Working volition

Working volition

Here’s a way I could imagine things operating on a lot of levels simultaneously, from the simplest organisms to multinational organizations. Imagine with me…

We are always monitoring “how effective our volition is”. We want to exit situations where the “drive” we put into the world is counter-productive. We are bored when our drive (or “effort” or “labor”) has no effect. But we’re excited to be in settings where our drive turns into work, where things move in accordance with the drive we put into it.

A collective I want to be a part of is one that is moved by or even amplifies my volition. Working productively with others is a multiplier on how effective my volition is. When I pump my legs on the swing, I am excited to learn that by getting the timing right, the swing goes further each time I pump. I feel bad when I get the timing wrong and my drive does not turn into work. A good golf swing turns my drive into a lot of ball movement aimed toward the hole. I feel good about my speech when people are moved by it in the expected direction. I feel bad when they “don’t get it”.

Very roughly, I’m thinking about this formula:

W=\int \mathbf{F}\cdot \mathbf{v}\, dt

The dot-product there means that alignment with movement direction is what makes force turn into work. “Alignment makes effort work.”

James Dama gave a surfing analogy and Nathan Haydon gave a white-water rafting analogy, which add dimension and nuance to the above story. It’s crucial that your paddle (e.g. hand or foot) pushes in proper alignment with the direction of water movement. If you push your paddle into a turbulent area, you could dislocate an arm or break a paddle. Similarly, if my car is skidding on the road, the first thing I should do is to “regain agency” by aligning my wheels with the direction of the skid, even if for a moment doing so is heading me off the road.

In summary, something like the following may be interesting to consider. Agentic things constantly test whether their “labor” is “co”: whether our effort is aligned with the surround, or is just turning into heat, or is actively being negated.

Final thought: Collaboration is coordinated through language: it lets us get the timing right, putting us into resonance.

Row! Row! May our labor be co!


I was thinking on the flight back how one might construe the psychotherapist’s task in similar terms to Nathan’s kayaker and James’s surfer, in particular that need to feel the right moment to act.

Some schools of therapy are thinking in dynamical terms, e.g., Wachtel’s version of relational therapy, he calls cyclical psychodynamics. The patient seen in dynamical terms:

Screenshot 2023-08-20 15.03.40

(Need to break as limited to one insertion, Owen.)

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Now how the therapist works with this flow:

Screenshot 2023-08-20 14.52.21


(Now I’m blocked by replying too quickly. Owen.)

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Screenshot 2023-08-20 14.59.59

So this is about unhealthy dynamics and their repair, but there should be room for David’s more positive trajectories.

(Extracts from Paul Wechtal, Relational Theory
and the Practice of Psychotherapy, The Guildford Press, 2008)

Sorry about that David, I’m not sure how to change the setting that only allows one image per post, but I’ve upped your trust level so hopefully things will be smoother now?

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I think I certainly see the pattern in psychoanalysis. Here are a couple forms I’d put forward:

  1. The core loop of Eugene Gendlin’s Focusing could be construed as “finding traction between a symbol and a feeling,” i.e., making sure explicit thought and implicit experience have this sort of “dot product.”
  2. Wilhelm Reich’s closely related sharpening of Freudian method into dynamical “resistance analysis” in his early character analysis work, such as the idea that analysis of a neurosis cannot have a therapeutic effect until the affects bound into a neurosis can be heard in the voice of the patient describing that neurosis.
  3. Freud’s early concept of the “ichgerecht” which is translated into English as “ego syntonic,” for “instinct that is aligned with the ego,” contrasted with the “ego dystonic” for “instinct that is in conflict with the ego.”

The cyclical flow approach to therapy appeals to me. I wonder if it would be fruitful to consider a cycle-overlap dot product, like with Fourier series, to reason about those cases. Or for cases where there is a single “right time,” if the dot product might need to be an overlap of a temporal bump function of dynamic responsiveness against some time-varying measure of effort.