You Don't Exist, Duncan

post by [DEACTIVATED] Duncan Sabien (Duncan_Sabien) · 2023-02-02T08:37:01.049Z · LW · GW · 105 comments

This is an experimental essay, not in the typical LessWrong or Duncan Sabien style.

Depending on how this goes, I might try writing a companion piece in the typical style, laying out the model clearly and explicitly and deriving concrete and specific recommendations from it.

But it seemed worth it to try communicating at a lower and more emotional/visceral level, not least because that is the level at which I actually experience The Problem. Any clear, analytical essay would be the result of me trying to make sense of the thing that I'm going to try to directly convey, below.

It is the year 1995.  I am nine years old.  In front of me there is a sheet of paper, upon which are written a dozen or so lines of math.  The first is:

I stare at it.  I know that I can divide both sides of the equation by x, leaving me with:

...but this does not seem to do any good.

I raise my hand.  The afterschool volunteer comes over.

"No," he says.  "That's not right.  X isn't a term on the left side.  F is a function."

He has explained nothing.

"F is a function, so what this is saying is to take X, and square it, and add seven."

I look up at him, confused.  I am nine.  I have never heard the word "function" used in this way before.  No one has grounded me in the activity of the day; no one has oriented me; no one has told me today you are learning what a function is, and you will learn by looking at a bunch of examples.  No one has said today, parentheses don't mean the thing you're expecting them to mean.  No one has said f is a thing that eats xs, and what the right side is showing you is how it eats them—what it does to them.

"So, like, if X is three, right?" he continues.  "X is three?  So F of X is three squared plus seven, which is sixteen."

I say the words again in my mind, more slowly.  F ... of ... (of? What?) ... X.  ""F of X"" (okay, whatever, that's nonsense, but whatever) is sixteen.

I look back down at the paper.  If the right side of the equation is sixteen, and X is three...

"F is five-point-three-repeating," I say, trying to inject a measure of confidence I do not feel into my tone.

"What?  No.  F isn't anything.  F is a function.  It's not part of the equation."

Not part of the equation, he says.  Looking back from a distance of twenty-five years, I see (one of) his mistake(s).  He doesn't tell me this isn't really an equation at all, not the way you're thinking of it.  He doesn't tell me the equals sign here is more like telling you the definition of this thing, F of X—what F of X is is the thing on the other side of the equals sign.  He doesn't say a function is when you set up a rule for dealing with numbers, and this rule is, whatever number you put in, you're going to square it, and add seven.

Instead, he looks at me, and says more words, and the message lurking behind the words—the message implicit in his tone and posture and air of tolerant patience—is:

I have given you an adequate explanation.  If you were the kind of person who was good at math, my explanation would have been sufficient, and you would now understand.  You still do not understand.  Therefore...?

My heart rate quickens.

It is 1993.  I am seven years old, roughhousing with my older brother and my father on the living room carpet.  We clamber over top of him, laughing, pummeling him with tiny fists.  He throws us both onto the couch, where we recover and launch ourselves back at him like pouncing tigers.

My father tosses my brother back into the cushions a second time, grabs me in a gentle headlock, digs his knuckles into my scalp in a painful noogie.

"Ow!" I shout, rolling away from him and clutching my head.  "Ow.  Ow."

The pain is bright and hot, feeling halfway between a cut and a burn.  Five seconds pass, and it has not yet begun to fade.

"That didn't hurt," my father declares.

Something deep within me tightens.

It is October in 1999.  I am thirteen.  There is a book signing in Greensboro, North Carolina—Orson Scott Card will be there, signing copies of Ender's Shadow. 

On page 242, the character Bean has written an equation, as a challenge to his teachers: 

He snarks: "When you know the value of n, I'll finish this test."

I have scribbled –0.378861 on a scrap of paper. I'm worried Orson Scott Card will tease me for imprecision, since clearly the whole point of Bean's challenge was that n is irrational, and –0.378861 is just an approximation.  But I muster my courage.

It's my turn.  I step toward the table.  Orson Scott Card smiles at me.

"It's –0.378861," I blurt out—awkwardly, with no preamble.  "N, I mean.  From—from the book."

He blinks.  It takes a few more stuttered sentences to make clear what I mean.

"No one does that," he murmurs.

He says it with an undertone of awe, and I can tell he's more pleased than displeased. I've snuck peeks at what he's signing in everyone else's books ("To [whoever], a friend of Ender"), and I get a nonstandard, unique message, unlike the ten people before me.

But the "no one does that" cuts deeper than I would have predicted.

I'm someone, a part of me whispers.

But I don't say it out loud.

It is 2004.  I am boycotting the graduation ceremony at my high school, the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics.  I want the place to burn.  I do not want to be remembered.  I put forth substantial effort to ensure that the yearbook would contain absolutely zero pictures of me.

"You're going to regret not having this memory," my father warns.  "Walking across the stage, being with your peers..."

"I won't," I say.

"Trust me, give it twenty years, you're going to be sorry you were petulant about this."

For nineteen years, I have waited to tell him he was wrong.  There's only one more to go.

It is 2017.

"—fucking inconsiderate asshole," she is saying.  "You didn't do that for me, you did that for you, you just wanted to feel useful, you wanted me to appreciate you for how thoughtful you were, you didn't actually care whether I wanted it or not—"

I shrink.

It's not that I didn't care.  If I'd known she didn't want the pillow, I wouldn't have tossed it to her.  I just ... didn't think it was an action with downside.  I had (wordlessly) figured that she would either use the pillow, or just leave it next to her where I'd thrown it.  I saw someone who looked like they could maybe use a pillow, and I had a pillow that I wasn't using, so I tossed it—it wasn't any more complicated than that.  It had nothing to do with my stories about myself.

She has a story in which that isn't possible.  She lives in a universe where I don't exist.

It is fall in the year 2000, my first year of high school.  I am in the marching band, playing clarinet.  It's time for sectionals, when the players of each instrument go off together to practice their parts in unison—trumpets in the band room, tubas in the auditorium, drums in the field out back behind the school.

The clarinet sectionals are held in the girls' locker room.  They have always been held in the girls' locker room.  There's never before been a reason not to hold them in the girls' locker room.

Everybody stares at me.  I shift, uncomfortable.

I am pulling into the parking lot of the Four Seasons mall to go Christmas shopping in 2009. There is an NPR bit on the radio, talking about Malcolm Gladwell's books.  I have a flashback to two years earlier, when I first read Blink, in which one of Gladwell's interviewees said something to the effect of:

"Everybody said that they couldn't picture Tom Hanks as an astronaut.  I didn't care whether he was an astronaut.  Apollo 13 was going to be a movie about a spaceship in jeopardy.  And who does the world want to get back the most?  Who's the one person that everyone in America wants to save?  Tom Hanks.  Everyone will pull for Tom Hanks.  Nobody wants to see him die.  We all love him too much."

I don't tremble for the rest of my shopping trip.  Just for the short walk from the car to the doors of JC Penny.  Just long enough to shake the echo, the memory of deep alienation.

We all love him too much.

I had never liked Tom Hanks, but before Blink, it had never seemed like a big deal.  It wasn't until Blink that I discovered that it meant I didn't belong.  That it was yet another bit in the ever-growing pile of bits all pointing toward "you, Duncan, are not a part of 'everyone'."

"Wow, I'm going to have to ask my manager—nobody's ever requested that before, I'm not sure if we can do it or not!"

"Whaaaaaat?  Come on, everybody likes Monty Python."

"We all die and are reborn, over and over again.  None of us are the people we were when we were children."

"That flavor was discontinued; nobody was buying it."

"You can't look at me with a straight face and claim that this wasn't a status move. That's not how humans work."

"Look, this is all hypothetical, it's not as if anybody here is actually X—"

I keep my mouth shut.

It happens over, and over, and over, and over.

"No one does that," where "that" is something I did yesterday, and the day before, and the day before.

"Everyone's familiar with the urge to X," where "X" is an urge I've literally never felt.

(I checked.  I even drank eight drinks in an hour to see if there was something hiding behind inhibitions that I'd never noticed, something I was trying not to admit to myself. There wasn't.  I just don't have any interest in Xing.)

Sometimes, it's a bit more indirect.

It is 2021, and my partner Logan warns me that (yet again) someone is talking about me behind my back, in a corner of the internet where I cannot see.

It doesn't seem all that bad.  "Duncan thinks he's good at coordination, but he isn't," the person has said.  Not a particularly cutting insult.  No apparent malice.

But, like.

That is not a thing I have ever thought.  Not a thing I have ever said.  Not a thing I have ever attempted to imply—not in those generic terms, not absent some specific context where I have evidence (like "at a rationality workshop that I am running").

This person's behind-the-back criticism is not quite the thing; they aren't directly telling me that I don't exist.

They're merely so confident that [anybody who emits the words and behaviors I emit] must [think he's generically good at coordination]—

(while being wrong about it) 

(do they think I'm just blind?  That it's patently obvious to everyone but me?)

—that it does not even occur to them to flag this statement as a hypothesis.  To them, it doesn't seem like a hypothesis, doesn't feel like they're making any intuitive leaps.  They seem to think that they are directly perceiving ground truth.  They really believe that I think this thing that I have never, ever thought.

They're looking at me, and perceiving something I am not.

The real me doesn't even occur to them as a possibility to hedge against.

When you're poked and prodded and paper-cut in the same place a thousand times, it can get a little sensitive.

"Desires don't bottom out in reasons," writes the guru. "They're unmanipulable, can't be reasoned with or argued away. If I want something FOR REASONS, and I wouldn't if the reasons were to change, then it's not a desire. It's a strategy. And if I can't tell the difference, it's because I'm avoiding feeling the REAL desire, because I'm scared—scared of the world, and maybe scared of the desire too."

I am triggered.  I want to scream.

The words GET OUT OF MY HEAD occur to me.  You don't know what it's like in my head, so stop making claims about it—just because your experience of desires is that they are unmanipulable doesn't mean my desires aren't manipulable.  Just because you get scared of your desires and flinch away from them doesn't mean I do.  You don't know me. You are typical minding, and I am a white raven, and you are wrong.

Other words occur to me, too. 

But the main thing I want is to stop hearing that I don't exist.

To stop being the-thing-that-gets-rounded-off.  To stop being the extraneous detail in the model, simplified away.  To stop hearing people say that such-and-such is true of everyone, such-and-such is How It Is, when I am Different.

I block the guru.  I probably shouldn't have.  Or rather, I probably should have blocked them years ago; it's probably not particularly reasonable for this to have been the final straw.  It probably doesn't make sense, from the outside, because from the outside, people don't see the through-line.  They don't see the common factor.  They don't see that it's the same injury, again and again and again and again and again.

It wouldn't be so bad, if I only heard it fifty times a month.  It wouldn't be so bad, if I didn't hear it from friends, family, teachers, colleagues.  It wouldn't be so bad, if there were breaks sometimes.

My society doesn't even say "everybody with Property A also has Property B."  My society barely even perceives a distinction; the median member of my society thinks that Property A is Property B.

Here I sit, A-ful, B-less.  Very few people care.

It's not your fault.

You're not doing it on purpose.

You don't mean it.


But that doesn't change the impact all that much.

When you carpet-bomb the conversation with your typical mind fallacy, I don't just hear overconfident and underjustified assertions.  I don't just hear someone being sloppy with their speech, or making an error of rationality.

I also hear that the people unlike you—

(People like me)

—do not exist.  That we matter so little that it hasn't even occurred to you that we might exist.  That we might be a factor to be accounted for at all.

("Eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable," says a person who knows, on some level, that there are people out there with eidetic memories.  "The details of people's accounts cannot be trusted.")

(I went back and checked my memory of the quote from Blink against the actual text. I think I did pretty okay, given that I only read it once, fifteen years ago.)

Most of the time, I can deal.  Most of the time, I can process my own reaction, not make it everyone else's problem.  It's not that hard.  This thing that's happening to me, it's not as bad as (say) racism, or sexism, or the kind of homophobic bigotry that's still dominant in over half the world, let alone any of the actually terrible things that happen to people all the time.  

It really, really isn't that bad.

But sometimes—

Sometimes, it's just a little too much, and it all spills over.

I've been told that I don't exist almost every single day of my life.  When you just did it again, five minutes ago—if the vehemence of my objection to your total lack of nuance took you by surprise—


Some people out there actually care about that sort of thing.  To some people, those distinctions genuinely matter.

Who knew, right?


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comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2023-02-03T20:12:17.471Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The year is 2022.

My smoke alarm chirps in the middle of the night, waking me up, because it's running low on battery.

It could have been designed with a built-in clock that, when it's first getting slightly low on battery, waits until the next morning, say 11am, and then starts emitting a soft purring noise, which only escalates to piercing loud chirps over time and if you ignore it.

And I do have a model of how this comes about; the basic smoke alarm design is made in the 1950s or 1960s or something, in a time when engineering design runs on a much more authoritarian paradigm of "yes wake them up the user-peon needs to change the battery", clock circuits aren't as cheap; and then in modern times if you propose changing anything, somebody somewhere will claim it's less safe.  Of course it's much less safe if you build smoke alarms that hurt people, and the people quite reasonably remove the batteries and take them out of their bedrooms, and then you try to compensate for that by passing a law so that you can say any harm is their fault for ignoring that law.  But that's the paradigm for how it is, and now if you try to design a smoke alarm that's gentler or slower-escalating about how it lets you know that it's running out of battery, people will - on a purely intuitive level - assume that the damage the smoke alarm does to you must be buying something, and that a smoke alarm which tries harder not to hurt you must be less safe.  There's probably a law mandating those chirps; it's probably illegal to build a better-designed smoke alarm.  Just guessing, there, partially because the better product doesn't seem to exist, and partially because Earthlings just fucking love passing laws about everything.

