Engineering vs. Valence

Despite often being maligned, the contemporary “spiritual” worldview has some things going for it. I emphasizes love, compassion, and gratitude, which are probably close to the most important thing to focus on for individual and community eudaimonia. (Though emphatically not for safely or sanely steering civilization.). New-agey types, despite their woo, do have a number of very effective tools, frameworks, and insights, like NVC, Focusing, and circling. The metaphysics is very confused, but metaphysics is really hard to get right (and if anything like panpsychism is true (which my inside view currently puts a lot more mass on than most of my peers), then they will turn out to have been not that far of the mark).

But, I suggest that the thing that is most wrong in the “spiritual” worldview is the general propensity to posit “things with intrinsic valence”. In my caricature of the spiritual worldview (which I more-or-less believed  from the ages of 15 to 20), many things (actions, energies, materials) are seen as fundamentally “good” and others as fundamentally “bad”, and that “good” things have good effects and “bad” things have bad effects.

  • For instance, according to David Hawkins, meditation, prayer, optimistic thoughts, and positive emotions,  “raise your vibration“, attract good things into your life, and provokes peace locally, and across the world. (Negative thoughts, negative emotions, artificial supplements, etc.  lower your vibration.)
  • Or, orgonite, which is a substance which is supposed to transmute “negative energy” into “positive energy.” Cellphone towers supposedly emit “negative orgon energy” (which “promote drought, negativity, fear, and so on”),
  • “Toxins” is a sort of generic term for “bad things that are in your body”. You want to get rid of them.
  • The phrases “good karma” and “bad karma” speak for themselves.

The list goes on and on. All of these invoke a sense of a thing that is good and safe vs. a thing that is bad and harmful. Obviously, you want more of the good, and less of the bad.

The problem is that almost nothing in the world seems to work like this. Things aren’t intrinsically bad or good. They just have effects. And whether those effects are good or bad depend on mechanistic details of the systems involved.

For example there is no substance that is fundamentally “healthy” or “unhealthy” for humans. The effects depend on the dosage, and location.

Air is obviously good for people, but an air bubble in the the blood stream can be fatal. Potassium is critical to the functioning of our neurons, but too much potassium disrupts that functioning, so we use potassium solutions as a lethal injection . Water is prototypically “good for you”, but drinking too much causes health problems and, of course, having water in your lungs is a good way to drown.

These substances aren’t fundamentally “bad.” The harm comes from too much of them in the wrong place.

I claim that (almost) everything works like this.

Facebook, or the internet, isn’t good or evil, it just has effects, some of which are positive and some of which are negative.

Smoking  will kill you, but its stimulant effects can boost your effective intelligence very slightly.

Even compassion and Christly forgiveness, are harmful in some systems.

The world is a bunch of complicated systems, and in order to get good effects, we don’t just mash the “good” button. Rather, we mostly need to figure out which precises elements go in exactly the right places.



I have a new Blog

More than a month ago, I started a new blog at .

I’m using it to document my personal development projects, as I build up complete, robust, systems for maintaining effective psychological states. That entails designing experiments, semi-rigorous analysis of results, phenomenological feature extraction, and brainstorming and debugging on the places where I’m stuck. Eventually, I might write up more permanent articles on that site, outlining the general psychological principles and mechanisms that underlie optimal learning and efficiency.

It is probably best thought of as a “productivity blog”, though for me, it is an research project in applied psychology.

I’m going to keep posting my thoughts on other topics to this blog, but from now on anything having to do with productivity or learning will go over there.