There is this idea of one’s voice, that a person has a voice which only they are capable of developing and uttering, but this is different than the mere act of saying words out loud or writing words down—though those are two common mediums for voicing one’s voice. Searching around online for this idea of voice turns up mostly songs or political websites for different causes (in addition to linguistic and/or psychology related results), though the Merriam-Webster dictionary tries define this sense of voice (see 4a & 4b), but fails to capture all that it is: one’s voice is not just an opinion held and uttered nor solely one’s right to expression nor just a rhetorical device / political tool.

I claim that a human being’s voice is that being’s uniqueness as an entity, incarnate. Someone writing this some years ago may have chosen to use the word “soul” or “essence” instead of the phrase “uniqueness as an entity”, but I tabooed those because (1) I don’t think they clearly convey what I’m communicating and (2) they are curiosity stoppers in ways that “uniqueness as an entity” doesn’t seem to be (you can ask about the idiosyncrasies of an entity and how those differ from those of another entity, and so on). One’s voice comprises their identities, their lived experiences, the material composition of theirself, and all the other things that make one particular human being a unique mind and entity despite sharing so much mind and material design with all other humans. Only one person has a particular voice, only that person can voice that voice, only that person can experience their own life experiences, and only that person can write their own story (for a lovely and inspirational song with this message, see Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten”). I take it as a given that it is beneficial for each human being to develop and enrich their own voice, and ask: dear reader, are you growing and nurturing your own voice? Don’t answer that question yet, hold it with you as you read, please, now to what this voicing voice stuff looks like and why I care about it so much via stories from my life.

At the age of 7, I explicitly believed that I had a secret to take to my grave. Back then in 2002 or so, I had no idea that trans people existed and didn’t learn so + the terminology until much later, but I knew culturally that “someone like me”, who I was and how I felt (born male but noticed a strong desire to be female from a young age), was shameful and bad, that my family would never accept me, and decided then that I’d have to hide myself for the rest of my life. I thus grew a deeply entrenched, competent, and powerful habit of hiding, of being hidden and acting according to how I was expected to act: I became a very good actor and lived a life that wasn’t mine and watched from behind the scenes in despair. Thankfully [skips over a ton of life experiences because those aren’t quite germane to the subject of this post], I broke free of that crippling fear and slowly learned to accept myself, eventually managing to begin my transition from male to female: I’ve been on estrogen for almost 3 years now! Yet, despite getting rid of that fear, accepting myself completely, and living life openly and happily as a trans woman, those habits of hiding have persisted in me.

I consciously and emphatically reject those old habits of hiding, I am an out and proud trans woman, and I think thoughts about so many things in this world. I refuse to hide any longer and now choose instead to cultivate and grow my voice and join the broader public discourse (for whatever topic sparks my interest); I join the world publicly. I’ve spent so many years consuming information, opinions, ideas, etc. but not writing nor discussing what I’ve encountered (this poem is an attempt to describe what that feels like on the inside). I used to be too fearful to do that, even my first post on LessWrong now seems saddled with crippling fear in retrospect. I’m glad I wrote it though, it was one of my first forays into publicly writing (one of the first times I publicly voiced my voice) and helped introduce me to that habit, though writing in my shortform in the style of a log or journal + beginning to comment on posts recently has helped push me out of those old fears and now writing publicly feels much more comfortable.

Only through writing publicly and some other public creative works have I began to truly grow, nurture, and develop my voice: back when I just consumed content, whether it was high brow, erudite, entertaining, or absolute trash, I wasn’t growing, I was changing in response to other people’s words and creations, but I wasn’t putting anything back into the world nor growing myself deliberately in response to what I encountered. That’s why I asked you, dear reader, this question: are you growing and nurturing your own voice? I personally find that publicly writing is the most “leveling up”, empowering activity I currently know how to do, especially for developing my own thoughts into more refined ideas and eventually further refining those ideas into useful, actionable knowledge (for reasons why, please see adamzerner’s “Writing to Think”, and my response to that), but you may find that a different activity provides you with such benefits: do you know what activity(ies) help you level up, empower you, and do you regularly engage in those activities? It’s important to me that I develop and grow my voice further, because I believe doing so is an integral part of getting stronger so that I may solve significant problems in this world that need solving (my particular problem area will be death: I believe we as a species need to strive for immortality and rid ourselves of all causes of death; more on this in a post next week), plus voicing my voice is fun, I like doing so!

