This is a new edited transcription as discussed in a previous post.
In this essay Stephens addresses the question of why we are motivated to pay others back for the nasty things we consider they have done to us. The payback urge sometimes hides behind a dignified mask named Justice or Honour, yet at heart it’s a mechanical phenomenon with no rational basis.
In scientology it was called the overt/motivator sequence; the cycle of alternately committing harmful acts (overts) against others, and receiving similar acts (motivators) from them. As with the proverbial chicken and egg, it’s never clear which came first, although we all like to claim that “He started it!” Many philosophers beginning with the Buddha Shakyamuni have explained that overt and motivator are a complementary pair, two sides of the same coin. In fact, they are the same action seen from opposite viewpoints. If we want to stop receiving motivators, we have to stop committing overts. This is easier said than done. It takes something more than an exhortation to be good; it requires an understanding of the mechanism behind the cycle.
Stephens analyses this using his games theory. Firstly, vengeance can only occur in a game that has become compulsive so that the participants cannot agree to give and receive the action – exchanging punches in a friendly boxing match, for example – or to refrain from it altogether. They are stuck in opposition, one trying to do what the other tries to prevent.
Secondly, vengeance actually appears when a person is limited to a single position in the game, such as “I gotta punch this guy, and not be punched by him.” Then if he receives a punch anyway his only option is to swap roles with his opponent and become the one who does the punching. He is dramatising (literally acting out) the motivator that he has received and now uses as an overt. This is a special case of what Stephens has called the exclusion postulate, which keeps a compulsive player out of the games class into which he is trying to drive his opponent; in this case, the class of people who receive punches.
A possible limitation of this theory is that it does not explain why some conflicts escalate. Instead of returning the motivator exactly, as Stephens predicts, a person might pay it back with interest: Joe jostles Jim, Jim hits Joe, Joe draws a knife… and so on. Perhaps this is due to a bias in the way each person perceives the actions, overestimating what is done to them and underestimating what they are doing.
This is a new edited transcription as discussed in a previous post.
Level Two of Dennis Stephens’ The Resolution of Mind or TROM is an exercise in differentiating an object in present time from a comparable object in the past. We do this by finding differences between them. A difference is a quality that one object has but the other lacks. For example, I started Level Two by comparing pencils on the desk where I was doing the exercise with the pencils I had used in primary school. There are complete instructions for Level Two in the book The Resolution of Mind; Stephens later taped this essay to explain the theory further.
Elsewhere, he took the view that all relationships between things can be expressed as implications, postulates of the form ‘if a then b’. So if we decide “if object A then quality X” and “if object B then not quality X”, then the presence or absence of X is the difference between A and B. Conversely, a similarity between A and B would be some other quality that they have in common.
Of course, any two objects in the universe have differences and similarities. If they had no differences, not even different locations in space, they would not be two but the same identical object. Level Two breaks the command power of the mind over a person by separating past from present.
This is a new edited transcription as discussed in a previous post.
TROM is an acronym for The Resolution of Mind, the title of Dennis Stephens’ book and the system that he presented there. The subject of scientology fits almost entirely within TROM, the two subjects are almost fully consistent. The ony exception in Stephens’ opinion was Axiom 31 of scientology, which posited that goodness and badness are only relative and subjective. Hubbard’s view in 1954 when he wrote the axioms was that we have no objective criteria to judge right from wrong – just social agreements about rules that differ between societies.
Stephens’ position was that life contains an intrinsic standard of right and wrong, or good and bad, conduct; and that this can be confirmed by experience. He explained this in terms of constructive ‘life goals’ such as know, create, enhance or love; and destructive ‘non-life goals’ such as trap, degrade, compete or exploit. And the difference between a life goal and a non-life goal is not a matter of opinion. To begin with, non-life goals oppose the basic purpose of life: To Be. And if used in the therapy of TROM they will not erase, but only generate more emotional charge, mental mass and uncomfortable sensations.
To the extent that a person bases their life on non-life goals they will suffer. And to the extent that a society adopts non-life goals it will decline.
In human experience, competition could be seen as the essence of a game, and competing against rivals provides the quintessential game sensation. But competition is also a key concept in the biological sciences. Ever since Darwin, its primary importance in shaping the morphology and behaviour of organisms through natural selection has been recognised.
