Category Archives: Ethics

Multipersonal perplexity


Long ago, (perhaps informed by experiences sitting in meditation?) even before I began intensive philosophical study, I adopted a psychology of “subpersonalities“. I’ve talked about it dozens of ways, but the language orbits a single conviction: our personal subjects are microcosmic societies, composed of semi-independent intuitive units.

One of the main reasons I came to this belief was noticing that subjects do not always respect the borders of the individual. Pairs of people can form a sort of personality together, and this personality can leave bits of each person behind. Sometimes this new joint-personality can threaten existing ones, leading to jealousy and estrangement.

Taking-together the idea of subpersonalities and superpersonalities (“ubermenschen” wouldn’t be a bad German synonym) leaves our ordinary personal subjects in a strange position. We both comprehend subjects that are aspects of our selves, but we also are comprehended by subjects in whom we participate.

One of my most desperate insights — which I need to find a way to say clearly and persuasively — is that we are much better at thinking about what we comprehend as objects than we are at thinking what comprehends us as subjects in which we participate, but which transcend our comprehension. I believe we need to learn this participatory mode transcendent subjective thought so we can navigate difficult interpersonal and social situations we find ourselves in, and avoid the mistake (the deepest kind of category mistake) of translating these situations (literally “that in which we are situated”) into objectively comprehensible terms that make understanding impossible. We lack the enworldment to think or respond to such situations.

A subject can be smaller than, larger than, or the same size as a personal subject.

Subjectivity is scalar.


Perplexity is another idea that has obsessed me since I underwent, navigated and overcame my own first perplexity, and experienced a deep and powerful epiphany — an epiphany about perplexities.

(To summarize: A perplexity is a subjective condition where our conceptions fail, and we cannot even conceive the problem, much less progress toward a solution. We instinctively fear and avoid perplexities, sensing them with feelings of apprehension at what resists comprehension, because perplexity is the dissolution of a subject.)

Emerging on the other side of my first overcome perplexity, I understood the positive, creative potential of perplexity. I realized (in the sense that it became real to me) that much of the worst pain and most egregious offense I’d sustained to that point in my life were, at least in part, perplexities that I had interpreted as externally inflicted — and that I had interpreted them that way because my objectivizing enworldment supported no other way of conceiving them.

This epiphany re-enworlded me in a way that I could discern when — or at least try to discern when — perplexities were contributing or amplifying distress in my life. When I later learned the word “metanoia” I recognized it as describing what happened to me. It happens to many people, and once you know it, you can feel it radiating from them. It is palpable.

This insight into the relationship between perplexity and epiphany is my philosopher’s stone, who transmutes leaden angst into golden insight.

The worst things that can happen to us can potentially be the best things that happen to us… if we have a sense of how to move about in the shadowy realms, where we say “here I don’t know my way about“.

Perplexity is the dissolution of subject — a sort of subjective death — that makes possible resolution of a new subject — a subjective rebirth: metanoia.


If we believe that subjects can be larger than an individual subjectivity (so, for instance a marriage is a subject within which each spouse’s subject subsists)…

…and we also believe that when a subject undergoes perplexity that very deep conceptions lose their effectiveness and must be reconceived if the subject is to regain living wholeness…

…why would we suppose that only an individual person can be perplexed?

I believe that multipersonal perplexities are real.

It seems improbable that I never took-together scalar subjectivity and perplexity as the dissolution of subject, and never followed the pragmatic consequences of conceiving these ideas together, but doing so feels like… an epiphany.


Just as a perplexity can grip a single personal subject, it can also grip a subject of two people, or three, or a dozen or multiple dozens. It can grip hundreds, thousands, millions, or multiple billions. Entire cultures can be perplexed.

Try to imagine a perplexed marriage; a perplexed friendship; a perplexed organization, a perplexed community; a perplexed academic subject.

(Thomas Kuhn imagined perplexed scientific communities.

Try to imagine a perplexed civilization.


I mean “to to imagine” literally. Consider pausing and concretely trying to imagine what multipersonal perplexities might be like if encountered in real life.

Try to imagine a perplexed married couple.

Try to imagine a perplexed organization.

Try to imagine a perplexed community.




If you tried to imagine these scenarios, reflect: Did you imagine being in the situation as a first-person participant, subjectively experiencing the perplexity from the inside? Or did you observe the situation from outside, as an third-person observer of other people embroiled in perplexity?

Can you evert the perspective, and imagine the same scenario, situated within it as an a first-person participant, and and situated outside it as a third-person observer?




If you can, assume with me for a moment that collective perplexities really are possible, and consider a speculative scenario:

Party A and Party B have entered a collective perplexity.

Party A is the privileged party in these scenarios, blessed by me (the inventor of these scenarios and all the assumptions governing them) with true insights into “what is really going on”. It’s an invented scenario, so there can be a true truth here, if nowhere else.

Party B sees things differently (and, again, because this is my custom-made vanity scenario) incorrectly. Party B rejects the notion of perplexity and sees what is happening according to its own worldview, which has no perplexity concept. What Party A claims is perplexity, Party B perceives as needless conflict caused largely by Party A’s iffy (or worse) beliefs and actions.

So, Party A conceives what is happening as a collective perplexity, and attempts to engage Party B in a perplexity-resolving response — a transcendent sublation.

Consider a first variant of the scenario: Faction B wants to recover the collective mode of being that existed prior to the perplexity, and “turns around” and attempts to move back to how things were before the conflict began. How does this play out?

Now, consider a second variant: Faction B decides to bring an end to the conflict through breaking free of Faction B altogether. It secedes, or splits off, forms a new denomination, or resigns, or hits unfollow, or blocks or mutes, or divorces, or cuts off contact, or whatever separation mechanism makes sense for the kind of faction A and B are. How does this play out?

Now consider a third variant: Faction B decides to fight and dominate Faction B. It makes Faction A a deal it can’t refuse. Or it tries to use the justice to force its will. Or it tries to steal an election through various kinds of deceit and treachery. It tries to weaken, dissolve or destroy some institutions and strengthen, reinforce or build others in order to dominate faction A. How does this play out?

There is a fourth variant, but I don’t want to digress.

What is the ethical obligation of Party A and Party B in each of these variants? How does each see the other’s?


I have been in deeply perplexed relationships where I was the only one who saw a perplexity, and so I could not win the cooperation required to resolve it. I could not resolve the perplexity of the relationship alone, so I had to resolve the perplexity in myself. This resolved perplexity, however, is not the shared perplexity. The shared perplexity is left unresolved, unasked and unanswered in a state of nothingness.

Over the years, I have gradually learned to avoid such perplexities, except where I sense a possibility of fruitful struggle. Most of the time, with most people, however, I keep things light and gloss over anything that might cause apprehension. I have learned to get along with most people most of the time, and that means keeping my active philosophy to myself.

I have also been in many superficially perplexed relationships, which, because they were superficial, could be collaboratively resolved. Design research has been my laboratory.

Once every decade or so, I get stuck in a situation — usually with a client with little hands-on design experience, but with much learned-about “design expertise” — who can neither cooperate nor resist the impulse to dominate the process, who makes resolution of the perplexity possible. And these leave me detaching from the shared perplexity and resolving a perplexity of my own, not the shared one.

(I feel every lost shared perplexity, whether deep or shallow, like an intellectual phantom limb. It is nothing — but nothingness feels terrible. I see no reason to pretend it doesn’t bother me, or that I can just unilaterally “forgive”, which an individual effort, without mutual reconciliation, which is a collaborative effort.)

