Lessons by Mars, vol. 1: “What I did wrong today at Jiu-Jitsu class”

I’d like to introduce a new series called “Lessons by Mars” (Mars being the god of war, hence the term martial arts) where I share little nuggets of martial wisdom that I happen to pick up at class, during a fight, watching an altercation, listening to a master, sparring with a friend, and so on. It’s probably not going to get technical – videos are a more appropriate method for showing technical stuff – but philosophical.

So, what did I do wrong today at Jiu-Jitsu class? I mistook the will to win for overcommitment, and so I did not commit sufficiently.

I’m new to Jiu-Jitsu: I started training when I lost my first (and only) two MMA fights, due to the fact that I lost both of them on the floor. And since any technique that is good enough to beat me once is good enough to learn myself, I decided that I must improve (read: learn anything at all) my ground game.

Fight is aggression. Fight is emotion. Fight is anger and determination. Fight is wishing to hurt someone. A martial art teaches one to fight. Any martial art that ignores the reality of fighting is missing the point of its existence. And the saying goes: “You don’t rise to the occasion, you fall to the level of your training”. Thus, we must make acquaintance with violence if we are to get better at performing violence.

I come to class. We warm up. We drill technique. We roll. At the warm up, I warm up. During technique, I am relaxed and precise, trying to do the technique correctly, getting it in my muscle memory. But, during rolling, I try to win, or at least survive.

Now, with such a fighting mindset, rolls are not technical, nice, and flowy. They are ugly and messy and I’m not trying to do new stuff, but I’m trying to choke or lock in the fastest, most efficient way. I am trying to win.

We are often told to relax, to roll more playfully, more flexible, not being stiff. This is sound advice. However, my bad tendency is to mistake relaxation and flexibility and not overcommitting with limpness, with not trying to win, with not putting up a fight. A real fight does not look like that. In a real fight, you try your very best to win. You try your very best to survive. You don’t let someone catch an armbar. You don’t let someone get on your back.

There is a a world of difference when a black belt gives up his back and when a white belt does the same thing. They are both relaxed at that moment, true. But the black belt can allow himself to make a deliberate mistake just so that he can get out of a funny spot. The white belt should be more careful and more humble.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have just positional sparring, or flowing technical sparring where the point is explicitly not to win, but to try new stuff. These are things that are valuable, but I feel that, at least for me, it is important to also do the fighting sparring; the “I want to win” sparring; the “I want to hurt you sparring”. armbar

Do not be stiff, but be fast and decisive.

Do not overcommit to something, but try your best to win.

Let go of that armbar if you know you’ll never in a thousand years be able to finish it, but don’t lose the
fighting will.

That’s what I need to do. How about you?

The metaphors of life you have are the only thing you have in life 

Recently, I overheard a conversation on the bus. Two girls were talking about how difficult it was for them to live with their parents now that they go to college. They said that their parents seemed more crazy every day because now they (the girls) were more mature and spent less time home. One girl talked about how her mother calls her every morning before she goes to class and asks her if she ate, gets her reply (“No, I’m not hungry.”) and then starts complaining on the phone: “You have to eat before class. You cannot not eat, it’s important that you eat.” And then she said to her friend how sad her parents seem now, and how she calls her mom here and there, asks her what she’s doing and gets a lethargic, sad report along the lines of: “Well… *sigh*… Nothing. You know. The usual. Your dad and I, we’re home, in the kitchen.” It seems that her parents spend most of their days now sitting in the kitchen, occasionally talking to one another, without much to say, more or less bored and lethargic and sad.

The girl was annoyed/incredulous that they lead their existence in such a way, but didn’t feel like she could help them and just felt kind of… sorry for them.

This conversation got me thinking about how her parents must see their lives as opposed to how certain other people see life, which reminded me of maybe the most valuable lesson I learned during my college education, something that was mentioned as a standard part of the Semantics class, and to which nobody seemed to be freaking out, or at least find it revolutionary, or even interesting: HUMANS UNDERSTAND LIFE THROUGH METAPHOR.

Everything in your life is a metaphor

Metaphors like “Life is an ocean” or “Love is a flower” or “Man is a wolf” are not just poetic devices. They are not just to be used in literature, as a nice and innovative way to compare things. We very literally think IN METAPHOR. We actually conceptualize the world around us using other things we already know. Lakoff and Johnson have a fine paper on this, if anyone wants to read it (at least read the examples so you get the picture).