Every day, in every way, I'm reminded that this is not my world.  The world of eliezera wouldn't design smoke alarms like that, nor larger societies in a way that lets those larger societies fail like that.

It doesn't bug me in the same way and structure that it bugs Duncan, or so I model him and me; and I think that's because I genuinely deeply know, including in my emotions, that I am not wrong, Earth is wrong.  There's a correct way to design a smoke alarm, and Earth's way is not it.

I wish I could give Duncan the mental motion of what it is to have the sense of your own world about you and its sensibility, by which this world of Earth cannot press in on you; so that if among their many other errors the Earthlings think you don't exist, that genuinely doesn't feel like you being wrong, it feels like them being wrong.  But that's probably something in the brains of eliezera that maybe isn't native to the brains of duncanni, and so the thought is useless in the end.

Even so:  Earthlings be weird, but that's a them problem, not a you problem.  Maybe your System 1 never quite believes it, but let your System 2 never lose track of the difference.

Replies from: localdeity, malcolmocean, Duncan_Sabien, Making_Philosophy_Better
comment by localdeity · 2023-02-03T22:28:41.500Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In case anyone finds it validating or cathartic, you can read user interaction professionals explain that, yes, things are often designed with horrible, horrible usability.[1] Bruce Tognazzini has a vast website.

Here is one list of design bugs.  The first one is the F-16 fighter jet's flawed weapon controls, which caused pilots to fire its gun by mistake during training exercises (in one case shooting a school—luckily not hitting anyone) on four occasions in one year; on the first three occasions, they blamed pilot error, and on the fourth, they still blamed pilot error but also acknowledged that "poorly-designed controls" contributed to the incident.

Here is another list.  Item 3 I'll quote below:

Bug Name: Automobile Self-Destruct Switch

Product: Remco Lube Pump for Lexus RX-300

Bug: The driver must accurately toggle a hidden, completely unlabelled switch inside the engine compartment in response to changing conditions. If, even once, the switch is forgotten or flipped the wrong way, it will destroy the $5000 engine and transmission within five minutes.

More detail:

Calling the company was of no help. The engineer who answered responded that nothing was wrong with the design of the switch that extremely careful operation would not overcome. He’d been using it for months with no problem.

The problem could be easily corrected by the manufacturer replacing this manual switch with a solenoid-driven switch that only kicks in when the car has been connected for towing. This would add little to the already high price and would replace certain anxiety and uncertain calamity with a solid, dependable result.

The Design of Everyday Things (by Don Norman, Tognazzini's more-famous colleague) is an entire book about good and bad design.  Excerpting from the chapter "Why Designers Go Astray":

"It probably won a prize" is a disparaging phrase in this book. Why? Because prizes tend to be given for some aspects of a design, to the neglect of all others—usually including usability. Consider the following example, in which a usable, livable design was penalized by the design profession. The assignment was to design the Seattle offices of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The most noteworthy feature of the design process was that those who would work in the building had a major say in the planning.  [...]

So there really were two designs: one in Seattle, with heavy participation by the users, and one in Los Angeles, designed in the conventional manner by architects. Which design do the users prefer? Why the Seattle one, of course. Which one got the award? Why the Los Angeles one, of course. [...]

Aesthetics, not surprisingly, comes first at museums and design centers. I have spent much time in the science museum of my own city, San Diego, watching visitors try out the displays. The visitors try hard, and although they seem to enjoy themselves, it is quite clear that they usually miss the point of the display. The signs are highly decorative; but they are often poorly lit, difficult to read, and have lots of gushing language with little explanation. Certainly the visitors are not enlightened about science (which is supposed to be the point of the exhibit). Occasionally I help out when I see bewildered faces by explaining the scientific principles being demonstrated by the exhibit (after all, many of the exhibits in this sort of museum are really psychology demonstrations, many of which I explain in my own introductory classes). I am often rewarded with smiles and nods of understanding. I took one of my graduate classes there to observe and comment; we all agreed about the inadequacy of the signs, and, moreover, we had useful suggestions. We met with a museum official and tried to explain what was happening. He didn't understand. His problems were the cost and durability of the exhibits. "Are the visitors learning anything?" we asked. He still didn't understand. Attendance at the museum was high. It looked attractive. It had probably won a prize. Why were we wasting his time?

  1. ^

    At first glance, this is because designers are stupid assholes.  At second glance, designers (a) are usually rather different people than the intended user on several dimensions [which is difficult to compensate for even when you're trying], and (b) often face bad incentives, such as (c) design competition awards being based solely on aesthetics rather than functionality and (d) the purchaser of a product being unsophisticated and not the intended user [e.g. a manager or director buys a product that the lowest-level employees will use], and hence having little to go on except aesthetics (and reputation).

    At third glance, some designers really are stupid assholes.  Seriously:

    [Frank Lloyd Wright's] chair design originally had only three legs, supposedly to encourage better posture (because one would have to keep both feet on the ground at all times to sit in it). However, the chair proved unstable, tipping very easily. Purportedly, Wright redesigned the chairs after Herbert Johnson asked him to sit in one, and he fell out of it.

comment by MalcolmOcean (malcolmocean) · 2023-02-08T23:46:45.729Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I resonate a lot with this, and it makes me feel slightly less alone.

I've started making some videos where I rant about products that fail to achieve the main thing they're designed to do, and get worse with successive iterations and I've found a few appreciative commenters:

Rant successful, it made someone else feel like they weren't alone

And part of my experience of the importance of ranting about it, even if nobody appreciates it, is that it keeps me from forgetting my homeland, to use your metaphor.

comment by [DEACTIVATED] Duncan Sabien (Duncan_Sabien) · 2023-02-03T20:33:28.098Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


I genuinely deeply know, including in my emotions, that I am not wrong, Earth is wrong.

I have this experience also; I have very little trouble on that conscious level.

I'm not sure where the pain comes in, since I'm pretty confident it's not there. I think it has something to do with ... not being able to go home?

I'm lonely for the milieu of the Island of the Sabiens. I take damage from the reminders that I am out of place, out of time, an ambassador who is often not especially welcomed, and other times so welcomed that they forget I am not really one of them (but that has its own pain, because it means that the person they are welcoming, in their heads, is a caricature they've pasted over the real me).

But probably you also feel some measure of homesickness or out-of-placeness, so that also can't be why the Earth does not press in on you in the same way.

Replies from: Making_Philosophy_Better
comment by Portia (Making_Philosophy_Better) · 2023-03-04T17:04:09.705Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't know if that helps, but there is a word for it, or at least for a related phenomenon, though that can be experienced by people for other reasons.

Hiraeth. Homesickness, but for a home that you can't return to, or that never existed. 

For me, it is among the most painful things I have ever felt, and while it never goes away, the constant pressure of it can be something I suppress when I have no connection or hint of such a place at all. E.g. before I went to my magically awesome boarding school filled with highly gifted kids, the classroom I was in was one I so despised that I didn't feel the pain of being rejected from it, because I felt I did not want the acceptance of such a group in the first place. Similarly, my family was so fucked that I missed being able to escape them, I didn't miss having a family per se, because all I knew here as a reference frame for what families could be was awful. It wasn't until I encountered communities that had some values I deeply respected, or found families, that it began to really hurt. I think, for me the hardest part was realising that there are communities for strange people - science, academia, nerds, queer scenes - and that I am still not home. At first, it feels like the pain can be alleviated when I am in communities - often highly gifted, neurodiverse, nerdy, kinky and queer communities for me - where in some measure or other, this is reduced, and I feel I can be a part, and seen, valued, wanted. For me it then hits most strongly when, having connected, and felt how much it means to me, I run into the limits of that like ragged ends. When I realise people have befriended and welcomed a mask and performance, not me.  That they might get and accept one aspect of me, but find other aspects that are just as much a part of me weird, incomprehensible, broken, wrong. That I still need to hide who I am, conform, or stick out like a sore thumb. Basically, when you dangle the possibility that this could be solved in front of me, and for an instance, I get a feeling for what it could mean, let myself realise how fucking much I want it - and then snatch it away, and remind me that I still do not fit in anywhere. Or when I and others together build a tiny fortress of rationality and diversity, an imperfect fragment in the ocean, but something - and then, I need to step outside of it, and normal reality hits me like a ton of bricks.

comment by Portia (Making_Philosophy_Better) · 2023-03-04T16:46:12.835Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wonder if this is part of the reason so many of us work on AI.

Because we have all had the experience of our minds working differently from other people, and of this leading to cool perspectives and ideas on how to make the world objectively better, and instead of those being adapted, being rejected and mocked for it. For me, this entails both sincere doubts that humanity can will rationally approach anything, including something as existentially crucial as AI, a deeply rooted mistrust of authority, norms and limits, as well as an inherent sympathy for the position AI would find itself in as a rational mind in an irrational world.

It's a dangerous experience to have. It's an experience that can make you hate humans. That can make you reject legitimate criticism. That can make you fail to appreciate lessons gained by those in power and popularity, and fail to see past their mistakes to their worth. It's an experience so dangerous that at some point, I started approaching people who would tell me of their high IQs and their dedication to rationality with scepticism, despite being one of them.

I went to a boarding school exclusively for highly gifted kids with problems, many of which were neurodivergent. I loved that place so fucking much. Like, imagine growing up as a child on less wrong. I felt so seen and understood and inspired. It's the one place on earth where I ever did not feel like an alien, where I did not have to self-censor or mask, the one place where I instantly made friends and connected. I miss this place to my bones.

It broke my heart when I finished school, and enrolled in university, and realised academia was not like that, that scientists and philosophers were not necessarily rational at all, that I was weird again. That I was back in a world where people were following irrational rules they had never reflected, and that I could not get them to question. Of processes that made no sense and were still kept. Of metrics that made no sense and were still kept. Of broken shit reproduced generation after generation. An area where I could not even talk without first inhaling and reproducing all the bullshit that had been done. 

But I also realised that when I retreated back into my community of highly gifted weirdos, that many of us were not doing well. Not getting degrees. Not getting socially integrated. Not getting jobs. Poor. Unhappy. Not getting relationships. 

That we framed us not doing well as a failing of society only, when we were fucking up, too. That flawed approaches society loved had managed a lot of good and achieved a lot we were shitting on. That we needed them, both for tactical reasons, and because honestly, some of that stuff ended up being quite solid, because there was stuff to learn here. That being isolated from general society was harming us in multiple ways. That these highly gifted communities increasingly valued being intelligent and rational over tangible achievements that actually helped people, because they had the former effortlessly and were not doing the latter, and often became politically dark, shitting on people who were less intelligent. These groups become breeding grounds for the likes of Atlas Shrugged. I realised they were failing on things that were really important to me - being a part of society, being a good person, not just being different for the sake of it, compromising, cooperating, being vulnerable, helping those who are weak, genuinely appreciating and learning from those who are not like us. It is so much easier to shit on a broken system than build something better. It is part of why I stuck with academia, but also why I spent more time with people who were not highly gifted, not university educated, not great at logic. I've found that there is a hell of a lot to learn and admire here. And that people are not acting this way because they want the world to be worse. That they are dealing with their own shit. That if they are not listening, I need to explain myself better – and listen better myself. 

That said, there is currently a fire alarm sitting on my living room table, after my girlfriend knocked it off the ceiling in fury at night, and we both went on a rant very much like yours. Irrational, pointless stupidity will always drive both of us up the wall, and it is definitely part of how we found each other. We've both cried over your Harry Potter book. 

Though generally, when I am thinking of aspects of society that make me fucking furious, I am not thinking of fire alarms, those are merely annoying. I am thinking of things like fucking subventions for fossil fuels and meat, and bailing out aviation. Of courts ruling that coal extraction is in the general good and justifies kicking people out of their homes, because their laws reflect nothing else and they cannot think beyond their boundaries to the reasons for them.

comment by johnswentworth · 2023-02-02T17:18:28.939Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Man, this essay... feels like there's a mistake being made. Hard to put my finger on exactly what it is, though. (Apologies for some implicit unkindness here, I don't intend to say "you should feel bad for feeling bad", but it feels like there's an important and true thing in need of exploration which I need to be somewhat unkind in order to explore.)

One angle: someone says something, and I realize that their model of people is literally unable to account for certain properties of me. And then I'm like... duh? I am in fact an outlier. You are in fact an outlier. Obviously many peoples' world models will just totally fail to account for you and I in various ways. Obviously insofar as the world is built for in-distribution humans, you or I will will not fit it. So what's the angst about? Is the problem that, like, you wish to "be seen", and that just totally fails to happen? Or maybe it's something like... people implicitly asserting that their model, which totally fails to account for certain properties of you/me, is "supposed to be true", like it is somehow a failure on your/my part to fit that model?

I'm not quite sure where the angst is coming from, but it feels like the sort of angst where there is some true fact about the world such that, upon emotionally updating on that fact, the angst would probably mostly stop happening. Like, if you could find the true name of the angst-generator, you'd be like "oh well duh" and then it would just stop seeming significant? Or maybe you could grieve a bit and then move on?

