Evolving GTD: A life design system that takes you into account

GTD is incredible and the best thing I’ve done to increase my knowledge-work efficiency over the past 2 years. In this essay I analyse it from a cognitive function point of view and find a crucial limitation. I then suggest a way of improving GTD to deal with this crucial limitation. (This essay assumes familiarity with GTD.)

GTD and what it is missing

GTD claims to be an attention-management system but really it is a distributed cognition system. It externalises your memory by having Capture take care of everything, it takes advantage of situated cognition by forcing you to write down information in an actionable format and having context lists, and so on.
Distributed cognition is the key to doing whatever you want to do. That is the way you work – according to Misnky – as a bunch of agencies each with a really small task each. This is the way that  governments and companies work, where increasingly a single agent performs a small task and an administrative bureaucracy grows to take care of agents below it at every level.
Now, GTD is the result of trial and error and you need to use it and to learn to use it and adapt it to yourself. But there is low hanging fruit in the fact that few people comprehensively think about it and it’s results versus what they want to achieve. By doing so I believe I got a significant piece that GTD is originally missing that improves it immensely.
The piece is that GTD is not an evolutionary system. It does not evolve. I mean it does, when you adapt it a bit, but in a totally haphazard way. What is needed is a system that forces GTD to evolve, for your needs.

The solution

Keeping in mind that everything that is needed for evolution is Variation of organisms (variation of GTD setups), Selection of organisms (selection of GTD setup characteristics) and Retention (selection of GTD setup characteristics), here is a first pass at a solution.
Define design constraints (selection criteria). In my case these are:
  1. Areas of concern must map to real areas
  2. Projects must move areas of concern forward
  3. Actions must move projects forward
  4. Actions must lead to a nice experience
The first constraint ensures that my written down areas of concern map to my felt senses of the things I actually care about, and not the things I could in a socially accepted fashion care about, or things that are easy to put down into words or verbalise. The second constraint ensures that projects map to the things I care about. The third constraint that my actions move projects forward. These three constraints together ensure that what I do on a day to day basis is directly relevant to my ultimate concerns. The fourth constraint limits my day to day actions to those that lead to a nice felt experience – it is a poor result either if a) I have a nice experience but the things I care about are not moved, or b) The things I care about are moved but my life (feels like it) sucks.
The totality of these constrained are aimed at avoiding both those scenarios and moving me into the “My life is pleasant and the things I care about are being handled” scenario.
With the constraints in place you can create a full evolutionary system. Again, recall that evolution only needs Variation, Retention and  Selection. The criteria of selection have been defined.
Variation & Retention is taken care off by choosing (Variation) areas of concern, projects, and action; taking into account the results of the selection process (retention).
Putting it all together, in an abstract form, the system looks like this:

Components of an evolutionary system

  1. Variation & Retention – Hypothesis
    1. I choose (Variation)
      1. areas of concern
      2. projects
      3. actions
        taking into account the results of the selection process (Retention)
  2. Selection – Test
    1. How actions fulfil life
    2. How actions fulfil projects
    3. How projects fulfil areas of concern
    4. How the selection process is itself


My actual implementation is as follows:
– Every day I diary on how my day was like (this keeps records of my lived experience)
– Every week I summarise my daily experience and think about how my actions mapped to projects, how projects mapped to areas of concern, and how those areas of concern are what I care about
– I save all of this knowledge in a knowledge repository (Retention)
– Then I choose action for the next week, taking into account the original constraints plus the knowledge in the knowledge repository (Variation & Selection)
– Every month I choose areas of concern and associated projects taking into account the original constraints plus the knowledge in the knowledge repository (Variation & Selection)
– Every month I review the whole system, especially the selection constraints: what is my felt sense of the past month, of the past day, of the past week? Am I moving forward in the right direction, is my life where I want it to be?

Final thoughts

Notice how powerful this system is, flowing with you, changing itself as your felt sense changes, constantly responding to new information instead of discarding it. It is not a “work system” or a “productivity system” not even an “attention management system” but a constantly-updated-respondant-to-your-felt-sense-experience-and-knowledge life design system.
It is lighter than GTD, and it evolves with you and your self-knowledge. You can see each actions/projects/areas of concern choice as a hypothesis and each daily and weekly review as a test for your set of hypothesis. Over time the system allows you to evolve theories about yourself that accurately match your desires of how life feels like and what you are about, the somethings that you do.

