Even more instructive than our mental models may be our mental mythologies
By Daniel Golliher
This story was first published on Daniel’s blog.
Many are familiar with the idea of mental models, or mental frameworks, and why they’re useful. But I have another tool: mental mythologies. These are stories that subsume a great deal of thought and compress it into a visual form that I can mentally manipulate.
As I will explain in the small exegesis that follows this story, mythologies are useful when humans encounter their age-old, traditional follies: hubris, wrath, melancholy, &c. These rob our intellect of its full power, and the failsafe is a well-structured myth.
I was in an Interintellect salon about community building when I found myself explaining one of my mental-mythical objects, the time wand. Apparently this wasn’t common among those in attendance, so I decided to write this story to illustrate how I use mythologic tools. (This sort of thing is common in ii salons. If you come to one, be prepared to plumb the depths of something, even if it’s your own mind.)
This post is mythmaking and divine revelation. Proceed with anticipation.
It is written that there are objects of power.
That those who possess them can do incredible things.
This is true.
It is also true that they can be forged by any person, after their own fashion, if they so choose.
But there is great danger alongside great promise, and the objects of power do not guarantee any particular outcome. That is up to each who wields them.
What follows is an account of four objects of power that are found in the great temple of Danielsmind, built into the side of a mountain in a faraway land, and forged by the Mindsmith who lives there.
Of the four, the time wand possesses the most raw power. Mere contemplation of its full capacity can induce vertigo in some.
It is a polished silver implement that rests comfortably in the Mindsmith’s hand, tapering into a fine point at one end. It does what you would generally expect a wand to do–enable the impossible.
Its exact functional mechanism is only clear to the Mindsmith himself, but the theory is widely known and applied in various ways. The time wand increases time horizons, sometimes by decades if necessary. Loss is converted to wealth. Weakness to strength. Ignorance to wisdom. By its strange alchemy, the time wand can enable astonishing feats previously out of the Mindsmith’s reach.
When the Mindsmith sat in his library as a young man, overwhelmed by the accumulated achievement of the world, unable to envision integrating so much new knowledge, he turned to the time wand. As it extended his time horizon into weeks, then months, and then years, the task was suddenly well underway. As he felt the power of the wand arc through his body like lightning, he realized that he was feeling the fabled polymathic current.
And when the Mindsmith beheld the statues in the temple garden, those frozen forms of human beauty and strength, again he turned to the time wand. Its magic stretched his time horizon past days and into months just as it stretched and tore his musculature, enabling his transformation into the likeness of his art.
The lore of the time wand could fill volumes. It converts terrible market losses into fantastic wealth–it will merely stretch your time horizon by decade to do so. It will lift you from deep melancholy and drudgery, all within a year or two; the darkest moments of your life will precede the brightest with the time wand. Over and over it will transform your life and your expectations of the possible.
Of course, the time wand is a cursèd artifact for many. Its danger rivals its power, and the former is more easily realized. In fact, it is only useful when combined with other objects of power, lest it draw on the life force of its user to achieve their ends. As legions have discovered only when the damage is permanent, it can be a most ruinous thing.
There are many recorded stories of an individual, having forged their own crude temporal rod, sitting down to work in one of the great glass-and-steel spires that rise in the world’s metropoleis. With the time wand’s power in hand, and following the example of so many others, they invoke its terrible potency.
Many seek and achieve power, status, and wealth this way. It is no coincidence that the buildings that house such strivers resemble the platonic form of the time wand itself. But, absent the other objects of power, the time wand most reliably steals not only its owners’ momentary happiness, but their utter capacity for it. To affect an owner’s wish, the time wand’s alchemy transmutes the soul and all its glory into precious metals. And one only has so much soul.
Still others, having heard fearful tales of the time wand, avoid the instrument all together. They are not left much better off than those who use it imprudently, and in fact are making a different version of the same mistake, for they believe that avoiding the time wand means that they will have all the time in the world to achieve their goals. Someday. What they don’t realize is that the time wand does not effect the passage of time itself, merely the time horizons of those who wield it.