This note is an attempt at explaining competition in terms of Dennis Stephens’ theory of games, a theory that he developed quite independently of evolutionists like Lewontin (1961) and Maynard Smith (1982). In his view, any activity of humans – or other living things – can be analysed as a game consisting of conflicting purposes in the broadest sense of that word, or postulates in his terminology. Stephens did not directly address the subject of competition in his only published book (Stephens, 1979) or in any of his notes that have survived, apart from closely linking it to the idea of conflict. He dismissed ‘compete’ as a games goal along with ‘win’, ‘achieve’ and ‘succeed’. A games goal is one that is meaningful only inside a game, and is therefore irrelevant to understanding the mechanism of games as viewed objectively from the outside, which was the main thrust of his work.
Living organisms compete because all individuals are attempting to secure the finite resources that they need to live and reproduce. In biology, competition is most broadly defined as a reciprocal negative interaction between organisms (Connell, 1990), or more narrowly as the tendency of neighbouring organisms to utilise the same resources (Grime, 1973). It is strongest between the most similar organisms: individuals of the same age class and sex within the same species, because similar organisms make similar demands on their environment for resources. It occurs at a lower level between different species whose ecological niches coincide or overlap.
While a predator/prey relationship between two species implies a negative feedback loop tending to equilibrium, a competitive relationship is positive feedback that may end in the elimination of one species from the niche (Margalef, 1968).
A distinction can be made between tacit and explicit competition. Tacit, indirect or blind competition is a ubiquitous fact, as when two birds are foraging for the same food in the same habitat without being aware of each other, or when the root systems of two trees are tapping the same subsoil aquifer.
Explicit competition begins when one organism reacts to the other as a competitor with the triggering of functions or behaviour directed at the competitor. In the field of ethology, explicit or overt competition for resources among animals is called aggression.
Wallace (1889) considered every organism to be in contest with its whole environment, including both physical influences and the biotic influences of the other organisms present. This is tacit competition.
On the other hand, Darwin had emphasised explicit, direct competition; not surprising since he was a capitalist whose ideas were influenced by Herbert Spencer. But an organism is not operating with a goal “to compete”, even tacitly. Its behaviour or functions are directed toward maximising its exploitation of the necessary resources, and consequently denying them to its competitors. Similarly, when businessmen brag about being competitive, they really mean that they can break their rivals.
At the threshold between tacit and explicit competition the game escalates and might be described as compulsive as neither player can withdraw without defeat.
Here is an example of a Stephensian games matrix, for the goal ‘to know’.
Know Be known
Not know Not be known
Each of the four postulates has a complement facing it horizontally, forming the active and passive voices of a transitive verb. It also has an opposite (vertically in this matrix) and an opposition (diagonally). Here the difference between ‘opposite’ and ‘opposition’ is crucial! Games occur on the two diagonals between opposition postulates, so there are two games possible in this matrix: Know versus Not Be Known, and Be Known versus Not Know.
Two men might each want to know what the other is doing, without letting him know what they are doing. This would be a compulsive game where each is trying to get dominance over the other by having superior knowledge. Competition is a state where they both want to achieve the same goal but are in a relationship of rivalry rather than co-operation.
In a compulsive game, every postulate adopted by self has a corresponding exclusion postulate, which is the negative of its complement (Stephens, 1993). It is so called because it excludes self from the effect he’s trying to have on the opponent. The exclusion postulate corresponding to Know is Not Be Known, which applies to self while the Be Known postulate applies to not-self. Conversely, the exclusion postulate of Be Known is Not Know.
So their game play converges toward a balance between the dual intentions of achieving their own goal and blocking an opponent from theirs. Explicit competition arises in a compulsive game because of the exclusion postulate.
‘Eat/Be eaten/Not eat/Not be eaten’ is the ubiquitous games matrix in biology. To survive, anything needs to eat, and also to avoid being eaten until it has completed its life cycle. The feral doves that my wife feeds in the garden provide an example of explicit competition among animals engaged in a compulsive game about eating. A dove that is accustomed to being fed grain at a certain point will attempt to drive any other dove away from that place. Sometimes it will put so much effort into stopping the other from eating that it forgoes its own meal. Because it is a compulsive game player, it cannot rationally co-operate with the other bird to let them both eat in peace.
