy, some of it related to finance.
“And for the love of god please don’t talk to me about Ayn Rand.”
Excellent essay. Hilarious line about Rand.
Actually her work didn’t come to mind. Saint Exupery’s Little Prince did. For those who don’t wish to conform, who don’t wish to embrace the narratives, but instead see a sheep in a box, popular language becomes something of a desert I’ve crashed landed in…
I share this rather dark quote from an author who wrote and illustrated a wonderful book about…well, a lot of things. I don’t agree there is no gardener for men, but I can appreciate why Saint Exupery might see things as he did in the time he wrote this.
I sat down [facing a sleeping] couple. Between the man and the woman a child had hollowed himself out a place and fallen asleep. He turned in his slumber, and in the dim lamplight I saw his face. What an adorable face! A golden fruit had been born of these two peasants… This is a musician’s face, I told myself. This is the child Mozart. This is a life full of beautiful promise. Little princes in legends are not different from this. Protected, sheltered, cultivated, what could not this child become? When by mutation a new rose is born in a garden, all gardeners rejoice. They isolate the rose, tend it, foster it. But there is no gardener for men. This little Mozart will be shaped like the rest by the common stamping machine… This little Mozart is condemned.
— A Sense of Life: En Route to the U.S.S.R.
Returning to old songs resonates Ben! We aren’t completely rewired yet - if we can find the original paths, maybe “deep calls to deep” in each other?
I think this is absolutely right.
Nailed it!! I have to admit to getting emotional as I got deeper into the text. The pause between Part 2 and Part 3 was a great decision. And, for those that think it missed the mark in some major or minor way, step back. We are not Siskel & Ebert deciding whether 12 Angry Men or Schindler’s List should be in their top 10 all-time movies. As Ben likes to say, “there is a lot to unpack here!” Take in the big picture. Ben has laid the foundation, and with the diverse, creative minds he and Rusty have assembled we have a vibrant Pack to suss out the finer details. This is a major advance in the progress of our journey.
Many old stories involve being in some way devoured or reaching a place or lifestyle of constant happiness.
Fear and desire are, in them, abstractly discussed for the reader, listener, viewer’s imagination to take a developmental voyage aboard a most magical vessel, their own thoughts.
To critically examine how a particular one of the legends of our species has morphed in its telling, reveals a story in itself, of the development or perhaps devolvement of the mind, certainly its greater distance from the natural world.
King Minos kept the ungodly offspring of his wife Pasiphae and a beautiful white bull in a labrinth, that he had Daedalus purpose build. Youths and maidens were regularly sent into what had become the Minotaur’s lair, as nutritious snacks.
The Aeneid describes the beast as more like a centaur than the modern image of a man with a bull’s head.
In antiquity, no-one would have been scared of the latter. They knew cattle were not carnivorous and do not have top front teeth capable of tearing flesh. Instead, cows have a hard palate. They would have seen the horns, without the strength in the neck, as easy to grab and defeat. . The ancients knew to be scared of a bull’s bodyweight.
In the modern version the fear comes from the beast having horns and hands.
Civilization draws our collective consciousness away from our primal fears of starvation or becoming prey to a genuine predator.
It lulls us into a feeling of security, infrequently facing the presence of actual, not made safe, mortal risk. It dulls our innate senses. The heart’s disposition becomes one of repetition, marginal personal gains, slight grievances. The spirit
that nature, in its perfection of circumstance gave to us, leaks out.
And the oldest story is our planet. Interaction with nature is essential to human well being and restorative to our minds.
Whatever nature you have access to go to it regularly! If you don’t have access - then go find some.
While you still can. I agree we are in deep kimchee but little brains you can deal with.
Thank you Ben, this is challenging me in the best ways. I am going to have to re-read this a few times, its the kind of thing that my now older brain may need to digest in pieces. I am the wrong side of 30 and I am suspicious of the Metaverse in general, but in my youth I read books like White Noise (DeLillo) and Riddley Walker (Hoban) that illustrated the “virus” of representation and its threat to our understanding of reality. Plato’s cave analogy may be a little simplistic, but how can a world of poor copies of poor copies not doom us in itself? Should we be tilting against the windmill of the metaverse?
My late brother, Richard, University Librarian at New Jersey Institute of Technology was one of the early researchers on Millenials. He told me “They’re wired differently than you and me.”
