Elevated Echelon Elements

This article is the third in the series introducing the various Elements of Consciousness (or problem-solving mindsets, for the less dramatically inclined). It deals with four Elements that are more powerful and nuanced, known as the Great Elements.

You can find the basic Elements here and the peripheral Elements here.

Great Elements

The Great Elements are combinations of opposing Primary or Secondary Elements. They each deal with a single aspect of reality (in this case concepts, navigation, paths, and interactions), but balance the opposing processes of their source Elements in order to wield their aspect with tremendous effectiveness. To be able to use a Great Element implies being able to use either of the Primary or Secondary Elements that make it up, as well as the related Tempered Elements by logical extension. Each of those Elements is an aspect of the power of the Great Element, but being able to use them all results in a gestalt power, which is greater and more versatile than the sum of its parts (as usual for the Elements).

Although the case could be made that the Great Elements have two opposing pairs like the Primary Elements, in the interests of respecting their nuances and avoiding the creation of an infinite series of ever more complex Elements, there are no opposing pairs in the Great Elements. On a similar note, the Great Elements are all on the same level, despite two being composed of Primary Elements and two being composed of Secondary Elements, same as the Tempered Elements. We’ll see what happens when the Great Elements are combined in the article dealing with Cosmic Elements (coming soon).

Blood Element

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Blood Element (combination of Ice and Fire) is the Element of perception, and it combines analysis and synthesis in order to assess how well concepts fit together or whether they accurately reflect reality, and generate new concepts to test against the world. With these two processes working together, perception allows you to see both that which is and that which can be, and evolve conceptual models to accurately describe the world and how it can be altered. The contributing mindsets of science and design allow you to better get a much better idea of how a system works, and to imagine ideas for devices or systems that take advantage of that knowledge.

The major strength of perception is that by both examining reality and generating new ideas, it is the strongest source of paradigm shifts out of all the mindsets. The major weakness of perception is that shifting paradigms is all it does. Unless a problem can be addressed by increasing your understanding of a problem and devising some solution (and only devising it; logistics and implementation aren’t part of this mindset), then perception is not sufficient. In other words, although perception is a huge game-changer, it does not automatically confer the ability to actually play the proverbial game. Each time it changes the game, the other great mindsets soon master the new version and outpace perception.

Typically, a perception user who lacks other mindsets will evolve their paradigms into a unique understanding of the world—accurate or not—based on their own experiences, until they become estranged and alienated from mainstream society to some degree. Without action, they have no force with which to move things. Without communication, they appear eccentric or mad and cannot engage with others. Without facilitation, their decisions are ineffective and often even counterproductive. The only real power granted by perception alone is the power to make sense of one’s experiences, constructing a coherent model based on them. For many perception users, their only way to cope with the world is to understand it and themselves as best they can, figure out their apparent role in existence, and alter their own thought patterns to adapt to it as best they can. Unless they can learn the other mindsets, though, or successfully share their ideas with someone who has, their ability to make a difference in the world is severely limited.

Examples of perception mindset include the fields of philosophy, psychology, and science and design (obviously, since they’re the tempered mindsets that go into perception). Revolutionaries, ideologues, visionaries, and satirists use perception to figure out where things stand and where to go from here. It should be noted that perception mindset is the one that was used to come up with the theory of all of these mindsets.

Blaire is a perception user. She studies human psychology and culture. In her spare time, she writes humorous science-fiction stories that show how the world could be different with technological advances, while highlighting the current foibles of society that seem to be leading humanity down a path that people may not want to travel. Her stories raise important ethical questions and make the reader think introspectively about what they really want from the future and from their own life.

Perception mindset has a blood theme because blood is a good representation of a dynamic system, and perception’s role is to learn the workings of systems and use that understanding to be able to change them. Blood also has connotations of “identity” through its historical association with heredity, and thus serves as a dramatic-sounding stand-in for genetic material (even though red blood cells don’t contain DNA). As a representation of genetic material, blood represents the inner blueprints of systems and their capacity to evolve and adapt to their surroundings, or to be altered artificially. Effectively, it can be said that perception mindset allows you to perceive, understand, and redesign any system, due to its mastery of concepts.

Blood Element is represented by the color magenta.

Gravity Element

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Gravity Element (combination of Electricity and Water) is the Element of action, and it combines organization and operation to both optimize and internalize a person’s navigation of the world. With the ability to make and implement decisions at both the logistical and the immediate level, action is incredibly powerful at setting things in motion and keeping them moving. Furthermore, with the tempered aspects of orchestration and thoroughness, action mindset allows you to keep many different things moving together in a harmonious manner as well as getting the most use out of your resources.

Examples of action mindset include maintaining an active and productive schedule, keeping your life balanced while managing many tasks and events, running your own business, and in general getting more done than most people think is possible. Effectively handling many obligations and goals ranging from basic to complex is the hallmark of action. Self-driven people who are constantly working towards success in their chosen career or field are using action mindset to make the most of their time and energy. They put forth consistent effort to advance the items on their schedule and pace themselves to avoid burnout. Your own energy is, after all, a resource you can learn to skillfully manage and apply.

Graham is a high-level action mindset user. He is a high-powered project management consultant. He wakes up early, goes to work at his fast-paced and high-stakes job, works out after work, goes to other countries on vacations, does investing, and plays on an amateur ultimate Frisbee team. He is seldom idle.

Action mindset has a gravity theme because gravity remains reliable even as it influences the movements of innumerable objects. Like electricity (technically electromagnetism), gravity is a fundamental force of the universe. Like both electricity and water, gravity can produce gradients of force which can even fluctuate over time in the form of waves. Also, water is associated with gravity due to famously flowing downhill and being drawn into tides. Another aspect of the theme is illustrated by a common verb used to describe the use of action mindset: “juggling”, as in juggling priorities, evokes the image of a person successfully opposing the effects of real gravity on a collection of objects by applying force to each one at the appropriate time. Additionally, one might also say that the tasks and projects surrounding an action user are metaphorically “orbiting” them, though the process for sustaining the orbits is the same as same as the one for “juggling”. On a different note, if a person’s action mindset is brought to bear on a single goal, it creates a tremendous force that is difficult to resist. A person can move a large obstacle, or simply propel themselves, if they apply enough effort and resources.

Gravity Element is represented by the color cyan.

Sand Element

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Sand Element (combination of Earth and Wind) is the Element of facilitation, combining strategy and tactics to close and open possibilities by fortifying or repurposing paths through the thoughtful application of resources. With its power of combined opposites, facilitation can come up with a clever but risky tactic and then fortify it, or take a robust but obsolete structure and put it to a new use. By alternating between clever ploys and solid contingency plans (or using both at once), you can make extremely effective use of your resources and environment. With the contributing mindsets of salvage and overhaul, you can succeed despite having ill-suited resources and poor environmental conditions, and even remodel both over time to better suit your goals. One of the key words for facilitation is “leverage”. A lever is a tool for accomplishing more with less, allowing you to do things you couldn’t do with mere management of resources. The word facilitate itself means “to make easy”. If you want to accomplish a difficult goal in a difficult environment, facilitation mindset can likely furnish you with the plans you need.

Examples of facilitation mindset include military planning (which prominently features tactics and strategy specifically, although under different definitions), as well as less serious conflicts like games and sports (which also use operation mindset for intuition and smooth navigation). Facilitation is not just for conflict, though; it is used to plan purely constructive projects and investments of resources such as business ventures, revivals of towns and neighborhoods, or responses to disasters and epidemics. Any engineering project that has limitations on resources or environmental constraints (which means more or less all of them) will fare better by including facilitation mindset in the design process as well.

Shen is in charge of planning business ventures for an electronics vendor. She identifies applications and potential markets for new technologies. Because the market environment is always changing, she cuts losses (salvage) and helps the company move into new markets and fields (overhaul). A disciplined executive, Shen avoids investments that rely on too many contingencies and makes sure the company invests in advancement. Her hobbies include board games and video games that involve military command. When she goes out with friends, Shen prefers planned events and outings, but is ready to change her plans if options open up or disappear.

Facilitation mindset has a sand theme because of sand’s association with both earth and wind, as well as its qualities of being a non-Newtonian solid. Grains of sand are light enough to be blown by the wind, yet a bag of sand is still very heavy. Sand can sink under you or support you relatively solidly. It can erode things, or turn to stone; worsen a windstorm or construct a child’s castle. Although sand is not as exotic a theme as the other Great Elements, don’t let its mundane form fool you. Sand is a changing landscape, and whosoever can take advantage of its movements can shape it into the land of their choice.

Sand Element is represented by the color brown.

Script Element

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Script Element (combination of Light and Darkness) is the Element of communication, combining semantics and empathy to change how you interact with your environment to more easily engage with and influence it. Interactions deal with both information (semantics) and impressions (empathy)—in other words, content and delivery. Although pure communication cannot create paradigms from scratch and evolve them independently, as perception can, it can still enter the paradigms of other entities by individualizing interactions, and move within them fluently by simplifying the interactions. Its tempered aspects of translation and background allow information to be more effectively conveyed across paradigm differences, and impressions to be easily and reliably projected within familiar paradigms.

Examples of communication mindset include acting, disguising, endearing oneself to people from a variety of cultures, learning to intuitively read signs in nature, and mastering operation of systems, including but not limited to mechanical, computational, personal, animal, vegetable, and mineral. This mastery is limited by your understanding of the principles involved: if you lack the right concepts, you may have some trouble forming an accurate picture of who or what you are dealing with until you update your paradigms with knowledge derived from perception mindset. The interface between you and the rest of the world can be altered to let you move more easily through it, which often entails appearing and acting differently depending on the environment and the situation.

Scipio is a communication mindset user. He travels the world, immersing himself in different cultures and learning how to fit in. Through his travels he has become fluent in the languages and etiquette of six different cultures and can engage passably with cultures related to any of those. Anyone who has met him will describe him as charming and pleasant, through his specific demeanor varies from formal and subdued to boisterous and rowdy depending on who he is with. Not limiting himself to human interactions, wherever he travels Scipio spends time observing animals, plants, the land, sea, and weather, and learns how to read them, often helped by the local people he meets.

Communication mindset is themed after script (that is, written language) because it is the logical conclusion of combining the mindsets themed on ink and paper. Beyond the literal sense, translation mindset (Ink Element) deals with understanding and conveying information across paradigms, while background mindset (Paper Element) deals with understanding and conveying impressions within paradigms. Incorporating both, communication mindset deals with understanding and conveying both facts and feelings alike, within and between paradigms. People communicate meaning and reach understanding using the content, style, and context of their writing, speech, or other medium of communication. Written language just happens to be the easiest medium to represent as an “Element”. Furthermore, the word “script” also alludes to the instructions used by actors, who convey information and impressions such that they “transform” themselves from a person into a character with different qualities. Because communication users can play various roles in order to interact with their environment, Script Element has a secondary theme of changing one’s appearance. The major limitation to this ability is that a person does not have all the knowledge or skills of the character they are playing, though they may be able to quickly learn it or improvise explanations to fill in the blanks.

Script Element is represented by the color gray.

 

Conclusion

The Great Elements strike a balance between opposing forces in order to achieve more powerful results. There will of course be situations in which one Element is more useful than its opposite, but in general having both to call on allows you to use them to support each other and do many things with them that neither Element could do alone. This creative gestalt of incomplete opposites, combining yin and yang, is the phenomenon that inspired the Ginnungagap Foundation’s name.

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Educated Minds, Unite!

I’ve been watching the increasing division in the United States, and working to identify solutions and constructive paths. The real trick is getting people on board, because although falsehoods, bias, skewed perspectives, and petty insults are flying Left and Right, the root issue actually has little to do with refutable facts. There isn’t a scientific paper that can demonstrate once and for all who is right and who is wrong.

Part of the issue is that the ethos simply isn’t there: people don’t trust each other. That isn’t a huge problem in and of itself. However, two destructive assumptions aggravate this mistrust: the assumption that a person who is wrong must be 100% wrong, and the assumption that you must not cooperate on anything with a person who is wrong. Hence, the real problem is that people think that they need to trust each other in order to have productive conversations and to do productive work.

Let’s see examine these assumptions with the help of some historical figures.

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Follow me back in time! On our journey, you will find ideas which never stopped being helpful, but never started being popular.

Bad Idea 1 versus Aristotle

The first idea is that a person cannot entertain an idea without accepting it. If a person were able to do so, it would mark them as an educated mind (or so we think Aristotle said, which would have been one of his better ideas). Being able to entertain ideas without accepting them isn’t the only important skill by any means. However, as far as I’m concerned, if you don’t have it then you’re not “educated”. The assumption that people are not and cannot be “educated” in this way lends urgency to the calls to silence people who have views that are factually incorrect or unethical, or that seem to be so, or that seem perilously close to being incorrect or unethical. From an “educated” perspective (using the definition above), this censorship can only be detrimental.

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Sculpture of Aristotle, who proved that being right about education doesn’t make you right about physics and biology.

An educated person actively seeks to be convinced of the truth and only the truth, which requires both open-mindedness and skepticism. There are countless contradictory concepts constantly competing for credence. Open-mindedness is required to let in possible truths, and skepticism is required to reject claims that are not favored by the preponderance of evidence (or which simply make no sense). Being educated also requires regular reevaluation of your beliefs, as new evidence is encountered. After all, there is no guarantee that you are correct right now.

Because an educated person is able to entertain ideas and think critically about them, even if they already believe these ideas, there is no benefit to silencing any ideas in an educated society. If they are false, then we will carefully consider them and dismiss them. If they have even the tiniest scrap of truth, that scrap is valuable for improving our picture of the truth. We just won’t use the idea farther than it is useful or ethical.

Granted, many people are not educated. They have trouble sifting truth from falsehood, and are inclined to accept or reject an entire package of ideas, even though it is neither completely true nor totally false. This inclination is a huge problem, since these uneducated people will end up believing and acting on falsities, or rejecting truths. However, the solution cannot be to limit the ideas that can be considered, in an attempt to shield people from being exposed to ideas that are false or unethical, or that seem to be so. Such limits would cripple our brains even further and reduce us from a (relatively) capable, mature society to a band of children following obsolete instructions that cannot possibly prepare us to deal with the challenges that life will throw at us, as individuals or as a species. That approach is far more likely to destroy society than it is to save it.

