This post is documentation of how I approach the world. We’re going to start from scratch here, like the “cogito ergo sum” thing, and build to abstract concepts I can’t really prove but find compelling.
I have sensations — I can see, feel hunger, feel good, recall things, lose focus, and so on. Sensations are fundamental, they can’t be reduced to a projection of some outside reality. I thought I saw a cat. Upon further inspection, turns out it was just a reflection on my glasses. That doesn’t change what I originally saw, or what I interpreted it as. Maybe I should reverse what I said: the fundamental things are sensations. Forget everything you know, stop thinking, ignore as much as you can, and you’re still stuck with what I call sensations.
Entirely mistrusting sensations is a trivial solution. I don’t think I’m capable of it. Someone who entirely mistrusts their sensations would probably die, but, hey they wont think they’re about to die when they’re about to die, so it’s kind of alright. Anyway, I trust my sensations.
Sensations have patterns to them. With the sensations that are closely related to senses, it helps to invent an external reality that gets projected onto them. This is great for communicating with other people. With emotions, I notice things like “looking at birds makes me happy”. My memory is chronological.
I can modify my sensations. I walk to a park with birds in it, and I see birds. I can test my memory against the reality I invented by writing things down.
Patterns are meaningful when they can be used to predict and actualize something. I like being happy, looking at birds makes me happy, so I’ll go look at some birds. I do that, and then I’m happy. I summarize this as repeatability. Something meaningful is repeatable. This is my epistemology.
I like being happy. This is what I try to do. This gives happiness a second meaning: the thing you are trying to do. Let’s call the first sensation-happy and the second valuation-happy. Typically they are the same thing and so “happy” works. But sometimes not. First, time breaks this equality. Planting a sunflower seed instead of eating it right away — assuming you like eating sunflower seeds and planting a sunflower seed always yields more sunflower seeds — means reducing your sensation-happy now so that it’ll be more later. Which one of these options has more valuation-happy for you depends on your time value of sensation-happy. Second, a depressed person might not want to or be capable of feeling sensation-happy, but they still do things, and this is still motivated by valuation-happy. Third, avoidance of pain isn’t the same as seeking sensation-happy, but it is the same as seeking valuation-happy.
People can’t feel each others’ sensations, including happiness. Everything anyone does is motivated by their own happiness. You could say that therefore everyone’s selfish, but it makes for a pretty meaningless word. I can’t feel someone else’s happiness, but I can learn to recognize when they are happy, and notice a positive relationship between that and my own happiness. I think being selfless requires only that someone else’s happiness is considered. The most selfless act makes only others happy directly, which indirectly makes the actor happy. The most selfish act only makes the actor happy.
4 Economy of Effort
No two people are exactly the same. So there will be differences in how much each thing makes them happy. Effort is the opposite of valuation-happy. When people disagree on what to do, some compromise is made. Each person estimates how much effort they will need to spend, and when the compromise is actualized, each person finds out how much effort they spend. If someone thinks they are spending too much effort, they will try to change the compromise.
Someone saying they will do something is not what guarantees it will happen. Someone will do something if it is what optimizes their happiness. Typically people value their word, so if someone makes a promise it at least makes them more likely to do it.
5 Individuality and Conformity
In an evolving population, you want individuality to allow for evolution, but too much individuality means positive adaptations are forgotten. Conformity is the opposite of individuality. In terms of happiness, you want conformity so you can avoid spending effort changing well-established compromises, and you want individuality so you can innovate on well-established compromises that don’t work for you.
Everyone is unique. Everyone is a unique combination of common parts. Everyone is complicated, even if they strive to present themselves simply. When you think you’re the only person doing something right, ask yourself if you’d be able to notice someone doing what you’re doing.
The following list is incomplete, but I hope to illustrate a certain theme with it:
– id, ego, superego
– left brain, right brain
– visual, audio, and kinesthetic learning
The theme is something like “lame psychology”. I don’t believe in these things. They aren’t devoid of value. Each of them is a new set of vocabulary to describe yourself, and that can inspire a conversation or introspection. But none of them are based on brains. They are all systems invented and then applied. So it’s no surprise that every single grey area describes someone. You can be an introvert and an extrovert, there’s even a word for it.
A real theory of mind would come with impossibilities. I’m about to present one. I want to point out that I don’t have research to back this up, so I’m open to this being very lame psychology. The intent of the post is not to revolutionize psychology.
Here’s an impossibility: multiply 12 and 23, and add 47 and 13 at the same time. At best, you could switch between the two mental tasks quickly, but bottom line is you’re only doing one piece of math at a time. Or, I’d be interested to hear if you can do this.
Here’s a possibility: multiply 12 and 23, and rub your belly in a clockwise motion with your right hand at the same time.
Here’s a challenge: pat your head with your left hand, and rub your belly in a clockwise motion with your right hand at the same time.
Why is it possible to do some things at the same time, but not others? We know the brain is structured, and we know different structures do different things. Here’s where I start making stuff up. I claim the brain is made of multiple things that I also call brains. They interact in a hierarchy. There’s a brain for your right hand, left hand, consciousness, and so on. Any two things you can’t do at the same time are done by the same brain. I can’t talk and play piano at the same time, but I’m under the impression some people can, so maybe the way I learned to play piano is different than other people. How someone has learned to use their various brains for various tasks is what determines their styles of learning, how in touch they are with their subconscious, and their personality.
7 Anthropocentrism is Always Wrong
You aren’t the center of the universe. The solar system isn’t geocentric. The earth is a pale blue dot. The universe isn’t heliocentric. Everything is moving away from everything else, we’re not in the middle of an explosion.
Humans aren’t the only conscious things on earth.
The only thing I really know about consciousness is that I am conscious. I’m convinced everyone is, but I don’t experience anyone else’s consciousness. So maybe it’s not an interesting question whether or not something is conscious.
Let’s say I continued this post for a million pages or so, detailing enough of myself that someone could imitate me pretty well given enough time. I print it out, Encyclopedia Dannica, leaving backsides of pages blank so readers can make notes, as instructed. I hand it, a pencil, and an eraser to someone. The person is still themself, but the person-encyclopedia system is a version of me, and I’d say it’s conscious. What’s the difference?
Maybe a more interesting question is what causes consciousness.
Humans and the universe they inhabit are not in their own class of complexity.
The ability to simulate a person with an encyclopedia relies on the ability to represent a piece of the universe in a formal system. I believe in this, a theory of everything. In particular, I think at a fundamental level, complexity is binary. A system is either complex — capable of simulating every other system, including pieces of the universe and consciousness — or simple. There’s an information budget here though. You can’t fit the entire universe inside a piece of itself.
7.3 Exponential Behavior of Adaptation
People finding happiness and Moore’s law are two pieces of a bigger exponential behavior.
Before DNA, protocells split and created children pretty randomly — there was very little memory. The most successful children would be ones that could make (mostly) faithful copies of themselves. DNA is a way of doing this — it is memory. DNA happens, and it spreads exponentially. Cells start conjugating DNA and this new mechanism of modifying DNA provides a better heuristic for adapting. This spreads exponentially. Cells get together into multicellular organisms. Groups of cells within an organism can specialize into brains. Brains are memory, like DNA, but they work at the speed of an individual whereas DNA works at the speed of a population. Language is invented so things learned by individuals can be passed to their children. Language allows ideas to be shared providing a better heuristic for idea adaptation. We invent computers, and they help us adapt our ideas, including our computers, faster than before.