Living Luminously

The following posts may be useful background material: Sorting Out Sticky Brains; Mental Crystallography; Generalizing From One Example

I took the word “luminosity” from “Knowledge and its Limits” by Timothy Williamson, although I’m using it in a different sense than he did. (He referred to “being in a position to know” rather than actually knowing, and in his definition, he doesn’t quite restrict himself to mental states and events.) The original ordinary-language sense of “luminous” means “emitting light, especially self-generated light; easily comprehended; clear”, which should put the titles into context.

Luminosity, as I’ll use the term, is self-awareness. A luminous mental state is one that you have and know that you have. It could be an emotion, a belief or alief, a disposition, a quale, a memory—anything that might happen or be stored in your brain. What’s going on in your head? What you come up with when you ponder that question—assuming, nontrivially, that you are accurate—is what’s luminous to you. Perhaps surprisingly, it’s hard for a lot of people to tell. Even if they can identify the occurrence of individual mental events, they have tremendous difficulty modeling their cognition over time, explaining why it unfolds as it does, or observing ways in which it’s changed. With sufficient luminosity, you can inspect your own experiences, opinions, and stored thoughts. You can watch them interact, and discern patterns in how they do that. This lets you predict what you’ll think—and in turn, what you’ll do—in the future under various possible circumstances.

I’ve made it a project to increase my luminosity as much as possible over the past several years. While I am not (yet) perfectly luminous, I have already realized considerable improvements in such subsidiary skills like managing my mood, hacking into some of the systems that cause akrasia and other non-endorsed behavior, and simply being less confused about why I do and feel the things I do and feel. I have some reason to believe that I am substantially more luminous than average, because I can ask people what seem to me to be perfectly easy questions about what they’re thinking and find them unable to answer. Meanwhile, I’m not trusting my mere impression that I’m generally right when I come to conclusions about myself. My models of myself, after I stop tweaking and toying with them and decide they’re probably about right, are borne out a majority of the time by my ongoing behavior. Typically, they’ll also match what other people conclude about me, at least on some level.

In this sequence, I hope to share some of the techniques for improving luminosity that I’ve used. I’m optimistic that at least some of them will be useful to at least some people. However, I may be a walking, talking “results not typical”. My prior attempts at improving luminosity in others consist of me asking individually-designed questions in real time, and that’s gone fairly well; it remains to be seen if I can distill the basic idea into a format that’s generally accessible.

I’ve divided up the sequence into eight posts, not including this one, which serves as introduction and index. (I’ll update the titles in the list below with links as each post goes up.)

  • You Are Likely To Be Eaten By A Grue. Why do you want to be luminous? What good does it do, and how does it do it?

  • Let There Be Light. How do you get your priors when you start to model yourself, when your existing models are probably full of biases?

  • The ABC’s of Luminosity. The most fundamental step in learning to be luminous is correlating your affect, behavior, and circumstance.

  • Lights, Camera, Action! Luminosity won’t happen by itself—you need to practice, and watch out for key mental items.

  • The Spotlight. Don’t keep your introspection interior. Thoughts are slippery. Label and organize whatever you find in your mind.

  • Highlights and Shadows. As you uncover and understand new things about yourself, it’s useful to endorse and repudiate your sub-components, and then encourage or interrupt them, respectively.

  • City of Lights. It’s a handy trick to represent yourself as multiple agents when dealing with tensions in yourself.

  • Lampshading. When you have models, test them—but rig your experiments!

  • Bonus posts!

    • Ureshiku Naritai: A story of how I used luminosity to raise my happiness set point.

    • On Enjoying Disagreeable Company: a luminosity-driven model of how to like people on purpose.

    • Seven Shiny Stories: concrete fictional descriptions of luminosity techniques from this sequence in action. (NOTE: Several people remark that SSS dramatically improved their understanding of the sequence. It may be indicated to read each Shiny Story concurrently with its associated post. The Shiny Stories each open with links to the relevant segment, and commenter apophenia has cleverly crossposted the stories under the top posts.)

I have already written all of the posts in this sequence, although I may make edits to later ones in response to feedback on earlier ones, and it’s not impossible that someone will ask me something that seems to indicate I should write an additional post. I will dole them out at a pace that responds to community feedback.