Element Expansion Pack


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


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


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


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


Explosion Element (between Fire and Wind): Explosion Element is the Element of radicality, and it combines synthesis and tactics to open possibilities that you may not have otherwise considered using the resources you have at hand. Implementing these possibilities may cost more than the more conventional alternatives. The influence of organization’s efficiency on tactics is downplayed in favor of emphasizing the creativity of synthesis. The primary principle is expanding your awareness of what is possible. Doing so entails removing constraints which are so familiar as to be implicitly assumed, but which hold you back from considering all your options. Doing so allows you to achieve results that appear impossible to others. Sometimes an idea that radicality mindset comes up with does improve efficiency, but at the cost of something else. Increasing efficiency in general means balancing various priorities, while radicality is more about making it possible to achieve a single objective using all the resources at hand. 

This mindset can be used to deal with emergency situations, when there is one top priority and all others can be sacrificed. However, it can be used at any time in order to create unprecedented situations to demolish or bypass obstacles, to set things in motion, or to introduce an entertaining change of pace, among other purposes. It’s important to note that radicality can make you aware of untapped potential, but you still get to decide whether it is worth the price to unleash. (It is usually best to consult other mindsets when making such a decision. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.) 

Even more so than other tactics-related mindsets, radicality mindset opens up possibilities of both success and failure when its ideas are implemented. These solutions use as few constraints as possible, discarding efficiency and robustness along with other situational priorities. Such is the fee for doing the impossible. “For a price you never thought you’d pay, Explosion Element finds a way.” 

One example of the use of radicality mindset is a castaway stranded on a desert island deciding to burn a jacket in order to send a signal fire to a passing ship, thus destroying a long-term asset by using it for an unintended purpose that will hopefully obviate the need for it anyway. Another use of radicality might be realizing you can overclock a device or vehicle to boost its performance at the risk of damaging it over the long term. However, not all uses of radicality are destructive. An artist might choose to create sculptures out of discarded metal and shards of ceramic plates, putting material at hand to a use that is not immediately obvious to most people. (Using rubbish for more functional purposes falls under salvage mindset, as it has an emphasis on robustness.) 

Radicality mindset is themed on explosions because of the thematic connection to fire and wind, and because explosions are all about releasing potential and breaking through limitations, despite at great cost and with great risk. However, this Element also encompasses the theme of rocket propulsion, making situations more dynamic and allowing you to aim for heights and destinations previously out of reach. 

Smoke Element


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.


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.



  • Explosion Element in this article was updated from the old version on 3/15/20. You can view the change in the Changelog.
  • The image for Aura Element in this article was updated from the old version on 3/15/20. You can view the change in the Changelog.

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.


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.