I have also had one extremely deep shared perplexity resolve in a shared resolution.

“Orpheus. Eurydice. Hermes”

That was the deep uncanny mine of souls.
Like veins of silver ore, they silently
moved through its massive darkness. Blood welled up
among the roots, on its way to the world of men,
and in the dark it looked as hard as stone.
Nothing else was red.

There were cliffs there,
and forests made of mist. There were bridges
spanning the void, and that great gray blind lake
which hung above its distant bottom
like the sky on a rainy day above a landscape.
And through the gentle, unresisting meadows
one pale path unrolled like a strip of cotton.

Down this path they were coming.

In front, the slender man in the blue cloak —
mute, impatient, looking straight ahead.
In large, greedy, unchewed bites his walk
devoured the path; his hands hung at his sides,
tight and heavy, out of the failing folds,
no longer conscious of the delicate lyre
which had grown into his left arm, like a slip
of roses grafted onto an olive tree.
His senses felt as though they were split in two:
his sight would race ahead of him like a dog,
stop, come back, then rushing off again
would stand, impatient, at the path’s next turn, —
but his hearing, like an odor, stayed behind.
Sometimes it seemed to him as though it reached
back to the footsteps of those other two
who were to follow him, up the long path home.
But then, once more, it was just his own steps’ echo,
or the wind inside his cloak, that made the sound.
He said to himself, they had to be behind him;
said it aloud and heard it fade away.
They had to be behind him, but their steps
were ominously soft. If only he could
turn around, just once (but looking back
would ruin this entire work, so near
completion), then he could not fail to see them,
those other two, who followed him so softly:

The god of speed and distant messages,
a traveler’s hood above his shining eyes,
his slender staff held out in front of him,
and little wings fluttering at his ankles;
and on his left arm, barely touching it: she.

A woman so loved that from one lyre there came
more lament than from all lamenting women;
that a whole world of lament arose, in which
all nature reappeared: forest and valley,
road and village, field and stream and animal;
and that around this lament-world, even as
around the other earth, a sun revolved
and a silent star-filled heaven, a lament-
heaven, with its own, disfigured stars –:
So greatly was she loved.

But now she walked beside the graceful god,
her steps constricted by the trailing graveclothes,
uncertain, gentle, and without impatience.
She was deep within herself, like a woman heavy
with child, and did not see the man in front
or the path ascending steeply into life.
Deep within herself. Being dead
filled her beyond fulfillment. Like a fruit
suffused with its own mystery and sweetness,
she was filled with her vast death, which was so new,
she could not understand that it had happened.

She had come into a new virginity
and was untouchable; her sex had closed
like a young flower at nightfall, and her hands
had grown so unused to marriage that the god’s
infinitely gentle touch of guidance
hurt her, like an undesired kiss.

She was no longer that woman with blue eyes
who once had echoed through the poet’s songs,
no longer the wide couch’s scent and island,
and that man’s property no longer.

She was already loosened like long hair,
poured out like fallen rain,
shared like a limitless supply.

She was already root.

And when, abruptly,
the god put out his hand to stop her, saying,
with sorrow in his voice: He has turned around –,
she could not understand, and softly answered

Far away,
dark before the shining exit-gates,
someone or other stood, whose features were
unrecognizable. He stood and saw
how, on the strip of road among the meadows,
with a mournful look, the god of messages
silently turned to follow the small figure
already walking back along the path,
her steps constricted by the trailing graveclothes,
uncertain, gentle, and without impatience.

— Rainer Maria Rilke

Loss and honesty

Jan Zwicky:

Loss is perhaps the ultimate philosophical problem — and death, only incidentally and to the extent it is experienced as loss by those who remain alive. The great absolute architectonics of systematic thought are intended to secure the world against loss. Maturity is achieved when things are let go, left to be on their own, allowed their specificity — for when things become most fully themselves, they also become most fully losable. To abandon classical system is to accept, in the sense of comprehend, the ontological necessity of loss. The more precious a thing is, the greater becomes its power to hurt us by simply being absent. We end up ‘leaving each thing as it is’ in two senses of the word ‘leave’.

This is agonizingly true.

I have come to detest self-evasion: abandonment of our first-person post, and flying to the safety of third-person.

I reject treating our unique selves and the unique, irreplaceable, precious people and things we love as mere types or identities.

I refuse to generalize and depersonalize in order to distribute the weight of intense, focused caring out into out speculative views-from-everywhere-at-once, better known as views-from-nowhere, but which I prefer to call views-from-anywhere-but-I.


I really, really hate it when people smile down at me from the heights of their wise serenity and assure me that Jesus or the Buddha or Marx or Science or Nature or any other gnostic vendor has washed away all their pain.

As if pain were the mark of insufficient wisdom.

Here is what I want to say to say back:

“If you hurt, please don’t pretend you don’t hurt — that you’ve shed the pain you still plainly carry.

And cut the phony bravado — you are afraid to hurt.

But we are all afraid, and perhaps we ought to be afraid — not because the world is scary and fear is the most intelligent response — but because fear is the honest and decent response of anyone who still loves.

Don’t add the suffering of shame to your pain and your dread of pain. Bear it bravely and honestly.”

Honesty — most of all subjective honesty — unenforceable, voluntary, undisprovable honesty — this is what matters most to me.

Shame is the enemy of subjective honesty.

When I pick up the scent of subjective dishonesty or subjective insensitivity so out of touch with itself that no longer even knows if it is lying or not (only whether a claim is defensible or not), I can no longer do much but feel a sad distance — a distance that only polite kindness can traverse, from one me to another, through a we-less vacuum. You need people, even yourself, to be easy come, easy go.


Maybe someday some miraculous epiphany will enter my soul and remove all my pain.

But I promise, I will never, ever pretend to be there until I am actually there.

I will be proud of my subjective honesty until I find something better to be proud of.


This is a crucial passage. I love this book.

Consummated knowledge

A synthesis (syn- “together” + -tithenai “put”) is put-together piece by piece, expertly connected at each joint with logic.

The synthesis is placed before the mind, and the mind conceives it (con- “together” + -capere “take”). It is taken-together — conceived as a whole.

But the conceived whole still contains within itself the synthesis, which may be safely assumed and ignored. The whole can, in principle, be reopened, analyzed and seen to form a valid synthesis, or it can remain a closed unit — a given — represented by a concept.

In being simultaneously together-put and together-taken — both a conceived con- and synthesized sum- — the knowledge is consummated.


When a synthesis is unblessed by conception, the synthesis must remain either a certified truth claim, or a thinking process that must be consciously repeated to reaffirm the truth. The knowledge feels unnatural, mechanical and artificial in application.

Consummated knowledge feels natural and can be called second-natural.

Consummated knowledge is integrated into one’s own subjectivity, and becomes an extension of one’s own self. Consummated knowledge is faithful.

Synthesis stays external. It is a pile of objective ideas one thinks about and considers “true”. Synthetic knowledge might become engrained in habit and experienced as familiar, but it can never be seen in nature as a given,


Some rationalists are unable or unwilling to conceive a distinction between habitually-engrained and second-natural. They want to believe human nature is artificial and arbitrary. This is the mentality that assured us that our ears would learn to love serial music, that we would feel happy dwelling in cold, austere modern spaces. This is the mentality that wishes to reengineer language in order to remake our norms.