We think in metaphor and we talk in metaphor. And we see our own lives in metaphor. You will have very different attitudes and do different things if you view your life as a train journey, opposed to your life being a wild, vast ocean. You could have many more metaphors. Maybe you see yourself as a wildfire, burning bright and consuming everything around you, becoming greater and greater. And maybe you see yourself as a forest: you provide wood, food, shelter to those in need, and you are deep, mysterious, and not easily traversed and known.


You will do different things!

Someone that sees themselves as a lion will not do the same thing that see themselves as a miner stuck in a mine (I’ve heard both).

A lion will take risks, a lion will be aggressive, a lion will be territorial, a lion will be spontaneous and will be “true to himself” (whatever that may be), a lion will be a leader, a lion will not flinch from drawing blood, a lion will enter conflicts, a lion will fight, a lion will see other lions as competition, and everybody else will be seen as gazelle (inferior, food source).

Do you see how differently this person behaves in life than a miner stuck in a mine?

A miner stuck in a mine sees a hole through which light shines, but he is currently surrounded by darkness. This miner has to be slow, methodological and consistent. He cannot take stupid risks because he will die. He must slowly and carefully dig day in and day out, being meticulous, being diligent. He must work hard every day, and every day that hole is a bit bigger, and every day he is a bit closer to the light, and every day he comes closer to his goal.

Lions will make different choices in the same situations as miners. Our metaphors of life and of ourselves are the only thing we have in life.

It is possible to think about your life in more than one way, of course. Maybe you are sometimes a lion, sometimes an unmovable mountain, sometimes a card-player, sometimes a mysterious forest.

The parents of the girl from the beginning of this text certainly don’t see themselves as two wildfires, quick to consume everything on their path, becoming greater and burning brighter every day. More likely they see themselves as beds, or homes, or cradles. wildfireHow different (and probably more interesting) their lives would be if only they saw themselves in another metaphor! Instead of being a (currently unused) home for their children, why not see themselves as heroes and wizards, slaying dragons and searching for magical powers? They would not sit idly in the kitchen, leading a bored existence, and their daughter would not see them as flowers that need her care and attention.

It makes a lot of sense to pay special attention to your metaphors of life and self. You really will make different choices, depending on how you see yourself and life, as well as others around you.

Metaphors in rhetoric

Different metaphors of life are often the reason why some people absolutely cannot understand each other. Sometimes changing someone’s perspective is as simple as giving them a different metaphor (doesn’t have to be true): “What do you mean refugees are going to destroy this country? (person has metaphor of country as something pure, untainted) This land is a complex organism, and yes, we might be a little shaken up by something new, but when you get sick from one disease, you get an immunity to it, and then you’re stronger than before! (person now sees refugees as something that will strengthen the country instead of weakening it)”

Of course, it is not always so simple, but it is surprising how strongly swayed people will be. Inception, that’s what it is. You’ve planted a different picture in their heads now, and they cannot get rid of it. Maybe they still won’t change their opinion, but this is a formidable tactic in rhetoric. (Be extra careful not to get caught with it yourself; false analogy is an enemy).

What are the metaphors of your life? Are you a mysterious forest? Are you a noble knight? Is your life a journey or is it an ocean? Are your fellow men wolves or sheep?

Don’t simply find out what your metaphors are. Try to think critically about them. How do they influence you? Would you like to make different choices, lead a different lifestyle, but you cannot because your metaphor stops you?

Leave a comment.

Or don’t, if you’re a mysterious forest. Go listen to some Lana del Rey.

How to deal with people: Power-seekers and bossy assholes

Becoming Overhuman is a difficult path to follow in life. The constant effort to improve yourself, the relentless attention to the world around, always analyzing more, always thinking one step ahead, searching for truth and power – actually, the metaphor “path” is not a good one. It is more like an infinite staircase, and you’re carrying 200 kg on your shoulders, and every five steps you take four steps backwards, and on every third step there is a puzzle you cannot solve unless you read 2 new books, but the books are in languages you don’t speak, and you have to push through people that are physically trying to stop you from going up. But, at least you do not go alone and you have company and fun, which is a good thing.

