Suffering as Cybernetic Failure

From a stable and relaxed standing position, if you lean slightly you'll feel a slight impulse to push yourself back to center, unless you're operating at a higher level of the hierarchy of perception and interpreting a forward lean as neutral in order to walk forwards. If you get pushed far enough to break your ability to "push back" to centered, you hit cybernetic dysregulation, & panic and flail.

"Cybernetics" just means control systems, like thermostats, though sometimes in a higher-dimensional space with more complicated optimization targets. Balance while standing is a cybernetic process, we automatically apply force proportional to our degree of misalignment in order to keep ourselves at the desired physical orientation.

A lot of judo - Feldenkrais emphasizes this in Higher Judo - involves learning to treat local cybernetic dysregulation as part of a dynamic process of finding a new stable-but-mobile orientation, instead of trying to hold onto a single fixed posture, in other words, learning to fall without losing control.

For very many people, things like intense sadness and frustration are like being pushed over is to someone who isn't skilled at judo; they experience not just falling but panic at being knocked over.

If you don't experience sadness or frustration as suffering, that means it doesn't make you want to die / feel like you deserve death / feel profoundly dysregulated. In short, you're not interpreting frustration or sadness as a cybernetic failure. The experience of cybernetic failure is distinct and separable from any of these other experiences, but in most people they are highly correlated so they are blended perceptually.

Hatha yoga asanas at the edge of my nervous range of motion (but well within my potential mechanical ROM) have helped me isolate the experience of cybernetic dysregulation in context, and selectively relax it. Balance practice & Feldenkrais too. By contrast, my straight-up shinè meditation, once I see through the layers of distraction, isolates the feeling of cybernetic processes becoming very confused to the point of micropanic by the absence of any mandate to control something. The former (object-level cybernetic dysregulation) seems mostly centered around hips and shoulders where I'm still tight, the latter is related to constriction in the front of the chest. YMMV. Acute object-level cybernetic dysregulation feels like the stretch reflex.

The stretch reflex is another sort of panic at things going out of range, and to me it feels very similar by default, unless I pay a lot of attention to decoupling it from my general stereotyped cybernetic dysregulation response. If you tense up more over time when holding a stretch - especially in unrelated muscles - that's an accumulation of dysregulatory load, and one of the main reasons why stretching practice takes time. You can get more efficient at this, though. On the other hand you can make some progress by exhausting the dysregulation response rather than by extinguishing it via exposure therapy. Works faster but much more unpleasant and possibly risky. See Pavel Tsatsouline's Relax Into Stretch for details.

It's probably impossible and definitely not desirable in terms of survival value or reproductive fitness or epistemics or social standing to extinguish all cybernetic control, but it's a very powerful tool to be able to extinguish any cybernetic control. More thoughts on this in my Vipassana Center retreat review.

3 thoughts on “Suffering as Cybernetic Failure

  1. Doug S.

    I find the metaphor confusing. Is depression/"cybernetic failure" like having a thermostat connected to an underpowered furnace that can't warm your house so the output is always saying "MAXIMUM HEAT OUTPUT", or is it like having a thermostat that has a broken thermometer that sends it random input so the thermostat has the furnace turn on and off at random?

    1. Benquo Post author

      Sometimes one, sometimes the other, depending on the specific primitive override being engaged, and the type of interference between it and your voluntary motor control.

  2. Ivo

    The ability to hold your breath for a very long time, inhibiting a panicked breathing reflex several times, probably also falls in this category.


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