Only you can develop and voice your own voice, are you doing that? What struggles do you face in doing so?

My Oath of Reply for this post lasts until August 28, 2021. Writing notes: I wrote this post in about 1 hour and 30 minutes; however, I wrote 2.5 drafts, sought feedback from friends, and reflected considerably for about a week before outputting this post just now.

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This post reminds me of Bachtin's work on dialogue. I keep rereading his Problems of Dostoyevsky's Poetics - probably the only work of literary criticism that has had a meaningful impact on my life - where he discusses Dostoyevsky's (implied) ethics of the uniqueness of human "voices". I especially like the idea that your voice only can come forth truly in an open dialogue; this has been super useful for me personally, and professionally working with autistic children.

A really fascinating expansion of the idea of voices is Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS), where you approach parts of your own psyche as if they also have unique voices, that can only be accessed through open dialogue. Kaj Sotala has a highly cerebral sequence on that topic.

"I especially like the idea that your voice only can come forth truly in an open dialogue; this has been super useful for me personally, and professionally working with autistic children."

I like this idea a lot, and would like to explore it further, is Problems of Dostoyevsky's Poetics a good source for further reading on that idea? What other further reading sources might you recommend?

Thanks for you comment! I have added Problems of Dostoyevsky's Poetics and Kaj Sotala's sequence on IFS to my deep-dive bookmark folder. Do you recommend any of Bachtin's other work in particular regarding dialogue? Other subjects?

There are probably better sources on dialogue than Bachtin, but that's the one that got me. I've also read a few books by a Finnish psychiatrist that, Jakko Seikkula, that has developed a very dialogue centered - and Dostoevsky inspired - treatment for schizophrenia. But I think you can only find that in Swedish or Finnish.

On IFS, I'd probably recommend some book by Barry Schwartz, who started that school. Sotala's post is more focused on explaining why the model - which is a bit nuts and hand-wavy - actually makes sense. But for actually getting stuff done and working on your psyche, the more hand-wavy approach is better.

I appreciate the share of information and recommendations, thank you :)

Seems like there are two independent components of the "voice":

  • understanding yourself, to the degree where you can coherently explain your understanding; and
  • being in a situation where it is safe to actually explain (or otherwise act on your understanding).

In my case, I am a rich person born in poor person's body, hoping to transition to wealth one day. Wish me luck!

Just kidding. So far I have made no shocking discoveries about myself, and most likely there simply are none. The problems I have with finding and expressing my voice are rather about unusual combinations of relatively mundane traits. Typically my problem is that I can find people with whom I can freely expose a part of myself, but I am hiding some other part I believe they would disapprove of... and then I can find other people with whom I can freely express that other part, but who would disapprove of the former part. So I needed multiple groups of people to express different parts of my voice; and I didn't have any where I could express and explore the combinations -- but those are precisely the unique and interesting things.

Here is a part of a Slate Star Codex article that reminds me of that feeling:

People in the Bay Area get it. You get a bunch of hippies throwing love into the pot, computer programmers adding brainpower, and entrepreneurs adding competence. Mix and stir and you get people who want to make the world better, know how to do it, and sometimes even get up off their armchair and do.

Like this. For a hippie/computer/entrepreneur kind of person, it is difficult to discuss business ideas with fellow hippies; and the need to save the world with people trying to get rich; and neither side understands when you present your ideas in pseudocode.

