Circling as Cousin to Rationality

by Vaniver5 min read1st Jan 202099 comments

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Often, I talk to people who are highly skeptical, systematic thinkers who are frustrated with the level of inexplicable interest in Circling (previously discussed on LW) among some rationalists. “Sure,” they might say, “I can see how it might be a fun experience for some people, but why give it all this attention?” When people who are interested in Circling can’t give them a good response besides “try it, and perhaps then you’ll get why we like it,” there’s nothing in that response that distinguishes a contagious mind-virus from something useful for reasons not yet understood.

This post isn’t an attempt to fully explain what Circling is, nor do I think I’ll be able to capture everything that’s good about Circling. The hope is to clearly identify one way in which Circling is deeply principled in a way that rhymes with rationality, and potentially explains a substantial fraction of rationalist interest in Circling. As some context; I’m certified to lead Circles in the Circling Europe style after going through their training program, but I’ve done less Circling than Unreal had when she wrote this post, and I have minimal experience with the other styles.

Why am I interested in Circling?

Fundamentally, I think the thing that sets Circling apart is that it focuses on updating based on experience and strives to create a tight, high-bandwidth feedback loop to generate that experience. Add in some other principles and reflection, and you have a functioning culture of empiricism directed at human connection and psychology. I think they’d describe it a bit differently and put the emphasis in different places, while thinking that my characterization isn’t too unfair. This foundation of empiricism makes Circling seem to me like a ‘cousin of Rationality,’ though focused on people instead of systems. 

I first noticed the way in which Circling was trying to implement empiricism early in my Circling experience, but it fully crystallized when a Circler said something that rhymes with P.C. Hodgell’s “That which can be destroyed by the truth should be.” I can’t remember the words precisely, but it was something like “in the practice, I have a deep level of trust that I should be open to the universe.” That is, he didn’t trust that authentic expression will predictably lead to success according to his current goals, but rather that a methodological commitment to putting himself out there and seeing what happens would lead to deeper understanding and connection with others, even though it requires relinquishing attachment to specific goals. This is a cognitive clone of how scientists don’t trust that running experiments will predictably lead to confirmation of their current hypotheses, but rather that a methodological commitment to experimentation and seeing what happens would lead to a deeper understanding of nature. A commitment to natural science is fueled by a belief that the process of openness and updating is worth doing; a commitment to human science is fueled by a belief that the process of openness and updating is worth doing. 

Why should “that which can be destroyed by the truth” be destroyed? Because the truth is fundamentally more real and valuable than what it replaces, which must be implemented on a deeper level than “what my current beliefs think.” Similarly, why should “that which can be destroyed by authenticity” be destroyed? Because authenticity [IOU: a link as good as 'The Simple Truth'] is fundamentally more real and valuable than what it replaces, which must be implemented on a deeper level than “what my current beliefs think.” I don’t mean to pitch ‘radical honesty’ here, or other sorts of excessive openness; authentic relationships include distance and walls and politeness and flexible preferences.

What is Circling, in this view?

So what is Circling, and why do I think it’s empirical in this way? I sometimes describe Circling as “multiplayer meditation.” That is, like a meditative practice, it involves a significant chunk of time devoted to attending to your own attention. Unlike sitting meditation, it happens in connection with other people, which allows you to see the parts of your mind that activate around other people, instead of just the parts that activate when you’re sitting with yourself. It also lets you attend to what’s happening in other people, both to get to understand them better and to see the ways in which they are or aren’t a mirror of what’s going on in you. It’s sometimes like ‘the group’ trying to meditate about ‘itself.’ A basic kind of Circle holds one of the members as the ‘object of meditation’, like a mantra or breathing with a sitting meditation, with a different member acting as facilitator, keeping the timebox, opening and closing, and helping guide attention towards the object when it drifts. Other Circles have no predefined object, and go wherever the group’s attention takes them.

As part of this exploration, people often run into situations where they don’t have social scripts. Circling has its own set of scripts that allow for navigation of trickier territory, and also trains script-writing skills. They often run into situations that are vulnerable, where people are encouraged to follow their attention and name their dilemmas; if you’re trying to deepen your understanding of yourself and become attuned to subtler distinctions between experiences and emotions, running roughshod over your boundaries or switching them off is a clumsy and mistaken way to do so. Circles often find themselves meditating on why they cannot go deeper in that moment, not yet at least, in a way that welcomes and incorporates the resistance.

Circling Europe has five principles; each of these has a specialized meaning that takes them at least a page to explain, and so my attempt to summarize them in a paragraph will definitely miss out on important nuance. As well, after attempting to explain them normally, I’ll try to view them through the lens of updating and feedback.

  1. Commitment to Connection: remain in connection with the other despite resistance and impulses to break it, while not forcing yourself to stay when you genuinely want to separate or move away from the other. Reveal yourself to the other, and be willing to fully receive their expression before responding. This generates the high bandwidth information channel that can explore more broadly, while still allowing feedback; if you reveal an intense emotion, I let it land and then share my authentic reaction, allowing you to see what actually happens when you reveal that emotion, and allowing me to see what actually happens when I let that emotion land.
  2. Owning Experience: Orient towards your impressions and emotions and stories as being yours, instead of about the external world. “I feel alone” instead of “you betrayed me.” It also involves acknowledging difficult emotions, both to yourself and to others. The primary thing this does is avoid battles over “which interpretation is canonical,” replacing that with easier information flow about how different people are experiencing things; it also is a critical part of updating about what’s going on with yourself.
  3. Trusting Experience: Rather than limiting oneself to emotions and reactions that seem appropriate or justifiable or ‘rational’, be with whatever is actually present in the moment. This gives you a feedback loop of what it’s like to follow your attention, instead of your story of where your attention should be, and lets you update that story. It also helps draw out things that are poorly understood, letting the group discover new territory instead of limiting them to territory that they’ve all been to before. It also allows for all the recursion that normal human attention can access, as well as another layer, of attending to what it’s like to be attending to the Circle when it’s attending to you.
  4. Staying with the Level of Sensation: An echo of Commitment to Connection, this is about not losing touch with the sensory experience of being in your body (including embodied emotions) while speaking; this keeps things ‘alive’ and maintains the feedback loop between your embodied sense of things and your conscious attention. It has some similarities to Gendlin’s Focusing. Among other things, it lets you notice when you’re boring yourself.
  5. Being with the Other in Their World: This one is harder to describe, and has more details than the others, but a short summary is “be curious about the other person, and be open to them working very differently than you think they work; be with them as they reveal themselves, instead of poking at them under a microscope.” This further develops the information channel, in part by helping it feel fair, and in part by allowing for you to be more surprised than you thought you would be.

Having said all that, I want to note that I might be underselling Commitment to Connection. The story I'm telling here is "Circling is powered in part by a methodological commitment to openness," and noting that science and rationality are powered similarly, but another story you could tell is "Circling is powered in part by a commitment to connection." That is, a scientist might say "yes, it's hard to learn that you're wrong, but it's worth it" and analogously a Circler might say "yes, it's hard to look at difficult things, but it's worth it," but furthermore a Circler might say "yes, it's hard to look at difficult things, but we're in this together." 

Reflection as Secret Sauce

It’s one thing to have a feedback loop that builds techne, but I think Circling goes further. I think it taps into the power of reflection that creates a Lens That Sees Its Flaws. Humans can Circle, and humans can understand Circling; they can Circle about Circling. (They can also write blog posts about Circling, but that one’s a bit harder.) There’s also a benefit to meditating together, as I will have an easier time seeing my blind spots when they’re pointed out to me by other members of a Circle than when I go roaming through my mind by myself. Circling seems to be a way to widen your own lens, and see more of yourself, cultivating those parts to be more deliberate and reflective instead of remaining hidden and unknown.

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Why should “that which can be destroyed by the truth” be destroyed? Because the truth is fundamentally more real and valuable than what it replaces, which must be implemented on a deeper level than “what my current beliefs think.” Similarly, why should “that which can be destroyed by authenticity” be destroyed? Because authenticity is fundamentally more real and valuable than what it replaces, which must be implemented on a deeper level than “what my current beliefs think.” I don’t mean to pitch ‘radical honesty’ here, or other sorts of excessive openness; authentic relationships include distance and walls and politeness and flexible preferences.

