Group cognition

I don’t even see groups

I want to foreground part of the subtext in my recent post on community and my problems with it. One underlying problem appears to me to be that I simply don’t perceive groups. Slate Star Codex writes about how important group membership is for making friends:

If I had written this essay five years ago, it would be be titled “Why Tribalism Is Stupid And Needs To Be Destroyed”. Since then, I’ve changed my mind. I’ve found that I enjoy being in tribes as much as anyone else.

Part of this was resolving a major social fallacy I’d had throughout high school and college, which was that the correct way to make friends was to pick the five most interesting people I knew and try to befriend them. This almost never worked and I thought it meant I had terrible social skills. Then I looked at what everyone else was doing, and I found that instead of isolated surgical strikes of friendship, they were forming groups. The band people. The mock trial people. The football team people. The Three Popular Girls Who Went Everywhere Together. Once I tried “falling in with” a group, friendship became much easier and self-sustaining precisely because of all of the tribal development that happens when a group of similar people all know each other and have a shared interest. Since then I’ve had good luck finding tribes I like and that accept me – the rationalists being the most obvious example, but even interacting with my coworkers on the same hospital unit at work is better than trying to find and cultivate random people.

Scott’s original social strategy is exactly how I go about making friends. Where it didn’t work, I just kept upgrading my social skills for one-on-one interactions. This I think is part of why some people think I have unusually poor social skills, and others say I have unusually good ones. I developed them unevenly relative to the norm. Continue reading

Projects of philosophers

Someone once described Michael Vassar to me as paying attention not to the conclusions but to the intellectual processes of people he’s talking to, not in order to conform to them, but out of curiosity, in case they are using some valuable heuristic he should add to his toolbox. I often find that I get something different than usual from philosophers because I read them this way. I find it jarring when people casually refer to Nietzsche’s philosophy (to name one example) to reference some proposition or other he’s famous for asserting. It seems natural to me to be referring to his methods, but his specific conclusions seem like almost a weird irrelevancy. I think this is one of the most valuable things I got out of my St. John’s education – the ability to read thinkers to figure out what their project was, rather than a bunch of specific propositions they were advancing. This is my attempt to share this way of reading, by working through an example. Continue reading

Backwards and in feels

Somaticization is the tendency to experience mental distress as physical distress. For instance, some people with depression don’t report low mood, but instead things like nausea or pain.

A 3-stage model of emotions mediated by somatic responses would explain this fairly well. In most people, the cognitive processes that generate emotions do not directly generate qualia, but only affect our physical and mental behavior. These in turn are read by other mental processes that summarize them into feelings. Somaticizers, by this model, are people who are acutely consciously aware of the intermediate somatic stage of their feelings, but for whom the summarizing processes are either suppressed or weak to begin with.

In talking with friends about their experiences, I’ve noticed that this process can run in reverse as well – physical ailments with non-mental origins can get picked up by processes that are looking for somatic symptoms of emotions: Continue reading

Solve your problems by fantasizing

The problem with most goal-driven plans is that most goals are fake, and so are most plans. One way to fix this is to fantasize. Continue reading

Emotional qualia are mediated by somatic responses

Unembodied emotions

I used to be confused when people talked about feeling their emotions in their bodies. My emotions didn’t feel like physical sensations – they just felt like emotions. Doesn’t sadness or happiness just feel like sadness or happiness? I had trouble with a lot of advice for how to better manage or get in touch with emotions for this reason.

I sometimes felt my emotions saliently, but I experienced nothing like the variety of qualia other people reported. I basically had a four-quadrant model of emotion: Continue reading

Reading, writing, and thinking, with your brain

In a recent blog post I pointed to the idea that your brain has a sort of implied query language, and there are more and less efficient ways to ask it questions:

I think an important abstraction here is that when you ask your brain a question, it’s often not enough to ask it something that specifies logically what you want – you also have to give it some clues as to where to look for the answer. I call this shaping the query.

This is a roundup of principles I’ve found helpful for using my brain effectively – committing things to memory, finding ideas, and thinking about things. Continue reading

Exploding the sociability binary

A lot of the discussion about introversion and extraversion seems to collapse a whole bunch of things into a single binary. When people point out that they’re not well-described by either term, they tend to come up with patches like “ambivert,” but this is a missed opportunity to develop a more granular understanding of sociability. There are enough tensions in the underlying definitions that I want to blow up those terms and replace them with more precisely defined axes along which people vary:

  • Stimulation affinity
  • Social skill
  • Social anxiety
  • Relationship realism (vs intuitive individualism)
  • Communalism (vs ideological individualism)

Continue reading

Admonition

“Back off and give him more space -” said the dry voice of Professor Quirrell.

“No!” interrupted the Headmaster. “Let him be surrounded by his friends.”

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality

Words of distraction or encouragement

Recently, at the gym, I overheard some group of exercise buddies admonishing their buddy on some machine to keep going with each rep. My first thought was, “why are they tormenting their friend? Why can’t they just leave him alone? Exercise is hard enough without trying to parse social interactions at the same time.” Continue reading

Review: Vipassana Center silent meditation retreat

On my pleasure practice nature walk, I formed the hypothesis that excessive attachment was preventing me from noticing my preferences, desires, and feelings, and that meditation might help with this. I signed up for a free 10-day Vipassana center meditation retreat.

When I decided to go on the retreat, I had two main benefits in mind:

  • Learn to perceive my desires, preferences, and emotions more reliably, by means of being more aware of bodily sensations.
  • Learn to be able to look at these and fully perceive them without feeling compelled to act on them.

I got these, and more. Continue reading

Physical empathy and channels of communication

Patty-cake

I was relaxing on a common-room couch, when one of my friends started talking about a clapping game that she’d learned back in her home country. I’ll call it patty-cake for reduced identifiability, and call her Pepper. Another friend (let’s call her Salt) ran over and said “teach me!”, so she taught her how to play it. I was in an introspective mood, so I wondered aloud – why did I feel sad about this?

It wasn’t that I especially wanted to learn patty-cake. It wasn’t even that I expected that Pepper would refuse to teach me if I asked. The problem was that even if I got Pepper to teach me the game, it wouldn’t be the same kind of interaction that she’d had with Salt. But what was that kind of interaction, and why did we all agree that it wouldn’t have been the same if I’d been the one to ask? Continue reading