The only difference between artificiality and second-nature is time — and compulsion.

These rationalists fancy themselves more open and imaginative than those confined to the narrow convention of today’s taste. They are prophets who refuse to limit themselves to contemporary prejudices.

But what if today’s worst and most narrow prejudice is the malleability of human nature? That taste is a prejudice — but not rationalism, not unfettered imagination?


Consummation is the ideal of design. A great design is intuited on the whole, but the intuition provides insight into the design’s synthesized parts. Designers work hard keeping the system consummated so part and whole inter-illumine.

This consummation is also the ideal of philosophy. An enworldment is a conceptual-synthetic understanding of everything that permits us to feel the synthetic black-boxed truth sealed tidily inside wholes, which we could, but needn’t, open, analyze, inspect and reassemble, unless we are bothered by it, or truly curioys. Without being burdened and overwhelmed we can intuit an intelligibility of the world around us.


Or we can just break open every concept and leave the parts disassembled snd scattered. Every concept can be deconstructed, as we invariably find if we try.

The deconstructions do not necessarily destroy our faith in the concepts, but if the concepts are destructible, a deconstruction is the most effective means.

For this reason, we often deconstruct unwanted given truths with an intent to destroy. Once we have done it, we sometimes feel we have earned the right to call the former given a mere construct.

Do we, ourselves, stop seeing the given as true? Nobody can prove one way or another, so it is safe to lie if we wish.

We can also make new syntheses and put them into concept-like boxes and claim that we find these boxes intuitive.

Do we ourselves see these concept-like constructions as given truths? Nobody can prove one way or another, so it is safe to lie if we wish.

And many of us have grown so burdened with facts accepted from other experts that we no longer have any expectation of intuiting a given world. Nothing feels natural, and we congratulate ourselves on that fact. We tell ourselves and each other that we are better off relying on “System 2” artificial thinking-about as we bob about adrift in a meaningless universe. Nobody can prove one way or another, so it is safe to lie if we wish.

Nobody can prove one way or another, so we think it is safe to lie if we wish — except this unprovable dishonesty is felt with immediacy. The dishonesty pervades a personality and gives it a coloration and odor. Though this profound dishonesty cannot be formally discredited, it is not believed, even by oneself. But nobody can prove one way or another, so it is safe to lie if we wish.


Lack of intellectual conscience is a liability to philosophical and design craft.


Last week I had a fascinating conversation with work friends about the different modes of agreement that happen in team collaboration, and it made me aware that we are lacking language for some very important social phenomena.

Most of the time when we think about agreement, we think in terms of unanimity. (unus “one” + animus “mind”). For very simple and general matters, this understanding of agreement works well.

But for extremely complex technical problems (where no single person’s expertise can cover all the technical workings of the solution of a problem), or extremely deep experiential problems (where no single person’s interpretative range can cover the full range of perspectives through which the solution to a problem will be experienced), unanimity is impossible.

We have developed means to deal with technical complexity. We simply separate ends and means, and seek agreement primarily on ends. The means are handled by departments that specialize in solving specific categories of technical problem. Much of modernity was learning to cope with technical complexity through sophisticated management techniques.

We have not, however, developed adequate means for dealing with deep experiential problems, where ends themselves differ, often irreconcilably, at least if unanimity remains the goal.

Here the pursuit of unanimity is not only futile, but socially disastrous.

Why is pursuit of unanimity is socially disastrous.? Because if we are called upon to produce good solutions for a plurality so diverse that no single person’s empathy can accommodate the range, any unanimity, however smart, sophisticated or benevolent must necessarily exclude a great number of perspectives, and risk alienating them.

What is needed in such cases is a different kind of agreement, which I will call comanimity.

In this kind of agreement, each party participates as an organ of a larger mind, too large to fully comprehend. (com– “together” + animus “mind”) In comanimity, we accept that the understanding in which we participate transcends our personal comprehension, but we don’t simply relegate the unknowns to irrelevance. Rather we cultivate responsiveness to the whole, so we can participate responsibly. We become a subject who participates in sustaining a real but only partially-known super-subject.

Comanimity is lived pluralism.


An example of comanimity is close marriages between spouses who are deeply different from one another. Each learns to love not only what is known and established in the other, but also learns to love responding to what is novel and surprising in the other — and even more importantly, learning the value of accommodating shocking or disturbing differences. This is where marriages deepen. Some marriages choose peace and polite distance, and stay in the realm of unanimity, but any marriage that pursues intimacy will learn the art of comanimity or end in divorce. My prejudices that comanimity is marriage’s second, and far more crucial consummation.


I think comanimity is only possible among willing participants and that this cannot be forced.

Most people are unwilling.

And the most unwilling of all are those who belong to a unanimous group that takes its unanimity as the Truth — at least until they stop getting their way… at which time another unanimous group takes over and imposes its Truth, and becomes even more unwilling to see validity beyond its limits.

I hope we can find the desire to transcend fragmented unanimities before it leads us into a civil war. But the grim lesson I’ve leaned, reading about the English and American civil wars, leads me to believe everyone will bet on winning until everyone loses.


Anything of great importance is pristinely voluntary. We can conceive its truth or we can leave it unconceived and inconceivable. It is entirely our choice.

Even acknowledging the importance of importance is voluntary. Anyone who wishes, can see only unimportance.

We all have our reasons, and it is important to give each their own.


At first I expected every decent person to engage with me in philosophy.

Then I expected only my good friends to engage with me in philosophy.

Then I expected only my good philosophical friends to engage with me in philosophy.

I now expect only those who freely choose it to engage with me in philosophy.

Anyone who doesn’t want to is free not to.

I think I even feel this way, now.

Let’s see if it sticks.

Who goes first?

My Jewish friend sent me this text:

I’m fascinated with reconciliation. I still think the left cannot reconcile with the right… it has to come from the right. Or it won’t go anywhere, and the left’s best move is scorched earth.

My reply:

As you know, I often say “Jews go first,” When I say this, I say it with the profoundest respect: In a conflict of irreconcilable visions, it is the deeper and more mature soul who will summon the will and wisdom to initiate reconciliation. This is what made me want to be Jewish.

When thinking and envisioning ways our nation might come out of our crisis of contempt, until recently I assumed that it would be up to the Left to make the first move. This belief was founded on a sincere and chauvinistic prejudice that the Left was most qualified and capable of initiation, and that the Right was, in all innocence, unqualified and incapable.

But after repeated attempts to appeal to those I believed to be better Leftists, I have come to the dreadful realization that the Left is genuinely incapable of reflecting on and accepting its own role in this conflict.

The Left is so trapped inside its own sense of intellectual and moral superiority — and so terrified of moral responsibility — that it can no longer find the humility, faith and philosophical freedom to pursue the reestablishment of mutual respect. It thinks the worst wrong-doer is the one who must go first, accept blame, give an apology, and ask for forgiveness — and this attitude is a symptom of moral impoverishment that shows going first is out of the question.

So, sadly, yes — I agree with you: the Right must go first.

Or, at least, someone other than the Left.

Here is something I know:

Nobody will ever consent to be led by any person or group who seems to despise them, who sees them as contemptible. People seek leaders who demonstrate respect and signal good-will.