In this slow ascension there are also people that make your life more difficult than other people. Stupid people, aggressive people, authoritative people, and more – and their intricate combinations like stupid-authoritative. In this series, “How to deal with people”, I explore what you can do when you come in contact with such people.

I would like to mention in advance that the general rule may well be “Just leave”, but this kind of advice is simply not applicable all the time. What if you can’t leave? What if you don’t want to leave? It is a bad idea to relinquish your goals simply because you happen to get some opposition. Obstacles are meant to be passed, not avoided, and sometimes you get human obstacles.

In this episode, we will  dive in the world of power-seekers and bossy assholes.

I rarely get in contact with these people but sometimes I do. They are bossy and authoritative, and tell you what to do either implicitly or explicitly. They are masters of unsolicited advice and they always leave you feeling like you lost. In other words, they seek to be in a position of power over you. They want to assert their dominance, show that they are the alpha, make it clear that you are submitted to them.

This means that they will use the imperative mode to tell you what you should do, and when not doing this, they will try to make themselves look superior to you in other ways. They will want to handle things and they will not ask for your permission in things that other people normally would. They will probably have initiative to perform various tasks, which potentially makes them valuable, but they will still have to be submitted (more on this later). Every single member of this group that I came across in my life has been male and possessed the image of a “tough guy” and usually had some sort of leadership role (trainer, company boss, …) Now, it is a mystery to me if it is their leadership role that causes them to overextend it to other areas of life, or if they simply seek such positions of power because they are naturally attracted to them. Whatever the case may be, in my experience male tough leader types will have great potential to fall into this category. (I do not care to guess if they are deeply insecure or not; this type of psychoanalysis seems to me to be guesswork, not testable, prediction-generating hypotheses… “If you can explain either outcome, you have zero knowledge.“)

Some of the more common things you may expect with such people are:

  • Pranks and jokes on your expense, with no possibility of rebuttal: they can make fun of you, but they do not laugh if you do the same to them: they get serious and either shut up and simply look at you in a semi-angry way, or they openly tell you to shut up in some way (“You shouldn’t be saying such things.”; “I suggest you watch what you’re saying”; and other “friendly” advice).
  • Undermining your authority (if you are in a position of authority), regardless of functionality: sometimes you have to undermine someone’s authority, but not for its own sake but in order to do something better. These people will intentionally undermine your position of authority not because there is anything to improve, but because you are in a position of authority, and they want to take you down.
  • Implications of superiority: they will make passing comments where, if you think deeply about it, they put themselves in a superior position to you. For example, they might say that they let you win sometimes (if you do some competitive activity with them) so that you may learn something.
  • Unsolicited advice and “I’ll teach you”-attitude: They’ll give you advice you didn’t ask for and that you didn’t need (which might not mean much by itself; some genuinely well-meaning people will do the same, but with these people you will have a distinct feeling that the advice isn’t only there to help you, it is there to affirm their position of power).

Why these people do so I do not know, but it is annoying and potentially hindering to some of your progress. The thing is, you can’t really ignore them but at the same time, what they do is so subtle that you can’t call them out on it. This puts you in the stupid position of having to play the game against them while you could be spending time doing something more useful. But there is no use in complaining that you have to perform you duty – you simply do what is necessary and don’t complain.

So, what may you do when faced with people that try to one-up you, demonstrate that they are more powerful and affirm their superiority?

There are many avenues of approach. We have already mentioned simply going away as one possibility, but this is not something that you will want to do all the time. Perhaps you cannot or will not for some reason go away, and you need to take care of this person. If you chose to do so, you will have to play a game of power with them. Eventually, you will have to submit them: demonstrate that you are superior to them and the sooner you do so, the better off you will be.

I understand that you do not want to do this thing. However ugly it may be, I find that it is necessary. It seems to me that it is more than just difficult to create a relationship of equality with these people; I find that it is impossible, because the drive for domination is so deeply seated that most are not mindful enough to perceive it, especially real-time (everything is easy in hindsight). In some people, this drive is stronger, and some people seem to be lacking it altogether. I think that all have some degree of it, and those that have more of it must restrain it more. I speak from my own experience, for I was once myself such a fool, and have to periodically revisit the lessons I have been taught. Entropy is human; to revert to old and natural states of mind is usual. If you do not keep the fridge plugged in to a source of electricity, it will revert to room temperature. If you do not keep yourself from being an asshole, you will revert to being an asshole. I honestly do my best to keep myself in check and I think I am doing fine. Well… At least I have first hand experience (zeroth hand?) with these people.

