Your charming fake DID patients are sucking up time, resources, and attention from an already overburdened mental health system while chronic schizophrenics are pushed back out to live on the streets because there's no beds left, so sorry, try not to step in front of a subway train because you're running away from your paranoid delusions. No sympathy. None.

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Excellent post. I am bemused by all the "just faking" takes. They seem to be based on some reductionist impulse that doesn't model well how the mind works.

Of course people sometimes lie. Of course they're sometimes confused about themselves and construct odd narratives. But none of that means deceit or confusion is always or even usually what is going on with weird conditions.

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Nov 11, 2022·edited Nov 11, 2022

> This sounds like: “I, RC, have the mysterious mental ability to detect liars. I admit I can’t prove this, but come on, you should probably just trust me because it’s perfectly reasonable to think other people have mysterious mental abilities you don’t.”

Detecting lies isn't a mysterious ability. It's a normal social skill, which can be verified in particular cases. And it's probably one that you personally should be putting more work into, for a few reasons.

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as someone who was heavily involved in Livejournal and /cgl/ back in the mid 2000s and saw the rise of spoonies, they are by far and large attention seekers making up illnesses to find themselves doted on or to get attention in their self-proclaimed misery. it has not changed in the last 15 years. of course to the detriment of people who genuinely have unsolved and unidentified illness(es). just as you have people faking anorexia, faking personality disorders, etc.

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I am much less concerned about whether or not people are *lying* then whether people might be *mistaken*. It seems true and important that people can be *mistaken* about their own experiences—in the example from the previous post of the person who denies they're hungry and then eats, for instance. Or the woman who said she wasn't thinking (since she was enlightened) and then realized she was. Or if, for example, someone says that God spoke to them, I think we can believe that they believe it, without closing off the possibility that they were *wrong*, i.e. that they experienced something else that they mistook for God speaking to them. In this sense, at least, I think that experiences are not unfalsifiable.

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Yes, yes, and yes to this. It's so basic and fundamental that we're all having lots of quite different qualia all the time. The simplest example must be colour blindness. In my middle school biology class, my teacher was red-green colourblind, and a classmate asked: so what colour do you see when you look at red or green? The teacher rolled his eyes and pointed out that there is no way he can communicate the answer other than by saying, "the red-green colour."

Something as basic and everyday as what colour stuff is has at least 5% of us experiencing a bunch of completely separate qualia to "the norm." So, yeah, it would be little wonder if lots of other areas of our experience also have significant non-normie populations.

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If you want some raw examples of people who are "faking" things, you can look at subreddits like FakeDisorderCringe. I was looking for some adult autism discussions and Reddit decided to recommend a site where 256k members ruthlessly mock the social media of people who self diagnose with autism and D.I.D. All of the posts are supposed to be "anonymous" but many of them have more than enough info to find the individual poster and harass them.

I don't know enough about D.I.D. to evaluate those (other than thinking they are a bit silly), but many of the "obvious fakers" of autism they make fun of are... people that seem to have some form of autism and are trying to figure out what's going on. We seem to have ended up at a point where claiming you have a hard to diagnose mental illness makes internet strangers EXTREMELY ANGRY and I don't really think that's a healthy thing for either side.

Everyone always claims that fakers are obviously all "attention seekers" but that honestly doesn't make much sense to me because the odds of getting negative destructive attention are quite high. "Confused about how their own brain works" seems much, much more likely to me based on all of the psychology research I've read.

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As a guy with diagnosed textbook Tourette's syndrome, I've been morbidly fascinated by the rise of "TikTok Tourette's", which is just absolutely, clearly, not Tourette's (the symptom presentation is totally different, it's just entirely missing the actually most common Tourette's symptoms, and the gender ratio is not just inverted from what you would normally expect, it's inverted by an absolutely enormous effect size the likes of which you never see).

But! That in and of itself doesn't necessarily mean that every single one of them is "faking" -- it's entirely possible that they've got some weird condition that you somehow psyche yourself into by watching too many people do this sort of thing on TikTok. Basically, there's good evidence that most of them don't have classic Tourette's, but it's possible a number of them could be experiencing *something* real. I feel like the degree to which TikTok is capable of generating new psychosomatic disorders is really understudied.

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"RC is doing an old trick: summing up his opponent’s position as an extreme absolute, then summing up his own position as “it’s diverse and complicated and a middle ground”." - Scott, end of the article


"Either we trust trustworthy-sounding people who we like, when they say stuff that sounds kind of plausible - or we apply extreme skepticism about every not-immediately-verifiable claim!" - Scott, middle of article

RC might have exactly nailed your position, no? In fact, he might understand it better than you do, as your positions seems to come down very strongly on the "believe everyone unless you have evidence to the contrary."

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As a person who had very bad Most Likely Psychosomatic? stomach/GI pain as a child from ages 8 to about 17: thank you for saying psychosomatic pain is actually painful. I think some people bizarrely equate "psychosomatic pain" with "just making it up". But even though my brain is "making it up," in a sense, it is not something that can be consciously controlled. (Thankfully I mostly no longer experience this pain after starting SNRIs but it was a major formative childhood experience sadly.)

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Nov 11, 2022·edited Nov 11, 2022

---This sounds like: “I, RC, have the mysterious mental ability to detect liars. I admit I can’t prove this, but come on, you should probably just trust me because it’s perfectly reasonable to think other people have mysterious mental abilities you don’t.”---

That's not his argument. He's not saying he has a superpower. He's saying that this community attracts people with below-average social abilities. He's arguing that he's sighted in a blind community, not that he has x-ray vision. He's arguing that normal people have a reasonable capacity for this, but that the Rationalist community is spectacularly vulnerable to this because they're uniquely bad, as a community, at spotting liars and fraudsters. And he's right. You, in particular, Scott, are famously bad at spotting bad-faith actors.

---You should believe the spoonies! You should believe the DID people!---

No. These people are lying to exploit people, and inculcating Munchausen's in large numbers of impressionable teens. One of the reasons people seeking treatment for real illnesses, like, say, migraines, have such difficulty in getting help is because there are so many people straight-up lying to doctors either to get drugs (Saying "I do not want narcotics" makes some processes shockingly easier) or to get a diagnosis for attention. If you stop believing them, almost all cases of these illnesses will *go away*. Accepting them all as valid baits social-status seeking teens (which is why all of these are led by young women) into a life of pain and misery.

And that's setting aside the monstrous awfulness of having welcoming communities with charismatic celebrities having the cost to entry "being sick".

---You should believe that people experience astral projection - it’s just a cheap off-brand lucid dream, and I’ve personally tried lucid dreaming and can confirm it’s real!---

That's not the claim of astral projection, and you should at least have enough respect for people to take their claims at face-value and not rewrite their claim to fit within your experience.

Psychics are literal con-artists who exploit people in grief to extract them from their money. Saying we should just accept claims like this IS NOT RATIONALISM. It's a crutch for people with low social intelligence to navigate some social environments. Online, that crutch has become pervasive and poisoned so much of the online space and is actively hurting people.

There's a reason so much of the mental-illness discussion online is some form of:

/<Downblouse camera angle>

"[dramatic sigh] So, I don't like talking about this* but I have anxiety, clinical depression, bipolar disorder, dysphoria and chronic pain, and I wanted to talk to you guys about what it's like to {ordinary activity}"

*It's their entire online presence and a major if not primary income source/

That reason is not a sudden explosion of mental illness. The reason is that young women are especially vulnerable to things that cause social status spikes. They are generally better at men at detecting these things, and lack the judgment, especially in the modern era where women are not taught potential pitfalls, to understand the costs of trying to exploit them.

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This is, as usual, an interesting post, but I want to make a more basic point: even if I were to grant that Spoonies and DID TikTokkers are mostly charlatans, I still find the Jhana claims to be basically credible and I don't see any contradiction there. In other words, I find this part of RC's claim to be straightforwardly incorrect:

> if I went with believing the jhanists based on the level of evidence they provide, I’d also have to believe both the Spoonies, the DID people, the astral-projecting Wiccans, people who see auras, and John Edwards

I don't really have the time or the inclination to unpack the reasons why I think Wiccans warrant more skepticism than Jhanists. I just want to note that I think we can in fact form reasonable judgments about the plausibility of different subjective claims even in the absence of any truly objective criteria. I had literally never heard of Jhana before reading Scott's original post and I find the claims being made to be so strange that I'm not really sure how to incorporate them into understanding of human experience. Nevertheless, when I read the various accounts I came to the conclusion that the Jhanists are likely telling the truth. Which isn't really how I feel about aura readers.

Can I justify this judgment? Well, yes, I can. I could refer to analog states and markers of claimant credibility and a host of other clues that are guiding my intuition. Can I prove it? Nope. But that's not the point. The point is we don't "have to" believe anything and we can in fact draw distinctions even in areas that are not directly observable.

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I remember, when young (<10 years old), believing in things I knew weren't true. It's hard to explain. For example convincing myself I could use dowsing rod like things, or that ghosts exist, that I was somehow close to uncovering "deep" secrets about the universe. The Ouija board seems like a paradigmatic example of the sort of thing I'm gesturing at. In my experience anecdotally, some surprisingly large fraction of people when encountering something like a Ouija board (or at least something analogous to it) will claim they genuinely believe they are not a biasing factor. And yet I know from my own experience (again from when I was <10 years old) of how this felt internally. I knew that I was biasing the Ouija board, but I was "playing a game" of believing in it and claiming so, somehow for the sake of the thrill. Again it's hard to explain, but this sort of experience makes me skeptical of a lot of the claims Scott is defending here, because I can so vividly imagine that a lot of people simply do not grow out of the sort of games I (and I think most) grew out of during childhood. Anyone else have similar experiences?

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It seems the argument you're making is "people sometimes have mental states that are impossible for you to conceive of but are nonetheless real."

While Resident Contrarian's argument seems to be "people can deceive others, or even themselves, into believing they have mental states that they do not have."

These positions aren't contradictory.

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Thanks for the post!! I appreciate this a lot, Scott. The comments shared about “””Spoonies””” were deeply uncomfortable to read (even ignoring the deep issues with particularly picking out women from this group), and in general I found it odd that every single one of the examples given were ones that had a straightforward antecedent the was pretty obviously true regardless of the conclusions made from them. I also had thought RC was specifically referring to the online community that uses/propagates Spoon theory, & I had been under the false impression that visual phenomena are non-synesthetic, so good to know!

I can relate a LITTLE bit about disbelief regarding DID since the first person I met with multiple personalities was a very young person that had decided they wanted to develop another personality only a week before, and I thus had a very poor grasp of the topic until good friends of mine also decided to develop a split ego. They are very eloquent and cool. That being said, I was at most guilty of willful ignorance rather than public slander. I find it odd to use a platform for this, even more so as RC recently wrote about going through the tribulations of deeply disabling, inexplicable illness. Maybe they would be more gentle in better circumstances.

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I've very rarely seen any mental-illness-focused area of the Internet not be some kind of hellscape. And frankly I'm sympathetic to nearly everyone involved. Self-diagnosis is annoying, but being sick and not knowing what's wrong with you is much worse. Awareness is important, but misinformation is dangerous. Visibility reduces social stigma, but publicly being an embarrassing weirdo increases social stigma.

At the end of the day I land on a similar place to you, Scott. It's likely that a lot of the people who report these things aren't intentionally lying or faking. They might be deeply mistaken about *what* they're experiencing, but they're experiencing *something*. A lot of them are maybe looking for help as well, and are more inclined to trust a community of peers than a doctor. I think they should probably go to a doctor, but I'd rather they get some kind of support than none at all.

Also, your description of OCD didn't sound insane to me. It sounded familiar in some ways. I think some mental illnesses aren't the brain breaking in totally novel ways, but the brain turning reasonably common traits up to pathological degrees. (This is a sentiment that gets plenty of Internet sneering, but it's the most responsible way I can come up with to say that I think I relate to your experience.)

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“The evidence for jhanas is thousands of people over thousands of years saying they’ve experienced it, a bunch of my friends who I trust a lot saying it worked for them, a handful of experiments with EEGs that seem to show positive results, and a promise that if I tried hard enough I could replicate the results.”

You buried the lede. It is patently ridiculous to compare mentally troubled TikTok teens with reports from thousands or millions of spiritual teachers and practitioners in many traditions and many countries going back thousands of years.

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This is incredibly lucid and well argued (IMO). A joy to read. Maybe the self-set task to take on someone's argument very systematically forces an exceptional kind of clarity that other forms of writing don't.

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Broadly, I agree that the distinction between psychosomatic pain and somatic pain is blurry and irrelevant to the degree of suffering it causes.


