This was originally a comment to VipulNaik's recent indagations about the academic lifestyle versus the job lifestyle. Instead of calling it lifestyle he called them career options, but I'm taking a different emphasis here on purpose.

Due to information hazards risks, I recommend that Effective Altruists who are still wavering back and forth do not read this. Spoiler EA alert. 

I'd just like to provide a cultural difference information that I have consistently noted between Americans and Brazilians which seems relevant here. 

To have a job and work in the US is taken as a *de facto* biological need. It is as abnormal for an American, in my experience, to consider not working, as it is to consider not breathing, or not eating.  It just doesn't cross people's minds. 

If anyone has insight above and beyond "Protestant ethics and the spirit of capitalism" let me know about it, I've been waiting for the "why?" for years. 

So yeah, let me remind people that you can spend years and years not working. that not getting a job isn't going to kill you or make you less healthy, that ultravagabonding is possible and feasible and many do it for over six months a year, that I have a friend who lives as the boyfriend of his sponsor's wife in a triad and somehow never worked a day in his life (the husband of the triad pays it all, both men are straight). That I've hosted an Argentinian who left graduate economics for two years to randomly travel the world, ended up in Rome and passed by here in his way back, through couchsurfing.  That Puneet Sahani has been well over two years travelling the world with no money and an Indian passport now. I've also hosted a lovely estonian gentleman who works on computers 4 months a year in London to earn pounds, and spends eight months a year getting to know countries while learning their culture etc... Brazil was his third country. 

Oh, and never forget the Uruguay couple I just met at a dance festival who have been travelling as hippies around and around South America for 5 years now, and showed no sign of owning more than 500 dollars worth of stuff. 

Also in case you'd like to live in a paradise valley taking Santo Daime (a religious ritual with DMT) about twice a week, you can do it with a salary of aproximatelly 500 dollars per month in Vale do Gamarra, where I just spent carnival, that is what the guy who drove us back did.  Given Brazilian or Turkish returns on investment, that would cost you 50 000 bucks in case you refused to work within the land itself for the 500. 


Oh, I forgot to mention that though it certainly makes you unable to do expensive stuff, thus removing the paradox of choice and part of your existential angst from you (uhuu less choices!), there is nearly no detraction in status from not having a job. In fact, during these years in which I was either being an EA and directing an NGO, or studying on my own, or doing a Masters (which, let's agree is not very time consuming) my status has increased steadily, and many opportunities would have been lost if I had a job that wouldn't let me move freely. Things like being invited as Visiting Scholar to Singularity Institute, like giving a TED talk, like directing IERFH, and like spending a month working at FHI with Bostrom, Sandberg, and the classic Lesswrong poster Stuart Armstrong. 

So when thinking about what to do with you future my dear fellow Americans, please, at least consider not getting a job. At least admit what everyone knows from the bottom of their hearts, that jobs are abundant for high IQ people (specially you my programmer lurker readers.... I know you are there...and you native English speakers, I can see you there, unnecessarily worrying about your earning potential). 

A job is truly an instrumental goal, and your terminal goals certainly do have chains of causation leading to them that do not contain a job for 330 days a year.  Unless you are a workaholic who experiences flow in virtue of pursuing instrumental goals. Then please, work all day long, donate as much as you can, and may your life be awesome! 

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As someone spending a pretty solid part of my earnings on maintaining my aging former hippie parents, I'd like to point out that it's a radically egoistic choice to make, even if it doesn't appear at the time.

They dropped off the grid and managed many years with very little money, just living and appreciating nature and stuff. Great, right? But you don't accumulate any pension benefits in those years, and even if you move back to a more conventional life later, your earning potential is severely impacted.

That depends on your stance on many things: First of all having children or not. Second of all population ethics. Third of all if you think it is worth it to have a child whose life is better than neutral, or even than average, but not better than your own. Existentialism and First Mover Advantage are also related concepts. I feel your pain though, and my life would have been much worse if my Father had not been an instrumental Flower for part of his life. But if you consider your life worth living, there are several philosophical paths that do not consider your parent's actions to be unworthy of moral appreciation. Check Toby Ord on population ethics for deeper insight.
I'm sure there are moral systems where living off your children is an acceptable moral choice, but I can't say I'm very motivated to check them out. Their actions were rational from their point of view, however. They just radically overestimated the probabilities of total societal collapse. If that's what you expect, moving out of the city and trying to live from your garden and some goats might not be the worst course of action.
And how much the state will offer to retirees...