How they became “wired differently” seems to be where you are headed, Ben. I’ll send you a couple of his publications under separate cover.
The introspective self doubt reminded me of another sci-fi author: Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy, i.e. institutions and the way they evolve, which I think I have mentioned before. My experience thus far confirms Pournelle’s law, and I worry that institutions are the Snake. If true, then to avoid snakiness, an institution would have to ‘reboot’ on a regular basis.
Sticks and stones
Will break my bones
But words can truly doom us
Thanks for helping us better understand the water within which we might sink. Now - time to help others make their own PFDs.
OK Ben: I’ll bite. I know a thing or two about virology. When can I start? Details. I need details. . .
Ben’s approach to this reminds me very much of C.S. Lewis’ Abolition of Man. Lewis is basically asserting that objective truth exists outside of ourselves, is obvious to all, and therefore cannot, by definition, be proven by us. He refers to this as the Tao, because he derives this concept from natural philosphy which encompasses all objective natural truth shared by all great cultures and religions, not just “Christian” truth. He rejects subjectivism out of hand.
The idea that we all have our own personal truth is rather a recent one in human history, and THIS Lewis asserts will lead to the “abolition of man”. In this respect, the “old stories” really do present a way forward.
I’m not really interested in debating objective truth, but if we all have our own subjective truths within ourselves, there is no point in thinking much more about citizenship. Ain’t possible.
“There is no body of knowledge at the heart of good art, no accumulation of familiarity with “thousands and thousands of complicated special cases”. You don’t have to build up a fortune to make good art. You don’t have to work for decades to make good art. You don’t have to possess special knowledge to make good art. You just have to make a new neural connection, one that no one has made before.”
…I’m not so sure. I have NO training or talent in the arts but when I see exhibits of great artists what always strikes me is that they DO indeed seem to have followed a path, a training and then at some point rebelled against it (Picasso, Pollack are ones I can remember). Their innovations, their neural connections don’t just appear. They are based on studying convention, trying to get good at it and then, for whatever reason, rebelling against it.
That said, my daughter is an artist and she’ll spend hours just staring out of a window. When I ask what she’s doing she’ll say - “imagining what it’s like to live your life on a leaf like a caterpillar.”
@myandrewjohnson The debate about objective truth is the same as the preferred reference frame quandary - who is the arb. Quite right, the idea of our own personal truth is a recent one. We can have our own personal truth, but that is all it is. Anyone that thinks that there are more than personal truths is likely to point their finger at you and say " this is the truth and you should do this " No thanks and Boo!
I wish I knew more C.S. Lewis to respond adequately.
I imagine C.S. Lewis to have been much more an artist and poet than a technocrat. Assuming that he was, indeed, a great artist and a poet, then it is likely that C.S. Lewis’ abilities to see and intuit the world and people around him were highly developed. Combined with a skilled command of language, he could paint with words insights and truths that captured hearts, minds, and imaginations. Ben, perhaps, is also such an artist and a poet. For this reason, I enjoy reading his work.
While good artists and poets illuminate our surroundings, so that a path can be found, it’s up to technocrats (for a lack of a better term… maybe engineer is better) to forge a path. Finding truth in old stories is poet’s work. It can brighten up our day. It can enlighten. It can inspire.
But a great sermon should not be confused with a great solution. C.S. Lewis gave us Tao. Ken Wilber took a stab at Tao and gave us Integral Theory. And many a great philosopher tried to turn old stories (and new) into something that stands the test of time. Unfortunately, they all failed. Not entirely, of course. They succeeded at giving us great art. But they failed at giving us a solution.
How do I know that they failed? I know because their failure is why we’re grateful for this infinitesimal corner of the metaverse called Epsilon Theory, where some of us come to pick up crumbs of sanity. It’s nice, right? It’s intellectual stimulation; it’s a fragile little community (which is already beating the odds @ the metaverse). It’s like bible study, or a great class followed by office hours.
But also, I’m here in search of a solution. I am scheduled to become a father in a couple of weeks, so it’s quite an imperative for me. (When I say that I’m in search of a solution, I’m not expecting it served on a platter. I’m looking to work for it. Which is why the community is very important to me. And I do think Ben & Rusty have some good ideas in the solutions department with things like the MPT initiative.)
Aside: Please don’t jump on me for “fragile little community”. It’s not an insult. I’m not trying to diminutize it. I sincerely hope that it grows into a bigger and more resilient one. And if it’s already big and resilient, I hope it proves me wrong.
