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.