I hate to break it to you, but if you’re reading this and your name isn’t Steve Pavlina, then you don’t exist. Nope, you’re just a dream character in his reality. Only his identity and consciousness are real, only his impulses matter. You and I, well, we’re merely projections of Pavlina’s inner world. In his reality, all these images that appear to be other people, other subjective consciousnesses, are actually just dream characters. Or at least these are some of the results of Pavlina’s recent experiments into what he has aptly named “Subjective Reality.”
My last two posts have been about what I’m calling “the logic of evil”—the self-justifying rationalizations that lead a sincere seeker to become a psychopathic guru. In what could only be explained as an act of The Universe, I just happened to cruise by A-list personal development blogger Steve Pavlina’s blog today and found that he had produced a great example of exactly what I’ve been writing about. In fact, in the last few months he has been experimenting with taking the plunge into full and complete narcissism—and even Solipsism—which even he admits that he won’t be capable of turning back from once he has fully done so.
The Joys of Impulsive Living
In his own words on July 28th, 2010…
Today is Day 5 of my 30-day trial of inspired living, as I explained in the previous post. If you missed that post, basically I’m testing what it’s like to live without thinking or planning ahead. I’m living in the moment and doing my best to act on inspiration whenever it comes to me, riding each wave for as long as it lasts.
By acting impulsively for weeks on end without pausing to think things through, I could really screw up my life both personally and professionally. I could potentially do and say some things that have serious long-term consequences, not just for me, but for other people in my life.
However, from a subjective standpoint, this should actually be a much more sensible way to live. The notion of an “out there” is nothing but illusion, and it makes no sense to fear what may happen in a world that’s a projection anyway.
While at first he calls this behavior acting on “inspiration,” it already sounds like acting impulsively to me. Later he himself calls it impulse instead of intuition. Clearly there must be a difference, but you will find no such distinctions made here by Pavlina. It is well known that narcissists and psychopaths are impulsive and “in the moment” in the sense that they can’t consider future possibilities. Could this possibly, at least in some cases, be the result of a philosophy in which other people seem like only dream characters in one’s “reality”?
From a post entitled Living Subjectively…
I know this is a long update (over 7400 words), but it still barely scratches the surface of what’s been happening. Fortunately you don’t actually have to read it. I’ll simply dream that I get to read and digest your reactions to this as if you’d read it. But they won’t even be your reactions because there’s no you. I’ll be hearing the echoing projections of my own inner reactions to what I’m sharing with myself. I can accept that. I still need to write all of this down for my own processing reasons. My mind needs some time to digest the events of the past week.
Here Pavlina begins to make it explicit that you don’t exist in his reality. Note that he still has a “reality” though, so he does consider something to be real—namely himself, his experience, his consciousness, and his impulsive desires. In Steve Pavlina’s reality, you are a figment of his imagination and thus not a separate subject—i.e. another being having consciousness just like him—and thus worthy of being treated as such. But he exists to him, and his desires and impulses are real to him. And no, he’s not joking either. He’s written about his New Age solipsistic “reality” many times before. (For those who weren’t Philosophy majors like me, Solipsism is the philosophical position that no one exists or that I can’t know that anyone else exists besides me. Why a solipsist would try to convince others of his philosophy, whom he considers merely dream characters, is beyond me.)
Here he refers to acting on “impulses” and not “intuition”, and expresses concerns that this experiment could permanently “screw things up so badly…the damage would be irreparable”:
Initially I figured that I couldn’t screw things up so badly with this trial that the damage would be irreparable. Now I’m having serious doubts about that. As I ponder what’s beginning to show up now, I can easily see a pathway where I could do some real “damage.” I could throw a lot of things out there that would make it impossible to ever return to my Day 1 equilibrium.
There are certain things that, once I put them out there, can’t be recalled. If I act on such impulses, my life will spin off in some new direction, and there will be no going back.
In many ways, Pavlina’s experiment reminds me of the Jim Carrey movie Yes Man (highly recommended).
How might Pavlina mess things up acting upon his every whim? Could he possibly do more damage than impulsively purchasing an iPad at CostCo? Well, imagine acting like a 2 year old, completely driven by your impulses in the body of a 40-something personal development guru. What could possibly go wrong? He might just have sex with everyone he can, or maybe just bilk his dream characters out of money through elaborate schemes. Or maybe, just maybe, people might die because of it. And why would he care? It’s only a dream, right?
This Dream is Annoying, But its All Part of the Story of Me
Pavlina’s most recent blog posts have been about how he turned off his comment form because “the dream characters in my reality” are too repetitive, needy, and stupid. I can’t blame him too much for that one, as I’d probably do the same (even though I believe other people are real subjects too), but it is interesting how when people become famous, they often lose empathy for their fans—the very fans who gave them their fame and often their wealth too. While I’m no famous guru, I wonder how one might set appropriate boundaries without treating other people as non-real.
Lucky for you and I though (we being merely Pavlina’s dream characters), Pavlina decided not to “play on God mode” and instead decided it would make for a better story to not try and totally control his dream (aka you and I):
This shifted me away from thinking about creating a magical dream world because I realized that would rely too much on spectacle. With too much power concentrated at the avatar level, we wouldn’t have the right level of balance between the avatar and the environment. My character wouldn’t face worthy challenges. Life would become too easy, and the resulting story would be dull. It’s like playing a video game in God mode. It can be fun for 15 minutes, but in the absence of a worthy challenge, boredom ensues.
My life story has always been more compelling when I face big challenges. For example, my story became a lot more interesting (at least to me) when I went through a period of shoplifting addiction, and I risked being caught and arrested multiple times per week. My character had to grow from that experience in order for the story to progress. A story where I sat in prison for a few years wouldn’t have been interesting for me.
