The Second Circle

Link post

Previously: The First Circle

Epistemic Status: One additional level down

The second Circle was at Solarium in New York City. Jacob, of the New York rationalist group, and had been getting into Circling, and decided to lead us in one to show us what it was all about.

He explained the five rules. I remember the gist – to use ‘I’ statements, talk about physical sensations in detail, to listen to other people for real, and so on – but not the exact wording he used. I do remember (mostly) the wording of rule five. Rule five was memorable. It was:

5. Everything is about furthering connection. If it would further connection, do it. If not, don’t do it.

The final rule. We’re here to win, damn it. Winning here means connection. So we give you guidelines, but don’t be a slave to them. Once you’ve faked it until you’ve made it, when the situation calls for it, throw the rules out the window.

There are two kinds of rule sets. Those that contain the final rule, and those that don’t. Games and not games.

It is very bad to include that rule where it does not belong. And also very bad to not include it, where it does belong.

We get about twenty people. Good turnout. Circle begins. Everyone is quiet.

The topic of the meetup is… circling. Circling, it seems, is about circling. We’re explicitly supposed not to talk about anything. Or try to accomplish anything, other than connect.

The art must have an end other than itself or it collapses into infinite recursion.

The infinite part takes a while. First you just go meta.

Go meta? Don’t mind if we do! Rationalists love meta.

Here we all sensed we weren’t supposed to go meta. But that meant our object level thoughts were meta thoughts. No way out.

So what talking there was, kept to the rules, but went meta.

We expressed our worry that we weren’t supposed to go meta. Which meant we had gone meta-meta. Which was even worse!

Quick! Don’t think about that!

If you are pondering what I am pondering, and I am pondering what you’re pondering, then this mutual pondering of pondering is our common experience. It builds connection!

So for a while, it felt super awkward, but also felt like it was kind of… working?

Then disaster struck – Jacob worried that disaster had struck. And felt he had to Do Something. Treat the situation as bad.

Which made it bad. From there, all downhill. Nothing disastrous, but less connection, more awkward, no road to recovery.

I asked myself, what made this night different from the previous night?

Several strong suspects.

Tonight, we were told we’d have a facilitator to teach us Circling, rather than simply Circling in media res and getting corrected as needed.

This meant we worried that we needed a facilitator, and we (and the first time facilitator) worried that he would facilitate wrong. So we were thinking about the possibility of failure, treating the enterprise as something that could go wrong, rather than something with various possible outcomes. And we were looking to someone else to make the night succeed.

Tonight, we’d had a lot more people; about twenty versus three or four. Good intimate conversations tend not to happen in twenties.

Tonight, we’d had a circle about circling. Previously, we’d had a circle about something quite important. An object level to work with, and build upon, to prevent the meta cycle. So tonight felt not real, like a game. Previously was not a game.

If I had a hammer, I wouldn’t hammer in the morning, in the evening or all over this land. Occasionally, I’d hammer something. And learn how. Different in kind from ‘time to find things to hammer’ or ‘lets all see what it’s like to hammer things.’