How to Take the Plunge into Complete Narcissism: on Steve Pavlina’s Subjective Reality

By Duff McDuffee on October 21st, 2010 1

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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113 responses to “How to Take the Plunge into Complete Narcissism: on Steve Pavlina’s Subjective Reality”

  1. Carlon says:

    Am I really reading a post by Duff McDuffie, or is Duff nothing but a a character on my blog that I made up to represent my inner critic?

    But it doesn't matter. Pavlina is actually a dream character I made up once when I was shaving. Man, the crap I've put that poor dream character through..I kind of feel sorry for him, I mean, me.

    My recent post My 5 Days as a Vegan

  2. uly says:

    Steve Pavlina is a dream character in Duff McDuffee's fantasy land. So the interesting question is, why do you, Duff, choose to complain about this dream character, Pavlina? Why complain? And why this particular character?

    It's just as "Pavlina" says. By focusing on him you are expanding that part of your reality. I agree that that part of reality is very interesting to explore.

  3. @sabrebIade says:

    So did all of this come from the " everyone is just yourself pushed out " thinking like in parts of Neville Goddard's lectures?
    My recent post NLP Training

  4. viv66 says:

    Am I a butterfly dreaming I am a woman or a woman dreaming I am a butterfly?
    Hell, I don't really care, just give me the nectar* anyway
    (* whatever sweet and intoxicating substance you care to substute will do)
    Sorry, brain virtually dead right now, long week at work. I shall try to write a sensible response if I manage to reboot my mind.
    My recent post Paris again!

  5. Angela says:

    What a lonely (and scary) way of experiencing the world! He could probably pay a visit to a prison and find a group with similar view, but then how would they decide who actually exists and who is just a dream?

  6. Duff, you have done it again: you have written another chapter in the thinking person’s guide to the world of the New-Wage narcissists. When I write about Pervlina I can’t get past basic snarking about the purely snarkworthy stuff — his bragging about being a member of the Transformational Leadership Council; his experiments in unilateral polyamory; his detailed descriptions of watching his relationship with his ex “transition into something other than a marriage” as a result of said polyamory; and so on and so forth.

    But YOU, Duff, actually make an attempt to analyze the ideas spewed forth in his rivers and rivers of verbiage. I applaud you.

    The one thing I will concede about Steve Pavlina is that he is a content machine. He writes and writes and writes and writes. (I always wonder if his blogging is a real moneymaker for him, or is it his workshops, or his affiliations with various frauduct lines such as E. Pagan’s Man Transformation? Well, that’s a topic for another blog post, I suppose.)

    I’ve often asked myself if Pavlina is actually a perverse sort of humorist who is just writing provocative crap to yank our chains. Whether he is or not, he apparently has many starstruck followers who take him seriously, mostly younger ones, I suspect, such as one Andrew Wu, an economist turned “professional psychic intuitive” who has been mentored by both Pavlina and his ex-wife Erin. Intuitive Wu recently wrote a guest post on Erica Douglass’ blog.

    You are correct in saying that Pavlina apparently got the inspiration for his 30-day impulsiveness experiment from one of his b.f.f.’s, Joe Vitale. It happened at the TLC confab in July of this year. Oh, those wild and crazy TLC’ers. The rest of us can only aspire to such greatness.

    PS ~ I’m with viv66 on the butterfly-or-person dream question. You can drive yourself crazy with that question, and I nearly have in the past. So I’ll just take the nectar, thank you.

    • Carlon says:

      I always thought Pavlina's blog had some great info. It used to be one of my favorite blogs for real content. Later, I thought he was moving into satire and thought he was pretty funny. BUt his titles should have been more like, "Area Man Can't Understand Why Wife is Bothered by His Girlfriend".

      Then I realized he was being serious, which was bad for me considering he had inspired me to start my own satire blog.

      BTW, I liked the Wu post. But I always put my critics letters into my hate mail section. It makes for better humor.
      My recent post My 5 Days as a Vegan

    • Jacq says:

      Connie, I think one of the reasons why Pavlina seems so prolific is that he's been writing along the same vein for longer than SP dot com has been around. Much of his material was written almost 10 years ago. Since then he's experienced a lot of growth though. Going from massively anal retentive to full blown weirdo is pretty impressive progress.

    • I appreciate your appreciations Connie, but I have to say—I often wonder if there is really any point to deconstructing the logic of a narcissist or psychopath. Satire is probably the best response to dealing with insanity, either personal or collective. I don't have as much of a gift for satire though, so I figure I can maybe do something productive with my Philosophy BA at least! 🙂

      I too wonder if Pavlina, Vitale, and others in their Training Liars Club are actually professional comedians who can't take off the mask, kinda like professional wrestlers in that way. I guess we shall never know.