Instead, we must become educated, so that a person can consider any statement, including what they already believe, and compare it to their other experiences to evaluate the ways in which it may be true and false, helpful and destructive. Only then can we function as a healthy democracy.

Bad Idea 2 versus Frederick Douglass

The second destructive idea follows from the first: a person or group that stands for a harmful cause (or a cause that is similar enough to a harmful one that uneducated people get confused) must not be supported or associated with in any way. By doing so, people think it’s possible to protect society from “dangerous” ideas or values, and to punish those who support the harmful or harmful-looking cause.

The problem here is that without earnest communication between people of different beliefs, there is a near zero chance of either group learning anything valuable the other has to offer. Even if one group is one hundred percent wrong, they’re not going to learn anything from someone who doesn’t understand enough of their point of view to help them understand its flaws.

Furthermore, if we refuse to cooperate with people who believe wrong things even when they’re working on projects we ourselves would approve of, we would have to refuse to work with anybody. Most people believe things that I consider harmful, and yet I cooperate with them all the time. Furthermore, I even learn valuable insights and wisdom from them. In the much-ignored words of the late, great Frederick Douglass, “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.” Cooperation on the common ground we can find makes the world a better place.

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Photograph of Frederick Douglass, about whom I have nothing snarky to say. Just look him up.

I suspect that those who refuse to help people with antithetical beliefs think that helping them do good would also help them do harm. While I see the logic—the cost we save them through our help on good projects can be spent on harmful ones—this train of thought is essentially a declaration of total war, or at least total passive-aggression. I can only assume that because people have forgotten how peaceful discussion works, or never learned how to engage in it, their default option for preventing others from doing harmful things is to cut them off from the rest of society, starve them for resources, and torment them at every opportunity.

However, this war is a mistake. If anything, helping people to do good will afford us more power to prevent their harm. Though they may have harmful beliefs, they will listen to those who befriend them. Listening is their necessary first step towards updating their beliefs. People we help trust that we care about them and that we have at least some common ideals and values. They show us the courtesy of respect, because we show it to them. Inversely, it is very difficult to trust and respect a person who shuns you entirely because some of your beliefs are harmful.

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Artist’s rendition of a fractured world. It looks all pretty until your taxes are raised to pay for all the new bridges.

Of course, even this basic reciprocity of respect is being squelched in society. How many people do you know whom you’ve helped and with whom you’ve been friends, who proceeded to wall themselves off from you once you said something they didn’t like, even though you were sincere? Maybe you’ve walled off a few people yourself. If this trend continues, society is going to enter a large war between two fragments, and end up as a collection of tiny pieces fighting tiny wars until there is nothing left. And very little good is going to get done.

Solution

What can you do to stop this destruction, you ask?

First, educate yourself. Seek out the most ridiculous, offensive, wrong ideas that you can think of. Think about them, and do research on why people believe them in the first place. Those people do have their own reasons, after all. If there is any truth to their ideas, that can only help you. If there is anything wrong with what you believe, it helps you to know about it. On the other hand, if someone provides a justification for their “wrong” idea that you can’t refute, that doesn’t mean their idea is right. You can do research to see if someone else has come up with a rebuttal on your behalf. Ultimately, you will probably come to the conclusion that the ideas are still wrong, but more importantly, you will now know why you think that and why other people disagree. Moreover, no matter what facts are true, you can still behave ethically and respectfully towards other people, and you can still call on others to do the same.

The second thing you can do to avert total war is to work with people you disagree with. If you don’t have any common projects, at least don’t criticize them when they do something good. Don’t even accuse them of having bad motives. Just treat them as you would treat a friend or stranger who did the same thing they did. You can’t lose if you just thank them for their good deed, and refrain from cheap shots at their expense. Take a look at the below table to see expressing your gratitude is a good idea.

Other person has malevolent motives Other person has benevolent motives
You accuse them Either they don’t care, or they feel more justified in spiting you. You alienate them.
You thank them You were polite beyond reproach, and can still intervene if they try to do harm. They may also decide not to do harm because you were nice. You build mutual respect. They will be more inclined to listen to your concerns in the future.

Table 1: Results of thanking a person doing a good deed versus accusing them of malevolent motives, based on whether or not they actually have malevolent motives.

As you can see from Table 1, you can only benefit from treating a person respectfully. In particular, if they have benevolent motives, what you say makes a huge difference. You may think you’re certain of their malevolent motives, but why take the risk? I suspect that part of you simply finds it very difficult and unpleasant to thank someone you don’t like. However, that person can usually tell how difficult it is, too, and will be more inclined to trust you if they see you take the hard route and acknowledge their good actions. If you refuse to acknowledge them, though, they’re definitely not going to trust you. Showing respect to people is win-win.

You don’t have to trust that everything a person does is good. You don’t even have to take anything they do at face value—politicians in particular are likely to seem benevolent while reinforcing the two destructive assumptions described above. You can still oppose actions you think are harmful, and show respect at the same time. Literally the only downside to being respectful is that it requires humility. Are you going to let that stop you from changing the world?

In conclusion, there is no magic truth that will solve all our problems if we all believe it. There is, however, a magic code of behavior: walk with people as far as their path matches yours, and when your paths diverge, continue on your own. When your paths loop around and oppose each other, stop walking and start talking. More importantly, start listening. If you don’t know why you’re right, educate yourself, because for all you know you may be part of the problem. Give people the opportunity to change their ways, and treat them with respect at all times, even if they are trying to do harm to you. It may be difficult, but showing respect enhances your ability to defend yourself, rather than diminishing it.

You will find walking this path moves society forward much faster than banding together and yelling at people does.

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No, these people aren’t all on the same side. That’s why it’s productive.

How Not to Be a Bigot

Or…

Species-Agnostic Ethics

 

On some imaginary distant planet called Izzot, you can judge people by appearances. The green people are the strongest and fastest, and can fly. The blue people are best at math, and are prone to emotional outbursts. The males of the purple people are actually not much smarter than young human children, but the females are of adult-human-level intelligence, while the neuters have even more powerful brains. This means that if you know a few demographic details about a person from Izzot, you can make some assumptions about their physical or mental characteristics, personalities, and skills, and you will most likely be correct. In other words, technically, on Izzot, race-based and sex-based stereotypes are supported by hard science. Does that sound like a horrible place to live?

Why?

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Actually, Izzot society is a lot nicer than most societies on Earth. This may come as a surprise, because of Earth’s longstanding problem wherein people try to use stereotypes to inform how they value and interact with other people, which hurts their feelings and makes effective communication difficult. The problem continues even though information about an individual Earthling’s race and sex has been scientifically debunked as a way of reliably predicting their aptitudes and personality traits. If stereotypes on Izzot are supported by science, more people would use them, which would surely mean more hurt feelings and more harm to society due to poor communication, right? What makes Izzot so pleasant?

It’s not because the people are predictable. Far from it, actually. Even though many of their abilities are easily predicted, people on Izzot don’t have any assigned stations in society. Just because a purple or green person may not be as good at math as a blue person doesn’t mean they can’t love math and want to get a job using it. Just because a purple or blue person isn’t as strong as a green person doesn’t mean they can’t want a job that involves manual labor. Everyone on Izzot is free to pursue whatever career they choose. If Izzot doesn’t enforce conformity and social stations in order to stifle conflict between different types of people, what’s preventing the conflict?

As it happens, society on Izzot flourishes because the people there follow these rules for treating everyone with respect:

Anti-Bigotry Instructions

  1. Always give people a chance to prove you wrong about them, except where you have good reason to believe doing so would pose a serious risk.
    • Even if you think you know someone, people change. If you don’t allow yourself to update your beliefs based on new information, your obsolete picture of the world will cause problems.
  2. Show everyone respect, especially when it’s difficult. To show respect to a person means going to reasonable lengths to demonstrate that you care about the person’s feelings and to interact with them in a way that they find comfortable.
    • Showing respect to a person does not mean you must agree with them or help them with their goals. Indeed, showing respect usually makes it easier to oppose a person’s efforts.
    • Situations in which showing respect will harm rather than help are extremely rare.
    • The best way to show respect varies between people, but the etiquette of a society supplies good general principles with which to start.
  3. If you have reasonable confidence that you can predict something about someone, even if it’s only based on their appearance, by all means use that to improve your ability to put them at ease, show them respect, and keep them safe. Don’t go overboard trying to anticipate them, though. That doesn’t put anyone at ease—it just makes them self-conscious. This rule does not supersede rule 1.
    • Example: If someone’s name or attire indicates they probably have religious dietary restrictions, and they order a dish that contains a taboo ingredient, and you think it might have been a mistake and that they would want to know about it, you might casually mention the ingredient to them in the process of making small talk about the dish.
  4. Try to adapt your activities and systems to include others who might otherwise be excluded because of physical form, health, or language or cultural barriers.
    • Empathy mindset can help you establish bonds with people who are different, by individualizing interactions.
    • Tactics mindset can also help by cleverly repurposing twisting paths to open possibilities that weren’t obviously available.
  5. Don’t expect rule 4 to always be feasible. It’s based on empathy, tactics, and other chaos-aligned mindsets, and as such doesn’t lend itself well to rules or systematization at all. Focus on what people can do, entice others to help, but don’t try to restructure everything based on an inconvenience, and don’t force people to experience the same outcomes in all things.
  6. No matter how many people have done something, nor for how long, it doesn’t mean it’s right. It’s important to learn about cultural context and sociological factors before making judgment calls on whether a practice is harmful to people, but ethical principles are the same for everyone. The hard part is learning enough about people to know how best to apply them.

If you follow these rules and practice using empathy and related mindsets, you can avoid being a bigot anywhere, even on a planet where you can judge by appearances and be right more often than not. The rules apply to how you treat everyone, even if you think you already know them, and even if you’re assessing their choices and ethical character rather than their more superficial qualities.

Neither rules nor empathy alone can make a society a good one. But semantics (rules) and empathy together, as communication, give interactions at all levels the chance to be the best they can be.

Nuanced Situations

It’s possible that some activity which has a population composed almost entirely of a particular type of person will develop a culture derived from other traits correlated with that person. For example, on Earth, a male-dominated activity may develop rituals or slang derived from male experiences or physiology. On Izzot, greenball is a sport mostly played by green people, and it has developed a culture that references wings and uses them for communication (having “good wings” refers to speed and initiative; touching wings is the equivalent of a high-five; the victory dance usually involves flying), even though playing the sport itself doesn’t involve wings. It’s a bit inane and obnoxious, but then again, much of what we call “culture” is inane and obnoxious. It doesn’t always cause problems, but when it does, things get complicated.

When a person of a different demographic shows up to participate in an activity hitherto dominated by a single demographic, there will inevitably be awkwardness because they will have trouble participating in the culture, even if they are able and willing to participate in the activity. An unusually athletic blue person might be capable of playing greenball, but will be unable to touch wings or participate in a classical victory dance.

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What do you do when a blue person has qualities most people associate with green?

Sometimes this awkwardness dissuades the newcomer from joining, or the culture from accepting them. This is a suboptimal outcome from a societal standpoint, because it results in stagnation and lost opportunities. The activity’s culture doesn’t get fresh perspective, and any newcomers who don’t immediately fit in will not get the experience of the activity. Ideally, however, those involved will have some form of empathy, and some combination of the following will happen:

  1. The newcomer learns to participate in the culture they’re entering as best they can, and is comfortable with it.
    • The blue greenball player can participate in wing-touching with their arms.
    • References to them “having wings” will be taken with no offense, as the figurative language that it is.
  2. The existing culture treats the newcomer with respect, adapts variations on etiquette and rituals where necessary, and is comfortable with it.
    • The greenball team’s victory dance is adapted to account for a participant who cannot fly.
  3. The existing culture gradually changes to become less centered on the majority demographic, making it easier for other (qualified) newcomers from other demographics to participate, or to develop and adapt their own variant activities. It tends to be beneficial for society that cultures intermingle and mix through shared activities because of the opportunities such mixing creates for cross-cultural learning and for innovation within the activity.
    • Greenball players start referring to speed and initiative as “feet”, “legs”, or just as speed and initiative, especially where blue players are involved.
    • They start using high-fives (well, high-fours) with hands, instead of using wing-touches, though wing-touches are still used between green players on occasion.
    • Some more blue people start to play greenball, and learn enough to start a league for less athletically gifted blue people. They don’t care to change the name of the game.
    • Purple people can’t play greenball because they don’t have the necessary limbs for running, jumping, kicking, throwing, and catching. This mildly frustrates some of them, but ultimately they have other desires to pursue.

Sometimes physical equipment may only be designed for one type of person. That’s when it’s inconveniently necessary for pioneers to come in with expensive customized equipment and break ground. We’ve all heard the stories. The very first blue player had to get step-stools to reach their locker, and had to have expensive custom uniforms made for them.

A newcomer’s influence on the activity may go beyond mere equipment. If a blue player made it onto an otherwise all-green team, that probably means they’re not only athletically gifted, but also that the coach is confident they can develop strategies and tactics to take advantage of the blue player’s much smaller size. It’s easy to predict that some rival coaches will complain about having to develop entire new strategies to account for just one rival team. If they want to continue being able to use the same types of strategies they’ve always used, that’s lazy of them, but they can advocate for the stagnation of their sport if they want.

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Greenball is all about challenge!

On the other hand, if the blue player is actually a huge advantage that guarantees victory and makes the game much less fun as a result, those rival coaches might have a good point. In that situation, we start getting away from ethical questions and into true politics. With politics mindset, it’s just a matter of how many people want to play or watch each type of gameplay, and how much they want it. Advocates for and against mixed green/blue teams will try to persuade other people to ally with them and negotiate with each other to get more of what they want. Maybe there will be one league for green people, one league for blue people, and one mixed league, but sometimes such easy compromises aren’t always possible. There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong direction to go in, either. Ultimately, it’s just a game, and no matter what the final decision is, there are other things to enjoy. As long as people are equipped to ask intelligent questions about the issue, advocate respectfully for their preferred solutions, and recognize when a question is ethical and when it’s political, my job is done.

