Ways of being with you

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Suppose you want to get in touch with your care for someone, or to feel empathy for them. One way is to imagine what it is like to be them, looking out of their eyes and feeling what they are feeling. For instance, if your friend did something frustrating, you might imagine the experience of choosing under pressure that might have led to it, and you might thereby feel warmth toward them and sympathy for their error.

But I think it is more common to do something else, kind of like imagining them from the outside, but such that their mental content is also somehow accessible. For instance, you might imagine them hurrying around, being frazzled and not sure what to do, trying. And it’s not just that they look like they might be those things - in imagination, it is available that they are. While you aren’t in their mind, you also aren’t just observing its consequences and inferring things about it from a distance. You experience their feeling.

But what is it to experience a person’s sadness, say, without experiencing it as an aspect of their experience? i.e. as something that can requires an imagining of their mental experience to imagine, in the way that imagining the wetness of a dog would seem to require—or be greatly aided by—imagining the dog?

In the everyday togetherness of being with someone, I am also rarely actually picturing the world through their eyes, and yet I am often doing some kind of ‘seeing things from their perspective’ and some kind of ‘being with them’ that feels like relatively direct contact with their mind. (What is it to experience a mind, if not to look at the conscious experience that is a mind’s main deal?) I am engaging with them very differently from how I would engage with an object, or with a set of observations of a distant person. Is it strange that your experience of being you is not the thing that I focus on when I’m experiencing you, together with you?

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This reminds me of something I thought of a while back, that I'd like to start doing again now that I've remembered it. Whenever I sense myself getting unfairly annoyed at someone (which happens a lot) I try to imagine that I'm watching a movie in which that person is the protagonist. I imagine that I know what their story and struggles are, and that I'm rooting for them every step of the way. Now that I'm getting into fiction writing, I might also try imagining that I'm writing them as a character, which has the same vibe as the other techniques. The one time I've actually tried this so far, it worked really well!