Putting ourselves under the rule of others who despise us feels existentially dangerous. And it is dangerous. At best a contemptuous ruler will administer with benevolent disrespect, imposing their own personal standards of benevolence on those who do not accept it; at worst they will tyrannize and control for their own self-gratification. But regardless of their benevolence or malevolence, they cannot be counted on to listen respectfully and respond responsibly. They will rule according to their own constricted omniscience, which to them, and them alone, seems self-evidently true and just.

Here is something else I know:

Any person or group who tolerates contempt in themselves — who is unwilling to do what it takes to overcome it — lacks the qualifications for leadership — or at least leadership in a liberal democracy. And anyone who prefers contempt — or, God forbid, cultivates contempt — must not only be barred from leadership, but must be gently constrained and prevented from harming others, however much they see themselves as heroes of history.

Any person fit to lead will do whatever it takes to overcome contempt. They will surrender their own treasured sense of intellectual and moral superiority to accomplish it. They will accept their own responsibility for whatever damage has been done — which does not mean assuming blame, but rather setting blame aside and responding where response is possible. They will willingly suffer dark nights of the soul traversing the shadowy underworld of perplexity, refusing to look back, in search of the exit at the other side, which is an entrance: an entrance into a new accommodating faith and enworldment great enough for all to share.

And this is what I know most of all:

In the pursuit of conciliation and community, metanoia is the supreme means. It promises resolutions currently inconceivable and incomprehensible, because reality is inexhaustibly surprising. We can come to conceive the inconceivable, comprehend the incomprehensible and resolve insoluble problems — if we are willing to open our hands, let our white-knuckled conceits of all-knowingness and self-righteousness slip through the fingers of our minds — so that something else, something better, something grander, can be given.

Metanoia is no end in itself. Anyone who knows its ways assumes an obligation to use it properly — and not to hedonistically abuse metanoia like a drug.

Knowing metanoia, but getting off on it, while refusing its conciliatory powers, is not only wrongheaded but wronghearted.

This wronghearted and wrongheaded wrongdoing can be overcome — but this overcoming must be desired, and that desire is hard to accept.

Since you asked…

A friend of mine has a habit of sending me emails consisting of simple, beautiful questions.

Years ago he introduced me to Christopher Alexander. When Alexander died I sent him an email, and that started a discussion of Alexander’s later work. This was the context (at least for me) of his latest question-poem:

What is value? Can it be objective?

Does it exist in everything, regardless of whether it is understood or appreciated?

Of course, I had to ruin the glorious simplicity by writing an encyclopedia of a response. The content is mostly the same stuff I am always going on and on about, but these questions inspired a different angle of expression.

But there is one new-ish move here, which might even be an insight: extending the complexity of Bergsonian time to both space (conceived in designerly contextual terms) and — best of all — to self. Just as Bergson conceived now, not as an instant-point, but as a flowing interaction of memories and anticipations, we can see the I, not as an ego-point, but as a subject-complex with flexibly mobile contours subsisting within any number of We’s. This polycentric-self idea may present an alternative to the individualist-collectivist continuum that for many seems the only conceivable possibility.

It all seemed worth posting, so here it is, in mildly edited form.

What is value? Can it be objective?

Christopher Alexander seems committed to objective value, if by objective you mean “inherent to objects” and not relative to a subject. My inclination is to see value as relational — a relation between valuer and valued. I know this is exactly the relativist conventional wisdom what Alexander is attempting to overcome — and I respect that — but I think the real goal here is aesthetic truthfulness (a species of intellectual conscience).

The trusty old Enlightenment method of logical coercion, though, is no match for the might of aesthetic bad faith. Someone who needs to lie about subjective values will become a true believer.

I think this is a religious matter, honestly. Subjective honesty is a virtue we have to cultivate in ourselves, and then we can recognize others who seem to respond to what we experience in similar ways. If discrepancies in response happen, it is more or less impossible to know if someone is subjectively dishonest, or having a strong, sincere idiosyncratic response — or has developed sensibilities beyond our own and are seeing beauty (or other subjective conceptions/perceptions) we haven’t learned to see, yet.

But if we want subjective truth, we’ll stay responsive to our own value-sense, while also looking for ways to transcend our current subjective limits (that is, we will entertain new ways of conceiving and perceiving and see what “takes”).

I think the best reason for this subjective self-transcendence is seeking more accommodating truth, supportive of community of subjective experience with others. Bigger, deeper, richer common sense.

Our We can be more than a mere aggregation of me’s and it’s (in orbit around one’s own I, even — no, especially — when we attempt to efface, factor out, or counter-balance that central I) but this requires a different good faith than the Enlightenment’s objective good faith.

The I won’t disappear. It can’t disappear because it doesn’t appear — any more than our own eyes appear in our vision. The I makes everything else appear. I manifests as a particular everything — what I’m calling enworldment.

We cannot decenter our own I no matter how we try, and when we attempt it, we only conceal its workings for ourselves and delude ourselves into universalizing our own current enworldment as the world per se. Decentering creates more monstrously self-idolizing self-centerings: misapotheosis.

What is needed now is polycentering. Let’s stop scolding our children and saying “you are not the center of the universe.” (When heard phenomenologically, this is manifest bullshit, because of fucking course every child is situated precisely at the center of the universe, and nowhere else, as every child knows!) What we should say is: “you are not the only center of the universe.”

The best alternative to egoist self-centeredness is not the self-decenteredness of altruism, but the self-polycenteredness of participation in community.


For some reason Bergson is in the air right now. Many of us are realizing or re-realizing that every instant of time is not an infinitesimal blip on a timeline, but a complex of recollections, concurrences and anticipations. And if we look around us into our environment, as designers, objects are not aggregates of infinitesimal particles, but are environed complexes of contexts, parts, wholes, ensembles. We need to grasp the fact that the I is exactly analogous, in this way, to space and time. An I subsists within a We of present people, memories of people, who I am to others, who they are to me, what I fear from them and for them, what I desire from them, and they from me — an I is a complex of freedom and response-ability. An I is not an ego-point, it is a subject-complex.

That asterisk-shaped continuum with I-Here-Now at the center does not meet at a point but, rather at a bright nebular heart streaming out into things, times, relationships — streaming out, and sometimes withdrawing back into itself to conserve itself, or to gather energy for more streaming-out, or to die as an insular speck.

Does it exist in everything, regardless of whether it is understood or appreciated?

Again, I think value can exist in everything and ideally does exist in everything, but I’m a believer in value inhering not in the subjectivity of the valuer’s valuations or in the objectivity of the valued’s value, but rather in the relationship — in the consummation of valuing. It isn’t subjective or objective — it is “interjective”.

The value is there for us, as a self-evident universal given, if we enworld ourselves in a way that invites valuing relationships. Christians call this “entering the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Truth as antierror and antifalsity

“We cannot begin with complete doubt. We must begin with all the prejudices which we actually have when we enter upon the study of philosophy. These prejudices are not to be dispelled by a maxim, for they are things which it does not occur to us can be questioned. Hence this initial skepticism will be a mere self-deception, and not real doubt…” — C. S. Peirce


For the Boomers and for Gen X, that massive heap of post-everything glopped together as postmodernism was an exotic novelty that either liberated or infuriated depending on your temperament.

For Millennials, postmodernism was simply what was taught as current thinking, combined with Kahnemaniacal cognitive scientism, to produce a confused paradox — or is it an oxymoron — that fears cognitive distortion of… what, exactly? I have yet to hear anyone address the doublethink at the root of the Millennial generational faith.

