The Third Circle

Previously: The First CircleThe Second Circle

Epistemic Status: Having one’s fill

The third circle took place at Luna Labs. After the second circle, the decision was made to bring in a professional. The New York rationalist group, together with several others in the Luna orbit, gathered at quite the swanky little space to form another group of about twenty. This time, one of the most experienced out there would be leading us. She did not lack for confidence.

As an introduction, the rules are again explained and we went around saying what we were reading lately. Speak your personal truth, no speculation, ask if you’re curious, stay in the moment, everything for connection and all that.

We began with a series of paired exercises. We stare into each others’ eyes. We say things we are feeling or sensing, and what we feel the other person is feeling, and what we feel about that and how accurate it was. We share about what our biggest problems are, and how we feel about that.

It illustrates a different mode of thinking, of what to pay attention to. It was interesting, engaging and quite pleasant.

It also demonstrated how easy it is to fool your brain into thinking you’re making a deep connection with someone, that there’s suddenly definitely a thing there, simply by holding eye contact with someone and paying attention to each other. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t an actual connection with my partner. I think there was,  she’s been to our Friday night dinners before, I like her a lot and I hope we get to be good friends. Despite that, it was obvious the circumstances were tricking my brain’s heuristics in ways I had to keep reminding myself to disregard.

Yet another way for saying the unfiltered thoughts on your mind is tricky, also impossible.

What was odd was that these exercises took up an hour and a half, leaving only half an hour for the actual circle. Seemed disproportionate. We’d come for the thing. Was it so far out of our reach we needed this much prep?

Finally, the main event began, under active facilitation. Everyone was tentative. People expressed things, and reactions, and so on, made good faith efforts. Many said nothing, doubtless feeling awkward, also there were twenty to thirty people. Too many.

On some levels, it was clearly working. It felt like insight was generated about people, their perspectives, how they think, what they felt. I didn’t feel connection with anyone, but did feel like I was getting new data worth processing. As an evening, I’ll take that. That’s not bad.

The most interesting moment was when I realized how it worked. Give people prompts they’re not used to, things that seem meaningful. Have them notice what they haven’t noticed, and get their raw interpretations. The things they’re trying to tell themselves. See what resonates. Explore that. Assume what you feel is truth, figure out what that implies. Believe in thine placebo.

The cold read, the astrological sign, the tarot deck. Done right, without deception.

Thus does the facilitator facilitate. Exude supreme confidence and faith. Push on that which reinforces the narrative.

And believe that the only truth, is your feelings, your reactions. Your truth. There is no The Truth.

These things are useful! Finding a well-designed one, that goes good places, with a minimum of a woo tax, could be excellent. So this cuts both ways.

After I’d had that aha moment above, came another.

Someone had reacted to a reaction by making a point, then collapsing back into their chair with arms somewhat outstretched.

They were asked, why did they take that action? Why that movement?

(Assume it means something. Pick at it. Let associations run.)

The person wasn’t sure. A speculation was offered, that this was body language symbolizing hostility. Or something similar.

That didn’t strike me as true. I offered that to me, it seemed like they had needed to say their peace, then having finished, they relaxed back satisfied, as if to say, ‘and now I’m done.’

Person responds that both explanations sounded true. Which is scary. At most one of them is true! If these both sound true, what else would sound true? How many true-sounding explanations were there? Could one be so easily fooled?

Good questions.

The moderator responded (I don’t remember exact wording, so this may be a paraphrase): Isn’t it wonderful how many true explanations we’re finding?


Or rather, yes it’s quite interesting how many explanations sound true, and it’s wonderful to get new insight like that. But you know they aren’t true, right? 

Except, no. I don’t think she does.

So I spoke my truth, as per rules. I noticed that I’d heard a statement that seemed to imply that things that felt true when said, were true, even when they said that which was not. And that this seemed very opposed to the previous speaker’s view, as well as mine.

When you notice a fundamental difference about the nature of truth and reality, and you’re seeking insight, you might want to look over there.

Her response was to say that the thread this suggested ‘didn’t feel like it had the best energy’ so she was going to proceed another way.

