Comments on “Obstacles to the complete stance”



Brian Marick's picture

“one may naturally retract in shock” “React”? “Retreat”?


Dictionary says “intransitive verb: to draw or pull back.” Does that not make sense in context?

Or I guess if it seems odd, I will find a substitute…

What is being retracted

Brian Marick's picture

I don’t think of one retracting oneself, though Big Huge Thesaurus does include “recoil” as a synonym. (Which is, I guess the word I’d recommend.)

Obviously wrong

As always I’m completely on board with the substance of what you are saying, but some of the language rubs me the wrong way. I thought the whole point of stances is that (in contrast with beliefs) they can’t be right or wrong. But the first sentence says that the stances you’ve identified are not only right or wrong, but obviously so.

I suppose it’s a shorthand way to say “these stances don’t work very well, and cause unhappiness, confusion, and suffering”. But the “obviously wrong” I find jarring.

Maybe it’s the “obviously” more than the “wrong”. If confused stances were so obviously wrong, people wouldn’t adopt them, and you wouldn’t need to write a vast text explaining what’s wrong with them.

How to be less wrong

Ah, hmm, I thought the book was explicit early on that the confused stances are wrong in the sense of contradicting concrete everyday experience. For example here:

Attempts at denial also always fail, when the pattern of meaningness becomes obvious.

And here:

Why would anyone want to claim that everything is meaningful, or that everything is meaningless, defying our everyday experience that some things are meaningful and some not?

That second quote seems relevant to your objection here:

If confused stances were so obviously wrong, people wouldn’t adopt them, and you wouldn’t need to write a vast text explaining what’s wrong with them.

They are obviously wrong, and yet we do. That’s surprising and mysterious! Explaining how and why it happens, and what to do about it, is why a vast text is needed.


Yes, when you look at your larger text, it’s very clear on how you regard the confused stances. I’m honestly not sure why I felt called on to nitpick this particular bit of language. Don’t mean to be overly critical, that’s just how I engage with things.

Perhaps “obviously wrong” bugs me because while I sometimes use it myself, it’s not a very good phrase for communicating. What is obvious to me is not necessarily obvious to someone else, and vice-versa.

According to you though, the rightness of the complete stance is universally obvious, in the sense that everybody is already in it! . It’s a consequence of the basic nature of everyday experience, which we all share.

I like that, it’s very democratic. Elsewhere though you say that this knowledge is only granted to those at a particular stage of development:

We are always already walking on clouds, because there is no ground anywhere. There is only ever an illusion of ground—and once we are free of that illusion, vast new territories open up for exploration….This recognition is the midpoint, and the key, to the transition from stage 4 to stage 5.


This sounds maybe inconsistent? Or maybe I don’t understand the connection between stances and stages.

To go meta a bit: It’s been my experience reading your stuff that pretty much any criticism or question I can come up with is answered somewhere – but it’s not always easy to find where that is, even with all the very useful navigational aids you’ve built in. Maybe the problem is that the hypertext structure encourages dipping into random places and really it needs to be read with more focus, like a regular book.


it’s not a very good phrase for communicating

Yes I can see why it would get readers’ hackles up. Not sure how better to express this…?

This sounds maybe inconsistent?

Well, the idea is that it’s an unavoidably obvious fact of everyday experience, like your nose, but (due to the obstacles enumerated in TFA) it’s almost always overlooked, and its implications disregarded.

“The complete stance” means taking the inseparability of nebulosity and pattern fully into account, particularly in concrete, everyday life situations.

Meta-rationality” involves explicit reflection on the relationship between the patterns expressed in rational systems and the nebulosity of the circumstances in which they are applied. This is a specialized analog of the complete stance. It’s both “more advanced” in the sense that it requires deep understanding of systematic rationality, and narrower in that it doesn’t necessarily extend to recognizing the inseparability of nebulosity and pattern in other domains.

it’s not always easy to find

It certainly doesn’t help that (due primarily to repeated long-term interruptions to my writing process) most of the book is missing, and I post things as they get finished, and what gets finished when is mainly out of my control.

It’s meant to be a linear presentation, to read from beginning to end, which I hope would make it clear and easy to understand. After working on it for 15 years this possibility seems distant…

Rules, rulelessness, and metaruleness

David and mtraven,

My understanding is that the reason the complete stance can be both obvious and hard to maintain simultaneously comes down to the fact that life would generally be much simpler if one of the confused stances were correct. The complete stance requires you to be sensitive to context and judge each situation on its merits, whereas the confused stances come with predetermined narratives that each situation can be slotted into (and if they don’t fit very well, you make them fit).

I rewrote your first pgraph

I rewrote your first pgraph for you (but really more as a test of my own understanding, and I’m not sure I passed):

Confused stances are unworkable and we know they are unworkable – and yet we frequently adopt them. The complete stance works and is completely natural — and yet difficult even to notice. It seems invisible when needed.

Your explanation of meta-rationality as a specialized form of the complete stance makes sense to me.

Re: the incomplete work – even though I’m picking nits, in general I find your writing a model of clarity. And the intricate structure of the ideas is visible even though some of the text is yet to be written. I hope you can keep going through these weird and difficult times.

BTW I noticed three links broken (not just unwritten) on this page: “Curiosity, playfulness, and creativity are three aspects of that skill.”

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