Competitors must be sufficiently similar before explicit competition is triggered: they must be in the same class for the purposes of the game. Runners in a race compete only against other registered entrants, paying no attention to dogs, spectators or birds even if these are moving faster than them. And those doves actively compete with other doves, but not with birds of other species that are eating the same food. I’ve often seen them ignoring the sparrows that eat their grain while they fight among themselves.
We can say, with Stephens and Wallace, that competition is just something perceived by the observer of a game and need not be consciously intended by the players. Tacit competition between organisms just happens, and if evolution can be said to be “trying” to do anything, it’s trying to minimise competition that causes waste and inefficiency.
There is no competition between individuals who have complementary postulates, such as ‘’control’ and ‘be controlled’. Nor is there competition if they have opposite postulates, like ‘eat’ and ‘not eat’. Competition only occurs between players who are trying to occupy the same role in a game that has become compulsive. Such a game is reduced to each player’s own postulate and its opposition, which is also their exclusion postulate.
Games begin between two different types of player (such as predator and prey, or businessman and customer) with distinctly opposed goals, but as the game becomes compulsive the players end up as rivals or competitors who are trying to reach the same goal. Predator and prey species both have the intention to eat but not to be eaten, and converge on strategies that maximise their chances of getting a meal without becoming a meal. Even in a ritualised game like football, success depends on a dual strategy of attacking one set of goal posts while defending a similar goal at the other end of the field.
This competitive state is exacerbated when their goal is a games goal such as ‘to win’ – as can be seen in every ritualised game from tiddlywinks to international politics. Anyone mired in a game that has become compulsive might agree with C.S. Lewis’ devil that “to be” inevitably means “to be in competition.”
Competition is characteristic of the final phase of a game where the games postulate and exclusion postulate have become condensed together. There is a cycle in a game that runs from co-operation between individuals with complementary roles, to conflict between individuals with opposing roles, to competition between individuals with identical roles.
In the final analysis, competition is just a subset of opposition. Stephens was right to dismiss it with scant attention.
Connell, J.H. (1990) Apparent versus “real” competition in plants. In Grace, J.B. & Tilman, D. Perspectives on Plant Competition. 9-26. (Academic Press: San Diego).
Grime, J.P. (1973) Competition and diversity in herbaceous vegetation – a reply. Nature 244: 310-311.
Lewis, C.S. (1942) The Screwtape Letters. (Geoffrey Bles: London).
Lewontin, R. (1961) Evolution and the theory of games. J. Theor. Biol. 1: 382-403.
Margalef, R. (1968) Perspectives in Ecological Theory. (University of Chicago Press: Chicago)
Maynard Smith, J. (1982) Evolution and the Theory of Games. (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge).
Stephens, D. H. (1979) The Resolution of Mind. (privately published: Sydney).
Stephens, D. H. (1993) The Exclusion Postulate. Tape recorded 20 April 1993.
Wallace, A.R. (1889) Darwinism. (Macmillan: London).
This is a new edited transcription of a talk by Dennis Stephens as discussed in a previous post.
Stephens recorded this as background information to Level Three of TROM, and in particular to resolve an apparent paradox that people may encounter as they improve their ability to simultaneously view ‘then’ and ‘now’.
There are various theories about how memory works. How am I able to re-experience scenes from over sixty years ago with all perceptics in three dimensions, full colour and detail: familiar scratches and blemishes on plastic toys, pages of books, the smell of the old schoolroom, the grain of floorboards, our cat’s lank black fur, my first sight and taste of icecream while an electric clock ticked in Grandma’s kitchen, or the Queen’s coronation broadcast on BBC shortwave? These scenes represent more information than a lifetime of high-resolution DVDs. Where is it all stored, or is it stored at all?
The most naive explanation is that it’s physically stored in the brain as molecules or intercellular connections, as if a brain was a vast RAM chip. Yet no plausible mechanism for the permanent, integrated recording of multiple sense channels on this scale has been proposed. Stephens raises the further objection that this would involve an infinite recursion since a person’s own body, including their brain, is an element within each remembered scene.