My experience with Impro[v] (the book and the activity)

Back to the personal posts. It has recently come to my attention that historically I need to and excel at apprehending things in an intellectual fashion. (Part of the reason that I really value new concepts, they quite literally let me see more.)

In this essay I describe my recent experiences with improvisational theatre. The first, reading the book Impro, of which a review follows. The second, taking an Improv class,  of which a review follows. (The third, the intellectual apprehension is this essay.) Enjoy.


Impro review

Multiple authors I enjoy have praised Impro over the years. Also, two close friends who are enormously different recommended it. So after 2 years my brain decided to pay attention and I read it.

It wasn’t  mind blowing, which I expected from seeing various reviews over the years. In retrospect this seems an instance of the Seinfeld is unfunny effect: it is 40 years old, authors I like have read it a long time ago and so it has diffused through the worldview they espouse.

The book is divided into 5 parts: Notes on myself, Status, Spontaneity, Narrative Skills, and Masks and Trace.

The chapter on status was very, very rewarding although it hasn’t shaped my mind totally. (This is due to me having studied PUA analysis in the past and thus having some understanding of how to convey high status and what low status looks likes.)

Having said that , the book led me to *spontaneously* analyse interactions in status transactions terms a few times already. I would mentally translate every action into a status move. Including my own. This is incredible because I was blind to status moves I did in a non-purposeful fashion. Just for this the book is worth reading.

The chapter on Spontaneity was pretty good and all of it resonates at a very deep level.

Some meditation, a lot of therapy and introspection have led to various experiences of spontaneity that I identified. It has also led to dealing with “demons” of the obscene, psychotic, and religious tendencies, and after those have had their turn to show the vulnerable children. Yes, yes, yes, and yes, all that made perfect internal sense; even if Johnstone is describing it from the perspective of Improv and Theatre (None of which I had ever done then.).

The chapter on narrative skills was pretty great. He aims to explain that it seems that humans have some sort of story mechanism and you can take advantage of this to create stories. Things like reincorporation (reintegrating a piece, or closing an open end) activate the story mechanism. He also had several writing prompts. I tried one of them  and ended up with a short story I’m quite happy with.

I’m midway through trance masks and I got a much better understanding when I saw the videos. I assumed the masks were of the african tribal mask sort, but instead they are of the exaggerations of *human* faces sort. Keith uses the mask plus a mirror plus a person willing to take social responsibility to induce altered states of consciousness.


Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 14.57.24


Fig 1. No and yes, respectively.


Having dabbled in those, and having once looked at a mirror to see a demon, or a goat (in a dream) I totally feel how powerful the experience can be and how it can create trance states.

(See this for a video of how trance masks work)

Overall the book is excellent, in addition to the content, Keith has a splendid author voice. (Which makes me empowered to treat him on a first name basis.) The book has a *treasurable* characteristic – it is by an expert that throws observations at you, not theory. If it is the case that you have little to no knowledge on the area (as it was for me) you can connect to the observations by linking them to your experience, and by the end you used your experiences as a scaffold to build out your map in an area you had nothing. This is very, very rewarding. I suspect this is why many people enjoy the book.

(Although there might be other reasons. The book also prompted me to try out the exercises, to think about what it said and attempt to link it for inordinate amounts of time and to go on youtube and search for videos. Some books just prompt me to “read one word after the other until I read them all”. This might be due to the style of writing. Unclear, don’t know enough about writing, but it seems reasonable that different styles imprint different states that lead to different action likelihoods.)


Improv review

The book pumped me up (raised my Emotional Energy) enough to actually take a workshop. This was 2 days, 3 hours each over a weekend. One of the best decisions I ever made.

The professor guiding the seminar was excellent. He was what Johnstone refers as a status specialist – he could raise and lower his (and others) statuses at will. If he wanted to say something he would slightly alter his posture and look down on everyone and the room would fall silent. If he wanted everyone to relax he would laugh too much, and become goofy and everyone relaxed and started interacting instead of standing still paying attention. This is tough to describe but the effect was very vivid.