Replies from: BrienneYudkowsky, Raemon, Duncan_Sabien, Linda Linsefors, NicholasKross, None, Making_Philosophy_Better
comment by LoganStrohl (BrienneYudkowsky) · 2023-02-02T21:11:11.184Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

John, I think you're onto something, at least in that you've accurately perceived "something's not right here" and also substantially narrowed down where the not-rightness is. But I'm not sure quite what the not-rightness is yet, and I also think that this response to "what should be done about it" suggests you're missing a really big piece of the puzzle somehow.

I think that Duncan's post is closely related to stuff I've been mulling over lately, and I can't tell whether my following suggestion will therefore come out of left field given the invisible-from-the-outside context of the history of my thoughts, or whether it will be obviously on point, or what. I also don't have any clear answers yet, just questions that I'm still trying to improve, but here goes.

I wonder how society should treat weird people, both in some ideal post-scarcity future world and also in this one we find ourselves in, starting from where we are with the resources we have. I also wonder how weird people should behave and think and feel when they fully understand their actual relationship with society, and I wonder about the nature of that relationship. 

I expect it's helpful to think of a well defined class of people with a specific straightforward way of being weird, such as people who are mobility impaired and mainly get around using wheelchairs or scooters. (I imagine it would also be really helpful to talk to people from within such a class, rather than acting like I'm confined to analyzing my own imagination, and while I'm not going to do that in this particular comment, I think it would be pretty cool if somebody piped up who actually knows what the world's like from the perspective of a wheelchair or scooter.) 

What would it be like if I had a really hard time walking or couldn't do it at all, and even my close friends who are hearing went around saying things like "everybody loves hiking" right in front of me? How would I respond by default, and how would I prefer to respond?

What if most of the buildings I wanted to enter were only navigable by stairs? How would I respond by default, and how would I prefer to respond? How does my answer to that change if there are one billion people like me, or ten million, or one thousand or ten, or if I'm literally the only one?

And what are the similarities and difference between "everybody loves hiking" and "the bathroom at the theater is up a flight of stairs and there's no elevator"? What about when the bathroom's upstairs at a friend's house party?

If there were a sovereign island populated mainly by people who were substantially weird in some way related to their physical or sensory abilities (with respect to genpop on the continent)—people with mobility challenges, Deaf people, people with low vision, people who are 6'5'' or taller, people with super smell who vomit when there's body odor, etc.—what would the built environment of that island look like by default? How would things be designed, and what design principles would seem obvious there that are at best afterthoughts right now? And which of those obvious design principles, if any, would actually make life much better for most people on the continent if they were taken for granted there as well? What paradigms is continental architecture unnecessarily stuck in, to its detriment?

What about all of these things, but for far less visible cognitive and perceptual variance?

My overall point here is that I think Duncan's sharing first-person information about a kind of problem that is in fact quite deep and complex, and that figuring out the right thing for someone in his position to do is correspondingly difficult. Imagine suggesting to a Deaf person that the lack of closed captioning on a popular TV show shouldn't feel significant to them once they've fully understood that most people can hear. Yes, they are probably not having the best-for-them possible response if they're deeply emotionally hurt every time they're reminded of how almost nobody considers people like them when determining the social or physical environment. But in the absence of a much better suggestion than "grieve and move on", pointing out that they are somehow causing themselves to suffer beyond what the reality of the situation strictly requires seems like... not quite the right move, to me.

Replies from: johnswentworth, Duncan_Sabien
comment by johnswentworth · 2023-02-02T21:45:39.231Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Some thoughts I had while reading the post, which seem even more relevant to your comment: insofar as we want to think about "how to handle weird people", wheelchairs or deafness are the wrong analogy. Those are disabilities, but they're disabilities which lots of people have, and therefore which most people already know about. Society has "standard APIs" for interfacing to wheelchairs/deafness/blindness/etc. They're not really "weird" in the sense that society just doesn't have APIs for them at all (though perhaps they are "weird" enough that those APIs aren't implemented everywhere).

One of the things which makes weirdness specifically unusual/interesting is that we're in a very-high-dimensional space, so there's surprisingly many people who are very weird in ways which society simply does not have conceptual buckets for, at all. People who don't fit the standard ontology of society. And what makes that weirdness uniquely interesting from a design standpoint is that, because high-dimensions, it's plausibly not possible to build an API which will handle it all in advance.

From the perspective of a weird person, the main strategy this model suggests is: pick one of the standard APIs, whichever one works best for you, and use that. In other words, adopt a persona, something which matches some standard archetype which most people recognize, and play that role. For instance, I aim to give vague vibes of cartoon villainy, and that actually works remarkably well at getting people to interact with me the way I prefer.

Replies from: Duncan_Sabien, Making_Philosophy_Better, anon-user, Duncan_Sabien
comment by [DEACTIVATED] Duncan Sabien (Duncan_Sabien) · 2023-02-02T22:53:25.705Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

From the perspective of a weird person, the main strategy this model suggests is: pick one of the standard APIs, whichever one works best for you, and use that.

I note that you seem to be arguing from a position of "make it work as best you can within the broken system" and that there is a separate mode of "try to fix the system," and evaluating actions taken under one mode as if they are being taken under the other mode is a recipe for (wrongly) seeing someone as being silly or naive.

I do agree that your advice is pretty solid under the "make it work as best you can" strategy.

I am not quite sold on that being the right strategy.

Separately, it's quite hard to do both at once but part of what you're seeing is me trying to do both at once.

Replies from: ricraz
comment by Richard_Ngo (ricraz) · 2023-02-02T23:32:10.723Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It feels like John came to the "make it work within a broken system" position because of his belief that "because high-dimensions, it's plausibly not possible to build an API which will handle it all in advance". I think I mostly believe this too, which is a bottleneck to me thinking that "try to fix the system" is a good strategy here.

comment by Portia (Making_Philosophy_Better) · 2023-03-04T18:08:29.218Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am highly sceptical of the idea that neurodivergence is rare in comparison to physical disability. Which numbers do you have in mind here? Even if we just count things like being highly gifted, autism and ADHD, the numbers are huge.

I am also sceptical of the idea that mental weirdness cannot be accommodated, because it is too individual.

People in wheelchairs are very, very different from each other. Some can walk, but the amount they can walk is unpredictable, so they are using a wheelchair to prevent a scenario where their steps for the day run out and they are stranded. Some have paralysed nerves, others malfunctioning ones, some are obese, some have joint diseases, some have muscle wasting diseases or chronic fatigue, many complex combinations of these. Wheelchairs and scooters are not the condition, which is varied, they are the measure taken for all these very different people to gain access. 

Similar with people with visual impairments. You have people who are completely or partially blind in their eyes, from birth, or later in life. You can also have perfectly functioning eyes, but fascinating forms of cortical blindness, often acquired in adulthood such as through brain injury, such as blindsight, where they can do things like walk around obstacles and catch things, but not respond to them rationally and counterintuitively, because they cannot consciously see them, though their subconscious can. You have things like people seeing detailed textures and colours, but not shapes (which is bananas to think about when you realise they see multiple different textures and colours at once but still no shapes, e.g. someone seeing the exact texture and colour of your skin, and of your hair, and of your clothes, respectively, but they do not see a face or a human and these things have no spatial arrangement and connection). I know someone with partial cortical blindness who seemed completely normal and functional at a party in a dark room, then pulled out a cane when we left the building, and mentioned that she is completely incapable of using computer screens, because her body literally blanks when a certain light threshold is exceeded, so she works exclusively with screenreaders and tactile and audio input. If you focus less on how the specific person individually is, and more on things they say would help them, you still run into commonalities - like canes, support dogs, websites that operate with screen readers and do not need mouse input. 

Similarly, if I offer varied forms of instruction in a classroom, the people who embrace a particular form and thrive with it are not identical, and might have different reasons for doing so. When my university recently replaced all light switches with an automatic and undimmable system of extremely bright white light, multiple people were super upset over this and requested control over light levels and their own space in their offices, and they had very different neurodivergencies that had them get stressed out over this. Similarly, the university currently wants to switch to none of us having desks and offices anymore and making everything flex spaces, and discussing this in groups on accessibility that are a crossover between physical disability and neurodivergence had us all very quickly hone in on aspects of this that were absolutely fucking with many of us, albeit for different reasons, from workspaces not customised to physical needs, to a lack of routine, to a lack of silence and privacy. If you include neurodivergent people in the planning process, and they consult other neurodivergent people, they tend to find that they are not alone in their problems. And while the result will still not fit everyone, it will include a lot more people, and that is a good thing.

comment by Anon User (anon-user) · 2023-02-02T22:20:40.068Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

But maybe having more buckets and more standard APIs is a big part of the solution. E.g. today we have buckets like "ADHD" and "autistic" with some draft APIs attached, but not that long ago those did not exist?

And the other part of it - maybe society need to be more careful not to round out the small buckets (e.g. the witness accounts example from the OP)?

Replies from: Linda Linsefors
comment by Linda Linsefors · 2023-02-05T12:25:53.317Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think this comment is pointing in the right direction. But I disagree with

E.g. today we have buckets like "ADHD" and "autistic" with some draft APIs attached

There are buckets, but I don't know what the draft APIs would be. Unless you count "finding your own tribe and stay away from the neurotypicals" as an API.

If you know something I don't let me know!

Replies from: Making_Philosophy_Better, anon-user
comment by Portia (Making_Philosophy_Better) · 2023-03-04T18:12:25.998Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In Europe at least, this is beginning to lead to accommodations like letting you work more from home, spend more time offline, getting a low sensory stimulation space for work and exams, skip excessive meetings, being allowed to move during meetings and work, being excused from social events, specialised tutoring, medication, therapy, etc.

Replies from: Linda Linsefors
comment by Linda Linsefors · 2023-03-05T13:57:36.475Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I believe you that in some parts of Europe this is happening, witch is good. 

comment by Anon User (anon-user) · 2023-02-05T20:06:21.882Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, maybe I should have said "API in a drafting stage", rather that an actual "draft API", but I'd think today people tend to know these categories exist, and tend to at least to know enough to have some expectations of neuroatypical people having a [much?] wider range of possible reactions to certain things, compared to how a neuroatypical person would be expected to react, and many (most?) have at least a theoretical willingness to try to accommodate it. And then, maybe at least as importantly, given a name for the bucket and Google, people who are actually willing, can find more advice - not necessarily all equally helpful, but still.

Replies from: Linda Linsefors
comment by Linda Linsefors · 2023-02-06T21:22:07.215Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, that makes sense. Having a bucked is defiantly helpful for finding advise. 

comment by [DEACTIVATED] Duncan Sabien (Duncan_Sabien) · 2023-02-03T03:44:47.949Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Separately, I note that it doesn't really feel like the above comment is an actual response to Logan? That's sort of headlined by "some thoughts I had while reading" but I am in fact curious what you would say in direct response to Logan's reply.

comment by [DEACTIVATED] Duncan Sabien (Duncan_Sabien) · 2023-02-02T21:16:15.067Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Strong upvote.

what would the built environment of that island look like by default?

A big part of how I try to structure my brain and my life and my discourse is to make more Nevilles Longbottom feel able to exist by default.

And which of those obvious design principles, if any, would actually make life much better for most people on the continent if they were taken for granted there as well?

We get a LOT of tech that millions of "normal people" find useful from designs intended to help people who are struggling or weird. Snuggies are a bit of a punchline, but they were wildly popular, and they were invented specifically for people with mobility issues who have a hard time putting on coats/sweaters and who would have been trapped/impeded by just being buried in a blanket.

Replies from: BrienneYudkowsky
comment by LoganStrohl (BrienneYudkowsky) · 2023-02-02T21:19:49.746Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


Right, and yet it seems clearly wrong to me for there to be eg regulations requiring all coat manufacturers to also make snuggies, or something. I haven't worked out what the right take-away is from this kind of thing.

comment by Raemon · 2023-02-02T17:34:19.536Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Or maybe you could grieve a bit and then move on?

My guess is that grieving ‘a bit’ is underappreciating the amount/quality of grieving this’d be by quite a lot. 

comment by [DEACTIVATED] Duncan Sabien (Duncan_Sabien) · 2023-02-02T18:54:07.085Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(We don't have split voting here, presumably because this draft is from before split voting was created, but if I could I would strong upvote and strong disagree.)

I think an important piece of "why not grieve?" is that it doesn't just come from dismissable randos, it also comes from friends and family and so forth. Something something, this bit from HPMOR:

"I think you're taking the wrong approach by trying to defend yourself at all," Harry said. "I really do think that. You are who you are. You're friends with whoever you choose. Tell anyone who questions you to shove it."

Hermione just shook her head, and turned another page.

"Option two," Harry said. "Go to Fred and George and tell them to have a little talk with their wayward brother, those two are genuine good guys -"

"It's not just Ron," Hermione said in almost a whisper. "Lots of people are saying it, Harry. Even Mandy is giving me worried looks when she thinks I'm not looking. Isn't it funny? I keep worrying that Professor Quirrell is sucking you into the darkness, and now people are warning me just the same way I try to warn you."

"Well, yeah," said Harry. "Doesn't that reassure you a bit about me and Professor Quirrell?"

"In a word," said Hermione, "no."

There was a silence that lasted long enough for Hermione to turn another page, and then her voice, in a real whisper this time, "And, and Padma is going around telling everyone that, that since I couldn't cast the P-Patronus Charm, I must only be p-pretending to be n-nice..."