The Mindsmith, of course, does not use the time wand in isolation any more than he would handle molten lead with his bare hands. And he would never forswear it, knowing its great advantage. He has erred in its use, but has been shielded from permanent damage by other objects of power that he forged in the temple alongside it.
Ytilaer’s Mirror, laying next to the time wand, might appear impotent. A simple hand mirror with a frame and handle of polished wood, it draws on the elder spirit Ytilaer to render an image of the world as it truly is by banishing confounding demons.
Despite the tales that have been written about the mirror throughout the ages, there are quire a few who do not forge their own.
Consulting the mirror implies, for many, that they cannot perfectly perceive reality. That they lack intelligence. That they need a tool to keep from being fooled or ruled by their immediate reaction to the world. Of course, this is the preferred approach of the confounding demons. They’re the ones who whispered the first calumnies against Ytilaer and its mirror portal into the world of men.
Regular use of the mirror, in actuality, encourages a mindset of reflection and growth. The conscientious owner of the mirror knows that, when the spirit of Ytilaer moves, it might reveal something contrary to deeply cherished beliefs. It might exorcise a demon that had long masqueraded as a better angel of one’s nature. These owners are prepared to face the world as it is, and their lives are conducted with that always in view.
Although he did not use it as much as he should have when he was younger, the Mindsmith cherishes his mirror. Sitting with it, he has rescued himself from the grips of both violent impulse and creeping vanity. Neither is a quality of the external world, only of the human mind.
Once, having flown into a rage about the politics of the outer world beyond Danielsmind, the Mindsmith took the mirror in hand with the intent to hurl it against the wall.
But before he did, he looked into its reflective face. For a brief instant he saw his own terrible visage: the clouded eyes of a hardened mind and the ruddy flush of angry blood coloring his cheeks. It was the face of a man possessed by a powerful, yet common, demon.
It was then that Ytilaer reached out to touch the mirror from its faraway post in the ether.
The Mindsmith flinched against his own appearance, but as he stared into the mirror he also noticed his surroundings. Peaceful. Quiet. The temple of Danielsmind contained all his accumulated knowledge, all his art, all his work, every letter from his dearest friends catalogued neatly in the library. He spun slowly on the spot, looking at his temple’s reflection. How marvelous. And how strange that he had forgotten it all in an instant. He ran his hand slowly along the mirror’s frame, exorcised of the demon.
Perhaps more maligned than the mirror in the outer world is the Decision Stone. Taking it in the palm of your hand, it will clear your mind and help you work through whatever crossroads you’ve encountered. Of course, as with the mirror, many interpret the possession of the stone as the mark of the foolish and indecisive. They think of it as an insult to their capacity to choose.
This is due, perhaps, to the underlying mechanism of the stone. It takes the form of a mobius strip, itself an object that rejects orientation. To touch it is to reorient–invert–whatever decision you contemplate.
In the second before contact, you will be considering ways to achieve your goal. But reality, being complex, often makes such contemplations difficult. However, when you hold the stone, your thinking will change. Instead, you will consider: if you wanted to avoid your goal completely, and utterly destroy your capacity to achieve it, what would you do? As long as you hold the stone, your mind will seek the answer to this question. You will find that these answers come very easily, and the paths to avoid will be obvious.
When you’ve released the stone, your way forward will be much clearer, if not apparent.
For you see, it is easier to avoid stupidity than to achieve wisdom. The genius of the stone’s underlying design is that it makes its owner unable to forget this. But open use and advocacy for the stone is often mocked.
But who is the real fool: the one who seeks assistance with his thought, or the one who rejects it?
When the Mindsmith first completed construction of his temple, before he forged any other object of power, he created his Decision Stone. Walking to his new, bare gardens, he sat with it in hand. And, responding to his query, the question it asked of him was: How will you avoid happiness?
He sat with the stone for days in silent meditation.
When he finally set it aside, he smiled and set to work immediately on the time wand.
The time wand is called a “scepter” by some, and every scepter has its crown. In the case of the Mindsmith, this would be his Golden Laurels, the fourth object of power.
