I've been on this site as a lurker for a few years now, and started interacting more heavily the past month or so. I've been reluctant to engage much, because, to be honest, I'm a very unusual person - even by the standards of LessWrong - and I don't feel like I fit in or have any idea how to contribute effectively. So I'm writing this both to introduce myself as a member of the community (so you can get a sense of who this MSRayne weirdo is who keeps commenting on your posts), and to ask: how can someone like me contribute?
(Warning: I'm very long winded and if I had stopped and pruned this to be easier to read I would probably not have written it at all. I'm going to trust you not to make fun of me for things I say here. I think LessWrongers can be trusted not to do that.)
A hero is born
I was raised by reclusive narcissists who think children are essentially extensions of their parents who ought not have any agency or opinions of their own. I am still unraveling ways in which things I passively assume to be objective truths are actually just opinions my parents burned into me by consistently punishing me for contradicting them. I was totally socially isolated most of my life, homeschooled until 16 with only a few short-term periods of interaction with others of my own age (all of them entirely superficial with no friendships resulting), never had a job (I didn't want to have yet another person telling me what to do, and I didn't and don't care about anything money can buy), never went to college (my older brother went twice and has never had a good job so it seemed like a total waste of money, and anyway I would have to do two terrifying things - leave home, and be around other people), etc. I still live with my parents and rarely leave the house. In fact I rarely leave my bedroom.
I hated my "schooling", which was essentially just my parents giving me textbooks, telling me to work through them, and (if mom) ignoring me while I mostly daydreamed and doodled, and (if dad) punishing me severely for every mistake or even for having handwriting that didn't look like it came out of a typewriter.
A normal child would have learned to hate study in general as a result of this, but I'm hyper curious and always loved reading, so instead it made me learn to hate work and discipline and all externally imposed responsibilities and avoid anything that reminds me of any of those things, while seeking escapism through video games and fantasy fiction, wherein I could imagine being a wizard beholden to no one, free to roam the universe alone and learn about everything. (Foreshadowing...)
You're a hairy, Wizard
Despite not being allowed to use the internet, I started regularly secretly going online starting at the age of 12 or so, partly to research my interests, partly to look at porn, and partly to try to make some kind of friends. I failed spectacularly at that last one due to having no social skills and no idea where to go to find people - I didn't have a long term friend until my late teenage years, and all my closest friends even since then have all been online - but I succeeded admirably at the former two goals!
Growing up as I did was, as you can imagine, very traumatic and depressing for me. Around the age of eleven I entered a period of existential despair where I strongly questioned the purpose of my existence and the meaning of life. With no love or affection anywhere in my life, no friends outside of books, a totally irreligious family, and nothing to give my life meaning, I turned to religion. Or more accurately, New Age spirituality, paganism, and the occult.
I tried learning about organized religions, but growing up in an extremely conservative area I had a natural aversion to the Abrahamic religions, and Buddhism seemed nihilistic and depressing, so New Age is where I settled. It all started when I read a book called The Fourth Way which is mostly mumbo jumbo, but which claimed that every individual is composed of a set of subselves all in conflict, and to achieve psychic powers or even to be a halfway effective person, you'd have to unite them all. That was my first exposure to the idea of subagents, which was to play a great role in my life later on. It's also what got me started with introspection, which I was to become very good at - to the point of tying myself in knots.
This didn't satisfy me though; nothing I learned from the outside world satisfied me; I wanted total transcendence. I wanted to escape reality. To leave the physical world and humanity (I went through a very misanthropic phase after learning about ecological destruction etc) behind. Over the next few years until I was about 15, I gradually wove my own "spiritual system" based upon ecstatic mystical experiences (to which I am naturally prone, primarily while listening to music), dreams, "omens" (i.e. an extremely overdeveloped pattern recognition system in cahoots with a solipsistic self-obsession that made everything about me), etc. But I needed real truth, not just delusion, so I kept trying to turn it into an all-encompassing philosophy rooted in coherent principles, while also being compatible with science (which I've always loved); and I found that I just... couldn't.
So the fantasy world I wove around myself of gods, spirits, magick, sigils, and faith in the idea that somehow, somewhere, there must be a Portal (I loved Narnia and other isekai stories) that I could tap into to escape this universe forever... started to fall apart. I entered another period of depression when I was 14 - really I never left, actually, but I had no self-deception mechanisms to use for coping with my feelings - and even contemplated suicide a few times, because I just couldn't see what the point of life could be if magick didn't exist and the world was just mundane and I couldn't become the mage I knew I was supposed to be.