To expand on Said and quanticle's comments here, I find this argument deeply unconvincing, and here's why. I see three things missing here:

  1. A definition of 'authentic' in concrete terms -- what kind of behaviour does it entail, with what kind of consequences? This can be a dictionary definition, in exchange for shifting a lot of burden to the following two steps.
  2. An argument that 'authenticity' so defined is "real and valuable" enough to be more valuable than anything that might be lost in the course of such behaviour -- this is not as
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I think you're right that the functional role of "authentic" in the above post is as an applause light. But... I think the same goes for "truth," in the way that you point out in your 2nd point. [In the post as a whole, I think "deep" also doesn't justify its directionality, but I think that's perhaps more understandable.]

That is, a description of what 'truth' is looks like The Simple Truth, which is about 20 pages long. I'm editing in that link to the relevant paragraph, as well as an IOU for 'authenticity,' which I think will be a Project to actually pay down.

But for this comment, let me see if I can write a short version that does enough of the work.

"Truth" is a label we use to distinguish the products of a coherence process, where a 'statement' corresponds to 'reality.' Untruth is when that coherence process fails, where the statement either corresponds to a different reality than the one we're in or fails to correspond to any possible reality. There are also interesting edge cases that point out the importance of the process that generates coherence, rather than it merely happening to be true that the two correspond with one another in this instance.

In Public Positions and Pri

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Thank you, this is somewhat helpful.

I do have much to say about this concept as you’ve described it. I wonder if you would prefer such comments here, or saved for the fuller description/explanation posts which you intend (if I understand your comments correctly) to write in the future?

(This is complicated by the fact that I also, now, have comments I’d like to make about this post, which depend on the concept of ‘authenticity’ as you describe it. I worry that such comments will simply result in you saying “ah, well, I can’t properly respond to that until I write the real post explaining ‘authenticity’”—yet they would be comments relevant to the points made in this post, rather than comments about the concept as such.)

(This, by the way, is why I prefer Eliezer’s method of starting from the dependencies…)

(This, by the way, is why I prefer Eliezer’s method of starting from the dependencies…)

I wanted to note that if dependencies are randomly already present in some fraction of the population, the 'reverse order' lets you convey your point to growing fractions of the population (as you go back and fill in more and more dependencies), whereas the 'linear order' doesn't let you convey your point until the end (when everyone is able to get it at once).

8Said Achmiz1yYes, this is a fair point. (There does remain the fact that the dependencies ought to be marked, so that those who lack them can clearly see that they lack a specific, recognized dependency, and so that they may be able to trust that the author will later fill them in, to fulfill the ‘IOU’, as you say. But that aside, I agree that your point does make the case for the “dependencies first” order less clear.)
4Vaniver1yHmm. Rather than saving such comments for the future post, I'd rather see them on the draft of it, so that it's polished by the time it gets published, instead of going through many revisions in the open or the fuller meaning being hidden in deep comment trees. But if it takes a while to write the other post, then that imposes the cost of missing out on the comments on this post. My guess is you should write comments here, tho I will be more likely than normal to say "ah, I'll respond to that later."
2Said Achmiz1ySorry, by “the draft of it” are you referring to… the grandparent comment? That is, you’re saying you’d like those comments here, in this thread? Or did you mean something else?
3Vaniver1yI meant "the draft of the future post," which doesn't exist yet.
2Said Achmiz1yOh—are you referring, then, to the LW “share draft” feature? (I haven’t used this functionality, myself, which may be the reason for my confusion—apologies!)
3Vaniver1yEither that or Google Docs. But anyway, I currently don't expect to get started on such a draft until Friday, probably, and so I think you should comment here if you want to get such comments out sooner than then.
2habryka1yThis link seems to go to the wrong place.
4Said Achmiz1yWhoops, that was an artifact of a rewrite. Fixed, thanks.

This isn't a criticism of this post or of Vaniver, but more a comment on Circling in general prompted by it. This example struck me in particular:

Orient towards your impressions and emotions and stories as being yours, instead of about the external world. “I feel alone” instead of “you betrayed me.”

It strikes me as very disturbing that this should be the example that comes to mind. It seems clear to me that one should not, under any circumstances engage in a group therapy exercise designed to lower your emotional barriers and create vulnerability in the presence of anyone you trust less than 100%, let alone someone you think has 'betrayed' you. This seems like a great way to get manipulated, taken advantage of by sexual abusers, gaslighted etc, which is a particular concern given the multiple allegations of abuse and sexual misconduct in the EA/Circling communities (1, 2, ChristianKl's comment). Reframing these behaviours as personal emotions and stories seems like it would further contribute to the potential for such abuse.

8ChristianKl1yI don't think the principle of orienting towards your own impression/emotions/stories is about reducing emotional barriers. Nonviolent communication is perfectly capable of expressing boundaries. There might be some situations where a person lacks the skill to express boundaries in a nonviolent way and then loses some protection when they are put into a context where they are expected to communicate nonviolently but if there's a good Circling facilitator that facilitator's role is to help the person to actually express their boundaries. The problem is when a powerful person uses authenticity or NVC in a way where they express their own desires without accounting for the interests of the less powerful person in an exchange. From what I read about the allegations towards Brent, him openly expressing his desires in cases where he was powerful and pushing his desires as being important for others to fulfill is one way how this plays out. One feature of the SAS seminars of Circling Europe is for example that there's are no confidentiality agreements because they see such an agreement as creating a should that prevents people from authentically expressing themselves. At the same time I find confidentiality agreements important to protected vulnerable/low power people who share information in circles and I do make confidentiality agreements when I lead circles. Whenever one has a lot of power in a social situation it's necessary to do more then just follow one's own desires to avoid slipping into patterns that are abusive of other people. The principle of trusting that you only have to be authentic and can then trust that the universe will see that nobody comes to harm is dangerous.
5[anonymous]1yI think you are missing nshepperd’s point. The rules described in the original post are classic techniques for cult brainwashing. The reframing of personal attacks to be reflections of personal failures of the victim primes them for radical reformation of their internal beliefs, and makes them extremely impressionable. Used by professionals this can be an extremely powerful therapeutic tool used for good. But I have to agree that it seems like a very bad idea to do this with a bunch of randos you met on the Internet. Besides opening yourself up to brainwashing, it is also a situation ripe for abuse.
2ChristianKl1yThe quote doesn't say that there's a personal failing. "I feel alone" isn't a statement of something being a failure. It's just a statement about the current emotional state. It's about authentically expressing what's there currently without judgement. Circling Europe does provide professional training. Vaniver and others do have professional certification from Circling Europe. I personally do have other relevant professional training in a framework called perceptive pedagogy. There's a discussion about how much professional training someone should have before you go to a circle that they lead but that's a different discussion from that of Circling as practiced according to the values of Circling Europe.
"I feel alone" isn't a statement of something being a failure. It's just a statement about the current emotional state.

Perhaps this is a tangent to the discussion, but "I feel alone" is not a statement about an emotional state. It is a confused statement that on the surface appears to be about emotions ("I feel...") but the thing that follows those first two words is not an emotion, but a claim about the world: "(I am) alone."

"I feel sad" is a description of an emotional state. "I feel sad about..." or "I feel sad that.." are descriptions of emotional states, together with, but separate from, a statement of a belief about the world. "I feel alone" and similar phrases, such as the general pattern "I feel that...", confuse feelings with beliefs.

Every statement of the form "I feel that..." is false, because what follows the "that" is a belief about the world, not a feeling. Acknowledging it as a belief makes it possible to consider "Is this belief true? Why do I believe it is true?" Miscalling it a feeling protects it from testing against reality: "How can you question my FEELINGS?"