For Gen Z, postmodernism is another conventionality to ridicule. When a Gen Zer says “That’s just a construct” they say it from a minimum of two  ironies layers if not more. For them there is nothing beneath the irony, to contrast with it, and there never has been. Postmodernism is all they know. They are thoroughgoingly faith-fluid.


What we miss in the constructivist vision of truth and the deconstructionist vision of skepticism is two crucial questions.

The first is a question of practicality: Does reality cooperate with what we assert as true? We can claim all kinds of things, but our claims can be demonstrated to be wrong. They can also be demonstrated to be at least to some degree — but never conclusively — right.

The second is a question of intellectual conscience: Do we actually conceive a construction as true, and does a deconstruction cause us to conceive something as doubtful? Nobody can demonstrate sincerity of belief, disbelief or doubt, nor can they prove that a provisionally held assertion can never someday become sincerely believed. This hope is actually held by some, and for others is a ruse and a crutch.

How can discern the difference between actual and feigned belief — or sincere hope for future belief and willful delusion? Even if discernment were possible, how could we ever prove it? We cannot, so charlatans abound.

Where the first and second converge — where a truth is demonstrably true and conceived as true — this is where truth exists. It may not be a truth that satisfies a metaphysician’s fantasies, but it is a truth defined against demonstrable error and faithless falsity.


I think younger generations are barely in touch with demonstrated truth, and entirely alienated from intellectual conscience. Everything is a construct and no construct has anything to recommend it over any other, except…

Taking my own best advice

I have been making myself observe my wordless responses to other people’s beliefs, apparent core conceptions, enworldments. I may feel impatience, or irritation, or futility, or sympathetic embarrassment, or fury — or best/worst of all, profound dread! — and I’m trying to see if I can trace these back to differences in conceptive taste or habits. “Why this tradeoff?” “Why did I choose differently?” “What is at stake in this choice?” “What does it reflect about my own root preferences?”

Inwardly observant; outwardly respectful.

Pro-establishment and anti-establishment authoritarians

Groups seeking total authority cannot often directly impose their vision. They face opposition that must be weakened and dissolved. An important part of this dissolution process is making the population doubt everything that might undermine or challenge the authoritarian’s replacement order.

What is the target of this doubt? It depends on whether the authoritarian employs a pro-establishment or anti-establishment strategy.

For pro-establishment authoritarians the target is all individual judgment that might question or defy institutionally established truth.

For anti-establishment authoritarians the target is institutionally established truth that discredit truths developed around a kernel of specific individual intuitions.

The pro-establishment authoritarian will deploy institutional power to attack the legitimacy of intuition, intuitive sense of truth and personal conscience by emphasizing the unreliability and deceptiveness of individual judgment. To be certain that we are not forming wrong beliefs with cumulatively catastrophic results, we must suspend our highly-fallible individual judgment and go with the superior judgment of authorities. It might be a religious priest class combatting the influence of demons and heretics, or it might be a scientistic expert class discrediting naive “system 1” common sense notions, and replacing them with carefully-constructed counter-intuitive “system 2” truth. In both cases, the individual is made to doubt all personal conceptions of truth and instead to adopt official doctrines of elites. And yes, these doctrines feel stilted, artificial and counter-intuitive — but one is to trust them even more because they feel wrong, because intuitiveness is a symptom of seductive error and succumbing to sin, motivated reason, bourgeois values, etc. The faith of the pro-establishment authoritarian says: “adhere to this truth because it is absurd!” Trust the institutions!

The anti-establishment authoritarian, on the the other hand, confronts and defies institutional authority with claims of gnosis, of insights and practices that go deeper than reason into the heart of metaphysics. This strategy exalts individual intuition — or at least those intuitions that resonate with and reinforce the universalized intuitions of the gnostic leaders of the movement. According to the anti-establishment faith, these intuitions that have been long suppressed and persecuted by the existing Establishment, which has been corrupted or which was corrupt from the start. Institutions must be discredited top to bottom — their purpose, their truth claims, their practices — their legitimacy. This is why revolutionary right-wing movements (as opposed to right-wing conservative movements who are pro-establishment) so often combine esoteric, mystical and romantic belief systems with extreme skepticism buttressed with conspiracy theories that habituate one’s mind to automatically intuit all competing accounts as doubtful. Anti-establishment authoritarians instinctively, intuitively gravitate to whatever clears the ground for their own authority. It starts with “Question everything!”, proceeds to “we think with our blood!” or “trust your feelings!” and continues that way until some new Establishment can be founded, at which time the movement goes pro-establishment, while their formerly pro-establishment authoritarian enemies go anti-establishment.

In times like these, when the pro-establishment authoritarians and anti-establishment authoritarians change strategies en masse, when post-modern radical skeptics start demanding trust of institutions, and the God & Country types learn to despise and distrust their own national authorities — it is hard to get our bearings. Who is the oppressor, and who is the oppressed? Who has the power, and who is subjected to it? Who is conventional, and who is radical? Who is the elitist, and who is the anti-elitist? How do we distinguish righteous anger from elitist rage, righteous offense from elitist fragility, counterbalancing from gratuitous vengeful humiliation?

Who decides? How is it decided?

Generally, it takes a bloodbath to re-teach all the assorted pro- and anti-establishments omniscients the wisdom of liberal-democratic institutions.

Polycentric virtues

Until quite recently, design has been monocentric.

All the various x-centric design disciplines were named after the single protagonist of the design. User-centered. Employee-centered. Customer-centered. Citizen-centered. In search of something more general and accommodating, most designers have settled on “human-centered’.

Human-centered design centers design on the experience of a person. While “human” can, of course, mean more than one person, in actual human-centered design practice — in the methods employed — it must be admitted that human meant one human. Designers nearly always focused all attention on the segments of people who might wind up a person at the center of their design, and they did this in order to ensure that it is useful, usable and desirable for whoever that might be.

Lately something new — much newer than it seems at first glance — has emerged: polycentric design.

In polycentric design multiple protagonists are simultaneously experientially centered. Multiple storylines — each an experience some person is having — weave together, converging and looping at points where people interact with one another, separating where people experience things alone. Polycentric design concerns itself with all the storylines equally, and attempts to make every point in this complex mesh of experiences useful, usable and desirable for everyone.

This new development in design began when human-centered design principles were applied to service design.

Even as far back as the early-90s (two decades before service design became human-centered) service design considered the entire service — not only the receiving of the service, but also the delivery and the support of the service — as a single designed system. The delivery and support of the service is not secondary to receiving the service, but of equal dignity and deserving equal focus.

So, when a human-centered design approach is applied to service design, then, the humans who are centered multiply. Any point in the experience where any person experiences anything in the receiving, delivering or supporting of the service — including where people experience interacting with one another — is framed as a design problem. It is a design problem part (a service moment) embedded within a design problem whole (the service) and the success of that moment and that whole is assessed by whether everyone valued what happened and feels that they participated in a win-win.

Designers debate whether service design is a species of human-centered design or vice versa. There is truth to all sides of the debate. I think they were both decisively transformed in the process and I like calling that transformation polycentric design.


Part of the reason I like to claim that polycentric design transcends both human-centered design (one person considered in first-person) and service design (originally multiple people considered in third-person) is that polycentricity challenges so many of our basic views outside of design — ideas bound up with what I believe are rapidly-obsoleting moral attitudes.

For instance, often we try to temper the natural egocentricity of children by telling them they are not the center of the universe. But why not instead tell them “you are not the only center of the universe“?