What a nice guy, that one and only real human being. So while Pavlina is a Solipsist and a narcissist with an explicit justifying philosophy, he doesn’t seem to be a psychopath…at least for now. Again I must ask though, why not hurt others in your dream world as long as you don’t get caught or suffer any (dream) consequences? Why not lie, since you create your reality with your thoughts and thus if you can convince others of your lies, they are “true”? Most narcissists do exactly that.
Note in this quotation that shoplifting was more exciting to Pavlina than living a dull, dreary existence, again pointing to a compulsive/impulsive tendency and an addiction to the thrill of intensity. This is common with narcissists as well. But at least he isn’t still a shoplifter, so I have to give him credit for changing his behavior—even though he doesn’t believe I exist.
Strangely, this philosophy could have been predicted by Pavlina’s fascination with lucid dreaming which he blogged about early on, in particular with controlling his dreams around personal development themes, e.g. getting better at flying. It’s as if he feels the dream world is the most real reality (instead of waking life or emptiness, as I blogged about here) and has confused waking reality for dreaming reality. While many spiritual teachers from various traditions have spoken about “waking up” and even compared phenomenal reality to the dream state, Pavlina’s interpretation solidifies rather than dissolves the sense of self. His is an impulsive narcissism instead of spontaneous selfless activity.
At the end of his 30-day trial, while Pavlina is still comfortable with the notion that you and I don’t exist, he’s decided to be less than 100% impulsive:
Based on what I experienced during this trial, I think that if I ran my business based on pure inspiration in the long run, it would produce some benefits, but I suspect it would hurt me in others ways. The nature of my business allows me to do this sort of thing, but for people with different business models, I think this trial could do more harm than good.
I think inspiration works best for opening new doors and moving forward on fresh ideas. After that, I’d put my money on persistence and self-discipline to cross the finish line. Inspiration is a powerful resource, but it can’t substitute for perspiration.
Well, at least he has high self-esteem though, right?
To be honest, I’m a bit of a narcissist in recovery myself. Lately I’ve been inspired by Pavlina’s inward turn to look outward for opportunities for selfless action. Speaking of which, I’ve been meaning to ask you—can I help you with anything?
How to Sleep While Awake
Note also that Pavlina’s technique for slipping into delusion, er, I mean seeing through the lens of “Subjective (un)Reality” is the inverse of a lucid dream technique:
The subjective reality aspect of this trial involved seeing life from a dream world perspective. I found this to be a very powerful shift.
For the first few weeks, it was challenging to maintain this perspective. I had to keep reminding myself multiple times each day, “I’m dreaming,” “This is a dream,” etc. But by the final week, I somehow shifted from conscious competence to unconscious competence, meaning that my subconscious accepted this as my default way of seeing the world, so I no longer had to consciously think about it.
To learn to lucid dream, one common technique is to ask yourself “is this a dream?” or “am I dreaming?” multiple times throughout the day. The idea is to get yourself asking the question so during the day you answer, “no” and during sleep you become lucid when you answer “yes.” It’s also a reality testing exercise, because waking reality is consistent (if you look away and look back, things are largely the same) while dreaming reality is less so (if you look away and look back, often things have changed quite a bit). To declare that waking reality is a dream is the opposite of being lucid, of doing reality testing, of waking up from the dream-like nature of phenomenal, waking reality.
Pavlina also still thinks that you and I are part of him and thus not really real, but we may not all be equally important parts of him:
With some experimentation I refined my perspective on other dream characters. Initially I used the perspective that everyone I interacted with was a part of me, like a projection of some part of the dreamer’s subconscious. This yielded some powerful breakthroughs, but I feel like it wasted a lot of time as well. Interacting with everyone at this level is tremendously time-consuming. You have to listen for the message behind every interaction. While some of those messages were truly insightful, others seemed largely worthless to me.
While I agree with the perspective that we’re all connected, I no longer hold the perspective that every dream character I encounter represents an important part of me that I need to understand in great depth. That point of view just didn’t pan out in terms of results.
Now my perspective is that the dream world is filled with lots of richness and variety, and whatever I pay attention to will expand. If I want to delve into a dream character’s apparent issues with scarcity thinking, for instance, the consequence is that I’ll be expanding that aspect of my reality. I’ll be programming the dream for more scarcity.
This has changed the way I perceive responsibility. At first I felt like it was my responsibility to understand and then fix every problem I perceived. However, that approach actually backfired. The more I focused on understanding and helping people in need, the more neediness the dream world manifested. Eventually my inboxes were overflowing with needy messages. That left me feeling very drained and demotivated, and I began craving more alone time just so I wouldn’t have to deal with anyone’s problems. Within a couple weeks, I realized that this approach was totally unsustainable. But I also had to accept that I was inadvertently creating that reality.
I realized how important it is to focus my attention on those aspects of the dream world I wish to expand. So I’ve begun to withdraw my attention from problems and neediness. Now I’m once again focusing on my goals and intentions. And lo and behold, the good stuff is already beginning to expand, and my perception of neediness is quickly receding.
This trial really drove home the idea that we experience what we think about. Thoughts and feelings manifest.
One of the worst things we can do, therefore, is to complain. Complaining directs the dream world to give us more to complain about.
If complaining is so bad, then why is he manifesting me as part of him complaining about him? People are so complicated sometimes—or I mean person, as there’s only one real person and the rest of us are dream characters. Oh, and if you don’t believe it, that’s just your choice I guess.
From Life in a Dream World:
So far no one that I communicate with regularly has objected to being treated like a dream character.
Let it be known that I, Duff McDuffee, object to be treated as if I were a dream character in Steve Pavlina’s fantasy land, or anybody else’s for that matter. Any other objections?
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