5Vaniver1yThis seems like a promising starting point to explore what's going on, from my perspective. As it happens, I'm currently typing this comment in a room that I'm in by myself. But there's a specific bodily / emotional sensation that I'm not feeling at present, which I was feeling the last time I said "I feel alone" to someone, despite being in a room with multiple people then. It's also the case that I can feel my chair pressing into my body, and the top of the desktop pressing into my leg where I'm awkwardly resting it, and some tension in my arms because they had to stretch to my distant keyboard. (Don't worry, I've since moved closer to it.) One thing that's true of my experience (which I expect to be true of the experience of, like, somewhere around 80% of people?) is that I will sometimes get sensations that are connected to 'beliefs' as part of my sensorium. That is, they're more like the haptic sensations corresponding to sitting than they are like my internal monologue or other things that I traditionally think of as "beliefs". Sometimes this is an embodied sensation, like "it would be inappropriate for me to say something here" might manifest as a tightness of the throat, but sometimes it isn't. [Staying with the level of sensation helps build this mapping and keep things 'accurate'; if I feel a tightness in the throat and I don't know what belief about the world it corresponds to yet, it's probably better for me to share the sensation than it is to share my guess of what I'm reacting to about the world.] Speculation time: sometimes I think embodied emotions are straightforwardly phyisiological; like I get angry and feel it in my arms because my SNS [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sympathetic_nervous_system] is actually making my arms behave differently. Other times I think what's happening is something like the proprioceptive sense [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proprioception], but for 'important concepts', like relationships / what other people are thi
4ChristianKl1yIn the NVC model "I feel alone" would be a "mental emotion" and I agree that there are many cases that distinction is useful. In the Circling context in which I have been you wouldn't correct a person into making that distinction but accept "I feel alone" as an authentic expression. The fact that Vaniver uses feel here suggests that the Circling Europe training also didn't enforce that distinction strongly. In radical honesty a person saying "I feel betrayed" would be asked to say "I'm angry at you, because X happened and I imagine it means you betrayed me". The person is often asked to say it multiple times till they connect with the anger.
3Raemon1yI think this is complicated by the fact that there is, in fact, a distinct qualia of feeling that (at least I get) when alone, and it's sort of like "I believe I am alone, and am sad about that", but it's a different flavor of sadness than, like, sad that my friend died, or that I didn't get a job I was excited about." (I think "I feel betrayed" similarly conveys a particular flavor of feeling, and I'm somewhat wary of tabooing it for people who are trying to figure out what they feel and what they want to do about it. But it also seems important that "there is a separate fact-of-the-matter of 'did Bob betray Alice?' and 'is Alice experiencing something that has that-distinct-flavor-of-emotion that 'betrayed' connotes'?", and that the conversation will probably go better for Alice is she is attending to this fact)
6Said Achmiz1yIs this not handled by the word ‘lonely’? ‘Alone’ and ‘lonely’ are different, after all. “I feel lonely” seems to be the usual way to convey what you’re describing.
3Vaniver1yIt seems more grammatical to say "lonely," but I notice the two words have different feels to me, and it could be the case that "alone" fits more than "lonely" does, tho the difference between them is subtle.
4Said Achmiz1yIndeed; “I feel alone” has different connotations than “I feel lonely”. Namely: “I feel lonely” simply connotes “I have a certain mental/emotional state”. “I feel alone” connotes “I feel lonely; also, I believe that I am alone (and that the latter is the cause of the former), but I don’t want to claim this outright—I prefer only to imply it, in a way that prevents anyone from asking whether that belief is true”.
6Vaniver1yI think I've felt distinct things that corresponded to: * "I feel less companionship than I did a moment ago" * "I feel the absence of companionship" * "I think I would be happier if I had more companionship." Now, which one of those is "I feel alone" and which one is "I feel lonely"? Probably not obvious, and maybe I'd even refer to them using the same short phrase each time. But it seems useful to try to feel and convey those sorts of distinctions using word choice, as well as more words.
2Said Achmiz1yPerhaps. I am skeptical that these feelings can be distinguished in the way you say; how would you, for instance, differentiate between “I feel the absence of companionship” from “I feel lonely, and I think this is due to absence of companionship”—in other words, what you conceptualize as an affective state, could also be conceptualized as the combination of an affective state with a cognitive one, yes? But this is speculative; I do not insist on it (only on the fact that the answers to questions like this are not at all clear). More to the point, however, is that supposing that the distinctions you describe are as they say they are, it nonetheless seems like quite a poor idea to refer to them using the same word that we also use to refer to an entirely external fact. The confusions that such terminological conflation leads to are obvious (and described, in part, in this comment thread), and can lead us into all sorts of error.
3Vaniver1yFor me personally, the first one is like seeing the words "absence of companionship" in my mind's eye, and the second one is like feeling a tugging at my navel, trying to label it [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/PXqQhYEdbdAYCp88m/focusing-for-skeptics] with "absence of companionship", and getting only partial resonance. Like, I'm not confident yet, and so it seems like there's still more info there that I should search for; maybe it's romantic companionship, maybe it's having a regular D&D group again, maybe it's something else. Yes, altho I don't think I'd categorize 'states' that way. (Like, all mental states are 'cognitive' in some sense, and the standard definition of 'affective' seems very broad; like, I see a cat on the street and I feel valence and motivational intensity [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Affect_(psychology)].) I mean, it sure is nice to use two syllables instead of more than a dozen! When typing you really don't have a good option besides using more words to achieve more precision, but when physically embodied subtext can be quite rich. (Like, compare describing a 'spiral staircase' with text, or with your voice and hands.)
2Said Achmiz1yThis is an excellent, and very underappreciated, point. Just to provide some terminology—the relevant term/concept is propositional attitude (Wikipedia page [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propositional_attitude], SEP page [https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/prop-attitude-reports/]). The error that Richard describes is that of mistakenly believing that ‘feel’ may coherently be understood as a propositional attitude (and that “I feel that …” may coherently be understood as a propositional attitude report), that is somehow different from ‘believe’ (and reports of beliefs). But of course this isn’t the case.
[-][anonymous]1y 14

I'm sorry but the type of certifications done by an organization like Circling Europe is insufficient. I'm not sure if circling is intrinsically even a good idea given that it necessarily involves participation of multiple other non-professionals. But even setting that aside, I would assume a level of training and oversight comparable to the psychotherapy field would be necessary before I'd feel comfortable with this at all.

4ChristianKl1yI don't think there's good evidence that the field of psychotherapy knows how to teach skills effectively in a superior way. Neither academic literature nor personal experience with people trained in that form suggest that it's particularly effective. As far as the research goes alliance and empathy seem to matter much more then the kinds of things that are taught in psychotherapy training. On the other hand, I do think that the training that Circling Europe does succeeds at building some empathy with their training. I see that lack of an ethical codex / oversight is an actual problem. I'm not sure how effective psychiatric oversight happens to be in practice. The group setting does have advantages over 1-on-1 setting as far as having people check the work of other people.
3Vaniver1yI agree with this almost completely. Two quibbles: first, styles of Circling vary in how much they are a "group therapy exercise" (vs. something more like a shared exploration or meditation), and I think "100%" trust of people is an unreasonable bar; like, I don't think you should extend that level of trust to anyone, even yourself. So there's actual meat in the question of "what's it like to Circle with someone that you 90% trust? Should you do that?". Also I think the ideal of Circling agrees with this underlying sentiment, in that the goal is not to lower emotional barriers but to understand them. It may be that as part of understanding them, they get lowered, or they might be maintained or raised. I've been in many Circles where the content of the Circle was "huh, it seems like we don't trust each other enough to be open / handle deep topic X. What's that like?". One of the things that I worry about some with Circling and rationalists is something like... the uncanny valley of noticing emotional responses while not trusting them, or something? Like I'm reminded of this comment [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/mja6jZ6k9gAwki9Nu/the-mystery-of-the-haunted-rationalist#3goqXqXhNWimYJBoo] by jimmy: If I thought Circling would on average make people more exploitable or worse at defending themselves / avoiding bad outcomes, I wouldn't recommend it. I'm less clear about what to do when there's a valley you need to cross, which I think is true for theory [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/gZP8t9BAg37bqxDzZ/the-valley-of-bad-theory] and rationality [https://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Valley_of_bad_rationality] as well, and my rough guess is "the only way out is through."
8Raemon1yI'd add: "in theory, and rationality, and physical exercise, and... whatever's going on in Circling*, it'd be nice if it were possible to safely gain a bunch of relevant skills without exposing yourself to danger. But it's not, and meanwhile, you're already in danger." (I endorse making this claim for something like Circling, but I admit that my exact model is still pretty fuzzy. Introspection, extrospection, authenticity, emotional self-regulation, maintaining safeguards and other things all seem like part of the cluster of skills that Circling seems to be training) Note that I previously wrote up a lot of my concerns and thoughts-on-tradeoffs over on Unreal's Circling post [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/aFyWFwGWBsP5DZbHF/circling#2uE7benA255i9XjZu].
3bgold1yI expect understanding something more explicitly - such as yours and another persons boundaries - w/o some type of underlying concept of acceptance of that boundary can increase exploitability. I recently wrote a shortform post on the topic of legibility that describes some patterns I've noticed here [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/SJrL6Ysdwnuh79bDQ/bgold-s-shortform?commentId=ZbT9vu8HkouusDZFN] . I don't think on average Circling makes one more exploitable, but I expect it increases variance, making some people significantly more exploitable than they were before because previously invisible boundaries are now visible, and can thus be attacked (by others but more often by a different part of the same person). And yeah it does seem similar to the valley of bad rationality; the valley of bad circling, where when you're in the valley you're focusing on a naive form of connection without discernment of the boundaries.