    • 32000days says:

      The one thing I will concede about Steve Pavlina is that he is a content machine. He writes and writes and writes and writes. (I always wonder if his blogging is a real moneymaker for him, or is it his workshops, or his affiliations with various frauduct lines such as E. Pagan's Man Transformation? Well, that's a topic for another blog post, I suppose.)

      I've read and enjoyed Steve's material for quite a while now. I didn't know his writings before his pre-eponymous web site days, but when he crossed over from being a software guy who wrote motivational material for other software guys to a full-time PD / motivational blogger, I started seeing his articles linked with increasing frequency on and other aggregator web sites. At the time, there were few bloggers who were writing this kind of thing and he had a very confident and distinctive writing voice that got a lot of attention.

      That early link aggregator / social media traffic, blogging extremely frequently in the early years, combined with a preexisting audience from the technically savvy indie game developer community, is what got him to A-list blogger status. He doesn't seem to blog as much as he did before, since he's probably said a lot of things that don't need to be repeated regarding productivity, motivation, goals, and all that other "orthodox" personal development and motivational stuff.

      To my mind, that earlier material stands as his greatest legacy. I read a lot of his work between 2004-2007 and it genuinely did help me make a lot of positive changes in my life. Didn't spend a penny for it, either.

      As a straight shooting, practical-minded guy, I haven't found as much "cash value" in some of his more recent posts. It's not obviously clear to me how (for example) "subjective reality" would help me make immediate, positive, and tangible changes in my own life. Certainly not in the same direct and swift way as some of the earlier motivational or organizational tips that I learned from his writing.

      As far as I understand it, his one-man business earns most of its money through affiliate marketing of products on his web site. Of course, the process of writing a blog, in and of itself, doesn't earn any money unless you monetize it like this, or through various forms of advertising. The "Man Transformation" product promotion you mention is an example of this; I've seen other ads on his web site from time to time.

      BTW, I'm not sure why you call it a "frauduct" – as far as I know, when you buy it you get five DVDS or whatever it is you're supposed to get. I don't think Eben Pagan would stay in business if they didn't send people what they ordered. (Whether it actually "transforms" men as suggested, I'm not sure – has anyone actually reviewed it? Maybe that's what you meant and I'm just being anal here.)

      I've often asked myself if Pavlina is actually a perverse sort of humorist who is just writing provocative crap to yank our chains.

      I think I recall reading or hearing somewhere in his body of work, that he doesn't write provocative material just to get a rise (and web traffic) out of people. My sense is that he's honest about this and not being disingenuous.

      If he were deliberately designing his material to be most appealing to the greatest number, I think he'd be much more fuzzy and New Agey, to capture the broad "middle aged to old lady" market that consumes the greatest amount of personal development material. He probably would have been a lot more buttoned down about the whole polyamory thing. As it stands now, his biggest readership and fan base seems to be younger men.
      My recent post Learn the secret Jedi mind tricks of the world’s most creative people

      • Good points all, especially how Pavlina rose to power largely through being early to market and a good fit for the tech-focused geek crowd that actually read blogs in 2006.

        Also a good point regarding what constitutes a fraud in product sales. I have little doubt that Pagan's Man Transformation product actually ships and arrives or downloads or whatever. I've seen Pagans' older materials and find them reprehensible and problematic in various ways, but can't justify purchasing a review copy of a multiple hundreds of dollars DVD set to see if this latest offering is worthwhile. I have little need for it anyway, as I am happily monogamous and don't care to be a more alpha manly man anyhow.

        Many folks in this "industry" however have money-back guarantees that are not honored, or have continuity programs (monthly billing) that is hard to figure out how to cancel. I don't know if these things took place for this particular product though.

        Early on Pavlina actually wrote that he does write provocatively on purpose—specifically that he takes stronger stands and writes more authoritatively because he found that got more traffic than when he wrote more balanced articles. I don't think this makes him disingenuous necessarily, but may have swayed his views towards more extreme versions in order to get attention…and clearly it worked!

        • 32000days says:

          I've seen Pagans' older materials and find them reprehensible and problematic in various ways, but can't justify purchasing a review copy of a multiple hundreds of dollars DVD set to see if this latest offering is worthwhile. I have little need for it anyway, as I am happily monogamous and don't care to be a more alpha manly man anyhow.

          Yeah, I wasn't commenting on the specific content of his product (apparently it's a self-help DVD set about becoming more masculine? – sounds very David Deida-inspired) but instead about his business practices. Which, as far as I know, are respectable – Steve P's main business model depends on sending traffic to affiliates, so it would be highly self-defeating to partner with someone who ripped off customers (after all, they'd probably wind up blaming him).

          Regarding your own hypothetical review, if all you were doing was reviewing the material and not actually "using" it, I agree, it wouldn't be worthwhile to spend hundreds on the product for a copy to review. The impression I got from Steve P's review / sales letter is that Pagan's organization sent him a lot of material at no charge to review in order to determine if a JV or affiliate relationship was in order. The product wasn't something that he was about to spend a few hundred dollars on either.