Just pointing out I do not think “beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men” is actually anywhere in the Bible. Ezekiel 25;17 of Pulp Fiction fame was mostly embellished by Tarantino. The actual text of Ezekiel 25:17 is only: “I will execute great vengeance on them with wrathful rebukes; and they will know that I am the LORD, when I inflict My vengeance on them.”
No offense at all. I was just pointing out the similarity I saw in the approach - where stories (narratives) are told about things considered to be universal truths from natural philosophy i.e. not specific to a particular culture or religion. To be honest, Lewis was more a medievalist than anything else, and a Christian apologist which to me makes his use of the concept of the “Tao” very interesting.
“this is one of the core stories of the human condition, the hero taking the MacGuffin of Power to do good, only to have it corrupt him over time. You can’t outrun a story like this, no matter how much your ego tells you that you can!”
Power was taken from the King by the colonial citizens to begin with. The King’s corruptions of power were ended. The newly empowered citizens were heirs to human nature as much as the King. The design of the new government took power and divided it among the three branches with significant rights of consent reserved to individuals. One big power of the King was replaced by an articulated distribution of power, with checks in place to rationalize power. That worked very well.
However, power as an object continued to attract the ambitious. With Big Tech/Media/Politics, we now have the actively ambitious with the ability to gather the divided power from individuals and the institutions, and to consolidate it into usable forms. The Narrative is the explanation of why this is happening and why it is necessary. You don’t have to accept the consolidation, nor the explanation, but you can no longer say so out loud, Which means saying it socially in a way that attracts attention.
There is a natural negative reaction to this. Looking to the Old Stories, there are many reasons to see moral conflicts in the new metaverse of Big Tech/Media/Politics As reassuring as the Old Stories are, the real challenge to the Narrative has to be a counter-Narrative. The counter-Narrative has the be as ambitious as the original Constitution. Big Tech/Media/Politics are today as imposing as a King. Their acquisition of power is no longer legitimate, and needs to be curtailed by a new bill of rights that protects individuals from the new tyranny of power. The agents of Big Tech/Media/Politics have not committed crimes in their power consolidation. They played by the rules as understood at the time.
But time is now out of joint. We need new rules to address new situations. We need a new morality with technical refinements.
Question about the Narrative Omni Archive for Humanity (NOAH): Adam Smith’s telling of “Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want” in The Wealth of Nations might be included in the Archive, along with Friedrich Engels telling of “Abolition of property in land and application of all rents of land to public purposes.” in The Communist Manifesto. These are two Narrative views of economic and social organization that are in conflict. They both tell stories which are arguably part of Humanity’s recognized Narrative base. As the NOAH develops, what is the effect of Narratives that conflict in meaning ?
Though there is a narrative about an opinion, narrative contained within an opinion, and opinion within a narrative, there is a distinction between opinion and narrative. This is to a degree the amount of asserted conviction without tangible, precedence based evidence.
There is also an opinion about opinion within a narrative, oh ffs
Smith was describing an existing system, Engels was telling a story about a fictional system.
Narrative is the assertion of knowledge.
Opinion is the assertion of belief.
By these definitions, there is a common narrative that becomes or has become a prevalent belief. Orwell’s war, I assure you, is peace.
It seems to me that most, if not all, members of the Pack agree that “things” have “gone wrong” in America and given our world leadership position, the trickle down has very negative global implications. Furthermore, there’s been no agreed upon way to get the Wrong genie back in the bottle except counter-communications.
If I understand it correctly, your suggestion to restore/return/reform/replace the “old Songs” with new, modern versions is to take a page from the political Left – use new, contemporary language to effect change, but expressing a return to the tried and true, right-wrong concepts of old in a new way, using new technology – NLP to discover and blockchain media to convey the old concepts in a modern, updated package.
I was taught that the ability of human individuals to recognize right behavior from wrong behavior was innate, the product of a well-developed conscience as a result of Natural Law helped along (i.e. promoted) by various religions/philosophies, which today sounds very close to the 10 Commandments or old Songs you suggest we need to rediscover inside ourselves.
I don’t disagree with the rediscovery and discussion of the old Songs but I’m skeptical that a “build it and they will come” approach can carry the day in our lifetimes (certainly not my lifetime) without a massive effort. Humans have struggled for centuries trying to express new ways to convey the moral basics and convince other humans to follow their lead. We’re no different. We just have better technology.
