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Archive for March, 2012

Life without an iphone or washing machine is something I do not want to experience.  However, I am aware that it is only because I have experienced life with these things that life without them sounds awful.  I am also aware that some of the greatest pleasures that life will offer my descendants are things that I do not have access to.

The 1 year iphone

Suppose you have a choice between the following two options:  (1)  you can have a fully functional iphone for 1 year, but after the year ends it will be taken away, and you will never have an iphone (or anything like it) in the future; (2) you will never have an iphone (or anything like it) today or anytime in the future.

The two scenarios are equivalent, except in the first you get something awesome for a year.   A rational observer who doesn’t know much about humans might assume that option (1) is best.   However, I think most people would find that post-iphone life is worse than pre-iphone life.  Thus, the non-iphone years in scenario (1) are worse than the same years in scenario (2), even though in both scenarios we have no iphone.

iphone awareness

Suppose we create three sub-scenarios for (2).  (2a) you will never have an iphone, but you will be unaware that such a thing could exist.  (2b) you are aware of iphones and the cool features, some currently living people have them, but you will never have access to one.  (2c) you are aware that future people will have something like an iphone, but it won’t be invented in your lifetime.

Scenario (2a) clearly seems best.  You are unaware of the pleasure you are denied.  For scenario (2b), whether this makes you unhappy probably depends on whether iphone people are near (your friends, colleagues) or far (the super wealthy or citizens of another country). Scenario (2c) is the type of thing we all experience (just replace iphone with some future cool invention), but most people don’t seem to care.

Future me would be miserable if tech was taken away, but past me didn’t care that the tech was missing.  Current me is aware that I am being denied pleasure.  Should I care?

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Everyone dissociates to varying degrees. For example, to take a break from the normal stresses of life, individuals might read a book, watch a movie, listen to a song, or daydream while driving. In these cases, the normal stresses of life are allowed back into the conscious mind at any point. As trauma gets more severe, the risk of dissociating becomes greater. Suppose a child witnesses a murder. They might forget the murder and never be able to recall it.  Most people exist on a continuum somewhere between the two extremes.

While people who experience the most severe types of abuse might have a mind that is less integrated, we all have modular minds.  As Robert Kurzban put it in his book Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind: “the large number of parts of the mind can be thought of as, in some sense, being different ‘selves,’ designed to accomplish some task.”  How ‘integrated’ these selves are, to some extent, seems to depend on factors such as how much trauma one has experienced.  All humans are expected to suffer from some baseline level of trauma. The typical person will be physically and emotionally hurt by a variety of people.  Getting picked on, bullied, and rejected is considered a normal part of childhood.  What we consider to be child abuse is trauma that exceeds normal levels by a significant margin.  Similarly, dissociative identity disorder has to do with unusually less well intergrated modules.  However, we all suffer and we all dissociate.

Suppose an important person in my life violates my trust in a pretty severe way.  Initially, I will be furious.  I will be sure that I will never trust this person again.   However, after a few days or weeks the intensity of the feelings will decrease.  I will remember that it happened, but I will largely forget how it felt.  I might start to think that I was too hard on this person.  I might even trust them again.

Someone who experiences the most extreme kinds of traumas that we can imagine might dissociate to such an extent that they do not even remember that it happened.  A person who had a less traumatic experience might just forget the intensity of the pain.

Perhaps, on average, the more severe the trauma, the more the experiences are dissociated.  That might partially explain why people remember their life up to this point as more pleasant than they found it real time.

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