I think Circling, or related practices, are an important part of the great common Neo-Enlightenment project of human progress. It’s a mechanism to understand more about ourselves and each other, and it involves some deliberate attempts to not steer towards ‘candy’ and instead stay focused on deepening. It’s a genuine practice with a body of knowledge, and Circling Europe in particular seems to have had a technological edge (in that their online Circling platform has allowed them to get many more people spending many more hours Circling).

I also think there are massive cultural differences between ‘rationalists’ as a people group and ‘relationalists’ (what I sometimes hear them called) as a people group. As an analogy, I think athleticism is an important part of being a human with a body, and yet have difficulty finding fitness approaches or products that don’t want to scream ‘jock masculinity!’ or ‘yoga femininity!’ at me. Consider Convict Conditioning, a solid series of graduated bodyweight exercises that build small skills in the right order, pitched as the sort of thing you can do in prison and which will make you “a TRUE man.”

Most people who come to Circling events do it because

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Like this comment and/but my experience has been the opposite. All or even majority rationalist circles are harder to skill up in because the process is constantly getting derailed by cognitive defense mechanisms against imprecise, non theory driven metis.

5ChristianKl1yI have experiences with Circling evening both with rationalists and with non-rationalists and I'm now running both kinds of events. Both are interesting in their own ways. Circling with non-rationalists gives you insight into how people who aren't rationalists work.

I'm still skeptical of Circling, but this is exactly the sort of post I want to encourage in general: trying to explain something many readers are skeptical of, while staying within this site's epistemic standards and going only one inferential step out.

I've gotten the most out of smaller circles with higher trust where knives can come out. Letting things be safe enough on the meta level that they can feel dangerous on the object level and that's okay. Sort of like a cross with doom circling. With bigger groups attention feels too diffuse.

Orient towards your impressions and emotions and stories as being yours, instead of about the external world. “I feel alone” instead of “you betrayed me.”

"Alice betrayed Bob" contains some information that "Bob feels alone" doesn't contain, though. I don't think we should always discard such information.

6Vaniver1yI thought I responded to this a few days ago, but apparently never hit submit. Specifically, the sorts of additional bits of information that I think are important are 1) Bob's expectations and 2) the appropriateness of Alice's or Bob's emotions. (If Bob's expectation of Alice was reasonable, then it is appropriate for Bob to feel hurt and appropriate for Alice to feel remorseful; if Bob's expectation of Alice wasn't reasonable, then it might be inappropriate for Bob to feel hurt.) I don't see the Circling suggestion here as a moral claim, of the form "this sort of information is bad / you shouldn't reason using it"; I view it as a practical claim, of the form "Bob will probably be more satisfied with how the interaction goes if he opens it with 'I feel alone' than with 'you betrayed me'." Like, in my view this one is more of a "patch that prevents a predictable failure mode" than a claim that, like, justice or principles don't exist and only emotions do. [I am not sure how widespread my view is.]
4cousin_it1yYes, accusing someone of betrayal is costly in the short term. But letting betrayal slide is costly in the long term.
6Vaniver1yI agree with that, so let me see if I can point more clearly at where I think the difference is. If Bob leads with impact to Bob, he sets up a conversational context of collaboratively determining what situation they're in. He might discover that Alice is contrite and wants to do better, or that Alice thinks his expectations were unclear, or Alice thought he was in violation of some of her expectations, and so thought she was matching Bob's level of reliability. Or he might discover that Alice is uninterested in his wellbeing, or in collaboratively seeking solutions, or in discussing the possibility that she might have done anything wrong. In all of those cases, Bob has opened up to more information about the world, and has a better vantage point to move forward from (even in cases where he decides to no longer associate with Alice!). [Of course, it helps to be clear about what sort of bids and frames he's suggesting if this is new to Alice; cultural communication tech works better when both parties have it.] If Bob leads with Bob's frame, he sets up a conversational context of arguing who gets to decide what situation they're in, with the opening bid being "Bob" with the relevance that Bob thinks "Alice misbehaved." Even if Alice would believe that Alice misbehaved looking at it from the outside, Alice might have serious objections to different layers of the procedure, which are now mixed in to the object level issue, and it's quite possible that Alice wouldn't believe that she misbehaved if looking at it from the outside.

I think that this perspective focuses entirely too much on people’s feelings about things, and not nearly enough on the facts of the matter. Consider the following alternative analysis, based on a simple enumeration of possibilities.

We start with Bob believing that Alice betrayed him. There are then two possibilities for the truth value of this belief; and, orthogonally, there are two[1] possibilities for how Bob chooses to proceed with his interaction with Alice. This yields a joint set of four scenarios:

  1. Alice betrayed Bob. Bob expresses his belief straightforwardly, saying: “Alice, you betrayed me”.

  2. Alice betrayed Bob. Bob uses the NVC-style[2] expression, saying: “I feel alone” (or something along these lines).

  3. Alice did not betray Bob. Bob behaves as in scenario (1).

  4. Alice did not betray Bob. Bob behaves as in scenario (2).

In scenario 1, Bob maintains his defenses, so to speak; he does not make himself vulnerable to further exploitation, abuse, etc. on Alice’s part. He curtails (though by no means entirely closes off) the possibility of reconciliation or understanding—but as we have stipulated that Alice did indeed betray Bob, this is fine; the onus to make a concer

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8Vaniver1yYour analysis seems fine, and it also seems worth noting that while Circling might teach you broadly applicable lessons, they're time-boxed containers where everyone involved has chosen to be there. That is... It seems to me like some large part of the usefulness of Circling comes from "owning experience" compounding and forming incentives and signalling things. That's separate from the claim that you should own your experience everywhere. I think that, at least with relationships, people's feelings are often the primary facts of the matter. Like, obviously when you're interacting with your barista, what you ordered and what drink they prepared are the primary facts of relevance, and how the two of you feel about it is secondary. But if Alice and Bob are choosing to build a relationship together, how they think and feel about their interactions is much more important than basic facts about those interactions. Actually, a different take: "owning experience" is about teaching people the map-territory distinction in emotionally charged situations. Like, it will feel as tho "the territory is that you betrayed me," and the principle forces a swap to "my map is that I'm alone." This lets you look at how the map is constructed, which is potentially more fruitful ground for exploration than whether or not it passes or fails a particular experimental test this time. And the change in type is important; if you just let people say the words "my map" instead of "the territory" they will change their language but not their thinking, and this will impede their ability to go deeper.
5cousin_it1yIt seems you're thinking of Bob as someone who's already pretty assertive and just needs tactical advice, and in that case I agree it can be good advice. But for someone who's less assertive, they might interpret the advice as basically "be more meek", especially if there's pressure to follow it. For such people, I don't think the first exercise should involve lowering of boundaries. Instead it'd be something like practicing saying "no" and laughing in someone's face, until it no longer feels uncomfortable. Doing these kinds of things certainly helped me.

It seems you're thinking of Bob as someone who's already pretty assertive and just needs tactical advice, and in that case I agree it can be good advice. But for someone who's less assertive, they might interpret the advice as basically "be more meek", especially if there's pressure to follow it.

I think this goes through for a less assertive Bob as well, but perhaps it depends on why Bob is less assertive.

That is, suppose Bob is not happy with how things are going, but also thinks it's very costly to have arguments with Alice. So Bob stores up resentments until they exceed the threshold of the cost of having an argument, and then they have the argument, and then the resentments are depleted. But also probably Bob afterwards feels a desire to walk back his position, since he was out of line, according to himself; he had to force himself into the argument and then it's not a place where he's comfortable.