In sum, the parable of Izzotian greenball shows there are ways of breaking down the walls put up by the cultures of exclusivity that humanity has developed, but it will take a commitment to understanding the individual perspectives involved, as close an understanding to objective reality as we can get, the willingness to be compassionate and help people even though we don’t have to, and the courage to accept that sometimes one’s preference is not the only way.

Existential Ethics

Izzot gets its name from the “is-ought” problem. As just about any existentialist philosopher will tell you, you can’t derive an “ought” from an “is”. Descriptive statements do not imply normative statements. In other words, you can observe facts, but those observations alone can’t provide you an answer to the question of what you “should” do. Any such answer has to be based on knowledge of what you already want.

If you thought at first that Izzot must be a terrible place, it is probably because you’re used to the idea of people using stereotypes to try to justify their mistreatment of others, as if the knowledge that they claim to have about other people requires disrespecting those people, or nullifies the ethical principles that call for respecting them.

Ethical principles, at least in the system I use, are derived from the assumed goal of creating a society where it is more feasible for everyone to achieve their desires, with the constraints that the society must be sustainable and capable of adapting and improving. Without people who are mature, respectful, and responsible, such a society cannot exist. That’s why these rules are so important.

Element Expansion Pack

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In the previous article, we went through the eight basic Elements, fundamental problem-solving mindsets everyone can learn. These mindsets can be used together and can contribute their different strengths to a task or project. For example, operation can carry out graceful motions to craft art imagined by synthesis, or to implement plans created by organization. However, beyond this simple cooperation, multiple Elements can be combined into a gestalt, greater than the sum of its parts, to synergize their individual strengths (as we see with the Primary Elements forming the Secondary Elements). This combination can be done inside a single person’s head, or it can be done as a team effort, just as a team can use a single Element together.

From these combinations come yet more composite Elements, collectively referred to as peripheral Elements. We’ll get to the more advanced ones in a future article.

Interstitial Elements

The Interstitial Elements are the Elements between related Primary and Secondary Elements. For example, the Secondary Element of strategy (Earth Element) is a specialized combination of analysis (Ice Element) and organization (Electricity Element), so there is an Interstitial Element between strategy and analysis and another one between strategy and organization. Interstitial Elements are relatively limited in scope compared to other mindsets, but it’s not hard to find situations where their specializations are useful.

Rock Element

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Rock Element (between Ice and Earth): Rock Element is the Element of security, and it combines analysis and strategy to create plans that are extremely robust, closing down unwanted possibilities as much as possible, by investigating and identifying possible weak points and allocating resources to protect or reinforce them. The price for this is decreased efficiency—increasing certainty doesn’t come cheaply.

One example of security mindset is building a security system to catch intruders in a building. Security mindset could identify all the ways in which the building could be entered, and come up a list of known measures that could be taken to prevent unauthorized access (though some of them would be expensive and arguably not worth it).

The theme for security mindset is rock because rock is related to earth, but is more solid, durable, and rigid, representing plans and structures which are more fortified against failure but which take more time and effort to work with. Rock also has connotations of petrifaction, which represents either using this mindset to imprison destructive forces, or immobilizing oneself by closing down every option with even the smallest risk (which is all of them).

Metal Element

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Metal Element (between Electricity and Earth): Metal Element is the Element of standardization, and it combines organization and strategy to create relatively robust plans that prioritize efficiency, conserving resources by allowing for the possibility of failure, as long as the expected value of the plan is positive. (That is, if you were to implement the plan many times, you would succeed enough times to turn a profit on net balance.) The tradeoff for increased efficiency is decreased robustness.

An example of standardization mindset would be the building owner in the security example above deciding that the cost of the very best security system is more expensive than all the robberies it would prevent. They choose to purchase a mid-level security system, which allows a few robberies to take place, but prevents enough robberies to be worth its cost.

Standardization mindset has a metal theme because metal is related to earth and electricity, and is used for mass production of standardized parts. Metal is also used for the creation of instruments which uphold standards such as weights and measures, clocks, and even coins (e.g. gold and silver standards). Depending on the type of literal metal, it may be more or less durable or resistant to environmental effects than certain forms of literal rock, but that’s not the point. The idea is that Metal Element is more efficient in general, but the standardized solution may not cover every case, whereas Rock takes more effort to work with, but produces situation-specific solutions which are much more solid.

Aura Element

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Aura Element (between Electricity and Wind): Aura Element is the Element of modification. It combines organization and tactics, so that you can create innovative solutions that fit neatly within existing systems, and even enhance their efficiency. This mindset can be used to create a clever setup to enhance efficiency, or to create a system of modular parts that can be swapped out for different effects without compromising the overall system.

One example of the use of modification mindset would be deciding to reposition a lamp in your room to provide you better light at your desk, while figuring out how to make sure it keeps the rest of the room well-lit.

Modification mindset has an “aura” theme because auras are usually imagined as vaguely-electromagnetic energy fields which can be strengthened, modified, infused with different properties, or tuned to each other by adding or reconfiguring items.

Explosion Element

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Explosion Element (between Fire and Wind): Explosion Element is the Element of emergency, and it combines synthesis and tactics to leverage the resources you have on hand to open possibilities that would normally not be worth considering. During an emergency, priorities shift and unconventional options become much more appealing. Emergency mindset allows people to become aware of these options when they look for solutions. Without stabilization from other mindsets, these solutions are rarely sustainable or safe and thus are much less useful outside of an emergency, where all alternatives are worse.

All tactics-related mindsets open up new possibilities of both success and failure when used. Even more than the rest, emergency mindset doesn’t constrain solutions by robustness, or indeed constrain them very much at all. The point is finding any possible solution. “For a price you never thought you’d pay, Explosion Element finds a way.” As a side note, emergency mindset can get you out of emergencies, or it be used to cause them, by opening up unexpected possibilities. Often it does both.

One example of the use of emergency mindset is being stranded on a desert island deciding to burn a jacket in order to send a signal fire to a passing ship. Another might be realizing you can overclock a device or vehicle to boost its performance at the risk of damaging it.

Emergency mindset is themed on explosions because of the fire/wind connection, and because explosions are all about releasing potential and breaking through limitations, despite at great cost.

Smoke Element

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Smoke Element (between Fire and Darkness): Smoke Element is the Element of inspiration, and it combines synthesis and empathy to introduce new possible impressions to people and tailor the conveyance of possibilities to the audience to make them more receptive.

One example of inspiration mindset would be figuring out what sort of present to get someone that they would genuinely enjoy: doing so takes both imagination and an impression of the person. Helping the person see how they, personally, might enjoy the present (if it isn’t immediately obvious) would also use inspiration mindset.

Inspiration mindset is themed on smoke because of the fire/darkness connection, and because smoke can generate unique shapes and smells which are mysterious and evocative. Some people also use literal smoke to provide them with inspiration by literally inspiring it. However, I’ve always found my own practiced skills with synthesis-related mindsets to be quite sufficient for that purpose.

Sound Element

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Sound Element (between Water and Darkness): Sound Element is the Element of rapport, and it combines operation and empathy to more gracefully interact with people. It is useful for reading moods, projecting and instilling all kinds of emotions, and grabbing, holding, or avoiding attention. Charisma is part of the purview of this Element.

One example of rapport mindset would be performing; singing, dancing, acting, or playing instruments requires both practice and an understanding of an audience in order to reliably influence emotions. Not all uses of rapport must be so conspicuous or impersonal, however. Calming down a friend is another example.

Rapport mindset has a sound theme because sound and music reliably and strongly influence emotions and can be used to sense ambiance. In addition, sound is thematically related to darkness in that it provides a counterpoint to light, allowing us to navigate in darkness through both ordinary noises and echolocation. It is thematically related to water because soundwaves can travel through water as well as air (and can be visible on the surface as ripples).

Laser Element

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Laser Element (between Water and Light): Laser Element is the Element of precision, and it combines operation and semantics to more fluently use labels to aptly encapsulate situations, or to make movements more consistent.

Precision shows up in everything from measurement to manufacturing to marksmanship. The right algorithms and rules can increase consistency and level of detail tremendously, and there are many situations where those are the key factors for performance. Billiards and fencing make use of precision as well. The use of jargon to describe an object or situation in technical detail is yet another example of precision.

The mindset of precision is themed on lasers because lasers are light produced with coherent waves, and are noteworthy because they are so precise. Their precision also makes them more effective at affecting objects than other forms of light with the same power input. Some of the many uses for lasers include measurement, cutting, targeting, and communication, all of which are also examples of precision mindset in use.

X-Ray Element

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X-Ray Element (between Ice and Light): X-Ray Element is the Element of diagnosis, and it combines analysis and semantics in order to better draw on more information and invoke powerful algorithms to analyze a situation. The semantic aspect makes assessing systems and their problems faster, more powerful, and able to operate using less information, while the analysis aspect allows the assumptions and conclusions that semantics relies on to be checked against other information and tested with critical thinking. By quickly locating and verifying key details of a situation, diagnosis makes it possible to not only identify problems, but also target weak points or even track past events using clues left behind.

One obvious example of diagnosis mindset is to identify a disease based on symptoms and prescribe treatments for it, though this mindset is by no means limited to medical use; it can be applied to any situation that follows a pattern. For instance, the same mindset with different skills and calibration can also be used to “diagnose” a crime scene by figuring out what happened and who the culprit is.

Diagnosis is themed on x-rays because while x-rays are part of the electromagnetic spectrum, like light, they are thought of as “cold” radiation and penetrate sparse matter rather than being absorbed and converted to heat. This property allows us to see past the surface, just like diagnosis. More obviously, x-rays used to help diagnose injuries.

Tertiary Elements

The Tertiary Elements are combinations of Primary Elements and Secondary Elements which incorporate the opposite Primary Element. For example, tactics is a specialized combination of synthesis and organization, so there is one Tertiary Element for tactics combined with analysis and another for tactics combined with operation. These tend to be more versatile and more difficult to master than the Interstitial Elements, because their ingredient Elements have less in common and are more opposed in their principles. We’ll see the logical conclusion of this with the Great Elements in a future article.

Snow Element

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Snow Element (combination of Ice and Wind): Snow Element is the Element of hacking, and it combines analysis with tactics in order to explore structures or systems and find ways in which their properties can be better leveraged or exploited. It can also be used to come up with clever ways to learn as much as possible from an environment with limited resources.

One example of hacking mindset is to use knowledge of a computer program’s limitations and assumptions to present it with a situation it was not designed to deal with, to get it to behave in ways that were not thought to be possible.

Hacking mindset has a snow theme because of snow’s obvious association with ice and wind, because it adds extra solidity to tactics while adding versatility to analysis, and because of the cascading effects it can have on systems, like the proverbial snowball effect or even an avalanche. Also because of Snow Crash.

Void Element

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Void Element (combination of Ice and Darkness): Void Element is the Element of deconstruction, and it combines analysis with empathy in order to better understand the emotions and perspectives of others. Deconstruction mindset also allows you to visit other people’s paradigms, figure out the underlying assumptions and weak points, and show people those properties in a way that they can understand and accept.

One example of deconstruction mindset is to engage in collaborative truth-seeking with a person in order to resolve a disagreement. Deconstruction can also be used to call into question the popular understanding of a trope (a feature or theme that shows up across multiple works of fiction) by depicting more realistic consequences for it, e.g. showing how people would actually deal with having a magical adventure. (For more about trope deconstruction, you can visit http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Deconstruction, but be careful, because TVTropes Will Ruin Your Life.)

Deconstruction is themed on the concept of “void”, or nothingness, because its major strength is to dampen emotion and motivation and dismantle or erase ideas and paradigms. In addition, voids are usually depicted as dark, and often cold. Due to the difficulty of depicting nothingness, deconstruction has the moon as a secondary theme, because the moon seems to be erased on a regular basis, and because deconstruction mindset opposes narrative mindset, which has the sun as its theme.

Magnetism Element

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Magnetism Element (combination of Electricity and Darkness): Magnetism Element is the Element of politics, and it combines organization and empathy in order to coordinate the emotions of large, diverse groups and negotiate agreements that are satisfactory to as many as possible. It is also useful for determining how much effort it is worth to make an impression on someone, and what the optimum way to do so is.

One application of politics mindset is to broker a compromise between two conflicting groups of people over what you’re going to do that weekend, while ensuring that people feel good enough about it that there is no lasting resentment.

Politics mindset is themed after magnetism because magnetism is related to physical electricity and it works subtly and invisibly. Furthermore, magnetism often takes effect by aligning various domains in a ferromagnetic material to point in the same direction, and the domains exert their own force by so cooperating. Similarly, groups of people can be aligned (or polarized) to cooperate in order to achieve a common goal despite their differences. Moreover, the term “magnetism” has been used to describe politically-apt people for a long time.

Radio Element

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Radio Element (combination of Electricity and Light): Radio Element is the Element of notification, and it combines organization and semantics in order to coordinate information, so that people are apprised of what they need to know, when they need to know it. It is also useful for scanning one’s environment efficiently, and for doing research in order to acquire basic knowledge of a situation.

One example of notification mindset in use is the selection of search algorithms to sweep an area. A double example is mission control doing research on situations that field agents encounter and telling them the most important facts.

Notification mindset has a radio theme because radio waves represent a range of wavelengths on the electromagnetic spectrum and easily create electric current through induction, which is how transceivers work.. Furthermore, radio waves are used for scanning and information transmission.

Sun Element

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Sun Element (combination of Fire and Light): Sun Element is the Element of narrative, and it combines synthesis and semantics in order to create brands, rules, codes of conduct, metaphors, and entire paradigms that represent ideals and systematize adherence to or understanding of concepts. It can give meaning to experiences and create stories which allow us to designate what information is significant and which isn’t.

One example of narrative mindset is the creation of a logo and a mascot with a backstory in order to embody an ideal a company wants to strive for. Another example is the creation of all of these metaphorical “Elements” to make it easier to visualize and get excited about problem-solving mindsets.

Narrative mindset has a sun theme because of the sun’s obvious associations with fire and light, because the sun is a powerful symbol in every culture, and because suns by definition have planets (as opposed stars in general), which Sun Element uses to represent the worlds that it creates.