Neuroscience has made it clear that the mind-body connection is a two-way street at the neuron level and estimations of the staggering number of neuronal network connections in a single human brain – while theoretically finite – would keep an entire planet of AI researchers busy for the foreseeable future.
This isn’t meant to say that you shouldn’t keep pressing forward to better understand the basic science of neuromechanics of narratives, but I think that near-term solutions involve more attention to the current concentration of communications power in the hands (and minds) of a few to the detriment of the many – a task I think would be infinitely more easy to address than what you’re contemplating and might be added to your list of projects.
Just a general comment – I could very well have this wrong, but from Ben’s Narrative and Metaverse series my concept of the “old stories” and “old songs” is not something written or produced by man, it is in us and of us (sort of as @drrms said), it may very well be part of our actual DNA, a deep and abiding sense of morality (I know that’s a somewhat loaded term, but I think it fits best), that we need to return to. It’s that part of us that makes us quintessentially human. A connection that we (the royal we, as a species) seem to be losing touch with these days. But I wonder if every generation/era feels the same?
Haha! Very nice. I like it even better that it’s only in Pulp Fiction (although MLK wouldn’t have known it).
I’d like to think that Ayn Rand would have found this place stimulating and a worthy endeavor.
I can also understand you position on her place in young thought. She did write a considerable
body of work outside of the “novels” that I find common ground here with. She was once asked to
state her Philosophy on one foot. You just talked about that.
Four is her take on Capitalism which she called a “system” but I don’t like those.
Systems imply control. I’d like to think that Capitalism is the result of a free people
making choices to mutual benefit without hand-three involved. It will never be that
way, but wouldn’t be great if all the Nudge & Weaponizing was gone?
Thanks for sharing & writing Ben Hunt. I’ve learned so much.
As we age our senses become accustomed to our habits, our thinking to our realm of experiences and our skills adapt thusly. In this age of electronic domains our thoughts drift a great distance from our physical bodies. But we can lose a part of the puzzle in the process. We examine the cosmos and the abstract with an essential moving part missing. Our touch, our sense of smell, the appreciation of the beauty and the full richness of the natural world and its affect on our hearts.
There’s no conflict here. As Hemingway said, “It’s ALL true.”
You’ve written a lot of comments on this note, Anatoly, and all of them have as a common thread the complaint of this paragraph: there’s no solution here!
My sense is that you’re looking for an Answer with a capital A, a “solution” to a broken world, and you’re frustrated that you’re not finding that here, or with any other poet or philosopher.
My belief is that the policy “solution” you seek does not exist, and that anyone who offers you an Answer of this sort is either fooling you or fooling themselves.
My hope is that you will instead look for a Process with a capital P, which is absolutely found in poetry and philosophy, absolutely found in the great religions of world, and absolutely found in the Old Stories.
Know thyself. Love thy neighbor. Read. Touch the earth.
These are words of process, not of answers. That’s intentional. Because only through knowledge of process can you write your own verse in this song of humanity, this metaverse.
You would get a vigorous debate about that with a sommelier, a perfumer or a gourmet.
Your answer does bring up an interesting angle regarding the common denominator of range of learned sensory perception in relation to long term exposure or non-exposure to historically common stimuli.
Our sense of vision has been definitely winning over our sense of smell. Today the amount of brain dedicated to the visual vs. olfactory sense is stunning.
What we don’t appreciate is just how must our sense of our sense is an abstraction of what we are actually seeing. A lot of the color and patterns that we think we see in a room are “filler” that our minds have constructed so that the room makes sense.
For a very good introduction to these ideas (and more) - highly recommend: “The Mind is Flat” by Nick Chater. Changed the way I think about the way I see and feel and smell the world.
Ben, I agree with you that an Answer in the form of a policy “solution” to our broken world likely does not exist. And I think you’re close in characterizing what I’m looking for, but a bit off.
Instead of “an Answer with a capital A, a “solution” to a broken world”, I’m looking for answers (plural, some with lower case a, some with medium sized a), — solutions within our broken world.
Between the big Answer that doesn’t exist and the myriad small answers that I have chosen for my family within the confines of my home - lies the “in-between”. What’s there? Community, education, work, etc. I seek solutions to make this “in-between” as wonderful as possible for myself and my loved ones, despite the broken world. And I think this is not far from the ET’s mission sweet spot (correct me if I’m wrong).
