Philosophy: Have you ever struggled with the "problem of other minds"?

From Philosophy: Have you ever struggled with the "problem of other minds"? Quora A2A

Thanks for the A2A James.

For me exploring this question has involved an evolution of sorts. Let me propose three orientations to the problem of other minds:

Group A. At one end of the spectrum are folks we might describe as obsessively codependent, always hypersensitive to the emotional states and perceived intentions of everyone around them, who try feverishly to anticipate changes in mood or develop causal inferences about the thoughts and behaviors of others. For these folks, there is a sort of opposing problem that the operations of "other minds" take precedence over their own thoughts, and consequently they suffer a perpetual internal narrative that, often with the help of magical thinking, is actively creating and navigating what they sense, suppose or intuit to be interior lives of those around them.

Group B. At the other end of the spectrum are folks with limited emotional intelligence and low levels of empathy, who view social interactions as exceedingly mysterious and who find it extremely difficult to interpret or anticipate the seemingly arbitrary emotions of others. For these folks, the problem of other minds is quite pronounced, as they are quite confused about human behavior and its irrational or nonsensical causation, and may have the impression that the interior lives of others are either quite foreign or *fundamentally suspect*. Various attempts to calculate or systematize the emotions and behavior of others have limited success, but tend to lack nuance, complexity or richness.

Group C. In the middle of this spectrum are people of average emotional intelligence and social skills, with let's say a more "average" measure of empathy and sensitivity, who somewhat automatically navigate the perceived emotional expressions of others according to their own experience, and who can anticipate reactions and behaviors of those they know well without much difficulty and with fairly high reliability. For these folks, there is neither an interior narrative enslaved to the moods and behaviors of those around them (codependence, PTSD, social anxiety disorder, schizotypal disorder, etc.), nor a bewilderment or confusion regarding moods, behaviors and their causal inference (sociopathic personality disorders, Autism Spectrum Disorder, etc.).
If you can entertain this hypothesis, then we might further hypothesize that throughout most of human history Group C was the plump bump of the statistical bell curve - especially since its "healthy prosociality" would have helped lubricate social interactions, maintain cohesion and cooperation, and resolve conflict within a given culture, and harmonize relations between cultures over time.

However, even if this proposal is sound, what I believe has been happening since the industrial revolution is an ever-increasing flattening of that bell curve, so that the proportions of Groups A and B have increased as the proportion of Group C has decreased relative to them. The result is that, with each successive generation, a growing number of people either found themselves struggles with "the problem of other minds" or with its codependent inverse.

Personally, I have found myself in all of these Groups at various times of my life. Up to age seven, I was probably confined to Group A. By age eight I began to shift into Group B, with some lingering reflexes from Group A. Now, at age fifty-one, I've learned how to operate more reliably in Group C, with occasional reversions to Group B or A when I'm tired, frustrated or feeling poorly.

I hope this was helpful.


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