Lava Element

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Lava Element (combination of Fire and Earth): Lava Element is the Element of institution, and it combines synthesis and strategy to create visionary new structures and systems which are fortified with foresight. Unlike many such creations, which emerge haphazardly through the short-term decisions of isolated groups of people, the creations of institution mindset are deliberate and cohesive. In contrast to the so-called institutions that are clumsy and counterproductive, institutions devised by a skilled institution user run smoothly, are well-equipped to adapt and evolve as necessary, and have policies for elegantly stepping aside in situations where they are not helpful.

One example of institution mindset is the creation of a mission statement and organizational structure for a new type of non-profit. World-building is also an application of institution, because it requires imagining a robust, functioning system and its behavior under various circumstances, as well as working within limitations to prioritize different aspects you want it to have that may be mutually exclusive with each other.

Institution mindset has a lava theme because of lava’s obvious association with both fire and earth, and because institution can transform the world by creating new structures and even whole landscapes, sometimes wiping out what used to be there.

Clay Element

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Clay Element (combination of Water and Earth): Clay Element is the Element of preparation, and it combines operation and strategy to allow the user to apply practiced intuition to recognize contingencies and weak points in a plan, and fluently go through the steps to acquire the materials to fortify the plan. It works best on situations you are familiar with, due to the reliance on operation. Preparation can be used before an event to drill in appropriate actions (obviously) or during an evolving situation to gradually guide it towards a more favorable outcome with each immediate decision.

An example of the use of preparation mindset would be maneuvering a fighting opponent towards more favorable ground that gives you an advantage. Another might be quickly assembling supplies you might need for a sudden trip, if you’ve gone on similar trips before.

Preparation mindset has a clay theme because of clay’s obvious association with both water and earth, and because it clay combines the fluid and adaptable nature of water with the solidity and durability of earth. Preparation can be used to procure tools, shape the environment, or to impede unfavorable events, similarly to how clay can be shaped into tools and buildings or bog things down.

Rubber Element

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Rubber Element (combination of Water and Wind): Rubber Element is the Element of flexibility, and it combines operation and tactics to allow a person to gracefully generate and implement clever ploys that intuitively take into account the situation and the person’s available resources and abilities. Whereas ordinary operation requires practice in the specific skills and motions one wishes to use, flexibility makes it easier to come up with ways to adapt the same skills and motions to new purposes.

An example of flexibility mindset in use would be applying one’s existing martial arts skills towards wielding a stepladder as a makeshift weapon, having nothing better on hand. Another might be exploring and practicing different methods for performing tasks and overcoming obstacles if you lose an arm. (Also, any task that becomes a regular routine stops qualifying as “tactics” and so the flexibility mindset eventually just becomes “operation”).

Flexibility mindset has a rubber theme because rubber is flexible and elastic, able to stretch or compress to fit different purposes, and then return to its original shape afterward (if allowed to do so). It is more reliable than the wind, but more versatile than water when it comes to storing, absorbing, and redirecting energy.

Quaternary Elements

The four Quaternary Elements are combinations of two non-opposing Secondary Elements. They are similar in scope and versatility to the Tertiary Elements.

Crystal Element

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Crystal Element (combination of Earth and Light): Crystal Element is the Element of clarification, and it combines strategy and semantics to create fortified semantic systems, allowing the user to write instructions, constitutions, or other documentation in such a way as to remove ambiguity and prevent misunderstanding (at the cost of taking more time and effort). It can also be used to write computer code that is easy to debug and that has minimal errors or unintended effects. Conversely, clarification can also apply semantics to strategy in order to create protocols and checklists which speed up and simplify the process of identifying weak points and closing unwanted possibilities, at the cost of relying on assumptions which may not be valid.

One application of clarification mindset is contract law, creating formal agreements with as few loopholes as possible. Another application is creating formulas and algorithms for more effectively and easily playing board games (not quite the same thing as game theory).

Clarification mindset has a crystal theme because of crystal’s obvious association with clarity, earth, and light. Furthermore, a crystal is a mineral which often forms (relatively) rapidly due to its rigidly ordered structure, but which is brittle or conditionally durable due to that same order, reflecting the difference between clarification mindset and basic strategy.

Dust Element

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Dust Element (combination of Earth and Darkness): Dust Element is the Element of reputation, combining strategy and empathy to help a person influence what lasting impressions they make on people. This mindset allows one to make decisions with the possible feelings of others in mind, avoid negative associations or causing offense, and form plans to build stronger relationships and positive associations. Knowing to what degree associations will stick and dealing with cognitive dissonance between different associations is part of managing any reputation.

One application of reputation mindset is managing public image for a celebrity, politician, or company.

Reputation mindset has a dust theme because dust is associated with earth, and has connotations of an impression that lingers; a lasting trace of what was present. It accumulates on people, places, and objects, and reflects past associations.

Glass Element

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Glass Element (combination of Wind and Light): Glass Element is the Element of interpretation, and it combines tactics and semantics in order to exploit the ambiguity inherent in any semantic system. Although this mindset is often used for sneaky purposes, due to its ability to find loopholes in rules and twist the truth (by saying things that are literally true but deceive people into thinking something else), it is capable of constructive feats as well, just like any other mindset. For example, interpretation allows you to collate information and reframe facts so you can see patterns that are not immediately obvious. Furthermore, it can be used to bring together different paradigms and algorithms and use them together in innovative ways in order to create more powerful tactics.

One application of interpretation mindset is steganography: hiding information by storing and transmitting it through unconventional media. Another application is augmenting cooking with chemistry knowledge to create successful recipes that might be hard to come up with otherwise. A third application is making puns.

Interpretation mindset has a glass theme because glass bends light and makes it possible to do innovative things with it, including allowing information to be reflected, distorted, concealed, or magnified. Glass is also fragile, like both tactics and semantics, which open up possibilities of failure and rely on assumptions, respectively. However, the fracturing of glass can also represent when may happen if you reinterpret part of a situation to fit into an unorthodox paradigm, but other aspects of the system don’t fit into the paradigm at all.

Quantum Element

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Quantum Element (combination of Wind and Darkness): Quantum Element is the Element of surprise, and it combines tactics and empathy in order to cleverly create impressions which provoke reactions that might not normally be likely, such as confusion, amusement, or realization. Based on an understanding of a person, you can use resources at hand to direct their attention or confront them with something that catches them off guard. The empathy aspect of surprise can also be used to coax resources themselves into lending themselves better to the plan.

One application of surprise mindset is prestidigitation (stage magic). Surprise can also be used on a complex inanimate system, such as an idiosyncratic engine that you would like to induce to generate more power.

The mindset of surprise is themed on quantum mechanics, because even though quantum mechanical phenomena have distinct limitations, they do have a theme of unpredictability and doing what was presumed impossible. Indeed, the entire field of quantum physics was quite a surprise for physics in general.

Tempered Elements

The Tempered Elements are uneven combinations of opposing Primary and Secondary Elements. One Element is “tempered” with its opposite, which is used in the service of the first, to further its purpose. These Elements are quite powerful because of the balance between opposing processes. We’ll see even more such power with the Great Elements in a later article.

Wax Element

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Wax Element (Ice tempered with Fire): Wax Element is the Element of science, and it uses synthesis in the service of analysis to generate alternate hypotheses to better model the world, and creative ways to ask questions of unknown systems and get answers through experimentation. It takes both critical thinking and creativity to make sense of new observations and alter existing theories or create new ones to account for them. On its own, this mindset doesn’t necessarily take into account the resources at hand (unlike mindsets related to organization, strategy, or tactics).

Examples of science mindset would be the experiments done to figure out the chemical elements and create theories as to how they relate to each other, or the experiment to calculate the universal gravitational constant. Another example would be crash test dummies, created to test how safe cars are for humans as accurately as possible without injuring actual humans.

Science mindset has a wax theme because of wax’s ability to collect and store various forms of analog information, including shapes, smells and other chemicals, and even sounds. Wax has also been used to detect subtle events (the unauthorized opening of letters) and similarly can seal things to preserve them for future study. Finally, wax can be used to create replicas, which represents the testing of hypotheses on simulated systems (e.g. crash test dummies).

Plastic Element

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Plastic Element (Fire tempered with Ice): Plastic Element is the Element of design, and it uses analysis in the service of synthesis to create schematics for systems to serve specific purposes, based on a working knowledge of the principles involved. Like pure synthesis, design is used to envision new possibilities of things to be created, beyond that which exists. However, it uses analysis to make sure those possibilities could function as intended. On its own, this mindset doesn’t necessarily take into account limitations on the resources available or failure modes for unplanned situations (unlike mindsets related to organization, strategy, or tactics), but when used properly it usually generates multiple alternative designs which account for different priorities and limiting factors.

An example of design mindset would be generating various possible blueprints for an ergonomic chair.

Design mindset has a plastic theme because of plastic’s use in prototyping and proof-of-concept mock-ups.

String Element

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String Element (Electricity tempered with Water): String Element is the Element of orchestration, and it uses operation in the service of organization to intuitively track and coordinate many details in a dynamic system with which the user is familiar. Organizing many things is always a challenge, but getting them to work together fluidly in real time takes practice and a developed intuition, which operation provides.

One example of orchestration mindset is, not coincidentally at all, conducting an orchestra. (The fact that orchestras usually have stringed instruments is a coincidence, but it fit the theme so well I couldn’t not mention it.) Keeping track of the performance of all the instruments and getting them to play in harmony is definitely within the purview of orchestration mindset (plus rapport for evoking emotions from the audience).

Orchestration has a string theme because strings are used to track and manipulate many different things in concert, and are thematically associated with such actions already (marionettes, for example).

Soap Element

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Soap Element (Water tempered with Electricity): Soap Element is the Element of thoroughness, and it uses organization in the service of operation to perform tasks and movements efficiently. With thoroughness, you can evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of your movements and identify possible improvements to practice in the future. By optimizing your practice, you can make the most of the time, resources, and effort you have available.

Aside from identifying and implementing efficient ways to literally clean things up, the mindset of thoroughness can be used to figuratively clean things up: examples include cleaning a battlefield of opponents, cleaning up on the sales floor by smoothly prioritizing customers to attend to, and cleaning simple errands off a to-do list.

Thoroughness has a soap theme (along with bubbles, membranes, and caustic/corrosive chemicals) because soap and corrosives have connotations of scouring, and membranes have connotations of filtration. Both of these concepts represent changing the condition of an object or liquid (by removing filth) as much as possible with greatly reduced effort and in a realistic time frame. Also, soap is associated with water, but also relies on ions and polar molecules, invoking the concept of electricity in the form of charge and attraction.

Debris Element

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Debris Element (Earth tempered with Wind): Debris Element is the Element of salvage, and it uses tactics in the service of strategy to improvise solutions that maintain the integrity of an overall plan. If a plan is in trouble and needs a creative solution to continue working, salvage mindset can innovate a patch or workaround while ensuring it is reinforced against problems that could come up in the future, so that the overall plan is still robust.

Examples of salvage mindset range from repairing a device using makeshift parts to finding new means of transportation to and from an event because the person who was going to drive couldn’t make it (while ensuring that there will still be room for everyone).

Salvage mindset has a debris theme because of the obvious associations between debris and salvage.

Nuclear Element

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Nuclear Element (Wind tempered with Earth): Nuclear Element is the Element of overhaul, and it uses strategy in the service of tactics to repurpose resources in robust ways. If a plan or device would be more valuable put to a different use than that for which it was created, the mindset of overhaul can figure out how to make it work for that use, while making sure it is nearly as reliable as something that was originally designed for it. While similar to institution mindset, overhaul mindset does not assume the luxury of starting from scratch. Often the current system must even be kept partially functional while it is being converted to the new system.

Examples of overhaul mindset include the transformation of a car into an amphibious vehicle, or expanding an intersection and the roads leading to it to accommodate more traffic while allowing cars to continue to use the intersection with only minor inconvenience while the intersection is being expanded.

Overhaul has a “nuclear” theme because nuclear power represents an approach that generates large amounts of energy and requires a very robust infrastructure and occasional retrofits, as well as because of fictional depictions of nuclear energy, which show it mutating things into different and stronger forms.

Ink Element

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Ink Element (Light tempered with Darkness): Ink Element is the Element of translation, and it uses empathy in the service of semantics to better understand information being communicated by a person from a different paradigm, and to find effective ways of conveying information based on the different paradigms of one’s audience. The means of conveyance may be words, pictures, or pantomime, but in each case the most important aspect of translation is figuring out which words (or pictures, or motions) will be most effective for a particular audience. As with other empathy-related mindsets, translation requires listening to and understanding others in order to be effective.

The obvious example of translation mindset is translating thoughts and ideas between different languages, conventions, or cultures, which often don’t have a corresponding word for a particular concept. Thus the information you want to convey needs to be reconstructed from the words that are available based on how they are understood by people, so that people receive the message as intended. Furthermore, factual information must sometimes be conveyed to people who haven’t yet grasped the underlying concepts (or “schema”). In such cases, you may have to either help them build the concepts in their heads from more basic ones, or invoke the most similar concepts they know that are close enough for the time being (e.g. “atoms are like little spheres”). Emotional information is often even harder to convey, so the you may need to invoke an emotional memory from the audience that is similar to the emotion being described (e.g. “they were hurt that you insulted their poem; imagine if someone told you that your cooking was disgusting”). Translation can be used to explain the concept of war to a small, isolated tribe of islanders, but the more different a person’s frame of reference is, the more explanation it will take in order to avoid a misunderstanding.

Translation mindset has an ink theme because ink is a medium in which actual information is presented (as opposed to paper, which provides a context for the information; see below). Moreover, ink can be used to not only write words but also draw pictures and diagrams in order to effectively convey information to people who may not be familiar with the concepts involved. Finally, just as two people may see different objects in the same pattern of ink, so they may get different meanings from the same words and phrases, and it is important to account for that when conversing with them.

Paper Element

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Paper Element (Darkness tempered with Light): Paper Element is the Element of background, and it uses semantics in the service of empathy to simplify the process of creating certain impressions. By following rules, you can more easily project a particular feeling to observers (who may or may not notice the effect), through cues involving appearance, word choice, or environment.