          Early on Pavlina actually wrote that he does write provocatively on purpose—specifically that he takes stronger stands and writes more authoritatively because he found that got more traffic than when he wrote more balanced articles. I don't think this makes him disingenuous necessarily, but may have swayed his views towards more extreme versions in order to get attention…and clearly it worked!

          True, I had forgotten about that, and it's a good point. I think this part is largely publicity and showmanship – given the choice, presenting the same "content" packaged in a boring, factual way or an emotional, and polarizing way, the latter is probably going to drum up more excitement and controversy. I think what he literally said was that he doesn't represent himself as holding views that he doesn't actually hold in order to drum up controversy, although he may present his actual, personal views in a starker or more extreme way for purposes of stimulating debate (and, presumably, getting attention and traffic).
          My recent post Learn the secret Jedi mind tricks of the world’s most creative people

  7. Ceresmary says:

    Boy, he also sounded pretty manic in his writing as well…Being overly high over the edge. Loved the Carlin, he is the sane one!

    • Yea, I thought about adding that at the end. People going through manic episodes often have incredible connections with strangers, lots of synchronicities, wild mood swings, etc. I've written before here about how Tony Robbins' workshops purposely elicit manic states, what he calls a "peak state." One side-effect of this is that people often go on buying frenzies when manic, which helps line the wallets of the guru hawking seminars from the stage.

      In an older article on "Subjective (un)Reality", he answered questions from readers. One asked whether Steve Pavlina thought someone could jump off a building a fly if they believed it fully enough. He said yes, but since he didn't believe it enough, he wasn't going to try it. I didn't find that particularly funny, since I know of a family member who during a manic episode did exactly that due to a similar belief in his omnipotence. In fact, it is very common for people having manic episodes to throw themselves off buildings, not because they want to die, but because they think they are invulnerable or living in a dream world in their complete control. Pavlina's writing is not only crazy then, but morally reprehensible.

  8. @dustmapper says:

    Hi Duff – Thanks for sharing your article. I enjoyed it, as usual with your stuff, including the humorous knocks at self-aggrandizement gone awry. 🙂

    I want to share a couple of additional perspectives:

    1) There’s an alternate definition of narcissism I tend to use. In this version, narcissism is the requirement for reflection or validation from outside to provide identity and self-worth. They have no independent identity besides what others mirror back to them. Self-centeredness, on the other hand, is the primary concern for one’s own perspective above others, more similar I’d say to solipism.

    This distinction might not exist right now, given typical usage of these two terms, and there’s overlap (their both about ‘me’) but I think it’s important to note this alternate take.

    2) I also don’t think solipsism itself is the problem, but the side effects that seem to go along with it. There’s no question of subjective experience, and yes some argue we could never really know anything beyond that. But even IF there were no one else, there are inescapable consequences (ie. suffering, dukkha) in all actions. Dukkha sucks, whether the world is a dream or not, whether others are real or not. That lack of karmic awareness, more than the solipsism itself, I feel is the main problem.

    I think it’s possible to lead increasingly blameless and selfless lives, compassionate in action and thought, working within a solipsistic perspective, by honing into karmic repercussions. I think the motivation to “write an exciting story” and “follow impulses”, as you described, causes perversion.

    Appreciating your work, as always,


    • Glad you enjoyed the article!

      So by your terminology, I'm not sure whether to say Pavlina is narcissistic or self-centered or both. He thinks other people are merely parts of him, so he doesn't have an independent identity from what others mirror back to him, yet he also is only concerned with his own perspective (since he doesn't think other people are real).

      Good point re: dukkha. Perhaps this makes Pavlina's solipsism relatively benign, because he does seem to recognize that there are (dream) consequences to his actions.

      I have to add though that I think the recognition of others as relatively independent subjects is important for moral action, at least for higher stages of moral development. Pavlina acts morally because he believes other people are literally parts of himself and he is totally in love with himself—in other words he only cares about you because he thinks you are him. His morality is a selfishness writ large, rather than a selflessness and care for the other whom one can never fully understand. Perhaps it leads to a similar appearance in some cases, but I think the distinction is important.

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment!

      • @dustmapper says:

        To me it seems, according to this alternate definition, he would be less of a narcissist (he's not dependent on feedback for ego-validation), but more self-centered (Avatar Steve is all that matters)…although the fact he sees everyone as parts of him makes it a bit difficult to tease apart.

        Some statements you made regarding 'self' in your article point to what I feel is a central issue in the debate. What is he referring to when he says 'me'? Is he referring to 'Avatar Steve' or is he referring to 'Primordial Transcendent Self'? In Steve's case, it seems to be the former, and I agree with your comments that it's a perversion. In the latter, all perspectives, his and others, would be subsumed into an all pervasive Self, of which Avatar Steve is simply a part of.

