Re: I-Prime (WAS: E-Prime)

Freeman Craig Presson (
Thu, 8 Jul 1999 22:33:59 -0500

On 8 Jul 99, at 19:16, Eliezer S. Yudkowsky wrote:

> "Eliezer S. Yudkowsky" wrote:
> >
> > If you think it's difficult, but useful, to write without using the word
> > "is", you should try to think without using the word "I". Instead of
> > saying "I remember", say "the memory-retrival subsystem reports"...
> >
> > It's a quantum improvement in quality of thought. Unfortunately, it
> > also requires a quantum improvement in knowledge and diligence.
> By request, let me amplify on that: You have to reduce your mind to
> elements, then attribute properties to the elements instead of to the
> monolithic "I".
> In particular, I haven't made much headway on it. I save I-Prime
> thinking for when I'm tackling a particularly difficult self-analysis
> problem, but then it's a real lifesaver.

"We think our brain is our most important organ ... but wait, who's telling us that?" - some comedian, name forgotten

Ornstein (book title forgotten, something like Multi-Mind?) and Minsky (Society of Mind) came at the same perception from very different approaches. They were anticipated by some seven centuries by Dogen Zenji, but that, as they say, is another story.

A lot of those self-analysis problems do seem to be easier to state, if not to resolve, when you recast them as selves-analysis problems. "I" have internal conflicts in large part because "I" have chosen not to acknowledge that "I" have a rather large number of sub-personalities with different priorities. Several schools of psychology implicitly acknowledge this by assigning personality traits to more or less artificial high-level groupings such as id/ego/superego or child/parent/adult.

I have had more success at catching the lower-level agents at work than I have at figuring out their "party affiliations." The "I" who campaigns for early bedtimes and early arrival at work may or may not be the same "I" who wants to study when some other "I" wants to play chess or post to extropians, although it's pretty clear that both of them are playing a superego/parent role; and none of them, including the hypothetical top-level "I," is immutable.

They don't all disagree on everything, or the whole mess wouldn't work. For example, when one of them gives itself a headache from thinking, they all suffer for it, so "I" am going to shut up now :-)