Not getting a job is a psychologically realistic and socially acceptable option for Americans who are female, are partnered with employed men, enjoy at least one facet of homemaking, and aren't optimizing for certain specific forms of feminist cred.

On the other hand, you are tied to a man, and indirectly to his job, so that still rules out the globehopping, couchsurfing lifestyle.

Not necessarily. I'd be fine with it if my girlfriend decided to hitchhike around Europe for a month or two, and I'm pretty sure she'd be fine with me doing the same. There's no reason the one with the job couldn't take a vacation in the middle, too. If the unemployed partner did this twice a year, for 2 months at a time, that'd be 1/3 of their time spent globetrotting. If they did this 3x a year, (2 months home, then 2 months exploring, then 2 months home again) that'd be pushing it, but might be stable long term if they could find ways to make sure the working party didn't feel used or left out.
Well, that at least part of the way into freedom.
Well, in terms of a guess, that is what, 12% of the population? You forgot to mention not getting a job is acceptable for children, college students and elders. Probably also the handicapped. Even then, maybe that sums up to two thirds or something. That's still a hundred million people who could benefit from considering the option, if only to give up on it a few days later. I find the gender asymmetry in this case to be perplexing. Just like I think polyamory should be equal for both sides. it seems to me the opportunity not to work and be fine with it should be equal for both sides. In both cases one could make arguments of tradition, or from biology (naturallistic fallacy etc...) trying to explain the asymmetry, and in both cases I think it is unjustified.
You can't completely exclude the biological part, at least if the couple wants to have children. There will be at least a year per every child, when the woman can't go to work, and this can't be avoided for many people (in some cases the woman can work from home, but that's not an option for everyone). So there is some real assymetry, although it may be less important than it seems. Tradition, prejudice, etc... that's like advertising. It may be completely irrational, but it is still a force that exists and moves the market balance. You can model the past and the culture as an enormous advertising budget, and the advertisement says that men who don't have a decent income are losers, and indirectly the women with such partners are also losers (because they had to choose losers as their partners). We can disagree with this, but there is this huge advertising budget against us, and it skews the relationship market balance.
This seems to be wildly off based on my experiences. Women I know (with working husbands) having children are taking 2-3 months off.
My first reaction: Checking whether you are from USA. Yeah, I know this is not an argument, but the cultural difference is huge here. I would like to know if there is a scientific research about whether separating 2 months old children from their mothers for half of day has an impact on the child, and what is the impact specifically.
Viliam, as far as I recall from memory alone, there is very little effect on what a tiny infant does for half a day in their future lives. It matters more which of the attachment kinds the baby will acquire when the mom is present, not when she is absent. People are 50% genes 50% question mark, if you summarize psychological science super ultra violently. Not the best strategy for science, but good enough for a cached thought.
I am from the US, and work in manufacturing, which is even more culturally conservative. But this isn't out of line with any other experiences I've had.

It depends on what you mean by "job". It seems like you're saying that not having a job is equivalent to not working. I'd argue otherwise. You still do a lot of work. It's just that the work that you're doing doesn't fit into the traditional capitalist view of working for an employer, so you don't see it as a "job".

You bring up a number of examples: the Argentinian who left graduate economics to travel the world. Puneet Sahani. The Uruguayan couple. They don't have jobs in the traditional American sense of working for an employer for money. But I'd argue that their lifestyle is no less arduous than someone who does have a job. They still have to make arrangements for food, clothing, shelter and travel, and presumably they're doing something of value to earn those resources. That's work, even if it isn't a job, as traditionally defined.