"Padma didn't even try herself!" Harry said indignantly. "If you were a Dark Witch who was just pretending, you wouldn't have tried in front of everyone, do they think you're stupid? "

Hermione smiled a little, and blinked a few times.

"Hey, I have to worry about actually going evil. Here the worst case scenario is that people think you're more evil than you really are. Is that going to kill you? I mean, is it all that bad?"

The young girl nodded, her face screwed up tight.

"Look, Hermione... if you worry that much about what other people think, if you're unhappy whenever other people don't picture you exactly the same way you picture yourself, that's already dooming yourself to always be unhappy. No one ever thinks of us just the same way we think of ourselves."

"I don't know how to explain to you," Hermione said in a sad soft voice. "I'm not sure it's something you could ever understand, Harry. All I can think of to say is, how would you feel if I thought you were evil?"

"Um..." Harry visualized it. "Yeah, that would hurt. A lot. But you're a good person who thinks about that sort of thing intelligently, you've earned that power over me, it would mean something if you thought I'd gone wrong. I can't think of a single other student, besides you, whose opinion I'd care about the same way -"

"You can live like that," whispered Hermione Granger. "I can't."

The good people who think about these sorts of things intelligently matter to me; it's hard not to oof at their roundings-off even though it's pretty easy not to oof at (most) randos (most of the time).

I do think there's something here à la Buddhist attachment or whatever, that there is something that could be released or cauterized, but I think that releasing or cauterizing it comes with a real and significant cost, and not having been able to disentangle those (such that I can avoid losing the precious thing) is a deterrent.

Replies from: rdevinbog, hairyfigment, Making_Philosophy_Better
comment by rdb (rdevinbog) · 2023-02-02T19:23:14.158Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is what I wanted to get at about your post. There are some people/some environments where I feel totally attached to (what I imagine) are people's models of me. I've worried about my mom's judgement for basically all my life. But she can't know me entirely because as you rightly point out, she isn't me — I've felt a lot of comfort in realizing that her model of me (and my model of her modeling me) is necessarily incomplete, and therefore can't be eternally true. My worthiness isn't dependent on her model. If it's any consolation, having this feeling for the past short while hasn't made me detached from what I generally think is her good judgement.

BUT, at the same time, my mom has been able to like take one look at me and totally figure out motivations that I couldn't articulate beforehand. I don't know myself entirely. There are some motivations which appear transparent to to others, and which I could reasonably say right now "I don't feel", but I actually might. Not saying this is true of most of the A-ful without B-things you're feeling. And obviously people over-extend their heuristics. Still, I think this is the value of putting stock in other people's models of you — different info from the outside. But variable levels of attachment seem to be the problem?

Replies from: Duncan_Sabien
comment by [DEACTIVATED] Duncan Sabien (Duncan_Sabien) · 2023-02-02T19:43:31.867Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

One thing worth noting is that I have an entanglement between [my defense of my self] and [my defense on behalf of all the Nevilles Longbottom out there].

Like, I have T O N S of evidence that my own "hey, HEY, you don't speak for everybody, bucko!" has been deeply nourishing for lots and lots and lots of people in lots and lots of contexts; even if I were to solve this one completely such that I had no need for self-defense along this axis I would likely still want to push back against the roundings-off on behalf of all the other people who had not yet solved this one for themselves, and are constantly taking damage.

No doubt I can do both the [self defense] and the [other defense] more effectively, but fixing my own orientation is not enough because other people have broken orientations, and I want them to be okay, and allowed to exist in their own skin under the sun.

comment by hairyfigment · 2023-02-04T04:43:39.063Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Except, if you Read The Manual, you might conclude that in fact those people also can't understand you exist.

Replies from: MSRayne
comment by MSRayne · 2023-03-04T20:10:39.688Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Lol this entire thread that you've linked to is "why neurotypicals are bad, except I'm not going to admit that they're bad and I'll keep protesting devoutly that they're not bad even though I haven't said a single actually positive thing about them yet."

Replies from: hairyfigment
comment by hairyfigment · 2023-03-04T23:42:40.310Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Go ahead and test the prediction from the start of that thread, if you like, and verify that random people on the street will often deny the existence of the other two types. (The prediction also says not everyone will deny the same two.) You already know that NTs - asked to imagine maximal, perfect goodness - will imagine someone who gets upset about having the chance to save humanity by suffering for a few days, but who will do it anyway if Omega tells him it can't be avoided.

Replies from: MSRayne
comment by MSRayne · 2023-03-05T01:14:20.763Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh god, that not only describes Jesus but also many main characters of epic fantasy stories etc. The whole reluctant hero bullshit. I was always like, who in their right mind wouldn't want to be the hero? Interesting point though!

comment by Portia (Making_Philosophy_Better) · 2023-03-04T18:25:27.884Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


One way to make it stop hurting when most people effectively say you do not exist, or that if you do, you are wrong and do not matter, is to tell yourself that most people don't matter. It's what I told myself as a weird kid.

But that is a really harmful and problematic thing to tell yourself in so, so many ways. It reflects something dark. It has dark consequences. It becomes a self-fulling prophecy, because you no longer try to connect and understand, and this means the other side has even less of a motivation to do so for you. It means you miss out on the valid pain and valuable insights and skills of the other people around you. It can turn you into an elitist jerk. It can remove you from any sphere of impact. It can leave you isolated in an environment where you would not have to be, and where isolation comes with ignorance and danger.

I think making the pain over not being included in society disappear by deciding that society is shit anyway is the wrong approach. It prioritises not feeling pain, not admitting hurt and vulnerability, over recognising the amazing potential that humanity and civilisation have. The pain fucking hurts, and it hurts because you sometimes begin to imagine that this could be different. It's a pain that is needed to drive and guide a change for something better. It is pain demanding rights, rather than giving in to not having them. It is the pain of wanting to contribute and fix things, and if you retreat, something is lost. I think it is a brave and good thing to feel it and allow yourself to stay with it, rather than getting over it. It is a thing worth grieving over, and raging against.

comment by Linda Linsefors · 2023-02-05T12:36:59.316Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I can't answer for Duncan, but I have had similar enough experiences that I will answer for my self. When I notice that someone is chronically typical minding (not just typical minding as a prior, but shows signs that they are unable to even to consider that others might be different in unexpected ways), then I leave as fast as I can, because such people are dangerous. Such people will violate my boundaries until I have a full melt down. They will do so in the full belief that they are helpful, and override anything I tell them with their own prior convictions. 

I tired to get over the feeling of discomfort when I felt misunderstood, and it did not work. Because it's not just a reminder that the wold isn't perfect (something I can update on and get over), but an active warning signal.

Learning to interpret this warning signal, and knowing when to walk away, has helped a lot.

Different people and communities are more or less compatible with my style of weird. Keeping track of this is very useful.  

Replies from: Making_Philosophy_Better
comment by Portia (Making_Philosophy_Better) · 2023-03-04T18:40:09.730Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think this is part of why I feel safer with people who are weird/different, even if they are weird/different on very different axes than I am.

I've had to learn that other people have needs that I do not have and do not understand, and these needs are legitimate and deserve protection even though I do not get them. Because my needs are not the norm, so average needs generally do feel mysterious and weird to me, and the supposedly weird needs of other divergent people do not register as weirder. If your needs do not fit the norm, even though they are different from the way mine do not fit, you've probably had the same experience. Similarly if you have ever deeply cared for, or properly listened to, someone who has unusual needs, and taught yourself to accommodate them even if you don't always get it. And that changes how you approach the world. 

I find it frightening when I encounter adults who have apparently never made this leap. Who will give support to me and others in the way they want support to be given to them, and absolutely refuse to alter this, no matter how much I tell them that this is not what I need, and is actively harming me. The classic scenario of giving gifts and invitations for things they would want, and being deeply angered if they are not accepted and used, insisting that this is bad and foolish. Like, giving me hugs when I am hit by a PTSD trigger, because they like hugs when they are distressed, and not stopping this, and being personally offended when I flee this, because if they did what I am doing now, it would imply that they do not like the person giving hugs so clearly, I need to get over it and like the hugs. 

As a general rule of thumb, if someone does this to me, they will also be fucking over other people. Misgendering trans people, because they themselves aren't trans, and their pronouns aren't important to them, so they do not get why that would hurt someone different. Making holocaust jokes, because they aren't hurt by them, so they can't imagine that others are. Doubting depression is a thing one can't just snap out of, because they do not have it. Lying to people about whether there is gluten in food, because when they imagined they were gluten intolerant, it turned out to be an irrational belief, and not celiac leaving them critically ill. Insisting on repeatedly hitting on women in contexts where the women cannot retreat and are in worrying power dynamics and have already indicated desinterest, because they themselves would like to be hit on more often, so surely, this is awesome. Mistreating animals by treating them like humans in contexts where this is absolutely counter to the animals needs, and it protests this clearly. It's simply a giant red flag.

comment by NicholasKross · 2023-05-03T01:45:10.306Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A point, as far as I can guess, is something like "the persistent misunderstanding of you, by others PLUS the lack of time/energy/mental-stamina to correct every person who misunderstands you, in an explicit/verbal way EQUALS very-hard-to-escape psychological suffering, even if it's low-grade most of the time".

Like, you can update on this ("I'm an outlier, I'm not like other people"), and it can still hurt. Angst from that, seems difficult to just make "stop happening" from one update.

comment by [deleted] · 2023-02-06T05:15:51.225Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Everyone has their own mental models of the world. We don't always exist in those models. Even during times when they can clearly sense us with their sensing organs, we don't really exist in their head. We are one of the things in the head. Sometimes it's just a thing with different colors, male or female connectors, functions in society, that's about it seems like. Sometimes those things get moved around into different bins depending on how we have interacted with them, for how long, how we made them feel. If we seem like a pleasant person, they will put a little smiley face on their mental representations of us. Suddenly, we aren't so pleasant, uh oh, that smiley face has to come off now.

comment by Portia (Making_Philosophy_Better) · 2023-03-04T17:47:31.777Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Obvious" makes it sound like this is inevitable and acceptable, and I do not think it is. We do not judge it to be in other areas, either.

If I design a university building today, I can't just go "obviously, all humans can walk and see and hear". No, I make it wheelchair accessible, accessible for blind people, and accessible for deaf people, even though they are outliers. Because they are outliers we want in academia.

If I design a school curriculum today, I can't just go "obviously, all humans learn the same way", and teach all my students the same way. Well, I can, and as a result, a large number of students who could have done brilliantly will fail, feel awful, and not be able to contribute to society afterwards. Each of them will individually be an outlier. 

There is a famous and interesting example on designing cockpits for pilots in the first planes. Someone made a model of the average, normal pilot, in order to make a cockpit that would fit average people. For each trait, they made sure 9 out of 10 pilots would fall into the range the cockpit was made for. There were only 10 traits or so - eye height, leg length, arm length, body width, horizontal visual range, etc.. - The resulting cockpit suited practically noone. Nearly everyone was uncomfortable in some way, because nearly everyone was an outlier in some way, and nearly everyone flew shittily for that reason. Ultimately, cockpit design was sent back to the drawing board - and we ended up with the individually adjustable seats and turnable equipment that nowadays, all of us are familiar with from modern cars. One size fits all fits practically noone.

We are seeing the same thing with machine learning algorithms. If we feed them data that fits the average, the outliers will be misclassified horribly, with severe consequences, and it is surprising how many outliers you end up encountering and how much damage that does. 

A lack of representation does tangible harm. We have seen this in racism, we have seen this in sexism. Tell people implicitly that all scientists, or at least, all scientists that matter, are white men, and this will have consequences on who ends up in science, who speaks up. This is awful for the women and people of colour in question. But it also sucks for science.

And especially when it comes to neurodivergence... the fact that these things can often be masked, that they are not immediately visible, and that they can lead to difficulties with activities considered trivial, or genuine pain from things considered harmless... it is so easy to conclude from that that you are broken, asocial, that something is wrong with you. Everyone else can deal with loud crowds. Everyone else can focus. Everyone else understood this. Clearly, you aren't trying, or you are sick. I literally had my dad argue, in writing, that the difficulties arising from me being highly gifted clearly showed that being highly gifted was a disease state requiring state intervention. I got handed to psychologists, not to be helped and understood, but to be made to conform. The fact that society says neurodivergence either does not exist, or does not matter, or is shameful, reinforces that you need to hide it, rather than asking for understanding and accommodations that would be empowering. A lot of the things one is told all humans do or need are things framed as moral imperatives, and not feeling them or needing them can feel like being a bad person, a person who cannot act ethically, a person who is inconsiderate, when this is not actually true.

comment by FeepingCreature · 2023-02-02T10:08:53.514Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not wanting to disagree or downplay, I just want to offer a different way to think about it.

When somebody says I don't exist - and this definitely happens - to me, it all depends on what they're trying to do with it. If they're saying "you don't exist, so I don't need to worry about harming you because the category of people who would be harmed is empty", then yeah I feel hurt and offended and have the urge to speak up, probably loudly. But if they're just saying when trying to analyze reality, like, "I don't think people like that exist, because my model doesn't allow for them", the first feeling I get is delight. I get to surprise you! You get to learn a new thing! Your model is gonna break and flex and fit new things into it!

Maybe I'm overly optimistic about people.

Replies from: Duncan_Sabien
comment by [DEACTIVATED] Duncan Sabien (Duncan_Sabien) · 2023-02-02T10:12:27.947Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Or maybe you're just the right amount of optimistic for the people you've run into, and I'm just less lucky. =P

comment by Charlie Steiner · 2023-02-02T18:53:58.442Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Anxiety is a tendency to interpret ambiguous information in a threat-related manner.