Examples of background mindset include etiquette, attire, makeup, accents, dialects, slang, shibboleths, fonts, camouflage, aposematism (and by extension warning signs and safety vests), and all the little touches of authenticity and verisimilitude that give readers information about the setting of a story, like references to period technology or celebrities of the day.

Background mindset has a paper theme because paper is the medium on which information is portrayed, and it provides some of the ambiance even though a person’s attention is mostly on the information in the actual message. Paper also refers to wallpaper, which provides emotional impressions in a room even though it is typically unnoticed, as people tend to focus on the actual contents of the room.

Conclusion

Keep in mind that these peripheral Elements are blends of the more archetypal Primary and Secondary Elements. When you are solving a real problem, you may invoke many different Elements, and the lines between similar Elements may blur. You may work on a semantics problem and invoke the related mindsets of precision and diagnosis, or even bring in organization just to make sure you’re using your time effectively. The purpose of naming all these peripheral Elements is to make you aware of what you can do when you learn more Elements and are capable of blending different types of thinking together (or oscillating between them rapidly).

If a person practices many or all of the Elements related to a Primary or Secondary Element, they can be said to use an “enhanced” version of that Element. For example, if a person practices the Elements of Ice, X-Ray, Rock, Snow, Void, and Wax, they would be said to be an Enhanced Ice Element user (for those keeping count, that’s the Primary Element, two Interstitial Elements, two Tertiary Elements, and a Tempered Element). Enhanced Secondary Elements may also involve the two related Quaternary Elements. Enhanced Elements are much more effective because they invoke the strengths of other Elements.

There are yet more Elements and more you can do, though! By combining opposing Primary and Secondary Elements in equal measure, you get Great Elements. Beyond those, there are even more powerful Elements that represent the combination of Great Elements, and of which these peripheral Elements are but slivers. We shall get to all of these and more in a later article. For now, be assured that the world of consciousness is wide. Each of these Elements holds infinite possibility, and the scope of possibilities opens up even further as you learn more Elements with which to pursue your goals.

However, knowing about the Elements is just the starting point. To develop your power, you must practice and seek feedback. When you can do that deliberately, you’re on your way to becoming the person you need to be in order to be who you want to be.

Elaborations on the Elements

In How to Change the World we went over the basic mindsets that people need in order to deal with challenges. Here, we’ll explore them in more detail. These mindsets, or “Elements” as I style them, are not boxes to put people in. With very few exceptions, all people can use all Elements if they know how to practice them, and they should.

What the Elements are is a vocabulary to describe how people think. You can think of them as the primary colors with which to paint a picture of a person (along with other concepts like motivations; more about that later). Like primary colors of light or pigment, they have infinite blends between them and can be used to form endless shapes and pictures, with an infinite variety of meanings. Also like primary colors, each one that is missing takes away a huge range of colors you can make. (Just for the sake of art, each basic Element has a color motif, though they can’t all be actual primary colors.) Every mindset has strengths and weaknesses that are complemented by other mindsets.

The Elements you see here represent archetypal mindsets in their purest, most characteristic form, so that they are easy to understand. Most importantly, they are here to help you learn to think differently to better deal with different situations. The more Elements you are skilled with, the more types of situations you can deal with, especially when you can combine basic Elements together into more advanced ones (more about those later).

If you pay attention to the people around you, you may notice which sorts of problems they like to work on and which ones stymie them. You may pick up on themes what aspects of situations they talk about, and what sorts of phrases they like to use. These clues hint at what mindsets they tend to use, and which ones they might not be well-versed in. As you read, you may identified which ones you prefer and which ones you need to develop.

Without further ado, here are the eight basic Elements of consciousness.

The Primary Elements

Ice Element

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Ice Element (analysis; assesses concepts): Analysis is about exploring order, differentiating ideas, seeing patterns, and lowering “mental temperature,” which means that a situation doesn’t have to deviate very much from an expected pattern before you decide that the pattern is incomplete or wrong. An analysis user can observe facts and see patterns in them, from which they can infer causal connections or underlying principles. In short, analysis is about taking concepts that you’re aware of and attempting to fit them together and onto the world around you, to expand your awareness of the world’s order.

With analysis, you can also affect the world in new ways based on the order you’re aware of. For example, let’s say you live in a world where sections of air become hard and solid and then revert back to intangible gas seemingly at random, which is very inconvenient for people. However, if you figure out the pattern behind it (maybe some sort of special material, sound, or light pattern, for example, or a combination thereof), and infer a causal relationship, you might discover that you can predict where and when it happens, allowing you to run without fear of colliding with an invisible wall. Not only that, but you can walk on solid air, use it as a tool, and even build devices that generate solid air in whatever shape you want. That’s the sort of thing that analysis lets you do.

Analysis is has an ice theme because ice represents the formation of hard, solid structures (order) and the reduction of energy (chaos). Order is simply what we know (or think we do), what “must” or “cannot” happen. Chaos is what we don’t know, what may or may not happen. Analysis pushes back the unknown and imposes certainty. The metaphor of solidity representing order and rationality, versus energy representing chaos and creativity, has been around for a long time, because it is a very good metaphor. Solid structures represent limitations, and they can therefore immobilize things, join them together, cut them apart, slide between equivalent things, et cetera. The important thing isn’t that the patterns are perfectly representative of reality, but that they’re right most of the time, so you can make use of them if you’re aware. The “ice” that forms isn’t altering the world directly; it’s forming in your head and allowing you to be aware and make use of consistency in the world.

Ice Element is represented by the color blue.

Fire Element

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Fire Element (synthesis; generates concepts): Synthesis is about exploring chaos, blending ideas, seeing possibilities, divergent thinking, free association, imagination, and raising mental temperature, which means that a situation must deviate a great deal from a pattern before your brain stops trying to superimpose the pattern on the situation. In short, synthesis is about taking concepts you’re aware of and attempting to alter or combine different aspects of them to form new ideas, to expand your awareness of the world’s possibilities.

This mindset is often used for creating elaborate and original art or fiction, but it can also be used to help refine abstract concepts by imagining a more pure example of a phenomenon than what you’ve seen in real life. For example, you may have experienced emotions like joy, despair, anger, or fear, but only at relatively small, manageable levels. Synthesis would allow you to imagine a situation that would evoke those emotions (in you or others) to a much greater degree. That alone would be helpful both in promoting emotions in others or in practicing how to deal with them yourself, but there is more depth to synthesis than just the above.

Because synthesis is the aspect of conscious thought that allows us to imagine new concepts, it is responsible for our ability to create new paradigms through which to experience the world and decide what to do. It lets us become aware in detail of the different possibilities in the world and in what we may be capable of. These possibilities are usually not obvious based on our prior experiences, but with this mindset a person can create a paradigm shift that few others would predict. Nobody would work to invent a new technology or overthrow a corrupt regime if they thought that it couldn’t be done, or if they couldn’t picture in their mind the happiness that they would bring to people by doing so. Synthesis is what allows you to imagine a possible future that validates your efforts by its mere existence as a possibility. Moreover, say you have an accident and learn that you’ll never be able to play the violin again, as the cliché goes. If everything you’ve been working towards becomes virtually impossible, synthesis is how you can visualize a new goal (like composing or teaching music, or something completely different) to work towards so that you can move on. A signature strength of this mindset is the ability to create hope and meaning. With it, you can reforge your life.*

Synthesis is has a fire theme because fire represents the release of energy (chaos) and the transmutation of substances, and yes, the breakdown of solid structures (order). Again, order is simply what we know (or think we do), what must or cannot happen, while chaos is what we don’t know, what may or may not happen. Synthesis explores the unknown and brings back possibilities that threaten certainty. Fire has long been a metaphor for creative energy, hope, a driving force, a spark of inspiration, a forge of creation, a cauldron of concoction, a crucible of refinement, or a dramatic change that brings a place to an end, but which eventually results in something new emerging from the ruins. With Fire Element, you feed experiences and present ideas into the fire as fuel and ingredients, and they are mixed around to release possibilities and generate variations on them that can be slightly different or incredibly divergent.

Fire Element is represented by the color red.

Synthesis is the opposing mindset to analysis, and when combined they form the mindset of perception. More about perception mindset later.

*Synthesis is not the same as growth mindset, which is the process of deciding to risk pursuing the goals that synthesis allows us to envision. More about growth mindset later.

Electricity Element

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Electricity Element (organization; optimizes navigation): Organization is about keeping track of details, balancing priorities, managing resources, and making decisions. In life, there are many tradeoffs that people need to make based on what they want and the limited resources they possess. With organization mindset, people can figure out how to allocate their resources most effectively, to get the most of what they want. Resources are frequently used to generate other resources, which in turn can be managed with organization mindset.

As an agricultural example of organization in use, Person A has a pig. Person B is willing to trade their cow for the pig. Person A must use organization to choose whether they want the pig or the cow more, based on the various future options they would have with either animal. Person A also has 50 chickens. Person C is willing to trade 100 chicks for Person A’s chickens. Person A must think to ask themselves whether it is worth spending their own time and effort raising those chicks in order to double their number of chickens. This decision is based on how easy it is for Person A to raise chicks as well as what other useful activities Person A could be doing instead (opportunity cost). It is also based on whether Person A wants to have money from chickens now, or (in theory) twice as much money from chickens later. Keeping all of these factors in working memory in order to weigh them against each other is what organization is about. Organization will also be used in deciding how and when to transport the animals (train or truck?), and when (can you combine the errand with another one to save a trip?). Zeroing in on the specific logistical details of how to implement a decision is part of organization.

The mindset of organization is not the one that covers calculating the most efficient use of resources where there is a demonstrably right answer that can be calculated with an algorithm. Mathematics and algorithms fall under the domain of semantics mindset. Organization is about being aware of all the paths you can take and judging them against each other based on your priorities, not calculating the unit price of a juice container (although such knowledge does make it easier to make optimized decisions, which is an example of why mindsets are even more useful when they work together).

Organization applies order and chaos in the distinct part of a person’s mind. A person must be aware of the possibilities available to them (chaos) and judge the consequences of their choices and how well they will achieve what they want (order).

Organization mindset has an electricity theme because electricity represents a surplus of charge moving to correct a deficit, just as resources move to meet demands. The surplus electrons in a direct electric current respond to attractive forces that can originate far away, just as organization users must consider goals that are not immediately in front of them when they make their decisions. Furthermore, electric current takes the path of least resistance, the most efficient path available. It may split into several paths with varying currents if that is a more efficient route to its destination, as in parallel circuits, just as the best choice is likely a combination of options. However, electricity is also capable of forming an ionized path to arc through the air as a unified group; it could not traverse air gaps otherwise. This phenomenon represents decisiveness: sometimes committing to a path is more important than spending extra effort choosing the best one (see also Buridan’s Ass, a hypothetical donkey that starves because it cannot choose between two equal piles of hay to eat). Finally, electricity is itself a resource that can be allocated and used to power things, and the better we manage it, the more we can do with it.

Electricity Element is represented by the color yellow.

Water Element

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Water Element (operation; internalizes navigation): Operation is about using intuitions developed through practice in order to assess what is happening, make decisions, and gracefully enact them. Similarly to organization, which balances the awareness and influence of order and chaos in the distinct part of the mind, operation balances these aspects of thought in the subliminal part of the mind, where they can generate possibilities and predict their consequences in the immediate situation while leaving hardly a trace of their process. In contrast with organization, which allows a person to deal with a constantly shifting inventory of assets, and array of goals, operation requires practice, feedback, and repetition with consistent situations and tools. It is usually best learned by focusing attention on basic techniques, which build on each other and lead to intuitive understanding of more complex situations. Eventually it’s possible to think about other things while using operation, at least for simple tasks.

The reward for spending so much time calibrating your intuition is a much more graceful and efficient implementation of your chosen course of action. Operation increases reliability and decreases the effort required. Once you have chosen the best use of your resources using organization and other mindsets, operation is how you carry out your plan. (Operation can inform your sense of the situation as well, especially when combined with other mindsets.)

Whether it is driving a vehicle, throwing a projectile, wielding a tool or weapon, crafting an object, singing, dancing, walking along streets you know by heart, or simply meditating, operation is about becoming one with the moment. The moment may be larger than the literal immediate present and vicinity, and it may involve doing any of the above in coordination with a team. The key idea is intuition: unifying experience with knowledge and decision with control, and sometimes even unifying knowledge and decision.

The mindset of operation has a water theme, unsurprisingly. Water has long been used to represent the mental state of performing at one’s peak by allowing intuition to take over, appropriately enough called the “flow”. When it moves, it is very similar to electricity, being an equalization of potential differences through the motion of fluid particles through the most efficient channels. However, while electricity powers components over large distances, water keeps momentum and pushes the environment out of the way. While water does respond to the attraction of gravity, it pays little heed to any other remote forces—only the materials that touch a volume of water can govern the motion of the water, reflecting how operation deals with an immediate situation, even when in pursuit of an ultimate goal. Water also changes its environment over time, just as repeated actions form channels in our minds which make them easier to continue. Although all mindsets build habits and need calibration, operation is the one that most relies on these principles.

Water Element is represented by the color green.

Operation is the opposing mindset to organization, and when combined they form the mindset of action. More about action mindset later.

The Secondary Elements

The Secondary Elements are distinct enough in character from the Primary Elements, and are used frequently enough by people who do not use the corresponding Primary Elements, that I put them at nearly the same level of prominence as the Primary Elements.

Earth Element

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Earth Element (strategy; fortifies paths; combination of analysis and organization): Strategy is about using foresight to assess the logical implications of possible choices, to determine not only their efficiency but also their outcomes and vulnerabilities. Thus one can take steps to close down unwanted possibilities, expending extra resources to make an endeavor more robust. The paradigm of strategy is that decisions have long-term consequences and implications beyond the immediate and obvious, such as side-effects, risks, and hidden requirements. With strategy you can predict those implications, keep track of them as details, weigh them against priorities, and make good decisions as to how best to succeed in the long-term based on the limiting factors in play. Then you can choose whether to pay the price for increasing the durability of your system. Related mindsets are standardization: prioritizing cost-efficiency, and security: prioritizing guarantees. See below for those.

