Constructions in Magical Thinking

If you’re one of those sharp-eyed readers who notices such things, you may have noticed that earlier this week, we adopted a new tagline: constructions in magical thinking. We also got a cheery set of new mastheads to go with it (thanks Grace Witherell), which you’ll see in rotation at the top of the site from now on.

In the best traditions of magical thinking, I will now respond to the most Frequently Asked Questions that have never actually been asked about our new tagline, in the hopes that doing so will somehow make them always-already never unasked.

Are you sick of our new schtick yet? No? Well, give it time. We’re sticking with this for the next decade.

Q0: What the hell is “constructions in magical thinking”?

Anything you can write with the aid of just a compass and a straight-edge that respects Euclid’s first four postulates.

More seriously. We don’t know yet. Stick around and find out. As with the previous tagline, the game starts with liking the sound of it. If the previous tagline is any indication, it might take a while.

Q1: Omigod who’s going to refactor my perception now?

A: Back in 2007 when I first picked that tagline, I didn’t know what the hell it really meant. Now, 12 years later, dozens of writers on and off this blog have devoted hundreds of thousands of words to refactoring perception.

There’s even an 8-year-old annual conference devoted to it, called Refactor Camp (submissions open for the next one, in Los Angeles, June 15/16 btw). There is a Mastodon server where we refactor perception in 500-character chunks. There are Facebook groups and meetups. There’s a refactorings roundup dragnet, fishing for good refactoring from around the web.

I mean, this refactoring game has almost turned into institutionalized infrastructure.

And after all this noise and fury, none of us is any the wiser about what the hell refactoring perception really means. There’s a rumor that 2x2s are involved, and that making fun of rationalists is de rigeur, but nobody knows.

This means I have successfully spread my own fundamental confusions about life, the universe, and everything into what is now a large, thriving community (fine, fine, modest-sized and kinda slouchy community) engaged in the praxis of refactored thinking.

I.e. we may not know what the hell we’re doing, but we know how to do it, and have done a lot of it. Like that whole birds flying without pilots licenses and FAA certifications thing.

Which means we can treat this as an established base layer of our stack and build on top of it. And the obvious next layer to build on a layer of established, enterprise-grade refactored perception sustained confusion activity is a layer of magical thinking activity.

So to answer your question, we’re leveling up. Or for those who like Carlota Perez, we’re moving from the installation phase to the deployment phase of ribbonfarming.

No longer will we be painfully refactoring perception at only the bare-metal assembly language level. Instead, we’ll be adding powerful new magical thinking to the mix.

Q2: This sucks, why are you doing this? What was wrong with the classic refactoring?

A: Not that we’re abandoning Classic Refactoringbut… actually, we’ve already been contaminating that purist ideal for a while now. We’ve already been on this magical thinking beat for a while. You just may not have noticed it. You could say we’ve drifted from Seeking Out Insight Porn to Making Up Outrageous Shit. SOIP to to MUOS.

Here are some representative posts from the last few years that we think get at what we mean by Constructions in Magical Thinking

  1. Weaponized Sacredness (Sarah Perry)
  2. Welcome to the Future Nauseous (me)
  3. Puzzle Theory (Sarah Perry)
  4. The Design of Escaped Realities (me)
  5. The World As If (Sarah Perry)
  6. Eternal Hypochondria of the Expanding Mind (me)
  7. Cringe and the Design of Sacred Experiences (Sarah Perry)
  8. Been There, Done That (me)

There’s actually a lot more. I’d estimate about 50% of all of Sarah Perry’s writing and about 30% of mine since 2014 or so has been more CIMT than raw EIRP. I haven’t inventoried the recent work of other contributors yet, but deliberate magical thinking is definitely an unmistakeable and growing vein in everything we publish.

Note that I’m not even counting posts where magical thinking is an incidental B-plot element, including our bookend viral hits from the pure refactoring era, The Gervais Principle and Premium Mediocre (both of which are largely about deconstructing reality distortion fields/false consciousness bubbles, which in this new regime would be viewed as suspicious and hostile acts of vandalism; deconstructions of magical thinking).

Q3: This feels like a shoddy retcon 🤨🤨 🤨

Retconning new narratives onto existing ones is a core skill when it comes to constructions in magical thinking!

It’s called confirmation bias and we want to get good at it.

We hope the Ribbonfarm Blogamatic Universe is already better than the DC Extended Universe, and we hope to match and surpass the Marvel Cinematic Universe soon.

To put some more structure into this retcon, the pure EIRP era spanned two 6-year periods, known as the Rust Age (2007-2012) and the Snowflake Age (2013- 2018). Together these constituted the first aeon of Ribbonfarm, the Age of Refactoring.

The first age of the second aeon of Ribbonfarm, the Age of Magical Thinking is hereby dubbed the Cryptic Age, a hat-tip both to cryptoeconomics and blockchains, and our embrace of pointlessly cryptic new modes of discourse.

Q4: Fine, you damn snowflakes, then what’s the difference?

That’s cryptosnowflakes to you.

In CIMT, the constructionist aspect is explicit by default. In EIRP, it is implicit by default.

So for example, my posts on the goat-crow-rat triangle (now retconned into a blogchain of 3 parts) is CIMT rather than EIRP because it involves an explicit magical-thinking construct, with a grammar of its own, and standard of literacy in that particular scheme required to follow what the hell we’re talking about.

So is my How to Fall Off the Wagon post, which involves TWO triangles. You’ll be seeing some really significant magical construction activity there very soon.