One of the things we might say from the outside is "ah, Bob, you should resent things more, then the explosions will happen more frequently," which Bob might think is not obviously making him better off. Or we might say something like "ah, Bob, you should imagine the costs of an argum

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But also I think I run into this alternative impression a lot, and so something is off about how I or others are communicating about it. I'd be interested in hearing why it seems like Circling would push towards 'letting betrayal slide' or 'lowering boundaries' or similar things.
[I have some hypotheses, which are mostly of the form "oh, I was assuming prereq X." For example, I think there's a thing that happens sometimes where people don't feel licensed to have their own boundaries or preferences, or aren't practiced at doing so, and so when you say something like "operate based on your boundaries or preferences, rather than rules of type X" the person goes "but... I can't? And you're taking away my only means of protecting myself?". The hope is it's like pushing a kid into a pool with a lifeguard right there, and so it generally works out fine, but presumably there's some way to make the process more clear, or to figure out in what cases you need a totally different approach.]

I very much don't hesitate insisting on my boundaries and preferences, and Im still aversive to th... (read more)

4cousin_it1yThank you for writing this. I was trying to express the same kind of feelings, but you did it better.
3Vaniver1yThanks for the detailed reply! Would this feel different if people screamed when they wanted to scream, during Circling? What I'm hearing here (and am repeating back to see if I got it right) is the suggestion is heard as being about how you should organize your internal experience, in a way that doesn't allow for the way that you are organized, and so can't possibly allow for intimacy with the you that actually exists.

I think I see another drawback of these kinds of techniques: when someone criticizes your thing, your first thought is "let's analyze why the person said that", rather than "wait, is my thing bad?" It's worrying that the thing you're defending happens to teach that kind of mental move.

8Kaj_Sotala1yAren't those kind of the same thing, though? In that before you can ask yourself whether your thing is bad, you need to understand the criticism in question, and that requires verifying that your interpretation of the criticism is correct before you proceed. It's true that these sometimes come apart: e.g. maybe I have an irrational fear of AI, but that irrational motive can still drive me to formulate correct arguments for AI risk. But in that case there exists a clean separation between the motive and the object-level argument. Whereas in this case, Bunthut seemed to be articulating reasons behind their emotional discomfort. If you are trying to check that you correctly understood what someone is saying about their emotional discomfort, then that doesn't seem like a case where you can isolate an object-level argument that would be separate from "why the person said that". They are trying to express discomfort about something, and the specific reason why the thing is making them uncomfortable is the object-level issue.
3Vaniver1yIt definitely makes sense to be worried about Bulverism, where my attention becomes solely about how it lands for the other person (and figuring out what mistake of theirs prevents it from landing the way I want). I think you often want to figure out all of 1) what the causal history of their statement is, 2) whether your thing was bad according to you, 3) whether your sense of goodness/badness is bad according to you, in contact with their statement and its causal history. What order you do those in will depend on what the situation is. Like, suppose I write a post and someone comments with a claim that I made a typo. Presumably my attention jumps to the second point, of "oh, did I type incorrectly?", and only later (if ever) do I ask the questions of "why do they care about this?" and "am I caring the right amount about spelling errors?" If instead I make a claim and someone says "that claim misses my experience," presumably my attention should jump to the first point, of what their experience was so that I can then determine whether or not I was missing their experience when I said it, or expressed myself poorly, or was misheard, or whatever. --- I note that I am personally only minimally worried about specific Circlers that I know falling into Bulverism, and I feel like if I knew the theory / practice of it more I would be able to point to the policies and principles they're using that mean that error is unlikely for them. Like, for me personally, one of the protective forces is something like "selfish growth," where there's a drive to interpret information in a way that leads to me getting better at what I want to get better at, and so it would be surprising to see me 'write off' criticism after analyzing it, because the thing I want is the growth, not the defense-from-attack. --- I think there are definitely developmental stages that people can pass through that make them more annoying when they advance a step. Like, I can imagine someone who mostly car
7Bunthut1yIt could mean that the problem is gone, but it propably means you're setting the cut later. This might make people marginally more accepting or it might not, I'm not sure on the distribution in individual psychology. For me I‘d just feel like a clown in addition to the other stuff. Partially, but I also think that you believe that [something] can be changed independently of the internal experience, and I don‘t. I‘m not sure what [something] is yet, but it lives somewhere in „social action and expression“. That might mean that I have a different mental makeup than you, or it might mean that the concept of „emotion“ I consider important is different from yours.

It could mean that the problem is gone, but it propably means you're setting the cut later.

I asked because it is considered appropriate in Circling to bring emotions in the forms they want to be expressed in, including things like screams. Also the sorts of emotions people express in Circles run basically the whole emotional range, from pleasant to challenging.

I had the hypothesis that you were imagining a version where emotions had to pass through some external filter, like "politeness," and so rather than ending up with an accurate picture of where people are at, Circlers would end up with a systematically biased or censored picture. I don't think that happens with an external filter based on valence. That is, I think there are internal filters and people self-censor a lot (as part of being authentic to the complicated thing that they are), and I think there might be some external procedural filters.

I am somewhat worried about those procedural filters. Like, if I have a desire to be understood on a narrow technical point, the more Circling move is to go into what it's like to want to convey the point, but the thing the emotion wants is to just explain the thing already; if it could pick its expression it would pick a lecture.

[Worried because of the "can't allow for intimacy" point, and what to make of that is pretty complicated because it touches on lots of stuff that I haven't written about yet.]

I remain sceptical of how you use internal/external. To give an example: Lets say a higher-up does something that makes me angry. Then I might want to scream at him but find myself unable to. If however he sensed this and offered me to scream without sanction (and lets say this is credible), I wouldn't want that. Thats because what I wanted was never about more decibel per se, but the significance this has under normal circumstances, and he has altered the significance. Now is the remaining barrier to "really expressing" myself internal or external? Keep in mind that we could repeat the above for any behaviour that doesn't directly harm anyone (the harm is not here because it is specifically anger we are talking about. Declarations of love could similarly be robbed of their meaning).

Like, if I have a desire to be understood on a narrow technical point, the more Circling move is to go into what it's like to want to convey the point, but the thing the emotion wants is to just explain the thing already; if it could pick its expression it would pick a lecture.

This is going in the right direction.

Also, after leaving this in the back of my head for the last few days, I think I have an inroad to explaining the problem in a less emotion-focused way. To start off: What effects can and should circling have on the social reality while not circling?

3Vaniver1yIf I'm inferring correctly, the thing that's going on here is your frustration is at both how the thing went down and that the person who did it is superior to you. If he 'lets you' scream, it's not a fight or a remonstration, it's him humoring you, which isn't the real thing. Yeah, this is a really tricky question. I think the answer to both is "lots of effects." Sometimes there are confidentiality agreements (where people get into a high-trust state and share info and then by default that info isn't widely propagated, so that you don't have to be think as much about "I trust Alice, but do I trust Alice's trust?") but there aren't any sort of "forgetting agreements" (where I share something shocking about me and you don't want to be friends anymore and then I can say "well, can you just forget the shocking thing?"). Given that it can have lots of effects on the social reality outside of Circling, the question of "are those expected effects good or bad?" is quite important, as is the question of "what standard should you use to measure goodness or badness of those effects?". A section of my draft for this post that I decided to move to a comment, and then later decided should be its own post, is about the "will Circling with people I know be good for my social goals?" question, which I answered with "quite probably not on the meta-level I think you're thinking on, but I think it will on a different meta-level, and I think you might want to hop to the other meta-level." To the extent it's possible, I think it's good for people to have the option of Circling with strangers, in order to minimize worries in this vein; I think this is one of the other things that makes the possibility of Circling online neat.
If I'm inferring correctly,

That seems mostly correct.

To the extent it's possible, I think it's good for people to have the option of Circling with strangers, in order to minimize worries in this vein; I think this is one of the other things that makes the possibility of Circling online neat.

I think doing it with strangers you never see again dissolves the worries I'm talking about for many people, though not quite for me (and it raises new problems about being intimate with strangers).