        Thus, one could say there are two distinct flavors of solipsism, based on what our reference point for 'Self' is. That said, there's debate on the very nature of Transcendent Self itself (as Carlon mentioned, Eastern Philosophy is by no means homogenous)…but suffice to say, at least based on what I've read on my own and what you've presented, Steve is limited to the avatar understanding of self, which brings tangible distortions across the board, and could be called psychopathic.

        • Yes, I agree. His awakening is a near enemy of awakening to a transcendent Self. In his view, all is one because all is me, his ego inflated to the size of the universe rather than realizing he has been attached to a tiny wave in a vast ocean.

          Or at least that's my reading of it. I suppose I could be wrong, or he could be communicating a legit understanding in an odd way. But I think there is a lot of evidence that this is a tilted or leaky vessel, in yogic terms.

          • @dustmapper says:

            I resonate with your conclusions. He seems to interchange inflated egoic and transcendental sense of self in what I've read. I myself go back and forth regarding how they relate — I now see them as working to keep each other in check — impulse and integrity constantly informing one another.

            I'd say his is a legit understanding in the sense he does acknowledge he's experimenting and that his perspective is not etched in granite. That of course doesn't preclude him, or any of us, from getting stuck in kitty corners, or even seeming to regress, but does put him a huge step above the mass of personal dev writers who carrot stick us their ideologies.

  9. Michael Robin Cooke says:

    Well, I'm reading this in a vacuum as I didn't know who this Steve is. But in attacking him you are shitting on me and a long tradition of Eastern thought both.

    The 'be here now' concept of being in the present rather than thinking of the past or future, it's almost Buddhism 101. It's useful and powerful not because Neanderthal is better than Homosapien, but because we tend to live in the past or the future at the expense of experiencing what is real. It's not that considering the future is wrong, it's that you don't live there. If being present to just now is a serious problem, we're already in trouble because human being may be the only animal that doesn't just live in the 'now'.

    Solipsism can be defeated as easily as the "brain in a vat' notion, which is to suggest that it can't. Usually it's defeated for the practical reason that it's pretty damn lonely to take on as a paradigm and really live through. I suppose it's more a comment on the loneliness of real success that solipsism has no down side to this successful Steve.

    Narcissism and psychopathy of course are only possible outside of solipsism, of course – but likely are appropriate labels for the unreal someone indulging such a paradigm in YOUR subjective universe….

    • Thanks for your comment, Michael. I practice several forms of meditation and and am a big fan of Eastern philosophy, especially Buddhism. I don't believe I am "shitting on" you or Buddhism at all by criticizing narcissism and solipsism which I would consider "wrong view."

      I agree that arguing against solipsism is unlikely to convince the solipsist, same with the brain-in-a-vat thought experiment.

      • Michael Robin Cooke says:

        You distinguished the idea of being present to the now as a negative, which is a key practice of Rinzae Zen. And I took some mild offense to the idea that Law of Attraction cannot be of use. Though admittedly I’ve had to rework LOA a great deal and personalize it some to have it be something I’m happy with (the results are in a brief ebook avaialble for free on my site, [url removed].

        • Perhaps I wasn't as clear as I could have been. What I was attempting to say is that there's being present in a healthy, mature way (like Zen attempts to teach), and there's being present in an unhealthy, distorted, pathological way (like narcissists and psychopaths are "present"). And then there's the question of whether your Zen master is a saint or a psychopath, whether s/he is acting upon deep spiritual intuition or shallow impulsiveness, which is often a quite difficult thing to figure out.

          My article was aimed at showing that my opinion is Steve Pavlina's recent experiment was one of impulsiveness, not deep or profound insight and intuition, of shallow narcissism, not profound selflessness. I am still a fan of Zen and Buddhism generally.

          LoA is mostly false IMHO, but like all of these things, carries a partial truth.

          • Michael Robin Cooke says:

            I don't distinguish 'bad' being present from 'good' being present. Either you are present or you are not. Psychosis is simply coloring, I believe extreme narcissism doesn't allow being present in the first place (if you're focused only on the self, it's at the expense of being aware of what is that is broader than that, no?).

            From what you wrote of Steve Pavlina, the question I have is this: Is the solipsism a natural fit BECAUSE of Steve's success? Meaning, we live in a world with an eviscerated middle class, middle class now are people we counted as rich just 5 years ago. And that's pretty lonely. Is it so lonely you might as well be the only person in your subjective world? That's a frightening thought, far more interesting to me.

        • Just read your LoA pamphlet.

          I like that you immediately remove the blame game from LoA, one of the main problems. I also like that you immediately say that LoA is an occult practice, because it is.

          I'm still very wary of wealth magick—what does focusing on wealth and power do to a person? Seems to me that this occult practice is simply the cultivation of greed. Amplifying one's egoic clinging and grasping tendencies through explicit practice is not something I can recommend.