Q5: That is a suspiciously high number of triangles. Is there something you’re not telling us?

Sharp eyes there. Yes, this is one of the most frequently asked questions.

We are very interested in triangles in the CIMT era. Carlos has a good one too, in his Justifiable AI post. Our interest in triangles, especially pick-2-of-3 triangles, as a device for magical thinking, goes back all the way to 2007, but until recently, 2x2s were absorbing most of our talents. 2x2s are EIRP tech.

We are also interested in rectangles. Which is good because rectangles are interested in you, even if you’re not interested in them, so you might as well be.

Q6: Wait, what? Does this mumbo-jumbo mean no more 2x2s? Nooooo!

What is it with you people and your zero-sum thinking?

Think STACK (Spiral-Staircased Territories Abstracting Constructionist Knowledge), not MECE (Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive).

In fact, one of the most powerful pieces of magical thinking we’ve accomplished so far in the Ribbonfarm Labs stacks the 2 triangles of the falling-off-the-wagon post onto the mother of all 2x2s. This leads to the Quadrantology model which some of you have already seen.

As yet, this model is unpublished due to the havoc it might wreak on the world, but we’ll be putting it out there as soon as we add some safety measures to prevent Russian hackers and AGIs from exploiting it.

Q7: What’s a blogchain?

A: In the pure EIRP era, we focused mainly on longform and looked down with contempt at practitioners of short-form.

But we found that after hitting a record of over 14k words in King Ruinous and the City of Darkness, we were hitting the limits of classic single-post longform.

A blogchain is longform by other means. Containerized longform if you like. A themed blog-within-a-blog, built as a series of short, ideally fixed-length posts (we’re trying to standardize on 300 words as one container size). Among the benefits of working with blogchains:

  1. Container shipping analogies apply
  2. Blockchain analogies apply
  3. It harmonizes with the revolutionary Gutenberg block editor which introduces, among a lot of other things, reusable container-like blocks.
  4. It is tractable for scaling past 14,000 words (that’s my one-rep max, the average ribbonfarm contributor tends to wimp out at ~3000 words)
  5. Good for creating tunnel/warren-like architectures that are more “indoors” than “outdoors”.
  6. It allows us to go nuts with producing diagrams like this

Think of blogchains as an innovation in form to match the retargeted aspirations in content. It is explicit constructionism taken to the level of the container of the text; a form that allows more ambitious constructions. Blogchains are the reinforced concrete of magical thinking.

You’ll find ongoing meta-commentary about blogchains in the Elderblog Sutra blogchain.

Q8: It’s called a series. You invented the blog series! Why are you making up unnecessary new words? 

First see this tweet.

Second, inventing unnecessary new words is another core skill in CIMT.

Third, this particular word isn’t actually either redundant or unnecessary.

A traditional blog series is a waterfall-planned longer work that’s something like an ersatz book for lazy vanity publishers. A blogchain on the other hand:

  1. is improvised rather than planned
  2. is responsive to salient events in the environment
  3. evolves at a certain tempo
  4. acts like a themed, bite-sized commitment ratchet; gradatim ferociter
  5. …but without the oppressive intention-debt of a traditional series
  6. is designed for sustainability, more sitcom than movie
  7. is suitable for multi-author collaboration like my Worlding Raga
  8. is structurally a way to build over time (“construction”)
  9. is capable of supporting an inter-process messaging protocol with adjacent blogchains
  10. has no necessary or scripted “ending” but more of a crash-only/infinite game character

Already, with the evidence of nine weeks, it is clear that blogchains are sustainable, open, and fertile constructs in a way the series model never was for me. I’ve abandoned more series than I’ve finished in the past. Where I used to dread the task of writing the next part in a series, with blogchains, I look forward to when I can circle back to a series again.

Q9: Does this mean no more single-post longform? Noooo….

Again with the zero-sum thinking.

Just as some software is written to be run on a distributed computing set up and/or with multi-threaded execution, and some is designed to be run on large single instances in the cloud with humongous memories, so it is with longform blog posts.

Here’s a handy 2×2 to help you understand what you’re reading, and how to write if you’re contributing.

Q10: CIMT, EIRP, spreadsheets, strained computing analogies… this is all starting to sound suspiciously like management BS.

Management thinking is one of the best examples of successful, high-quality magical thinking. One of our favorite reads around here is the classic Meyer/Rowan paper, Institutionalized Organizations: Formal Structure as Myth and Ceremony.

One of our aims in this magical thinking era will be to reclaim and redeem ALL of management bullshit jargon the way we did with 2x2s in the refactoring era.

Q11: This is superstition! Isn’t magical thinking bad? 

“We are as gods now, we might as well get good at it.” See also, this post.

Q12: But what about Liberal Enlightenment Values and Truth? 

Go away.

Q13: This is irresponsible. Think of the children!


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About Venkatesh Rao

Venkat is the founder and editor-in-chief of ribbonfarm. Follow him on Twitter


  1. Out of a lot of your magical thinking examples. Things like “Welcome to the Future Nauseous” come off to me more like text book refactoring. Literally “let’s view everything through the lense of us living in the past idioms and metaphors of times before. Give everything a new name according to said system.”

    Escaped Realities is similar.

    But I would agree your more recent posts enter that Magical Shit We’re Making Up territory. Interested in where you go next!

  2. Scott Garlinger says

    Thanks for sharing this; I am really excited to see how this builds up and out.
    How does this connect with your lessons on longform?
    Can we expect a course on a blog chain?

  3. Did you read Didion? Should I?