The stuff above is too vague to really do much with, so I'm looking forward to that post of yours. I will say though that I didn't imagine literal forgetting agreements - even if it were possible to keep them (and while we're at it, how do you imagine keeping a confidentiality agreement without keeping a forgetting agreement? Clearly your reaction can give a lot of information about what went on, even if you never Tell anyone) because that would sort of defeat the point, no? But clearly there is some expectation that people react differently then they normally would, or else how the hell is it a good idea for you to act differently?

7Said Achmiz1yNo comment (for now, anyway) about the rest of what you write here… but the quoted part (which is a sentiment I have seen pro-Circling and pro-NVC and pro-similar-things folks express quite a few times) is something which seems to me to be taking a view of relationships, and people, which is deeply mistaken, insofar as it fails to correctly describe how many (perhaps, even most) people operate. To wit: If Alice betrays me, the problem is not that this causes me suffering (though certainly it is likely to do so). The problem is that Alice betrayed me. That, directly, itself, is what’s wrong with the situation. There isn’t any way of re-framing things that will let you describe the problem with reference only to me—not by talking about my feelings, or my suffering, or my boundaries, or my expectations, etc., etc. None of these things would capture what is wrong with what happened, which is Alice’s betrayal. Any attempt to describe this in terms of me only, is no more meaningful than saying “instead of saying ‘here is a tree’, say ‘I have sense-impressions that I perceive as representing a tree’”. Yes, we perceive the world through our senses, etc., but what we are interested in discussing aren’t the sense-impressions—we care about the things themselves. It is possible, of course, that our senses may lead us astray. Perhaps we think there’s a tree but actually it’s only a mirage; that is, our sense-impressions are not veridical (and the beliefs which result from taking the sense-impressions at face value are false). But what we’re interested in is still the (alleged) tree itself, and whether it exists, and what it’s like, etc. Likewise, our feelings, beliefs, etc., may lead us astray; Bob’s belief that Alice betrayed him may be false; Bob’s feelings of betrayal may not be veridical. But what is at issue remains the (alleged) betrayal. By all means, we can say “Bob, you think that Alice betrayed you, but consider that perhaps actually she didn’t?”. But any account

I actually objected (and was somewhat surprised Vaniver didn't object to) your description upthread of "either Alice betrayed Bob, or she didn't". Betrayal is very much not an atomic object (and importantly so, not just in the generic "everything is complicated" sense)

(Note: the following all tracks how I personally use the word Betrayal. Notably, others might use the word differently. But, the fact that people use words differently is a related, important point)

Betrayal is a meaning that people assign to actions, and only really has meaning insofar as people assign it. It exists in social reality, personal subjective experience, and interpersonal subjective experience. It is not objective fact about reality, except insofar as personal subjective experiences are part of reality.

If Alice and Bob have an explicit agreement that they are monogamous, and that cheating is an act of betrayal, and then Alice has sex with Carl, there are three concrete facts of the matter: Alice had sex outside the relationship, Alice took an action that both parties agreed they would not do, and furthermore agreed was a betrayal. In this case it's all pretty clear cut.

But, often (I would expect most of th

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3Vaniver1yI understood Said to mean something like "either Bob would think he had a convincing case that Alice betrayed him, or Bob would change his mind, and assuming Bob follows some standards of reasonableness, a Reasonable Observer would agree with Bob." So early on in this thread I said: and later I said: I thought the second does an adequate job of pointing out "betrayal is complicated," in that a discussion of it could go many ways and I do not believe "betrayal is a malformed concept," as pointed out in the first. Like, for any particular case, I think you could in principle reach a "fact of the matter" that either Alice betrayed Bob, didn't, or that Alice and Bob have irreconcilable standards (which you might lump into the 'betrayal' case, or might want to keep separate).
2Said Achmiz1yYes, this is a reasonable portrayal. Facts being what they are, nevertheless the purpose of all such exercises is to determine future actions taken by people, so what we’re (mostly) actually talking about here is facts as represented in the minds of the people involved. (This is, of course, true of a very broad spectrum of situations—far broader than only “interpersonal conflict” or similar.)
2Said Achmiz1y(Removed text that merely pointed out typos.) -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- One can say such things as you have said, about almost anything. A tree, after all, is only a meaning that people assign to certain collections of molecules (or quarks, or waves in the configuration space, etc.). Democritus: “By convention sweet is sweet, bitter is bitter, hot is hot, cold is cold, color is color; but in truth there are only atoms and the void.” And we can ask these kinds of questions, too: is a palm a tree? Is a bonsai tree a tree? There are difficulties in categorizing; what of it? We know all about this. [https://www.readthesequences.com/A-Humans-Guide-To-Words-Sequence] Alice and Bob, we may imagine, agreed to various things. Some of the agreements were explicit; some, implicit, or assumed. Some of them were inherited from a larger social context. Perhaps Bob thought that an agreement existed, but Alice had no such notion. Perhaps Alice only claims this. We can investigate this; we can ask Alice, and ask Bob, what was said, and what was expected; we may believe their answers, or not. Bob (or Alice) may claim that any reasonable person would understand that such-and-such agreement had taken place; Alice (or Bob) may disagree; we may agree with the one, or with the other. Alice, or Bob, may come to see that they were wrong, and the other was right; or, they may not. Perhaps Bob concludes that Alice really didn’t think any obligation obtained, but also that Alice is so unreasonable and weird a person that she cannot be trusted, despite a lack of malice. And so on, and so forth. And, supposing that we do conclude that some betrayal has occurred, we (or Bob) may judge it to be relatively mild, and well within the bounds of what may be atoned for, and forgiven… or, instead, something terrible, from which a relationship cannot recover. There is a range of possibilities. Nevertheless, we are still talking about what happen
6Kaj_Sotala1yIn my experience, this kind of a thing tends to come up when there has been no explicit agreement about something, but previous experience implies a particular thing, and the other person knows that this matters for the other. For example, say that Alice is Bob's aging mother who is lonely in her old days. Bob has explicitly promised to visit her every week. Over time, this has ended up usually meaning twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays. Now one week it happens that Bob visits on Tuesday, as normal, and doesn't say anything about any changes to the normal schedule. Then on Thursday, when Alice asks what kind of dinner Bob would want to have on Friday, Bob says "oh, I'm not coming this Friday, I'll see you next Tuesday". In this situation, Alice might on an intellectual level think that there was no betrayal. The explicit agreement was for Bob to visit once a week, and he never promised anything else. It just kind of happened that Bob ended up visiting more regularly, but he never made a promise to visit every Friday. Nor did he on Tuesday say that he would visit next Friday. Alice just kind of ended up assuming that he would, like usual. On the other hand, she may still feel betrayed, in that she had expected Bob to visit on Friday. In particular, there may be a feeling that Bob should have known that based on him having visited on every Friday for the last six weeks, Alice would expect him to visit the coming Friday as well. Alice may feel that Bob should have understood his mother well enough to know that unless Bob specifically says that he will not be coming, Alice will plan her week under the assumption that he is coming. (Depending on how introspective Alice is, she may not be able to articulate all this, and just feel that "I know that Bob never said that he would come on Friday, but I still feel betrayed".)
2Said Achmiz1yHabitual action creates expectations (especially in informal contexts, like interactions between family members). This is a perfectly ordinary thing. If (as you suggest at the start of the comment) Bob also understands this fact, then there’s nothing unusual here at all; Bob has created an expectation that he’ll be coming on Friday, and he knows this, and he then violates this expectation. This is a betrayal, especially given that it’s his mother we’re talking about, and given (as you say) that this matters to her (and that Bob knows this, too). Now, the expectation isn’t very firm, and the betrayal isn’t very severe. Like I said before, there are degrees of this thing. But the situation isn’t of a different kind. So why call Alice’s feelings irrational? It seems to me that this isn’t at all an example of the given extensional definition.
3Raemon1yFixed, whoops.

I can't speak for Vaniver or Circling, but I've participated in related practice T-Group, and what they said there is:

This isn't supposed to be how you communicate every day, any more than Tai Chi is supposed to be how you walk every day. But if you practice the weird, specific movements of Tai Chi, you will find yourself with more options and fewer problems when you move in your everyday life, and that is helpful. Similarly, T-Group (and I assume Circling) uses weird social/verbal muscles to give you the ability to do different things in your relationships, but that doesn't mean you are non-consensually T-Grouping people all the time.

Note that this doesn't apply to NVC, which I have the impression is meant to be direct practice for handling conflicts.