This problem was partially solved for me by finding Less Wrong, and the rationalist community, especially local. Also, my wife is awesome, but sadly she can't code, and recently our kids interrupt us when I try to talk to her.

I plan to write a blog, but currently it only exists in my imagination (and I procrastinate a lot), and it will probably just be a collection of random things with no unifying topic other than "this is what interests me".

I agree with those two components of the voice and add a third, because I think the understanding component is necessarily different than the capability to clearly explain said understanding. Communicating thoughts into expressible (aka communicable) formats such as speech, writing, videos, music etc. is at times very non-trivial or downright rather difficult. Understanding and explaining do seem to reinforce each other, though.

It sounds like you don't feel safe freely and openly expressing yourself, developing your voice, etc. And/or, do you feel you need different types of people to express different parts of yourself in a way that actually gets at those different parts, i.e. you might not even remember or think of mentioning one part, framing something in a certain way, except around people who draw such out of you? I will note that writing publicly is a great way to get people of all walks of life to interact with your work, to draw different parts of you out into legible consciousness. Writing publicly impacts me in that way, at least.

What is your fear heuristic and how audacious are you?

"I plan to write a blog, but currently it only exists in my imagination (and I procrastinate a lot), and it will probably just be a collection of random things with no unifying topic other than "this is what interests me"

I would be happy to read what you may write if you post something, you are welcome to PM me if you'd like some editing or proofreading assistance for a post too. I think writing about things that interest you is pretty much what most people who write publicly on a regular basis do, even those who get paid for it (why would they take a job that is completely uninteresting to them?; exception to my statement does include content writers for business sites, advertisers, and other forms of writing that are more purely commercial or coerced via payment or status-seeking in some way). I know it's what I do, I don't write about what's uninteresting to me, unless it's required as part of a business or educational thing.

All of what I've written on LessWrong has been a collection of random things that interest me :) Noticing a commonality to writings or deciding to deliberately write about something in common will likely come later.

Agree about the distinction between expressing yourself and being understood. You can speak freely and yet be constantly misunderstood... and it may feel liberating at first, but then it just feels lonely. Yes, communication deepens understanding, also also provides a social reward for self-exploration.

Do I feel free to express myself openly? This is complicated, because on one hand I do have some insecurity about being open, but on the other hand, in those cases when I express some partial things openly, the typical outcome is that people either don't care or completely misunderstand. (Like trying to talk about rationality, when everyone is interested in scoring points for their tribe.) I wish I could talk to people around me the same way I can at a Less Wrong meetup, because the meetup mood is maybe 80% of what I want. Or I wish there were more rationalists around me, so there would be a chance for a subset of "rationalist and cares about the same topics I do". When I share something I wrote, the typical reactions are (1) silence, (2) "oh yes, I agree with <a strawman of what I wrote>". Recently I reviewed posts I have shared on social networks: the more meaningful they were, the fewer reactions they got.

So I guess the thing I am afraid of is that I will spend lot of energy and time expressing myself, and the result will be mostly silence. Not exactly scary, but demotivating nonetheless.

Here is the first blog article, and I have a few more planned, but I am currently low on free time. The plan is a sequence on writing computer games (this takes a lot of time, because each article will come with an example project), also one article on non-standard integers (already half-written, but also needs illustrations) which may or may not be an introduction into a math sequence, and some book summaries (again takes lots of time, need to read the books first). Uh, now I see I chose topics that require lot of time; but that reflects who I am (I don't like expressing opinions on things I know little about, and I am not good at writing essays).

Being constantly misunderstood would definitely be frustrating. I suspect that the liberation of speaking freely is quite nice, and maybe an addition feeling pops in to reinforce that / make the whole endeavour feel better even if one's works are misunderstood: the power of writing to cohere thoughts, develop ideas, and increase one's legibility of one's own self and one's own understanding of the world and things in it they choose to focus on.

