p, li { white-space: pre-wrap; }

Back from the woods. I spent a couple weeks without computers, phones, cash registers and cars. I remembered, as I always do, that my body is a piece of the planet. The cycles of the seasons and tides flow through my cells. Biophilia is a part of the human animal – we’re just not evolved to be happy in an artificial environment. We need plants and critters and soil and running water.

Of course, the ever-optimizing engine of capitalism doesn’t give a flying fuck about the biosphere. The reason I don’t live in the woods full-time (anymore) is that it doesn’t stop the world-burning machine. It’s self-sabotage to hide in the last beautiful places while the only known life in the universe is wiped out by profit-seeking supply chains.

But it’s important to break trance. If you’re fully engaged in the news cycle, the product cycle, the markets and the socials, you’re a tool of the machine. The cortisol-dopamine loop in your brain is wide open to all possible attack vectors. Dark wizards everywhere can directly access the reward mechanisms of your life and warp your behavior. Let go of it all, even for a week, and older, deeper habits surface.

What do humans really want from the world? What makes us happy in a meaningful, long-lasting way? I researched it, because I’m not happy, but I’d like to be. It seems that the essential human bliss experience is the dinner party.

More broadly, humans want to have community and purpose. We want meaningful work to do, for people we care about. Modernity destroys all of this in the interest of creating alienated worker-consumers, but the desire for it remains. We’re hardwired to be social creatures.

The dinner party is a vestige of that innate impulse. We come together, bearing the foods we have gathered, to a place of warmth and comfort. We circle round the hearth. We prepare the foods together, chopping and stirring and gossiping. We sit down in abundance, enough food to make everyone feel fed, feel included, feel valued. We feast, drink, laugh and chatter. If there are enough people, we naturally divide into mingled sub-conversations. The night winds down, people drift away to their own nests. Everyone goes to bed sated, physically and emotionally. This is humanity.

There are cognitive loops in this environment too. No human is immune from their own neural architecture. But the cortisol spike of hunger and the dopamine surge of food-gathering were fine-tuned over millennia. The modern cognitive hack is shorting these ancient circuits, hot-wiring your brain.

Cortisol in your bloodstream makes you age faster, sleep less, gain weight and get sick more. The dark wizards love that. They jack up your cortisol as much as possible, so that you’ll do dopamine-seeking behaviors to flush the cortisol from your system. Then they organize your behavior using cue-action-reward methods and before you know it you’re trapped in an endless recursive loop of checking your notifications and looking at your timeline and checking your notifications and looking at your timeline and checking WAIT OK BREAK TRANCE.

Break trance. Enter a new environment, with different cues and new possible actions. Remove yourself from the cortisol triggers. Stare into the fire and let your mind wander, free of plot and character. Infinite-scroll the images in the surface of the river. Listen to the 24/7 lo-fi hip hop and chill beat of rain on a tin roof. Hunt, gather, craft, sing, talk, stretch, dance.

There is a Self beneath your socially-constructed persona. You are a being from Earth, of Earth, not an alien colonist. You belong here. This is the stronghold of the mind, the invincible place, the place where you can retreat and regroup and resist any assault.

Welcome home.

– Max


SCIOPS is a weekly newsletter about cognitive security. Feel free to forward it to anyone you think would like it, or share it on your social-tracking profile. You can find a linkable version at tinyletter.com/sciops/archive .

If you’re seeing this for the first time, make sure to sign up at tinyletter.com/sciops for more cyberpunk weirdness in your inbox every week.

If you have thoughts, questions, or criticism, just respond to this email.

If you want your regular life back again, you can unsubscribe from this newsletter. I can’t guarantee that will help. But you can try it.