Both types of pain are shaped by our expectations of what level of pain we should be feeling.

For jhanas, DID, spoonies, etc. if people have the 'script' beforehand of the type of experience they think is happening to them, they will shape their perceptions to fit that script. And they will verbalize their perceptions and experiences in a way that aligns with a script that they have been exposed to in a type of reciprocal determinism. And so public awareness and perception of these issues (among many others) helps create them.

I believe that affirming and labeling someone's pain / distressing internal experiences may not always be best for them. And that greater cultural awareness of such experiences may lead others to develop them, or lead to those experiences taking a greater role in their consciousness and self perception, prolonging those unpleasant mental states. Obviously, the paternalistic "chin up, it's not that bad, get over it" attitude has its own issues, but believing 'it's a matter of your expectations, and you can stop it if you wanted to" can also be empowering, especially to someone with a strong internal locus of control.

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When Resident Contrarian spoke as a contrarian in response to Scott's post on Nick Cammerata, I thought he was excluding easily accessible avenues for understanding the plausibility of Nick's experiences (and of many thousands of others who have reached trance states) by cherry picking the types of people he was skeptical about (spoonies, DID, etc.). Scott has responded to this challenege head on by giving reasons to consider accepting, at least provisionally, claims by people in those groups. What bothered me about RC's stance then was an unwillingness to consider analogical cases far closer to jhana practice than spoonies et al., which are also make it far less demanding to accept the reports of jhana practitioners.

The examples I gave related to descriptions of experiences deploying skill mastery that were explored by Mihaly Csikszentmilhalyi in developing his concept of "flow." [I apologize: most of what follows is repasting what I posted in the earlier thread.] People who describe ecstasy in flow experiences--e.g., highly skilled athletes or performing artists--sometimes resemble Nick C in the extremity of their language. In a book that preceded the better known, "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience" (which attracted a lot of attention when it was published in 1990), his 1975 "Beyond Boredom and Anxiety," Csikszentmihalyi included Zen masters among the classes of people he felt achieved this type of experience. In much later research, involving more lab monitoring, he and collaborators looked at EEG correlations that extended to video gaming as well.

The model of flow can be useful because it identifies the brain states Nick celebrates as pervasively available in reduced form--we all can get pleasurably lost in small activities involving deployment of ordinary skills (puzzles, games, sports)--with the potential to become overwhelmingly satisfying if honed to a very high degree and optimally deployed. We might feel it's a stretch if a ballet dancer said she felt that when she was locked the midst of a complex performance she had totally mastered, the joy was ten times better than casual sex . . . or a pianist, skier, etc. . . . but we probably wouldn't consider it mysterious or dismiss it out of hand, and we might grant the possibility based on smaller-scale rewards we encounter ordinarily for smaller-scale skill mastery and deployment. (This was a theme of pre-Buddhist Chinese philosophy, such as is found in the "Zhuangzi," c. 300 BCE, and informs a great deal of both Daoist and Confucian thought throughout later history.)

A common feature among these experiences, as found in contemporary experiments, is the measurably suppressed scale of frontal-lobe activity that accompanies focused deployment of mastered skills--correlating to reported loss of any sense of personal identity ("I")--along with intense but effortless attention to the physical environment, as seen, heard, or felt. Hypofrontality--the suppression of the brain's executive function--and the experience of losing the sense of self (in the Buddhist case raised to a central tenet of ideology) is equally a measurable feature of meditative trance states such as jhana. (On the issue of the dissolution of the homuncular "I", I think Rodolfo Llinas's "I Of the Vortex" is a good neuroscientific complement to both Buddhist doctrine and Sartre's existentialism, illustrating why both have purchase, even if you don't want to buy into the whole '-ism' thing.)

So in addition to traveling Scott's difficult route to understand why spoonies, folks with any form of DID, etc. may be reporting real experiences, I think it's important to realize that there are much more accessible paths to figuring out why reports like Nick C's are very plausible (although it would, of course, be easy to lie too--as is always the case with subjective reports of any kind).

PS: I appreciated the move to Ramachandran's discussion of phantom limbs. I thought the book he co-authored on that ("Phantoms In the Brain") was very cogent.

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There's a recursion problem here. The problems that come up when you try to decide whether to believe someone or not about their internal mental states are the same problems that come up when you try to define what it means to believe someone.

If a random person tells me that there are multiple personalities living in their head, I'm probably just going to "believe" them because I don't care enough to try and counter their belief. Or I might disbelieve them for the same reason. I don't want to expend the mental energy to counter something I consider improbable.

The real question is how you behave when there is something at stake. Would you hire one of these people for a very important job? Or would you let one of them babysit your kid? Whatever the answers are, they're probably a lot more involved than "yes, I believe people's mental states" or "no, these people are obviously delusional."

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I'm also a "rounds off to asexual" person. Learning that sexual attraction was a real thing that other people experienced, and wasn't just them exaggerating to be funny/popular, was intensely confusing and strangely eye opening.

On a related note, I was diagnosed with autism as an adult. I'm currently discovering that many "extremely painful and unpleasant" experiences are not that painful/unpleasant for everyone else. My sensory perception is just dialed up to 11 on certain things. This is simultaneously a relief and mildly infuriating. Had I known that walking over grass barefoot should NOT feel like getting stabbed with dozens of tiny knives, for instance, maybe child-me could have worn shoes as an accommodation.

All of this to say: my theory of mind has been shown to be wildly inaccurate, so I now default to believing other people when they report their internal experiences. I'm often skeptical of their conclusions, but not of their stated perception (eg, the angel they "saw" could very well be a hallucination or lucid dream, but I believe their claim that they perceived *something* unusual).

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This was fantastic, thanks for going to the effort to post this. Substantively, I think this is a brave stand against a habit of punching down at people who are opposite the ideal rationalist:

1) They evince a condition or mental state that is foreign, and

2) That condition or mental state is incompatible with a rational view of the world

In other words, the perfect target to punch down on!

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Whenever Scott talks about DID, it feels me with rage, something that rarely if ever happens. I can't wrap my head around how a smart educated compassionate mental health professional can be so... well, how do I put it kindly... under-informed.

My last 3 partners, including the current one, have/had DID (one eventually succeeded at killing herself, after a couple of tries, long after we lost touch). (You might think I have a type, but it's the other way around.) I also knew several others, through a mental health support site. As well as a few wannabe DID patients, though those are easy to notice.

None of them wanted to have it. All got it from a severe prolonged childhood trauma. All realized they had it a long time later, when confronted with undeniable evidence. All had it latent (or maybe didn't have it, depending on your definition) until some traumatic event or series of events broke their mind and it all went nuts. All have trouble remembering their childhood, except when one of the many child trauma-holders is out. All have parts that deny being mentally ill. All are good at masking their condition, including, or especially, with doctors. None would ever talk on social media about it. All were high-functioning, up until the breakdown, and are stuck in a mental and emotional hell since. Well, those who are still around. All have long-term chronic physical health problems associated with trauma (see the Body Keeps the Score). All are in therapy, on and off, and have been misdiagnosed multiple times by psychiatrists who don't believe that DID is "real", regardless of evidence.

I think there is some kind of a blind spot among psych professionals, and Scott has been infected, talking about "theory of mind" and basically falling prey to isolated demands for rigor, the term he himself coined. Maybe it is anti-memetic, or maybe they have been inoculated against considering this condition seriously in their training and practice, I don't know. It is very frustrating to watch.

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“You should believe that people experience astral projection”

I don’t believe you believe this

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I liked this piece a lot. In the top-quarter. And I may update some priors. But I am also aware that lie-detecting is not one of Scott's strongest strengths. Remember the guy who tried to scam him ("some bucks to buy the ticket home") and after that guy gave finally up (as Scott insisted to go all the way to buy that ticket instead of handing out some bucks) - Scott still wondered whether that guy's story might have been true after all. ... Sure, we all are self-deluding us to some extent, often believing our own BS. In the end: What does it matter? What are the consequences? In 2022 the number of kids who feel they are the wrong gender may really be a magnitude larger than in 2002. Bryan Caplan: https://betonit.substack.com/p/lgbt-explosion

Fine with me, but I share a F. de Boer view: Should tax-money go to new types of toilets, cover treatments, print brochures about diversity to be handed out in kindergartens (my daughter got one)? - Should media/NGOs be liable for "pushing stories"? If media reports more vividly about suicides, more people end their lives. - Winning herostratic fame is not new, Herostratus burnt that temple down 2378 years ago. At least the authorities then tried to keep him unknown. ;) Many horses bolted, most fences down. - Another take from mru: U.S.A. fact of the day by Tyler Cowen July 11, 2022 in Current Affairs Medicine: What’s new is this: Almost a quarter of Americans over the age of 18 are now medicated for one or more of these conditions. More specifically, prescriptions across three categories of mental health medications — depression, anxiety and A.D.H.D. — have all risen.

Anyways, I am fine with any jhanna. If I thought it would add to my life, I might try. I just don't.

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I recognize that this is a much less important point than DID people and spoonies, but his third example of lots of people lying (getting Mew without an event code in Pokémon red/blue/yellow) is *also* wrong. I myself caught Mew in Blue with an emulator a few years ago. I don't remember enough details for a full set of instructions, but here's the glitch I used and the rest is elsewhere on the internet:

- Get an Abra that knows teleport

- Go to a particular trainer (I think near nugget bridge?) and get their attention (the exclamation point above their head) from several squares away

- before they finish walking up to you, hit the start button and teleport away to the Pokémon center nearest the area of grass where you can catch Ditto

- Walk into that patch of grass until you get a Ditto encounter; it will be/become a Mew and stay that way after you catch it.

I bring this up to point out that Resident Contrarian was wrong on all three "this large group of people is lying" claims; if you don't believe me, try it yourself.

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> My totally made-up wild guess, which might be completely wrong, is that about 20% have some physical illness we understand perfectly well (like a tumor) that just hasn’t been detected yet, 30% have some physical illness we haven’t discovered/characterized/understood yet, 45% have some psychosomatic condition, and 5% are consciously faking for attention.

What about ensuring proper diet and exercise? Not to say that's always the issue, but I was surprised it wasn't in any of your categories.

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"But if you read what they’re saying, it’s reasonable and honest! They’re saying 'If you used to faint all the time, and then after making a bunch of difficult lifestyles you can now mostly avoid fainting, and your doctor asks "do you have a fainting problem yes/no", answer yes!' THIS IS GOOD ADVICE."

It is good advice. As one of those kids who strongly felt a moral obligation not to "lie", and who also had some health problems, I burned myself pretty badly by being "too honest" in a way incompatible with medical box-checking. Now I'm aggressive about curating my medical information to avoid potential red herrings, and recommend the same to others unlucky enough to be medically interesting in some way. Paraphrase of an exchange I had with a geneticist:

Geneticist: "So, it looks like you do have this heritable oddity, and it has evidently caused you some discomfort. That's fibromyalgia."

Me: "No. People use 'fibromyalgia' to mean the discomfort doesn't have a known specific cause. You just found the specific cause."

Geneticist: "'Fibromyalgia' just means 'myalgia', pain, in your fibrous tissue, whatever the cause. Such pain is fairly normal with this oddity."

Me: "Since it's fairly normal with this oddity, let's stick with recording the oddity. Listing 'fibromyalgia' as a symptom seems redundant." (What I didn't say, but was definitely thinking, was "and is also a great way to torpedo my credibility as a patient".)

The geneticist, bless him, listened.

I've heard patient advocates say, no, it's not your job as a patient to decide what's a red herring and what isn't. That's the doctors' job, and, as a patient, you have a right to expect doctors to do the work of doctoring, rather than do it for them. It would be nice if medical providers had the time and other resources to respect that. But they often don't. Medical care is a scarce-enough resource for providers to need and seek reasons to dismiss patients. Excluding dismissal triggers from your chart, unless they're clearly the best explanation for what's going on, is merely prudent.

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It's a relief not to have to decide what I think about some propositions. Sympathies to people who need to make judgment calls due to their job or other circumstances.

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I see a lot of that sort of mind-reading in politics. No, the people on the other side can't *really* be frightened or angry or disagree about the facts. They must be up to something nefarious or they just want attention.

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Can someone explain the John Edwards reference? I first assumed it to be one of those Berenstein Bears things where people tend to remember the wrong spelling better than the real spelling, but when I Googled "John Edwards" the John Edwards I was thinking of was spelled "John Edwards".

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"Beyond that, the stories are all slightly different, but smoothing them into a single thread: the person got really into some piece of fiction, and found that one of the characters they were modeling really carefully was now “active” in some sense where could give them advice."