I like when people comment on what I write, and enjoy the discussions, because even if they misunderstood what I wrote, the ensuing discussions provide a way to shorten the inferential distance between involved parties and further explore + develop my own thoughts, plus turn me on to ideas or ways of thinking, framings, etc. that I hadn't yet considered or didn't know about.

If no one interacts with what I write, I still gain a lot from the writing I do, so I find the activity worthwhile even if it definitely can consume a significant amount of energy and time. Without writing and developing my voice, cohering thoughts, building ideas, etc., my life would be worse. My goal is to build, and writing lets me do that in important and significant ways even if no one interacts with my works.

I do feel the frustration around not connecting with others around oneself in ways one would want though, despite having a good amount of friends I can talk with about all things under the sun (including rationalists stuff), connecting as deeply as I'd like can sometimes be difficult, though admittedly I don't think I struggle with this as much as I used to because of building a close friends group and wider circle of friends with whom I can have open and deep conversations about most anything. Are there ways you could build a community to share what you write with? Develop existing friendships to have that capacity for deep and open communication? etc.?

If I have misunderstood, talked past, not listened adequately, etc. to anything in your post, I explicitly would be happy to continue the discussion and try to close any inferential distances until more understanding is achieved.

I read your post! I can't comment about the technical side of it since I'm not familiar with Java enough to do so, but I liked the structure of your post including the historical context for why you chose what approaches you did and how said context plus modern factors shaped the stack you built / used. Turning that into a sequence on how one might write or create video games would be fascinating, let me know how that goes :)

Are there ways you could build a community to share what you write with?

Most importantly, to procrastinate less with the writing, so that there is more than 1 article. :D

I take it as a given that it is beneficial for each human being to develop and enrich their own voice, and ask: dear reader, are you growing and nurturing your own voice?

Besides regular exercise and meaningful projects, I think one of the most important pillars of happiness is speaking your mind.

ne of the most important pillars of happiness is speaking your mind.


I posit that a more accurate statement is "one of the most important pillars of happiness is being in the position where you can speak your mind."

I think that, on net, speaking your mind being happiness-increasing is completely dependent upon your situation in life, the way you relate to others and the current arrangement of your personality. It is a great position to be in wherein you can speak your mind and it increases your happiness.  However, there are costs to keeping your thoughts to yourself and there are costs to speaking your mind and you have to weigh those costs.

I'm a very happy person (some would say irritatingly so), but some of the worst periods of my life come from speaking my mind.

In my current situation and relationships, speaking my mind about almost anything would very likely improve my happiness, but in other periods of my life the costs and benefits did not always tilt that way for all possible things I may have wanted to say.

Speaking one's mind can indeed be very dangerous, depending on the context.

Not all environments or political situations one may be embedded within may allow doing so even in small ways, which is unfortunate. I do think that it's important for a person to be cognizant of the situation they are in regarding the safety of speaking their own mind.

I think being aware of the costs of speaking one's own mind doesn't preclude the potential for doing so to make someone happy or bring great satisfaction, even if one's safety is violated as a result.

At the very least, it seems possible to privately and secretly develop one's own sense of self, one's own mind, one's voice, even in dangerous situations so that should the opportunity to make a significant contribution by speaking one's own mind arise, one would have the wherewithal and faculties to do so. And if such an opportunity never were to arise...well, if one can stave off the bitterness and cynicism that might try to infect may be very satisfied and happy that they at least developed themselves and their own voice during their life.

I agree, though I think a prerequisite to speaking one's mind is to have a mind to speak, i.e. have developed your own thoughts enough to have something to say, or at minimum, have enough of a sense of self to know when something is wrong, right, other category, specifically, when something is legible enough to notice and then say something about. It's hard to speak one's mind if one never develops one's own voice (mind, sense of self, whatever you may call it) enough to be cognizant of things to say that need saying (or merely having the capability to feel the desire to say something).