Moreover, such a lifestyle requires a certain type of personality. It requires a personality that is willing to accept extreme levels of uncertainty, in some cases to the point of not knowing where one is going to sleep the next night. For that reason, I'd argue that getting a job is the rational decision for most people. It makes... (read more)

7Said Achmiz
I disagree with "presumably they're doing something of value to earn those resources". All that we know is that they are acquiring the resources somehow. They could be doing so in various clearly-unethical ways, like theft, con artistry, or what have you. Of course, the more likely scenario is that these people simply are good at convincing people to hand them things basically for free, or in any case in exchange for substantially less value than they're receiving. There are some people who have this talent. As far as the lifestyles being arduous, well, I'll let the author of this Leftover Soup comic handle that one: (emphasis mine) In other words: their lifestyle is arduous? So what? That doesn't ethically entitle them to a damn thing. Wholeheartedly agreed.
Actually, one gets paychecks for the perception of the provision of value. The boss (whether business, government, or non-profit) may be wrong about who's providing what, even though there are some pressures on bosses to get things right. Also, the organization may be going under even if some of the people in it are providing value.

But a job is so easy! I'm fully aware that I don't need a job. I'm certainly capable of wandering into the woods and finding a cave and scrounging for roots and setting snares and surviving. but that's really inefficient. Apartments are cheap. Food is cheap. For someone with a high earning capacity, the benefits of modern society outweigh the costs by a factor of at least 10 to 1.

Having an income is awesome, and not hard to come by. I literally get paid to attend school. I'm given an office, a computer, access to a fast internet connection, and more than twice as much money as I need to support myself. I totally agree that employment is overrated in our society and that very few people make the history books just because they showed up for work everyday, but having a boring predictable income I don't have to think about is precisely what gives me the freedom and energy to actually think about and pursue more interesting problems.

It is as abnormal for an American, in my experience, to consider not working, as it is to consider not breathing, or not eating.

Note that you seem to have a huge and invisible to you gender assumption :-)

Have you also thought about the possible connection between your observation and the fact that the US is a very wealthy country?

let me remind people that you can spend years and years not working.

You certainly can. There are a whole bunch of people in the US who do precisely that. Unfortunately for your argument they don't look to be ultrahip vagabonds who travel the world in between TED talks. On the contrary, they look to be poor, severely constrained in what they can do, unhealthy, stuck in bad neighborhoods with high crime rates, etc. etc.

Life is a series of choices. You can make a choice to drop out and I know people who've done that, both recently and back in the 70s. But there is a price, of course, and for some people the price is worth paying and for some it is not.

There are intermediate stages, too. For example I've met a guy who works for one month per year on an offshore platform and that gives him enough money to travel low-budget in Asia for the rest of the ye... (read more)

3Said Achmiz
Seconded. It's almost a cliche for Americans to visit (various parts of) Europe and Latin America, observe the less stringent work ethics, the far poorer standards of customer service, etc., and shake their heads, noting the ostensible causal link to lower levels of wealth... but that link does seem to exist.
The existing link is a correlation, not necessarily causality. For example, imagine a country where the government can (and once in a while does) decide to take away your savings. In such country it wouldn't make sense to try getting more money than you need to survive this month, unless you are ready to use it now (e.g. you are building a house). Imagine that you are smart enough and you could make more money than you need, but the money would probably be taken away, so you don't want to do this. So instead of higher salary you will optimize e.g. for less work. If enough people do this, work ethics goes down. Or imagine a country with such strong egalitarian ethics, than even if you do 10× more work than your colleagues, your employer just wouldn't give you even 2× higher salary, because in their opinion, no one deserves twice as much as the market rate. Again, the usual response is to slow down to the level of average (sometimes even more, because the average people usually consider themselves to be above-average, so they slow down too). There are countries where stronger work ethics would be a lost purpose; it would not improve the life of the given individual, on average. Sure, some people are strategic enough to find a way to do it, but most people are not. (For example, if you are 8× faster than your colleagues, but your employer insists on paying you exactly the same amount of money, you could try convincing them to let you work from home, then do in 1 hour what your colleagues would do in 8 hours, and spend the rest of the time working on your own projects or just having fun.)
And of course it's equally a cliche for Europeans to observe the US's wealth, long hours, short holidays, low taxes, extreme inequality, etc., and shake their heads, noting the ostensible causal link to various forms of societal dysfunction (see, e.g., which is ostensibly about correlations between religion and societal health, but a lot of the clearest correlations are driven by the fact that the US is both very religious and badly messed-up). Whether the US's unusually severe work habits have anything to do with this is anyone's guess. Quite likely they don't. If they do, they might be effect rather than cause. But I don't think the connection between those work habits and the US's great wealth is at all obvious, either.
I am curious just what sort of job he's doing out there, and how he got it, and what kind of real money he's making. That's not a bad way to live.
As far as I remember, he was an engineer, not just a grunt. He also was in his late 30s or early 40s and spent time working (normally) in the industry. I assume that allowed him to build a network of friends and acquaintances who are willing to offer him month-long jobs. It also helps that offshore platforms work on the shift method -- people are flown in for a period of time, they live on the platform for a few weeks working, basically, without weekends, and then they are flown back and have a mini-vacation until the next shift. I agree, it's not a bad way to live. But there are downsides as well. You literally have no home, for example. Having a long-term partner is problematic, having kids is out of the question. If you are a self-sufficient loner it's a good life. If you want a community to live in, well...

