Invariants and Personal Development

Let’s start with the concept of an invariant, that which doesn’t change, which appears in mathematics, the analysis of programming loops, physics, and linguistics.

  • Must‘ is an invariant because it doesn’t inflect.
  • The speed of light is an invariant because changing reference frames doesn’t modify it.
  • The size of a set of objects is invariant of how they’re counted.
  • In a loop to sum elements in a list, the sum variable always represents the sum of the elements thus far, which is an invariant.
    • sum = 0
    • for i in list_of_numbrs:
      sum += i
  • Palden Gyatso worried he’d lose his invariant of compassion for all when being tortured.
  • The highest self or reality, Ātman, is the only true invariant in the space of experiences — according to Advaita Vedanta.

Now one can probably easily guess where this leads: much of personal development can be framed as character sculpting, which generally involves weaving invariants into the pattern complex that is one’s being.

Sadghuru’s Inner Engineering suggests thinking of growth and life in terms of cycles, which also fits the invariant view: I have now thoroughly added Tibetan rites to the daily invariants along with food. And exceptions even fit in smoothly: an invariant is often defined with respect to certain operations, so fasting and vacation days are different modes that may have their own invariants.

Individuation can be seen as a process of creating and fitting into invariants, personally, with special emphasis on traits that distinguish entities. I may debate the need for this emphasis as recognizing common humanity can help with (self) compassion. Moreover, one can see how preserving individuality (a la invariants) directly stymies radically self-transcending growth, yet what growth is there without coalescion of at least transient invariants?

Perhaps most personal development can be framed as either,

  1. Reifying invariants into one’s system or environment
  2. Releasing invariants to make room for growth and allow for flexibility.

Which is one form of the explore-exploit tradeoff. Meditatively, one talks of expansion and contraction cycles, and in logic programming, one talks of abstraction-refinement loops, which both seem similar.

The meta-protocol in the 45 Days to Awakening course to put on persistent non-symbolic experience fits into this paradigm. Meditation is where one explores the state-space of phenomenal experience, peering beneath the cracks of the current invariants (such as the narrative self™️); then once one has glimpses of other ways of being (such as non-dual spacious awareness), one can sink into these until they become the baseline invariant and the old invariant becomes an optional feature of day by day experience.

This is also the key to lasting change in line with changing habits: find a way to weave one’s goals into the fabric of one’s being, gaining unconscious mastery, so that life becomes seamless. Moreover, releasing expired (‘bad’) habits without some new invariant to reify, should one be surprised if the habit reforms?

I also find it helpful to think about invariants I wish to hold in my life: loving female partnership? Access to drinking water and coffee? Chocolate? Demonstrably functional democracy? Yes, yes, yes, and fuck yes! This is how I think of the notion ProEutopia: each desirable societal invariant is one bubble of eutopia, and in the spirit of protopia, we wish to empower ourselves to incrementally add to the amount of eutopic bubbles we live in. Maslow’s Web-of-Needs fits in here as each need’s fulfillment constitutes a different invariant we wish to weave together into the whole for a fully self-actualized society and beyond 🚀. Of course, social fulfillment invariants will likely only be approximately fulfilled and it’s not hard to envision a eutopic baseline where we deal with most deviations quickly.

So I propose we view identity and personal development in terms of invariants and their release or reification.