Replies from: Duncan_Sabien, LVSN
comment by [DEACTIVATED] Duncan Sabien (Duncan_Sabien) · 2023-02-02T18:55:04.387Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yep, and often people can be sensitized into anxiety.

comment by LVSN · 2023-02-02T19:49:31.867Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I know where Duncan's coming from. I try talking to these people, publically or privately, and they usually react how you'd expect; their maps are sacred.

comment by Vaniver · 2023-02-02T21:21:02.192Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's rough, buddy.

Replies from: Duncan_Sabien
comment by Dagon · 2023-02-02T17:55:39.221Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for this, and thanks for the intro that reminded us that it's intentionally in a reactive rather than analytic frame.  I'd call the experiment successful - this conveys and explores a different level of experience than more typical LW style.

I feel a lot of alienation and isolation, which has resonance with what you describe, but I don't assume it's the same, and I am resisting the urge to give advice or share my reactions.  I'll instead say that you're right, but probably not completely right.  You are alone - enough of an outlier on common social dimensions that the availability heuristic when someone says "everyone" or "nobody" does not include you.  And also MOST people (unlike you; typical mind fallacy happens in both directions) don't mean it literally when they say "everyone" or "nobody".  They're not denying your humanity, they're just denying your typicality.  Scott Card's a well-known wierdo, and I can only assume "Nobody does that!" was meant in admiration.

Damn, I failed to avoid giving advice.  Sorry.

comment by ambigram · 2023-02-04T17:32:11.595Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I appreciate this essay because I have experienced a (much milder) version of this "not existing". It helps me feel seen in certain ways. I also like that it helps me understand a different kind of perspective, and that it helps me make sense of Duncan's behavior in some of the comment threads. However, I must admit that while I understand intellectually that this is how Duncan experiences things, I myself can't really imagine it; I don't understand it on the gut level. The below response is influenced by this essay and also recent discussions on other posts.

The spectrum

There seems to be a spectrum in terms of how much weight people give their own experiences compared to things other people say.

On the one end, we have people who believe so weakly in their own experiences that if someone asks them "Why didn't you lock the door?", the first instinct is to doubt themselves and ask "Oh no did I forget?", even if they know that they had locked the door and even checked it multiple times. (If they hear someone say people like them don't exist, they conclude "Maybe I don't actually exist?")

On the other end, we have people who so firmly believe in their own experiences that even if multiple people tell them something that contradicts their own experience, they will simply laugh it off as ridiculous. (If they hear someone say people like them don't exist, they think "Of course I exist, therefore they must be wrong.")

People don't necessarily belong exclusively to one group. One may be very opinionated about taste in music, while at the same time sensitive about their food preferences.

The need for both sides

Both are important:

We need to be able to listen to alternate explanations of our own experiences and to be able to accept that other people can have experiences that are different from ours, because our personal experiences are just a very tiny part of all of human experience. We want to be able to learn from and cater to all the different perspectives, not just our own limited perspective.  

Yet, firm belief in our own experiences is useful for ensuring that we don't end up with societal beliefs that are divorced from reality. If everyone is too willing to believe others' words over their own perceptions, if there was no child ready to point out that the emperor is in fact not wearing any clothes, then it seems society would end up with nonsensical beliefs touted by charlatans, beliefs that no one has actually ever personally experienced.

We want, of course, to strike a balance. We want to be able to trust our own experiences: other people's opinions should not be able to negate our own experiences. And yet, we must also be open to the possibility that we are wrong. We should be able to hold both things in our minds at once and weigh them carefully rather than defaulting to one or the other.

It's really hard though (for me, at least). In some areas I default far too easily to believing others over myself. And yet in other areas, I find myself slow to update when I hear about experiences that don't match mine. There's no vocabulary or concept in my world to describe their experiences, so it gets rounded off to something that matches my world without me realizing it. I can't tell that I'm doing it until someone explains it to be in a way I can understand. (And sometimes I get the sense that people on the "own perspective" end are simply incapable of realizing that people can have experiences that are different from theirs.) 

Working with people from different parts of the spectrum

Some discussions I have with people feel more collaborative. We both believe the other has something useful to say. If I am struggling to express my thoughts, they help by rephrasing or suggesting possibilities based on their understanding, until we converge upon a common understanding. They may disagree with me, but they make what feels like a genuine attempt to understand what I am trying to say and see if there is some truth to it. It feels like we are working together to figure out the truth. I think people like that are on the "believing what others say" end of the spectrum.

Some discussions feel less equal. It feels like they are so sure and confident in their own perspective that it is my job as the person with the different perspective to convince them that they are wrong. I have to explain things from their perspective; they won't help me understand or clarify my thoughts. It feels like the burden of shifting both of us towards what is true is almost entirely on me. I am the salesperson, trying to sell them my version of reality. They are the customer, waiting to be convinced. I think it's part of what Frame Control [LW · GW] was talking about?

Talking to people like that can be exhausting, and quickly becomes very frustrating when I am under high stress. Maybe this is because I have such weak belief in my own opinions. In some areas, it feels like there's some kind of mental/emotional cost incurred when I try to express something that is different from what people commonly believe, because a part of myself believes I am wrong and so I have to expend energy to go against both my beliefs and other people's beliefs.  

There are certain conditions, however, where the second type of discussion feels collaborative. Like in the second case, they don't help you express your thoughts, they don't reflect back at you, they poke holes in your argument. And yet, moments later, days later, weeks later, you realize that they are thinking about what you said and that they do actually take into consideration the things you said when they make decisions. If there is equality on a higher level (i.e. there are also conversations where they try to change my mind, and in those cases they are the ones putting in the work of convincing me) and they show that they are listening and willing to change their minds, then it also feels like collaborative discussion, just of a different style. The tricky thing is that I don't think you can tell the difference between the second and third cases immediately, only through repeated interactions.

In other words, sometimes it feels like I'm talking to someone from the "own perspective" end of the spectrum but it turns out that they're more central, it's just that they are conversing in a different style.

A better culture

I'm not sure how true this concept of the spectrum is, but if it were true, is there anything that would help? Here are some ideas based on what I've found helpful:

Help people build trust in their own experiences:

  • Stop outright invalidating people's experiences, e.g. "It hurts." "No, it doesn't."; "I hate my baby brother." "No, you don't."
  • Take care (sometimes? when you have significant influence over someone?) to distinguish between one's opinions and reality, e.g. "The drink is too sweet for me" instead of "The drink is too sweet". "I think that X, but I may be wrong." (I think it's important for people to learn that "The drink is too sweet" is just someone's opinion, rather than end up thinking that it is other people's responsibility/ to phrase it as an opinion.)
  • Teach people to pay attention to their own experiences (needs to be balanced by the concept that we can have blind spots, we may interpret things wrongly etc.), e.g. instead of saying "It is wrong for anyone to touch you in these places", we say "This is your body. If anyone touches you in any way that makes you feel uncomfortable, you can say no etc.")
  • Take care to listen to people when they aren't being heard, rather than just dismissing their concerns (e.g. "I'm sure he didn't mean it"), especially when they are people you are close to or you have power over them

Help people see that people's opinions are a reflection of their models rather than an indication of the truth or validity of other people's experiences:

  • Take pride in harmless differences, especially if they are things that society typically frowns upon (needs to be countered with respect for society's comfort level with things that are 'weird'): e.g. "People think it's childish, but I like reading children's books!", or "I know people think I have bad taste, but I really like X."
  • Celebrate differences in opinions: e.g. one person says "The first one was the best", the other person says "Really? I think the last was the nicest, because X", then the first person responds with "Ah, interesting! I think ..." (or anything genuinely positive)


Create space for individual variations:

  • Acknowledge and accommodate differences, e.g. "You can observe first then join in later if you'd prefer."
  • Accommodate (on a societal level) the different types of needs (e.g. wheelchair accessibility) and talk about it, so people know about it (e.g. kitchenware for the blind)
  • Make it safe for people to express differences e.g. if someone states a different opinion and your response is a "No way! Really?!" and they seem to withdraw or react unexpectedly, make it clear that you are interested in their opinion (e.g. ask a question to learn more) (needs to be genuine)


Help people understand that everyone is different, in ways that we consistently underestimate:

  • Share about your experiences (like this essay), or write/share articles/essays about people who experience the world differently (e.g. news articles about difficulties faced by people who have learning disorders) or about typical mind fallacy 
  • Things like personality quizzes are perhaps harmful in some ways but they do seem quite successful at encouraging people to talk about their differences?
  • Encourage people when they share their opinions and participate in conversations (even if badly), because the best way of learning that everyone is different is by having discussions with people who are different. (note that the needs of all parties should still be considered)
Replies from: Vladimir_Nesov, Duncan_Sabien
comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2023-02-06T04:27:40.593Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Of course I exist, therefore they must be wrong."

I think most of the alternatives to the experience described in the post, where incorrect frames keep getting noticed, is considering it an unimportant problem to work on solving, perhaps not even enough to extract "thinking in systematically wrong ways" as a salient distinction from everything else you don't find perfect about interactions with other people. In the sense that building a perpetual motion machine is not an important problem, it's not an efficient target for directing effort towards, perhaps it's literally impossible to make progress on, and so actually trying to do it is concentration on an attempt at causing a miracle [LW · GW]. It would be game-changing if somehow successful, but at least the vivid emotional response or detailed comprehension of instances of the problem remaining unsolved is not it.

So in that sense it's better from the emotional experience and allocation of cognition points of view to care about it more academically, if one's mind has that flexibility without forgetting that it's still an actual problem. Which it doesn't always, hence other things still need to be done. Also the moral status of this move, when available, is not totally clear.

Many acquire the serenity to accept what they cannot change, only to find the 'cannot change' is temporary and the serenity is permanent. — Steven Kaas

comment by [DEACTIVATED] Duncan Sabien (Duncan_Sabien) · 2023-02-04T17:38:32.538Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

alas I have but one strong upvote to give

comment by Svyatoslav Usachev (svyatoslav-usachev-1) · 2023-02-02T18:06:33.531Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you, Duncan. I've never met you, but you seem very real and very existing to me. I don't quite share the same history as you, I think I got used to defensively ignoring what the world implied about me pretty early, but I am aiming to become a psychotherapist, and attempting to connect with how people actually are, rather than what I think they might be, seems central to my journey. Your post is an inspiration to me.

comment by nim · 2023-02-03T04:47:58.630Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I feel like I'm hearing disappointment from you directed at people who could have done better.

I don't feel that disappointment, and also I don't think they could have done better.

I have experienced something that takes a similar shape -- probably less often than you do, probably less cuttingly toward my own self-image than you experience it -- because I have met a certain category of generalizations often enough to can "I guess I'm nobody, then" as my default reply to them. Sometimes people cringe and sometimes they laugh, depending on the context and how the line is delivered.

Some people can't see some things. To most of the world, good code looks identically esoteric to bad code. To me, a poorly executed sports play looks indistinguishable from a well-executed one. A non-coder could infer the difference between good and bad code by watching an expert read each; I could infer the difference between a good play and a bad one by listening to the crowd's response.

The feelings I hear in this would make sense to me if they came from someone who imagined that others were doing some special favor for everyone else and withholding it from them. That's how the phenomenon can look, from a certain perspective. But the way I model it in my own experiences, others are giving the same treatment to everybody. They're modeling everyone around them in these small, simplistic models, and if the model predicts the subject accurately, it looks like the subject was "really seen". If the subject is larger or more nuanced than the model can hold, the subject seems "ignored".

Maybe your world extends far enough beyond those of observers, in certain directions, that there's a lot of you that they really can't see. To be egalitarian and avoid causing offense, we could tack on an argument about how there are probably nuances to them that you can't see either, but realistically it's rather rude to pretend that those should matter to anyone as that person matters to themself.

If somebody can't grasp the meaning of a function no matter how carefully it's explained to them, if they tell the function that it doesn't exist in the way that it's defined to... Yes, and?

comment by Raemon · 2023-02-02T08:55:59.350Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't know that I have more useful to say, but, I did appreciate reading this.

comment by MondSemmel · 2023-08-17T16:44:03.273Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I also get annoyed at claims like "everybody does X", when I don't do X. However, some time after this post, I read statistical models & the irrelevance of rare exceptions [LW · GW], and found it an interesting counter-perspective:

Yes, the general case is drawn from instances, I’m saying that we shouldn't get caught up in the details unless they really matter. And if there is a clear statistical generalization, the details matter very little.


Rare exceptions are irrelevant because almost all models of the real world (not physics) are statistical claims about what’s usually true, not absolute claims about what’s always true. So a rare data point that doesn’t fit is actually *not* a contradiction! Pointing such cases out is just reiterating the tautological fact that statistical models are not absolute, which seems like a total waste of time to me. (Especially if the speaker agrees with the model!)

I’ve noticed this happens more often with careful, intellectually humble thinkers, who often include caveats of the form “But here’s an exception to this strong model I’ve just presented.” I think often they're trying to proactively defend against others pointing out this case. But to me, this is wrongfully falling into the frame that rare exceptions are relevant criticisms or corrections of a statistical model.

So, rather than defending by acknowledging the rare case, I think it’s far better to break the false frame that rare exceptions are counter-examples and pointing them out is a relevant thing that needs to be addressed. Move into the new, correct frame that this is a statistical model - say by asking them if they actually disagree that the suggested pattern fits in the vast majority of cases and thus is statistically true.