Further, it was rare for him to talk. He seemed to be focused on praxis on doing over talking, over logos. And so he wouldn’t. He would do and you would have to understand from trial and error. He would set up the group in an ellipse and do a movement and a sound. And you copied it and tried variations, and if those were legal he would let you stay in the ellipse, and if not you would be sent out.

One of the games was Zip-Zap-Boing. In this game you either say Zip and turn and point right or let, say Zap and turn and point to anyone but the people on your right or left, or you jump and say Boing to whomever sent you a Zip or Zap to send it back.

In the beginning people were upset when they lost and so they would loudly moan. But this “stole the energy off the stage” and so they stopped doing it over time, and what happened was brilliant: you could see a logic developing in the game, a tempo, a symphony of Zip-Zip-Zap-Zip-Zip-Zap that would be broken with a Boing and someone would exit. But the break would be correct, if you were seeing it from the outside it made sense from the overall picture, if not to the person that was surprised by it.

There are two very cool things about this game:

  1. You never win. There is no end. You just keep playing, and getting better, better reactions, better tempo, better symphonies, but no end. It is an infinite game.
  2. You must be empty. If you are thinking about you are going to do, then you will flinch too soon or too late and you will lose and exit the ellipse.

This second point is precisely what spontaneity is about. It reminded me of Wu Wei, which I have felt a few times. It’s not flow, or inner freedom, but a sense that things happen and things get done by you, but not that you are doing things. I can imagine that if a group keeps playing this game, then a shared ritual consciousness emerges.

Another game was the predator. One person is a predator, and they have to touch the others. If you get touched, you die. But just before getting touched you can yell out someone’s name. If you do, then that person becomes the predator. What ended up happening is that in the frenzy of running away people would call out people that were dead already, multiple people would be called, and so on. And then the game was interrupted and you were asked what was wrong. It was seldom the case that someone knew, although over time our awareness got better.

And awareness was another thing distinguishing the professor. He would know what you were doing even if he had his back turned to you. This was very freaky in the first hour and then it became OK.

Back to his approach. At some points he would talk. After we had done the praxis, then he would explain it referring technical terms from Aristotle Poetics, or scenes from the Illiad and Odyssey. So he would force you to understand by trial-and-error and then explain it with drama theory. It was brilliant.

A third game was the gibberish game. At some point he started talking german sounding words to me and I replied back in german. They weren’t words it was gibberish. And so I replied in gibberish. And it made sense. From the context, the body language, the cadence, the repetition of words – it started making sense, you knew what was meant.

This game was used to do a improv scene at the end of the second day. The setup was two best friends meeting after not having seen each other for 10 years, discovering they were living in the same city, and then discovering they were fanatical extremists of opposite sides of a cause.

It was overwhelming. Literally. There was a point of quiet recognition, two points of extreme happiness, an uncomfortable tension, and then a realization. After the realization there was a fight, and at some point I made a closed fist. My improv partner started crying out of anger and I couldn’t handle it. I had to exit to the backstage where I was shaking for 1 or 2 full minutes. Still unsure of what happened.

A highly recommended experience, if you can, go and do an improv workshop.


Modern(ised) Philosophies for Living

I have a love-hate relationship with contemporary philosophy. I’m in the love with the need for it, the idea of it, the concept of it. But contemporary philosophy mostly annoys me.

Life is for living, and I want a practical philosophy of life, not reinterpretations of what Husserl thought that Kant thought about noema. I once read a description of modern philosophy and it went something like “Nature has cursed them with feeble bodies, and they take revenge by creating artificial systems.” And I think this is somewhat unfair, but not totally unfair.

Yes, thought, yes considerations, yes thinking, yes reflecting. But not to the exception of all else.

Plato means “broad shoulders” – Plato was, besides a philosopher, a champion wrestler.

Sure, we got through scholasticism in which we wasted our best philosophical minds to the study of theology.

And yes, sometimes ontology and metaphysics seem to be too far from real life to be of any use and I think they matter a bunch, and yes we need philosophy to examine our presuppositions. Sure. But not to the exclusion of all else.

And maybe I’m strawmanning all the way to Hell, but maybe not.