Or social activists will speak of decentering privileged groups. Why not instead extend centering to those who have been marginalized or excluded, and polycenter all people?

And consider altruism’s reflexive exaltation of martyrdom. Good people sacrifice their interests to the interests of others. But with polycentrism the selfless refrain of “not me, but you!” can be humanely transcended with an unselfish but also unselfless response: “not any one of us, but all of us.”

When we learn to think polycentrically, much more is possible than me getting my way, or you getting yours, or each of us compromising. We can rethink situations, we can philosophize pragmatically, and find entirely new ways to conceive what we face and find solutions preferable to all than the relatively impoverished conceptions we began with.


Oh, am I being an idealistic dreamer? Am I not tough enough for the hard truths of reality? for waging war for what matters?

I will argue the opposite.

I see tough-guy refusal to compromise, and resignation to the necessity of losers to produce winners as evidence of philosophical cowardice.

I see it as bullshit macho posturing of people who cannot handle the unknowability of the unknown and the dreadful apprehension one feels confronting what exceeds us and defies our language and even our thoughts.

(I overstate my position, in order to remind us that anything can be redescribed to look brave or cowardly, or realistic or delusional.)


What does it take to do polycentricity?

In individuals, it requires rare goodwill toward I-transcending We. It requires courage in the face of incomprehensibility — an ability to feel intense anxiety and antipathy, but not to obey it. It requires faith in the inconceivable becoming conceivable — so that our blindness to what might emerge if we approach problems in I-transcending We stops being evidence of impossibility.

And sadly it requires more that one person to possess polycentric virtues. In fact, it requires everyone involved in a polycentric situation (which is all situations) to commit to these virtues.

Most of all requires us to change our relationship to apprehension. Whatever we apprehend — a That we can touch with the tip of our mind — but which we cannot comprehend as a What we can grasp — makes us feel apprehensive.

When we take apprehension at face value, and conceive either the phenomena in question, or the other person forcing these phenomena to our attention — or both at once! — as signaling an offense or threat, we cannot entertain any important possibility that stands outside our comprehension.

And outside our comprehension is precisely where polycentric possibility stands!


For quite some time I’ve been arguing that it is helpful to reconceive philosophy as a design discipline.

More recently I’ve realized it might be even more helpful to reconceive philosophy as a polycentric design discipline.

Embracing abnormality

A friend of mine sent me an online autism test and asked me what my thoughts on it were. It inspired a pretty decent email:

Here’s where my mind went: I want a test to measure organizational autism. Back in the early 00s I used to say that UX is a cure for corporate autism, until I got worried that might upset someone. But it is true! We impose rules on organizations that require a level of explicitness that cause them to become mind-blind behaviorists. These rules are important, of course, but they come with tradeoffs that we should be aware of and weigh against the benefits.

And I guess that brings me to a second thought: I think we have become too quick to diagnose difference. We live in really strange times, where we’ve forgotten that normal isn’t necessarily good and abnormal isn’t necessarily bad. When I was a kid I was into punk rock, and we thought abnormal was the greatest thing ever. I’m pretty sure a lot of what I was into was aestheticized autism, OCD, and other quirks, all of which were mined and made beautiful or at least intriguing. If you ever want to watch a touching story of redemption, watch End of the Century: The Story of the Ramones, and get ready to cry.

Everything on this Earth is tradeoffs — every room in this palace of life is furnished differently — there is no single standard of goodness. I think some of what is plotted on the autism spectrum I’d prefer to call an inflexibly quirky personality, not a disorder. And when inflexible quirks are put to work generating technical or artistic innovations, that becomes a feature of a personality, not a bug.

So, that challenges my first thought. Cure for corporate autism? Maybe some organizations ought to be aspie. Some people ought to be aspie. Therapists and designers can help individuals or organizations make tradeoffs toward empathy, where “get organized” self-help books (like Checklist Manifesto) or OE/Six Sigma consultants can help people make tradeoffs toward more autistic virtues. So that’s another thing.

I guess I want to relativize mental health and most other social norms so people aren’t so freaked out and obsessed with being called normal. I want us to get back to the Gen-X perversity of treasuring precisely our abnormalities.

Highlights from Susan’s and my weekly conversation

Every Saturday, Susan and I have a deep conversation. This week’s was short but momentus. I want to list some of the highlights.

  1. Susan asked about Vipassana (Buddhist insight meditation) and how it relates to her Jewish faith. As happens so often, she drew an explanation from me that simply did not exist until she made space for its existence through the intelligence of her questions. I advised her to think of the concentration she would develop and maintain for maybe no more than a few precious minutes out the  hundred-plus hours she’ll spend seated in meditation as Genesis 0:0 – the preconceptive divine spark that existed the moment before Genesis 1:1, before “God began creating heaven and earth,” when “the earth was void and desolate,” and “there was darkness on the face of the deep, and the spirit of God moved over the waters.” From there, she can witness regenesis.
  2. We discussed the two most common enceptions, which tend to project as metaphysical objectifications, materialism and idealism. She asked if either was more likely to be sociopathic. I don’t think they are more or less likely, but the form of sociopathy differs. Idealist sociopaths tend to become solipsistic and to believe the meaning they experience is the only one that exists or matters. Materialist sociopaths tend to become nihilistic and to believe there is no meaning, that nothing is true and anything is permitted.
  3. I finally caught the deep connection between everting objectivism and the idea of reenworldment. This is extremely unlikely to make any sense, but I’m recording it here just to mark the insight: Those intermediate conceptions where our differing understandings of the world are found are anchored at two points and suspended between them. One one end is the primary conceptions that give us our concrete experiences of reality (our primary givens), and on the other is the ultimate enception that gives us our sense of reality as a whole (our ultimate given). As long as these two points remain anchored, the intermediate conceptions that bridge primary conceptions with that enception are held firm, and are unlikely to change at any depth. Conceiving ambinity – not just having a synthetic grasp of it, but really spontaneously, immediately intuiting it – is our best opportunity for loosening and dissolving intermediate conceptions and their givens, so they can be reconceived.
  4. In ambinity, we are no longer required to subject primary conceptions to the standards of any one metaphysic. They are permitted to simply be primary. If we see something and experience it as good, that is what makes it good, and an account that justifies its goodness according to a theory of morals is not necessary.
  5. I repeated an old idea, that today seemed new: “Things are not your fault. But you are responsible. You have response-ability. That is what obligates you, not some debt on a moral balance sheet.”

Attitudes toward otherness

Susan and I worked out a schema of attitudes toward otherness:

  1. Violence – active, suppressive hostility toward otherness (“This person must be silenced by any means necessary.”)
  2. Contempt – passive, disengaged hostility toward otherness (“This person deserves to dismissed and disregarded.”)
  3. Tolerance – passive, disengaged acceptance of otherness (“Everyone has their own thing, their own opinion.”)
  4. Respect – active, engaged consideration of otherness across individuality (“This person’s opinion is relevant and deserves a response.”)
  5. Relationship – active, engaging of otherness within commonality (“I want to maintain mutual understanding with my friend.”)
  6. Love – active affirmation of inexhaustible otherness within commonality — embrace of otherness, per se (“I will never finish knowing this person, thank God.”)

Bias biases

TLDR: We are most biased in where we see bias.


We can certainly work to overcome our biases, once we notice them.

But what about our biases toward where to look for bias? We can only notice biases where we direct our attention.