Dianetics introduced a more sophisticated approach, attributing memory to mental image pictures that are automatically recorded and filed independently of the body as a linear timetrack like the tape in a Turing machine. This might be analogous to an external hard drive that everyone carries around in an invisible back-pack. Stephens shows the difficulties with this theory too. How can we see these past scenes from external viewpoints in addition to looking through our own eyes, and find things in them that we did not notice at the time?
The conclusion is that we don’t carry personal libraries of memory recordings. We just have the ability to perceive whatever we put our attention on, whether this is in present time or in the past. As C.S. Lewis wrote (in The Dark Tower, about 1938) “when we remember, we are not simply getting the result of something that goes on inside our heads. We are directly experiencing the past.”
Watsonia coccinea Herbert ex Baker is native to the South-western Cape in seasonally wet sites on sandy flats.
It has been cultivated in Australia since the 1840s, sometimes under the misapplied name of W. humilis. The earliest recorded importation from the Cape was by Alexander Macleay of Elizabeth Bay via Captain Farquard Campbell in 1838. The specimen illustrated here was purchased from Tesselaars nursery in Victoria in 2002.
In cultivation it grows to 40 cm tall, exceptionally to 1 metre but never with more than 12 flowers. The bright scarlet perianth has an arched, narrow cylindrical tube 4-5 cm long marked internally with six darker red lines, and hooded lobes 24 to 28 mm long.
W. coccinea flowers later than many of the winter-growing watsonias, in late October and consequently the flowers are vulnerable to damage by thrips. It is less useful in the garden than the small forms of W. meriana for this reason, and because it is a “shy bloomer” with some full-sized corms producing only foliage if planted too densely or given less than full sunlight during the winter. It has apparently contributed its flower shape and warm colouration to a few of the cultivars bred by Cowlishaw and Cronin in the early 20th century, crossing with larger plants derived from W. borbonica.
Goldblatt, P. (1989) The genus Watsonia. 148 pp. (National Botanic Gardens: Kirstenbosch) ISBN 062012517
Macleay, A. (1843) Plants received at Elizabeth Bay. (Ms in Mitchell Library, Sydney, 2009/115).
This is the first of an occasional series of posts where I’m presenting some new, edited transcriptions of Dennis Stephens’ Supplementary TROM Tapes.
All that is known to exist of Stephens’ research notes consist of his published book and about 20 cassette tapes, most of which were not widely known until transcribed by Pete McLaughlin in 2012.
A few aricles by Stephens were published in 1994 and 1995 by International Viewpoints, who had his agreement to edit the spoken text into a more concise and formal style; it seems that due to fading eyesight he had to supply copy as audio and was unable to check proofs. The Supplementary TROM Tapes were recorded from late 1992 to late 1994, perhaps with a view to their eventual publication. They are mostly informal chats addressed to Greg Pickering, who had already edited The Resolution of Mind for publication, with digressions from his prepared notes. He frequently repeats statements several times and occasionally spells out a word to make sure the listener can duplicate it, corrects mistakes by leaving the incorrect phrase ahead of the corrected one or flicking the on-off button. A push-button cassette recorder didn’t provide much facility for tape editing!
Dennis grew up in the East End of London (Tottenham and later Edgware) and so his accent was basically East Ender although not Cockney. In 1957 he settled in Australia. Judging from these tapes he didn’t adopt many Australian idioms; for example, he still refers to Wellington boots instead of gum boots. But he picked up our Australian habit of flattening vowels: compared to the more musical sound of educated English, Aussie vowels tend to converge toward an indeterminate “uh”. So it may be hard for American listeners (for example) to catch all he says. Cairns might sound like ‘Cannes’, or cleft stick like ‘cliff stick’.
In these new transcriptions I’ve endeavoured to capture all the content that Stephens intended, as if editing them for hard-copy publication in a journal by:
deleting corrected phrases to leave the correction
reorganising sentences and correcting grammar where necessary
In a letter tape of 6 May 1993 to Greg Pickering, Stephens said that the lectures The Unstacking Procedure, The Exclusion Postulate and Dissociation should be published for use by students on Level Five. By 16 November 1993 he’d reconsidered and told Terry Scott that the Supplementary TROM tapes should not be made public, at least at that time. However, in another tape to Scott on 19 January 1994 he said they are essential for students on Level Five, and would also be valuable for scientists interested in the logical basis of TROM.