The laurels rest on a great throne in a secluded part of the temple that the Mindsmith visits only on two occasions: on the days of blackest depression, and in celebration of supreme achievement.
Both of these moments unite the human soul, a swirling coil of light and dark, and the laurels are the proper response to both.
That is why the laurels, more generally called a crown, are the most misused of the objects of power. To properly wear the crown requires some understanding of one’s own soul, and the soul of humanity. But, because the power of the crown rivals the time wand–some would say exceeds it–many rush to wear it without taking proper heed.
The crown does in the moment what the time wand accomplishes on the curved arc of time. It grants extraordinary capacity to any individual, because they cannot deny their own greatness while it rests atop their head. Their raw humanity, with all its range and glory, becomes plain. All pretense and false humility fall away.
But, like the time wand, its improper use brings disaster. Despite its power to forge the crown, humanity has not yet mastered it.
There are some who choose to wear the crown all the time, and, while advantage can quickly accrue to the confident and forward, over time they will experience the loss of forbearance and intellectual perspective. If they ever attempted communion with Ytilaer, they will come to scorn the spirit as beneath them. If they ever meditated upon the Decision Stone, they will smash it.
A group of equal size believes the crown to be inherently evil. They preach humility as an unqualified virtue, and initiation into this group requires a prospective acolyte to cast their own forged crown into a furnace. The leaders of this group, of course, all wear crowns. This is ceremonial, they say, and a necessary mark of their leadership.
The Mindsmith is a part of neither group. He regards his laurels as he regards his time wand, and so wears them only when needed.
But what does the Mindsmith experience when the laurels sit atop his head? What power complements both depression and ascendancy?
The last time the Mindsmith visited his thrown, something of extreme consequence had happened. It was a rare moment in his life, and in all similarly rare moments, he turned to the Golden Laurels.
When they came to rest upon his head time stopped.
The time wand, which he held at his side, grew cold and dull.
In his mind’s eye he saw his soul as it burst into brilliant white flames.
But it was not consumed, for this was Promethean fire, and the titan’s flame cannot harm a demi-god.
Each human, in a fashion prescribed by their own individuality, carries divine blood in their veins. We are, each of us, godlings walking the earth, forever working to find our way back to our celestial home.
The Golden Laurels connect the Mindsmith to Olympus, albeit tenuously, and permit him the full glory of his own divine right. It is he who carries the royal spark of life, he who grows strong, fast, wise, and kind.
He and his like who race sound–and win. Who challenge the sky’s height–and superate. Who listen to the birdsong–and write symphonies. Who overcome all distance to transmit their intellect and love at the speed of light across a planet.
After a moment, the Mindsmith raised the laurels from his head, lowering them back onto the throne he vacated. The time wand regained its crackling intensity, and his eyes reflected the brilliance of his own rekindled soul.
A brief exegesis: there are more than four objects of power, but the rest are for another time. You might be wondering how, or even why, one would create these. And–I mean this seriously–you can. I did. They exist within my mind, and are ready features of my own thinking.
Stories have the power to compel us in ways that sometimes facts cannot. You’ve felt this power in your bones if you’ve ever been moved to tears by music (a story we intuit), or hurled a book across the room in rage. It is why humans conduct such a swift and unrelenting trade in movies, albums, theater, and videogames.
For me, the objects of power were not created overnight. They just sort of wandered in over time; when I noticed the first one, I realized I could probably deliberately make others. They’re forged via the integration of books, poems, online essays, songs, and more, and they create a tactile user interface (TUI) for such things as the Candlestick Makers’ Petition, this song, or this essay. For the same reasons you’d want a GUI on your computer a lot of the time, I want my mythologic TUI when working with my mind.
When living life, it is sometimes more prudent to wield an object of power, rather than flip through a catalogued list of logical fallacies, information structures, and reference frames in your head. These are useful, to be sure. I use them myself.
But if you are bound to your bed by the coils of depression, if you find yourself overcome with anger at world events, if you have insistent dreams, if you feel pride in an achievement (but have no one to share it with), reach for the time wand. Commune with Ytilaer. Meditate upon the Decision Stone. Place the laurels upon your head–and remember where you came from.