It is my intuition that there are others here for similar reasons. And my comments on this thread were to discuss what exactly was proferred in your trilogy: an Answer, a Process, a Something Else? While I wouldn’t call your writing Straussian, it’s certainly creative enough to leave room for interpretation. That’s part of the fun, right?
In your comment, you help me see that you also agree that there’s no Answer (capital A) in the Old Stories. But I think that you and I still diverge a bit around the Old Stories. Where you see a Process, I see clues and lessons (with lowercase c’s and l’s). While they contain beauty/wisdom around the topics of community, education, work — the very things that are indeed meaningful to me — I want better. I want newer. I want to move forward. I’d like to improve on the Old Stories. I’d like to build some novel solutions.
I’m not complaining about you not giving me what I want. It’s certainly not a fair expectation. And your work is very valuable because it lights a fire — in the mind, in the heart.
In this case, my clear eyes tell me the Old Stories will not provide what I need, while my full heart wants that which they will not provide. Perhaps I missed the meaning of what you were trying to say in your text. Or maybe, I saw it as it was meant, and my impatience for forward movement reacted against what I saw as a more academic pursuit of looking backward/inward. For the record, I like and recognize the importance of looking backward/inward.
Anyway… while my goal on ET forum is to comment and engage in discussion, it is not my goal to file complaints. But if that’s the (unintended) result, or if I’m being disruptive, let me know and I’ll pipe down.
This is what I picture in my head whenever Rand comes up.
Ouch! Talk about narrative - isn’t it not shocking that the failing Oscars would have a Fight Club moment between two rich African-Americans in Tuxedos, presumably based on comedic insults to another gender and spouse. Recall that Tuxedos were the more casual costume of white elites in Tuxedo Park compared to Newport. The cheap shot aimed at Ayn Rand is undeserved even if you disagree with her point of view. And you can call me Al-Karen!
The Old Stories are about more than the narratives contained within them. They are a distillation of wisdom accrued over 50,000 to 100,000 years that our species has had to deal with the “linguistic” component of our very social species’ existence.
And these narratives ARE powerful, however you want to interpret them.
However, the means of communicating these Old Stories needs to be synched up with the current neurological state of play. Ben suggests reading (which I happen to love doing). But so much of the modern neurology is based on video and quick hits of dopamine from audio-visual stimulii. Big Media knows this. They may not know the neurology, but they don’t have to. “If it bleeds, it ledes” is the old ink-stained wretch’s motto in the (now bygone) days of physical newspapers.
What I mean is that if it ain’t on a screen these days, it’s really hard to impact the narrative. This is true of visual symbols (letters and words) we use in reading, of course, but it is true in spades of video delivery of the narratives of the nudging state and corporate systems. They do it because humans are hard-wired to respond to certain kinds of stimulii, and visual stimulation with audio overlay is the most effective narrative delivery mechanism known to date. Of course, “all” they want to do is to sell you stuff, but much of the time it’s not stuff that’s “being sold” it’s narratives that attract eyeballs so that THEN they can sell you more goods and services. Mo money! Show me the Benjamins!
Ben, you might want to use the academic research to suggest counter-narratives in a way that slips into the existing human sensory mechanisms for absorbing narrative. If you think that’s too likely to get co-opted and compromised, you’re right.
This is how Trumpian Republicans can cite Martin Luther King with a straight face. Of course, when you see the speeches, read his statements it’s obvious Martin’s spirit shines through. But politicians cite Martin Luther King in a twisted denial of racism. Democrats do this as well. Take transexual behavior. It is an outlier, an aberration way out on the far edges of the spectrum of gender identity. But if a transexual comes onto the Stephen Colbert show the audience applauds. I mean, really? Transexuals are struggling hard with their issue, and deserve tolerance, love and acceptance. But why adulation?
The only way to have the impact you (and I) want to have is to seize the narrative maching and make it sing the Old Songs writ new–with the simplest stories being the most powerful and the most embedded in the human condition. It will take money, of course, you will have to buy access. But we did this with, for example, cigarette smoking, and it can be done with love, kindness, civil engagement, and telling your best version of factual truth as examples of “Old Story” narrative messages.
However, you have to be clever, and use “modern tools” to go about this if you want to nudge people. (and Ben, I’m sorry to have to co-opted THAT term). For nudging people in a counter narrative is really what we are trying to do at scale.