OK, so do we now all update our priors to believe that not only was Julian Jaynes correct, but his theory of how (at least some) minds work remains valid for (at least some of) modern man?

I'm not being sarcastic; that genuinely seems like the appropriate response to Scott's claims.

Two other situations I'd like to see reviewed are food issues (eg gluten-intolerant) and trans-adjacent behavior. Both of them come across as mainly attention seeking from exactly the sort of people who have always sought attention (but, sadly, these days tattoos, or shacking up with the same sex or different race, just don't generate the attention they used to...), and I don't know the extent to which the loudness and unpleasantness of the publicity hounds represents almost all of the "real" community vs almost none of the "real" community

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When I first read about the McCullough effect, which causes afterimage-like changes in color perception that far outlast actual afterimages and nobody knows why, I decided to try it and see for myself. I did a marathon training session, staring at my current grids for a full twenty minutes, and then after that I spent *months* experiencing this basically-harmless hallucinatory color distortion in the world around me.

Yes, sometimes people's experience is different from yours in bizarre ways not yet fully explained. That one was even so weird I sometimes second guess my own memories, and am tempted to try again just to see how real it is - but I also recall finding it pretty annoying, so I don't do that, and I am going to recommend against you doing so either.

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"I’m just saying I think this is usually a bad gamble."

I think at least PART of the difference lies in that claim that it's a BAD gamble.

One can believe that all of the proffered syndromes (spoonie, trans-adjacent, gluten-intolerant, multiple personalities, jhanas, etc) exist while also believing that most of the people who claim them are attention-seeking.

Which side of this statement you weight as more important depends on your goals. For someone trying to understand the human mind (as a healer, as a researcher, whatever) the fact that any such cases exist is fascinating and worth understanding. Whereas for someone simply trying to live in the world (and irritated by the endless streams of nonsense encountered from every direction) the fact that most such cases are attention-seeking and worth dismissing/ignoring may well be the more salient issue.

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I just wanted to say that I really appreciated this post - and Resident Contrarian's.

I tend to approach things like RC - politely skeptical. Which is often a very useful and accurate starting point.

Unfortunately, I also a fair amount of Freddie in me - combative, dunking on people, righteous indignation, etc...

One of my favorite things about reading Scott is that it makes me a better person. He makes me kinder, more thoughtful, more willing to give people the benefit of the doubt. Even if he was wrong about a lot of stuff (which I don't think he is), his writing would have tremendous value for that alone. He rubs off on people, and that's what keeps me coming back.

This discussion seems to hit a lot of tender spots for people, but I think a lot of this is just coming at the problem from opposite ends. There are - undeniably - a lot of people online who say and do things for clout and attention. Particularly young people, particularly on social media. I think RC is correct to bring skepticism to the table.

To Scott's point, I also think that a lot of us are more or less normal, spending our time around more or less normal people. It is extremely helpful to be reminded that there are *lots* of people out there who are not. Many of whom we don't interact with because they fall through the cracks - and many others who we interact with all the time and aren't aware that things are different for them.

Lastly, there are a whole bunch of people who are like me in college. I went through several years where I was intensely depressed and had suicidal ideation. For a while, I was convinced that I had bipolar or something similar.

I did not. I was young and depressed. I never took meds, never seriously did therapy - I just got older. So now I am occasionally depressed, but it is pretty manageable and not a big deal.

From RC's perspective, I would be someone who mistaken believed I had a mental illness - and talked myself into some of the symptoms - because I read too much stuff online. And that would be correct.

From Scott's perspective, I was someone who was legitimately in pain and casting around for something to explain it. That is also correct.

I think, given the heated emotions in this thread, we should try really hard not to talk past each other.

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Re multiple personalities: I don't think I have any unusual amount of different personalities running around in my head but I can certainly make educated guesses about what kind of advice people I know would give. Having read this I have determined that I will now start receiving simulated relationship advice from an old friend who used to give good relationship advice.

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When I was a child I was very good at noticing an adult being pervy with me. Maybe I was imagining it, but I was certain. And in many occasions their actions after my pervdar went off confirmed it: a random adult man asking me to go to lunch, or someone at the mall asking me to follow them into the bathroom.

I can often tell a man’s sexual orientation from a static picture, and almost always from a brief interaction. My father came out when I was 14, and I can’t remember thinking he was gay, but I became acutely aware since.

I would say I’m top 90% reading people. I might not have the technical lenguaje to describe someone’s personality, but I can feel who they are in the same way I can feel the answer to an integral is correct. It’s a special type of arousal when you simply know something just is.

I believe narcissists really do believe in the merits of the things they say and the actions they take, but I still feel repulsion and an urge to run away when I’m in front of someone with strong narcissist vibes.

I’m repulsed by the kind of people that would love make a living from videos that teach others how to get rich, even if they never accomplished the feat themselves. I don’t trust people that are trying to sell me something, especially when it involves money, but also ideas.

I can believe most people either experience or believe they experience what they claim. And yet, some of these claims, like lucid dreaming or hyper-phantasia, seem harmless, and others like being a spiritual healer or being aroused by children, seem really dangerous and cause me aversion.

I can’t speak for entire groups of people and their beliefs, but anecdotally there are certain topics that attract people that come off as intentionally deceptive.

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Nov 11, 2022·edited Nov 11, 2022

If you offered a hundred dollars to anyone reporting a subjective experience of jhana, what do you think your proportion of false reports would look like? The reason I personally default to skeptical is that the incentives as it is skew heavily towards lying.

The costs of lying is incredibly cheap at times. Nobody can call you out on an unfalsifiable internal experience. This extends to other things that are burdensome difficult to falsify (e.g. Canadian girlfriend, you haven't met her, "As a lawyer..." on the Internet, etc.). It doesn't even have to be difficult to justify with yourself: it's a completely harmless lie, you're just trying to fit in, your intentions are good. Or maybe you aren't lying, you're just exaggerating your symptoms, you do have some minor back aches so it's fine to describe it as a chronic back pain. Or, you could have heard about something like that once and created a false memory of it because your experience sounds tangentially similar to what was described.

And the rewards? Social acceptance for buying into the group delusion. Claiming to regularly hear voices from God would be celebrated among a great many communities, the same applies in communities that glorify mental illness. Or purely bragging rights for having a rare experience, of speaking from a position of authority, or on your own prowess (your faith in God, your ability to hold your alcohol, how brave you are, how widely read you are...). Or just sympathy points and concessions, like getting a free comfortable chair for your back aches. When the costs are zero, plenty of folks would make a false report for even marginal social benefit. I used an analogy of getting a hundred dollars at the start, but plenty of folks do regularly spend that much money and more for nothing but temporary status gains!

With these kind of reports, you never get the kind of claims that are easily falsifiable, and when something becomes more falsifiable the incidences of reports will drop. Reported ghost sightings are way down after cellphones. Religions in general have trended towards more unfalsifiable claims as our ability to falsify them has improved and you hardly get reported miracles these days.

This doesn't mean that everyone is lying, but the more incentives line up to lie, the more you would expect lies. To counteract this, skepticism, as well as imposing actual social costs when the lies are finally exposed, is necessary to disincentize lying. Defaulting to "everyone's experience is valid" just incentives more lying.

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Nov 11, 2022·edited Nov 11, 2022

Just like one shouldn't underestimate the possibility that people have experiences that one can't easily imagine, one shouldn't underestimate the possibility that people are more comfortable lying than one is, both to themselves or to others. An half lies too like what a good actor may experience when playing a part, a believer of whatever, which could be real experiences in a literal sense but a lie for all practical purposes, since if reality pushes hard enough their "fake" experiences vanish, like if a fire broke out on set, or if the believer is forced to bet on a prediction. Training data set for this view is also quite big.

Also, this seems to be a debate that touches sensitivities. Scott is sensitive to people disregarding the reality of the experience, and others are sensitive to the system taking the "fakers" seriously to the detriment of those who make better use of it. Maybe a clearer distinction should be made between those who aren't really experiencing the thing, those who are but their experiences would go away if everyone including themselves stopped believing they had "the thing", and those whose experiences remain to some degree regardless of anyone's beliefs of "the thing".

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Nov 11, 2022·edited Nov 11, 2022

Thank you for this post. I was saving yes! Yes! In my mind for most of the time I was reading it. ( except when I really had to concentrate)

My acquaintance Jake ( who lives in a basement apartment located in my brain) was nodding approvingly. “Quite right” he mumbled more than once. He’s not given to great displays of emotion and was watching something on telly while I was reading, so his few mumbles were very significant. Because I trust his sense of things when all’s said and done and he’s been around the block, if you know what I mean. I’d say more about him but he gets cross when he’s talked about too much.

Ok, so Am totally on board with the multiple personality community. I have a few but Jake I know best.

So why did I invent Jake to speak through of sense and nonsense in the world?

I’ll tell you.

Because when I just talk to myself in the mirror Im never going to be surprised by what I hear back, or what I might say next.

Multiple personalities are a really good hack imo. And, if you’re not shy about them and want to play dress up you can do well as an actor. If you’re not so keen on thesbianism then you could probably be a really good psychiatrist.

Seriously Scott, cudos.

Edit: none of this has anything to do with people being seriously ill in some way. I see Freddy’s got his knickers in a twist about that….

I apologize, that last remark was Jake’s. I never know what’s going to come out of his mouth half the time.

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It continually amazes me how obstinately so many people are convinced that everyone is basically just like them and couldn’t possibly experience things much differently than they would if they were in the same situation.

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Am I crazy for thinking that the issue here is a conflation between believing that someone "feels" something vs. believing that their feeling is linked to an actual phenomenon?

Psychosomatic pain, for example. I can believe and trust a person who says it feels like their leg has been crushed by an ancil. I can accept that the signal being sent to their brain is identical to the one sent to a person who's leg was actually crushed under an anvil. But if their leg was never actually crushed and an x-ray shows their leg to be perfectly healthy, in what way is it wrong to say that their experience is false? "I believe you feel the pain, but in reality your leg isn't broken" seems to be a perfectly reasonable position that is missing from all of this.

Even more bizarre: "believe astral projectionists"? What??

I can believe that someone legitimately believes they are capable of astral projection. I can believe that they are not "lying". But the fact remains that astral projection is *not a real thing*. Whatever real experience they are having, it's not astral projection because that's not a real thing. That's an important distinction, is it not?

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Also is there like like a prize for jhanas or something? I think I experienced one once when I was routinely meditating intensely for long periods in my youth. I thought it was neat, but I never mentioned it to anyone before now because it never occurred to me that there was any point in doing that.

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EVERYBODY has multiple personalities. We behave differently around bosses, church members, frat brothers, twitter threads, cats, babies, etc. We bring the relevant personality to the fore given whom we are dealing with. Going down a Facebook feed can be very fatiguing because you need to keep swapping out personalities, as Facebook mixes people from different phases of your life.

Likewise, we have multiple demon processes running (that's UNIX terminology. Microsoft Windows uses the term "services.") to handle different scenarios. These processes can have different rules of thumb, different goals, different time preferences, etc.

And this is a feature, not a bug.

Ayn Rand believed that complete integration was an important life goal, and in her novels, the villains self-destructed due to their internal contradictions. In the real world, we have plenty of ultra successful capitalists touting socialism and still having a real good time.

The mystic G. I. Gurdjieff touted exercises to bring the many false I's under the control of the True Self. He likened letting the different I's taking control to being in a state of waking sleep. And I think he had a bit of a point. I think there is a True Self that can wake up and override the Many I's, and some people should wake up their True Self more often. But trying to manage everything with the True Self all the time is brutally fatiguing and inefficient. Setting the Autopilot is useful.

Likewise, completely integrating the Self as Ayn Rand advocated is a dangerous game. When your mental model is imperfect, it is safer to have lots of contradictory fuzzy rules which operate according to context, vs. trying to live completely by some rule based philosophy. The latter is how Marxists get into mass murder and libertarians demand anarchy next Wednesday.

And speaking of libertarians, this Many I's model of the human brain contradicts the axioms of Austrian School Economics. Except in rare cases of deep contemplation, we don't have the ordered preferences described in Austrian School Economics. We have competing mental processes with different preferences. This is why good salespeople can make huge bucks: they can bring the desired background processes to the front. It's also why there is such a market for motivational speakers and self-help gurus.

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If a close friend tells me about jhanas and that it takes a few months of practice to enter this blissed out, wonderful state, how much time do I spend trying to do it myself?

If a majority of my friends and relatives keep bringing up jhanas, and with a few months of practice they were able to enter this blissed out. wonderful state,, how much time do I spend trying to do it myself?

