You’re a brain in a jar, right? And all your senses are lies. Even this letter is a hallucination.

Or you’re a little AI, in a big program, in a vast machine made by unimaginably humongous nerds in a cosmic computer lab. A simulated consciousness. A non-player character in a tawdry and boring role-playing game.

Maybe you’re René Descartes, trapped in your mind by a bad god who can alter even mathematics to deceive you. Maybe you’re a sex robot from Westworld, or what’s-his-name from The Truman Show.

The fear that the world is a lie is old as time. It’s deeply disturbing, of course. And for those of us with what we now charmingly call “neuro-diversity,” it’s a common failure mode of cognition. The influencing machine interferes with your mind and you can’t tell hallucination from reality. The “neuro-diversity” is externalized, an alien at the wheel, with the conscious witness of the mind tied up in the backseat.

The main effects of the influencing machine are the following:

  1. It makes the patient see pictures . When this is the case, the machine is generally a magic lantern or cinematograph. The pictures are seen on a single plane, on walls or windowpanes, and unlike typical visual hallucinations are not three-dimensional.
  2. It produces, as well as removes, thoughts and feelings by means of waves or rays or mysterious forces which the patient’s knowledge of physics is inadequate to explain. In such cases, the machine is often called a “suggestion-apparatus.” Its construction cannot be explained, but its function consists in the transmission or “draining off” of thoughts and feelings by one or several persecutors.
  3. It produces motor phenomena in the body, erections and seminal emissions, that are intended to deprive the patient of his male potency and weaken him . This is accomplished either by means of suggestion or by air-currents, electricity, magnetism, or X-rays.
  4. It creates sensations that in part cannot be described, because they are strange to the patient himself , and that in part are sensed as electrical, magnetic, or due to air-currents.
  5. It is also responsible for other occurrences in the patient’s body, such as cutaneous eruptions, abscesses, or other pathological processes

(Tell me that doesn’t describe your phone.)

In what is almost certainly a coincidence, philosophers of all ages have lost years and hairlines “studying” the “problem” of “evil demons”. (See Wikipedia: Evil demon , Brain in a vat ).

My favorite version is the braino cap :

In 1968 James Cornman and Keith Lehrer suggested something they called the braino machine that “operates by influencing the brain of a subject who wears a special cap, called a “braino cap.” When the braino cap is placed on a subject’s head, the operator of the braino can affect his brain so as to produce any hallucination in the subject that the operator wishes. The braino is a hallucination-producing machine.

It “operates by influencing the brain”? Tenured philosophy seems like a great hustle, if you can get it.


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The new-money techbros love this trope. They all grew up on The Matrix Revolutions and they think we’re in a simulation inside a simulation inside a god damn dick in a box, and that they’re going to whip up their own little simulation to hide in while they spend a few centuries terraforming Mars and marsifying Earth.

Why do they profess this fear of the Simulator, while building nothing other than an Influencing Machine themselves?

Same reason a fortune teller shows his cleavage while he’s knocking the table with his knee. Misdirection. Deceit.

The tech circle won the last few money-bubbles through deceptive agility. The opposition moved too slowly, their neckties cutting circulation to their brains. Their OODA loops were bloated and begging to be popped.

But the easy pickings have been cleaned up, and new giants stand. The megacorps have speciated, this one to the video niche and that one to shipping and the other to advertising. As the competition is shaken out, the only place left to grow will be into our minds.

The global attention-sphere is a much cheaper zone to colonize than outer space. That’s why space is the final frontier. They’re gonna mine your brain like an asteroid. Space is last, but you’re next!

The “beautiful AI future” is a gun aimed square at your face. They’re going to put your brain in a jar and use it to power their spacecraft. Honestly. Some of them read this letter, and they’re nodding right now.

The smimulation theomry and Grimes’s Basilisk are the macro-economic excuses that your mugger gives for mugging you – in this case, probably while pushing his custom acrylic frames up his nose and promising to pay back your attention as soon as the venture attention comes through.

Your personal recording device, currently snuggled in your butt pocket or curled around your wrist or cradled in your arms, it’s an attention weapon. And it doesn’t belong to you. You have no idea what it’s recording, who it’s snitching to. What kind of hooks they have in your brain.

Who controls your eyes?

Who controls who controls your eyes?


What can you do to tighten your OODA loop, to outfox the thinking machines?

Well, the imperialist fuckwits who invented the theory say it’s all about the second phase, Orientation. That’s the one with the pentacle here:

diagram showing Observe, Orient, Decide, Act feedback loop

If you’re going to improve one aspect of this ever-looping process, improve your orientation.

Look deeply into your values, your dreams, your visions of the future. Imagine not what you realistically hope for, but what you absolutely unrealistically hope for. Your dearest wishes.

Remember the things in life you love most, the ones you miss, the ones you are lucky still to have.

If you know your values, your orientation, then you spend less time confused about what to do. You act for those you care about.

You can widen your observations, or practice more decision-to-action pipelines, but that will only take you so far. Knowing why you’re acting gives you the biggest advantage.


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Build an altar to your values in your home. Do it, it’s magic. It doesn’t matter that magic isn’t “real”, it works.

Make an altar like you see in restaurants of first-generation immigrants, one that exudes meaning and worth. Put everything you care about on there, or only the most important. Don’t put your phone there.

Steal objects from places you go, if you find them touching or enigmatic. Add them.

Put pictures of your grandparents, your fashion idols, your imaginary friends. If some phrase makes you giggle, or surge with tears, scrawl it on a scrap and staple it to your sanctuary.

Try to glance at it every day. It’s okay if you don’t. It’s in your mind anyway.

When the moment comes, when you have to make a split-second now-or-never do-or-die horns-of-the-dilemma skin-of-your-teeth right damn now D E C I S I O N –

You’ll just know. Your observations will flow naturally into your decisive action, while your opponents and competitors flounder with surprise.

The black swan will be your familiar. You will coast easy on the turbulent winds of the twenty-first century.

Build your own influencing machine. Know which gods you serve, and be prepared to act in their service, because the world is about to get really, really fucking neuro-diverse.

Thanks for reading,

– Max


###### SCIOPS is a weekly letter about your brain and other stuff. Feel free to forward it, or share it on your social profiling media. You can find a web version of the latest letter here , or view the archive here .

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