Just to be clear where I’m going with this, In no particular order, a few of the more important simple truths to be cleverly slipped in the narrative maching are:
Be accepting, not merely tolerant.
…and so forth.
Thank you Ben, as always, for helping me see in new ways. I started a daily meditation practice a few years ago and I think it has helped to strengthen my neural immune system. I wouldn’t have described it that way prior to reading your note. But now I can see that clear as day.
Yes, I think that’s exactly what a meditation practice does!
And the mechanism is actually extremely interesting. One of the core ideas in meditation is observing your thoughts without getting invested - always return to the constant - your breath.
My repeated meditation stints have taught me that my “monkey mind” (an ancient term, not mine) has an infinite capacity to generate an insane amount of irrelevant thoughts. It has taught me that, like my heart and beating, my mind keeps thinking and its not a conscious process. its not in my control.
And that allows me, when I am not meditating, to step back from what I am thinking and ask myself:
“Why Am I Thinking That Right Now?”
And being able to think about your thinking that way is a very powerful narrative immunity tool.
Directly related to this, pollster Frank Lutz was interviewed today and validated your thesis. He directly traced the plunge in Biden’s approval rating to the powerful images of the US exit from Afghanistan. Biden’s low approval rating continues due primarily to consumer frustration with inflation and immigration issues. And, though his job approval has stabilized and he gets above average views for leadership on the Ukraine response, the images coming in show it far from solved or pleasant.
With respect, I do not believe that there is a “right point in one’s life” to come across a book.
In the same way that you, Ben, say that “the Old Stories are there inside us,… [we] just need to remember the words”, I think it is rather that we remember the words at pivotal moments. These pivotal moments, in my life at least, have been when I was in a bad place, either from shock or from sustained decline in a situation at work or in my personal life. For it has been during these moments when I have recognized that I am short on answers, which is another way of saying that I became self-aware, even if only vaguely, of my own inadequacies and admitted, even if it was subconsciously, that I needed help.
There is no more violent confrontation one can have with one’s own ego than at these moments when we come face to face with our vulnerabilities. It is in these moments where we either react from an unnamed internal fear and last out, or we recite our mental Litanies Against Fear and muddle through.
Self-awareness–real self-awareness–is as rare as rocking-horse crap. The commonality of our narrative landscapes, narrowed as they are by the forces seeking to feed off us, creates an all-vs-all Freshmanistan (Luke Burgis came along in my life precisely when I was maximally open to listening to him), that acts like layers of paint in old NYC apartments. They cover a multitude of sins and dirt and make it harder to remember the original walls and words. And when we’re younger, we have less paint.
Regardless, I am happy to have come across ET at a point in my life when I had enough self-awareness to remember the words.
Yes. Yes. Yes. All of this!
I just wish it hadn’t taken me so much of my life to figure it out.
“Objective” is not literally objective, nor is “subjective” literally subjective.
Great observation, JD. The shock of the new comes through neural availability, and that availability can be a factor of youth and lack of pre-wiring or a factor of wrenching loss and an un-wiring. Well said!
A quote from the Matrix that has stuck with me is when Morpheus greets Neo in the real world.
This is what the real world is without a Narrative. I often wonder that the world needs a new religion to help us digest the progress in science, in our understanding of ourselves and give us a better toolset to keep up with Big Societies and fight off The Machine.
The only meme-worthy attempt to help with the above targets would be The Matrix. It’s pop, it’s understood, it forms a Narrative.
A new foundational doctrine to guide the thinking of the masses? It’s a dangerous leap, but one that is likely coming for human civilization whether it’s in a nice productive way, or otherwise. It also seems like the risk of unintended social, sociopolitical, etc. consequences would be significant, as we see reflected in social and political volatility increasingly every day. Tectonic shifting in the foundational doctrines of the masses, guided by a broad and evolving range of competing Missionaries and Narratives…
Ben: The Pack may already have been through this, but it’s the response to a question I asked myself about recent research into the neuroscientific basis for talk therapy. And, this article seems to check all the boxes for your Vanderbilt project.
Thanks, Harry, hadn’t seen this before. Much appreciated!