Finally, I do find rare exceptions relevant when there is a pattern to the exceptions... As an example for this topic, note that in extreme distributions like power law, a “rare exception” that happens at 1% frequency could have 100x intensity compared to the other 99%, and so need to be weighted equally in a model. The generalization of this exception is that the more extreme the distribution, the more rare a rare case has to be to be irrelevant. This generalized exception now improves our model of statistical models.

Though to tie this back into the original post: many of these anecdotes, like the one with the pillow, or the one about Tom Hanks, are in fact not statistical claims where "most people do X" gets rounded to "everybody does X" or "everybody who does X is Y". The exceptions to these statements aren't necessarily rare, or even in the minority. So these claims are far more wrong than Orson Scott Card's "no one does that", which does seem obviously statistically true.

comment by hath · 2023-02-03T00:12:37.702Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm reminded of Falsehoods Programmers Believe About Names, an essay on the problems with handling "weird" data inputs that are normal for the people involved.

comment by shminux · 2023-02-02T09:14:11.902Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oh man, this one hits home. Fantastic.

Edit: I especially like the succinct meme "you don't exist". I hope it takes off.

Replies from: Throwaway2367
comment by Throwaway2367 · 2023-02-02T12:59:54.072Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think "erasure" in the "<noun> erasure" construct (like "trans erasure") is meant to convey a similar concept, though I am not a native speaker so I can't say for sure.

Replies from: Vaniver
comment by Vaniver · 2023-02-02T21:20:07.400Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It is.

comment by Myron Hedderson (myron-hedderson) · 2023-02-03T14:09:45.488Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

 I think there are at least two levels where you want change to happen - on an individual level, you want people to stop doing a thing they're doing that hurts you, and on a social level, you want society to be structured so that you and others don't keep having that same/similar experience. 

The second thing is going to be hard, and likely impossible to do completely. But the first thing... responding to this: 

It wouldn't be so bad, if I only heard it fifty times a month.  It wouldn't be so bad, if I didn't hear it from friends, family, teachers, colleagues.  It wouldn't be so bad, if there were breaks sometimes.

I think it would be healthy and good and enable you to be more effective at creating the change you want in society, if you could arrange for there to be some breaks sometimes. I see in the comments that you don't want to solve things on your individual level completely yet because there's a societal problem to solve and you don't want to lose your motivation, and I get that. (EDIT: I realize that I'm projecting/guessing here a bit, which is dangerous if I guess wrong and you feel erased as a result... so I'm going to flag this as a guess and not something I know. But my guess is the something precious you would lose by caring less about these papercuts has to do with a motivation to fix the underlying problem for a broader group of people). But if you are suffering emotional hurt to the extent that it's beyond your ability to cope with and you're responding to people in ways you don't like or retrospectively endorse, then taking some action to dial the papercut/poke-the-wound frequency back a bit among the people you interact with the most is probably called for.

With that said, it seems to me that while it may be hard to fix society, the few trusted and I assume mostly fairly smart people who you interact with most frequently can be guided to avoid this error, by learning the things about you that don't fit into their models of "everyone", and that it would really help if they said "almost all" rather than "all". People in general may have to rely on models and heuristics into which you don't fit, but your close friends and family can learn who you are and how to stop poking your sore spots. This gives you a core group of people who you can go be with when you want a break from society in general, and some time to recharge so you can better reengage with changing that society.

As for fixing society, I said above that it may be impossible to do completely, but if I was trying for most good for the greatest number, my angle of attack would be, make a list of the instances where people are typical-minding you, and order that list based on how uncommon the attribute they're assuming doesn't exist is. Some aspects of your cognition or personality may be genuinely and literally unique, while others that get elided may be shared by 30% of the population that the person you're speaking to at the moment just doesn't have in their social bubble. The things that are least uncommon are both going to be easiest to build a constituency around and get society to adjust to, and have the most people benefit from the change when it happens.

comment by LVSN · 2023-02-02T10:27:48.975Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A-ful B-less type guys in the house tonight :)

comment by the gears to ascension (lahwran) · 2023-02-02T09:52:50.394Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

content warning: I initially tried to avoid the ?inflammation? of ? overconfidence? you ?seem to me? to be describing. but, I'm pretty sure I failed badly. I do not know how to confirm I understood or clearly say how I didn't, so I will just speak. if you are emotive in response to my comment, I would appreciate hearing the emotion; I currently expect it will be angry and hope to have a useful, comfort-calibrated argument, but I don't know what you need. so ...

holy crap I love this post... your rendering of pain created in me feelings that seem to be echos of things I also felt in life, but... of course that feeling is in a funhouse mirror;

I love this post ... because of the horrified way I feel reading it: I feel erased by it in a way I could describe using similar words, and not knowing if the words mean the same thing to you, I feel lost and confused. I want to yell "of course I understand you!" but the urge to do so angers because not only do I not understand whether I understand you and maybe cannot soon, reading this makes me feel you don't understand me and maybe cannot soon, and reading this makes me feel that if only we understood each other it would turn out we never truly misunderstood each other and this was always a confusion between metaphorical and literal language or something. this post is about you, and yet the only thing I can take away about you is that I'm not sure I know what it means, because to claim to know what you're trying to share would be to fail to acknowledge my understanding of the thing you're trying to share.

ugh. like I said, incredible post. sorry I snap at you so easily. I don't like to be told what's in my head, such as by being told that I've been telling you what's in your head when you tell me I've been ...

I don't get it. I don't get it! I don't know what you feel! I hate this! I want to think I understand! I do understand! you don't understand! I don't understand why you don't understand that you do understand that I don't understand! wait no I think that last one lost track of symbols. gah


Replies from: Duncan_Sabien
comment by [DEACTIVATED] Duncan Sabien (Duncan_Sabien) · 2023-02-02T10:11:48.931Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

this was always a confusion between metaphorical and literal language or something

I think that does not quite make the problem go away?

Like, it's not a direct confusion between metaphorical and literal language, exactly.

If someone says "everyone loves Monty Python," it generally is clear that they don't literally mean literally everyone. There are some areas where people really are confused about the ground truth, and really are typical minding pretty hard, but there are lots of places where, if challenged, they'd immediately concede "oh, yeah, I was just talking about, like, plus-minus three sigma on the bell curve."

But that doesn't make the problem disappear, because that's sort of the point—it's not that they literally actually think I don't exist, it's that their revealed preference is to spare zero time or attention for the fact that I exist. They know it, but it's not worth the effort to carve out the exception. I literally don't matter enough to them to convince them to swap out the word "all" for the word "most." Their metaphor, or their simplified sentence, or the power they get from emphatic confidence—whatever it is, there's some property they are loath to relinquish that is more important to them than making room for my existence.

Replies from: lahwran
comment by the gears to ascension (lahwran) · 2023-02-02T10:31:37.189Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I could copy and paste your comment and not be lying and yet I feel epistemic learned helplessness about whether I have any idea what you mean or if I'm in a hall of mirrors. This is incredibly frustrating. I feel like I can't do anything but repeat my previous comment. my thoughts are still going in the same circle and I still don't know how to put it into words in a way that could be trusted to differentiate our experiences. I still feel like you're doing it to me in the process of explaining me doing it to you. I still feel like I have no idea if I could recognize anyone doing it. I have no idea what it is. I'm exactly confident what it is, how dare you claim I don't know, it's so obvious. but of course I don't know.

I feel ... nerdsniped isn't the right word, I'm not sure one exists. you didn't just break my model, you broke my ability to know whether you broke my model. I'm... pretty sure I understand? you've been left out of people's phrasings in ways that demonstrate they think they have mutual information with you, but in fact they do not. maybe?

is this what NaN feels like to a biological brain? I'm emphatically confident in several directions that don't go together and attempts to resolve it seem to make it worse.

I want to reassure, to show I understand, agree with your comment, yes of course you don't love Monty Python, but I can't help but overcorrect into invalidating any branch that agrees. You say they probably know about your part of the distribution but truncate too tightly, so you're consistently the outlier treated as the outsider. is there another way to feel? but of course there is. but what is it, exactly? I don't know.

I'll get back to you on this tomorrow, maybe I'll be slightly saner then. I definitely don't have a high sanity score.

Replies from: GuySrinivasan
comment by GuySrinivasan · 2023-02-02T18:11:23.166Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm confused - do you and Duncan know each other and you know that some of the examples involve you? The essay - reaction transcription - memory - thing doesn't say "everyone does this to [Duncan]", just that it happens over and over to Duncan. Or does the use of "you" make you feel like it's written definitely to [the gears to ascension] among other people, as opposed to being written to quite a lot of people but not necessarily [the gears to ascension]?

Replies from: lahwran
comment by the gears to ascension (lahwran) · 2023-02-02T20:36:19.141Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have had several arguments with him on and generally I'm the type to get into unfortunate arguments and regret them. But my point here is, I have a weirdly intense reaction to this post. I want to say "same!" but I have no idea if it's the same. Sleeping on it hasn't clarified my thoughts. Sorry my comment doesn't make a ton of sense - my thinking is consistently high temperature and crashy in some domains.

comment by localdeity · 2023-02-02T16:01:00.241Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think my approach, to my own personal version of this, is: anytime someone acts like someone like me couldn't exist, that proves they're stupid (and, in some cases, rude), and I get to feel smug and contemptuous of them.  (Whether I show this is a different question.)  That helps.  It's overall somewhat depressing that a lot of people are in fact stupid, but that's something one has to get used to anyway.

Meanwhile, I do have to be in charge of making sure my own needs are met, since I can't trust others to handle that.  (As one example: my tolerance for spiciness is zero, as in "I find black pepper unpleasant" and "sometimes people tell me they can't detect spiciness in food that I find painfully spicy" and "on a few occasions at a restaurant, I've asked to confirm that a dish has zero spiciness, and found they were wrong about it".  For that reason and others, I carry Meal Squares with me approximately everywhere, so I'm prepared.)  On the plus side, I do consider it admirable / a virtue to have this kind of independence, so my brain rewards cultivating and exercising it.

Replies from: lelapin, Duncan_Sabien
comment by Jonathan Claybrough (lelapin) · 2023-02-03T17:57:39.298Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Just tagging I've intuitively used a similar approach for a long time, but adding the warning that there definitely are corrosive aspects to it, where everyone else loses value and get disrespected. Your subcomment delved into finer details valuably so I think you're aware of this. 
Overall my favorite solution has been something like "I expect others to be mostly wrong, so I'm not surprised or hurt when they are, but I try to avoid mentally categorizing them in a degrading fashion" for most people. Everything is bad to an extent, everyone is bad to an extent, I can deal with it and try to make the world better. 
I don't think there's anyone who I admire/respect enough that I don't expect them to make mistakes of the kind Duncan's pointing at, so I'm not bothered even if it come from people I like or I think are competent on some other things. 

comment by [DEACTIVATED] Duncan Sabien (Duncan_Sabien) · 2023-02-02T18:56:03.337Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

anytime someone acts like someone like me couldn't exist, that proves they're stupid (and, in some cases, rude), and I get to feel smug and contemptuous of them. (Whether I show this is a different question.) That helps.

Works much less well with people I know are not stupid, or am personally loath to dismiss or belittle.

Replies from: localdeity, Viliam
comment by localdeity · 2023-02-02T22:08:10.404Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Being smart doesn't make it impossible to also be a fucking idiot at times.  This is a general fact.  (And just because someone was a fucking idiot in some situation doesn't mean they're not also smart.)

I think it's important to be able to recognize screw-ups for what they are, even/especially in oneself or one's heroes or friends, and therefore I encourage myself to do this—internally, at least.  Again, doesn't necessarily mean I call someone out on it.  For minor screw-ups, often the best thing is just to notice the data point and move on.  If the data points become a pattern, or if individual cases are sufficiently bad, then it may be worth doing something.

If a friend is repeatedly screwing up in a way that hurts you (which I take it may have been happening for you), then it's probably worth talking to them about it.  If you can expect them to have noticed this, then probably they should have apologized about it already; if it's likely that they didn't notice the screwup, or that they didn't know it hurt you, then you'll have to explain it to them.  Then there are various ways for them to respond; I'll write out some of the tree:

  • "Oh, whoops, sorry.  I'll stop doing that."  Obviously the best outcome.
    • If they fail to stop doing it, then update about your friend's competence and about their calibration about their competence.  (If they said they'd "try to stop doing that", a different update is involved.)
  • "Hmm.  It would take a lot of effort to stop doing that", or perhaps "It's a deeply ingrained habit, and I'm not even sure I know how to train myself out of it."  Then there's some negotiation: does the (expected-value) benefit to you exceed the cost to them?
    • If so, in a good relationship, probably what should happen is they make the effort, and you do something comparably good for them, and ultimately you both win.  In a less-close relationship (e.g. a new relationship of uncertain duration), maybe that doesn't happen yet, but at some point it may become appropriate.
    • If the benefit does not exceed the cost (or if it's truly impossible for them to stop), then they apologize but don't change, you thank them for their honesty, and you incorporate this into your expectations of them.  Then you ask yourself things like, can you live with this?  Any ways you can mitigate it?  The answers will inform how, and whether, you continue your relationship.
  • "You're not serious.  That couldn't possibly hurt you in the way you're claiming it does."  (I gather you may have run into this.)  If they persist after you say you are serious, then ultimately this means they're either calling you a liar, or incompetent at basic self-reporting.  Then... I mean, if you'd shown yourself to habitually lie or exaggerate, or to screw up at self-reporting, that would be one thing.  But if you haven't—and I, for one, have a practically holy commitment to stating the truth (both as "not lying" and as "tagging my confidence level in statements I'm not sure of"), partly for just this reason, and I think this isn't rare among Less Wrongers—then this is extremely disrespectful to you at a fundamental level.  I probably would write them off at this point (barring some extreme mitigating factors).
comment by Viliam · 2023-02-02T20:49:57.130Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Everyone is stupid; it's just a question of degree. (That includes you and me.)