I would spend more time trying it in the second case. This doesn't mean that I disbelieve my one close friend in the first scenario, that she really had this experiences, just that I make my bet based on how likely her experience as she communicates it comports to my own reality.

In the first scenario, if I come to the conclusion that her experience is unlikely in my reality, I can say "jhanas (likely) aren't real." But I can't say she's lying.

Hypnotism comes to mind. Many of us have had the experience of going to hypnotist shows where the hypnotist brings people up from the audience, puts people under hypnosis, and they do wacky stuff. In my experience (they did this at my high school all four years) every time, there was one or two people where it wouldn't work and they were quickly dismissed from the stage. My recollection in talking to them after was that they just didn't buy it, so it didn't work. But the people who were hypnotized couldn't really describe the experience (they would say it was like being sleepy) and it looked to me in the audience like something legitimately happened to them, but they had no real memory of what they did onstage - the only other explanation I had was that I'd been going to school with a bunch of AMAZING actors who kept their talents on the DL. I believed them, but I didn't "believe" in hypnosis in that I'm nearly certain I would be one of the ones quickly dismissed from the stage.

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"Imagine that one day you wake up and suddenly you have terrible leg pain whenever you walk. So you mostly don’t walk anywhere. Or if you do have to walk, you use crutches and go very slowly, because then it doesn’t hurt. And given all of this, you don’t experience leg pain. If you tell your doctor “I have leg pain”, are you lying ?"

I keep having a very similar experience and it's very frustrating, doctors will ask things like "what is your baseline pain level" about things like foot or knee or back pain and I'll be like "well... *baseline* is zero... but if I do things it's more than that... but I'm *not doing very many things* because then it hurts..."

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Is there an objective way to tell the difference between people who have a jhana and actors who are pretending to have a jhana? The one fmri study was of ONE person!

Should we believe law enforcement testimony in the same way that Scott has suggested we approach the other claims?

There was a NYT article a few years back that suggested that law enforcement testimony was more likely to be mendacious.

Should we believe someone on trial for a crime that says he/she didn't do it?

I recall Chuang Tzu story:

CT is looking at fish in pond with students.

CT: i wish i was a fish so happy swimming around in the pond.

Student: you are not a fish how possible could you know the fish is happy

CT: you are not me how could possibly know that I don't know the fish is happy

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I'm dubious that people experience jhanas because the word has at least two necessary implications. One is the subjective experience, the other is that jhanas are a Buddhist concept that exists along the 8-fold path to Enlightenment. I can believe that people experience some sort of bliss through meditation. That doesn't strike me as an extraordinary claim. The extraordinary claim is that this bliss is a genuine jhana, because that would imply that a genuine step towards Buddhist Enlightenment exists, which strikes me as preposterous, because Buddhist Enlightenment strikes me as preposterous.

I put jhanas in the same category as speaking in tongues. Glossolalia exists, people do "speak in tongues", and many describe the experience as blissful, but I don't for a moment believe that it is God speaking through them in some higher spiritual language.

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Nov 11, 2022·edited Nov 11, 2022

>I am at least willing to listen to that particular Chesterton’s Fence.

As a fan of mixed metaphors, I enjoyed visualizing this one.

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This may be of some utility although it might be only tangentially related.

I categorize mental illness into four categories (Note, the four categories don’t require any of the participants in this scenario to actually have direct access to truth)

Type I: You can convince another person that you’re sane without having to tell them anything you believe is a lie.

Type II: You can convince another person that you’re sane but you have to tell them things that you believe are lies.

Type III: You can communicate with another person but you can’t figure out what lies to tell them in order to convince them that you’re sane.

Type IV: You aren’t able to for coherent enough world models to even communicate with another person.

For most of my life I’ve never pushed past type II, had brief stint on the border of Type III, but I think the reason that this becomes so passionate to people is that there is clearly a major loss of function and the ability to live a good life once you go into category III and IV. For most of human history Type II has been “Not insane, get back to work.”

Another layer I add on top of this is how often and how effortfully you need to summon your will power to be effectively sane to the people around you.

Type A: When you have an irrational impulse you can suppress it as often as you need to in order to appear effectively sane.

Type B: When you have an irrational impulse you can suppress it but not as often as you need to always appear effectively insane.

Type C: When you have an irrational impulse you can’t suppress it in order to appear as sane.

I’m pretty solidly Type B here, which for most of human history wasn’t insane but “Oh, here he goes again, well get back to work when you’re done.” I can communicate rationally pretty much all the time but if I’m in a small room with people for a long time, I have found myself involuntarily trembling and tearing up even after otherwise being asymptomatic for years. Intimacy does it too, like when I first met my wife I parked my car in my garage but didn’t turn the engine off. And when I asked her to marry me she asked me how I felt when we entered the restaurant and I said “slervious” and started to stutter.

Type II and Type B’s are common and take a lot of resources, even though Type III/IV and Type C’s need them more. So I think it causes frustration. Although of course there would probably be fewer resources with Type II’s and Type B’s creating a market.

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If you wanted to maximize your doctor's chances of finding an answer as to why your symptoms exist, why would you not mention what you're doing to minimize them? In the leg pain + crutches example, someone writing an EHR file or (God forbid) paper chart ought to be able to see some crutches and ask what that whole situation is about. That happens even in eyecare, my field.

I agree that communication in healthcare is pretty terrible sometimes, I see it 5 days a week and sometimes on a Saturday when I'm unlucky. Yet, very few patients of mine are keeping their symptoms to themselves. Perhaps it's my position in eyecare as opposed to something more difficult to pin down, like abdominal pain. It can be astoundingly hard to get someone to give a damn about the glaucoma drops that maintain their vision, all while the same patient rings us up several times a day for dry eye med refills.

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Huh, an evil personality in their heads giving them advice? Well, at least it's not something creepy like being possessed by a demon….

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>This sounds like: “I, RC, have the mysterious mental ability to detect liars. I admit I can’t prove this, but come on, you should probably just trust me because it’s perfectly reasonable to think other people have mysterious mental abilities you don’t.”

If we're talking about in person communication, this doesn't sound like a "mysterious mental ability". Just a normal mental ability to understand other people by their facial expressions, body language, by how they say things, etc.

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Didn't make it much past the first section; will finish reading later once I have this sudden bout of uncontrollable shaking back under control.

(No, this is not sarcasm, and yes, it took several minutes to type this and correct the typos)

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> 99% of psychiatrists aren’t dumb enough to commit someone who has the occasional suicidal thought but would never act on it - but if you work in a mental hospital, you quickly become acquainted with the 1% exceptions.

Is this because in a mental hospital you meet quite a few patients who are extremely angry at being committed for stupid reasons, and it’s always the same doctor?

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Interesting, but i strongly disagree on the first part where the homonculus is presented. It's not explicit, but it's done in manner that imply the homonculus (aka consciousness) is the real "you", and all the brain treatment thing is conversion detail...

My impression is that this is a dated and misleading conception, rejected by most neuroscientists. The homonculus is not the real "you", it's an important actor but not the driver, it's a module whose task is to build after the fact a summarized, sequential and as coherent as possible story about your internal experiences and decisions...which is super useful for remembering and communication to others, but it's far from what actually happen in your brain in term of experiences and decisions.

i guess this homonculus usually do a good job, but it also fail sometimes (hence the whole unconsciousness concept), and this is also linked to false memories (i guess a progressive drift when the conscious story is stored, re-read, re-stored,...).

So when people talk about weird internal experience, that's the homonculus-edited/summarized/rendered coherent version, not the actual one.

Do they really have special thing going on in the brain, or is their homonculus especially wrong? maybe it is trained to be wrong, in order to produce more fake but more pleasant to remember stories (my guess on jhana) ?

It can probably be both, and it's hard to tell it apart, but one indicator is "are those weird experience people able to do something strange, or only speak about it?" 3d mental image people and color number people can do something others can't, or at least do it much faster. I would then assume it's category 1 weird stuff. Else i would assume it's cat 2 weird stuff: homonculus/consciousness hacking... ​

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Eh. Credulity is certainly a good default for social interactions. If my wife tells me she has a headache, or is sad, or has experienced jicama I'm certainly not going to contradict her.

But credulity has no place in empirical science, none whatsoever. It's measured evidence, in controlled experiment, repeatable and repeated, or no sale. Nor do arguments along the lines of "well, lots of similar stuff that we thought was false turned out later to be true" or "it would be mean and cruel to not believe this" or "empirical evidence is very, very had (or even impossible) to come up with, so let's just go with whatever seems plausible" cut any ice.

I mean, there's plenty of "Intelligent Design" people who make all three arguments, so this path is well-trodden, and it's probably fine for a scholastic or neo-Platonist, but we surly sons-of-bitches who swore allegience to the skull-and-crossbones black flag of empiricism reject it all out of hand.

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Thank you for answering this. I'd read RC's post, and decided not to bother expressing my level of belief in his claimed ability to determine that other people are lying about their internal experiences.

I'm glad someone more likely to be heard than me chose to state their similar disbelief.

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Okay, but for all this there really is an important sense in which all the internal hallucinations things aren't real (and the people experiencing them mostly know they aren't real, and can usually convince themselves to stop if they really try). In your psychosomatic pain example - sure, I might ask the witch all these questions, but my *first* question would be whether the real wound was physically debilitating. I know the psychosomatic one wouldn't be.

My earlier impression of Jahnas was that it wasn't so much people experiencing emotions as people convincing themselves they were experiencing these emotions. I think this is a real difference, in the "reality is what doesn't vanish when you look away" sense. If you've convinced yourself you're not angry at your parents, we can still tell whether or not you actually are based on whether you get upset when they're mentioned and avoid meeting them. And if you claim to be able to achieve tracendent bliss just by thinking about it, we can still tell whether you really do based on whether you actively go out of your way to spend time in this state (and specifically, whether you do this more after having experienced this). As you've pointed out, this doesn't happen with the people who claim to have reached jhanas - they don't suddenly meditate a lot more or go out of their way to get to them. So the balance of evidence is strongly against them.

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It's rather jarring to see libido described as [emphasis mine] "very important and very blissful __mental__ experience" instead of a "physical experience".. I don't to wax philosophical about the distinction (or lack thereof) between these, just noticing the word choice. Cf. most people would described the feeling of "pumped up" after a workout as physical, not mental.

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Nov 11, 2022·edited Nov 11, 2022

I have experience with a sociopathic long-distance ex. She told me about extremely traumatic experiences to get sympathy. Then when I realized she had been lying about these and multiple other experiences, I told her that she should get treatment (at that time I didn't really understand sociopathy). She said that a doctor had found an inflammation in her brain that was causing her to hallucinate, and gave her specialized antibiotics to treat it. The drugs then "worked" to cure her. At some point she got desperate and called me as a relative from her birth country and put on a fake accent to support some iteration of this story.

This made me really curious about sociopathy and truth-telling. The thing is I'm quite sure she *believed* much of what she said. She believed her traumatic experiences, and would get really emotional when talking about them - I'm pretty convinced about this. I think at least part of her believed that she had a brain inflammation. How she felt internally when she was impersonating her relative (or at other times, when she would digitally impersonate people) I'm not sure, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was similar to experiences of people with multiple personality disorder.

The experience of dating this person changed my point of view in lots of ways, a lot of which are *damn, actually something like 2% of the population has no natural empathy and totally makes up their experiences, and our institutions and thought leaders are completely clueless about this*. It does seem that sociopathy is pretty bimodal (i.e., there is a clearly distinguishable group of people with "the sociopathy package"), with an extra, looser, packet of the distribution around borderline personality disorder.

But also think, from comparing people I know who are not on the sociopath end of the distribution, that "basically honest" people have different levels of attachment to stories. People I know will combine bits of stories in their heads seemingly for story-telling effect, but genuinely believe the versions they end up with; others will follow various emotional and identity-based confirmation biases, where they make their beliefs and experiences conform to a story or ideology they care about, and genuinely believe them. I don't think this can be cleanly separated from truth-seeking. Memories and experiences are imperfect and we try to "organize" them into coherent structures, often fudging things along the way. For example if someone has competing memories of having two different teachers in second grade, they might cluster our beliefs around it being Mrs. X rather than Mrs. Y, to come up with a more coherent story, and adjust their memories accordingly, even if in fact their teacher was Mrs. Y.

I think that in reporting internal states, there's a really fuzzy distribution of what's going on, and it's not right to just have two clusters of "true" and "false". In fact, unless the state is something that can be clearly compared to a physical feeling that many people have experiences with "naturally" (something like leg pain in phantom limb, or to some extent transgender), I don't think "true" and "false" are very useful quantifiers at all (maybe a better replacement for "true" would be "closely pattern-matching to the experience of many other people).

