Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Other people are different from me

Let a worldview be an n-dimensional real vector, where each entry represents a weight (relative importance) of some aspect of the world. WLOG we can normalize these vectors, and consider them as a solution space for the problem of "how do I prioritize things in the world as inputs that influence my life?" For example, I'd have a heavy weight for, say, mathematics, and a low one for 18th-century French literature; a devoted humanities student, vice-versa.

But it's not that the humanities student's vector is nearly orthogonal to mine. It's that he has a paintbrush and a palette of oils representing different philosophical schools, and he's riding a unicorn through clouds of poetry. He's operating in a totally different paradigm. He doesn't even have a vector. Yet we inhabit the same world -- we can meet and interact, so some parts of my worldview must align with his.

This is what it is like to be trapped in my head. I've no idea what it is like to be trapped in anyone else's head -- I've never been there -- and at best I can simulate it according to parameters I conceive and choose. If I'm running simulated annealing on a solution space and you are gimbling in the mimsy borogrove-infested wabe, how can I grasp anything about you? Even if you describe it to me, I will still have no sense of it, just a description.

That inadequacy is apparent here (oh, irony): I write, but what can you really understand from this about me or how I work?

And if this gulf of unknowability really separates people, how do they "get to know" each other? You are just "getting to know" an increasingly detailed abstraction of me that you construct in your head based on my observable behavior.

Sometimes I want to abandon the meta-abstraction and go distribute food in third-world countries. Then I remember how bad I am with people, and how much I love the power of meta*, and I stick to academia.

My apologies for making these existential high-school-level musings so frequent. I've drafted lighter posts (with pictures!), and they'll be up soon.

This post's featured writing implement: my science pencil, which heat-sensitively turned from green to yellow as I wrote.

This post's theme facebook group: Currently Undergoing an Existential Crisis.


Haz said...

You need an existential detective...

Caset said...

ohhhhhhh it happens. and then you try talking to real people and realize you can't talk to them either. we're all getting stuck in smaller and smaller niches. less than a month til morocco!