          I think it's much better magick to cultivate compassion, loving-kindness, joy, equanimity (the 4 immeasurables). I also think of success in wealth magick as having enough food, good friends, someone you can borrow from in a pinch, people that you support and support you—due to your good karma, your integrity, your legacy of kindness and standing up for noble causes.

          "Lord, wontcha buy me a Mercedez Benz"

          That said, there can be a lot of insight gained by working with intentions (i.e. goals, outcomes, desires, etc.), clarifying what you want, and attempting to get what you want in life. Some things are still worth shooting for and you can't really know what those are until you try something. There is also something to be said for seeing people in a positive light, as you mention in your eBook.

          My personal practice has been to inquire not just one level deeper into why I want what I want, but to get to absolute bottom, using a technique of magick/inquiry called Core Transformation. Getting to the core of one's being tends to clear up a LOT of problems.

          • Michael Robin Cooke says:

            If you read the pamphlet, you know I advise a focus on being content in the here and now irregardless of the circumstances. It's a Chaos magic principle that conscious attachment to the result prevents manifestation of the result.

            The irony of genuinely successful wealth magic is that technically what wealth means literally is "to be free from want" – and honestly that is not something money will ever deliver. What delivers freedom from want is a mind space that isn't attached to wealth – which is how I theorize the best magicians are rarely of the fortune 500.

            Generally as a magician I think it's cool wherever your head space is at. Some people need to have the sports car to realize it doesn't make them cool or sexy like James Bond – what they REALLY wanted from the beginning.

            But personally I am after wealth in the most course sense of the word, not because I have a karmic hang up with wealth or lust after status – but because I have many ideas that are only possible to explore with resources of wealth : Is it possible to create self sustaining living spaces/businesses as a means to end homelessness and dent unemployment? Can I make a cartoon (not a comic book, media consumers can no longer read even with pictures) popular with children that contains dimensions spirituality, politics and sexuality? Can I 'take out' Fox news with a news broadcast that actually is very comprehensive, and is delivered by young guys and girls in speedos and bikinis? Can I prove a limited cooperative business model has an unfair competitive advantage versus Corporations that must answer stockholders that don't personally work in the business? I need wealth in the most course sense of the word to play such games.

            I do despair that real people with immense wealth have no interest in such games. So I have no shame in trying, seeing if it is possible to get rich!

            My own transition from being closeted to being openly gay involved a year long existential crisis (is my masculinity counterfeit and my true self a nellie queen?) – I resolved the issue by deciding I simply do not exist at all and all that I am is the stuff of arbitrary conditioning and decisions – so I made some new decisions about myself that I actually liked and decided to live from there.

            So the issue is akin to the idea that I have to empty my cup to accept new information and I'm resisting because I get a lot of value from that which is in my cup at the moment.

          • Sounds like we are more in agreement than disagreement here. I'm not personally interested in course wealth, more the subtle definition you gave…but then again, that's after very directly pursuing the former and getting totally burned out starting multiple businesses.

            Good luck!

        • Just saw the ad for Ledchowski's conversational hypnosis course at the end of your pamphlet. I consider the advertising for this course and the material I have seen from the course itself to be some of the more unethical hypnosis stuff I've ever seen. It's extremely fear-based marketing, and power/control-based hypnosis. Nasty shit.

          • Michael Robin Cooke says:

            Well, I know enough about genuine conversational hypnosis to understand that if it is power/control based it's something else. But given I have a sense of what conversational hypnosis is, I find the fear based marketing approach really funny. And as a clickbank goody it has a solid money back guarantee for 2 months, I'm not pretending to buy the thing myself.

            I am in an inquiry relating to make money online, I wonder if it is only the nastiest marketing that delivers results. Said course is, after all, the best selling clickbank product on the subject.

            I mean I am working on a Chaos magic tutorial in the form of a comic that maybe could also be confused for a Christian comic (I am a slave to what I find funny) – but I don't see people paying me money for it.

    • Carlon says:

      Shitting on Eastern Thought? mean one part of Eastern thought. I specialized in Indian philosophy in college and if you want arguments against solipsism, you can look no further than Nyayan thought The debates between the Nyaya and Advaita Vedanta show that the positions were debated. There is a long intellectual tradition in the East that goes beyond the simplified "world is illusion" views that came to the West through many of the Yoga schools.

      That is, unless you think Indian philosophers were shitting on themselves?
      My recent post My 5 Days as a Vegan

      • I recall one great enlightened one once said, "In the shitting, there is none other than shitting. In the poop, well, just don't step in it"—or something like that. Wait…was that you?!?

      • Michael Robin Cooke says:

        The concept of 'being present' as a spiritual practice is absent in western thought, and I interpreted the idea as being dismissed as a negative. If you care to suggest some English translations you believe good quality, I may read them.

        • Evan says:

          It depends what you mean by Western. In Orthodox forms of Christianity there is the prayer of the heart which uses breath (though I guess this could be Eastern if Western = the western Roman Empire).