I think a better approach to talking about people's internal states would include a multi-parameter distribution with one parameter being "strong emotion" vs. "subtle emotion" and another being "story-based" vs. "spontaneous/random" (roughly corresponding to low-decoupling vs. high-decoupling in people's beliefs about politics). Things like brain zaps among people who take anti-depressants are very much on the "spontaneous" side and much less dependent on stories and identity. Things like embodying a character from a work of fiction are (obviously) very story-based.

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Nov 11, 2022·edited Nov 11, 2022

My line of argument is different. Let's say someone said they had found a drug that made you feel 10 to 100 times better than heroin. An amount of skepticism would be called for, but it's also something you could keep an open mind about. But now let's say this was followed by the claims that it had no adverse effects, wasn't addictive, and while the person had free access to this new drug, only used it occasionally. This is where you go "hang on..." - it doesn't seem psychologically credible. We know what happens when you use heroin or wirehead.

My guess at what happens with Jhanas is not that this powerful pleasure exists, or that the users have memories of it (as that would be much the same thing from a motivational standpoint), but that they have the memories of having had such an experience, without memories of the actual experience. This seems neither weird nor surprising - you put yourself into an unusual mental state after all, and it probably does feel genuinely pretty good coming down from it (from mere relaxation if nothing else). This is the only way I can make sense of the claims, at least. "I have ready and free access to the most superb pleasure imaginable with no adverse consequences, but this doesn't change my life a lot and I only access it now and then" simply doesn't hold water for me.

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I think there is an important distinction between "having an experience" and "believing that one had an experience".

Like, say, with auras. I'm fairly certain that some people (especially after using certain substances) do in fact see auras. But I also remember my mother teaching me about all that stuff when I was a kid. In her cult they were told that people could see auras if they tried hard enough. So, naturally, having been assured by an authority figure that it is possible, all with all that social pressure from fellow cult members, they all, of course, claimed to see auras. My mother offered me to try the same thing. So I stared intently around her, trying to interpret the noise as some sort of signal, and then would claim to see the aura. And a part of me did believe that I did, even though the other part knew, that I just did something akin to cold reading, just interpreting her state and naming an associated color (like, if she was calm, I would say that the aura is blue, etc).

Another example is fake no-contact martial arts. We know for a fact these can't work. But students from those dojos do believe that they experience some sort of force throwing them around. And I don't think they lie about it.

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We know you're talking about tulpas in the third section Scott, you don't have to hide it.

But the claimed experience of people with tulpas is quite different to the claimed experience of people with DID.

Not to mention all the controversy over whether or not DID even in the officially diagnosed sense exists...

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Tiktok algorithms introduced me to some of those popular DID accounts (for the reasons unknown to me), and the story the people tell there sounds quite a bit different from how you describe it. In your Dart Vader description, a lot of it sounds deliberate, just with different people sliding into DID with a different speed. Almost like anyone can develop DID if they spend enough effort. DIDtiktoks all tell that it’s a consequence of a major childhood trauma, associated with memory loss, and it’s basically something you almost always had, so you never knew yourself without DID. Just curious, cause it really sounds a whole lot different

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Nov 11, 2022·edited Nov 11, 2022

My current model is that there are two systems. One is about feeling, the other is about interpretation of the results. Both can be wrong. When the first one is wrong, you get real feelings that don't correspond to the body's condition. When the second one is wrong, you believe you have that feeling, but you don't. It's difficult to distinguish, but that doesn't mean they're the same, as with fake blindness.

You can probably look for behavioural clues, such as presumably blind person dodging a fast movement, or presumably happy one having depression symptoms instead of being full of energy.

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I had the impression 'spoonie' referred to someone with chronic illness and refers to not having as much energy (thus the spoon metaphor) to perform everyday tasks as people without a chronic illness. It does not refer solely to malingerers.

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If people are part of a culture based around believing or experiencing certain things, questions about lying or telling the truth about those things become fuzzier. Do supporters of a political party really believe everything they tell pollsters they believe about their side and the other side? Sometimes, but I think for most people the answer is that it's complicated. People are very good at persuading themselves that things their culture requires them to believe to be true are actually true. They also often baulk at taking the actions that literally believing those things would mean that they should want to take.

I suppose that does make me more sceptical about believing people's self-reported mental states. You should believe spoonies/people with DIDs/people who experience auras in the same way you should believe people who say that Jesus/Mohammed/Buddha talks to them. Assume they they're telling the truth, but also assume that the nature of what they're self-reporting has been influenced by the culture they belong to - or maybe the other way round, and it was created by the culture they belong to, but has then been influenced by their sensory experiences. And assume that no matter how much they tell you that those experiences are real in every way, they may still not act consistently as if that was the case.

The history of assuming that people's self-reported mental states are accurate, and then using that knowledge to create better treatments, ways of living, or social institutions, is not a happy one. The accuracy of the self-reporting turns out to be contingent on certain other things being true, and those things are in turn contingent, and so on ad infinitum.

One of the things that accuracy often turns out to be contingent on is membership of a certain culture. Another is the existence of the 5% or less of the people who claim to have certain experiences who are genuinely lying through their teeth, and whose motive to do so is removed when the experience is separated from its context. Remove the motivation to lie, and the genuine experiences inexplicably dry up as well.

Not that it's not worth exploring these things, and yes, you've noticed the skulls, but I don't think the prior should be to believe people's self-experience. Or rather I think that should only be a part of your prior, and you need the rest of it to avoid wasting a lot of time - or worse.

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I can certainly agree that the middle ground is large and worth fighting over. So let me put it this way:

If spoonies didn't get social validation from claiming to be ill, would they report fewer symptoms to others? Report fewer symptoms to themselves?

Some would, on both counts. And some wouldn't. But I confidently predict that a lot of the psychosomatic sufferers would vanish. And - noting that my measure is quantitative - I also predict that even within Scott's 50% of non-psychosomatic sufferers, fewer symptoms are reported. Heck, even in the Weiss article, a spoonie admits that she made herself seem sicker than she was on social media.

If suffering only appears when given social validation, I am very comfortable rounding that off as fake. I'm not necessarily calling anyone a liar. But it doesn't seem very interesting to debate whether they're deliberately trying to fool me, or accidentally fooling themselves. It's fake either way.

Similarly, I don't believe for a second that meditators experience jhana as described. Let's be polite and not call anyone a liar. There is a world of difference between experiencing jhana, and believing that one has experienced jhana (or even believing that one is currently experiencing jhana). In just the same way, Scott is right that people can experience "astral projection," but Contrarian is right that they cannot experience astral projection.

But in addition to all this - how can I put this nicely? Scott's writings are very keen to give people the benefit of the doubt, which is often a good thing. But not always. Ad hominem is a fallacy, but taking claims from known liars at face value is another kind of fallacy, even if it doesn't have a fancy Latin name.

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In 1994, when I was 14, I convinced my entire middle school - including some of the teachers! - that I thought I'd been abducted by space aliens.

It was great. I went from being near the very bottom of the social hierarchy and a victim of occasional bullying to an extremely minor celebrity cherished for her weirdo entertainment value. People I didn't know in different grades would stop me in the lunchroom, wanting to hear my stories of gruesome experiments. My yearbook is nothing but comments to watch out for the aliens. The story spread so far it followed me to high school, and then even to goddamn *college.*

I never, ever publicly recanted it.

Now, I 100% knew I hadn't really been abducted by aliens. I knew that the origin of the story was someone misunderstanding my semi-sarcastic remark about why I loved The X-Files, my sarcastically doubling down, and then realizing much too late that recanting would make my audience feel foolish and make my life hell.

But as the story spread and people - total strangers! - asked for more and more details, I consumed more and more alien abduction media for material for my stories. I began occasionally having nightmares about being abducted by aliens. I would tell people those nightmares as if they were actual events, and then I let myself wonder...

...what if they weren't really nightmares?

What if the dreams were really real?

They *could* be real...right?

*Some* people did believe in aliens...right?


This was in 1994, before the internet was a thing where people could go to have their biases confirmed. Maybe if this had happened a few years later, I would have gone deep, deep into alien abduction communities for affirmation and potentially given myself enough justification to really embrace my alien abduction tale as being really *real.*

Or maybe that would never have been possible; I might have just been too aware of the reality. It's hard to say.

What I do know is that I had a really goddamned solid conviction that I hadn't actually-for-reaslies been abducted by aliens but I also knew I *could* make myself almost totally believe it, if I wanted to. I think that I-could-believe-it feeling is what made me so convincing that more than one teacher gently asked me if everything was okay at home (and because teenage girls can be psychopaths, I would assure these kind adults that my parents were good people doing everything they could to protect me from the aliens, but the aliens were either freezing time or turning off their consciousness whenever they visited, so there was nothing my parents could do to help).

It's important to note that I only ever disclosed the truth to my parents and the vice principal / head counselor after the latter became so concerned he called me to his office. I thought it might be reaching a point where CPS or doctors might become involved, so I confessed and asked him to keep the secret to avoid the backlash that would come from the truth getting out. And to his credit, he did! But literally no one else knew that at the time. I went straight from confessing the truth to my vice principal to telling everyone who asked that I he'd grilled about my abduction but *of course* denied it so I wouldn't get carted away to Area 51 or a mental hospital.

My point here is that no one looking in from outside would have been able to say for sure if I thought I'd really been abducted by aliens. A very, very small minority correctly assessed that I was consciously engaging in fiction - I had exactly one yearbook signature saying as much - but everyone else seemed to fully believe that *I* believed, and they were all very wrong about my actual state of mind.

Lots of people lie, and most of them will maintain an obvious lie to the point of absurdity because "involuntary conviction" is less offensive to a most audiences than "willful deception." I realize that my experience is a data point of one, but I'm nevertheless inclined to think that most smart, detailed people ostentatiously engaging in outlandish storytelling without ever crossing a line into being "unacceptably dangerous" to their audience range somewhere along the spectrum I experienced: outright lying to hoping that it might be real so they won't be lying about it.

I do think that there are some people who can take the final step away from reality into truly fully *believing* their own bullshit. I don't have a good sense of how common they might be.

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a priori I would have subjectively considered "some people are right about their jhana experiences" to be significantly more plausible than "some people get great pleasure from being tied up and whipped" (after all, being whipped is in some sense "obviously worse" than meditating). If you believe the latter, why wouldn't you at least think the former is plausible?

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Does anyone have experience with those reading techniques that supposedly let you read much faster, by switching off your internal monologue? I think the idea is you stop wasting time vocalising the words in your mind.

Lot's of people have recommended it, and reading faster would be pretty useful. But I'm sceptical. An "internal monologue" seems like another one of these subjective things that may or may not be real. And I feel most time spent reading is just processing the logic/reasoning of what's written anyway, can you really gain reading speed without sacrificing comprehension?

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Scott, there is one distinction between the spoonies case and the jhanas/meditation case that I think you should have mentioned. The proposal in meditation is that there are techniques you can use to produce particular internal or mental states. The use of the word “real” here means that if you use those techniques, you will experience these states. It’s undeniable that we can change our mental states by choice or, especially, by practice in certain ways (lucid dreaming is a good example). So when people say “jhanas are real” they mostly mean “you can really achieve these mental states”.

The spoonies situation is different: the claim that “spoonies illnesses are real” is not a claim that “undiagnosed illness is a mental state you can reach through practice”: in fact it’s the diametric opposite of that claim. Instead the spoonie claim is that these illnesses are not “mental states that I have practiced to achieve” it’s that these illnesses are objectively existing independently of the sufferer’s control: that they absolutely have no choice in those states.

Assessing whether people have techniques that really do produce certain mental states if you practice them requires one approach: consider whether mental states can be changed, and test the technique yourself.

Assessing whether spoonie illnesses etc are not a consequence of practiced changes in mental state requires a different approach: denying that mental states can be changed by choice, and accepting such asserted states with no way of testing them (unlike in the jhana case, where you can test the assertion to some degree yourself).

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Scott writes:

about Spoonies:

"the name derived from the idea that physically and mentally well people have unlimited “spoons”, or mental/physical resources they use to deal with their day."

Can we back up for a second? People have unlimited mental/physical resources? Since when. If a "neurotypical" person says "I don't have the mental energy to deal with X right now" they are not looked at like they said something ridiculous. That's a perfectly normal thing to say.

Why does having limited energy all of a sudden make you "special"?