So. Instead of trying to create a relationship of equality, you will have to submit them. You have to demonstrate power because power is the only thing these people respect. If you do so, you may have a chance of building an egalitarian relation; if you do not, they will continue to dominate. How do you demonstrate power?

Now… Here we come to the intricate details of handling these people. I believe the appropriate mindset for this is playful: simply do these techniques in a playful manner; observe how their facial expression changes, how they become less secure of themselves, how the balance of power tips, how anxious they suddenly become. Think of it as a funny game, benevolently toying with someone’s mind. (If you do not have this playful attitude you might start to take it altogether too seriously, which is never a good thing.)

The principle to observe is…

Brain beats brawn and brawn beats brain. But sometimes brain beats brain and brawn beats brawn. Best is that both brain and brawn beat their brain and brawn.

If you are dealing with a person that is physically superior to you in some way (the stereotypical way is size and strength of muscle), you can either beat them at their own game (be better at what they are currently better, in this case get bigger and stronger) or beat them where they are weak. In my personal experience, with such leader-tough guy males, you do the stupidest possible thing – honestly, this is so stupid that I get ashamed for doing it, but it’s very effective – you say big words.

That’s it. If you want, you can not only say big words, but talk about subjects they are not knowledgeable in, like quantum physics or political philosophy, but simply saying words like inference, transhumanism, quintessence, double-blind study, existentialist or singularity will be more than enough.

Take a look at this sentence and think about it.

And now, observe this sentence and contemplate it.

“Look” and “think” are practically the same as “observe” and “contemplate”, but for a stereotypical alpha male that prizes his brawn, they will come as a shock; a challenge to their superiority: “How can this beta speak these words? Words are knowledge; knowledge is witchcraft; witchcraft is power: this is a man I will have to respect more than I used to.” Naturally, this will not register consciously – if it would, then they would already be aware of their tendencies and we would not have a problem. But regardless, they will feel less certain around you for they will see that they do not know all you know, and however strong or big they may be, there will always be a little nagging uncertainty in the back of their mind. They will be challenged.

Now, you may be thinking that this is so stupid that it would never work. It is, of course, up to you to try it. Maybe the person dominating you is genuinely not so dumb as to be impressed with big words: this makes it a bit harder, but at least they’re not an absolute idiot, and I feel glad for them. Maybe you’ll not be able to simply use big words instead of simple ones. In this case, you will actually have to be smarter than your opponent, not just more eloquent. You will have to be more knowledgeable about a subject and then talk about this subject. You will have to refer to transhumanist ideas, you will have to mention Tegmark duplicate worlds, you will have to speak of languages being more or less analytic or synthetic. The more you know, the more guns you have.

It should not come as a surprise that all this is also a warning to you: YOU will also find people that try to do the same thing to you. Depending on the level these power-seekers operate on, they might try to use some of the techniques mentioned here. I know I’ve had at least one person trying to use big words to impress and assert dominance.

Or, if your opponent is the mental kind, you might want to submit him with the power of your body. You might demonstrate a difficult physical feat like a backflip, or move a heavy object, or run faster and jump higher than they do. There is something to be said about physical demonstrations of power. When you see someone do 50 push ups in a row, or do a backflip or something like that, and you are the type of person that wishes to assert dominance, some primal part of you will bow in respect. There is a reason why the coolest kid in the class is the guy that can do the backflip. It is a stupid reason, of course, but it is still a reason.

To recap: you will have to either physically or mentally (or both) overpower the person that is trying to submit you. However, be mindful of this thing: do not become who they are simply because you’re handling them. The abyss gazing into you and all that stuff. Remember that you are simply playing a game: you do not truly wish to dominate them; that is what they do. You toy with their stupid, primal, apelike desires – but you do not share them. Do not become an asshole in the process of fighting assholes. It is very easy to screw this up, so be extra mindful of it.