Modernised Philosophies for Living

On the difference between analytical and Continental philosophy:

“The heart of the analytic/Continental opposition is most evident in methodology, that is, in a focus on analysis or on synthesis. Analytic philosophers typically try to solve fairly delineated philosophical problems by reducing them to their parts and to the relations in which these parts stand. Continental philosophers typically address large questions in a synthetic or integrative way, and consider particular issues to be ‘parts of the larger unities’ and as properly understood and dealt with only when fitted into those unities.” (p.10.)

So analytic philosophy is concerned with analysis – analysis of thought, language, logic, knowledge, mind, etc; whereas continental philosophy is concerned with synthesis – synthesis of modernity with history, individuals with society, and speculation with application.

Neil Levy sees this methodological difference as well; in Metaphilosophy, Vol. 34, No 3, he describes analytic philosophy as a “problem-solving activity,” and continental philosophy as closer “to the humanistic traditions and to literature and art… it tends to be more ‘politically engaged.” Hans-Johann Glock remarks in  The Rise of Analytic Philosophy that “analytic philosophy is a respectable science or skill; it uses specific techniques to tackle discrete problems with definite results.”

So maybe philosophies for living would not be found in philosophy anymore and I’m just looking in the wrong place (1). It seems like therapy might be a place where to find them.

Scott talks about his field view on CBT: “I was taught the following foundation myth of my field: in the beginning, psychiatry was a confused amalgam of Freud and Jung and Adler and anyone else who could afford an armchair to speculate in. People would say things like that neurosis was caused by wanting to have sex with your mother, or by secretly wanting a penis, or goodness only knows what else. Then someone had the bright idea that beliefs ought to be based on evidence! Study after study proved the psychoanalysts’ bizarre castles were built on air, and the Freudians were banished to the outer darkness. Their niche was filled by newer scientific psychotherapies with a robust evidence base, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and [mumble]. And thus was the empire forged.”

CBT seems to be all the rage in rationalist circles because it is evidence-based. (It certainly is not because of how it appeals to the idea of “Change your thought patterns, change your life”, which of course is what debiasing appeals to.)

And CBT is mostly a rebranding and refashioning of Roman Stoic Philosophy.

Stoicism being, obviously, a philosophy for living:

  • If thou art pained by any external thing, it is not this that disturbs thee, but thy own judgment about it. And it is in thy power to wipe out this judgment now. (VIII. 47, trans. George Long)
  • Never regard something as doing you good if it makes you betray a trust or lose your sense of shame or makes you show hatred, suspicion, ill-will or hypocrisy or a desire for things best done behind closed doors. (III. 7, trans. Gregory Hays)
  • Not to feel exasperated or defeated or despondent because your days aren’t packed with wise and moral actions. But to get back up when you fail, to celebrate behaving like a human—however imperfectly—and fully embrace the pursuit you’ve embarked on. (V. 9, trans. Gregory Hays)
  • […] As for others whose lives are not so ordered, he reminds himself constantly of the characters they exhibit daily and nightly at home and abroad, and of the sort of society they frequent; and the approval of such men, who do not even stand well in their own eyes has no value for him. (III. 4, trans. Maxwell Staniforth)
  • Take away your opinion, and there is taken away the complaint, […] Take away the complaint, […] and the hurt is gone (IV. 7, trans. George Long)
  • Do not act as if thou wert going to live ten thousand years. Death hangs over thee. While thou livest, while it is in thy power, be good. (IV. 17, trans. George Long)
  • Of the life of man the duration is but a point. (II. 17, trans. C.R. Haines)

So maybe the least resistance path is to modernise old philosophies for living? Paint them in the modern color and use those as scaffolds to build off? (As this attempt at painting a rational, scientific, naturalistic take on Daoism)

Modernising Philosophies for Living

As far as I can see this idea of “philosophy of life” is reduced to a profile detail in dating websites. I also understand that to question worldview in such a way you need to reach a certain ego level. But I think this is very much a necessary project.

Religion has provided guidelines for years, and with the death of god fast approaching this project will be increasingly needed. (Most people that stop being deistic keep up remnants of Christianity – the case I know – once they leave it. Belief propagation isn’t automatic, it is a painfully long process. European society is built on Christianity. I don’t know what will happen when this particular Schelling point for morality and social behaviour is gone. Maybe just fundamentalism and consumerism. Hopefully.)

And I think the thesis above is great and that it needs to get out of paper and be acted upon and distributed. And I think CBT is great, but that the barrier of having to seek out therapy and find it is too high for it to be distributed.