          • Michael Robin Cooke says:

            It does constitute a meditative practice, but the awareness is focused on the religious abstraction, making it very distinct from the idea of being present to what is for no reason other than it is what it is.

            And my intense debate rank is so piss poor 'cause I have the balls to go on conservative echo chamber websites and preach to the non converted.

          • I thought perhaps you did something like that to earn your negative rank! In that case, wear it as a badge of honor. 🙂

      • Chris says:

        Good call. When I blogged on Pavlina some time ago, I quoted the Persian philosopher Ibn Sina:

        "Anyone who denies [the existence of objective truth] should be beaten and burned until he admits that to be beaten is not the same as not to be beaten, and to be burned is not the same as not to be burned."
        My recent post Combat Judo in the Cobra-Kai

        • Ha–reminds me of how to resolve a debate with a philosophical idealist who believes all is mind…slap him in the face!

          • @dustmapper says:

            Actually, beaten/burned/slapped further supports the validity of subjective reality, and further diminishes the scope of an assumed objective reality. Pain is purely a subjective, experienced, phenomenon.

            I've heard this argument before from materialists, and it always struck me as strangely backwards…although feel free to clarify where you're coming from, Chris or Duff.

            As a note, I currently sense the multiverse is a multi-tiered inter-subjective construct, limited by an overarching non-dual principle. What we call objectivity actually is a subset of this. I resonate much w/ the Berkeley perspective you posted Duff.


  10. Robert Anton Wilson would say that an electron doesn't "decide," we do. I agree with him:

    The notions of "wave" and "particle" are human constructions, like Santa Cruz, Live Oak, and Capitola—three cities RAW was told he lived in simultaneously, depending on who you were asking.

    I agree that Dewey and the Pragmatists get into this murky mess of "truth is what works" and it is a problem! I think Pavlina's view is a perversion and misunderstanding of the insights of postmodernism.

    How am I reading Steve's stuff in "the worst possible light" specifically? I am quoting his work and trying to make sense of it. To me, it looks like straightforward solipsism and narcissistic grandiosity. Does it look different to you?

    • Evan says:

      Wave and particle are constructions. So are solipsism and narcissism. Isn't this close to what Steve says – that the world is our construction?

      I think you could say that he partly abandoned his loony solipsism and narcissism because he disliked the consequences for 'others' (the quotes are for his view) and himself. This gives some indication that he is open to compassion. This may mean (in my view it does) that he doesn't see that compassion is not accommodated by his world view. But this is hardly confined to him. Neo-liberals who reduce value to money spring to mind (we hope they don't teach their public values to their children).

      So I think the situation may not be as entirely straightforward as you do. I think you took an oppositional stance and didn't look for evidence to falsify it.

      • There is constructionism that takes into account observations of the world, and there is constructionism that denies observations of the world in favor of a pre-existing ideology. For instance, Christian fundamentalists love deconstructing science as "just a theory," but this is a FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) political tactic. We should not equate postmodern critique of science, for example the anti-realist view of science, with a denial of science.

        Wave and particle are constructions, but this doesn't mean electrons are just projections of my thoughts and therefore can appear or disappear depending on whatever I choose to believe! I think it is both reasonable and accurate to call a view like this narcissism.

        I would say he modified his extreme solipsism to a less psychopathic solipsism because he disliked the consequences for himself (since he still definitively claims that others are non-existing projections of his own mind). I think it is clear that he cares about others precisely because he believes he aren't other at all, but himself. I think this makes him the biggest possible narcissist that could exist! Granted, his behavior may sometimes be indistinguishable from the compassion of someone who believes that others are independently operating subjects and thus worthy of compassion, but it's clear that this is for different reasons.

  11. Well put—Pavlina's view is seeing everything (except himself) as fake, rather than observing things as they are.

    I'm really not interested in watching people break their own brains for fame and profit.

    Unfortunately, views like Pavlina's appear to be the norm amongst famous personal development and spiritual gurus like the type that fill the "Transformational Leadership Council"—including the homicidal psychopath James Arthur Ray, who was a "member in good standing" until the deadly events in Sedona 2009.

  12. Chris Edgar says:

    Do you think we could view what Pavlina is saying to mean, simply, that we inevitably see everything through the lens of certain unconscious assumptions about the world? For instance, my sense from talking with people is that many of us walk around with the unconscious belief that "this particular group doesn't like me" — older men, younger women, people with black hair, and so on. So, when we run into a person who falls into that category, in a sense we're really interacting with an illusory hostile person in our minds, rather than the being that's actually there.
    My recent post Regulating Self-Help- Part 1- Defining Some Terms

    • Chris Edgar says:

      This view isn't a rejection of the idea that other people objectively exist, but instead a rejection of the notion that we can ever "truly see them for what they are," kind of like Kant's statement that we can never really know "the thing in itself." The moral implications of the view I'm describing aren't 100% clear — I could envision someone arguing that harming another person is immoral because you're inevitably directing your aggression at your illusion of who they are, and that illusion might not correspond to reality.