I’ve already mentioned that you should not nod your head when these people speak. By the same token, you should not follow their conversational leads: if they wish to speak about a certain thing, change the subject back to something you wish to speak about. If they wish to joke, do not share the initiative, remain serious. If they wish to speak seriously, do not accept the invitation, keep it humorous. Whenever they try to change to conversation, you take control of it again and steer it where you wish, not where they intend to. These people will occasionally implicitly or explicitly ask you to agree with something they said. However hard it may be, do not give silent consent, do not give consent of any kind, do not acknowledge what they say. Go out of your way to criticize their arguments if the arguments are flawed, and give them no leeway to start changing the subject. Keep in mind that these are men that are not Bayesian rationalists: they try to win, not to learn, and so they must be either ignored/avoided or defeated entirely if you are to interact with them. Arguments will not sway them; good rhetoric will. Good rhetoric can be accompanied with good, rational arguments (as it should be, always), but keep in mind that you’re dirtying your hands every time you use rhetoric instead of plain English and probability mathematics. (Sometimes you need to punch people in the face, and sometimes you need to use rhetoric. Just don’t forget that it is not who you really are.)

You may be the sort of person that gives other people compliments, or put yourself underneath others (“Wow, you’re really strong, I’ll have to train more to keep up with you”, “Dude, you’re too smart, can you recommend some books to me?”). You maybe do so because you are kind, or maybe it is a calculated move based on studies in psychology. Whatever it may be, mind that doing this with one-uppers and authoritative jerks simply strengthens them. They should not be given compliments, their accomplishments should not be lauded and the most important thing of all, you should never, ever, ever put yourself beneath them in any way, even in the most honest and simple ones like “Wow, you speak so many languages, that’s so impressive, I speak only two.” With normal people, yes, why not. I always do this. I am genuinely impressed with some people and feel that it is right to compliment good achievements. When someone does something well – why not say “good job” or even “you do this thing so much better than I do”? But these power-seekers will take every compliment you give them as a sign of weakness, not kindness. They will project themselves over you, not be thankful of your recognition. Don’t handle them like you would handle other people. Give them no word of praise. Give them no acknowledgement.

I hope I’ve provided something of use and I hope that you will try out these techniques with assholes in your life you can’t avoid.

Do you have assholes in your life? How do you interact? What do they say to you? Leave a comment and share your story with the rest of us.

Effortlessness: key to mastery

I’ve been thinking about mastery. To become the master of something, you obviously need to spend a lot of dedicated time with that certain activity (some 10000 hours), learn from those that are better than you are and just be consistent in your training. This applies to cooking, football, Photoshop, BJJ, whatever.

But when you say to yourself “I want to be a master of X”, you’re essentially saying a non-actionable statement. It doesn’t actually mean anything – you’re saying “I want to be really, really good at X” but you’re not saying anything about how it is that you’re going to do it.

In other words, identifying the components of mastery is very important. I have identified one: effortlessness. (I haven’t yet read the book Mastery by Robert Greene but I suppose I will find this insight in it also.)

I’ll try to illustrate this with two Parkour videos:



Okay, so, aside from the edit of the second video, what is the main difference between the two?

If you say age, you’re right, most of the practitioners in the second video really are younger than the guy in the first video. But it’s not even that: it’s how easy he moves compared to the most of the guys from the second video. (Guys from the second video, I’m not trying to bash you, don’t take this too personally, I’m just trying to make a point.)

You see? The difference that makes him a master is that he moves more easily than they do. In other words, if you stop asking the question “What can I do to become a master?” and start asking the question “What can I do to move so easily?”, then you get much more actionable answers: learn to connect jumps and use your own momentum. That’s it. Even if you don’t get any stronger (and don’t increase your vertical or horizontal jump), if you get really good at using your own momentum and connecting the jumps, you’ll move like a master does. EVEN if you’re not stretchy or strong, and everything except connecting the jumps and using momentum stays the same. So easiness, effortlessness is what you’re after if you want to be a master.