The Exclusion Postulate by Dennis Stephens
This lecture is about much more than its title suggests, and is Stephens’ major statement about the nature of postulates. He adopted L. Ron Hubbard’s non-standard usage of ‘postulate’ for a causative thought since English lacks a precise word for this. A postulate in this sense is a mental act, a decision such as “Apples must be known” or “All crows are birds”, directed as an intention or goal to bring something into existence, take it out of existence or relate it to something else.
The first big idea he presents is that postulates limit the possible and thereby define the reasonable, with a discussion of what we really mean by “reasonable” and why games are inherently unreasonable.
Then comes the defining law of this universe, that it’s possible to know anything that has been brought into existence to be known but nothing that has not been brought into existence. Consequently it’s futile to try knowing something that doesn’t exist, or not-knowing something that does. A thing cannot both exist and not exist simultaneously.
Next (and we’re still only up to the ninth page), Stephens explains the two other laws that apply to postulates but not to perceived objects within this universe.
Then follows the definitive explanation of how games become compulsive, in terms of double-binds or false identifications. The mechanism of exclusion postulates is not introduced until near the end, in a discussion of the practicalities of running Level Five of TROM.
The universe in which we live consists only of life and postulates. The old word ‘postulate’ has recently come into use as an English-language equivalent of saṃskāra, in the sense of an act of will, decision, purpose, or causative consideration. Entities, identities, objects and masses are the product of postulates interacting in games, and can be resolved back into these postulates.
Stephens (1992) developed a process that demonstrates that anything we perceive as an object consists only of postulates. Resolve these postulates and it is found to disappear. Represented as an algorithm, the process is as follows:
1. Name the object, or living organism.
2. What is the function of a _____?
(or for an organism, What is the purpose of a _____?)
3. Timebreak anything that appears.
4. Return to 2.
If no more answers to 2,
5. What purposes have you had towards a _____?
6. Timebreak anything that appears.
7. Return to 5.
If no more answers to 5,
8. Return to 2
If no more answers to 2,
In steps 3 and 6, timebreaking is the basic process of handling memories by viewing them in present time as described by Stephens (1979). Essentially the person looks at the area of each purpose, perhaps asking themself “How do you feel about that?”, to find material to timebreak.
Although primarily a demonstration, this process may have some application in therapy. A person bothered by an irrational fear of spiders could erase “spiders” from their mind, and from their experience of the world. Or someone with a paraphilia for stiletto heels can erase “stiletto heels” – always supposing that they want to.
Stephens noted that it is quicker to erase an object by running it as the subject of the basic goals package (Know, Not Know, Be Known, Not Be Known), for example “Must know spiders” and so on. However, if the object is involved in gameplay with a junior goal such as ‘Eradicate’, it becomes imbued with a purpose from that goals package. It will not erase by making it the subject of the basic package as long as the person considers the junior goal to be separate from the basic package.
Finding all the purposes eliminates any junior goals packages that may involve this object. In the end you may be left with one of the four legs of the basic goals package as its “actual” purpose.
For example: Once I was bothered by recurring thoughts of a certain book that I had lost. I set out to erase this book from my mind using the algorithm above. The purposes that came off first were to do with the book as a collectible, as an ornament to admire, as a possession to be proud of, as property that might be sold at a profit. But the basic purpose of this book, or any book, is Be Known – it exists to make something known.
And whenever an object is erased, a complementary subject is necessarily erased as well. From the pratītyasamutpāda, we know that subjects and objects are mutually dependent. The observer and the observed form a unity (Spencer-Brown, 1969). So if a person runs the algorithm given above, the question “What purposes have you had…” will run out the postulates that they made in the class of self, just as “What is the purpose of …” runs out the complementary postulates that they consider the object to have. Erasing those scary spiders also erases the personality who was scared of spiders.