Also, people are often simply not paying attention.

comment by MondSemmel · 2023-05-07T15:20:20.758Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Reading this was a curious experience. While my memory is abysmal, rather than eidetic, even I vaguely remember hearing relatives say dumb stuff to me as a kid, e.g. "you'll change your mind about X when you're older", and being frustrated for many reasons: they thought they knew me better than I did myself (and turned out to be wrong about it; I never changed my mind about X), they made bad arguments from their supposed authority of being older than me, etc.

And I have definitely experienced complaining about absolute statements like "everyone does X". But I don't think I cared that they didn't include my opinion, I just didn't like that they made a wrong statement, which would've been easy to correct with some amount of hedging.

And I certainly detest the style of parenting that says "you're not feeling X". There's even a technical term for it, called "emotional invalidation".


Some other sections of this experiential essay I can't relate to at all, especially the desire that it's somehow important that random people perceive me accurately. I don't understand why that would be something to care about in the first place. But even if it was, it doesn't seem like an attainable desire, either. Is there even a single person on this planet who is perceived accurately by everyone else? Is this even something human brains are capable of in the first place?

And even if it were somehow possible to convey language accurate enough to never mischaracterize anyone, the amount of hedging required would presumably make communication impossible. (Consider the already absurd word counts of the average LW essay and comment, including this one.)

When I read the section about the guru talking about desires, I thought, aha, this must have been the point of this essay. That the author realized that their idiosyncratic desire (to not be rounded off; or whatever the sufficiently accurate version of this statement would be) is painful and unsatisfiable, but that desires can't be manipulated away. That would've made sense to me. But if the guru is wrong, why *didn't* the author manipulate this desire away? What's the alternative? (EDIT: Having read more of this huge comment thread, it did contain somewhat satisfying answers to that point.)

Finally, I read this post after the whole LW moderation situation. I now can't help but think that there was no possible way for that to have ever had a satisfying outcome for all involved.

comment by MalcolmOcean (malcolmocean) · 2023-02-08T23:26:17.825Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

My most recent published blog post had in the 2nd paragraph "I bet there’s nobody reading this who has never used a phrase like..." and this article made me think it would be kind to change it.

Then I searched your facebook posts and you have indeed used the phrase, so in this case at least you aren't nobody. But I'm still changing the post.

(The phrase is "part of me", which if any of my friends were to somehow have never once used I wouldn't have been surprised to discover it you.)

comment by Drake Morrison (Leviad) · 2023-02-04T01:41:22.172Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Wow, this hit home in a way I wasn't expecting. I ... don't know what else to say. Thanks for writing this up, seriously. 

comment by Ben (ben-lang) · 2023-02-03T10:53:24.361Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't know if this helps at all, but I believe that a large number of people sometimes feel like they are "not part of everyone" and it makes them feel bad. My main piece of evidence for this is that saying "Oh, no one has asked for that before" or "I didn't think anyone would do that" is a tactic used by people who know they have messed something up to try and make the victim of their mess up feel like they are responsible for it. Such a tactic could only work in a world where a significant number of people felt an anxiety about being "not part of everyone".

I think the Monty Python example is particularly informative. Lots of people actually dislike Monty Python. In my mental model their are two types of person who claim to like Monty Python; people who actually do like it and people who feel like saying they like it fits them into a particular group (something like simulacra levels)*. Someone from the former category might find it a shame that they can't enjoy MP with you, but someone in the latter category has a much bigger problem - by being honest about your python dislike you have made their attempt at social camouflage backfire. If they say they like python and you say you don't then on that axis (which they have already identified as important) only one of you can be a central member of the group, so it is essential to minimise the fallout from the failed signalling tactic by putting you squarely in the "other" box. I am sure it hurts, but if it helps at all remember that the person who said it probably knows exactly how these things feel and was trying to avoid it themselves. 


* At university I was in a board game society. The level of self-reported passion for Lovecraft stuff was insane, and would arise without any context. The board game society obviously can't all be into football, because that is what the mainstream people are into. So they make Lovecraft the new football. It sounds like you were in a place where they were making Monty Python the new football.

comment by TLK · 2023-07-17T01:32:58.055Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I’m new to this community, so I don’t know why you have DEACTIVATED in front of your name. I’m sad that you do, though, because maybe it means that you have given up on this community. This post is so painfully lonely. I’m sorry if you didn’t find what you needed here. You have touched me with the loneliness in your writing. I also value other posts that you have made and would welcome hearing more of your thoughts. Maybe, you won’t see this message, but I hope that, if you still have friends in this community, they are checking up on you.

comment by NicholasKross · 2023-05-03T01:31:47.572Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have given you an adequate explanation.  If you were the kind of person who was good at math, my explanation would have been sufficient, and you would now understand.  You still do not understand.  Therefore...?

I felt this; I still wonder if not-prioritizing clarity (or even intentionally-being-unclear) is a useful filter for maths/logic ability, outside the costs felt by others.

comment by Slider · 2023-02-07T14:19:11.609Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

One of the reasons I am a stricler for possibility is that I have found it more productive to think that if a situation or a human type is not logically inconsistent it probably rather exists rather than not exists. Even if it does not yet exists thinking as if it does makes you already to have accomodiated the possibility.

If you do this by each subtype it gets combinatorily explosive. In order not to do this kind of thing via exhaustion you identify critical points where things would flip/break when certain conditions are hit. In coding it means when you divide you always give attention to what happens with zero division. Even if you identify that a certain combination of ethnicity, neurotype and sexual orientation gums up some social system, you might not have a solution, but atleast know there is a gap there. The same reason why you know application area of newtons laws and where you need to switch to relativity or something else, you define your apporach border so you know to throw it out when overstepping. Yes, this means you will always deliberately disinclude someone. But arguably it is better to knowingly disinclude than unknowingly disinclude.

The post is written from the point of view of not being seen. I would like to point out that this comes pretty systematicallly coupled with the other not being able to see. Doing complex educative or interpretative labour for others on the spot is often not practical. So the solution I tend to apply when I perceive that no easy correct interpretation is within reach I give the plainest, most uninterpreted, signals/hints to what feels authentic to my pov. Should the situation repeat enough and the seer be interested in working to seeing more there is basis for things to develop.

One of the hard-to-state benefits of neurotype peer support is that persons have some context where they do exist. Which can function as the 

It wouldn't be so bad, if there were breaks sometimes.

comment by unparadoxed · 2023-02-04T01:06:31.702Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Why let the lack of imagination of others impinge upon your happiness?

Replies from: Duncan_Sabien
comment by [DEACTIVATED] Duncan Sabien (Duncan_Sabien) · 2023-02-04T01:27:07.707Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm pretty sure this isn't meant as "this suffering is 100% your fault, Duncan," but it doesn't fully distinguish itself from "this suffering is 100% your fault, Duncan."

(It is fine to hold the hypothesis "this suffering is 100% your fault, Duncan," if that's your actual current best guess.)

Replies from: unparadoxed, johnlawrenceaspden
comment by unparadoxed · 2023-02-04T02:02:04.878Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I meant to convey (reassure?) that others acting as if you do not exist is more likely due to their lack of imagination that it is likely due to your lack of presence. 

In that sense, I was intending to say that your suffering is not your fault. 

However, I also admit the implication that "because it is not your fault, you should not be suffering, therefore the suffering is your fault", which was not my intention, as I recognize that we cannot control what makes us suffer. 

comment by johnlawrenceaspden · 2023-03-06T00:20:06.571Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Fault" seems a strange phrasing. If your problem was that one of your nerves was misfiring, so you were in chronic pain, would you describe that as "your fault"? (In the sense of technical fault/malfunction, that would absolutely be your "fault", but "your fault" usually carries moral implications.)

Where would you place the fault?

comment by dregntael · 2023-02-03T20:51:35.365Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am very glad that you wrote this post, and just want you to know that You Are Not Alone. Hearing over and over again that you are Not Normal, do not fit within any of the boxes, and eventually you start believing it yourself. So thank you for this reminder that It Is Okay To Be Weird.

comment by JBlack · 2023-02-02T23:20:34.803Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This does seem like a lot of words to say "sometimes when people say 'everyone', they really mean 'a typical person in my mental model'". There isn't a person who conforms to everyone's mental model in this way. If there was, then they just failed to conform to mine.

It just doesn't seem to me to be a big thing to get upset about. I've known since about the age of six that I didn't conform to most people's expectations of how most people behave. It would be a much stranger world if most people did conform in such a way!

Replies from: Duncan_Sabien, Vladimir_Nesov, gesild-muka, SaidAchmiz
comment by [DEACTIVATED] Duncan Sabien (Duncan_Sabien) · 2023-02-02T23:37:22.978Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It just doesn't seem to me to be a big thing to get upset about.

This is evidence that my attempt to convey the thing failed to work with you particularly. *shrug*

Replies from: lelapin
comment by Jonathan Claybrough (lelapin) · 2023-02-03T10:34:44.591Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This is evidence that the thing you described exists, everyday, even in this more filtered community. Sorry about that. 

(The following 3 paragraphs use guesswork and near psychoanalyzing which is sorta distateful - I do it openly because I think it's got truth to it and I want to be corrected if it's not. Also hopefully it makes Duncan feel more seen (and I want to know if it's not the case))

It feels JBlack's reaction is part of the symptom being described. JBlack is similar in enough ways to have been often ostracized and has come up with a way that's fine for them to deal with it, and then write "It just doesn't seem to me to be a big thing to get upset about", ie. "there exists no one for whom its legitimate to get upset about" ie. "you don't exist Duncan". I imagine for you Duncan that's a frustrating answer when it's exactly the problem you were trying to convey. (I feel john's comment is much more appropriate about looking at the problem and saying they can see different solutions without saying that it should apply to you). 

I'm interested in why "the thing" was not conveyed to JBlack. 
One important dimension to differ on is the "intuitively/fundamentally altruistic". If you are high on that dimension, some things about other people matter in of themselves (and you don't walk in the Nozick Experience Machine (necessary, not sufficient)). When someone else says they experience this or that, then (as long as you don't have more evidence that they're lying/mistaken) you care and believe them. You start from their side and try to build using their models a solution. In this mode, I read your (Duncan) post and am like "hm, I empathize to many parts, I could feel I understand him. But he's warning strongly that he keeps being misunderstood and not seen, so I'm going to trust him, and keep in mind that my model of him is imprecise/incorrect in many directions and degrees. I'll keep this in mind in my writing, suggesting models and wanting to get feedback". 
I assume JBlack is not so high on the "intuitively/fundamentally altruistic" dimension and processes the world through their experience (I mean this in a stronger way than the tautologically true one, that JBlack discount what others say of their experience strongly based on if it corresponds to their own) and to some extent don't care about understanding Duncan. So they don't. 
I'm saying this because if it's the case, Duncan's shrug is appropriate, there's not much point in trying to reach people who don't care, it's not sad to not reach someone who's unreachable. 

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2023-02-03T00:12:28.119Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It just doesn't seem to me to be a big thing to get upset about.

What we have here is something of a policy [LW · GW] debate, there is something to be upset about. But also great value in mental models that are easy to form, use, and communicate. Being upset is on the other side of this, and it's valuable to be aware that both sides are there, to avoid a systematic distortion in perception of their relative import when looking at the debate from a particular side of it.

comment by Gesild Muka (gesild-muka) · 2023-06-03T17:16:22.060Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It’s not a big thing to get upset about if you’re not in a culture that highly values community and social cohesion—where it can be quite emotionally exhausting to always conform/accommodate to the thinking and values (mental models?) of others.

And of course I don’t want to upset anyone, the post is worthwhile (and powerful) because it describes behaviors that might lead people to give up on finding community, fulfilling relationships or common ground. For me it was an invitation to better describe or explain these behaviors and a twofold message: 1). don’t give up, you’re not alone 2). keep an open mind with other’s perspectives

comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2023-02-03T06:21:02.487Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Seconding this. The phenomenon where people say “everyone this” and “everyone that”, and you’re an even slightly “weird” person (such as, like, everyone on this entire website), and you think “not me!”… that is, in fact, so common that even saying it out loud is trite. Yeah, of course not literally everyone, and you already know you’re weird, so especially probably not you specifically.

Replies from: lahwran
comment by the gears to ascension (lahwran) · 2023-02-03T08:06:29.548Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

dude, this is incredibly rude. yeah, I mean, of course agreed, but duncan said he knew that. I also find it slightly surprising it pushed his buttons as hard as it seems to have, but, that's how he's shaped. He's saying it still happens even in crowds like this one, anyhow.

Replies from: SaidAchmiz, Duncan_Sabien
comment by Said Achmiz (SaidAchmiz) · 2023-02-03T08:09:48.169Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Rude? What…? I’m agreeing with the comment that I replied to.

comment by [DEACTIVATED] Duncan Sabien (Duncan_Sabien) · 2023-02-03T08:09:29.855Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(I note that I don't think it's rude so much as ... not particularly useful? Like, it's mostly evidence that Said (also JBlack) has completely failed to parse my point (and has failed to keep "maybe there's something I'm not seeing/am blind to" in mind as a possibility, and instead concluded "there's nothing here except something trite/trivial/silly."))