This is I think, another way people are being misleading about all this. They aren't intentionally lying to gain sympathy. They are mistakenly interpreting perfectly normal mental states that they and everyone else in the world has, as being uniquely theirs. Imagining that they are more special than they are. I once saw a meme from someone about how when they add numbers like 24 plus 39 in their head they first add 24 to 40 and then subtract one. Unlike "neurotypical" people who apparently don't have internal mental processes at all and just know what 24 plus 39 is? It's very weird. Obviously this doesn't apply to everything and all conditions mentioned in this article. But I have seen this kind of thing a lot.

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Scott's examples of high functioning people who talk themselves into having benign DID are missing the point of Resident Contrarian's critique (and Freddie's more informed and searing ones). Suppose an employee pisses off a client, says that it's because "Brad" was on-call personality-wise that day, and threatens ADA action when you discipline them. Do we as a society just accept that their internal experience is valid? Do we want society incentivizing them to use mental health resources in support of them dodging responsibility?

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I'm somewhat in a quandary here, as while I agree with the general thrust of the piece, I don't think Resident Contrarian is being as obstinate in doubt as they are presented.

(1) I know this patient is hallucinating when he reports having seen Jesus, because obviously since Jesus is dead he can't appear because obviously the dead don't appear to the living

Reasonable, unless someone wants to bring in the historical record of ghosts. And indeed, in the post about the Hexenhammer, was not part of the argument brought by the believers in witches the fact that there was a long tradition of reasonable-seeming people reporting instances of witchcraft, including having seen witches shapeshift and the like?

What differentiates this from RC going:

(2) I know this person is lying/deluded when he claims to be experiencing mystic spiritual states because obviously mystic spiritual states don't have any objective existence because obviously all the deity stuff is nonsense

Ah, but here we run into the qualification that is attached to "believe reasonable-sounding reports" - only so long as it is *plausible*.

" Either we trust trustworthy-sounding people who we like, when they say stuff that sounds kind of plausible - or we apply extreme skepticism about every not-immediately-verifiable claim!"

Claim (1) also rests on the unstated assumption that "the dead appearing to the living" and "all that deity and spirit stuff" is implausible, *despite* the long historic record of reasonable people reporting deity and spirit stuff. So claim (1) can be restated as:

(1) I know this patient is hallucinating when he reports having seen Jesus, because obviously since Jesus is dead he can't appear because obviously the dead don't appear to the living because obviously all the deity and spirit stuff is nonsense, there are no such things as ghosts and Jesus is not (G)/(g)od because gods don't exist

(2) I know this person is lying/deluded when he claims to be experiencing mystic spiritual states because obviously mystic spiritual states don't have any objective existence because obviously all the deity stuff is nonsense

Both claims agree that the "spirit and deity" stuff is nonsense. If Resident Contrarian was doubting the word of "a bunch of my friends who I trust a lot" saying they really had seen a real actual ghost not a word of a lie, would you agree or disagree with them? Would you, Scott, be convinced that ghosts were real if a bunch of your friends reported seeing one, or would you go for "I believe they believe they saw one, and there are some physical situations/psychological set-ups where people can genuinely believe they saw a ghost" but still "ghosts are not real"?

If the claim was not for achieving a jhana state, but for having the presence of Jesus speaking to them, would you believe it or would you be on Resident Contrarian's side of the fence regarding doubt?

Would you then characterise Resident' Contrarian's position of "doubt without derision or disdain" as "RC is doing an old trick: summing up his opponent’s position as an extreme absolute, then summing up his own position as “it’s diverse and complicated and a middle ground”?

See, I believe in Jesus and the deity and spirit stuff. I'm not sure about jhanas, but I don't a priori deny the possibility of spiritual states. But that is because of my underlying presupposition that belief in deity and spirit stuff is not implausible.

I think the plausibility standard is doing a lot of work here that is not examined, and I think "Well a bunch of my friends said this and I believe them" has more to do with "this reported experience fits within the parameters of what I consider plausible" than anything else. If a bunch of your friends said they had seen Jesus appearing to them, would you be Peter or Thomas in your response?

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I’m sufficiently Watters-Pilled (Crazy Pilled?) to full believe spoonies and the people getting tics from Tik Tok is fully understandable and they are not “faking” it. A large part of crazy like us goes over how mental illness seems to look for socially recognizable outlets and then picks a popular to one, they act like they have said illness because the Illness approximates their internal discomfort, over time the brain (with the help of social encouragement) finetunes the general mental illness to the specific case and suddenly those “faking” having DID or anorexia really do have it.

C.S Lewis wrote in the screw tape letters, “A man becomes what he pretends to be”

This whole back and forth seems to be just a rediscovering of the ideas of the book; or maybe trying to falsify it? If people were faking things for attentions (which I’m sure some do) why go so far to actually starve to death?

It’s personally hard to me to look out into general internet and not see insane beliefs genuinely head for social, political or personal reasons, and in the Hansionian sense, it doesn’t matter if they know they are insane or not if it helps them fit in.

In a pragmatic way, I’m going to go beyond just discussing ideas for fun and advocate for censoring any social media post that goes over talking about mental illnesses, so people can’t see the status games and it stops greater social contagion effects. But with that recommendation now we’re just back to the end of Scott’s review of crazy like us, no further along to solving the problem than one year ago

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Scott, I think I had/have something similar to your weird subtype of OCD. When I was a kid I’d get a strong impulse to touch corners of objects. Frustratingly it’d often be the interior top corners of door frames, which I couldn’t reach. The impulse was always intrusive and distracting.

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Scott, I think I experienced something similar to your weird subtype of OCD. When I was young I’d get intrusive thoughts that I needed to touch the corners of certain objects (doorframes especially).

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> A statement like “I could tell he was lying” isn’t quite taboo nonsense there, but it carries much less weight than in other places.

Good. People are functionally incapable of telling if other people are lying - they do no better than chance. Please do not believe you are actually capable of telling someone is lying in a manner other than "comparing what they say to actual evidence."

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I think there's two relevant concepts that might bridge the gap between Scott and RC's positions.

When my wife and I started dating, she would half-jokingly assume any other reasonable person would take the same positions on issues (trivial or serious) as she did. Young eager psychology student that I was, I explained that people have a variety of experiences and takes on things based on a huge number of factors and that it was unreasonable to expect anything else. My wife acknowledged this while still playfully holding on to the idea that she was the sane woman in a world gone mad. We now jokingly refer to this error as "The Standard of Normalcy"; that is, the concept of "I think this, so everyone else probably does too". We've caught ourselves doing it multiple times, as well as applying it to others.

The other concept is medical student syndrome, which is common in medical internships and anyone who has taken a first-year psychology course. As soon as you're made aware of particular symptoms, you become hyperaware of them for a little while, and you wonder (because you have no diagnostic expertise) whether you have the condition you've just learned about. I think this can explain at least a portion of the Spoonie crowd - "Oh, hey, this person says that part of their ADHD is walking into the kitchen and forgetting why they came there. I do that. ...do I have undiagnosed ADHD?" That kind of phenomenon can explain how the social media presentation of someone's subjective experience can sort of go viral and dig into other people's subjective experience as well, since there's no "gold standard" of human experience to compare to (it's the Standard of Normalcy again!) This works whether 99% of the Spoonie crowd are faking for attention or if 1% of them are. The information spreads either way.

So we're looking at a situation where a subjective experience of a condition spreads via social media or other channels, and as people encounter it they begin to wonder if they, too, have that condition. Hell, the day I read the jhanas article I was in a particularly good mood for no discernible reason and felt like I couldn't lose. I was open to the idea that I had somehow gotten into a jhana, even though I don't meditate at all and have no interest in cultivating the practice - I thought maybe I just was being particularly thoughtful/mindful and lucked into the positive feedback loop on accident. However, despite the what-if, I brushed it off - surely it's not that easy, and people can have enduring good moods without cause.

I don't know that this is a philosophical difference so much as two people doing an epistemic Standard of Normalcy. RC makes the case "I think it's okay to be skeptical of people's claims if they don't line up with your priors" (based on his own experience of encountering lots of things that are worth doubting), and Scott's making the case "It makes sense to, at the very least, believe people's subjective experience of something, even if there's not a real-world correlate", based on his personal experience of meeting people who certainly seemed to have made-up or at least psychosomatic experiences and nonetheless felt real suffering or impact.

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People respond to incentives and not all incentives are monetary. When you have kids you’ll observe first hand the devious and borderline evil strategies little humans employ to garner attention, acceptance, and love. I’ll be interested to hear how you navigate the balance between compassion and accountability when that time comes.

Your position sounds compassionate but it fails to acknowledge the cost of pathological empathy. Two examples that come to mind are false accusations of the sexual and race variety. Another might be long COVID. Validating people’s pain can unintentionally create a perverse incentive structure despite the best of intentions.

I’d be more interested in hearing about how one navigates these types of costs because it’s easy to advocate for kindness without a cost. For example, in RC’s examples, is it possible we’re creating more mental illness via TikTok + believing people’s pain?

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As someone with mild ADHD and an active & visual imagination, I've had to manage my ADHD for decades without interventions or drugs. It's also because being GenX, the diagnosis back when I was a kid was not common at all. Self-management was a learned skill because I found I could focus my distractedness on honing different skillsets and interests. Being autodidactic to a degree helped in this regard as well. My uncle recognized this as being a "Jack of all trades" which he saw as a good thing and encouraged my varied interests in ways my parents did not recognize. But it also meant that I never readily excelled at any one thing. The inability to focus on one interest kept me from totally mastering that skill set. and it wasn't until I changed my undergrad major to Architecture did I manage to corral variant interests into a singular way of thinking and visualizing.

I can have some level of empathy and understanding for some of these people because I've met and worked with many over the decades. But I've also discovered that those with actual issues tend to not broadcast their mental issues. No one I know walks around doing selfie videos talking about their ADHD. The people I know with severe autism are not actively running social media accounts about how they cope with their autism for their 30K followers. The people I know with depression and addiction issues (including family members) don't broadcast that stuff like it's a badge of honor.

I think the idea that these tiktok /instagram folks are actively doing this as some sort of badge of honor or as they put it "destigmatizing" their "illness" aren't really suffering from debilitating mental health issues but just suffering mild anxiety and stress, and I'm sure psychosomatic impacts. I suspect the more popular "DIDs of TikTok" are doing it for the attention. I think we have to be vary wary about the impacts of social media's ability to allow people to magnify what may otherwise not be anything into something bigger.

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'This sounds like: “I, RC, have the mysterious mental ability to detect liars. I admit I can’t prove this, but come on, you should probably just trust me because it’s perfectly reasonable to think other people have mysterious mental abilities you don’t.'

This whole thing strikes me as pretty wrong on its face. I haven't read his piece, only these excerpts, so my take exists in that vacuum. Here:

This: "[...] with that comes a group-wide expectation that things that can’t be quantified with math are thus default-unknowable." is cited as the impetus behind this:

"[...] something that seems unlikely to most but is unfalsifiable, and because of that unfalsifiability is then assumed to be true because it was claimed at all."

Whether or not it's accurate to state it's the impetus, the real claim being made is that you are accepting statements that he finds dubious at least in part due to the ultimate unfalsifiability of those statements with the technology that we have at hand.

This is why, per your excerpting, he states that your starting point for these matters is that "we would basically assume that any claim we couldn’t disprove was true, provided we could find at least a few thousand people who claimed it."

Zero of that has to do with spinning a Kreskin hat around on one's head and divine truth from falsehood. Something of a serious charge, I'll add, in communities that care a lot about what truth is.

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I think the proportion of kids on TikTok faking conditions for views, sympathy, and clout may be significantly higher than the general population, but I otherwise fully agree with this article. I'm a "spoonie" myself--I have an official diagnosis of idiopathic hypersomnia now, but my whole young adulthood was characterized by chronic sleepiness and pain no doctor could diagnose, so I kept bouncing between specialists and psychologists. I don't even have a "real" diagnosis now (I mean... "Idiopathic" is right in the name), but at least I have confirmation that my sleep latency is abnormal and scientists recognize my sleepiness as real qualia. I only work 20 hours per week and have found a decent quality of life by living within my limited time/energy means, which is what spoon theory is about.

I also have had tinnitus and visual snow since I was very young. I can see auras around people if I stare at them without blinking long enough and they're standing under bright enough light. When I got bored in church I used to unfocus my eyes and watch the aura wiggle around and follow the preacher.

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I should thank you for deleting my comment in this thread. I am pretty sure I would feel regret right now if I were looking at it on my phone feeling like my pants had just fallen down while I was giving a commencement speech at Harvard. Clearly your post struck a nerve with me and I want to thank you again for it.