The mindset of strategy is comprised of organization and analysis. It keeps track of details in situations, and any properties of those details that confer benefits or detriments. Strategy can map various conventional paths from the present to desired futures based on current resources, and evaluate the relative merits of those paths. It might consolidate its resources into versatile tools, to make it easier to change direction if necessary. Strategy deals with resources that cannot be easily shifted, so it often chooses the least permanent option, or generates contingency plans in case the option taken turns out badly. Reconfiguring these resources is costly, whether in time or some other type of resource, so decisions cannot easily be reversed, but that also means durable and grand works can be created from them. However, all the intermediate steps must be durable enough to withstand the construction process. Users of strategy can see the safest order in which to move resources by identifying the possible paths and their vulnerabilities.

Unlike analysis, strategy manages the details of real resources, but doesn’t deal with the differentiation of abstract concepts in and of themselves. Unlike organization, strategy deals with possible threats and unintended consequences based on looking at all the properties of a system and its environment, not just the ones immediately related to the goal. Strategy does not deal with maximizing the efficiency and output of a system in the present moment so much as balancing efficiency with the long-term stability of the system.

One illustration of strategy is a person setting up a farm such that the vulnerable animals are closest to the center, away from predators. The predators are not part of the business paradigm, but are a reality of the natural world that must be acknowledged. Another example is the standard team-building exercise of creating as tall a tower as possible out of marshmallows and toothpicks. The standard organization approach might be to maximize height by building a straight line up. However, robust design would sacrifice height for stability, building a wider structure so that environmental factors not explicitly acknowledged (accidental table-bumps, drafts) would not hurt the structure. On a more immediate time-scale, examples include deciding to take the time to back up your computer or bringing a book to read at the dentist’s office in case you don’t like any of the magazines there.

Strategy has an earth theme because physical earth is thematically associated with solidity, stability, and slowness. When dealing with earth, mistakes have long-term consequences, because earth is heavy, hard to shape, and can collapse above or below people. Shaping the earth can close possibilities by making some options very difficult, and it is important to pay attention and consider consequences, to ensure that the options one closes are the ones one wants to close. However, shifting earth over the long term can change the terrain and accomplish great things, shrinking the odds of failure. Done properly, a strategy user can reduce the possibility that their own structures will be damaged, or eliminate the possibility of another person taking a dangerous path. Earth is a resource, limited by time and space and not simply appearing spontaneously, similar to electricity. However, it is also solid and forms structures that are bound to each other, similar to ice.

Earth Element is represented by the color purple.

Wind Element

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Wind Element (tactics; repurposes paths; combination of synthesis and organization): Tactics is about applying resources in creative ways to open up possibilities and accomplish tasks that would not be possible if the resources were used in the more obvious ways. The paradigm of tactics is that in any given situation, the resources and factors in play have properties that are not in play, and by reconfiguring the resources at hand into a system that uses these unused properties, you can accomplish more than is apparent at first. To use tactics is to be clever.

Tactics can successfully apply resources to tasks other than the one they are most suited for currently. However, there are usually tradeoffs; it is likely that the resources will not be as efficient at performing the new task compared to if they were specifically designed for that purpose. The strength of this mindset is that it can make the resources perform the task at all. It’s a very useful skill when you don’t have the resources you’d prefer. It should be noted that the mindset of tactics is not necessarily a short-term mindset, used only in a pinch. A tactician can think up clever ways to apply resources at leisure, and call on such ideas when an appropriate situation arises. It is also possible to use tactics to open up possibilities far into the future. However, when a tactics user opens up new possibilities, many of those possibilities are fascinating new ways to fail. The more resources are involved, the greater the risk. Just as strategy uses resources to impose stability, tactics uses resources to unleash possibility, which is unstable on its own. Therefore, the bigger the tactic, the more important it is to use strategy to fortify it.

Examples of tactics are quite common in fiction because a) they take much less time to explain and implement compared to strategy; b) they are opportunities to show the audience something new and spectacular, rather than repetitive techniques using operation or events that were prevented by strategy; and c) they allow protagonists to beat the odds and get out of seemingly impossible situations, allowing the author to build up large amounts of suspense. Tactics can be as simple as using a chair or other furniture item as a weapon or using a random object as a step-stool, or as inspired as (minor spoiler for the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) Henry Jones Sr. destroying a WWII-era fighter plane bearing down on him by startling a flock of birds and causing them to fly into the propellers.

Like organization, tactics uses resources and pays attention to their properties and interactions. Like synthesis, tactics involves combining existing ideas in order to create new ones. However, tactics is slightly more specialized than either. Unlike synthesis, tactics must abide by the limitations of existing resources to come up with viable plans, but also unlike synthesis, it can abide by these limitations. Unlike organization, tactics is more concerned with exploring the different effects that it can get out of a set of resources than with maximizing the output, but again, unlike organization, it can achieve more effects than just the known ones.

Tactics has a wind theme because physical wind, the movement of air, is thematically associated with transience and changeability, the existence of prevailing winds notwithstanding. Similarly, triumphs of tactics tend to be somewhat short-lived: once a tactic is used, it can become a standard procedure that people are taught to use, and is less likely to fall under the category of “tactics mindset” unless someone invents it independently. Also, tactics on its own can be unreliable because while it opens up new possibilities for success, it also opens up new possibilities for failure. Furthermore, physical wind can change direction quickly, pass through very small spaces and, if strong enough, rearrange objects in its wake, thematically evoking playfulness and matching the trickster antics which the mindset of tactics naturally lends itself to. However, both physical wind and the mindset of tactics can unleash devastation if they have access to the right (or wrong) combination of resources. Despite both air and water being fluids, the much lower inertia of air and its ability to apparently “flow uphill” make it appropriate as a theme for a mindset that opens possibilities.

Wind Element is represented by the color orange.

Tactics is the opposing mindset to strategy, and when combined they form the mindset of facilitation. More about facilitation mindset later.

Light Element

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Light Element (semantics; simplifies interactions; combination of analysis and operation): Semantics is about interfacing with reality using labels, rules, and algorithms which approximately describe the situation at hand. These tools are matched to the situation through both intuition and analysis. The power of semantics to simplify interactions is particularly useful for dealing with complex systems as well as pinning down unstable ones, where a specific quantity represents the threshold between failure and success.

Semantics mindset combines analysis and operation to smoothly classify things according to a preconceived system (generated by another mindset, or by a more abstract layer of semantics). It deals in judging by appearances, an important skill. To do this, it creates symbols and labels, syntax and languages, lexicons and vocabularies, and rules and algorithms in order to quickly derive conclusions based on input and a practiced system of interpretation. These tools allow people to contextualize their experiences within a known paradigm (a set of assumptions about how the situation works), and then allow them to move within that paradigm rapidly to reach the implications of their experiences.

The overarching paradigm of semantics is that you can learn an approximate model for a given type of situation. You can use this model to formulate a question or describe a problem, and the model will help you calculate an answer or verify a possible solution. To do so, you figure out what labels to put on something and choose the appropriate algorithm to feed the labels into. By practicing applying the model, you can become skilled at navigating within its paradigm. Practice lets you develop an intuition for what approaches and algorithms will lead to the most effective solutions. The model makes assumptions to simplify the situation, making it easier to deal with and enabling the model to be used on other similar situations. Ideally, the model is still accurate enough to be effective despite its assumptions. The more complex and sophisticated the model, the more difficult it is to use, but the more accurate it can be if necessary.

Unlike analysis, the mindset of semantics cannot create new tools or concepts to analyze systems that haven’t yet been modeled symbolically in some way, but semantics is capable of fluidly moving within those models and paradigms in order to more quickly compute the answers to problems. For semantics, problems contain their own answers. Unlike operation, semantics can generalize a model to deal with a range of similar situations instead of having to practice with each individual situation. However, semantics needs the model framework to start with, while operation goes purely by feel. For example, figuring out how much fuel is necessary to go a longer distance is simply a matter of plugging a different number into the formula. Rather than having to practice with every individual situation, semantics. Moreover, unlike operation, semantics can provide a record of its decision process in the form of proofs or explanations.

(A good way to illustrate the continuum between analysis and operation is with chains of reasoning. Analysis says, “X implies Y implies Z, based on observations of the world. I know X is true, therefore I know Z is true.” Semantics says, “X implies Z according to this formula. I know X is true, therefore I know Z is true.” Operation says, “I’ve got a feeling Z is true. I’ve been around a while and developed a sense for this sort of thing.” All of these approaches have their own strengths and weaknesses.)

A person might user semantics in their everyday life by using the paradigm of accurate odometers and gas gauges to calculate their gas mileage, by using shadows to calculate the height of a building through the paradigm of trigonometry, or by applying the paradigm of Newtonian physics to calculate how long it takes a ball to roll down a slope. Semantics is also important for transmitting information, simplifying situations so you can use words, like “chair” or “bird”, instead of drawing or miming an object or animal in detail every time you want to describe it. Mathematics, physics, law, programming, and language are all built on semantics, to name some prominent fields.

Semantics has a light theme because physical light is extremely fast, and it forms images which give people convenient superficial information about situations. This information is incomplete but often comprehensive enough to effectively represent the entire situation instantly. Similarly, the ability of semantics to simplify interactions makes it very fast to draw conclusions, make decisions, and transmit information. However, though it can be used to quickly take stock of a situation, it still does not have all the information, and must be used appropriately. Just as light can fool the eyes, so can semantics fool a person into drawing a conclusion that is not actually true. Furthermore, it is also possible to overload oneself with data, analogous to temporarily blinding oneself with a bright light. The metaphor of Light Element can be viewed as a sort of holographic augmented reality, with luminous labels and diagrams superimposed over a situation to highlight the important aspects and allow them to be fed into algorithms or transmitted as information.

Light Element is represented by the color white.

Darkness Element

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Darkness Element (empathy; individualizes interactions; combination of synthesis and operation): Empathy is about forming a more nuanced and dynamic impression of a complex system which cannot be fully described, often a person, and using that impression to more effectively and harmoniously interact with that system.

The mindset of empathy probes entities and situations and explores their responses to get an intuitive feel for their paradigms, allowing you to shift at least partially into their paradigm. You can then interact with the entities and situations on their own terms. The paradigm of empathy is that other entities have nuanced personalities and moods. It is thus unwise to make assumption about how their experiences will affect their behavior. However, it is possible to learn about an entity by observing its behavior and interacting with it. You can develop an intuition about the entity based on what you learn about it, using your imagination and your intuition of yourself to fill in the inevitable gaps, and doing more passive and active learning when you are not sure of a situation. As the entity grows and changes from day to day, or moment to moment, you will have to be constantly updating your impression of it.

With empathy, you can enter the paradigms of people, animals, and even temperamental inanimate objects you interact with. You can also explore other possible paradigms for yourself, which is important for being aware of and managing your own emotions. Not only this, but by interacting with the entities, you can influence their experiences, and therefore their behavior. You can even draw them into other paradigms.

Empathy is the gestalt of synthesis and operation. Unlike synthesis, empathy uses imagination to more effectively shift into existing paradigms in use by other entities, rather than blending up new paradigms from scratch. Unlike operation, empathy specializes in dealing with handling complex and shifting entities that have agency and personalities of their own (or at least it treats them as if they do). It spends more time on them in order to get to know them and form more effective relationships.

As the opposite of semantics, empathy requires the user to ignore or temporarily forget labels and rules. The assumptions and impressions you have can be worse than useless when attempting to shift paradigms and individualize interactions. Empathy allows you to move between paradigms easily, and can help you deal with people from those different paradigms as if they were naturally from your own paradigm. Furthermore, with empathy you can lead an entity to behave in ways that under normal circumstances it wouldn’t (like being patient or doing you a favor), due to the high degree of harmony you have with that particular entity. The drawback of empathy is that the relationships it forms are not generalizable, unlike semantics.

Empathy works best on entities and situations which undergo many changes often, especially subtle changes and especially in response to hidden environmental changes. People are excellent examples of such entities, so empathy users are especially good with people, though they may specialize in what impressions they want to leave on people (e.g. encouragement, persuasion, intimidation, or stealth). However, empathy users can often form bonds with other such entities such as animals. You can even bond with temperamental inanimate systems, such as vehicles, to better care for them and work together to produce better results.

A person might use empathy in order to determine the best angle to sell a product: what will interest people most about it? To sell a refrigerator, one might figure out what the person’s favorite food or drink is, either by inferring it based on the region or by directly asking, and describing it being preserved for convenience, leading the person to associate positive feelings with the refrigerator. Empathy can also be used to avert culture shock. Each person has their own culture, and a person using empathy might notice that despite not appearing very friendly, a stranger might be looking for a friend and simply not know how to go about it. They may be from a big city and may not be used to greeting random people on the street. An empathy user can explore this possibility through a simple conversation, with their experience in each moment helping them to decide an appropriate thing to say or do in the next one.

As another example, an athletic student might want to establish friendly interactions with drama students, so the athlete must forget preconceptions about them, or labels such as “uncool,” and actively look for qualities to appreciate about them, which would have been overlooked before due to cognitive dissonance with the “uncool” label.

Conveying appreciation, addressing people’s concerns, and in general demonstrating behavior that puts people at ease are all important empathy techniques.

Empathy has a darkness theme because darkness means having to navigate without the simple, easy information provided by appearances, just as empathy forgets labels and explores each situation individually. You must feel your way forward, encountering more of the true nature of what you face rather than being able to judge by what you see.

Moreover, the darkness theme references Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, which depicts all people as being chained inside a cave, able to discern the outside (“real”) world only by shadows that outside objects cast on the cave wall by obstructing the light from the entrance. This allegory is meant to show how what we experience of the world is but a single aspect of what the world actually is. Empathy users recognize that what they see of others is only a shadow of what those others actually are, so they imagine what possible shapes could cast those shadows, explore those possibilities with their interactions, and build an intuition about each person from the feedback they receive. Because empathy uses operation, it is the most useful mindset for dealing entities that change shape based on interactions (that is, probing them causes them to change in response), so the user can develop a dynamic, evolving intuition.