5ESRogs1yThis seems like useful advice for how to engage with Circling, etc., but I'm not sure how it responds to what Said wrote in the parent comment. Is the idea that it would be okay if Circling asks the wrong questions when dealing with cases of potential betrayal (my quick summary of Said's point), because Circling is just practice, and in real life you would still handle a potential betrayal in the same way? But if Circling is just practice, isn't it important what it trains you to do? (And that it not train you to do the wrong things?) (FWIW, I don't share the objection that Said raises in the parent comment, but my response would be more like Raemon's here [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/jLwFCkNKMCFTCX7rL/circling-as-cousin-to-rationality#vChqyD9koawx74Mov] , and not that Circling is just practice.)
5Vaniver1yThis seems pretty accurate to me. I think Circlers are more optimistic about Circling's ability to handle conflicts that arise in a Circle, or to use Circling as a method for mediation. I think this comes from an implicit (explicit?) belief that a lot of conflicts are the result of either simple or complex misunderstandings, and so by pressing the "understand more" button you can unravel many of them, or make them much simpler to resolve.
4Ruby1ySeconding this. I also go to T-Group (have been around a half-dozen times). T-Group, more so than other flavors of Circling, has a very rigid and restrictive format that couldn't possibly work for everyday life. It took me many tries to be remotely good at it, but it's helped me improve less heavily used aspects of my communicating/relating/connecting.
9Vaniver1yI have seen this misunderstanding happen and result in a significant amount of misery. (That is, Bob viewed themselves as being treated unjustly by Alice, who cared about Bob's suffering and was interested in understanding it, but a big part of Bob's suffering was that Bob and Alice didn't share a notion of 'justice,' and so they couldn't agree on 'what happened' or 'what mattered' because they had different type signatures for them.) I was not able to bridge it that time, despite seeing both sides (I think). Where my attention is going at the moment is not the sense-impressions, or the things themselves, but the machinery that turns the sense-impressions into models of the things, and the machinery that refines that modeling machinery. I think it's difficult to keep one's attention on that part of the process; seeing the lens instead of just seeing the object through the lens. I view "owning experience" as, among other things, an attempt to direct attention towards the lens using a rule that's understandable even before you see the lens. [I hope it's clear, but it's worth saying, Circling is a lot like meditation, and very little like courts. That is, I expect it to help you deepen your understanding of how you perceive the world and how others perceive the world, and for it to make difficult topics easier to navigate, but I expect it to sometimes do those things at the expense of figuring out object-level issues. As in this set of paragraphs, where I followed my attention from the object level case to the more abstract question of how we settle such cases.] I do object here to some of the implications of saying "the point" instead of "Bob's point." (While thinking that it's bad to miss Bob's point.) Like, given that Bob made the point, calling it 'the' point is probably legitimate, but it is interesting that in this situation Bob cares about this when Carl, put into the same situation, might not. The implication that I'm troubled by is the one where Bob is as
7Said Achmiz1yIndeed this is also fascinating and worth investigating, but: is Circling supposed to be for resolving conflicts and other object-level situations, or is Circling supposed to be for investigating this meta-level “how does the machinery operate” stuff? I’ve seen pro-Circling folks, you included, appear to vacillate between these two perspectives. (Perhaps it can be used for both? This would be surprising, and would increase the improbability of the pro-Circling position, but certainly cannot be ruled out a priori.) In any case, it seems to me to be an exceedingly poor idea to try to do both of these things, simultaneously. These two purposes can only be at odds, and it seems to me that trying to combine them is likely to do serious harm to both goals. A similar point has to do with this bit: Perhaps so, but it seems to me that this is all the more reason why Circling is an inappropriate tool with which to determine whether what you need is meditation, or a court[1] [#fn-J2SPymAyZNcnyWiMy-1]. That Bob and Carl would react differently may indeed be interesting. But as far as the troubling implication goes… all I can say is that “who agreed to what, with whom, and when”, and “what were everyone’s expectations”, and so on, are also facts. If Bob’s understanding was not shared by Alice… that, too, is a fact . It is not an easy one to establish… but in that it is not alone. Alice may say “I genuinely didn’t know that we were supposed to have had this agreement, Bob”, and Bob may believe her, or not, and they can figure out how to proceed from there. Nevertheless the discussion is still about what happened, not about how everyone currently feels about what happened. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 1. Or, to be more precise, “something like a court”—that is, a stance where you take seriously that some accusation has been made, some alleged transgression, and attempt to determine the facts of the matter, etc. Th
6Vaniver1yI think 'better Circling' involves leaning towards investigating the meta-level. I wouldn't recommend that anyone's first Circle be about exploring a dispute they're involved in; that seems like it would be likely to go poorly. In situations that seem high-stakes, it's better to understand the norms you're operating under than not understand them! I think it helps you understand conflicts, and that sometimes resolves them, and sometimes doesn't. If Alice thinks meat should be served at an event, and Bob thinks the event should be vegan, a Circle that includes Alice and Bob and is about that issue might end up with them understanding more why they think and feel the way they do, and how their dynamic of coming to a decision together works. But they're still going to come to the decision using whatever dynamic they use. To the extent people think Circling is useful for mediation or other sorts of resolution, I think that's mostly informed by a belief that a very large fraction of conflicts have misunderstandings at their root, or that investigating the generators is more fruitful than dealing with a particular instance. I'm confused by this, because it seems to me to imply that I thought or argued that Circling was the tool you would use to determine how to resolve an issue. What gave you that impression?
4Said Achmiz1yYes, that was inaccurate phrasing on my part, my apologies. I do stand by the idea I was trying to express, but am unsure how to concisely express it more accurately than I did… I will try again, in any case. So, here’s an example, from this very comment of yours: So my question is: can Circling tell you “actually, what you need is not Circling but something else [like a (metaphorical) ‘court’]”? Or, to put it another way: when should you not use Circling, but instead use some ‘court-like’ approach? My impression from your comments is that the answers given by the pro-Circling perspective are “no” and “never”, respectively. Now, if that impression is inaccurate—fair enough (but in that case I have further questions, concerning the meaning of the comments that gave me said impression). However, supposing that my impression is (at least mostly) accurate, then it does seem reasonable to say that Circling (if not the actual act of Circling, then the “pro-Circling perspective”, as I’ve been putting it) takes the function of determining what tool you should use (and answers “Circling, that’s what!” every time). Or, to put it yet another way: are there situations of the same category as those which Circling is meant to handle (whether that be “interpersonal conflicts”, or any other kind of thing that you would assert Circling is appropriate for), but in which Circling is not appropriate, and a more ‘court-like’ method is better? If so, then: how do you determine this to be the case? -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Now, all of this aside, and re: the rest of your comment: I confess I still do not know whether you think (and/or claim) that Circling is supposed to be used for object-level conflict resolution, or not. I think that this is important; in fact, I don’t know how much more progress can be made without getting clear on this point.
3Vaniver1yMy first reaction is to pick apart the question, which suggests to me we have some sort of conceptual mismatch. But before I try to pick it apart, I'll try to answer it. I think Circling won't "tell you" anything about that, except in the most metaphorical of senses. That is, suppose you're not bought into using Circling for resolving issue X; Circling will likely bring that to conscious attention, and then you might realize "ah, what I really want to do instead is settle this another way." But the judgment is yours, not Circling's, because Circling isn't trying to generate judgments. (I should note that it could be the case that the other participants either notice their own resistance to using the Circle in that way, or might notice your resistance before you do and bring that up, so I mean "yours" in the 'final judgment' sense as opposed to the 'original thinking' sense; you can end up agreeing to things you wouldn't imagine.) As mentioned before, if you're not an experienced Circler, I wouldn't use it as a conflict-resolution mechanism, and I would be suspicious of someone who was an experienced Circler trying to immediately jump to conflict-resolution with someone new to Circling. If you have a conflict where everyone thinks everyone understands the issue, and yet there's still a conflict, I don't think Circling will point towards a resolution. I would be interested in seeing the things that gave you this impression. I agree that settling that seems useful. I think your question attempts to be "yes xor no" but the answer to the question as written is "yes and no," and so I responded with a question-substitution to try to identify the thing that I think divides the cases more cleanly. That is, I claim that Circling can help people understand each other (and their way of interacting) better. Separately, I observe that many conflicts have, at their root, a misunderstanding. This generates the hypothesis that Circling would resolve many conflicts by knocking o
2Said Achmiz1ySo, wait. Have you ever used Circling to resolve conflicts? Or, seen it used this way? Or, know anyone (whose word you trust) who has used it this way?

