Poiesis

Poiesis is bringing into existence what did not exist before. It is the power of manifestation and reification. Mage: The Ascension refers to this as Prime. And that is what I’m doing now, by writing this.


A few months ago, I tried to manifest an idea of mine into an organization (a startup). But the more progress I made at manifesting it in the larger world, the less buy-in I had with myself. At some point I couldn’t convince myself (let alone anyone else) that it was worth the effort to try to manifest it anymore. This was disheartening! It still seems like a good idea. So why couldn’t I realize it in the world?

I think there’s a missing skill. Some people seem to have lots of it. And I don’t yet have enough of it. So, how does one get better at the skill of raw manifestation?

Here’s my model for how poiesis works so far:

  • Vision. This will determine how much energy is necessary to manifest it. Proper nouns / naming, consistency, repetition, and details enhance vision. The more vision, the less susceptible this is to distortion from others. Sarah Constantin wrote up this advice for reifying her organization.
  • Buy-in. This can be from yourself, your friends, a target audience, etc. They can lend their poiesis to co-manifest your vision. Subskills are getting, keeping, and controlling buy-in.
  • Reaction to challenges. When met with opposing poiesis, what happens? Some strategies are avoiding, ignoring, and convincing. Lack of ability to stand up to opposing poiesis is a reason why some people HAVE TO surround themselves with yes-men or disconnect from reality to go forward.

More examples of the thing I’m talking about:

Improv is all poiesis. If I walk into a scene and say, “Stop stealing my horse!” and the other person says “I’m not stealing your horse,” it’s hard to move forward. Buy-in is key, but this also teaches strategies to maintain poiesis in the face of resistance. “Oh, you would deny it, thief? The nerve!”

In Dungeons and Dragons as GM, I’m learning that consistency of the world over time and small details add to the realism and player buy-in. You can’t lead DnD if the players don’t buy-in.

An event can happen by telling 100 people to come to a place at a time. If there are too many setbacks, I lose the ability to feel like I can really make 100 people come to this place at a time. Losing the feeling of confidence is similar to losing the ability.

“Where do you want to eat?” “Let’s go to Angeline’s unless you have a strong preference against that.” This has gotten easier over time.


Poiesis is a skill that could be valued and sought-after in the same way that one might train up in Charisma. I don’t see much about it in the common discourse. What are ways to train up in poiesis?

Mindscapes

3 years ago, I stared at a crystal ball until I happened to hallucinate a house on a hill. Over time, that house became my mindscape, a consistent internal visualization that I’ve checked in on over the years.

It’s no place I’ve been before. A log cabin / hewn stone castle is half-buried on a craggy hill studded with lichen-covered rocks. No trees around. Steep stairs. Mist.

In the center of the cabin is a pillaring fireplace, around which the floor is sunken in and filled with sheepskins and pillows. To the left, there’s a staircase that goes up one level and down.. who knows how many levels down. I can’t see much down there. It’s dark.

My mindscape is also a memory palace. I put a strand of rope on the mantel above the fireplace three years ago, and it’s still there. More recently I added a bottle filled with a brightly glowing spark.

I also like to summon models of people I know (“daemons”) and talk with them. It’s a good exercise for empathy. And tiring.

I can only access this place while sitting down. My eyes can be open if not much is going on. I tend to see myself in 3rd person, probably because of how many video games I’ve played. I wonder what that does for my sense of internal cohesion (“self” as one).

Sitting in my mindscape feels peaceful and safe, more safe than I’ve been in a long time. Surprisingly, when I’m there I don’t feel alone.