      Also, like Evan, I (maybe ironically) notice a similarity between the view you're critiquing and the common view in university humanities departments that everyone inevitably sees the world through a lens shaped by their sex and race, so that people of different sexes or races can never actually share the same morality, politics, etc. as much as they might falsely believe that they do.
      My recent post Regulating Self-Help- Part 1- Defining Some Terms

      • Since Pavlina explicitly rejects what he himself calls "Objective Reality," I think it is accurate to say that Pavlina explicitly denies the idea that other people objectively exist. (Or at least, that was his position during this 30-day inspiration trial—his views may have changed since then.)

        I think it is accurate to say that we can never truly see others for what they are, but Pavlina seems to disagree, saying that he can in fact fully understand others now since they are not separate from him, precisely because they are literally dream character projections of his own psyche. This is a very different view than the milder view you are suggesting he holds.

        I think it is common for people to take postmodern context too seriously, yes, and that view is worth critiquing wherever it is found.

      • I could envision someone arguing that harming another person is immoral because you're inevitably directing your aggression at your illusion of who they are, and that illusion might not correspond to reality.

        Pavlina rejects harming others because they aren't others at all, but himself, and he is totally infatuated with himself!

    • I think that would be a mischaracterization of Pavlina's view, but I agree with this milder version, i.e. that "we inevitably see everything through the lens of certain unconscious assumptions about the world." Pavlina literally believes he is the only existing being.

  13. MOJO1000 says:

    Pavlina appears to be orchestrating a slow motion train wreck between nonduality and the Law of Attraction. This is exactly what his large audience wants, or he wouldn't be doing it. What a fuckin' mess, LOL!
    My recent post How many nondualists does it take to screw in a lightbulb

  14. Chris says:

    "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."

    I'm not sure whether this signifies giving too much, or not enough credit to the power of one's own mind. I know Steve practiced martial arts at one time, if not any more, and this attitude doesn't get one very far in that arena.

    A bop in the nose is a powerful antidote to subjective reality.
    My recent post Italian Spiderman and Friends

  15. Peeja says:

    When I first read Steve's posts on seeing the world around him–and me–as projections of his own mind, I also felt a bit upset and insulted. Who is this guy to tell me I'm a character in his dream?

    I've realize, though, that that reaction is *extremely* interesting. Here's some guy who lives across the continent from me, who has no idea who I am, who is implying that he made me up. **How did I manage to give him the power to upset met this much?** People say crazy shit on the internet all the time. Why makes this different.

    I'm still not sure. I get the feeling from your references to James Ray that one of your concerns is that this idea will spread and that people who adopt it will hurt other people. That's a valid concern, and I think I share it.

    For myself, I've realized that "Steve" is in fact a projection of myself. Whether or not there is a Steve Pavlina in an objective reality, the one I hear speaking is the projection that I've created. I only know his writing, so I fill in the details in my mind. In my life, Steve–or the projection I've created to stand in for him–is a voice for the scary shadow-ideas about the nature of the universe and my place in it. What if everything *is* a projection of myself, and there's no underlying objective universe? Is that a horrible, lonely possibility? Is it functionally any different than the objective model? Steve's explorations bother me because I'm not comfortable with those questions. They disturb me. But maybe it's healthy to explore them–safely–and find out.

    Thanks for this though-provoking post, Duff.

    • When I was a philosophy undergraduate in college, I took a course on George Bishop Berkeley and read his A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge. If you want to trip hard and screw up your sense of reality for a while, I recommend struggling with this text!

      Berkeley's argument was basically that "to be is to be perceived"–i.e that we can only know that things exist because we perceive them with our senses. Therefore we can not only never know the thing-in-itself, but can't even know if there is anything beyond the sensory impressions given to our eyes, ears, skin, etc. His conclusions end up being less solipsistic and more Christian however, for he argues that the only reason physical things have a more or less stable existence when we aren't perceiving them is because God is always watching, or rather that things exist as ideas in the mind of God. As a philosophical atheist at the time, I couldn't buy the Christian argument, but walking around campus not knowing if anything really existed beyond my sense impressions really freaked me out for a couple of months I will say.

      You bring up an interesting point here, which is that I've never met a Steve Pavlina, only have read a blog supposedly authored by such a man, watched some videos, and once received some angry emails from his email address (after getting banned from his forum for my previous post on Man Transformation). Therefore anything I'm reacting to is my ideas of Pavlina, not the man himself. This is a key principle of Gestalt therapy and other psychotherapies—we react not to other people but our ideas about them. Change your ideas and it changes your reactions.