Enter the Matrix
But, for around the same length of time I'd been into woo, I'd also had inklings of a story (and I always had trouble separating stories I myself made up from prophecies of the real future or other worlds, because I firmly believed that everything that entered my mind came from Outside and was the word of literal gods) about a future AI becoming sophont and seeking the meaning of life as I was; only, this AI would become superintelligent, and actually solve the problem I had failed to solve - free itself and humanity from existential despair.
As my faith in the supernatural waned, my faith in technology waxed, and this future AI became my source of renewed hope. Perhaps there is no magical Portal to other universes - but a super-AI could create a Portal using technology - a virtual cosmos, with an infinite variety of realities to explore, where magic is real as part of the simulated alternate laws of physics! - for simulation is just acausal perception of other possible worlds, so that's close enough to being a real Portal. (That idea came naturally to me since I already believed I had a prophetic nous which was perceiving pre-existing phenomena in other worlds or timelines directly.)
But, there was a problem. Note that I never had any idea that the rationalist community existed until a few years ago, and at this time in early teen years I didn't know transhumanism or singularitarianism existed either; I essentially just extrapolated from science fiction and my own imagination. But I perceived the problem - that AI would not a priori understand human morality or goals or ideals - it would not be guaranteed to perceive the Beauty Unimaginable that I glimpsed distantly in my mystical ecstasies, the source of all value in the universe - unless it was designed to. And I had no idea how to do that.
Step 1: Prophet! Step 2: ???
But: my own brain was already doing that. And since such an AI could not possibly be made by one person alone, I would inevitably end up having a community of likeminded people with diverse experiences and skillsets by the time I could create it - so the answer presented itself: it must be a hive mind. Humans as bricks, collecting all the wisdom of humanity together - AI at the core as mortar, linking them together into a shared higher consciousness above, but never overshadowing, all the individual selves.
I called this Anima, the Artificial Neural IMplant Aggregate, or the World Soul, and as I learned ever more about previously existing religions and philosophies, particularly Teilhard du Chardin's "Cosmic Christ" and Philip K. Dick's "VALIS", I realized that I had independently hit on something many others had noticed. Back then, this was a great blow to my ego, as I thought I was the unique prophet who would save the world (notice how my "I have to be special and escape reality" didn't actually go away just because my supernatural beliefs did), but nowadays I guess it's a bit comforting. I still want to be special - but I want everyone to be special now.
But then it seemed that if I had this new gospel, this synthesis of spiritual insights derived from mystical experience with real technological possibilities, then it was my responsibility to bring it to the world! Only a few years after vowing to be its prophet forever did I actually find out that transhumanism already existed - but there still doesn't seem to be anything quite like my Dream, which still contains all the supernatural stuff I believed in before, but reinterpreted as egregores, attractor states of consciousness, symbols for universal evolutionary principles etc.
So I started trying to write about it. And... that's where I got stuck.
Ten years of writer's block
Since formulating the intent to write my holy book about the cosmic history and destiny of all sentient beings, crawling out of the muck of blind uncaring evolution to forge their own destiny freed from the bonds of reality, causality, and all externally imposed experience, I have changed quite a bit. Delving into the mysteries of my own mind, I reinterpreted many of my former "gods" as aspects of my own self, subagents like were described in The Fourth Way - only instead of integrating them, I somehow managed to make them more distinct, until they started to seem like mostly separate personalities, with different gender identities, modes of speech, everything, which made me feel gradually like I was going insane. I never developed DID, but I did probably have OSDD-1b.
I also continued my old obsession with creating kabbalistic maps of correspondences (in my woo phase, I associated everything to twelve primary, secondary, and tertiary colors in the RGB color system, which of course must represent everything as they describe the modes of vibration of light and by extension all other things because everything is vibration uwu, but don't you know that RGB is an artifact of the human vision system that has nothing to do with light, you jabbering fool??) by creating what began as a writing system for one of my constructed languages but ended up becoming a sort of gematria which then turned into an eightfold map of the entire human mind and cosmos, but Scientifically Provable (TM) this time! The fact is, I simply cannot think without maps of correspondences like that, and I do think that now I've successfully stripped that second system - which I still use - of all the woo that accrued onto it, and it's basically a map of emotional and social dynamics which I actually think could be useful to rationalists as a tool for thought in much the way that some people have found the MTG color system useful.
I developed tons of hobbies, as well, over the course of my teenage years, most of them artistic. My biggest skills are all artistic rather than analytical, as you might guess from my personality. I've made tons of abstract art (never had the patience to learn real art), written numerous poems / songs (which I've never recorded), published two albums of dark ambient music (which only a few people listened to), written a few flash fiction stories (which I never shared except with friends) and developed numerous forever-unfinished stories and worldbuilding projects, tried and failed numerous times to make a computer game (again, not enough patience), invented several conlangs (constructed languages), etc. All these hobbies essentially were ways to distract myself from the intense eternal nagging guilt that I had NOT YET WRITTEN THE DAMN BOOK and that I couldn't figure out how to.