Further developing my capabilities to speak my mind via increasing the coherence of my sense of self or voice is a contributing reason for why I wrote Voicing Voice.

I suspect that the degree of uniqueness makes voicing ones voice both more valuable and harder.

I do have a somewhat contrary experience where actually shutting up in responce to negative signals got me forward. One doesn't need to integrate to everything and part of walking a unique path is that one needs to walk it elsewhere.

I do suspect that there are multiple listening modes. Just passively receiving it is easy to not fully explore all the consequences. Actively doing something requires more. But there are lot of specialists that require special decoding skills. Taking for example philosphers seriously and vividly can make for a kind of connection that seems a lot of "uneducated" or "untuned" people miss. I guess there is a saying of "It takes one to know one" which can be walked in the direction of "if you build up yourself to be a thing that will enable that kind of interaction with others" but it might also be walked in the direction of "understanding something properly will inevitably lead you to be able to recreate and be that kind of thing"

So I guess it makes more sense for me to see "undeveloped voice" as the inabilty to see or look at your life, not taking it seriously, assuming it has properties that other peoples lives have. Then it is not so much whether your life is communicated to the world but rather whether you partipate and steer your own life.

Because voicing one's unique voice requires doing a novel thing that may not have ever done in the same way? And doing that novel thing is potentially valuable, but because it's novel, is more difficult, yes?

I'm curious to hear more about your contrary experience if you're comfortable with sharing that. What does "integrate to everything" mean?

Understanding a particular thing properly implies a possible gears level of understanding for said thing, which requires an understanding of the specifics of how such thing was constructed after deconstructing it, necessarily, I think. So I agree with "understanding something properly will inevitably lead you to be able to recreate and be that kind of thing", even if sometimes that may be extraordinarily difficult. Are you referring to esoteric writing / reading in your post? Your talk of special decoding skills, taking philosophers seriously and vividly causes connections that most others miss, 'it takes one to know one', etc. give me that impression.

"So I guess it makes more sense for me to see "undeveloped voice" as the inabilty to see or look at your life, not taking it seriously, assuming it has properties that other peoples lives have. Then it is not so much whether your life is communicated to the world but rather whether you partipate and steer your own life."

I agree. You make a few great points here, thanks. Do you have any further thoughts on the subject, or recommended readings? Ideas on how people develop the voice and increase the agency over their own life?

Part of the negative experience is just making lesswrong posts with negative karma. Trouble communicating might be more charactersitc to my circumstances. However it should be noted that closeting and masking are pretty standard solutions found. This suggests they serve a real need. An "opening up" period can be seen as coutneracting this basic withdrawal reaction having gone too far and applied out of habit rather than where neccesary.

There are a lot of social fora in the internet and in life. Pushing and applying yourself to all of them would be challenging and some of them are easier and more fruitful. While trying to intergrate into everything would make the voices more diverse, it is not strictly true that giving your unique contribution will always enhance a community or your experience. A principle like "first do no harm" in practise means a lot of inhibition and accounting for limits one can't see (clearly).

I didn't exactly shoot for that kind of coding communication, more like swine not being able to make heads or tails about pearls. Old peoples sayings are simple enough to remember but require a certain amount of experience to appriciate. Cultural exploration being way wider and rich in the indy scale rather than "pop mainstream". In a way writing in math makes you assume that the to be reader is proficient in math, for if they were not they would have failed to read it or turned away in disgust. Or like there was advice how to conduct yourself should you encounter aliens: They have not heard of Einstein but they probably have heard of relativity.

One heuristic to increase agency in a difficult situation notice the parts which you have built and which others have built. A person for example for most words uses existing formulation and doesn't recoin all of them. But any such "foregin thought" is a possiblity to do otherwise or atleast check that it is appropriate to your context. And even if it is by your hand one might not have applied original thought with it. And when it is truly a orginal creation thinking why it was made gives understanding whether it can be universalised or not or should it keep limited in scope.

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