The Worlds Where You Are Not


It’s hard to reconcile different kinds of thought within ourselves. The world requires very different things from us and its amazing the way we bring them together. Even just to house them sometimes is not an easy thing.

You think all day with a machine as your audience, it’s hard to switch over to the people at night.

What is it that makes us brave? An example of someone else’s bravery? Not so much. Trust that that outcome will be ok? Then we don’t need bravery. Experience being brave in the past and having it turn out is really just the same as what I just said isn’t it.

I don’t know what makes people brave. If I had to guess, I’d guess that it’s determination, that word being a shorthand for “certainty that you are right.” The more sure you are right that you are, the braver you will be.

There’s a corollary I guess, that if you show someone a kindness, they’re more likely to open up to you.


There was a theme I wanted to talk about too, and old favorite of mine, and old favorite of everybody’s I think. Maybe it’s a moral puzzle. People call it the Good Samaritan idea, but that it’s not really the way I view it.

I guess it’s the other side of audience, the idea of watching. Watching is weird. It’s a very strange thing actually.

When we watch, we’re not real, are real? How could we be, if the things we’re watching are real? One of them has to not be: I don’t think it matters which. But in order to watch, we are, and what we watch is not, or what we watch is, and we are not.

It’s like a movie. Psychiatrists call it suspension of disbelief. You either see the people in the theater or you are immersed in whats in the screen. Isn’t that weird? I mean, it makes sense, here’s why.

Of course there is one world. And now I need a word.



Derivatives, I guess. Derivatives of the world. I mean there is one world, where we sit in the theater, where the movie is made — but there is a derivative world where the movie is real. It doesn’t physically exist, it’s only in the minds of those following alone with the story. Yet such a world has to exist, in some sense, just not the physical one. Otherwise there would be no story.

There’s a different derivative world, probably a lot of them, depending on how good the movie is, going on in the theater. The dramas of our social interaction, which are more real than what goes on in the screen, but derivatives of the physical world, not part of it.

You can test that these worlds are of a different kind, if you don’t believe me, by watching how quickly they change, how easily, and how invisibly. Should we suddenly decide that we really don’t like this guy, would anyone watching be able to tell? Would they see it? Would they smell it, hear it, feel it or taste it? Probably not. It’s a concrete change, in the world, that’s observable only to one person. That’s a derivative world.

And so when we watch, we need to either enter a derivative world not equal to the one that has us it, unless of course we’re watching ourselves–we enter a derivative world where we are not, in order to watch. And that’s weird! It’s kind of confusing isn’t it? It’s not a question of whether you should be watching; it’s not a question of whether you belong in that world; you’re not there, it doesn’t matter.

But how does morality work? In a world where we don’t exist, what are our obligations?


Derivative worlds, each just like a piece of code. I mean, I admit, in all of this discussion– and I think this is important to say–that I am very object-oriented. I think it’s because I like to agree with people, and I see what we can all agree on. The stuff like “There are two cars” and “Cher has hair.”

This has to be the starting point. I hope that’s clear. Everything has to start with the physical. Gah, something that’s probably so meaningless to almost everyone but so important to me! But here is the world, unchangeable other than the ways that it is changeable, infinitely complicated, massive; not understood–so barely and poorly understood. Not subject to any opinion held by anyone anywhere. Such a big sky. Such an enormously big sky.

So I also am object-oriented here in the sense that any derivative world we live in should inherit this physical world, am I right? Sometimes it’s going to be pretty far away; but let’s be aware of how far away it is. If I’m writing a story, and I want to write it well, I’ll bring that physical world with me, or invent a new one, and those rules will apply in that narrative world. Some people have told me that this is the essence of good writing.* I think they went to school for it. “How real does it feel?”

So import your physical world–if you want. Depends on what kind of derivative world you are building. Maybe you have ideas that don’t belong in this world at all. But what are you doing? You are thinking about them in a skull that is in this world, and hopefully writing them on a piece of paper that is in this physical world. I wouldn’t call this importing the physical world. It’s more like … nesting.


And this is where my choice of the word derivative makes a lot of sense.** The derivative world is not a part of that function that is the physical world–that universal single equation we’ll someday write down, maybe, right?– that equation that is the universe. A derivative world is not part of that equation, but it cannot escape it; it is determined by it; it is not a part of that function. There is no point on that imaginary line that you could pull out and say “here is my imaginary story about a fun-loving nun who communicated with people by dropping squids on them” That does not occur on the graph–even if you say she had a hovercraft instead of a magic wimple–but the idea’s occurrence to you does. Or would: if this idea occurs to you, I can guarantee there will be a point on the graph of the physical universe to represent that it did. But no points for Sister.***

And that makes it part of a derivative world, where YOU are the differentiator. You are in some sense a variable, slicing through this function, and you are not just one: you are an entire infinite set of them.

I’m trying to say that you have options.

But that function can’t be escaped. Now I like to have another one too. I believe it is more fundamental maaaaaybnghehhgngnlgnlgnl — can’t support that, back up, hold on, back up. Ok.

I do believe in another universal equation, that we’ll maybe someday write down. I don’t know how, and I just accept that about myself. There are some places my brain just cannot– it’s like territory where there is air that I just can’t breathe–

but that’s logic. Logic is a universe too. The way truth works. That’s what logic means. And it’s complicated. And part of why it is complicated is all these derivative worlds.

Wait! Did I misspeak or what? Part of what simplifies it is all these derivative worlds. Which I believe function according to one logic, sufficiently complex to govern them all.

This has been my perspective on the Good Samaritan idea. Not the bible story so much as the Observation Puzzle that comes out of stories like this (no need to watch any of these to get the idea).

“Onlookers jeer as man is beaten, stripped and robbed in Baltimore” (2012)

“Two transgender women were beaten abroad an Atlanta commuter train as fellow passengers shouted at the victims” (2014)

“Mom beaten as toddler tries to intervene: Salem police seek assailant (several other people watch or film)” (2014)

“Video depicts bystanders watching while Elyria man is assaulted.” (2015)

“Woman Beaten, Dies in Leap as Watchers Cheer” (2015)

“Philly man mercilessly beats woman for 20 min in street; video of bystanders’ behaviors shocks cops” (2016)

“Bystanders laugh at man beaten to a pulp in chilling video (2015)”

“Woman is horrifically beaten on a Philadelpia street in board daylight as a crowd of people stand by and do NOTHING” (2015)



So you see I’m not just waxing my beard here. However watching works, it’s a problem we have difficulty understanding, and the consequences of our inability to understand are very real. We have a hard time reconciling our take on it — i.e. “not my problem”– with the emotional reaction we have when other people watch us and don’t help.

Imagine collapsing in the middle of a Bed, Bath, and Beyond on a Sunday afternoon in August****, and then just lying there as people stepped over you. I’m guessing you will sense a disconnect with the well-reasoned “not my problem” approach laid out above.***** If you had a way to locate all of the people who had stepped over your that day later, what would you want to say to them?

*This too.
**Hold on, I have to weigh the pros and cons of clarity.
*** We compromised. And just curious, can you read an idea without it occurring to you?
****Picked August for the image of lots of freshman dorm room linen purchasers.
*****briefly, as the words “not my problem”

I think in most of these articles, in a lot of them, I try to paint a picture of a mental maneuver. It’s one way to become more intelligent, to increase you arsenal of mental maneuvers, to better align your mental model with reality, which makes you happier. The mental maneuver I want to show in this one is distinguishing between what I called importing and nesting. I’ll try to add an another example later.





Shoutout to the lady who came running out of her apartment in half-dressed to stop a couple that was fighting in the street.