Does this apply to the world outside of Parkour? I think it does. It is, in its essence, the idea of Tao, or the Way. The Way is when you do things with ease, be it personal finance, executing a jump, tackling somebody to the ground or cooking a fine meal. Note that ease doesn’t mean sloppiness: the results are always good, it is simply that you don’t seem to make any serious effort for them to happen. You’ve probably said this at some point :”It just seems so… easy when you do it.” You want to find things specific to your skill that will produce this effect of looking easy when you do it. For Parkour it is connecting jumps and using momentum. For MMA it might be switching from stand-up to ground game and back. For violin it might be how you hold it on your shoulder. Every skill has its own thing that, if you get good at it, you’ll achieve general effortlessness and that will mean mastery.

Powerless and powerful

I just listened to Tim Ferriss’ podcast with Tony Robbins and Peter Diamandis and this inspired me to write.

Do you know how powerful you are?

I’m not talking good looking, smart or strong. Do you know how POWERFUL you are?

Yes, you, the reader. You who are looking at these words at this very moment.

Do you feel powerful? You should. Because you and I are indeed very powerful people. How can I explain this? Let’s try this one: do you have a smartphone? (Or a tablet, or a computer of any kind). It is highly likely that you do. Most people do, anyway. If you don’t, in all likelihood, you have access to one, so it is practically the same thing.

You, with your smartphone in hand, are a fearsome force. You are so powerful that you literally have the combined knowledge and effort of the entire human species from day one – in your hand. And you have a brain and a body that can use literally EVERYTHING IMPORTANT the entire human species has ever found out. Take a second and reflect on this a bit. You, a human, have in your hand everything important that has ever been found out since many thousands of years ago. You have it. It is yours to use.

Doesn’t it sound absolutely crazy and amazing when you look at it from that perspective? It doesn’t sound like us at all! If I told you a riddle in the beginning that said: “I am something that can know everything that has ever been found out – within seconds. What am I?”, you wouldn’t have answered “me.” Because you don’t see yourself like that. You don’t see yourself as a thing that has so much power. You would have maybe answered “artificial superior intelligence” or “God”. But damn it, it is you! It is so obvious that we can do this, so why do so many of us feel so powerless all the time?

Why do we feel that “have to” do this, that we have to do that? You know that feeling when you would really not want to do something, but you feel like you have to, and despite you not wanting to do it, you do it? We’ve all been there, and there is nothing new in that feeling. People have been feeling like that since… well, since there have been people. The problem is that we keep feeling like that, and this problem is explained by two things: understanding and habits.

First, you simply don’t understand that you are practically an omniscient deity. You don’t understand that you are something that can know everything that has ever been found out. Nobody informed you that every choice in your life is your choice; every decision yours. You simply haven’t been told. But this is a relatively easy problem to remedy. I’m telling you right now, and I’ve told you before, and in all probability, you have heard it from some other people.

Or you understand it, perhaps, but you do not feel it. You know that you have superpowers, but you don’t feel them. You know that you can fly, but you have no idea how to go about it. Everyone has their triggers, things that make them feel their own power; I’ve heard that Tony Robbins and Dan Pena make you understand AND feel your power. My trigger was different: I read HPMOR and I got saturated by Voldemort’s character and something clicked. This was the sentence that simply turned everything around for me:

“… And since I have a tremendous distaste for stupidity, I suggest you do not say anything like ‘What do you mean?’ You are smarter than that, and I do not have time for such conversations as ordinary people inflict on one another.”

I don’t know why exactly this sentence or this character. I don’t like Voldemort as a person, and the HPMOR Voldemort is the scariest person I could imagine.

But there is something in this absolute disregard for “conversations as ordinary people inflict on one another”. HE SIMPLY DOESN’T CARE.

HE is the active agent in his life.

HE is the main role in the movie about his life.

HE is the main character.

He understands that he has power. He does precisely what he wants to, and he never does what he doesn’t want to do. If his circumstances prevent him from doing something, he doesn’t whine about it, but adapts so as to do something else he wants to do. He knows he can fly, feels that he can fly, and flies.

What do the most of us do instead? We make excuses for not doing the things we want to do. We whine about not doing something and we whine about doing something else. I really don’t like whining.  Complaining is the great enemy of man. It is a waste of time, a waste of energy, doesn’t bring anything productive, doesn’t produce happiness, doesn’t do ANYTHING. It is a waste, a terrible waste. Read this article.



Don’t ever complain, ever! If you can do something, DO IT! If you can’t, then don’t! Just don’t complain. This is the part with habits. You have to break your poor mental habits and build good new ones. Make it a habit of knowing that you’re powerful, feeling that you’re powerful and being powerful.

