Another interesting video featuring Jordan Peterson on the subject of empathy. Also featured is psychologist Paul Bloom.
Just thought it was interesting because my positions on a lot of issues aren’t about empathy, and can therefore be accused of seeming cruel. It’s not that I’m not empathetic. The example I use a lot is the kid who cries because he wants ice-cream for dinner. The parents who deny him that don’t do it out of lack of empathy. You might as well never discipline a child because it will make him cry. What’s best for a human is not based entirely on what he feels or really wants or suffers with.
So then you look at controversial social issues like immigration or abortion or affirmative action or same-sex marriage. To me, my positions on these issues are based on principles. If you base your conclusions too greatly on feelings, too greatly on empathizing with certain groups, you threaten making things worse, leading to worse suffering. Because it’s not about getting what you think you want right now, it’s about wanting the right thing that will do you the most good in the first place. Does that distinction make sense?
If you want to own the moon, you’ll never be happy. And me refusing to pretend that you own the moon isn’t about my lack of empathy. Ultimately you’re going to have to make peace with the fact that you can’t own the moon.
The suffering endured by someone by the enforcement of my position is not the issue of my position. I’m perfectly capable of being sorry about that suffering. I honestly believe killing the child in your womb is bad for us, regardless of feelings. Engaging in sexual acts while purposefully denying its natural procreative potential is bad for us, regardless of feelings. Giving preferential treatment to certain individuals based on group identity is bad for us, regardless of feelings. Mismanaging our immigration policies are bad for us, regardless of feelings.
Doing the right thing can and many times does lead to suffering, but I hold my positions despite that, not because of it. And, like I said, I believe my positions (at least the ones I have stronger opinions about) ultimately lead to less suffering, if one’s desires are oriented properly. “Oriented properly” might sound like an escape clause, because the proper orientation of desires is part of the argument itself, but it’s necessary to mention; like I said, if you desire something that just can never be, you’ll always be suffering.
Discerning between right and wrong isn’t about eliminating suffering. We can’t use only our emotions or our empathy as a moral compass, because they’ll only serve us inasmuch as they’re oriented correctly in the first place.
Firstly, my mini film reviews for April 2017 are here.
Wisdom from Jordan Peterson
I first saw Canadian professor Jordan Peterson after the video of him conversing with some very disrespectful students went viral. Quite a few people I follow were posting it on Twitter and Facebook. I don’t know how he had the patience.
Anyway, I only recently starting looking at some of his actual videos and lectures, and he talks about a lot of stuff I’m very interested in, such as Jungian psychology, mythology, and anxiety and depression. And he has thoughts and viewpoints I’ve never encountered before, or at least have not heard explained in such a succinct manner. He’s got a lot of fascinating material.
So what follows are just some highlights of some of his talks that I thought were interesting…
On interpreting dreams:
On having goals:
On fixing small problems first:
On Free Will vs determinism:
On a side note, I believe Free Will and determinism are compatible. They’re simply different viewpoints of a decision-making process. Free Will is the experience of determining. You have Free Will because you are the part of the universe that is making that decision. The laws of physics are not determining instead of you, rather you are part of those very laws. Your very being is part of the clockwork universe. A computer can run a program to calculate the answer to a problem in a completely deterministic fashion, let’s say, but it still needs the program to do that. The program is part of that-which-determines.
That said, I don’t know whether or not the universe is deterministic. I just don’t see how the concept is necessarily incompatible with Free Will, or all the spiritual implications of theism for that matter.
Speaking of theism, here’s the problem with atheism:
On depression: “That bad grade is like a portal through which snakes can crawl.” I’ve certainly been guilty of that at times…
Onto more social issues, we have the Gini coefficient, which I had never heard about before:
From my perspective, if I have a strong opinion or belief about something, there are reasons for it. There are lots of things I don’t have strong beliefs about, such as the stock market and the economy, which usually just baffle me. But for things I have strong opinions about, I have reasons.
So when I disagree with someone about something, I’m usually interested to know why. I want to know why they think the way they do; I want to know what led them to that conclusion. Obviously, that doesn’t mean I’m going to instantly agree with them or those reasons. I may disagree with those reasons just as strongly as the viewpoint they seem to lead to. But that’s the point: I like to try to find out where the crux of the disagreement really lies. If I’m wrong about something, I want to know why, and I’m more than willing to change my mind.
