The Inevitable Imposter

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I have come to understand imposter syndrome as an inevitable course of development when investigating novel ideas and expressing them to a crowd of people. For bloggers, this dynamic between writer and audience appears to be the game of choice. When you present a novel solution to people looking for answers, we can conclude that the audience in search of answers does not a know the answer. They are insufficiently informed to present a solution, and that is how they are identified in this relationship between themselves and the solution creator. A solution creator is not necessarily defined as being informed enough to find an accurate solution to the puzzle, but they may often be more informed than the audience who is seeking solutions.

When someone presents an idea, the following that this idea develops will likely be less informed than the person presenting the idea.

This is the seed of imposter syndrome development.

When assessing our own validity, a conflict occurs where we can easily establish that those who believe in your idea are likely less informed about the idea than you are. There can be a mass amount of following that provides a false sense of validity to your idea, and this may be temporarily euphoric but soon enough you will begin to critically analyze the situation and discover this pattern of a less informed following. This is natural because the following is seeking information and you are providing the missing information.

Next you will find those who criticize the ideas you’ve put forth. These people will sometimes bring up points that you’ve never considered yourself, but perhaps don’t necessarily concretely invalidate your idea. I’ve often invested a lot of time discussing with critics of my ideas, trying to find out if their position truly invalidates my own. This often proves difficult in public forums (in my case it is usually Reddit) due to the fame game mechanics of up- and downvotes. These votes often influence the judgment of uninformed masses, based on appeals to popularity, and the simple likelihood that a dominantly accepted position may have more validity when checked against a crowd of potentially informed people. Some may even abuse these mechanics and generate a façade of intellectual authority to empower themselves in these public forums. Others who conform to popular opinion may do so out of modesty, expecting it to be unlikely that they are superior to the majority.

Sometimes critics will even bring up points that you’ve already considered but didn’t clearly express in the published idea, and somehow this still infests your mind with insecurity and doubt. You may find other uninformed portions of the audience taking sides, where the opposition gains a following of its own. You may attempt to counter the opposition reasonably with studies to bridge the information gap, but the uninformed masses may have so little information that it becomes a war of authority and tone of text. Acting intensely confident is far riskier to one’s ego than cautiously communicating with a level of honest uncertainty. If you are found to be wrong, the level of embarrassment due to such an ignorant display of false confidence will drop your authority into the negative zone. Critics can use this fact to take extra risks and express a high degree of self-assurance which implies that they are sure enough that they are correct and won’t risk a loss of their authority. Those with little authority will be able to take these risks more, because they essentially have nothing to lose except a temporarily battle that will be forgotten after the moment passes. Those who have developed a following are playing at higher stakes, so the incentive to remain modest and secure is increased, which may signal to the audience that you are less confident than the opposing critics.

At worst there are times when it is completely evident that some of your opposition has not even fully consumed the idea you’ve expressed, and subsequently contradicts this or even restates points you’ve already stated yourself (that they are unaware of), as if you didn’t know this. The uninformed may grow distrustful in your abilities to form ideas just by seeing other opposition’s confidence, despite not understanding either side of the debate. Eventually people may take sides both good and bad, both informed and uninformed, and even very often biasedly so, as if it were team sports or politics. You can even detect bias within your own side of the fence, which further enhances self-doubt eventually to influence your expression of confidence, or more troubling, your honesty. This growing dynamic between the low authority, high risk critics and the modest, honest idea creator begins to incentivize new strategies or else fall prey to the losing sides of these sport-like dynamics. Now there is mounting pressure to feign confidence in one’s own idea and allow the critics to do the job of counteracting this self-assurance. The next phase of social evolution in the dynamic.

In the end, these oppositions may leave you either grandiose that oppositions are generally nonsensical or that you’ve been unjustifiably grandiose to express the idea in the first place, that the critics may have been right all along, that you are a fraud, and that you haven’t even fully understood their opposition, which are both definitely sometimes going to be true.

Now emerges a truly confused state of self.

Once you repeat this process in front of the same crowd, the audience will begin to habituate their perception of your abilities, and form a bias in which they either trust or distrust your idea solely based on past performances within the crowd war. People may read the first paragraph of a post and then try to see how fast they can find faults, so that they can express this in the comments and gain points/karma/authority. Eventually this will affect your disposition and then the audience will begin to respond to this as a factor in the assessed validity of your ideas. If your disposition is cautious, unconfident, defensive, then you are expressing the Pavlovian conditioning of past rejection, which can signify that the consensus of your validity as a thinker is poor. Other’s can read this rejection and will quickly know that if they were to validate your idea, they are joining the losing side of the fence. To the uninformed viewer, those with little information on a topic will be better off to assess the validity of the idea based on this disposition, a sort of intuitive strategy. The ratio of validation/rejection can be read because of how validation and rejection condition us, reward and aversion.