The metaphor can even be extended to depict each person with a unique individual cave, seeing very different subjective shadows of the same objective events due to the way the caves are positioned, the different angle of the object, the shadow of the cave wall, et cetera, representing the intuitions that people have built up over their histories which shape the impression that each new experience makes on a person. In order to interact with each other, we must pay attention to the shadows that we and events around us cast on other people. We can then learn to cast different shadows, to change the impressions people get from their experiences.

Darkness Element is represented by the color black.

Empathy is the opposing mindset to semantics, and when combined they form the mindset of communication. More about communication mindset later.

Conclusion

Learning to understand each other’s perspectives and recognizing the limitations of our own ways of thinking are the first steps towards creating a more harmonious society and becoming more mature people.

These Elements represent a way to make those first steps much easier for those who haven’t yet taken them. In order to accomplish great things, we must learn and practice all of these basic mindsets, if only to form the foundation for mindsets greater still. I hope this article and the ones that follow will prove useful to every reader who intends to change the world for the better.

What Just Happened, and What Does it Mean?

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Doubtless many of you are wondering how human events have come to this pass. Trump is the president-elect of the United States, and I’m surprised and disappointed, but not overwhelmingly so. Trump, as I have alluded to previously, lacks finesse, nuanced thought, humility, empathy, and many other important skills. These qualities are unfortunately rare, but are nevertheless vital in a government executive. I hope he will develop them in the course of endeavoring to perform the challenging job of president. Regardless, however, my plan to change the world will continue as before.

…Why was Trump elected in the first place, you ask? You have come to the right place. While I did not vote for Donald Trump or his (major) opponent, Hillary Clinton, I am practiced in the mindset of deconstruction, so I can unravel the human ideas and behaviors that led voters to create this outcome.

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As you can see here, a person’s political beliefs are merely a matter of a pinion.  …Sorry.

The first thing you need to understand is that this significant event did not, indeed could not, happen in isolation. It is the culmination of millions of small, boring events across millions of people over the course of years. Significant events are dictated by the repetition of smaller events (that often go unnoticed even by ourselves). Years of martial arts training become the ability to fight off a thug. Many nights of diligent study become the ability to get a coveted job. What we do in our boring moments dictates what we can do in the right place at the right time. How you think evolves into habits that influence the paths your life may take. This phenomenon is called “karma.” (The real karma that is; some people treat karma as a way of earning good luck or something. Luck, by definition, is chaos, and cannot be predicted or manipulated. Anyone who claims differently is just making things up to make themselves feel better. Not to say we can’t increase our control over the world, but then it ceases to be “luck”. But I digress…)

What then, caused the karma of the United States to result in the election of Trump?

People didn’t vote for Trump on a whim, based on how they were feeling that day. Regardless of Trump’s history as a celebrity, the presidential elections are not a reality show. The voters for Trump had personal and practical reasons, and if we want answers, we need to ask the right questions. We can determine how good these reasons are afterward.

What are these reasons, and where did they come from?

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The reasons are numerous and diverse. Just to get it out of the way, it is very likely that some people voted for Trump because they are bigoted and think that Trump will serve the interests of their narrow demographic at the expense of others. That cannot possibly explain nearly fifty percent of the United States voting that way, however. The country could not function as it does if so many people were so hostile towards those who were different. What other reasons are there?

Fear and insecurity are a safe bet for explaining human actions. Some people see their role in the economy being usurped, whether by workers in other countries or by workers from other countries. They fear that with the skills they currently possess, they cannot earn enough favors from society to support their families because they are competing with others who have the same skills but ask fewer favors, and they either feel entitled to live the only way they know how, or fear they will be unable to learn how to earn favors some other way. It may very well be a combination of both. Their vote is a reaction to the receding status quo they face in life: they want someone to bring back the world they knew, where they knew all the steps and pitfalls in advance, before they had to race against the entire planet. Trump promises them respite, so they vote for him.

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A second type of fear and insecurity takes hold when people feel their cultural values are being threatened. The theme here is the same as before: the world that people knew is becoming more complicated. The formulas people used to know by heart that told them what was expected of them and what they could expect of others no longer apply. If you’re a man, you go out and face the world and take back bounty. If you’re a woman, you maintain a household, a protected space upon which to anchor oneself. You can tell men and women apart by their bodies, men and women pair up, and due to cultural taboos created to discourage and inhibit unethical behavior motivated by biological instincts, men and women even have separate hygiene infrastructures. Furthermore, every culture keeps to themselves, because they have different rules that most humans have trouble reconciling across interactions (using the communication mindsets). All of these rules are based on assumptions about how people work, without much freedom for people to do what they most want to do, but they make people feel comfortable. Arbitrary convention though it may be, it’s predictable and safe.

When it turns out that you can’t tell what a person is going to do or who they’re going to pair up with just by looking at them, or even what hygiene infrastructure a person may have used in the past or may use in the future, people who aren’t used to such uncertainty become frightened. It’s a visceral fear; if you base your rules about what males and females do on the same logic as your rules about not harming people, anyone who disregards the former suddenly becomes scary. Moreover, other cultures are not so far away anymore, and people who have never had to understand other paradigms are starting to feel an uncomfortable existential doubt regarding the way they’ve always looked at and judged the world. They think Trump will bring back the order they’re familiar with, so they vote for him.

On the other hand, there are also many people who don’t feel that fear of uncertainty, but who just feel that there is no need for the vast majority of people to go to any great effort just to make a minority of people feel comfortable. Why, they ask, should their established, “tried-and-true” culture give up anything because their assumption about how someone would behave is occasionally wrong? Even if it’s not their fault for being different, why should they get special attention? These people are not bigots, but merely neutral. Trump promises to respect their neutrality, so they vote for him.

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Neutral incarnate.

It doesn’t occur to the neutral people that the ability to accommodate different people is not just for those people’s sake, but for the sake of the entire society. Here we come back to karma: if we practice building a society where people can feel comfortable being different, we will avoid the vulnerabilities of stagnation by cultivating diverse mentalities and the freedom to express them. Furthermore, learning to accommodate people with different characteristics strengthens our empathy mindset, which is invaluable in inevitable disagreements, at all levels of perspective difference, from between cultures to within a family. Finally, such kindness creates a societal identity committed to being good: putting forth the effort to help other people without expecting direct compensation. A society of good people is more beneficial for each individual than a society of neutral people, because each person benefits from the good people around them, whereas in a neutral society each person only benefits from those they do favors for.

The last group of Trump supporters are those who feared the consequences of allowing Hillary Clinton to win. They are not Trump supporters, but merely Trump voters. While Trump supporters may lack the meta-skill of empathy, Clinton supporters are by and large equally bereft. For the past several years, Clinton supporters have pushed away the fearful people I have described above, refusing to engage with them or do anything to assuage their fears, and labeled them scary monsters for having such fears. They have done so largely out of fear themselves; having been oppressed in the past by prejudice, intimidation, and force, they have out of caution or catharsis applied this same destructive treatment against their oppressors or anyone who reminds them of the oppressors. What Clinton has promised her supporters is a world completely rewritten to suit them, completely disregarding any fears or concerns of the Trump supporters as well as the Trump voters, and based in large part on values, beliefs, or interests that the Trump supporters and voters do not identify with.

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Trump supporter as envisioned by Clinton supporter (not to scale)

Not only that, but Hillary Clinton, like Donald Trump, takes advantage of fear to gain power. With most of the news media as her ally, ready and eager to distract and dissemble regarding any wrongdoing on her part, she can eat her cake and have it, too. She can win popular support as a representative of the people while implicitly selling political influence to special interests, corporations, and even other countries, enriching herself in the process. Aided by her infinitely more professional presentation, Clinton’s supporters demonstrate a willingness to take her lies and deceit at face value. Most Trump voters are unwilling to allow such corruption and propaganda to be rewarded, lest it become even more entrenched in government. They feel it is important to reduce the level of corruption in government by voting it down and out, even if it means electing an empty-headed, vindictive blowhard.

Of course, the empty-headed vindictive blowhard is what Clinton supporters and voters fear. The Clinton voters admit Clinton’s shortcomings and take responsibility for their fears and their choice. Clinton’s supporters ignore or confabulate excuses for Clinton’s transgressions because they fear what happens if she doesn’t win, beyond the disqualifying traits of Trump himself. Clinton supporters’ fears are at odds with the fears of the Trump supporters, you see. The latter are trying to stop their own fragile world from collapsing, but in the process create a prison for the former. Clinton supporters try to escape the restrictions build around them, but in the process introduce chaos, economically and culturally, to Trump supporters.

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This dichotomy of fearful people cannot possibly elect a good politician, not because good politicians don’t exist, rare though they be, but because the most successful politicians at the national level, by far, are those who make Politician Noises. The United States has bad political karma.

Until people stop being afraid, they will be attracted to politician noises. Until they master meta-skills to the point where they are confident enough to assume responsibility for their own lives, they will ask the government to protect them from what they fear.

Why wait passively for that to happen, when we have a workable plan? If you want to see a better world, help make it happen! Sooner or later, everyone will be part of it, so you might as well get a head start and enjoy the benefits of honing your mindsets. After all, no matter how good your brain hardware is, you won’t get very far if you don’t keep your software up to date.

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I’m not saying the world is in your hands, but…

 

 

For reassurance about the election, please see Tim Urban’s article at his outstandingly enlightening blog Wait But Why: http://waitbutwhy.com/2016/11/its-going-to-be-okay.html. I already answered the question he asks at the end. Um… spoilers? While you’re there, go ahead and read everything else on Wait But Why. It will do you a world of good.

You can also listen to the song Angels or Demons? by the excellent band I Fight Dragons. They have many songs dealing with hard-hitting epiphanies, which will probably resonate especially well with young adults, although I have a hunch older listeners can learn some things as well. Definitely check them out.

If you are irked by my criticism of Clinton, here is some thorough substantiation from Ethics Alarms, home to the ever-vigilant watcher of watchmen:

In the spirit of fairness, here are the articles righteously skewering Trump:

How to Change the World

If you are dissatisfied with the world or struggling with your own life, you may be interested in the plan that I have been alluding to for the past few articles. Please bear with me while I explain why this sort of plan is the only one that could work before explaining what the plan actually is.

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“Success?” Well, there’s the problem. I forgot to include the success!

In this world, the vast majority of people at one point or another get stuck in a particular mindset or in certain desires or fears. These states of being stuck lead to insecurity. Merely knowing about how people get stuck does not confer immunity to it (and I know from experience), because most people lack opportunities to learn and practice new mindsets to solve problems that threaten their desires. Alternatively, they cannot tolerate their desires inevitably being now and then subverted or their fears occasionally becoming reality. In their struggle to deal with what they cannot understand or accept, they turn away from good and towards evil.

If you’re perceptive you’re probably thinking, “Great, now we need to functionally define good and evil.” Fear not! These definitions should be useful even outside this blog:

Good and Evil (and Neutral)

  • “Good” describes sacrificing some of the pleasantness of one’s own individual experience in order to improve the individual experience of another person or group of people. The more good (or “better” or “more benevolent,” if you prefer) a person is, the more they are confident with sacrificing in order to help others achieve a stable point in their lives.
  • “Evil” is the opposite of good, and describes actions or people that make other people’s experiences significantly unpleasant in order to achieve one’s own goals, especially when alternative paths to those goals exist that don’t involve hurting people. The more evil a person is, the less excuse they need to take from others.
  • “Neutral” means not spending much effort to affect other people either way, unless it is paying back others’ behavior in kind, such as returning favors or getting revenge.

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Of course, the personal cost used for these definitions is subjective, so it is difficult to compare the goodness of people with any precision, if it’s not already obvious. Giving up a dollar not only has a different marginal impact on people with different incomes, but it also means different things depending on whether a person had an alternative option for that dollar: an opportunity cost that they are paying by giving it away. Even two people with the same opportunity cost could have wanted it with different degrees of intensity, which is incredibly subjective and hard to measure. People handle disappointment differently, so who’s to say who wanted it more?

Besides, where a person’s character is concerned, it doesn’t matter where you are so much as where you’re going. Good people, if they’re serious and perceptive about it, will try to develop and strengthen their power to help others and lower the personal cost of doing so, so they can accomplish more with the sacrifice they can tolerate. (I’m just clawing my way out of neutral myself.)

Note that being good doesn’t mean being skilled at doing good; it only means you’re willing to make a sacrifice to do what you think will help people. If you’re wrong about what will help people, then what you do may be tragically misguided, but not evil.

Needless to say, tragically misguided is not good enough (no pun intended… this time). The world needs as many skilled good people as we can get. Evil people will not only break laws to get what they want, but also will trick neutral and misguided good people into creating laws that favor the evil people’s parasitism. Neutral people may be persuaded to band together to create institutions that commit evil on their behalf, without even realizing it. This practice explains why merely raising votes for the least terrible political candidates isn’t sufficient for changing the system.

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Let’s say we get a 100% voter participation rate. If nothing else changes, people are still going to fight over what the politicians decide and do, and politicians will still behave as described in Politician Noises. How does this get us a better world again?

Unfortunately, we can’t just change the political system to something inherently more effective (e.g., adopting a ranked voting system) and leave it at that. The restrictions and mandates of any legal or political system cannot solve all problems in advance or protect everyone from everything, and some people happen to be powerless in ways the system cannot predict or cannot standardize a way to help. A government is a system of order, of rules, of musts and must nots. It can only deal with known problems, because to deal with an unknown problem requires creativity, initiative, and other chaotic skills that cannot be specified in laws or judged by fixed criteria.

Any legal structure can be manipulated by evil people unless good people use their judgment and power to stop it. There is no possible form of government, no way of structuring laws or institutions, that can survive for any significant length of time if the people it is meant to guide, the same people that sustain and legitimize it, are afraid to be proactively, skillfully good rather than merely neutral or outright evil.

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Not pictured: How actual creativity works.