I just listened to Ben’s Top Traders Unplugged podcast with Cem Karsan & Niels Kaastrup (link). It mostly covered ET 101 topics, but I think it gave me a bit of clarity on Old Stories. My more Straussian reading of the Narrative & the Metaverse Series is this:
The world is f’ed. It’s f’ed in Asimov’s Foundation kind of way. It’s always been kinda f’ed, but with new tech, it’s more f’ed than before. And there’s not much we can do against that kind of entropy.
In response to this ontology, there are two things we can do: one practical, one faith-based. The practical one is to return to our roots. What are these roots? It’s the simple things in life: love, friendship, kindness – family & community. It’s the stuff where our programming is designed to function best. The old stories.
The faith-based one is more complicated. It recognizes a broader duty in the broader society. It’s a call for a fight - on moral grounds - against the forces of societal decay. And although it is implicitly a losing battle, there are two functions of this fight: one practical and one faith-based. The practical is to protect the primary practical goal of family+community. The faith-based is akin to the Foundation’s long range mission to plant some roots for a new & better civilization that may one day rise from the ashes of the current one. The old stories tie this faith-based long-term planting of old story seeds to the practical immediate goal of planting old story seeds.
I would say that I’m 90% on board with these goals. We can argue about which old stories are the good ones, or how old is old, or if some new stories might be an upgrade on the old… but I think that those are the weeds. The bigger question is how to reach these goals. Ben says he doesn’t have an Answer, but he does have a Process.
I am assuming that these are the goals of ET, and that ET is the process.
If this is the case, how’s it doing? How do we measure its progress against these goals? This isn’t meant to be a challenge. It’s more of an MPT point. Let’s say ET scores well on the T. It’s still up to us - the members - to do the M & P, right? But what if we’re spread too thin for M & P… at least as a community? What if, as a community, we’re scoring low on M & P? Perhaps it’s because online communities have severe limitations – we cannot break bread with each other, or build histories of shared experience that are the prerequisites of old stories. Sure there are glimmers of greatness in the conversations on ET Forum. But if you took those same conversations and transported them to a big wood dinner table, with a few bottles of wine (optional), then they wouldn’t just disappear into the endless feed, but would become the fuel and foundation of friendship, love and lifelong bonds. The conversations would be Ms & Ps in themselves - at least in the old story way.
What’s the point here? Part of this post is trying to make sure that I’m picking up what’s Ben’s putting down. Part of it is processing the self-loathing of rereading old comments and thinking “why do I sound like such an asshole” and then self-comforting with “if only you were having this conversation in-person, you would come across completely differently”. And partially, it’s a call to action to define the Process in a more M & P way… and to mine this community for individuals who are interested in going beyond forum comments.
Thanks for the podcast summary; this is a very useful function. I know there is lots of good stuff I’m missing in all the talking Ben et al do, but I just don’t have enough time to hear it all, even on double speed. Much easier to read summaries like this in the middle of the night when everyone else is sleeping.
WIth full awareness of the limits of too much abstraction and also that these are both loaded words, my TL;DR of your TL;DR of these prescriptions is:
My shorthand for both on another thread was true sustainability.
What the Luther Protocol OP essay clarified for me is that “our” (ie the Second Foundation’s; as you probably know, I am really just some random dude and not affiliated) Process does not include using the methods of evil to fight evil. Ie, if we choose to use these “novel” sophistry- and Missionary- and naive-engagement-based methods of Big Tech et al to nudge people into supporting the two goals above, we have already lost, because we are no different than the things we are fighting and have thus lost all our credibility. These are the methods of The Mule, not The Second Foundation.
(Keeping in mind I haven’t read Asimov, just summaries, so maybe I’m playing that metaphor wrong? I was always more of a cheesy-fantasy kid rather than sci-fi…)
Instead of using evil to fight evil, we need to use as a basis the Old Stories, which are time-tested with known failure modes and recognition by all.
It’s analogous to how, although (1) traditional agriculture methods such as selective breeding and (2) novel GMO-based methods are both fundamentally the same biology in some sense, (1) is probably more sustainable than (2) because (1) is something we know. Taleb has written a lot about this.
Re “going beyond forum comments”, you know I’m on board. I try to live this stuff every day as best I can, at all the concentric circles of my social world. Very interested to see what other concrete suggestions we all can come up with here.
The “why do I sound like such an asshole” effect has been recognized on the Internet by somewhat self-aware people since I started reading Usenet in the 90s. I agree, would be different in meatspace, because there’s a ton more context and there is no infinite memory. Maybe our Discord server could help as a middle ground if more of us were on it more of the time, although I confess I have no time for it at present. Whatever social time I have right now is mostly used for BSing with my family or my RNs.
