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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