And what about those intense and stubborn biases that we take for moral insights? We affirm some moral claims as really important and really moral, while dismissing others as irrelevant or immoral — and this guides the positions we take in controversies. We call it taking a stand, but, we just taking the side toward which we are more subjectively biased.

If we decide to justify our moral biases using objective arguments, the criteria we reach for are — guess what? — those toward which we are biased. But of course, we give our biases fancy objective-sounding names. We pick the most relevant, salient or reasonable criteria.

And why these criteria? Everyone agrees they are the right criteria, except those other deluded fools — against whom we are biased.

So, sorry, sahib! It’s bias all the way down, even in what we regard as bias.

The deeper you go, the less likely you’ll be to identify and counterbalance your biases, and where you are most biased, in the abysmally ignorant depths, you will refuse to counterbalance them — on principle.

The best we can do is be fully self-aware, as opposed to partially self-aware enough to pretend that our highly biased counter-biasing calculations have privileged us with moral objectivity.

Apprehension toward transcendence

To have a positive relationship with transcendence means approaching reality as something that essentially exceeds understanding. Whatever understanding we do have is unavoidably partial, and closer to zero than infinity.

Around the inside edge of our understanding, in the liminal region between comprehension and total mystery, we can touch, but not grasp truth. Toward whatever we encounter in this liminal region we feel apprehension.

For those with a positive relationship with transcendence, apprehension is conceived as part of one’s relationship with transcendence, unavoidable, meaningful and good, despite being painful.


People out of relationship with transcendence — that is, those who are alienated from what is beyond their understanding — approach reality as essentially understandable. Whatever defies understanding as not real. While gaps in knowledge are acknowledged, gaps in understanding are not understood.

The liminal region on the inside edge of understanding has no positive value, and is experienced as mere anxiety with no positive value, something to be avoided or eliminated. This anxiety can be attributed to many things, but often it is interpreted as threat or malevolence detected in objects of apprehension.


A person is a strange being, a third-person object among objects, a first-person subject to oneself, and a second-person fellow-subject to other persons.

Our subjectivity is, to an extent rarely appreciated, our relationship to all of reality, first-, second-, and third-person, and to that of reality which transcends us.

This relationship-to-everything constitutes who we are to ourselves and who we are to other subjects.

If our relationship to transcendence differs greatly from others who try (successfully or unsuccessfully) to relate to us, we ourselves can become, vis a vis the other person, part of transcendent reality, and we can become partially incomprehensible and a source of apprehension.

If the other has a positive relationship with transcendence, they are more likely to recognize this transcendence for what it is and respond accordingly, with the hope of reaching understanding, or with uncomprehending respect.

But if the other is averse to transcendence, and cannot conceive of the existence of anything beyond understanding, the response may be contemptuous or hostile.


It can be incredibly hard to discern apprehension from malevolence, and often it is a practical impossibility. This is part of the human condition. It is also difficult to communicate when one is only misunderstood, not malevolent.

Fictive Midas

I want to define and describe a human type. It is a personality frequently found in the creative classes, especially among writers, but it is also common in religious communities and ideological movements. I am calling this type the Fictive Midas.


Everything a Fictive Midas touches turns to fiction.

The Fictive Midas inhabits a memoir, an unfolding story toward which they are both intimate and dissociated — intimate because it is their own creation about themselves; dissociated because they a character in this story they are telling, while also existing in the background as the one telling it.

This dissociative intimacy pervades their lives, inner and outer.

The inner life of imagination, ideas and emotions, of course, predominates.

For them, there is nothing peculiar about it, because this is the only existence they know. But for those around them, especially people attuned to the self-transcendent reality of other people, a Fictive Midas is unnerving, and the closer they believe themselves to be with them, the more disturbing they become.

This is because, to the Fictive Midas, the outer life is important mainly as source material for their inner lives, and other people are part of the outer world. This causes them to relate to people and things with disturbing disregard, the kind of disregard authors have toward the suffering of the characters they invent.


A friend of a Fictive Midas might from time to time get the feeling that they are not actually fully real to them. Nor is the Fictive Midas really present in the relationship.

There is an alienating barrier — a membrane that separates self from self, and keeps each respective Me in strict parallel, precluding any participation in mutuality, in shared being, in any We. In relations involving a perceptive Fictive Midas, this membrane might develop increasing precision, nuance, even insight — but this is only advanced character development, not interpersonal intimacy. Whatever closeness there seems to be is only a closeness of resemblance between the Fictive Midas’s rendered character and the real person sealed outside. The membrane is impermeable.

This truth hard to conceptualize, and can cause pain and anxiety in those who mistake a Fictive Midas for a friend.

And it only gets worse once the alienating membrane is noticed. Anyone who presses against it too hard or tries to puncture it, by appealing to the Fictive Midas’s humanity will find themselves repelled and expelled as a nobody. The character and the person peel apart, and the Fictive Midas keeps the fiction and discards the person, letting the reality drop over the horizon into the outer void. The Fictive Midas is uncannily unconcerned, incurious, almost hostilely indifferent to the divergences between the person and the character. The person finally knows — feels in their soul — the fact that they do not and never did exist to this stranger.


Ruthless people are said to leave a trail of blood. Heartbreakers leave trails of tears. Fictive Midases leave trails of emptiness.

Susan says we call it “ghosting” when a person exits a relationship without resolving it and providing any closure, because we are haunted by the absence. The absence is peculiarly present, much in the way the recently deceased are with us after they die.

Those of us who experience the world pluralistically — that is, those of us who feel that their sense of truth is only part of the bigger story and who want to complete our understandings of important things with the perspectives of others — experience the void created by Fictive Midases intensely painful, an aching phantom limb that cannot be treated, because it is a nonexistence, despite being a real part of us.

Pluralists tend to seek reconciliation with others as a means to reestablishment of shared friendship, or failing that, closure, so the relationship can lie peacefully in its grave.

The Fictive Midas, however has no such need, not because they feel none of the pain we feel, but because this pain is all they know. They dwell among their fictional characters, experience their fictional satisfactions and gratification, nurse their fictional grudges, all the while starving of loneliness, isolation and unreality.

Like Midas, they hoard their treasures, and deprive themselves of all nourishment and love.

Only their pain is something that intrudes from outside themselves, oppresses them from without, despite their attempts to defend themselves against it. But no matter how much they keep the cause of their pain — other people — outside, and the source of their happiness — their truth — inside, somehow the loneliness, alienation and envy gets inside and torments them, anyway.


It is tempting, when one is written off by a Fictive Midas or written out of their story when the story undergoes a heavy edit or rewrite, to retaliate and return the treatment — to write them out or write them off — and to make up a story where we have done this successfully and no longer care about them or what they did to us.

But this is only to become infected with fiction, and to succumb to the Fictive Midas’s condition ourselves.

And if we are honest, isn’t it true that we would never have fallen into a Fictive Midas’s snare, or worse, stayed there, if we weren’t already doing some significant fictionalizing ourselves? If not, why didn’t we notice the relationship we imagined ourselves to be in was largely imaginary?

It is better to be honest with ourselves and acknowledge the voids, while maintaining hope that reconciliation or closure might actually happen someday, if they find their way out of their isolating enworldment.

Meanwhile we can be more alert, and more aware of the reality of others, and more dedicated to reality, however elusive, so we can cultivate real mutual relationships with people capable of mutuality.