But there is something that is not too high, in fact, that has a low barrier to entry, given the way humans are built: religion.

And this is why I’m so excited about Chapman’s effort to naturalise Buddhist Tantra. Tantra is for living, and life is to be lived.

Tantra is “an attitude; a stance; a way of being. It is the attitude of passionate and spacious engagement with this world. It is an ecstatic and agonizing love-affair with everyday reality.” “The excitement starts when you realize there is a whole religion built on this attitude. There is a system for putting the vision into practice, for intensifying and developing it, for making everything you do consistent with it.”

Yes, please.




  • Philosophy can’t deal with these earthly concerns because the sociology of intellectuals is such that you gain attention by being more abstract and reflexive, and lose it by being less
  • Why was there an explosion of schools go philosophy for living in ancient Greece, China?
  • http://kevinsimler.quora.com/ on post-atheism
  • secular solstice


Transformative practices and isolation

“How to get people in meditation?” Mark answers at 3:04: “The long game is sorta of… just to be like… so like fucking awesome and clearly so much fun and having such a great life… I think the best motivators are just sort of become one of the shiny happy people, become ridiculous successful so that people do whatever you do.”

I think meditation is awesome and totally incredible in a million ways. Same with therapy.

I have managed to get exactly 0 people into meditation and about 6 into therapy.

Mark’s answer is about letting them come, letting them see how much insanely better life can be, and reason themselves into doing what is unblocking that. Foot-in-the-door, over door-in-the-face.

I *fear* that this approach might fail. I hold this fear for 3 reasons:

  1. I don’t believe you can shift the position of many people through reason.
  2. Both of these proposals lead to a better life in expectation
  3. 2nd and further order effects

With regards to the first one, part of the blog is arguing for that, and I touched on it here.

The second is that at any particular point in time, and for any particular person they might actually get worse, or be going through a valley in search of the next local optimum, and thus it is not clear to the outsiders how this is not worse. (Related: dark night.)

To talk about the third one I want to cite a study from memory, with the promise I’ll find the original source later. The study had three people watching a movie at the same time, and alone. Two watched a shitty movie, one watched a good movie. Afterwards they got to sit around a coffee table and talk. Then they had their happiness measured. Take a moment to guess the outcomes and why.

The people that saw the shitty movie were happier – presumably because they could connect over the shitty movie. People bond over negative experiences. This explains a bunch of social practices. (Like hazing, which Cialdini to my recall in Influence said was only about commitment and consistency effects, I think this is what is going on.)

It is hard to take 2nd and further-order effects into account and not just quit. Being healthy for example. A noble enough goal: eat healthy, exercise. And so you figure out a healthy diet and exercise and focus on those and keep trying to keep on the mark.

And one year goes by and you realize that eating healthy is almost impossible because no one even know what that is and that focusing too much on it and on exercise damaged your social support network which happens to have an even bigger effect on your health. And you played by the rules and did the best you could and feel cheated on and torn and angry and rebellious.

It is not clear to me that just engaging in these practices – whilst everything around stays the same – ends up to be that beneficial in the long run. Part of it – for me – has to do with loneliness and connection.

Loneliness and Connection

I have, in the past, used two metaphors before to explain how the “bad side” of therapy and meditation (and a bunch more things) feels like: one is that I feel like I’m climbing a mountain and I have to climb and that the worst thing in the world is to one day be on my death bed and be thinking about how I could’ve climbed further and didn’t. The problem is that as I climb there are less and less fellow climbers.

The second one is through venn diagrams. The more I climb, the more circles delimit my area, the lonelier it gets. And I don’t want to be lonely, and showing only one part of myself at a time. I want to show all, at all times, and to have it belong and connect and to connect through it and to touch and feel touched in all the facets sequentially and in parallel.

I suspect that the partial emphasis I’ve had thus far on bridging communities and discourses and communicating is an attempt to work through this dialectic.

And I really care about all this, like, really care about it – it cuts to the bone. And I have no solution and no way to negotiate between these drives yet and it hurts. Like an impossible trade-off. How do you choose between your two children?

Overanalyzing shock

I once shocked a friend to the depth of his soul by saying “Maybe you’re right, let’s check.”

