Māyā

The external world is deceptive (Māyā). Māyā is difficult to properly translate. It doesn’t imply that something is fake, but rather that it’s not what it appears. It’s magic, trickery. Hindu and Buddhist philosophy have argued this for a long time, but the Western philosophical tradition arrived at the same idea, through men like Plato, Kant and Schopenhauer.

Consider the image of a tree. I ask you: Have you ever seen a tree? Ultimately, you haven’t. Your brain has a mental model of the world, that it communicates to your consciousness. The mental model is dependent on your own neural infrastructure. You can feel pain, because you have neurons and receptors that communicate pain. If you didn’t have those, you wouldn’t be able to feel pain.

The mental model tells your consciousness that it is representative of an external world that really exists, but you have no way of knowing whether that is true. That mental model then suggests that your external reality contains a tree, when you experience a walk in the park. But again, you wouldn’t be able to experience that tree, without the prerequisite idea of a tree being contained within your mental model.

This is true for all the people you know as well. We’re reaching the point now where more and more people ask themselves if they are conscious beings, surrounded by AI or other simulated entities. The reality is that the people you meet exist within your own internal mental model, at least to the degree that you experience interactions with them. When you regularly interact with someone, your neural infrastructure overlaps to a large degree. You can only communicate, because you have the same interests, the same concepts, the same way of experiencing the world.

Before you can experience something, your mental model of the world first needs to have the prerequisite neural infrastructure to accommodate that experience. Before you meet Bob, Bob already exists in an embryonic state, as a configuration of neural pathways compatible with your experience of communicating with Bob. The words he uses, his body odor, his physical appearance, the house he lives in, these connections first have to emerge within the neural infrastructure that houses your mental model of the world, before you can undergo the experience of meeting Bob.

Whenever you expose yourself to something, the associated neural connections are reinforced. This explains for example, why riding a bicycle is something that required your conscious attention as a child to avoid falling, but becomes something you can do instinctively, even as you develop dementia. In this sense, the decisions you make adjust your neural infrastructure.

Social media algorithms work similarly. By clicking on something, you get more of it. It’s not just that the algorithms adjust to offer you more of it. Your own neural network rewires, to enable it to offer you more of it.

Platforms like TikTok can easily send people into a self-perpetuating feedback loop of negativity. The platform suggests negative content. They click on it, so it offers them more and because it awakens negative associations and thoughts, people feel inclined to click on more of it. In the meantime, their own brains adjust in response to their own negative thoughts, reinforcing neural pathways that enable them to process and experience more negativity. This can end in suicide.

If you understand this principle, then it also follows that you can use it to your advantage. Your imagination rewires your neural infrastructure, strengthening certain connections and encouraging new ones. If you truly immerse yourself in the fantasy of an experience, imagining the sight, the sound, the emotions, the scents, then you encourage the formation of the sort of neural infrastructure that allows the experience to come to fruition.

Similarly, when you think back of positive memories, when your mind deeply immerses in them and you express gratitude for them, you reinforce those neural connections and enable your mental model of the world to produce new derivatives of it.

Psychedelics can help with this. Mescaline, psilocybe mushrooms and especially Salvia Divinorum, can take you back to positive memories. If you then express gratitude for those positive memories and use the positive memories to seek out more positive thoughts, you begin a process of rewiring your brain to enable more positive thoughts.

Your mental model of the world uses your neural infrastructure to offer you the best external world that it can. When you dwell in negativity, then at some level, you enjoy the negative experiences and your mental model will use it to offer you more of it.

If you think the world is overpopulated, or the economy is collapsing, or all your government officials are incompetent losers and you keep reading about it, at some level you enjoy this sensation. Your neural infrastructure is rewired, connections are strengthened that allow your mental model to feed you more varieties of this content.

You enjoyed the sensation of being angry and upset because some official on TV told you to wear a mask. It made you so angry, you kept reading about it, you kept making jokes about how stupid it is, you kept resisting against it and making a big deal out of it, so the connections in your brain are reinforced and your mental model is going to offer you the only derivative it thinks it can get away with: He’s now going to tell you to wear two.

You may argue to me that you don’t enjoy it, that you’re angry because it doesn’t work and it infringes on your liberty and it’s cruel towards the deaf who can’t lipread etc. But as humans we seek out negative sensations. Why do we listen to sad songs? Why do we watch true crime? Why do we watch horror movies and walk into haunted houses in amusement parks with blood covered terrifying clowns?

There’s a pleasurable comfort in reinforcing what we know. There’s comfort in knowing we could be worse off. There’s pleasure in feeling like the only sane and righteous man, surrounded by an insane vulgar mob. It seems we can get stuck on a local optimum. We can make a very comfortable nest for ourselves, within the darkness.

But if you don’t wish to continue reaping the enjoyment of such sensations, you’re much better off simply orienting your mind towards other subjects. Through positive thoughts, we engineer more opportunities for positive experiences in our minds. This can be difficult for many people to accept, but again, Salvia Divinorum and other psychedelics can help with this, by forcing us to question the nature of reality and breaking through repetitive cycles.

10 Comments

  1. “You can feel pain, because you have neurons and receptors that communicate pain. If you didn’t have those, you wouldn’t be able to feel pain.”

    I wonder how many years of practicing meditation it would take before you become so adept that pain no longer causes you any suffering. Case in point: Thích Quảng Đức, who died by self-immolation in Saigon in 1963.

  2. Meh.

    “Understanding the origin of human behavior is like looking for a place to land a plane when the earth below is covered by a huge, thick cloud. Human behavior makes no sense from a hedonic point of view, nor does it make sense from any alternative idea. The human being is an unfinished entity, burdened by a strange mix of cortical and sub-cortical processes and a body which requires immense artifices to protect and assure it if it’s immortality.”

  3. I don’t find this line of thinking convincing.

    Instead, it seems to me that one has to go through a process leading to acceptance, and that it’s only through acceptance that we get to transformation.

    There’s no easy cheat for this process, and I’m not going to kid anyone, it can be very painful, but it’s necessary.

    If you can’t bring yourself to face the grind, then you might end up stuck.

  4. Most people are driven by their emotions and don’t even think about it ~have no capacity to consider the question. Like describing the sky to a blind man.

    Self-actualisation involves

    1. recognising that you are having emotions
    2. understanding what these emotions are (lust, frustration, anger, happiness etc etc)
    3. exploring where they are coming from ~why you feel them, usually life experience
    4. using them to help guide you when making rational decisions

    Emotions are like the sea. A competent captain can navigate during all weather, even though his ship still rides the waves high and low, whereas most people aren’t even steering their ship, let alone able to handle internal storms.

    Anyway, a lot of words to say, you can get to a place where you can feel angry about the lizardmen telling you to wear masks and know that this is a Bad Thing, without holding onto that anger for more than a few seconds.

    [A] Let go

  5. If any of you are interested in this topic, that being what to do about being imprisoned within perceptual/conceptual representation (aside from making the prison more comfortable through ‘rewiring’ or “positive thinking”), please read “The Limits Of Literalism” on Substack, and the book it is excerpted from. That is, if you yearn to escape the prison before you rot in it.

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The patients in the mental ward have had their daily dose of xanax and calmed down it seems, so most of your comments should be automatically posted again. Try not to annoy me with your low IQ low status white male theories about the Nazi gas chambers being fake or CO2 being harmless plant food and we can all get along. Have fun!

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