I have a little bit of positive experience with reducing my sensitivity to loud ambulance sirens in my street. The exercise was very simple and I have a vague idea of the theory behind it.
The theory goes like this: In biology/psychology there's a distinction between different reactions to sudden and intense sensory stimuli. An orientation reflex on the one hand and a startle (and/or defense?) reflex on the other hand. The difference that's relevant here is that the orientation reflex quickly habituates while the startling does not. For instance, maybe you have a new washing machine that makes a strange, unfamiliar sound. For many people this sound may catch their attention, they double-check where it is coming from (orientation), then they quickly habituate, and after a handful of times they don't even hear the sound anymore. On the other hand, a sound may be be startling you every time and you tense up and there's no habituation no matter how often you hear the sound. Orientation reflex vs startling reflex, respectively.
Is there a way to facilitate an orientation reflex (including habituation) to kick in instead of a startle reflex? Given that these reflexes are not under under conscious control?
The exercise suggested that you consciously move your head and even the upper body (I think - or was it the whole body?) towards the source of the sudden noise and look in its direction. Even if you already know what it was and where it came from. Even if you know that there's nothing to see there because you can't see the street from there, for instance. Just move the body as if it had a proper orientation reflex. My understanding is, that this lowers the threshold for the orientation reflex to really kick in. For me at least it worked. I could usually note that there was an actual shift in the autonomic nervous system by having to yawn or taking a deep breath. And my sensitivity to the noises significantly reduced after a few weeks.
Unfortunately, I don't remember a good reference for the exercise. Nor am I well-versed with respect to those reflexes. Does anyone know more about it?
I'm reminded of an ICLR 2020 paper describing a case of "black magic" in a reinforcement learning setting, if you like:
There are two agents that play a simplified soccer game. One being the goalkeeper and one trying to score a goal. After an initial training phase, the goalkeeper starts acting strange, apparently random. The movements are adversarial noise, optimized to "confuse" the other player as much as possible to stop them from scoring a goal.
Also an example of weird things that can happen in high-dimensional spaces.
Your experience also fits nicely with Robin Hanson's description of how a wider range of abilities (and the interest in those) is a marker of high status: https://www.overcomingbias.com/2021/06/our-big-wealth-status-mistake.html
Great idea and nicely put, thanks!
I understand the objection of previous commenters that the post's idea seems a bit backwards because people with impostor syndrome themselves think that they have *too little* skill for their position, not too much.
But I think these objections take the self-made narrative of those experiencing impostor syndrome too serious. Our instincts for navigating power hierarchies arguably are much, much older than our ability to spin elaborate self-concepts. I imagine a causal relationship like this:
skill/dominance-mismatch -> fear (flight impulse) -> elaborate explanation for the felt fear
We are just super bad at explaining our basal feelings. Those explanations are usually overfitting.
Here's another example that often makes me laugh: The employees of my local organic grocery store have this habit of signaling strongly to each other how little they know about handling the shop's technical devices.
Fascinating! Since falling asleep is arguably a bodily process as well, I wonder if you also have observations about the bodily sensations during the stages? Or do you try to be exclusively aware of the visuals and try to not to be aware of the body?
Is the article a fair and much-needed outside piece of criticism that we should take seriously?
I’m still thinking about the question if (or on which level) Cade Metz’ criticism of the Rationality scene could be right. Because the counter position that he'd be wrong in every regard on all levels of analysis seems to be a too strong one.
Scott Aaronson summarized the NYT article’s central thesis as warning against the Rationality scene with its openness to ideas as a kind of a “gateway drug” to dangerous beliefs. And generally it doesn’t seem too controversial to assume that ideas can be interesting and potentially valuable as well as dangerous too [vaguely gesturing in the direction of history]. It just feels so off to be warned against someone like Scott Alexander. But could the warning be steelmanned somehow?
Openness as a personality trait is not only associated with openness to new ideas but also with a pronounced sense for aesthetics. I imagine aesthetics to be a kind of rather generic, low-level heuristic for what’s good for us. Like with our built-in appreciation of abundance in nature. (I would suspect aesthetics to be evolutionarily tuned as well as culturally honed.) If my heuristics are functioning well, then I can afford to open up to a lot of new experiences and ideas because my time-honoured aesthetics will tend to guide me to the good ones - even before memetic evolution ran its course.
But the reverse can be argued as well: If my aesthetics are not reliable, that may not only lead to arguably questionable but harmless choices in music, clothes, and home decor, but may actually make me quite helpless in a marketplace of ideas, potentially resulting in the adoption of destructive ideologies.
Personally, I find that observation surprising, now that I think about it. It means that the Rationality community may actually be spoiled with its pool of sharp thinkers and aesthets. Spoiled not only with respect to stimulating discussions but also with respect to the openness the community can afford without degenerating into ideology. It could mean that not every audience could be trusted in the same way. I don’t like that conclusion very much, politically and culturally. But I see how you could make a point for it. And how, as a consequence, there may be even some value, on a societal level, to be wary of a group of extraordinarily open people. Even when that group tends to be right a lot, paradoxically, because you need to trust your aesthetics a lot to open up to them.
Is the article a fair and much-needed outside piece of criticism that we should take seriously? We talk a bigger game about accepting and integrating outside criticism than many communities. Maybe this is our chance to really put that into practice?
A "fair and much-needed outside piece of criticism" would arguably take advantage of its outside perspective to point out community taboos and blind spots. Reading about your blind spots should, almost per definition I guess, make your reading stumble in strange and unpredicted ways. But the NYT article is depressingly predictable in its attempt to discredit reputation by alluding to vague links to right-wing positions and figures. The predictability reaches almost comical levels where the author isn't even shy to quote the very sentences that Scott already highlighted and tagged as "These are the sentences that can be taken out of context to discredit me if you are insincere. Please don't do it. But honestly, we all know you will do it. So whatever."
But apart from the politics and the signaling games, it still seems like a worthy exercise to look for object-level claims in the article. I found one:
Slate Star Codex was a window into the Silicon Valley psyche. There are good reasons to try and understand that psyche, because the decisions made by tech companies and the people who run them eventually affect millions.
That might be a valid point.
I like that question. It seems related to the question of "integration" in psychotherapy. Like when you made a valuable System I / bottom-up experience, how can you support remembering it? One technique I remember is to connect the felt sense with a more symbolic anchor - a gesture, image, sound, bodily position, place, situation, etc. And it sounds like a nice experiment to try "spaced integration" by repeatedly recalling the felt sense through the anchor.
I wonder if you might have it backwards: Building concentration up to TMI level 4/5 may have been enough to push your sensory system far enough into insight territory that the anxiety and panic that you are experiencing now may, in fact, be symptoms of a Dark Night (or partly so). In that case, the "standard" prescription is *more* insight practice, not less.
If you would like to look into that line of reasoning, Daniel Ingram's (highly opinionated but very valuable) book would be a standard source to learn more about Dark Nights. Also you could check out Cheetah House's website to see if you can relate to their description of symptoms.
In any case I'd second Logan Riggs recommendations. The recordings of Rob Burbea's jhana retreat are amazing.