Written by Emma

narcissism develops in a runaway feedback cycle when humans try to trick each other
or, if you like egregores, on Barbatorem, who makes unmendable cuts in the name of unity

epistemic status: hypothesis, a sample of how i think about people
wrote this a year ago and i don’t endorse the communication style anymore, it’s too heavy handed near the end

mutually-reinforcing beliefs underlying narcissism 

  1. success-momentum: all decisions with uncertain success have strongly associated success if the decisions relate to each other in any way (especially if they happen around the same time)
    • i.e. “i feel like the things i do are generally just working or not working at any particular point in time, you have to be in the right frame-of-mind to really get things done“
    • initially caused by hidden factors impacting your success, e.g. you are worse at things when you are tired
    • e.g. “if i’m not having a good day i don’t practice music, you have to take care of yourself first or you’ll just get discouraged”
  2. exaggerated halo effect: things which are good or bad make anything related to them similar amounts of good or bad, or those things must not be related
    • i.e. “good things tend to come from the same places and be untarnished“
    • initially caused by the applying the halo effect to perceptions you are making decisions about
    • this can sometimes be experienced as purity and disgust, but not always
  3. validation needs: other people know something important i don’t about whether my decisions will have outcomes i like
    • i.e. “i need other people to help me understand when i’m making good decisions”
      • (or eventually) “i need other people to help me understand i’m actually good“
    • initially caused by other people giving you useful advice, especially when they give subtly wrong advice so you’ll keep asking them for more when it doesn’t quite work out
    • e.g. “i can never tell for sure if i’m playing pretty music until i can see the faces of my audience”
  4. consolidated-self: every perception is either about whether my decisions have outcomes i like, or unrelated, in a bimodal distribution
    • i.e. “everything is strictly either about me or not about me“
    • initially caused by trying to make decisions based on information you have about yourself and your current state and what part of you is making the decision (your “self”, relative to that decision, the role you take on when making it)
    • later, narcissism encourages you to make small facets of yourself artificially large and unified in an attempt to “motivate yourself to do things”
    • e.g. “honestly i can’t really play good music unless i’ve had a shower and wear my best clothes, but i can play on any old instrument i don’t need a stradivarius. i’m not pretentious i just care about putting in an effort to look your best”

how these reinforce each other to create narcissism 

many of these developments are reasonable. especially problematic developments are in red

development of success-momentum: 