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Nov 11, 2022·edited Nov 11, 2022

Since this post stemmed from the discussion of the jhanas, it may be relevant to the discussion of DID that, predictably, the Buddhists got there first too. Certain traditions of Tibetan Buddhism prominently feature the practice of "yidam meditation" where the practitioner chooses one of a certain category of enlightened deities ("yidams") and strongly visualizes themselves as *being* this deity, including possessing all of the deity's wisdom, enlightenment, virtue, etc. As far as I know the yidam doesn't follow the practitioner "off the cushion" in the same way that Scott's hypothetical DID case carries Darth Vader around all the time, but the qualities that the practitioner inherits from their yidam are supposed to become permanent over time. (You've got to admire the lateral thinking; reaching enlightenment is hard, so instead of becoming enlightened, why not simply become a different being *who is already enlightened*?)

Sometimes, instead of visualizing being the deity, the practicioner visualizes the deity sitting before them and e.g. bestowing blessings upon them- so this may also be where tulpa stuff comes from, although I've yet to encounter "tulpas" as such in any material from actual Buddhists.

(Important disclaimer - I am, emphatically, not an expert in Buddhism and am quite possibly misrepresenting all of the above in important ways. This is not soteriological advice; please ask your guru if yidams are right for you.)

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Nov 11, 2022·edited Nov 11, 2022

I'm baffled by the spoonie example RC picked, because it's pretty clear it means "if you're asked if you have a problem with X, and you mean to answer 'no, I have a System to make X not a problem', what you actually need to answer to make the therapist understand you is 'yes'".

That's not even lying a little, that's just communicating clearly. The example means the opposite of what RC thinks it means, and I didn't need Scott's clarification to see that. That's pretty damning for the rest of RC's analysis.


Also, I'm impressed by the number of commenters here who claim to be able to tell with a high degree of certitude that thousands of people they have never met or even individually observed are most definitely lying to get attention. We should run a psychic power study on ACT commenters, clearly.

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It seems to me that Scott, if he errs at all, errs on the side of compassion. Which I find an admirable quality.

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Is Resident Contrarian really skeptical of jhana, in general, or is he skeptical specifically of the Twitter thread that makes the specific claim that jhana is "10-100x better" than casual sex, and some of the dodgier comments related to that? It may be true that "thousands of people over thousands of years saying they’ve experienced it," and have experienced it, but that thread is still a false description of it. Personally, I find the idea of jhana in general to be extremely plausible--even simple breath meditations can give me, in the right circumstances, a very palpable feeling of tranquility, I'd be surprised if intensive practices didn't provide even more benefit. But thousands of people over thousands of years have not said, specifically, that jhana is a hundred times better than sex, that it eliminates one's desire for casual sex, that it cures drug dependencies, etc. I think it's fallacious to treat the historical records as evidence for this different contemporary claim.

The more serious issue here is that phrase, about rationalist social norms: "People are less able or less willing to point out that someone looks less credible for socially understood reasons than in other less-enlightened-more-practical contexts." To me this is easy to understand. "Socially understood reasons" = all the normal heuristics you use when evaluating a claim in real life. These aren't anything like a "mysterious mental ability to detect liars," they're just normal, informal ideas that you accumulate over a lifetime of experience. Small things in the way people present themselves, present their ideas, certain patterns that you see over and over again.

I don't want to get far into which of these apply to the original thread, because my understanding is that comments shouldn't include anything that looks like a personal attack. I will just say, I have a set of priors around people who make very strong claims about the effects of meditative practices or about their ability to induce states of (sexual or otherwise) euphoria. I'm immediately distrustful of a man who claims that casual sex is just not appealing to him anymore, when it was appealing at a previous time--this is a common thing for men to lie about, and not just in the context of meditative practice, for reasons that I take to be obvious. It's a common thing for men to lie to themselves about. It's also typical for people who work or invest in a particular area to exaggerate how impactful that area is, how great it could be. Not out of a desire to deceive, but spontaneously, from their own enthusiasm.

It's tactless to go into this, obviously far into the realm of ad hominem, and frankly I don't like bringing it up (and am a bit worried that bringing it up will earn me a ban). It's not, "I distrust this, because I can magically detect liars." It's, "I have seen people lie in this particular way over and over again, so it's going to take stronger evidence than self-reporting to make me believe it."

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This can be perfectly summed up by an old latin quote

"De poetas y locos, todos tenemos un poco"

"Of poets and madmen, we all have a bit"

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For what it’s worth, perceptual psychologists have figured out surprisingly simple unconscious strategies that people use to catch a ball without computing any of the physics. If you assume you’re in the path of the ball, you can simply run forwards or backwards at whatever speed makes the image of the ball on your retina have constant upward velocity, and you will magically end up in the right place at the right time to catch it. Only small additions need to be made for the general case. Science!

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To most people, your claims that these people you know are reliable are pretty suspect. You live in the epicenter of California woo-woo nonsense. I would immediately STOP trusting anyone’s faculties who claimed to have multiple personalities or achieved jhana, for the same reason I wouldn’t put somebody with a broken leg into a relay race. If an old respected lawyer I had trusted for years started talking like that, I wouldn’t give more weight to the claim, instead I’d be inclined to call the bar association for fear of what was about to happen to their clients cases and money.

This is a really weird turn for the blog. I think we all know it’s very hard to be a consistent rationalist and that the allure of cool stuff like Eastern mysticism has corrupted many rationalists of the past. If normie boring materialism isn’t cutting it for you, fine I get that, but every post where you treat this stuff as real is hurting your credibility on other issues.

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Here are some stats to keep in mind to help evaluate claims about unusual states of consciousness and behavior. 1. People who have the diagnosable version of dissociative personality disorder seldom know it until something really weird going on in their life forces them to get a psych evaluation. People who talk about having multiple personalities probably don’t. 2. In anonymous surveys, 25% of women say they had a sexual experience they did not want before the age of 25. For men who grew up in the family of an alcoholic, that rate is more like 40%. But, 75% of these individuals never report these episodes of sexual assault or rape. Of reports of rape and sexual assault which do get reported, 96% of the time, the victim is telling the truth, even if there is not enough evidence to bring the case to trial. 4% of the time the victim is lying. On the other hand, in sexual assault cases, 100% of the time the accuser initially says they didn’t do what they are accused of. People who talk about being sexually assaulted probably were. People who who are accused of sexual assault and deny it probably are lying. 3. In evaluating unusual states of experience, looking at Buddhist practice is interesting because these people who actively choose to pursue attaining these states seldom talk about it, at least the ones I know. Anyone casually chatting in public about attaining this or that level of this or that level of esoteric skill probably hasn’t. That said, some people have

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Have my emotional reaction: When I see people getting really angry about possible fakers of illness, I assume they're showing off how tough they are by ignoring other people's pain.

This might be unfair-- as I say, it's my emotional reaction.

Part of this is the history of actual illnesses being discovered which were getting written off, and part of it is (as noted in comments) that people with celiac disease or Ehler-Dahnos have a very hard time getting diagnosed.

Same for endometriosis.

There are a lot of people who have a strong prior that other people's problems aren't real.

Since one of my problems is thinking of jokes, here's a approximate quote from A Funny Thing Happened to Me on the Way to the Forum: "I can bear any amount of suffering as long as it happens to someone else." (I'd have sworn it was Zero Mostel, but I can't find it.)

One part of my assumption is that I don't get the impression that a lot of the folks on tiktok are seeking professional help. If they're happy with their set of personalities, why would they seek help?

Also, I bet most of the shortage of professional help isn't related to fakers, it's (for the US) arbitrary limits on the number of doctors and a bad insurance regime.

Is there any reason I should assume that RC and FdB are really angry rather than just seeking attention?

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> If, as Jaynes hypothesizes, the ancients’ relationship to their deities was similar to a modern DID patient’s relationship to their alters,

Fantastic alter altar pun

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Nov 12, 2022·edited Nov 12, 2022

Seeing as we are talking about voices in our heads, and, more controversially, God talking to people, and lower case gods talking to people, What is the Rationalist hypothesis on the origin of gods? I mean did they invent use or did we invent them or something else entirely? It seems like a pretty fundamental part of this issue to clarify.

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Again I think this subject is too complex to boil down in the way that you or RC have done.

Imagine I'm on a date and my date says "did you want to come up to my apartment for some coffee?" (Imagine also that we're in a 1970s porno I guess). Probably the information being conveyed is not "we would both like a hot beverage."

Here's the thing though. I've met lots of folks - usually straight, religious women - who told every story of getting laid with the assumption that the pretext on which they invited the guy to their apartment was the actual reason they invited the guy up to their apartment. I.e., "I'm not sure how it happened. We made out in my car for a while, I invited him up to play Soul Calibur, and right as I was picking Taki he jumped me."

Now, I'm disinclined to believe they were just blatantly lying about thinking the purpose of the apartment visit was video games. I'm also disinclined to believe their entire brain was running a "let's beat this guy in Soul Caliber" subroutine.

Most likely there were several systems at play:

1) a brain region strategizing to get the dude up to the apartment for intercourse.

2) a brain region strategizing an exit strategy in case the dude was a weirdo.

3) a brain region yelling that only sluts invite a dude to their apartment for sex on the first date.

And the conscious mind, either during the play or in memory, told them a story about really wanting to play video games with the visibly erect man.

Similar self-deception goes into the creation of psychosomatic pain - the pain is real but possibly only because of a brain at war with itself. I've known plenty of folks who tried to kill themselves and were so moved by the outpouring of sympathy they received that they tried again. Obviously you don't take 62 sleeping pills if you're feeling peachy keen, but you might mentally amplify your depression if you think doing so will fulfill a need.

It's wrong, and dangerous, to call those folks liars. But it's also wrong to say they're telling the truth. They're just simply multiple people, each helping to create each other, and each with their own motivations. And a conscious mind attempting to make it all into one coherent story.

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Nov 12, 2022·edited Nov 12, 2022

I think that you mainly have the right of this. Generally we accept our own descriptions of our own internal states, and it's only polite to extend the same privilege to others too. As a heuristic, I think that will lead you wrong less than an approach which boils down to "everyone else's internal processes are more or less the exact same as mine". I also have no special reason to be skeptical about jhana specifically.

While we're considering the general question though, I do have another difficult case to consider - the peak-end rule. According to various studies, if there is an unpleasant experience that lasts some time, followed by a still unpleasant but less intensely unpleasant experience that lasts some time further, that will be reported as an overall less unpleasant experience than an experience containing just the first part.

Now surely there is a sense in which the people reporting their pain as less in the case where they had the same experience plus extra pain are wrong. It's hard to imagine stopping someone after the first part of the experience and asking them if they want to undergo a bit more pain or not, and having them voluntarily choose to have more (but lesser) pain rather than stop altogether.

Probably the best explanation here is that memory of internal states is different to experience of internal states, and perhaps less reliable, but reported memory of internal states is what we mainly have to go on for these conversations.

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Tl;dr: I think your prior for "I have accurate recall of the intensity of a past mental state" should be very very low in normal circumstances, especially if there's a social reward/punishment for holding that state. When discussing altered states and such it should be almost zero.

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Hey Scott. I'm sorry to go off-topic, but I wanted to give you a heads-up about something happening in my state that I think you'll be interested in. Governor has appointed a four-person committee to examine all occupational licenses, ostensibly examining barriers, public need, public safety and "philosophical considerations." The reality is that they're looking at, among other things, licensing bachelor's-level social workers as therapists etc. This is something that some of us have seen coming for awhile, though I'm frankly shocked that our state is going to be spearheading this. I anticipate they'll be making arguments about empirically validated treatments and ignoring all of the process-oriented research focused on provider skill (or that no single treatment works for or is appropriate for everyone).

More to come, if you're interested. You have a unique community here who I thought might also find the topic worth discussing. Feedback from professional organizations and relevant licensing boards was just solicited, and won't be accepted after January first.

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I am officially naming this the “O Lucky Man” thread.


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The "fake DID thing" sounds a lot like what happens with writers and their mental models of the characters they write. For example "I wanted X to happen but the characters wouldn't cooperate" is a common sentiment...

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> I thought that people talking about teenage boys desperate to see their neighbor naked or something were making humorous exaggerations.

Huh. I also thought that...

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Scott, in all of this I find myself wondering about a different example from Jhana's that sounds quite similar in the relevant aspects (lots of people over thousands of years claim it's true, people [you/I] trust claim it's true, etc.) but I'm positive you would reject it.