That an almost-all-knowing god can behave in any other way is… unacceptable.

Lessons learned from “The Invitation” (2015)

You probably already know my stance on fiction in general: it teaches invaluable lessons otherwise not taught. I recently saw a new movie called “The Invitation” and decided to write about it because it has so many valuable lessons for an aspiring Overhuman. So, here it is.


Okay, so, the movie is incredible on several different levels, but I will only comment aspects of it that relate to the topic of Overhumanity. The technical aspects of it, the impressive camera and editing – not my specialty, even though I do appreciate it.

What is my specialty, or, better said, what do I want my specialty to be? It would be knowing things and being able to do things. Especially when there is danger.

The plot goes like this: Will is invited to a dinner party by his ex-wife whom he hasn’t seen for two years after some tragic event transpired. There are his friends that he also hasn’t seen for two years. He brings along his new girlfriend, Kira. From the moment he enters the house he previously lived in, he starts to feel unsafe. Everything is off, somehow. All the doors are locked and windows are barred. There are 3 people that he doesn’t know: his ex-wife’s new husband, and two friends of theirs. They, including his ex-wife, are in some religious cult that teaches that death isn’t something to be afraid of and that we should accept it.

As the evening goes, more and more weird shit starts to happen. For each weird shit, there is an individual reason that is plausible. First lessons: when there is a series of weird incidents, their individual reasons might be plausible, but the fact that there are so many weird incidents in a row is highly unlikely without some overarching reason. In other words, if you notice that the windows are barred, the doors are locked, your hosts are in a death accepting cult, one of the invited people are missing, there is a shitload of phenobarbitals in a drawer… Yeah, sure, some individual reasons may apply. Hell, all of these things could be (and have been, in the movie) explained by individual, plausible reasons. Yet it is highly unlikely that they happen in such a cluster without a general reason that includes them all.

People will try to rationalize things and find reasons that are plausible, but if there is a sequence of unusual events, there should be an explanation for the sequence, not for the individual events themselves.

Going on to probably the most important lesson of the movie: trust your gut when it yells danger! No, seriously! I’m totally for not trusting our instincts in many different things; after all, we are cognitively biased creatures, and we often make miscalculations and appraise things poorly. But when it comes to danger, I believe that you MUST trust your instinct, even if it turns out to be a false positive. If you don’t feel yourself to be safe, do not ignore this feeling, don’t just put it away. Never ignore your instinct of danger.

Moving to another related lesson: don’t be uncomfortable with uncomfortable social situations. If there is peer pressure around you to do something you really don’t want to do, do not do it. If you are expected to nod your head politely even though you feel like your life is in danger, say something. If you are expected to stay at a dinner party where there are some seriously alarming things happening, go. Just fucking go man!


Here’s a little story that I read once and it immediately stuck with me (bold added by me for emphasis):

“You’re in a hallway waiting for an elevator late at night. Elevator door opens, and there’s a guy inside, and he makes you afraid. You don’t know why, you don’t know what it is. Some memory of this building — whatever it may be. And many women will stand there and look at that guy and say, ‘Oh, I don’t want to think like that. I don’t want to be the kind of person who lets the door close in his face. I’ve got to be nice. I don’t want him to think I’m not nice.’ And so human beings will get into a steel soundproof chamber with someone they’re afraid of, and there’s not another animal in nature that would even consider it.”

Can you imagine a cat do this shit? Cat would be like “GTFO, I ain’t getting inside there homie. Cat don’t care.”

They’re animals. They don’t give a fuck. They don’t have fear of socially uncomfortable situations. They will not enter a steel soundproof box with something that makes them afraid. We will, because our social awkwardness will override our instinctive fear. This is extremely stupid.

You don’t need to justify your feeling of danger. That’s something that’s yours and whatever your group is pushing you to do – don’t do it if you’re feeling endangered.

Okay, now a more abstract principle. I’ve previously written on resimplification or how, given time, everything reverts to simple things. This is a concept strongly tied to another concept I want to share with you, and that is taking a step outside and looking at the context. You will agree that this is too big an expression for a concept, so we’ll name it recontext.