I have invented the abstract type of the Fictive Midas as a therapeutic effigy — a theoretic fiction of my own — as a general phenomenon onto which I can shift the weight of loss. I’m not going to reduce any person to this type, but I will regret the fact that this type can overtake a person and obscure and their personhood. It is a regrettable syndrome, not an archetype that manifests through regrettable people.

Fictive Midas is the superset containing not only my estranged friends, but the pandemic of ideologies sweeping the world, of epic stories where fictional identities oppress other fictional identities but then rise up and stage a revolution.


I believe John Milton knew this type:

Is this the Region, this the Soil, the Clime,
Said then the lost Arch Angel, this the seat
That we must change for Heav’n, this mournful gloom
For that celestial light? Be it so, since hee
Who now is Sovran can dispose and bid
What shall be right: fardest from him is best
Whom reason hath equald, force hath made supream
Above his equals. Farewel happy Fields

Where Joy for ever dwells: Hail horrours, hail
Infernal world, and thou profoundest Hell
Receive thy new Possessor: One who brings
A mind not to be chang’d by Place or Time.
The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.
What matter where, if I be still the same,
And what I should be, all but less then hee
Whom Thunder hath made greater? Here at least
We shall be free; th’ Almighty hath not built

Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:
Here we may reign secure, and in my choyce
To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav’n.

Nonlinear Golden Rule

If we imagine the Golden Rule not as a flat, linear formula, but a generative iterative process which produces multiple depths or meta-layers of itself — GR1, GR2, GR3, etc. — I find that it trends toward an asymptotic point, GRx, but a point of generality and universality, so general it is practically void, so universal it is boundless. It is nothing more than “Treat real beings as real”. Real, as opposed to what? As opposed to mere extensions of one’s own being.

The formula of the Golden Rule is do to others as you would have done to you. (I think everything that follows also applies to the Silver Rule variant, “do not do to others what you do not want done to you,” but I can’t/won’t math, and that extends to formal logic.)

The first iteration, GR1, has us concretely treat others as we concretely wish to be treated, in accordance with our own personal preferences. But it is immediately obvious that this amounts to an imposition of one person’s taste upon another, and we would not want that done to us, so we must iterate again, this time more responsively to the other, as we would wish if the other were us, as GR requires.

The second iteration, GR2, has us do to the other according to their own preference.

But, now, perhaps the context is not fitting for the action at all, however much it would be preferred were the context right. Or perhaps another action is needed at this time, in this context.

So, GR3 indicates asking what this person prefers at this time in this context.

But does the person even want our involvement in this situation…? How should we even find out? Some might appreciate being noticed and want to be asked, others might want to be noticed but resent needing to be asked, others might hate even being noticed. We must respond the best we can.

Notice, in this GR series, the trajectory moves away from us treating the other as a duplicate of our own self, and involves more and more understanding and responding to them as real and different from ourselves. But what precisely, does this entail? What is the output of the application?

I would argue that here we apply one of my favorite insights from Richard Rorty, that sometimes progress is best viewed as movement away from something undesirable, rather than movement toward some known, desirable, pre-defined destination. The Golden Rule cannot give us any pat readout of an answer regarding what to do, but it can direct us away from what not to do (GR0 or GR1) and set us on a trajectory that to me seems unattainably, but absolutely good, non-relativistically in principle, but thoroughly relativistically in practice.

Good means trying with all our heart, soul and strength to approach GRx in our dealings with all beings in our complex, entangled lives — a universal, boundless, empty — but all-consuming, endless task.


I’ll also point out that if the Golden Rule is a nonlinear process, it should be expected to share characteristics of other nonlinear processes, most importantly, sensitivity to initial conditions (aka “the butterfly effect”), which entail radical unpredictability of outcome by means of linear formulae. The peculiar thing about the Mandelbrot Set is that each infinitely divisible point in the complex plane produces unique but similar and orderly behaviors, even points separated by an infinitely infinitesimal degree.

The Click

Myriad ways to experience the world are possible, and these ways of seeing the world correspond with particular orderings of intuitive activity.


Can you perceive this dancer to be spinning clockwise and then to be spinning counter-clockwise? Can you feel what kind of effort you are making? There may be inner-chatter associated with your effort, but if you pay close attention you’ll notice that the chatter is neither the effort itself, nor is it able to capture the effort in words. Something beyond language is happening.


When we look at an optical illusion and we perceive it first one way, then another — what is going on there? This in not a primarily a linguistic phenomenon. There is an inner click, and our perception changes from one stable state to another.

When we read a text and we derive one meaning from it, but then later, another — is this really that different from the various gestalt modes of an optical illusion? And is the intellectual click that happens across the different readings really a linguistic phenomenon?

I would argue that both of these cases manifest a tacit shift in our intuitive order, which we experience most obviously as a change in experience of an intentional object (a visual field or a text) — but which also for the duration of the experience changes how it is to exist.

Like optical illusions, like texts with layered meanings, minds are multistable. And the various stabilities perceived or understood “out there” are actually the various stabilities “in here” doing the perceiving or conceiving in a particular mode of inner intuitive collaboration. This is what is at stake in all interpretation. We ourselves change in understanding. (A religious person might prefer saying it in different language: Our souls are transfigured by faith.)

Of course, we can also lose order. We can be of two minds on some matter, or we may be conflicted, confused or perplexed. These less-ordered or chaotic states also affect how it is to exist.

Confusion about what is going on in the world makes us feel confused in our own being. It is no accident that we say “I am confused” when we are unable to make sense of something.


To get our intuitive mess back in order when we say “I am confused” or to break an intuitive order that says “I am miserable” or “The world is a vale of misery” we cannot just operate directly on our intuitions. Intuitions just aren’t of a nature where we can manipulate them like objects. (((Intuitions are subjects, each a sand-sized jewel in Indra’s Net, each a divine spark that beyonds All in its own partial way.)))

I would also argue that operating directly on the conclusions our intuitive orders produces willful delusions. We cannot just decide that “I am clear” or “I am happy” or “The world is a vale of happiness” and spontaneously see things that way, any more than we can look at an optical illusion and just assert that we see it as the gestalt we haven’t gotten to click yet.

We must approach our intuitive orders indirectly, through various intentional objects, and do intuitive experiments, trying to entertain it in a multiplicity of ways, until a gestalt shift occurs that changes what we experience on the whole and in part. I call these gestalts synesis.

When the click happens and we truly understand a situation differently, experience it differently, reach different conclusions and find ourselves feeling and responding differently — this is metanoia.

Metanoia is often translated as repentance, which is not altogether wrong, but it misses the spirit of the change. It is not about penitential emotions that motivate us to do better. It is about re-understanding things in such a way that makes the non-desirability of our old way clear, and causes a new way of understanding, behaving and existing to emerge that is experienced as preferable to the earlier way.


When we try to change our lives, what we believe, how we behave, without making our intuitions click into a new order, we will speak and act in a way that is artificial. We must constantly micromanage ourselves, police ourselves, remain vigilant of ourselves. We must consciously “do the work” of enforcing the desired cognitions, conduct and speech, or our unconscious selves will horrify and shame us with its unwanted outputs.

If we change our lives through metanoia, the change is obviously different from what seemed natural to us before, but this new existence is second-natural. We spontaneously, intuitively (literally), effortlessly have a new and preferable outlook on things, and our souls somehow, mysteriously, feel better.

This year's winning illusion presents a simple shape rotating around a horizontal and vertical axis at the same time