The Holy Spirit. Millions of Christians for at least 2,000 years have described it and its effects, and based on your metrics it's at least as plausible as Jhanas. Predicting your reaction, I would expect you to say that these Christians are having a real experience, but not the one they claim they are having. You seem to reject that same conclusion when it comes to Jhanas, but instead you take their word that they are having the experience they say they are.

Have you thought about the disconnect?

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Scott totally lost me here. TikTok DID is so transparently fake it’s laughable

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Nov 15, 2022·edited Nov 15, 2022

"...and then some biological switch gets flipped and they are unable to eat whether they want to or not. These people aren’t making it up and their qualia of fullness and revulsion at the thought of eating food are exactly like my qualia when I have eaten eight slices of bread in a row and everyone is staring at me and I suddenly realize I am a disgusting pig."

This does not ring true to me at all. In my experience, anorexics tend to be very very hungry and obsessed with food. It's important to keep in mind that anorexics tend to be deceitful about food and eating, so they may be telling you what they think would make sense to you (as they know that "I can't stand the thought of not looking skeletal," would not).

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Nov 16, 2022·edited Nov 16, 2022

It's interesting that the discussion section so quickly became more or less about malingering. With obvious offshoots into its siblings factitious and somatoform disorders.

In my first year, one classmate, an older, non-traditional student like me left the program after one semester of psychopathology and diagnosis class. (Basically a line-by-line review of the DSM).

His reasoning for leaving the program was that he was disturbed by how the DSM is revised and edited by committee. It was to his consternation that sometimes politics and personal values of the committee members was part of the process. He believed going into the field that it was a purely statistically derived set of diagnostic criteria for each disorder. That is, he thought that each list of symptoms was meticulously factorially regressed and what hung together was a valid construct.

I won't chime in with an opinion about this, but one can argue based on the process that was in place that this is how homosexuality (which was present as a disorder as recently as DSM 3-TR) was removed. That it was more political pressure than "science" that killed it.

When we came into the parts (every disorder has this) that essentially declares it NOT a disorder if it is socially normative, he concluded that we had unceremoniously replaced words like "sin" with "inappropriate" and that mental health professionals were the new clergy. To use an extreme example--It is the expert witness on the stand in a criminal trial, after all, who tells the jury whether or not the accused was responsible for his actions.

He said he just didn't want to be in that role.

And comes this discussion over lying about symptoms (malingering) where one of the major concerns is over whether people with serious mental illness (generally the heavy hitters like thought disorders and bipolar processes) are being short-shafted by fakers and non-debilitating, even controversial in their existence ones. It's my old nemesis, subjectivity rearing its ugly head again.

One of my favorite psychological tests, the PAI (Morey) actually attempts to take what most people think of as a dichotomous variable (truth vs lying) and stretch it out into a continuous one using a statistical process called discriminant function. On one end of the spectrum is "effortful negative distortion" and the other is "effortful positive distortion." In the middle are things like "non-effortful negative distortion" and "truth." I have found this approach to be more or less right on, because there are all kinds of reasons why people are not giving you a valid protocol, not just antisocial behavior.

This drives my wife crazy, who is a very black-and-white thinker and "hates being lied to." I have never had that sentiment. I generally ask myself "why would the person give me that kind of response?"

At the same time, in my work as a forensic psychologist, I am keenly aware of the implications of the things I write and testify about in court. If I get it wrong, it can be a profound miscarriage of justice. Also, I find it incredibly annoying when I am doing a compensation and pension evaluation for a veteran whose PTSD story is so outlandish that it strains credulity. There are instruments to detect that kind of malingering too, which I use when I get suspicious.

This article made me think of things I had not thought of in a while.

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One thing to maybe note is that jhanic states actually are falsifiable. Maybe someone's claim to have experienced it is unfalsifiable, but the existence of these states of mind can be proven or disproven, at least to ones self - not at the scientific level because it's an internal, personal experience, but you can actually experience it if it is real. It doesn't matter if you believe it or not, it will either be extant or not once you get to the level of necessary concentration. If you are truly being neutral about it, then don't believe it or disbelieve it; try for yourself, see what it is people are talking about.

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The conversation between RC and Scott could be made clearer if the distinction is made between:

a) believing that someone experienced what they said they experienced

b) believing someone's interpretation of what they experienced

If someone says, "I can see your aura; it looks blue," and they are otherwise a truthful person, you can believe that they are experiencing something that they interpret as a blue aura. That does not mean you have to believe that you radiate light in some wavelength that is mysteriously only accessible to some people.

Also, it felt like RC's argument about the spoonies and DID folk was really an argument that (we should believe) they are lying, not an argument that they are mistaken. Scott already granted that lying exists, and responded with reasons not to think spoonies and DIDs are lying... which is important, but it's also good to recognize that whether the TikTok folk are lying/exaggerating is a different question from whether they are mistaken about having any spoony/DID-like experiences in the first place.

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> At the extremes of those extremes, you see things like the jhana thing: where it’s something that seems unlikely to most but is unfalsifiable

I don't get the unfalsifiable claim. Isn't the idea that anyone can experience jhana if they put in the time and effort? How is that different from any scientific experiment? Sure two people can't look at the results, but that's not a requirement for falsification to my knowledge.

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> "Imagine that one day you wake up and suddenly you have terrible leg pain whenever you walk."

I really wish I had to "imagine" this. Sciatica sucks.

Lift with your legs, not your backs, kids. You *really* don't want a bulged disc.

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This is a really difficult topic for me to reason around for a few reasons. I struggle to express them clearly but if I were to sum it up it would be potentially contradictory facts:

1. I have chronic pain conditions and know others who do and see how often the system fails them and how they're treated and I know I don't get anything out of it and would so much prefer to be biking centuries and hiking 14ers again.

2. I believe the evidence says there are personality traits of those who are predisposed to chronic pain and I've absolutely some people get sympathy and pity out of it and engage in a lot of behavior that could really use some CBT.

I run a chronic pain group and I'm nothing but sympathetic and supportive there. But I also think we're sometimes making things worse for ourselves. I see some of them really engaging in behaviors that are attention seeking and making their pain worse. I just don't know how to square this circle other than it's on a case-by-case basis and I probably have no reliable way of knowing myself which type of case I'm looking at.

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It is interesting that I found your review of "Unlearn Your Pain" today because I am, myself, recently experiencing a severe relapse of a chronic pain condition which had gone away for several years and came back with a vengeance about 2 months ago. As in, I find myself experiencing hip pain (which I would have declared sciatic nerve induced, due to a bulged L5-S1 disc) sufficient that I cannot stand or walk around for more than about 3 to 10 minutes at a time. Imagine someone driving a railroad spike into your hip socket. That's about the best descriptor I can come up with.

I am very interested in it going back away ASAP.

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So RC cites a TikTok video, 'how to lie to your doctor'. The videographer says if you only don't faint because of the weird stuff you do, then tell the doctor you faint. Scott says that's good advice, and offers similar examples.

Yeah but. There is a whole range, from people who compulsively do tiger repellent activity (like the old joke: "Sure it works, do you see any tigers?") then claim there ARE tigers, to people who are actually preventing something. If they all lie, some will do wrong. If they all tell the truth, with suitable explanation, it will work out fine.

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So this is odd:

(1) I have serious OCD involving touching things & feeling like the universe or the future will become unbalanced if I don't touch them in a certain order a certain number of times. My partners notice and giggle. I try to prevent it from getting in the way of leaving a restaurant or having sex or letting her sleep while I'm fiddling with re-folding my clothes. I don't mind letting them see a little of my inner insanity; as long as it doesn't keep them up at night it's hopefully mildly endearing.

(2) I also learned that my sex drive is much lower than the Platonic Man's. I only found that out after I had 4 or 5 cortisone shots in two days for a broken back in my late 30s and suddenly found myself laying an 18 year old Danish supermodel on a beach in Spain two days after I hadn't been able to get out of bed. Turns out that not jerking off for a couple months has the same effect as that much steroid; it brings me up to the baseline libido of a normal man. Suddenly you actually try a little and it turns out everyone wants to have sex all the time.

And I have (3) a high level of synaesthesia between music, color and visual altitude (the y-axis in space); they work all three ways. As well as (4) a pretty fantastic if imperfect ability to see objects, faces and places in my "mind's eye".

This is all an introduction to my counterpoint to Scott's article but I want to say - I've been drawn repeatedly to Scott's writing, even when I didn't realize it was he who had written something (e.g. the wine article in Asterisk, which I forwarded to my wine industry girlfriend last week without noticing his name in the by-line, just because it was so well written).

Also: I'm a non-practicing Ashkenazi Jew and a Cohen (which I'm guessing Mr. Aaronson is too, sons of Aaron we be) so I chalked up my appreciation of his pedantic verbosity and logic to some Ur-genetic brotherhood. But until now, I didn't really realize how deeply the similarities ran.

So having listed the above cross-wirings of my brain, in spite of all that, I DO deeply doubt the Spoonies' reported internal experiences. I accept that an induced experience (one created by culture or insanity or random firings of the thalamus or whatever) can be just as real to the subject as an experience with objective external referents -- but should it be as important to the REST of us? Whether it's meaningful to the subject is a Platonic question. But our roundly anti-Helenistic ancestors (Scott's, mine, King David's, et al), when they said "DON'T DO THIS" about manifesting deities as personalities, or listening to split personality voices in your head, could quite as easily have been saying "don't touch that golden idol / light switch / dish soap 5 times", as in modern "OCD", or for that matter "don't worship your own sickness".

In other words, we may agree that these brain-meat experiences exist and are "real" if we take the same broadly subjective definition of reality, what makes you want to reject the benefits of multiple personalities as roughly idolatry is just as applicable to the idolatry of objects in OCD or those of the vicissitudes of fate as in phantom illnesses and diagnosis-seeking behavior. They are actually three faces of the same false idol.

I realized one night as I was zipping and unzipping my suitcase, touching it a bunch of times, that I had created an actual one-man cargo cult. I even wrote a short story about it, tying it to a golden calf and a set of false identities created by the protagonist, because those things made sense as the same flaw in thinking to me.

I posit that: When we (me, Freddie de Boer, et al) initially evaluate claims of internal states with a large dose of skepticism, we may be acting in self-defense, and not in a trivial or political sense but in the sense of actually defending ourselves from a cultural virus. You are what you eat; you are what your brain consumes. A psychoanalyst has the dirty job of attempting to believe and of opening the subjective box of an individual's internal world. It requires empathy and skill and a lot of self-control. But the subject's internal issues could well be poison if they were spread as superstition among the general population, which is why social media is such a disastrous tool for psychopaths. So while recognizing and ennobling the human experience of crazy people is an analyst's toolset, and a humane and worthy use of one's time, it may be the most important feature of someone else's time to reject the same subjective observations to prevent them from becoming normalized in society -- if only to protect themselves (and I'm thinking of Freddie here) from being dragged into the type of thinking that caused them to self-victimize in the first place. In other words, your highest goal may be to free that which someone else's highest goal is to put back into a box as quickly as possible, for the sake of their own sanity.

As far as my own OCD and synaesthesia; I figured out that my OCD came from being freaked out by parents telling me about invisible bugs into washing my hands constantly as a child until they realized they'd fucked me up. My synaesthesia came from a piano teacher when I was 4 years old who had a wonderful method of teaching me colored notes with crayons on a piece of graph paper. The latter was a gift and the former a curse, but both are brain viruses, memes made manifest in neuron, in heavy daily use and carried out in flesh like any beating you take as a child. A way of thinking of thought (one mind? two? ego and super-ego?), as you say, can easily turn into a regimental prescription for daily action (father, son, holy ghost) and unless you're in control of the regiment or the prescription or the philosophy itself, and aware of all its potential outcroppings, you're just prey for whoever came up with it and can tell you what it all means. All those external power structures should be avoided.

And so should becoming a member of an online group like "spoonies", whose gestalt is to presume you have undiagnosed illness and proceed from whatever your vaguest symptoms are toward the idea that the medical community is aligned against you. Giving the wrong name to a physical or mental affliction, or diagnosing yourself incorrectly, is more dangerous than having no diagnosis at all.

Skepticism, therefore, especially of group-recognized afflictions, is the only vaccine against mass hysteria. Just like the 10 Commandments are a vaccine against DID and OCD.


Just like to add that I've only done 1 year of therapy in my life, years ago in Argentina, "existential therapy" that got rid of my post-alcoholic guilt fairly well. I'd love to be analyzed by Mr. Aaronson, though, because it would be fascinating to hear what someone with my own neuroses would say if able to look at them externally; assuming the man loves himself enough to forgive their occasional stupid/ugliness.

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