Ah. Right then.

True enough?




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6 Responses to The Third Circle

  1. Jake says:

    As someone who was there, I felt frustrated by the following point:

    > They were asked, why did they take that action? Why that movement?

    Asking this question seems to defeat the purpose of the exercise, which is to focus your attention on present-moment, sensory and emotional reactions, the here-and-now, and away from processing and guessing about causality.

    The question “why did you feel that way?” flipped the room into thinking-analytical mode, when the goal of the exercise was to remain in perceiving-feeling mode for as long as possible. It’s similar to the goal of meditation: asking you to direct your conscious focus toward something other than analytical processing aka thinking.

    The reason the moderator was interested in “how many true explanations we’re finding” was because it points to how little access we truly have to understanding our own motivations, as per Elephant in the Brain. It points to the separation that exists between thinking-mode and feeling-mode, and illuminates the value of spending time in feeling-mode: we can be aware of our “True [Emotional/Sensory] State” without being aware of the “Causal Truth”, and this is still a valuable endeavor.

    You can’t handle your internal emotional state with the same set of tools that you use to process external events or “reality.” Much of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy deals with this sort of distinction. It’s useful to be able to identify that you’re feeling an emotion and to be able to name it. You can pause and say “I am feeling Angry” and it’s true, even if you can’t identify the true cause behind the emotion.

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  3. Quixote says:

    Surprise journal: After reading the first circle and the second circle, I expected “The Third Circle” to be about how you “Did The Obvious Thing” and were now recounting how it worked / didn’t work.

    In particular, circle 1 had 4 people and it worked; circle 2 had twenty people and it was too large, so I expected circle 3 to be about how you split up into 2 groups of 10 or 4 groups of 5.
    When I read that instead of doing what seemed to me to be the obvious thing of breaking up into small groups you instead went down a totally different path of hiring a professional I was totally blindsided. My naïve prediction was absolutely and totally wrong. I’m very interested in hearing how you selected this path instead of the other one, and if the path of splitting into smaller groups was considered and rejected or not considered.

  4. If I had been organizing, I damn well would have done exactly that – split into groups of 2-5 people, by the law of fives. Instead, others organized this meetup for the group; NYC runs a rotation system where each person takes a month at a time, and I do it 1-2 times a year, and haven’t been in rotation since the second circle. Thus, the person doing the selecting didn’t have my path of exploration, but rather a path of doing a lot of circles many of them facilitated by a pro.

    I do think that the hypothesis of ‘you can’t have mostly new people all at once’ is also high on my diagnostic list, so splitting 8 newbies and 2 pros into 2 groups of 4-1 still seems risky, and my instinct would be to go 2-2 a few times instead…rotation since the second circle. Thus, the person doing the selecting didn’t have my path of exploration, but rather a path of doing a lot of circles many of them facilitated by a pro.

    I do think that the hypothesis of ‘you can’t have mostly new people all at once’ is also high on my diagnostic list, so splitting 8 newbies and 2 pros into 2 groups of 4-1 still seems risky, and my instinct would be to go 2-2 a few times instead…

  5. Romeo Stevens says:

    Check out coherence therapy. It sounds like you hit a type error WRT to usage of the word ‘true.’ Consider two people watching a show for different reasons and thus paying close attention to two different aspects of the show. They will talk about different things that they think are true about the show. So too your internal parts watching reality. ‘Interpretations are all true’ is one way that the woo crowd has figured out of granting legitimacy to parts where a common problem people have is parts not feeling like their views are considered legitimate by the gestalt ie you. Getting these untangled is the purpose of coherence therapy, IFS, Focusing, etc.

    • TheZvi says:

      Indeed I did hit a type error. “They think are true” is exactly right. We have words to reflect this situation, when we want to use them, and they reflect potentially useful concepts – but mixing them up with actual reality, with capital-T Truth, is quite the type error! And if you don’t correct it, all is lost, because once you accept the validity of a false premise, you can prove that up is down and black is white, and you get killed at the next zebra crossing.

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