      It is of course a leap of logic to then conclude that because we react to our ideas of other people and not the people-in-themselves that therefore the other people don't even exist as separate entities. Berkeley wouldn't have concluded this, neither would Immanuel Kant who also said we can never say anything at all about the world beyond the phenomena (aka the "noumena") which involves things-in-themselves.

      • Evan says:

        Radiation can make us sick. Even Berkeley and Kant knew about epidemics.

        Schopenhauer believed that we do know that the noumena exists – it's just that we don't know anything about it (perhaps not all that different in practical terms?).

        My guess is that many of us have had experiences of transcendence which are similar to what others have called experiences of the beyond. At this point arguments about verification and reliability of knowledge get tricky (these experiences usually don't happen in labs and whether the same principles as apply to materialist phenomena is a big discussion).

      • Carlon says:

        Berkeley…man, he had to be the worst dialog writer in the world. I just wish Glaucon could have made an appearance or something..would have livened it up…
        My recent post My 5 Days as a Vegan

  16. We get some traffic from SD's blog based on my comments. I never would have imagined that would be the case myself. The main traffic is from our amazing SEO though. There must have been an unmet need in the marketplace for keywords like "Tony Robbins scam" etc. LOL

    There are some partial truths to sayings like "the world is your mirror," but then making people into (only) parts of you is a narcissistic leap of logic. I hope the psychopaths haven't turned you off from spirituality altogether, as there are some saints out there too.

  17. Amit@Advaita says:

    Hi, it is important to know how it works, also during the past three decades, Advaita has become more widely recognized in the West through the ever growing popularity of Ramana Maharshi, considered by many to be modern India’s greatest spiritual giant.

  18. AznHisoka says:

    I used to admire Pavlina, especially his thoughts on courage and conscious living. But the past year or so of posts have really creeped me out. Maybe it's due to his breakup with his wife, and his sexual urges that were once repressed coming out? I know it's very very easy to become a selfless person who encourages other to live consciously to just unleash repressed desires to become powerful, a sex magnet and admired.
    My recent post My Nutrisystem Review

    • Yea, his early stuff was useful. I also think it's fine that he got a divorce and is getting his rocks off. It's the rationalization of everything being so damn spiritual that gets me. If we indulge in lust, we should be honest that this is what we are doing.

  19. Mathias says:

    Let me get this straight:

    So when Steve talks to me he's talking to a dream character while at the same time, I'm listening to a dream character called Steve who's talking to me.

    But, but, but. If this is true(as in make believe) me think it's good idea to treat dream characters with real respectz because even though they are just dreams (or whatever) they could stab me with a knife and me would be dead.

    No thanks Steve Ivan Pavlov. Idea rejected.

    I don't want you in my dreams, and i don't want you to dream about me either.

    try me in the future if you like. I can assure you, i won't fall for your new wage tricks. If I want to get deceived, i go to a magician, they got skillz, you Don't. See You in the Youniverse or maybe not.

  20. Matt Harwood says:

    I read this blog post back when it was posted, and it reminded me of a few thoughts I've had (worrying, I know!). I remember asking a teacher in high school, around age 12/13, how can I be sure that anyone else is alive, and not just robots?

    I've also had the odd thought that nothing can be proven. You can't prove anything until you know everything (i.e. trace the universe, and whatever the universe is or isn't in, back to year dot).

    I'm torn between thinking it's crazy talk, or valid philosophical points. I certainly don't believe I'm the only person alive, it just seems a fun and interesting idea to ponder over… not for too long mind, it makes the mind explode after a minute or two!

    Love the blog, so glad I found it!
    My recent post mattfrog- RT @markiesmith- BBC journalists strike in progress Looks like they have got someone from accounts to present the breakfast show this

    • Hi Matt, thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      I too pondered such questions at around the same age, including questions of solipsism, the mind/body problem, and many more. Something about puberty makes kids philosophical I guess. I never got over pondering such questions though! 🙂

      What makes it crazy talk in this case IMHO is that it isn't hypothetical. Pavlina attempted to step into a new perspective on life permanently. He wasn't simply thinking aloud and discussing philosophical questions with others (who aren't real to him anyhow).

      Note also that people suffering from various psychiatric disorders often have interesting philosophical positions and views on life.

  21. Everyone has the right to believe what they will. But to me, one who criticizes others and taking a morally superior attitude accomplishes nothing. Those are easy and cheap shots.
    My recent post Carlos Santana Interview

  22. Evan says:

    I think we are social individuals – and so morality is inescapable.

  23. Evan says:

    Me too – they even disagree with me.

  24. […] There’s also another amusing post from the same blog that I’d recommend reading: “How to Take the Plunge into Complete Narcissism: on Steve Pavlina’s Subjective Reality&#822…. […]

  25. Constance says:

    The Buddha was heard to teach: sila, samadhi, panna. Nothing else. With sila, there is morality– therefore individuals, with samadhi, there is formlessness, and with panna there is wisdom into both and each and neither.

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