Just to clarify, the big tech media platforms are more like the Wizard of Oz. Once the curtain is pulled back, mere humans are revealed.
The Mule is more like Sauron. SPOILER ALERTOne of his real powers is to permanently reprogram emotional responses in others.
I think you’re saying that the methods of Big Tech cannot (at present) permanently reprogram emotional responses. I hope this is true, but I’m not sure it is true, if we take as given that “narratives are an alien lifeform” that rearrange neural structure per Part 1 of this series.
Twitter and Google News are the Big Techs with which I’m most familiar, and I agree that their effects on me personally are more like a ham-handed Wizard of Oz than the archetypal all-powerful hypnotist or sorcerer. But then, as a nerd I’ve spent probably hundreds of hours at this point studying this stuff via ET and other sources, so I see some of their tricks and I have some immunity.
The Freemium games, Snapchat, and other novelties? I’m not so sure, and I stay away from them because I don’t really want to find out. I see that they are engaging as hell to many people I know IRL. I see the amount of time and intensity of emotion that my wife spends on Marco Polo. I’ll take the tried and true types of single-player pay-once games I became addicted to as a kid when I want to scratch that itch. Smallpox vs cowpox?
European Union Digital Services Act is holding a collar and going “Here Facebook, come here Facebook. Sit. Now there’s a good dog”
This is an aside. Frank Morgan, the actor who played the Wizard lived 3 houses away from my childhood ( till 10 yrs old) home. I have a memory of a memory of a feeling of confusion / deflation when the curtain was pulled back and there was Mr. Morgan. Popped that fantasy bubble. So your statement resonates with me in a personal sense and put a smile on my face.
I am very supportive of transporting these conversations to big wood dinner tables, and eager for a live community to materialize around these ideas that we all find ourselves so drawn to.
Is there a thread dedicated to the organization of local ET meet-ups? I would be happy to organize and host in Sydney…
I think we could use the Localism thread for that if you don’t want to start a new one?
I plan to do just that to try to meet local Pack members in June when I visit my new and hopefully permanent home.
I don’t post much on the ET forums because I am generally too slow to process in any way that leads to any sort of value-added response.
That said, I have emailed Ben separately regarding this series in particular because it resonates with me and how my thinking has evolved over the years/decades (I’m 49).
I think this quote from jrs captures the essence of how I’m interpreting things very well and I really appreciate that you were able to make that analogy, jrs.
What fills me with dread is the overwhelming sense that we (modern society generally and USA in particular) have moved too far away from those “traditional agricultural methods” for too long and are now stuck with “novel GMO-based methods” for the foreseeable future.
I’m reluctant to even post this because it sounds so pathetic and self-defeating, so I’ll add this…
I am long-term optimistic (on the order of centuries) and certain that forums like this give me reason to keep fighting the good fight as best I can. I am less optimistic for our collective prospects over the remaining years of my life and those of my teenage children.
Anyway, thanks to all for contributing and especially Ben and Rusty for getting this whole thing going!
Thanks for the kind words Jed!
Not pathetic and self-defeating, just honest. Clear eyes.
Like I said in another thread, there is no cavalry that will rush in to save us and AFAICT there is no guarantee there will even always be enough jobs or resources to go around for all the humans. We all need to see and do what we can, and we can choose to do that in a positive or a negative way, no matter how bad the world gets.
By reflexivity, in the sense of Soros, positivity beats negativity every time in spurring others to see the things we’re pointing at and take action like we are to try to change them.
Not sure if that last one makes sense, but at any rate I couldn’t bring myself to end it with some obnoxiousness like “It’s For Our Children!!!1”
Thank YOU, Jed. I think that “long-term optimistic” is the mindset we all need to adopt.
Amazing. Just became a paid subscriber today. Read the Narrative and Metaverse Trilogy.
I don’t know what I just read, in a sense. It was overwhelming (in the best way!).
I’m 28 and feel like I just stumbled into a learning community who’s core values I share.
Seemed to me that there’s lots of logoi in your articles, Ben. Thanks for the work and looking forward to reading more!
Welcome to the pack, Joey.
This is a good place to start to get to know the thinking around here, which is pretty diverse and one of the best places to talk things out I’ve ever found.
See you around!
I appreciate that, rafa, thank you!
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