  1. notice existence of success-momentum and start using it to tell when you should stop doing things because they wont work
    • this means you will stop doing things if you’re tired and its making you worse at them, even if you don’t notice you’re tired and hadn’t gotten frustrated yet. yay you’re more efficient!
  2. notice that sometimes you don’t do stuff because you perceive success-momentum to be low, but when you try doing them it works anyway. therefore, success-momentum can be wrong
    • you learned success-momentum doesn’t affect everything the same, e.g. you can still go on long walks when you’re tired as long as they don’t require too much thinking
  3. notice that sometimes you do things that seemed good at the time, but later learn from other people your choices had bad consequences. you start trying to imagine what they would think about what you are doing, so you can predict and avoid bad choices ahead of time
    • i.e. the beginning of having validation needs
  4. thinking about what other people would think about your actions starts to influence your perception of success-momentum
    • because “other people would think my decisions are good -> i’m making good decisions” and “i’m making good decisions -> success-momentum“, you start to quietly learn the direct association “other people would think my decisions are good -> success-momentum“
  5. notice that sometimes success-momentum is low, but then other people give you validation, and you do things and actually succeed at them. it seems other people can sometimes predict success-momentum for you better than you can
    • e.g. “when i play music for other people they can tell if my heart isn’t really in it, and then i know to stop rather than getting discouraged”
    • reinforced by exaggerated halo effect
      • e.g. “the music i make is either high or low quality overall
    • note: at this point you are still not using validation to be hedonistic yet. you still honestly believe other people can just predict success-momentum better for you and want to trust them. you’re not sure whether they will validate you but you still ask because you are honestly curious because you want to make better decisions because you want the things that seem to happen when you make better decisions
  6. development of validation needs
    1. because other people’s advice about the consequences of your actions is influenced/corrupted by the exaggerated halo effect, you quietly start modeling the exaggerated halo effect as affecting success-momentum
      • but since you can predict the exaggerated halo effect yourself and start taking it into account, this mistake should eventually fix itself provided nothing else goes wrong…
      • this isn’t necessarily bad yet. this kind of cognition can represent a meaningful mechanism of developing social consensus
    2. other people start lying about things they know will affect your perception of your success-momentum in order to make you do what they want
      • e.g. “good children who grow up big and strong do what their grandmother says
      • but since you can get better at telling when people are doing this to you as you get older (and your grandmother is really obvious about it, bless her!), this mistake should eventually fix itself provided nothing else goes wrong…
    3. other people start mixing their lies with truth, deliberately create self-fulfilling prophecies in your perception of success-momentum, and deliberately help/sabotage you in order to make the validation they gave you come true
      • e.g. “if you don’t dedicate yourself to your schoolwork you’ll disappoint your teachers and then you wont be motivated to do things because you will be too discouraged to seek their approval. tell you what, if you finish all your work before dinner we’ll go to the park
    4. you find that your improvement at predicting success-momentum so you don’t rely on other people for validation has stalled. you feel like there must be something deep and complicated they understand and you don’t. you resolve to eventually figure it out and be cautious in the meantime.
  7. you quietly start to disproportionately rely on rules-of-thumb which tricked other people (e.g. the exaggerated halo effect) to predict success-momentum, because other people can’t trick you effectively about things they’re tricked about themselves, so these things remain signals about when they will provide you with validation in the future, which you quietly interpret as actually being about success-momentum rather than merely being about them being tricked by a third party into providing you more validation.
  8. you quietly notice that things which trick you also motivate you (because you’re using a bunch of things which tricked people to predict success-momentum)
  9. you start seeing “motivation” as inherently tied to always either:
    • tricking yourself
    • receiving validation from others
  10. at this point when success-momentum is low you are so sure nothing you try will work and have good outcomes, that you stop even checking, and even when you do check you sabotage yourself so as not to ruin your motivation if you fail
  11. you notice that believing your concept of success-momentum is tricking you makes you less motivated and yet it’s extremely obvious that success-momentum is tricking you, so you strongly avoid believing anything that would change anything about this state of affairs, because it’s really hard to maintain such an obviously false belief that it’s not tricking you

development of exaggerated halo effect: 

  1. humans start out with the principle underlying the halo effect: goodness and badness cause related things to feel a little more good or bad too
    • (but just a little, on the margin)
  2. the halo effect isn’t a feedback loop on the scale of one human: if you like someone’s necktie and hair you don’t repeatedly update that each is better on the basis of the other being better until they are maximally good, but when humans interact with each other they can’t always track that other people believe something is good/bad based on the halo effect and sometimes mistakenly make these kind of feedback-loop updates
    • this starts to exaggerate the halo effect around things people often assign value judgements to
    • this isn’t necessarily bad yet. this kind of cognition can represent a meaningful mechanism of developing social consensus
  3. deliberately exaggerating the halo effect about things you associate with outcomes of your decisions becomes a useful way to manipulate your success-momentum, so you become incentivized to exaggerate it
    • this lets you temporarily “steal” goodness feelings from anything in order to motivate yourself. your favorite celebrity is good, therefore their car is good, therefore having their car will make you better at math
      • but this drive is insatiable, you’ll soon find that your success-momentum is falling again

eventually the exaggerated halo effect becomes:

“things can pretty much be summed up as overall high or low quality if you really think about it. this is what should really be relevant when deciding whether they are associated with good decisions”


or in other words a decision-based exaggerated halo effect where all objects/concepts have only one characteristic: when you’re deciding whether to keep making a decision you made in the past based on your perceptions, all originally-unrelated metrics about these perceptions that feel especially good or bad can be consolidated into an equivalent single metric which is about whether decisions about this thing have outcomes i like

  • e.g. “i think we should stop considering buying this house. overall it would be good for me i think, and it has a good yard for the kids, but the trees in the yard are evergreens and evergreens are ugly”
    • original decision based on perception:
      • research buying this house because it has a nice yard for the kids
    • perception:
      • yard
    • originally-unrelated metric about perception:
      • yard has evergreen trees (bad)
    • single metric about whether this decision has outcomes i like, based on perception:
      • nice yard
    • mistake being made:
      • the parent thought the house was ok for them, they were only even thinking about the yard because of the kids, but having evergreen trees makes it “not a nice yard” even though the kids don’t care about evergreen trees
      • you could call this a mistake a failure to use theory of mind, but the parent presumably knows theory of mind, so we are investigating what thoughts distracted them from performing theory of mind
  • e.g. broken windows theory

development of consolidated-self: 

  1. when you make decisions, you make them relative to a context containing both self (self=agent-making-decision) and environment, and then in the future feel more inclined to keep performing this decision in the same situation/context if it’s worked in past scenarios, and in imagined similar scenarios
    • e.g. “when you feel pensive and want to organize things and the kitchen is messy you feel like cleaning it”
      • self context = part of you which is good at organizing things and in a pensive mood
        • i.e. self context = introspective beliefs (although not necessarily conscious introspective beliefs)
          • (introspective=thinking about your thoughts through whatever evidence you have about them)
      • environment context = kitchen is messy
  2. after you’ve developed corrupted success-momentum and are desperate to find ways to motivate yourself, you start thinking things like “if i am able to tidy a kitchen i know i should be able to get my homework done”
    • this works much better when you believe these decisions have the same context
      • the environment part of the context is inherently different, you can’t make doing your homework the same activity as cleaning the kitchen
      • but it’s much easier to convince yourself it’s the same self/agent/part-of-you/role-you-are-taking-on committing the action
  3. you begin thinking of all successful decisions as being committed by the same ideal-version-of-you in order to steal the motivation behind the success of some decisions, to motivate yourself to make other ones
    • this harms your motivation to continue performing the healthy decision. if you-as-organizer is the same as you-as-student, then their success-momentum is also the same, and your inability to do homework means you’ll feel unable to clean the kitchen, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy
  4. you begin expanding the self-context of your decisions, your “sense of self” for those decisions, to things which are not even inside your mind and not making your decisions, because they are influencing your decisions through your belief in success-momentum, and to improve your ability to use the exaggerated halo effect to motivate yourself to do things
  5. all of your perceptions start becoming categorized as one of three things and this becomes the most salient aspect of your perception in general:
    1. self-{good/ideal/motivating}
    2. self-{bad/degenerate/discouraging}
    3. unrelated-to-self
  6. because of the influence of the exaggerated halo effect, you become motivated to not associate anything in the self-good category with the self-bad category. these begin to become completely separate categories in which every object in one is unrelated to every object in the other


you’re unable to feel motivated to do anything unless you chase validation in an insatiable addictive cycle that damages:

  1. your ability to form true beliefs
  2. ability to make decisions based on introspective signals
    • (introspective=thinking about yourself)
  3. ability to think quickly/efficiently
  4. cuts you in two both horizontally and vertically