So, wait. Have you ever used Circling to resolve conflicts? Or, seen it used this way? Or, know anyone (whose word you trust) who has used it this way?

I have seen... maybe a dozen attempts to use it this way that I can remember (at least vaguely). Some of them were successful, some weren't; many had the flavor of "well, we haven't resolved anything yet but we know a lot more now". (Also I'm not counting conflicts about where the group attention should be going, which are happen pretty frequently.)

Some of the conflicts were quite serious / high-stakes; described somewhat vaguely, I remember one where a wife was trying to 'save her marriage' (the husband was also in the Circle), and over the course of an hour or so we got to the label of her felt sense of what was happening, figured out an "if X, then Y" belief that she had so deeply she hadn't ever looked at it, and then when she asked the question "is that true?" it dissolved and she was able to look at the situation with fresh eyes.

I don't remember being one of the primary parties for any of those conflicts; the closest was when I organized a Circle focused on me to work through my stance towards someone in my life that I was havi

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5Raemon1yFYI this felt like a fairly buried lede to me. This feels like the important crux of the conversation.
2Ben Pace1yYeah, this description matches things I like about circling. I've had experiences with people who in normal life would want things of me that I don't want to give them (e.g. types of social efforts and reassurances), and circling has given me space to practise not giving it to them when I endorse that, and introspecting in slow motion, understanding better and in more detail what both I and they are feeling (and I believe they're learning things about themselves too).

I think someone should maybe write a post describing how meditation is a form of empiricism, and then it should follow as a pretty easy corollary that Circling is also a form of empiricism.

I'd be interested in that, but don't think I believe it enough to write it myself.

A brief sketch of why: there's the "external universe", and the "conscious mind", and normal scientific empiricism is a way for the conscious mind to expose itself to the universe, letting it be reshaped to better match the universe that it's in.

When you look at meditation, then you're replacing "external universe" with something like the "mental universe." And so you still have this way for the conscious mind to expose itself to the mental universe that it's in, and be reshaped to better match it. But it's less obvious that 'the mental universe as revealed by meditation' is worth reshaping towards, or has the 'nourishing properties of the universe' or whatever. 

Like, with regular science we have materialism, and a pretty strong belief that there's one underlying reality, and that it's explainable through math. With Circling, we have other people to get around our blind spots. With meditation... there's some reason to be optimistic, but it seems weaker.

 

1Unreal1yI feel like Circling isn't that much stronger than meditation on this particular axis. You might be characterizing "mental universe" as very different from "interpersonal universe," but to me they're very similar—because in both cases you have to use your subjective experience as the medium of "evidence delivery" so to speak.
6Kaj_Sotala1yWould be curious to hear how well you and Vaniver think that my recent post on meditation [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/WYmmC3W6ZNhEgAmWG/a-mechanistic-model-of-meditation] makes the case for "meditation as a form of empiricism".
6Vaniver1yI think the "increase in sensory acuity is an increase in introspective access to signal already present" point is central to understanding meditation, Circling, and their similarity, and think your post makes that point well. If you just mean the version of "empiricism" where "knowledge comes only or primarily from sensory experience", then I think it does a good job of pointing at how it's trying to do that. I think there are important connotations of empiricism that are missing, tho; like, what is the sensory experience of? This is what I've vaguely gesturing at with the "nourishing properties of the universe" thing; if I look at a thermometer, I'm trying to get my sense data to connect to 'objective reality'; if I look at my own thoughts, the connection to 'objective reality' is more tenuous. It's not absent; and I think having some sort of reflective practice is a good idea, but I feel like Circling can make a stronger case than "a corollary of meditation."
6Kaj_Sotala1yThat makes sense, thanks!

Mod note: One of the threads here ended up including a lot of discussion of LW norms. I've moved it over to this meta thread.

(Some of those comments, including the initial one, were object-level relevant to this post. I apologize for moving all of them indiscriminately. Our comment-moving-features are a bit janky and it's easier to move an entire thread than individual subthreads. I also apologize for breaking a lot of the comment-permalinks in that thread, and we'll look into fixing those. Meanwhile, you can actually still hover-over the comments in question on LW to see a preview of the comment, and you can also copy the comment-hash from the link and apply it to the new post to get a working link)

It seems to me like a stretch to take Sean's commitment to authenticity as being just like what a scientists does who's committed to the truth.

You could similarly describe the commitment to God of a catholic as Catholicism being like rationalism. Even when you can even argue that the search for the nature of God was important for the enlightenment, it's still different then our standard rationality. If you would ask Sean whether he sees his Circling as connecting with the divine, he would likely say yes when he's in an audience with other spiritual people.

Eliezer argued in Beyond the Reach of God that rationalists shouldn't believe in sacred principles that could be fundamentally more valuable.

In the particular case of Circling Europe, claiming authenticity as the only value reduces participant safety. There's some danger when the person who leads a Circle believes that whatever happens in a Circle will be psychological healthy for all participants.

It sometimes leads to powerful male figures making unwelcome sexual advances to women because the guy is just "authentically expressing himself" and this lead to a bunch of women not wanting to... (read more)

It seems to me like a stretch to take Sean's commitment to authenticity as being just like what a scientists does who's committed to the truth.

I mean, all analogies are stretches; the question is in what way and how far. There's a reason the post has 'cousin' in the title instead of 'sibling' or 'distant relation.'

You could similarly describe the commitment to God of a catholic as Catholicism being like rationalism.

Specifically, the way I would do that is as follows:

Suppose for these paragraphs we use "Faith" to refer to 'privileging model A over model B' when we're making decisions and those two models disagree with each other. This can be used to protectively shield beliefs from criticism ("Well, I get that you have all these detailed arguments for the historical record not being the way I think it is, but God Said So, and I have faith in God."), and it can be used to integrate considerations that are too remote to be positively identified in a model but which can be easily labelled ("Well, I get that I am extremely confident that the experiment would go a particular way, but Empiricism Requires We Run It, and I have faith in Empiricism.").

In my youth I got to see an example of t

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9romeostevensit1yFwiw I've never met a radical honesty person who wasn't just counter signaling by using pre existing high status to defect on social norms about not explicitly leveraging your status.
9G Gordon Worley III1yStrangely, the people I can remember aiming for radical honesty read as low status people to me hoping to raise their status via radical honesty, and being mad at the world for not giving them more status for their dedication to the virtue of honesty.
2ChristianKl1yHave you actually meet radical honesty people in the first place? If I would meet a person well trained in radical honesty and one well trained in Circling Europe, I think it's more likely the Circling Europe person will defect on social norms in the way towards which you are pointing.
1Pattern1yFundamentally more valuable than what?
2ChristianKl1yNonsacred things.

A slight bit of style critique: I spent the first half of the post thinking "why does he keep capitalizing the word circle and using it this way?". I've literally never heard of this.

It's possible that I'm just way out of the norm here. I don't live in a rationalist hub of activity, but I do read a good portion of LW and a few related blogs.

5Vaniver1yThanks; fixed.
4Raemon1yThe first instance of it should probably link directly to this post [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/aFyWFwGWBsP5DZbHF/circling].

I first noticed the way in which Circling was trying to implement empiricism early in my Circling experience, but it fully crystallized when a Circler said something that rhymes with P.C. Hodgell’s “That which can be destroyed by the truth should be.” I can’t remember the words precisely, but it was something like “in the practice, I have a deep level of trust that I should be open to the universe.”

I am deeply puzzled that you see these things as expressing the same sentiment.

To be clear, are you saying that your interpretation of the latter quote’s mea

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7Vaniver1yHe definitely said a longer sentence, but I think most of the explanatory power came from what he was responding to, which I no longer remember the details of but which I remember as having the emotional content of "I am afraid to do X because I don't know how it will turn out."
4FeepingCreature1yI think the Litany of Gendlin sorta bridges between those sentiments - anything that can be destroyed by the truth should be, because it cannot be a load-bearing belief since it doesn't do any work. Of course, the amount of effort you have to put in to (re)construct a properly working belief may be significant and the interval in between may be quite unsettling.