Highlights and Shadows

Se­quence in­dex: Liv­ing Lu­mi­nous­ly
Pre­vi­ously in se­quence: The Spotlight
Next in se­quence: City of Light­s

Part of a good lu­minos­ity en­deavor is to de­cide what parts of your­self you do and don’t like.

You may find your un­der­stand­ing of this post sig­nifi­cantly im­proved if you read the fifth story from Seven Shiny Sto­ries.

As you un­cover and un­der­stand new things about your­self, you might find that you like some of them, but don’t like oth­ers. While one would hope that you’d be gen­er­ally pleased with your­self, it’s a rare ar­ro­gance or a rarer saintli­ness that would en­able un­limited ap­proval. For­tu­nately, as promised in post two, lu­minos­ity can let you de­ter­mine what you’d like to change as well as what’s already pre­sent.

But what to change?

An im­por­tant step in the lu­minos­ity pro­ject is to sort your thoughts and feel­ings not only by type, cor­re­la­tion, strength, etc, but also by en­dorse­ment. You en­dorse those thoughts that you like, find rep­re­sen­ta­tive of your fa­vorite traits, pre­fer to see car­ried into ac­tion, and wish to keep in­tact (at least for the du­ra­tion of their use­ful lives). By con­trast, you re­pu­di­ate those thoughts that you dis­like, con­sider in­dica­tive of nega­tive char­ac­ter­is­tics, want to keep in­effi­ca­cious, and de­sire to mod­ify or be rid of en­tirely.

De­cid­ing which is which might not be triv­ial. You might need to sift through sev­eral or­ders of de­sire be­fore fi­nally figur­ing out whether you want to want cake, or like lik­ing sleep, or pre­fer your prefer­ence for prefer­en­tism. A good place to start is with your macro-level goals and the­o­ret­i­cal com­mit­ments (e.g., when this prefer­ence is effi­ca­cious, does it serve your Life Pur­pose™, di­rectly or in­di­rectly? if you have firm metaeth­i­cal no­tions of right and wrong, is this ten­dency you have un­cov­ered in your­self one that im­pels you to do right things?).

As a sec­ond pass, you can work with the in­for­ma­tion you col­lected when you cor­re­lated your ABCs. How does an eval­u­ated de­sire makes you feel when satis­fied or un­satis­fied? Does it crip­ple you when un­satis­fied or im­prove your perfor­mance when satis­fied? Are you re­li­ably in a po­si­tion to satisfy it? If you can’t typ­i­cally satisfy it, would it be eas­ier to change the de­sire or to change the cir­cum­stances that pre­vent its satis­fac­tion? How­ever, this is a sec­ond step. You need to know what af­fect and be­hav­ior are prefer­able to you be­fore you can judge de­sires (and other men­tal ac­tivity) rel­a­tive to what they yield in those de­part­ments, and judg­ing af­fect and be­hav­ior is it­self an ex­er­cise in en­dorse­ment and re­pu­di­a­tion.

Know­ing what you like and don’t like about your mind is a fine thing. Once you have that in­for­ma­tion, you can put it to di­rect use im­me­di­ately—I find it use­ful to tag many of my ex­pres­sions of emo­tion with the words “en­dorsed” or “non-en­dorsed”. That way, the peo­ple around me can use that cat­e­go­riza­tion rather than hav­ing to ei­ther as­sume I ap­prove of ev­ery­thing I feel, or layer their own pro­jec­tions of en­dorse­ment on top of me. Either would be un­re­li­able and cause peo­ple to have poor mod­els of me: I have not yet man­aged to ex­cise my ev­ery un­wanted trait, and my pat­terns of en­dorse­ment do not typ­i­cally map on to the ones that the peo­ple around me have or ex­pect me to have.

Ad­di­tion­ally, once you know what you like and don’t like about your mind, you can be­gin to make progress in in­creas­ing the ra­tio of liked to un­liked char­ac­ter­is­tics. Peo­ple of­ten make hap­haz­ard lurches to­wards try­ing to be “bet­ter peo­ple”, but when “bet­ter” means “lines up more closely with vaguely defined com­mon­sense in­tu­itions about moral­ity”, this is not the sort of goal we’re at all good at pur­su­ing. Spe­cific pro­jects like be­ing gen­er­ous or more mind­ful are a step closer, but the great­est marginal benefit in self-re­vi­sion comes of figur­ing out what comes in ad­vance of be­hav­ing in a non-en­dorsed way and head­ing it off at the pass. (More on this in “Lamp­shad­ing”.) The odds are low that your brain’s pat­terns al­ign closely with con­ven­tional virtues well enough for them to be use­ful tar­gets. It’s a bet­ter plan to iden­tify what’s already pre­sent, then en­dorse or re­pu­di­ate these pre-sliced thoughts and work on them as they ap­pear in­stead of sweep­ing to­gether an un­nat­u­ral cat­e­gory.