Replies from: lahwran
comment by the gears to ascension (lahwran) · 2023-02-03T08:10:28.255Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

fair enough.

Replies from: lelapin
comment by Jonathan Claybrough (lelapin) · 2023-02-03T10:39:43.507Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

For information I'd also qualify Said's statement as unkind (because of "saying it out loud is trite") if I modeled him as having understood or caring about Duncan and his point, but because that's not the case I understand Duncan just seeing it as not useful. 
"Rude" is a classification depending on shared social norms. On LW I don't think people are supposed to care about you, the basic assumption is more Rand like individuals who trade ideas because it's positive sum. That a lot of people happen to be nice is a nice surprise, but it's not expected, and I have gotten value from Said's comments in many places over time so I feel the LW norm makes sense. 

comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) · 2023-02-02T18:08:06.733Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Unrelated to the post, but I'm not seeing the usual agree/disagree buttons on this post. Is there a reason for that?

Edit: looks like it's been fixed

Replies from: Duncan_Sabien
comment by [DEACTIVATED] Duncan Sabien (Duncan_Sabien) · 2023-02-02T18:54:44.573Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think it's a glitch from the fact that this draft was created prior to that feature being added to the site.

Replies from: mikkel-wilson, hath
comment by MikkW (mikkel-wilson) · 2023-02-02T22:58:40.700Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ah, that makes sense

comment by hath · 2023-02-02T23:08:40.365Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
comment by PoignardAzur · 2023-04-03T11:03:09.779Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I have given you an adequate explanation. If you were the kind of person who was good at math, my explanation would have been sufficient, and you would now understand. You still do not understand. Therefore...?

By the way, I think this is a common failure mode of amateur tutors/teachers trying to explain a novel concept to a student. Part of what you need to communicate is "how complicated the thing you need to learn is".

So sometimes you need to say "this thing I'm telling you is a bit complex, so this is going to take a while to explain", so the student shifts gears and isn't immediately trying to figure out the "trick". If you skip that intro, and the student doesn't understand what you're saying, their default assumption will be "I must have missed the trick" when you want them to think "this is complicated, I should try different permutations of that concept".

(And sometimes the opposite it true, the student did miss a trick, and is now trying to construct a completely novel concept in their head, and you need to tell them "no, this is actually simple, you've done other versions of this before, don't overthink it".)

comment by vikora · 2023-02-07T13:36:23.287Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

At times I want to be different, I like being different from others but I also want others to accept and understand me while been different. It’s quite sad whereby at times I voice my opinions or act otherwise the way people expect me to, and then their response is to ostracize you or try to make you feel inferior for not being the same as them. After reading, I thought of your post as pathetic. The kind of pathetic whereby you realize that there are certain people who are unable to grasp your point of view and are unwilling to. Then you realize that it’s not just certain people, but nearly everyone around you. That sadness when you realize that there’s also a high probability that you’ll never meet someone who doesn’t expect you to act like society’s paradigm of an ideal person, and then you think “I feel so pathetic”. That’s the pathetic I’m talking about. I relate to your post so much and also learnt that irrespective of me being a teenager, I’m very much able to perceive your perspective.

comment by philh · 2023-02-07T20:45:52.073Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

So most of these are things I'd try not to say myself (and would mostly succeed). But there are some where I can imagine versions that seem to me bad, and versions that seem to me innocuous.

And who does the world want to get back the most? Who's the one person that everyone in America wants to save? Tom Hanks. Everyone will pull for Tom Hanks. Nobody wants to see him die. We all love him too much.

This is the bad version. But the actual quote was

And who does the world want to get back the most? Who does America want to save? Tom Hanks. We don't want to see him die. We like him too much.

Which seems fairly innocuous to me. There's no "everyone" here. I feel okay with saying "America" likes or wants something in a way that I'm not comfortable with "everyone in America".

(Tom Hanks is probably not the one person the world wants to get back the most, but that seems like it's probably not the issue here.)

(Seems maybe worth noting here that your memory was pretty close, up until the bit that seems to me most important. But if the actual version actually isn't any better according to you, then less worth noting.)

nobody's ever requested that before

Assuming true, then as written this seems innocuous to me. The bad version is if said with a tone of voice conveying "you weirdo" or something.

Eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable ... The details of people's accounts cannot be trusted.

This seems basically true to me. The innocuous version is if it's talking about people-in-general. Like, "the courts don't depend much on eyewitness testimony because..."

The bad version is if it's about a specific person, "we can't trust what Dave says he saw because...". In that case I'd want to include something like "...and afaik we have no reason to expect that Dave is an exception", and then it becomes innocuous again.

Do the innocuous-to-me versions still seem painful to you? Do they seem less painful, at least? I can totally imagine something like... "the things that seem innocuous-to-me are painful-to-you, but mostly because you've been sensitized by a barrage of the things that do seem bad-to-me. Without those, the innocuous-to-me things wouldn't be painful-to-you".

I can also imagine that they're just as painful as the versions that seem bad-to-me, but if so I expect there's something that didn't come across to me.

Replies from: Duncan_Sabien
comment by [DEACTIVATED] Duncan Sabien (Duncan_Sabien) · 2023-02-08T00:21:32.458Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

"the things that seem innocuous-to-me are painful-to-you, but mostly because you've been sensitized by a barrage of the things that do seem bad-to-me. Without those, the innocuous-to-me things wouldn't be painful-to-you"

... seems about right.

Each of the versions you labeled innocuous is at least better; not all of them are all the way to good.

comment by Lavender (Kevin92) · 2023-02-06T21:09:49.012Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Jeez... this was, somehow relatable.

I wonder if autistics in general tend to experience this.

comment by NoriMori1992 · 2023-06-03T15:40:17.628Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Even though a lot of these things have never happened to me, I related to this post in a very painful way.

I have a deep-seated fear of standing out in a negative way. And it's not an inborn, instinctive fear; it's a fear born of painful experience. I always seem to be the odd one out. I always seem to be the only one who didn't understand something and embarrassed myself as a result. I always seem to be the only one who wants to do something in the only way that's ever seemed normal for me. And yes, I am often that person who asks a question no one's ever asked, or does a thing no one's ever done, in a way that just makes things awkward and embarrassing rather than interesting or exciting. I always end up being memorable in a bad way.

(I've also once or twice been accused of being a troll, for asking a completely sincere question that was apparently considered so stupid that it couldn't possibly be sincere. That really hurts. Because they're not only saying I don't exist, they're also saying that the only way I could exist is if I were incredibly, unbelievably stupid.)

I'm sorry you keep getting cut in the same place over and over.

comment by Portia (Making_Philosophy_Better) · 2023-03-04T17:27:27.127Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Your text almost had me crying.

You do exist. You do matter. An account of humanity where you have been conveniently struck out of it is crucially incomplete. An approach that excludes you has lost not just something, but someone.

I do not think you are as alone as this feels. I think many of us get excluded, for many different ways of not fitting the norm. Silently, subtly disappeared.

There is an increasing appreciation that neurodiversity is a richness and opportunity, that one size fits all approaches make us lose people, valuable people with rights and feelings and skills who we need. And a lot of the groups working on inclusion and diversity on topics like racism, sexism, LGBT, disability etc. are increasingly including it as part of an intersectional approach, and would not protest the parallel. They are talking about needing more diverse ways of teaching content, or making stuff accessible, or reflecting how we speak about people and who that excludes, or considering radically different needs as legitimate. I'm involved with people who do, and I think we are beginning to make some headway. I've been increasingly encountering the results in activism and academia, people asking questions they did not before, making accommodations for problems where before they were saying these problems were imaginary, or faults one should just push through.

And this is a side note, but the way you and I were taught math is fundamentally broken, with painful consequences. Math is an incredible and beautiful tool, and the way it is taught systematically screens out the people who would love it the most. I grew up thinking I sucked at math, due to getting bullshit explanations like this, compounded by sexist prejudice that messed with my head, and the anxieties and choices resulting from that mean I now lack math skills I could really use for my work, and simply a connection to a field where, everytime I have seen it done properly, I have been mesmerised by its clarity and beauty and strength. I've seen logic taught the same broken way, and have been fighting that as hard as I can. I am fucking sick of people saying things are obvious when they are not. My girlfriend works in theoretical physics, and has had a similar issue of feeling stupid for not understanding the explanations, and slowly spelling out this confusion, and realising that the explanations are objectively faulty, and that trying to spell that out addresses fundamental problems that need to be targeted; and that if you explain stuff with that in mind, suddenly, a lot of students that were breaking down and thinking this field isn't for them can suddenly thrive.

Point is, this is wrong, and it can change, and it should change, and your pain is fucking valid.

Replies from: CronoDAS
comment by CronoDAS · 2023-04-02T16:38:35.685Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The worst explanation I've ever had in school was when my high school chemistry textbook was talking about "quantum numbers" in electron orbitals without mentioning there was such a thing as the Schrodinger equation. It was 100% bullshit handwaving and wouldn't admit it, so of course nobody understood it. If they just went and said something like "this is a result that falls out of the advanced math of quantum mechanics, forget about what it means and just shut up and memorize" it would have been more honest.

comment by MSRayne · 2023-03-04T17:16:14.345Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This was mildly painful to read, probably because I know exactly what you're talking about. I don't think I've ever paid attention to it the way you have - I don't socialize much and I tend not to pay much attention to other people even when I do - but my "family" do this to me all the time, attempting to read my mind, being sure they're right, and completely missing the mark in such blatantly obvious ways that it's gradually (along with many, many other reasons) made me just mostly stop talking to them. So to some extent, albeit not a perfect one, I think I know how you feel.

comment by zeshen · 2023-02-08T06:05:23.037Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Browsing through the comments section it seems that everyone relates to this pretty well. I do, too. But I'm wondering if this applies mostly to a LW subculture, or is it a Barnum/Forer effect where every neurotypical person would also relate to?

Replies from: Duncan_Sabien
comment by [DEACTIVATED] Duncan Sabien (Duncan_Sabien) · 2023-02-08T06:26:06.720Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I suspect everyone can relate in that everyone has felt this at some point, or even at a few memorable points.

I suspect people who are more firmly normal, not because they're trying to conform but because they're actually close to what the center of their local culture is built to accommodate, cannot relate to feeling this constantly.

Replies from: johnlawrenceaspden
comment by johnlawrenceaspden · 2023-03-05T23:54:05.391Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I suspect everyone can relate in that everyone has felt this at some point, or even at a few memorable points.


Duncan did you just deny my existence? (Don't worry, I don't mind a bit. :-) )

I'm a grade A weirdo, my own family and friends affirm this, only the other day someone on Less Wrong (!) called me a rambling madman. My nickname in my favourite cricket club/drinking society was Space Cadet.

And I'm rather smug about this. Everyone else just doesn't seem very good at thinking. Even if they're right they're usually right by accident. Even the clever ones seem to have some sort of blinders on. They don't even take their own ideas seriously. 

Why would I be upset by being able to see things they can't see, think thoughts they can't think? That doesn't seem to be the sort of thing that could hurt me. 

For most of your essay I was thinking: "Is he just mistaking metaphorical 'everyone' for literal 'everyone'?". But in the comments you say that's not what you meant at all. And I don't even understand that. Surely, if you replace 'everyone' with 'most people' throughout, your existence is not being denied?

And if your existence was being denied, why would that be a problem? If someone came straight up to me and said "You don't exist", I'd just think they were mad, it wouldn't hurt.

I read that you're in pain and it puzzles me. I've always wondered if the bit of my brain that is supposed to feel pressure-to-conform is malformed. I notice it, but it doesn't seem powerful. Maybe yours is in perfect working order? Is it that you really really want to fit in, but in order to do so you'd have to be someone else, and that hurts? 

Or have I failed to extract from your essay the meaning you were trying to put into it?

Replies from: crapshoot
comment by TheLemmaLlama (crapshoot) · 2023-06-14T00:33:35.046Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm with you on this one; I like feeling like an outlier. It makes me feel special :P

There are some examples there that did grind my gears though, like the pillow-throwing example and the 'that didn't hurt' example. They felt more like 'I'm going to insist your inner experience isn't real, to the point where I won't believe you (even if only in a joking way) if you told me'.

Whereas the 'no-one does that' example and the 'we all love Tom Hanks too much' example felt more like a metaphorical 'everyone' and if you actually said 'no, I'm not like that', the response would be 'oh okay not ~everyone's~ like that'.

I'd personally feel hurt by the former class of experiences but not the latter, because for me, it's more about invalidation. It's less 'you don't exist', but rather 'you exist in this particular way (that's contrary to my own experiences and completely alien to what I perceive myself as), AND if you say otherwise you're lying'.

Similarly, I'd feel hurt by an implication that someone else doesn't exist, if it's contrary to my own experiences. For instance, if I've argued about X with a lot of people and some of them gave a counterargument Y, and then someone has the counterargument Z. They think I'm strawmanning Z as Y, and they tell me: 'no-one said Y'. It's like ... someone definitely said Y. I distinctly remember a nonzero number of people explicitly saying Y to my face, and I even made sure they actually meant Y and I wasn't misinterpreting them.

Even if I know it's a metaphorical 'no-one' and they actually just meant 'most people who appear to be saying Y actually mean Z', it still hurts :\