Me and him were going to pick up someone from the airport. I was leaving the house and he said “I bet the plane is going to be late”. I replied “Maybe you are right, let’s check the estimated arrival time”. What happened next stunned me.

He was in total shock at my answer, unable to grasp what was happening. Kinda like in a movie when something comes out from the left-field and the hero is actually the villain and for a moment your are lost and disconnected trying to reorient yourself.

I was confused and stunned in response to his reaction, and it took me a year but I think I now have the pieces in place to understand it.

What follows is an analysis of the event, me trying to make sense of that experience.



Communities of discourse

I have in the past lightly circled the issue of communities of discourse. So let us dive in: “[a] discourse community is a group of people who share a set of discourses, understood as basic values and assumptions, and ways of communicating about those goals. Linguist John Swales defined discourse communities as “groups that have goals or purposes, and use communication to achieve these goals.”

Some examples of a discourse community might be those who read and/or contribute to a particular academic journal, or members of an email list for Madonna fans. Each discourse community has its own unwritten rules about what can be said and how it can be said: for instance, the journal will not accept an article with the claim that “Discourse is the coolest concept”; on the other hand, members of the email list may or may not appreciate a Freudian analysis of Madonna’s latest single. Most people move within and between different discourse communities every day.

Since the discourse community itself is intangible, it is easier to imagine discourse communities in terms of the fora in which they operate. The hypothetical journal and email list can each be seen as an example of a forum, or a “concrete, local manifestation of the operation of the discourse community”.


A discourse community:

  1. has a broadly agreed set of common public goals.
  2. has mechanisms of intercommunication among its members.
  3. uses its participatory mechanisms primarily to provide information and feedback.
  4. utilizes and hence possesses one or more genres in the communicative furtherance of its aims.
  5. in addition to owning genres, it has acquired some specific lexis.
  6. has a threshold level of members with a suitable degree of relevant content and discoursal expertise.”


Futher, “[a]ll language is the language of community, be this a community bound by biological ties, or by the practice of a common discipline or technique. The terms used, their meaning, their definition, can only be understood in the context of the habits, ways of thought, methods, external circumstances, and tradition known to the users of those terms. A deviation from usage requires justification …”

That is a community of discourse is a community operating through shared frames of sensemaking.



In the data/frame theory (which I discussed before) it is posited that everything that is made sense of is made sense of from a particular point of view. Thus, the sentence “I bet the plane is going to be late” means different things depending on the frame from which it is being analysed. And if communities operate through different frames, it means different things depending on the community in which it is being uttered.

The event I mentioned happened when I was in my home country. (Not the USA.) There, “I bet that X” is not an expression of an empirical statement, but something else. Something that you do so that if X does indeed come to pass you can go “I told you so” and keep face.
The answer I gave entailed the LessWrong/San Francisco/etc. understanding of the statement: an  empirical prediction to be argued over or better on by epistemic agents, with the shared goal of improving models.



The OODA loop is a model of a decision making cycle developed by USA Colonel John Boyd based on observing jet fighter battles.

OODA stands for Observation, Orientation, Decision, Action. A pilot is constantly going through these loops or cycles in a dogfight: he tries to observe the enemy as best he can, this observation being somewhat fluid, since nothing is standing still and all of this is happening at great speed. With a lightning-quick observation, he then must orient this movement of the enemy, what it means, what are his intentions, how does it fit into the overall battle. This is the critical part of the cycle. Based on this orientation, he makes a decision as to how to respond, and then takes the appropriate action.

Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 01.01.30

The OODA models provides an explanation of what happened. He was oriented based on being in a certain community of discourse. This led to a decision and action. This action has a prediction about what will happen (from which deviance is taken as feedback with regards to whether the initial orientation was appropriate). The fact that I answered as from within another community of discourse caused him to reorient aggressively which explains why he was in shock, not speaking or moving.

This caused a reset of his own OODA loop, making him go back to square one, back to observing.

(Coincidentally part of what the OODA loop illuminates is how to use your opponent mental models against them, once they acted on a model predicting a result, give them a different result so that they have to reset the whole loop. Do this multiple times and they will start lagging and mistakes will accumulate, then go in for the kill. This was not what I was attempting to do to my friend.)

Still, what does it mean to reset the loop? To have to go back to observation?



