Berkeley: being other people

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Some­times I en­joy un­der­stand­ing bet­ter what it is like to be other peo­ple. You can do this some­what sub­tly by talk­ing to peo­ple for ages about other top­ics, and mak­ing in­fer­ences. Lately I’ve been ask­ing more di­rectly, some­thing like, ‘what about your ex­pe­rience do you think other peo­ple would be sur­prised by?’ But that’s hard to an­swer, be­cause one doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily have things cached in that way, and many of one’s own idiosyn­crasies are prob­a­bly like wa­ter to a fish, and it in­volves imag­in­ing other peo­ple imag­in­ing you.

Another way to learn about such things is to ask a bunch of peo­ple about the de­tails of a com­mon ex­pe­rience. For in­stance, I have en­joyed:

Go­ing to even­song in Oxford with a bunch of peo­ple from the office, then later dis­cussing what we thought about when we got bored:

  • The very old but hu­morously hate­ful notes in the song book

  • The pos­si­ble fric­tion be­tween the church’s com­mit­ment to the poor and their lav­ish church decor

  • The fact that each of the peo­ple in the choir is con­scious right now and look­ing back at us, and later will go and col­lect their chil­dren from school and make din­ner in their kitchen and go on liv­ing their lives forever

  • The skull decorations

Learn­ing about the YouTube gen­res that differ­ent peo­ple are into:

  • How things work, e.g. how cherry plan­ta­tions are dried

  • Peo­ple ac­ci­den­tally dy­ing in ex­treme sports

  • Mar­riage proposals

  • Movie trailers

  • Gi­ant pim­ples be­ing popped

  • Video game reviews

  • Planes crashing

  • Ob­scure dances

Hear­ing differ­ent peo­ple’s views of the mon­key waiter sculp­ture in my house’s foyer

  • Some­how problematic

  • Creepy in a fun way

  • Never no­ticed it, but it has a nice face

  • Is a nov­elty ob­ject and there­fore dis­turbs the neu­tral­ity of the foyer

One thing I take away from this kind of thing is that differ­ent peo­ple are pay­ing at­ten­tion to differ­ent things about their en­vi­ron­ment, and think­ing about it in differ­ent terms, and get­ting differ­ent kicks out of it.

Many of my friends say they think they are pretty leg­ible, so there would not be much sur­pris­ing to oth­ers about their in­ter­nal life. My guess is that they are think­ing their ex­pe­rience is mostly a sort of stan­dard one, with this win­dow of vi­sual ex­pe­rience, and some ac­cu­rately rep­re­sented sounds, and some rea­son­able thoughts about the things go­ing on in their lives, and so on. But I guess that ac­tu­ally the same vi­sual scene looks in some sense very differ­ent to differ­ent peo­ple, be­cause of things like where their at­ten­tion goes, what ab­strac­tions they use to think about it, and what as­so­ci­a­tions and emo­tional fla­vor things have for them.

If you want to play this game with me, what do you think about when you are wait­ing in the gro­cery line? What YouTube gen­res do you come back to? What about your ex­pe­rience do you think other peo­ple wouldn’t guess?

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