But don’t worry; everyone has a vast stack of personalities or selves that they have created by living out one game after another. Resolving the mind is like peeling pages one by one from a very thick notepad. If a person really did erase all their selves they would be in the condition that Buddhists call nirvāṇa; and I’ve never met anyone who has got that far.
Spencer-Brown, G. (1969) Laws of Form. (Allen & Unwin: London).
Stephens, D.H. (1979) The Resolution of Mind.
Stephens, D.H. (1992) The Unstacking Procedure. Audio recording of 3 November 1992, available here.
Watsonia tabularis J.Mathews & L.Bolus has been in cultivation in Australia since the 19th century but does not appear to have contributed to the pedigrees of any hybrid cultivars bred in this country. It is endemic to the Cape Peninsula of South Africa and may be closest to the more widespread and variable Watsonia fourcadei J.Mathews & L.Bolus.
Plants grown from seed recently imported from South Africa have flowers of pale pink with a darker tube as shown in the photo. These represent the high altitude form; plants from lower altitudes differ in having bright orange flowers.
W. tabularis is evergreen, making most growth during autumn and spring then flowering in November to January.
Goldblatt, P. (1989) The genus Watsonia. 148 pp. (National Botanic Gardens: Kirstenbosch) ISBN 062012517
A tweet from Patrick Moore to the effect that most of the pesticides present in the food we eat are produced by the crops themselves set me thinking about the “arms race” between plants to avoid being eaten and at the same time encourage herbivores to eat other competing species.
Eating or being eaten can be viewed as a very simple game. In order to survive, any plant or animal, any living organism, must eat. That is, take in from outside the substances that it needs to grow its own body and to provide energy to run its internal processes. It also must not be eaten if it is going to survive for long. Winning this leg of the game consists of convincing any predator that it cannot be eaten, to use the terminology of Stephens (1993).
Plants have developed the ‘must eat’ game virtually to its limit by now. Housing symbiotic chloroplasts that fix carbon by photosynthesis, absorbing other nutrient elements, and the metabolic pathways that produce the whole plant have been established since the Palaeozoic. Even the later innovations of CAM and C4 photosynthesis have been around for millions of years.
Dennis Stephens (1994) further suggested that the main game among plants is ‘must not be eaten’ because they have not yet evolved as far as they can go in that department. They are still in an arms race with herbivores, with pathogens and with each other. Plants may develop spines or other physically deterring outgrowths that convince hungry herbivores that they are not edible. They may use nectar to encourage ants to wander over their surface and clean up feeding insects. But most importantly, they may produce any of a vast range of chemicals (secondary metabolites) that make them bad-tasting or toxic to the particular herbivores that threaten them. These are all physical manifestations of the strategy of being inedible.
As an aside, it’s interesting that the development of toxic secondary metabolites is a speciality of the angiosperms or flowering plants that have dominated land vegetation since the Cretaceous age. Ferns can be inedible too, but they are much less rich in this kind of chemistry. And the notably toxic members of the gymnosperms are not the really ancient ones, but those that have diversified since the Cretaceous in competition with angiosperms – the cycads, Ephedra, Taxus and some related conifers.
So there is an evolutionary pressure on plants to not be eaten by convincing herbivores that they are inedible. The most obvious benefit from this – when it succeeds – is that they do not lose biomass or get killed outright by herbivory.
But there can be a second advantage for the uneatable. Consider a three-way game between two plants and a herbivore, such as sheep grazing on a pasture of grass containing thistles. A thistle’s spines make it unpalatable; either totally inedible, or so hard for the sheep to eat that it will not be nibbled as long as any edible, palatable grass remains around it.
So the harder the sheep graze, the less the grass will compete with the thistles for light, water and ground space. The combination of grazing pressure and their spiny defence against being eaten has given them a powerful strategy in their own competitive game with the grass.
It’s also interesting to consider the strategy of the grass. It might actually derive some benefit from being grazed along with broadleaf weeds that lack the thistle’s defence, since it is better equipped to regrow after grazing than they are. But that’s another story.
Stephens, D.H. (1993) Expanding on Level 5, Sex. Letter tape of 6 May 1993.
Stephens, D.H. (1994) Postulates, Self and the Obsessive IP. Letter tape of August 1994.