Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Model of suffering

Or maybe not "suffering", per se. That's a weird word for me, especially as I get more used to being okay with higher and higher level problems. But there's this tension that isn't exactly pleasant, even if you're comfortable with having it. And the magnitude of that tension is what I'm interested in here - separately from how you choose to relate to it.

The first naive model is that people are content when they have "objectively" good lives.  Imagine having loads of money to take your trophy wife and honor student pianist kid on a vacation to some exotic place every year while you help the poor starving african puppies with AIDS which makes you totally good people - sounds pretty good, right?  There actually is something to this, but it's missing a very very big piece. If that was the whole story, then people's happiness-levels would be more affected by events like winning the lottery or losing a limb.

The problem with this model is that the life is "good relative to what?".  It is the difference between Goals and Reality [G-R] that upsets people, not just Reality itself.  If you're expecting to have a yacht tomorrow, then when you wake up and your yacht has sunk, reality isn't living up to your picture of what it should be and so you don't like. There's a distinction between this mental picture of what things "should" be and also a mental picture of what things actually are.  This doesn't happen if you didn't go to sleep owning a yacht, as there's no ideal to not fulfill.

But our picture of reality isn't reality. Maybe our yacht sunk, but we don't know it yet. Or more interestingly, maybe there's a storm and we're worried that it might sink - that still feels bad. So it's not the difference between Goals and Reality that matters, but rather the difference between your Goals and your Estimate of Reality [G-E(R)], where your "estimate" isn't necessarily how you think things are, but rather the important possibility that is worth taking seriously.

Which brings up the next bit: importance. Some things just don't matter. I might have hoped to win that game of mario kart, but it's just not that important compared to, say, losing my leg. So you gotta factor in the difference between the values of your Goals and your Estimate of Reality [V(G)-V(E(R))] in the model of suffering.

But also, you don't suffer from something when the conflict is not on your mind. This part is key. If you're daydreaming about your fantasy life, then your Salience_goals [Sg] is high, but your Salience_reality [Sr] isn't, so there's nothing for that to conflict with. So it's nice and comfy until you remember that you're not floating on clouds eating peaches. If instead you forget about your high goals, then you don't feel bad when you come back to reality. That's why it can be tempting to give up and sink into apathy. Reality is still there, but you no longer have to think about how you want so much more. You feel bad to the extent that they're both on your mindIt's that conflict.

So my model works out to "uncomfortable tension" = [V(G)-V(E(R)))*min(Sg,Sr)].  If you're feeling uncomfortable tension, it's because you think reality might be less valuable than some alternative picture of how you think reality could conceivably be - and your attention is at least somewhat on the fact that reality is what it is and that you wish it were better.

All the different methods of dealing with suffering fold into this, and the model implies interesting things about them

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