What is recontext? It is when you say to yourself: “If I was looking at this situation from the outside, what would I notice? What would I think? What would I suspect?” For example, you’re walking out and you see a car crash in front of you. There are two people arguing. Recontext: “Has this been orchestrated for me? If not, how is it dangerous for me?” You take the exterior view of the situation, not your interior view. You go from FPS to RTS. You always ask yourself: “Is this intentional? Is somebody trying to manipulate me through this?”

If Will had simply asked himself this question: “How is this potentially dangerous for me?”, he might have done things differently in the movie. Instead, he feels unsafe, but it is not an explored notion in his head. What would you do if you were your own enemy? How would you think?

Then: finish your theories. For Christ’s sake, if you are already not going along with your gut instinct and getting the hell out of there, why are you simply saying to people “something dangerous is happening here”. Why? I mean, think about it from the perspective of the enemy. If they witness you say “something dangerous is happening here”, they will know that you know. And they will adjust their actions accordingly. For fuck’s sake, don’t tell your enemy that you know what he’s up to! If you’re not getting the hell out of there (as you should), then at least be smart enough to finish your theory. Let this entire process fold out in your mind: “I notice I feel unsafe. -Why? -I have noticed small details that are off-putting. Each can be explained for itself, but I feel that all of them have some sort of connection. -Do you feel in danger? -Yes. -Who do you suspect danger coming from? -I don’t know… I suppose my hosts and their friends. The house is barred from entry or exit, but it doesn’t feel like it’s for safety reasons. -What do you know about them that makes you uneasy? -They are weirdly friendly, and they are in a cult that seeks to accept death. -Okay, ask yourself this now: ‘what would a person that wants to accept death, is in a cult, has barred windows and doors – what do they want from me?’ -Well, if you put it like that, the potential reason is obvious enough… To commit collective suicide. -In other words, your hosts seek your death. Your hosts are your enemies.”

Will does pretty good on most of these lessons, but he should be more decisive and less emotional.

Here’s another lesson, more subtle. When it turns out that Choi was actually safe and that he simply went to work and then returned, Will started doubting his own sense of reality, thinking that he was maybe being paranoid. This was exacerbated by the rest of the group who also considered him to be too paranoid. This is a strong pressure, and Will let it influence him to a certain extent. You have 1) the group telling you you’re crazy and 2) the proof that one specific thing you were saying indeed was wrong. You feel crushed, because you lost. You were wrong, they were right. That’s when you start thinking they may be right about other stuff too. WRONG. The fact that someone was right about one specific thing is only partially convincing – you still have unaddressed fears that have nothing to do with that specific thing. And furthermore, you still have your fear which you shouldn’t doubt and shouldn’t need any reason for. It will be extremely difficult for you to proceed to be vigilant (paranoid in the eyes of others) when you have once been proven wrong. However, do not let the group dictate your feeling of danger.

Have you seen The Invitation? Did you like it? What did you learn? Do you have a good movie with this much learning potential? Leave me a comment!

How to make people do things: legalists and technologists

There are two mindsets people assume when they wish to change a certain behavior, fix some human-related problem: the legalist and the technological. The legalist says:

  • we’ll institute a rule
  • if the rule isn’t obeyed, we will punish

It is assumed that people will find a way to obey the rule and change their habits. You might also see the addition of an incentive, so this becomes a punishment or reward type of thing.

On the other hand, the technologist mindset is more concerned with designing systems that cannot support a certain type of behavior. There is no punishment included; all is designed in such a way that the thing a legalist would punish – is simply impossible to do. That way, nobody does it.

The difference between these two mindsets is well illustrated in this picture:

philosophers meme

Source: The Philosopher’s Meme Facebook page

While the first two are rule-instituting (i.e. legalist), the third one is technological – it steps out of the usual discourse and solves the actual problem.

When you are trying to train a dog, you can either inflict punishment for bad behavior so that the dog stops doing it (and you even might be succesful) or you can do things in such a way that the dog cannot even begin to behave badly.

Sometimes it will be impossible to go for the technological solution because you will, for some reason, not want to change the circumstances. However, it is often just a habit of thought that prevents us from changing circumstances, instead of inflicting punishment. It is the conventional way of doing things, so everybody does it that way.

Try to see which other possibilities lie outside of rule-making, that can also solve the problem.