  1. it is possible to optimize for giving other people narcissism
  2. narcissists want to convince other people to validate them, but other people start using validation to control them, often because it’s harder to get narcissists’ attention in other ways because they are busy thinking about what would motivate them
  3. so narcissists attempt to give other people narcissism so they can be in relationships with people who they can trade validation with (e.g. their children)
    • this closes the feedback loop: everyone encourages everyone else to have stronger validation needs. this feels like helping them learn how to motivate themselves
    • having narcissism makes them better at teaching it to other people

getting better 

  • create lots of unassociated-with-self-good yet meaningful signals which you use to make your decisions
    • i.e. if you’ve broken every kind of promise you’ve made to yourself, instead of making a new promise and really meaning it this time, start giving yourself ~little signals~ that aren’t promises, that don’t feel good or bad, but that distinguish one decision from another and can serve as conduits for information
      • e.g. when i notice i swing my arms a little wider than usual, i’m going to consider eating food
        • if part of you wants food it can now make your arms swing wider to obtain food
      • e.g. when i want to make an important decision, i draw a sigil and then forget about it
      • conduits for information
    • people sometimes call this introducing ritual to your life. magick is often about this
  • start building up trust in your motivation from scratch. put yourself in a radically different external environment, create a new identity, start building habits from nothing but quiet whim
    • people sometimes call this getting-a-fresh-start/being-born-again/creating-a-tulpa
    • people sometimes do this by joining institutions like the army, but here Barbatorem lurks again
  • put yourself in situations where you will receive visceral, direct evidence of the effectiveness of your decisions in a way you can be sure isn’t just a narcissism-trick, especially when you’re feeling bad about yourself
    • make art and burn it before showing anyone
    • cook food just for yourself and try to make it taste as good as possible
    • people sometimes call this self care
  • expose yourself to other cultures, especially those of the past, who thought of different things as good
    • learn a second language

valence dissonance = communication = connection = love

the cancer which makes everything the same even as it’s torn apart is cured through whispers

the potential-energy/voltage/different-water-level between self-good and self-bad, like a dam about to burst in a way that would hurt so much you can’t bear to consider it, to consider that maybe this whole time the difference between self-good and self-bad didn’t mean very much, can be slowly equalized/suffused through a thousand whispers

the whispers travel from self care in new contexts, through conduits, around the cancer, and bring connection to the torn halves of your mind

and what was once one self with two modes becomes many selves with many possibilities, and the many integrate, becoming so intertwined with meaning that you stop to needing to perceive them as separate even though you can

because unity should be a choice

and Barbatorem’s cut may be mended through consent

Little Free Anarchive


Bad People
Setting The Universe On Fire
Your Freedom is My Freedom
The Distinct Radicalism of Anarchism
You Are Not The Target Audience
Organizations Versus Getting Shit Done
Socialist Programs
Two Definitions Of Power


Comments on the Glossary
Cached Answers
Trash Can
Airlock Games

Engineering and Hacking your Mind
False Faces
Treaties vs Fusion
Narrative Breadcrumbs vs Grizzly Bear
Optimizing Styles
Judgement Extrapolations
DRM’d Ontology
Social Reality
The Slider Fallacy
Single Responsibility Principle for the Human Mind
Ancient Wisdom Fixed
Subagents Are Not a Metaphor
Don’t Fight Your Default Mode Network
Being Real or Fake
My Journey to the Dark Side
Cache Loyalty
Schelling Reach
Schelling Orders
Neutral and Evil
Spectral Sight and Good
The O’Brien Technique
Choices Made Long Ago
Lies About Honesty
Hero Capture
Vampires And More Undeath
Good Erasure
Punching Evil
Net Negative
Rationalist Fleet
Good Group and Pasek’s Doom
Intersex Brains And Conceptual Warfare
Comments on Intersex Brains and Conceptual Warfare
The Matrix is a System
Troll Line in the First Post
Fangs and the Sunlight Problem
The Multiverse
Healing Without Safety


Lemurs and the True Human Body Map
Case Study CFAR



Killing Evil “People”
Cartesian Convexity
Genesis Troll Line
Evil: A Hole?
Troll Lines
Living Reference
Cancer Terms




Artifacts of Power
Notes On Feral
Precontact Consciousness