Those most likely to be afraid are the powerless people, those denied opportunities or the nurturing necessary for most people to develop self-sufficiency. The powerless may turn to evil out of desperation or dissatisfaction with their lives. The neutral people will not stick their necks out to help the powerless because neutral people are averse to the sacrifice and fear it would disrupt the lives they are used to. They would rather keep to themselves and their peers. Only good people would aid those who would otherwise slip through the cracks, taking the initiative to help them get what they want without attempting to steal from or deceive others, even when the good people get no tangible compensation. Some things that we need cannot be required, but must be inspired.

What’s important to realize is that in order to consistently do good, you need to be powerful. If the cost of a given good deed goes up, a person will eventually become unable to tolerate making that sacrifice, for whatever reason. They may fear that if they put too much effort into helping others, they or someone close to them will not survive. As the person’s situation becomes increasingly dire, the only options they consider acceptable might be evil ones.

On the other hand, to demand that a person sacrifice their own life or happiness for equivalent happiness of another would be unfair, and in most cases pointless. Indeed, if everyone practiced complete self-abnegation, nobody would allow themselves to enjoy anything. As a society, would will fail. If we have no competition for fear of injuring those who try and fail, we will not learn from the efforts of those who succeed. Promoting goodness in society requires that people learn balance, so they can accept failure but remain undeterred from pursuing success. We must show respect for those who strive and are defeated, but it is still good to celebrate the victors.

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Nuance is hard, though, so how can we promote goodness? First, we need to make sure that people are free to solve problems. They need to be powerful enough to be free. The world will not survive if people are not free to be good, and people will not survive freedom if they are not mature and responsible.

As defined here, freedom is the lack of restrictions, whether artificially imposed by others (laws) or naturally present (physical limitations and needs). Because freedom defies restrictions, it is by definition a form of chaos. To exercise freedom requires the power to bypass limits, and “power” is conceptually related to “potential,” implying possibilities, another connection to chaos.

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To say a person is free means we cannot say for certain what they can or will do. Like order, chaos has pros and cons. Freedom allows evil people to hurt others, but it also opens the doors to allow good people to offer help in ways that mere rules would only interfere with. Exactly like power, freedom calls for responsibility. To become responsible and good, we must learn how to take the best parts of chaos and order, so we can develop the power to achieve what we want the most. This learning process requires that we advance our consciousness. To do this, we need to be able to overcome not only outside restrictions but also our own limitations of thought, that can intimidate us and dissuade us from doing good.

Therefore, a plan to change the world in a meaningful way must involve not merely electing the right people, nor merely changing the political system. It must help all people expand their options and become more confident in dealing with problems.

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The plan is based on growth mindset. It is the fundamental antithesis of being stuck. It is not a magical solution that will grant your wishes. What the plan is intended to do is map out paths to becoming a person who has the skill and strength to begin solving some of your own problems, and helping others with theirs.

First, there are some concepts we need to go over in order to put the world in perspective. To give you and others the power to do good, we must understand desires and meta-skills.

In Beginning from Basics, we went over the ideas of experience (one’s state of consciousness being part of the effect of an event) and control (being part of an event’s cause). Events which you can experience are part of your field of awareness, and events which you can control are part of your field of influence.

The motivations that you can pursue in this world have to do with experience and control, with what you want to do with your fields of awareness and influence. You can attempt to move more things into them and keep them, to move things out and keep them out, to impose order and limitations that cannot be resisted, or to break limitations and seek out new possibilities.

You don’t necessarily want these things for yourself. A good, unselfish person may want to help someone else, or to create a better world for all, but we are the only reference frame we have to make normative judgments like “better.” Ultimately what makes the action “help” or the world “better” is that someone is more likely to get what they want, and what they want is encompassed by these concepts.

The Eight Sins

Below are defined, as far as I can tell, the eight fundamental desires or motivations of conscious beings. With these definitions, in theory, you can characterize the innermost motivations of anyone. These basic desires do not include the desire to do good, not because goodness doesn’t exist (see above), but because the desire to do good can only be fulfilled by furthering the desires of another person, so including it among the basic desires would be redundant. Goodness can be described as the inclusion of others as part of one’s sense of self, to the point that the fulfillment of their personal desires and development becomes a priority. Likewise, any ideals that a person supports can be traced back to something they want or something that they think someone else wants.

By way of preemptive clarification, that these motivations represent why people do something, not what they do. Two people can have the same goal for different reasons. A person’s major driving motivations will become clearer as you look at more of their goals. Also note that none of these are mutually exclusive, even the ones which are opposites. A person can be motivated by any and all of these.

With that in mind, are the basic motivations of conscious beings:

  • Greed/Ambition: the desire to bring more of a certain type of thing into one’s field of influence; asserting control over a larger scope, be it over a wider range or over more important subjects. Fame, which represents influence over more people’s minds and feelings, can also represent greed.
  • Sloth/Contentment: the desire to shunt things out of one’s field of influence so one doesn’t have to pay attention to them; asserting control over a diminishing scope, or avoiding any control that one bears responsibility for. This desire doesn’t necessarily mean avoiding any effort, but rather avoiding certain efforts that are stressful or have important consequences. Some slothful people may create automated systems or siphon the efforts of others in order to achieve results without directly controlling things. Others may simply stop taking anything seriously.
  • Wrath/Boldness: the desire to remove limits on one’s control, to do things which are novel, unprecedented, impossible, or forbidden. In short, this is the desire to break or overcome rules of some kind, be they laws, etiquette, or physical barriers or limitations. It is not necessarily associated with anger, but anger often leads to this desire.
  • Hubris/Scrupulousness: the desire to impose limits on one’s control, so that the control becomes more exclusive and absolute, without resistance. Entities in one’s field of influence will have less freedom. Perfectionists and control freaks are defined by this desire.
  • Gluttony/Celebration: the desire to move more of a certain type of experience into one’s field of awareness, for an experience to increase in frequency, duration, intensity, or some other metric. It can manifest as reveling in a sensation and seeking it constantly, or as becoming jaded and seeking more intense stimulation. As long as it’s the same basic experience being sought, it falls under this motivation.
  • Cowardice/Prudence: the desire to move a certain type of experience out of one’s field of awareness and keep it out; to avoid it. This avoidance often originates rationally because an experience is unpleasant or because it implies a threat to another desire, but the avoidance takes on a life of its own, as habits are prone to do.
  • Lust/Curiosity: the desire to remove limits on one’s experiences, to experience things which are novel, unprecedented, impossible, or forbidden. Repeating similar experiences will likely cause boredom if a person is primarily responsive to this desire.
  • Envy/Dedication: the desire to impose limits on one’s experiences, i.e. an obsession with a particular outcome to the point of developing tunnel vision, rejecting partial successes and ignoring alternative goals. People responsive to this motivation may pursue a dream until their world is exactly as they envision it, and may feel bitter if they cannot succeed, especially if they see someone else has already attained the goal.

You might have noticed that these are themed on the concept of seven deadly vices, or “sins” (with one added, because it completes the symmetry). The concept of catalogued sins inspired the effort to catalog these motivations, but the concepts (hopefully) stand on their own.

As for “sin”, the most useful definition of the word I can come up with is “anything you can get addicted to”, which if you’re not careful could be literally anything. Depending on what sorts of experience or control you’re prone to getting addicted to, anything could be a sin for you. That definition is consistent with the popular belief that conscious entities are inherently sinful*, with the idea that sin is dangerous and often should be avoided, and with the use of the word “sin” that people have embraced as something edgy and fun.

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Things associated with sin in the public consciousness include wild parties and body modification. However, sin also covers pining after a crush, being afraid of spiders, watching television all day, and chocolate ice cream (according to the carton). Very hardcore.

You don’t have to avoid everything, though. That’s not the point. The point is to be careful not to develop an addiction, because addictions (styled as “Demons”) not only limit your conscious thought and decisions by causing you to develop mental blind spots, but they also lead you to do things that subvert your own long-term desires, and may even cause you to become desperate enough to do evil things in your pursuit of them. That’s why being able to overcome one’s personal motivations on others’ behalf is important for society. But in and of themselves, these motivations don’t offer a path to make things better. That’s why we need problem-solving mindsets.

*(The idea that people are inherently afflicted by desires is not limited to Western religion; Buddhism holds that life is fundamentally characterized by suffering brought on by desire, wanting that which we lack or which we can lose. However, instead of working to expand one’s abilities to help oneself and others attain these desires and seek out new ones, most forms of Buddhism advocate the abnegation of the desires and thereby the self, which I admit is very useful in small doses.)

The Elements

Below are defined eight fundamental mindsets for dealing with different types of problems and situations, though there are many more that you can use by combining them. The most powerful mindsets emerge when you combine opposing ones. These are the meta-skills which you learn and develop as part of the process of becoming a capable and confident individual.

  • Analysis/”Ice”: differentiating ideas; exploring limitations by noticing patterns, tracking likely relationships of cause and effect, and logically isolating different aspects of concepts. Opposite of synthesis.
  • Synthesis/”Fire”: blending ideas; exploring possibilities by combining aspects of different experiences as inspiration; imagining what could be. Opposite of analysis.
  • Organization/”Electricity”: distributing attention; keeping many details in mind in order to prioritize goals and optimize the use of available resources to achieve those goals; allocating assets efficiently. Opposite of operation.
  • Operation/”Water”: focusing attention; developing an intuition for a type of situation through practice; moving and performing gracefully by unifying experience with knowledge and intent with control; entering the “flow state”. Opposite of organization.
  • Strategy/”Earth”: fortifying paths; allocating resources to address contingencies and weak points in order to create robust plans and structures; foresight. Combination of analysis and organization; opposite of tactics.
  • Tactics/”Wind”: twisting paths; combining and applying resources to access their potential in creative ways, to overcome perceived limitations and accomplish goals either never considered or simply assumed to be impossible; cleverness. Combination of synthesis and organization; opposite of strategy.
  • Semantics/”Light”: simplifying interactions; developing an intuition for the use of algorithms, labels, and lexicons in order to project a set of assumptions onto a situation, calculate what limits apply, and articulate the parameters for a solution; moving within paradigms. Combination of analysis and operation; opposite of empathy.
  • Empathy/”Darkness”: individualizing interactions; using imagination and exploration to develop an intuition for systems that can change subtly and suddenly; forming bonds with systems and creating impressions to lead them to alter their behavior; moving between paradigms. Combination of synthesis and operation; opposite of semantics.

As you have no doubt picked up, these mindsets are themed on different elemental abilities. The element metaphors are to help people to remember the roles of the mindsets, what aspects of reality they deal with, what they can do, and how they work, and to better appreciate their use by others and themselves. No matter what physical capabilities a person has, these mindsets and their practice will always be relevant and a primary factor in assuring their success. The elemental metaphors also reflect the fact that I am a huge geek.

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There are many more Elements, and each one has a full functional definition of what it does, how it works, and why its particular element theme is metaphorically appropriate. The above are the most fundamental and most important ones, though. Without basic proficiency in the above mindsets, a person will find their goals much more difficult, if not outright unattainable.

Any plan to change the world will require people (including you) to develop skill with these mindsets, because only then can you develop the power to find ways of fulfilling your desires without sacrificing others on your behalf, and to help others fulfill theirs without sacrificing more than you can spare.

How will we help people learn these mindsets and master their desires? The current version of the plan is as follows.

The Plan

You may have noticed that most if not all lessons given to people fall under one of two categories: abstract, where a person is told about various helpful ideas and paradigms (e.g. this blog post), and concrete, where a person is taught a specific procedure or technique. The first often omits the way to implement the advice, or gives a starting point for practicing but doesn’t provide guidance or calibration. (To be fair, it often cannot, because an article or lecturer cannot give people individual feedback.) The second omits any way to learn similar techniques independently, and if a person does not happen to have the correct mindset for the technique, it does not work very well.

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The most effective way to help people learn, it seems, would be to combine the concrete practice and calibration of a specific skill with the abstract principles of the mindset involved. Not only will they reinforce each other, but people will learn how to learn, and be better able to solve their own problems later by applying the mindset to learn more skills. Instead of having a subset of the teacher’s skills, they have the tools to surpass them, if they put the effort in. Instead of being given a fish, or even learning how to fish, they will become people who could have invented fishing. This process, then, is what we must develop for society.

Without further ado, here is the plan:

  1. Identify something a person is struggling with or some goal that they have and ask them if they would like help with that aspect of their life.
  2. If they accept help, identify the mindsets (Elements) that the person will need in order to make their goal work or to at least become more satisfied with that area of their life, and to sustain the success or satisfaction with their own power.
  3. Review with the person the basics of how those mindsets work.
  4. Do some research with the person on the specific knowledge the goal will require.
  5. Acquire some basic knowledge together, and work with the person to demonstrate how to apply the mindsets to the knowledge.
  6. Have the person continue the research and using the mindsets independently.
  7. Check in regularly with the person in order to listen to them explain what they’ve been learning (which helps them internalize it), to make sure they’re making good use of the mindset, to encourage them in their efforts and struggles, and to learn more about how the mindset can be used.

The expected result is that people will be more skilled and confident, enough so to help other people rather than feeling compelled to take from them. Each person who can generate more value than they take for themselves makes for a more harmonious world, especially if they can pass on what they learn.

However, because people don’t always have a specific goal in mind, you need a holding pattern. No institution or relationship can survive if it cannot withstand having nothing to react to. A good holding pattern to practice helping people is to listen to people talk about something that interests them, and learn about it while withholding judgment. If you don’t think what they do or how they think makes sense, try to understand it more, because even if you’re right, you will at least learn why they think it makes sense. Learning about the thought processes of other people is essential for making a difference in the world, which is why we need concepts like Sins, Elements, and many more that I have cataloged and will describe in future posts.

…Yes, the plan is to life coach the entire world. It may not be sufficient to change the world for the better, but it is absolutely necessary. The world cannot improve if people keep living in the same paradigms they’ve been using for millennia. As the famous quote attributed to Einstein goes, you can’t solve a problem with the same level of thinking that created it in the first place. Thinking errors cause most of the problems humans currently face, or prevent us from solving the ones they don’t cause, so they need to go before we can hope to accomplish anything constructive.

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Since you stayed until the end, you are probably very interested in this goal. Are you interested enough to participate? You can dip a toe in by sharing this blog with everyone you know. If you’d like to do more, definitely contact me, and we can find ways for you to change the world.