Computational Empathy

I was contemplating false beliefs while running today.

I was thinking about kids and why exactly around age 3 they are able to project their experience onto someone else and realize that someone who didn’t share their experience will likely have differing beliefs.

The traditional experiment is putting candy in a box, having one experimenter leave the room, replacing the candy with pencils, bringing the experimenter back and asking the child what that person thinks is in the box.

Before age 3 a child will answer “pencils” and after 3 will answer “candy.”

The thing is, I would answer “pencils.” Certainly I know that the second experimenter didn’t experience seeing the pencils go into the box, but I understand that I am part of an experiment and that this other person is a part of it as well.

I’d be curious to perform the experiment and see if there’s an age where it flips back to people saying “pencils.”

One of the big questions is: “how much of the process of being able to correctly generate false beliefs is a function of physical neurological development and how much is a function of being exposed to learning situations where the individual doesn’t correctly process a false belief and has to correct themselves?”

To the extent that the process is experiential rather than neurological it is a function of chance how frequently a child has the appropriate experiences.

I am wondering this because I keep running into people who have the empathic capacity of a brick.

What if their inability to understand the minds of the people around them is a function not of some natural neurological function but instead marks a concrete cognitive function that is simply undeveloped?

A little kid starts off experiencing the world. She sees what she sees and over time starts to recognize patterns. She notices that when an object disappears in one place it reappears somewhere else. She notices that other people don’t share her experience of the world.

She starts learning to construct models of other people and manipulate them to guess as to the internal state of other people’s heads.

This difference between sympathy and empathy so far as the projective characteristic is a sympathetic person imagines the circumstances another is subjected to and how they would react. An empathic person imagines the response characteristics another is experiencing.

One can theoretically emphatically relate solely based on facial and tonal characteristics, but empathy is usually done within a narrative context which is to say that there is a state-maintenance and projection going on.

I was thinking about a girl I used to know who was seemingly incapable of a negative thought. She was pathologically sunshiney until you wanted to choke her.

I remember though that I was always really nice to her. Probably almost everyone who knew her was. We tend to reciprocate in kind.

It means that, to the extent she is relying on those interactions to develop her models of how people think, her models are all going to be nice-shifted.

Likewise people who are pains in the ass. They are building models based off interactions that are very likely irritation and shortness-shifted.

Dammit, I don’t have time to finish this, but the gist is that these projections are the standards by which we plan our actions, but they are also the criteria by which we evaluate other people and the projections of our ideal actions.

If people are caught in a bad feedback loop or are underexposed to divergent viewpoints then you could potentially end up not developing certain cognitive capabilities. If this is the case the solution is to simply expose them and things might progress naturally.

(This needs more work, but I’m swamped with class stuff and shouldn’t have even taken the time to write this down.)

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