I’m willing to argue or discuss stuff I have strong opinions about because I don’t feel a personal attachment to them, at least not in the sense that I’ll feel really bad about being shown to be wrong. After all, a wrong viewpoint can be a perfectly valid logical conclusion from faulty premises, so it’s still a valid viewpoint from my own experiences. A belief can be a valid conclusion and wrong. As long as I know I’m being honest with myself, I can’t really lose face or be ashamed by being shown to be wrong, because the premises themselves were honest.
If one of those premises is wrong, I want to know! I’ll be happy because I’ll have learned something, and my opinion will then be that much stronger. Obviously that doesn’t mean I’ll blindly accept any opposing argument, it just means I’m ready and willing and often even excited to explore the underlying premises that lead different people to such widely different conclusions. I hate to just “agree to disagree” or just avoid disagreements; I want to explore the multiple facets of the differing viewpoints, at least for topics I’m interested in. Of course I’m still going to argue my case, and I’ll think I’m right at the end of the day. After all, if I ever think I’m wrong, I change my mind. Who argues about something they think they’re wrong about?
I say all that because sometimes, more in person than on this blog or in social media, I begin defending my viewpoint about something (sometimes perhaps too passionately), and others may think I’m simply trying to pick a fight or shut someone else up, because I’m just a big meanie. But really I want to know why we disagree on something. Often the root cause is some philosophical viewpoint. Sometimes its as basic as whether or not someone believes in God.
This is also why I quite like Dave Rubin’s The Rubin Report on YouTube. It really depends on who his guest is, but he actually has respectful conversations with people who have a wide variety of viewpoints and they don’t descend into ad hominem attacks or trying to “win” arguments. Granted, the show is more about a conversation than a debate, but you just don’t see this sort of thing on TV these days, not that are idea oriented at least.
A particularly interesting part comes at 40:42 to about 46:17. Peterson is talking about whether or not someone can change his personality, and it sort of segues into beliefs and perspectives. It’s quite an interesting point to make in relation to what I just wrote above. In fact, here’s a little transcription:
… We tend to think, and this would be part of the Enlightenment rationality, is that you look dispassionately at the set of facts, you abstract out a rational conclusion from that, and you believe it. And the thing is that isn’t how it works. Now it’s kind of how it works, but we’ll get to that. What happens instead is you look at a field of facts that’s so broad you can’t see the edges. And then you filter that a priori with your temperament so some things… It’s like, imagine there’s a bright light, and then there’s a black curtain in front of it, and there’s holes in the curtain and light shines through. Well, depending on who you are, those holes are going to be in a different place. So the thing is that the facts that present themselves to you will look different than the facts that present themselves to someone else.
Now, you can overcome that to some degree. That’s why free speech is so important, as far as I’m concerned. Because you’re going to look at the world your way, honestly, and it can be different from mine, even if I look at it honestly. So… But then we can talk. And I can listen to you, and I can alter my preconceptions to some degree by that exchange of ideas.
It’s hard because you unfold the idea and you blast it to me, and then I have to unfold it into action, and into the restructuring of my perceptions. It’s very very complicated. I have to… If we have a profound conversation, I’m allowing little parts of me to die and new parts to grow on a constant basis. So it’s effortful. But it’s one of the mechanisms we’ve evolved to overcome the limitations of the individual human being. We filter information, we’re lazy in our habits, we’re not good at thinking, which is an internal argument, let’s say. Very few people can do that. They don’t think… What they do is, ideas appear to them and they believe them. That’s what happens.
Thinking is different. Thinking is saying, OK, well here’s a set of ideas, and here’s another set of ideas. All right, so let’s put them in combat and see what emerges. Often you have to do that by writing.
Isn’t that… interesting?!
Not long after, Peterson makes an interesting point about AI vision, which I somehow never heard before, even after taking a course in “computer vision” in college:
What you’re doing really when you’re seeing is mapping the world onto your action. In fact, there are connections from your eyes that go directly to your motor cortex. They bypass your conscious vision. So, for example, when you look at that cup, your eyes make your hands prepare to do this. [Makes cup-holding gesture.] Because, well you say that’s an empirical object, it’s a cup. But that isn’t what your brain thinks. Your brain thinks, no, that’s a thing to drink from.
… Why are a beanbag and a stump both chairs? They share no objective features in common, except size. Well, the answer is because you can sit on them. And so a lot of our categories are of that sort. They’re not empirical categories, they’re functional categories.
I never thought of it quite like that! You see? Interesting!
Lord of the Flies
Lastly, one of my friends from high school recently recorded a PowerPoint presentation we did in high school about Lord of the Flies, in which we parodied a teacher giving a presentation. There are a lot of inside jokes (such as the teacher offering a bookmark as a prize for the completion of a puzzle), but it’s very educational and earned us an A++++.