Here is a further model detailing what is going on. I like it because I like how smoothly it integrates into the other ones, like all of them are circling the same things from really different perspectives and traditions.

Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 01.01.38

According to this model, surprise is model error, what the model predicted that ended up being wrong. According to the OODA loop, he oriented by using the mental model of us being in one community of discourse, and me being oriented to another one at that time provided him a reply that his model did not account for in the least.

Hence, utter shock.



This episode stayed in my mind for a year: I was stunned at his shock and couldn’t make sense of it. I can now, and it took me only one year and serendipitously learning about 4 models (frames, discourse community, surprise as model error, ooda loop).

And this is super interesting and analysing is fun, but also this is insane, people don’t do this – remembering past episodes from one year before and use concepts they’ve learned meanwhile to put together their understanding of what happened then. (Do they?)

Then, why did I?

I don’t know why, but this is really important. (1)


  1. – This sentence usually comes when I’m focusing. I find something, some handle, some piece and it’s painfully clear it matters, but the history isn’t set yet it is not yet clear why it matters. This happens very frequently and has thus far been right each time. (Which is not reason for me to believe that will be the case in the future [thanks Hume], but it shifts the probability mass or whoever a “Bayesian” would frame it.)




  1. Look into what has been said about discourse and discourse communities
  2. Look at Jaakko Hintikka and Van Benthem on logic of communitie
  3. sensemaking
  4. “ordering of experience”
  5. Talking between and from one community to the other (nvc creates a third language to do this)
  6. See how my linking of frames and discourse matches to weick’s view on organizational sensemaking

Why I don’t want to make my models explicit

This essay is written in a stream-of-consciousness way. It is me trying to understand a contradiction in my thinking and acting.

The contradiction

  1. I want to improve my models.
  2. I believe it is easier to improve my models if they are made explicit.
  3. Therefore, I want to make my models explicit. [1,2]
  4. I don’t make my models explicit.
So why 4.? Why don’t I make my models explicit? Part of the answer that comes up to “Why don’t I want to make my models explicit?” is a reflection of what Mark wrote here:
” Modeling is tricky. Verbalizing is tricky. Reality doesn’t come prepackaged, carved up to correspond perfectly to simple sentences.
When you write things down you can distort the underlying sense of what you meant. When you write things down you can kill the underlying sense of what you meant. Writing things down can be counterproductive. Being “rational” can be counterproductive.”
That may all be true, but that is not the true reason I don’t want to make models explicit.

A possible justification

  1. Intellectual beliefs correspond to the official position (the tribe sanctioned position) (belief in belief)
  2. Emotional beliefs correspond to the true beliefs (aliefs)
Reason is for rationalisation and arguing and justification to other tribe members . Thus your official positions better be socially acceptable. (Else you will be kicked out of the tribe which means death.)
This model explains why belief reporting (which is the reporting of aliefs or emotional beliefs) leads to many “ridiculous”, “shameful”, “guilt-ridden”, “wrong”  reports. (1)
Thus the reason I don’t want to make models explicit is because I think doing so will get me kicked out of the tribe.
But there is no tribe to get kicked out off. My brain might still feel that we are a group of 150 people and if I lose them I die alone. But we are not hunter-gatherers anymore. If I want to get better models I need to make them explicit.

Conclusion, sort of

My goal is to have true beliefs that allow me to push the world where I want. A lot of my belief updating is bottleneck on psych issues. This “making my models explicit will get me kicked out of the tribe” is one of these issues. It follows that I need to solve psych issues in order to be able to belief update.
A step back
But also there are things that I feel will be killed by being made explicit prematurely and that I cannot capture. And it certainly is the case that I DO NOT WISH TO BE normative before having good descriptive models. (This leads heads first into the valley of bad rationality.) For these models I would like to alter them, whilst not making them explicit. I don’t yet understand how to navigate these considerations.
  • Find beautiful video where people are given a political questionnaire and their answers are swapped around and then they proceed to defend the (false) answers
  • Explore the desire to be descriptive before being normative.
  • Why do I believe most people are not reasoning into the positions they hold.
(1) – In Freud’s language, belief reporting allows us to access the id that the societal superego keeps hidden from the ego. In a more modern language, it allows us to access the private and experiential self, and not the public self.