To be open and self-critical can be necessary as an idea creator, but it can be the downfall of your status when critics come out so confidently, even moreso than you. The successfulness of your idea depends heavily on a consensus from the uninformed masses who seek out ideas and information, who seek out answers. It becomes deeply concerning when one realizes they must feign a level of confidence in one’s own idea to expand the network of the ideas effect. To check it’s validity by sifting through masses of thinkers so that you can find validation of your thoughts.

You must become an imposter.

At some point, I began to realize how much power the tone of my voice had an effect on people’s perception of my authority. For so much of my life I had a self-defeating tone of voice, an intense expression of uncertainty, a compulsive tendency to use terms such as “maybe” and “I think” even in topics I was fairly confident in. It was clearly apparent that others with less knowledge on these topics would quickly doubt me and I would be challenged to which I would proceed to unconfidently list all of my knowledge that supports my position and others would often dismiss it as unlikely seemingly irrationally without going further. I began to realize that my tone of voice and expression could be the major factor in all of this. It was my experiences with cannabis that highlighted this power that tone has. My tone of expression would fluctuate dramatically in response to the drug and I noticed how people treated me differently while I was under the effects. People appeared to dominate me, and frequently doubt me, sometimes to the point of causing serious and unnecessary drama. My honest uncertainty with everything during the intoxication made others close to me sometimes suddenly worry and doubt my potential, asking me where my life was heading, to which I would often respond to with deep uncertainty. I would often rationalize to myself that others are having a dishonest sense of confidence in predicting their futures and I couldn’t understand how they could expect me to be so certain. This is what began my experiments with expressive tone in daily life.

“Maybe” and my doubtful stature slowly faded out and I realized how much power I had to influence those around me. This especially aided in eliminating unnecessary stress and social defeat from my daily life. Eventually I started to use this while speaking on my podcasts and in my writing. Before this, I often received criticisms for using “I think” and some stated that it appeared to them that I wasn’t even convinced by my own ideas. So I changed my tone. The response from my audience was clear, but this became more a source of stress than I initially imagined. People were often more confident in me than I was. I would observe people sharing my ideas with others and I felt compelled to warn them of the hypothetical nature of my statements. I do make sure to highlight that much of my ideas are hypothetical, and I’ve even been criticized for expressing too much hypothetical ideas.

Eventually I was deeply disturbed by the power my tone of expression had. I noticed that speakers like Sam Harris have mastered their tone of expression, and seemingly have a large following, probably in part due to practicing their expressive tone. Eventually you begin to wonder if famous thinkers have all merely learned to exploit these mechanics of social influence and status games. Or whether all the famous thinkers were deeply uncertain of their own ideas and worried about their influence on others due to the inability to assess the validity of one’s own ideas. Perhaps the ones who can remain confident in their understanding of the external world are the physicists. Outside of this, everything gets increasingly looser, where we observe a disintegration of meaningfulness expand outwards from non-physics/non-biological understandings of our reality. We have rigorous networks of authority in each academic area of interest, the sciences, history, psychology and many more which may rely on degrees of faith as you expand further away from deeply abstract physics or simple observations.

This faith in authority unravels into the descent to solipsism. By this I don’t necessarily mean to invoke the specific ideas of the self being all that exists, but rather the idea that almost nothing in the external world can be verified to be true. Instead we rely on networks of intuitive authority due to our inability to intake vast amounts of minute details in every field of study. We necessarily assume a level of confidence in strangers’ judgments, knowledge, and thoroughness.

At least we can have faith that those who are clever enough to figure out how to master the social hierarchy may also have more clever ideas in general. Science is fortunate enough to have reached a point that attempts to verify reality on some level. We still must wonder how many scientists are faking studies for rewards and we must still worry about the compounding effects of biases and how they influence future biases in a seemingly exponential fashion. Networks of confirmation biases that enhances future biases in studies, shaping hypotheses, theories, and our perception of the nature of our subjective existence. Placebos upon placebos.

With solipsism we begin to realize it is not only ourselves that may be an imposter, but our entire collective network of ideas about reality.

Maybe we know almost nothing.

(Disclaimer: mostly this solipsism in science refers to my fields of interest, such as neuroscience and psychology.)

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