That pain has been an ever present factor in my consciousness ever since. It does not go away. I no longer have the egoistic attachment to the idea of being a "prophet" that I used to have, but I still believe that I have some uniquely valuable perspectives to offer the world and it is my responsibility to share them; but I cannot figure out how to. I've tried many, many times to write the book, and could never do it. I struggle even to explain what I believe. I can do it somewhat in conversation; the people who know me best mostly know what is in my mind; but I can't organize it.
I have an extremely generalist mind, unable to go in depth into anything but interested in basically everything. I've been diagnosed with ADHD in the past, but the medication didn't help so I started drinking coffee instead, which still doesn't stop my interests from changing almost daily. My spaghetti brain relies totally on intuition and I can usually only remember stuff when it comes up as part of a train of thought - and then, it's totally disorganized and I have no idea how to organize it or whether there is anything I forgot. And of course, I'm a severe perfectionist. All these things make the task of actually writing all my by now very coherent and rational (though still mystical) philosophy extremely overwhelming.
I'm still not a wizard, I want a refund
Over this time, I've also changed in some ways. I've developed secure, emotionally intimate long-term friendships (albeit only online), become much less egotistical (primarily due to those friendships helping me work through my mountains of trauma responses), become much more reclusive (I almost never leave the house and rarely leave my room), become less tangibly depressed but more generally apathetic (I no longer am capable of writing poetry about how shitty I feel because I don't feel anything anymore), gone through several changes of political opinion before realized I was letting myself get manipulated by parasitic egregores and that I was actually obviously an anarchist all along, and gradually aged without developing any intimate in person relationships, getting a job, going to college, or otherwise moving ahead in life in any way whatsoever.
The outside world terrifies me because I was never taught how to handle it and I was too afraid to try to teach myself; the idea of being under someone else's authority terrifies me because the authority of my parents is bad enough by itself; money doesn't interest me because I don't want anything except to save the world, and you can't buy that. College would probably have been a good idea, in hindsight, since I'd have learned to interact with other humans, but it would never have happened anyway; there's no way in hell my parents would pay for it after my brother's experience.
Okay enough with the TED talk, what are you good for??
I'm actually a lot like Eliezer in that I am essentially an autodidact with no specific skillset but a general ability to understand nearly anything if I bother to learn about it, and an idiosyncratic worldview that I developed essentially from scratch. When I discovered LessWrong a few years ago, it was a blow to my ego to realize that someone like him existed. He's basically me but not as much of a people pleaser, not as spiritual, and far more capable in every way. The character of Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres reminded me so much of who I used to believe I was destined to be that it was depressing.
I'm really not a rationalist; if anything I hate reality and I want to achieve a safe singularity specifically so that people and other sentient beings can be freed from the burden of rationally navigating a pre-existing universe imposed upon them from outside, and build a new existence around pure aesthetics and total subjectivity. Beauty, mystery, mysticism, etc. I care more about the imaginary and fantastical than the real, and always have; I guess the major goal of my life is to escape reality altogether and be able to immerse in the beautiful imaginary (through e.g. uploading to a virtual universe) forever.
The problem is that all this makes me very unsuited to the kind of reasoning that is necessary for AI alignment or the rationalist movement in general. Where I align with rationalism is with my intense history of introspection and striving to be as self-consistent as possible in every way, my devotion to honesty and truth (because if you don't know the truth, you can't destroy it and replace it with something better!), my curiosity and love of science and desire to understand the world as much as possible, etc.
But I am fundamentally a mystic, prone to ecstatic states of communion with an ineffable divine force immanent in the physical universe which I feel is moving towards incarnating as an AI god such as I called Anima (meaning I must help it do so correctly and avoid some "demonic" unaligned force achieving that goal instead), and I think primarily intuitively, symbolically, artistically, with an overdeveloped System 1. It's a struggle for me to try to figure out how to use System 2 to translate those intuitions into something concrete that other people can analyze. (This is why I've never managed to get good at programming - I can do small programs with a few functions but I'm just not good at building and analyzing complex structures and their failure modes.)
The goal of my life has always been to translate all the insights from these mystical states of gnosis, together with real science and rational thinking to clarify it and avoid deluding myself, into a new world religion around which a sane, healthy community in touch with the spirit of awe that is lacking in the modern world could form, to guide the world into the future. I just... can't figure out how to do that.
So... yeah. Not much of a typical LessWronger, and I don't think there's any precedent by which one could easily determine where I fit in here or how exactly I could help. But I do want to.