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[Link] You Too Can See Suffering

3 Post author: SquirrelInHell 03 October 2017 07:46PM

Comments (17)

Comment author: moridinamael 04 October 2017 11:52:43PM *  6 points [-]

I thought it was funny/ironic that this popped up just after the SSC post about how different people may see different degrees of hostility, danger, etc., etc., in daily life due to their wiring. It makes me think that there's probably a spectrum of ability to see suffering. My suspicion is that you may be seeing too much! But then who's to say what the right amount would be.

Comment author: SquirrelInHell 05 October 2017 08:19:55AM 2 points [-]

Wrong guess, both of you!

It's a specific skill that I have learned to execute pretty much at will.

I also have some of the opposite skill, which turns all of this off.

Since I learned them, my base level seems higher than before, but not in a life-affecting way.

What affects me is, rather, that the wall separating me from this other world is much thinner, and feels much more real somehow.

Comment author: Yosarian2 05 October 2017 09:27:51AM 3 points [-]

There has to be some kind of trade-off here between false positives and false negatives here, doesn't there? If you decide to "use that skill" to see more suffering, isn't it likely that you are getting at least some false positives, some cases where you think someone is suffering and they aren't?

Comment author: SquirrelInHell 05 October 2017 04:43:51PM 1 point [-]

The best tradeoff is when you are well calibrated, just like with everything else.

In the "selfish default" you basically never have false positives, but also you have false negatives like all the time. So duh.

Comment author: Yosarian2 05 October 2017 08:45:44PM *  2 points [-]

The best tradeoff is when you are well calibrated, just like with everything else.

"Well calibrated" isn't a simple thing, though. It's always a conscious decision of how willing you are to tolerate false positives vs false negatives.

Anyway, I'm not trying to shoot you down here; I really did like your article, and I think you made a good point. Just saying that it's possible to have a great insight and still overshoot or over-correct for a previous mistake you've made, and if you think that almost everyone you see is suffering, you may be doing just that.

Comment author: SquirrelInHell 12 October 2017 11:33:00AM 0 points [-]

"Well calibrated" isn't a simple thing, though. It's always a conscious decision of how willing you are to tolerate false positives vs false negatives.

I beg to differ; being well calibrated has a mathematically precise definition. E.g. if you are thinking of a binary suffering/not suffering classification (oversimplified but it's just to make a point), then I want my perception to assign such probabilities, that if you compare with true answers, cross-entropy is minimized. That's pretty much what I care about when I'm fixing my perception.

Of course there's the question of how aware at each moment you want to be of certain information. But you want to be well calibrated nonetheless.

if you think that almost everyone you see is suffering, you may be doing just that.

Or, you know, it's just simply true that people experience much more suffering than happiness. Also, they aren't so very aware of this themselves, because of how memories work.

Comment author: Yosarian2 12 October 2017 08:56:28PM 1 point [-]

Or, you know, it's just simply true that people experience much more suffering than happiness. Also, they aren't so very aware of this themselves, because of how memories work.

That certanly is not true of me or of my life overall, except during a few short periods. I don't have the same access to other people's internal state, but I doubt it is true of most people.

There certanly are a significant number people who it may be true of, people who suffer from depression or chronic pain or who are living in other difficult circumstances. I highly doubt that that's the majority of people, though.

Comment author: entirelyuseless 12 October 2017 03:01:43PM 1 point [-]

Or, you know, it's just simply true that people experience much more suffering than happiness. Also, they aren't so very aware of this themselves, because of how memories work.

If they aren't so very aware of it, it is not "simply true," even if there is some truth in it.

Comment author: entirelyuseless 05 October 2017 01:44:42AM 0 points [-]

I was thinking something similar. Made me feel like saying, "Who are you to say my suffering is such a bad thing?"

Comment author: Yosarian2 05 October 2017 01:53:19AM *  1 point [-]

Really interesting essay.

It also made me wonder if the opposite is also a skill you need to learn; do people need to learn how to see happiness when that happens around them? Some people seem strangely blind to happiness, even to their own.

Comment author: SquirrelInHell 05 October 2017 08:27:52AM *  1 point [-]

Hmm, interesting point!

On one hand, my intuition suggest that "happiness" is ill defined as a thing to do work here (sorry if it sounds annoyingly mysterious, I'm not sure what that'd mean exactly too!), and thinking in these terms can only take you so far.

OTOH, there's definitely some stuff you can do to push your "happiness baseline" around a little bit, and I think some people from rationality blogosphere had reports on this (Agenty Duck? can't find it).

Comment author: Yosarian2 05 October 2017 08:58:53AM *  1 point [-]

If "happiness" is too vague a term or has too many other meanings we don't necessarily want to imply, we could just say "positive utility". As in "try to notice when you or the people around you are experiencing positive utility".

I do think that actually taking note of that probably does help you move your happiness baseline; it's basically a rationalist version of "be thankful for the good things in your life". Something as simple as "you know, I enjoy walking the dog on a crisp fall day like this". Noticing when other people seem to be experiencing positive utility is also probably important in becoming a more morally correct utilitarian yourself, likely just as important as noting other people's suffering/ negative utility.

Comment author: Dagon 04 October 2017 08:16:59PM 1 point [-]

I think "see" is doing a lot of work here that needs to be unpacked, especially when talking about other people's perceptions/actions. You need to distinguish between "don't see" and "don't prioritize fixing" or "sympathize but accept" or "think alternatives are overall worse".

Comment author: SquirrelInHell 05 October 2017 08:21:53AM 2 points [-]

No no no you got that all wrong!

All the classifications you mention apply to "think about suffering", while I'm really just talking about "see suffering". As in, the way your perception works.

This is much more tricky than merely changing your opinion or morality.

Comment author: Dagon 05 October 2017 05:26:29PM 0 points [-]

Hmm. I'm not sure I can clearly distinguish between "see" and "think about" for this topic. There's a lot of layers to cognition, and this kind of perception is well toward the "modeling/thinking" end of the spectrum, rather than the "sensory input" end. Maybe "recognize" or "notice" is closer to what I think you mean, but you may even mean higher - would the title "you too can react to suffering" have matched your thoughts?

I think that for myself (I'll try to stay agnostic on my typicality or lack thereof), the lack of focus/perception on this unpleasant aspect of life is a direct result of choosing not to think about it most of the time. I do set aside time to think about it, and in those times I certainly remember and recognize suffering and consider what, if anything, to do about it.

Most of the time, though, especially in contexts where I have spent considerable time considering problems and options, my conscious perception cuts off before this specific instance really affects me. You can call it "denial", "compartmentalization", or other things, and you may be right. But I argue that's very different from "not seeing".

More importantly, how far, really, is the accusation of willfully not seeing ("you don't see, but you can and you should") from the accusation of not caring?

Comment author: Dagon 06 October 2017 11:18:50PM 1 point [-]

aaaand, I belatedly see/notice/understand your postscript

Please excuse the sharp tone, if that was not what you needed at this moment. I wish you good luck on your journey

It was, in fact, not what I needed, and I also wish you good luck.

Comment author: SquirrelInHell 03 October 2017 07:46:38PM 1 point [-]

Just a little rant about suffering. Nothing special here.