I have been thinking about the following question a lot.

The western world is very productive, due to the industrial and information revolutions. But we still work a lot (a lot of it "abstract white collar work"). Now the question is, how much of this work is just "paying people to dig holes in the ground" as Keynes puts it, and how much of it is solving genuine coordination problems (which we know is hard, and hence requires manpower, and in addition it is hard to coordinate to solve coordination problems..)

Economists like Hanson would say that it would be silly for firms to pay people to dig holes in the ground, but firms are often systematically crazy in various ways.

As you probably noticed, it's complicated :-) On top of the technology layer ("the industrial and information revolutions") there is the sociopolitical layer which is rather important for determining how well and how efficiently does a society run. The Soviet communism/socialism is a good example of a society which screwed up the sociopolitical layer with well-known consequences. This means that the question "how much of this work really needs to be done" is complicated and is not reducible to issues of technological efficiency. There are power structures. There are value distribution and redistribution arrangements. There are webs of incentives, often conflicting. Basically, if you try to eliminate "unproductive" work on purely technological/economical grounds, the sociopolitical layer will react and compensate -- and that gets you firmly into the Land of Unintended Consequences...
To sharpen my question a bit: Back during the heyday of the industrial revolution, people have been predicting that people will work less and less due to vastly increased productivity. This did not happen, which is interesting, because it seemed like a reasonable prediction at the time and still seems that way to me today. People are making similar predictions now. I am curious if these predictions will similarly not pan out, and if so why. Coordination being hard would be a "good reason," digging holes would be a "bad reason." If we are really digging holes, it just seems better to implement a minimum income instead.

But we are working less and less due to vastly increased productivity, and it's very clear in any graph of hours worked over time. And the effect is even bigger than the statistics show, because of the big shift from non-market to market labour - don't tell me that doing the laundry by hand, or being a subsistence farmer, isn't work, just because it's hard for government statisticians to measure! People today have far more leisure than at any time since the dawn of agriculture.

What is true is that hours worked haven't fallen as much as some people predicted (e.g. Keynes in "Economic Possiblities for our Grandchildren"). The reason for that seems pretty obvious - innovation doesn't just make us better at making the same old things, it also creates new things we want, and people have a pronounced tendency to underestimate the latter.

This is commonly asserted, but I have my doubts. Consider, for example, that agriculture is a very seasonal activity (in most places). You have a few high-intensity periods during the year, but the rest of the year is low-intensity and provides enough opportunity for leisure time. Some arguments can be found here and here.
I've heard that modern hunter-gatherers do about twenty hours of "work" per week...
Do you have any references for this claim? One thing I have read is this paper: ---------------------------------------- To sharpen my question a bit further still: how much is the length of our workday shaped by necessity and how much by custom and culture.
I had not seen that paper; it is interesting and I will look over it more fully at another time. I should note that * They aren't measuring work, they are measuring leisure. For example, they count the big increase in time spent in education as eating into our leisure, which is true, but irrelevant to the question of whether we are working more. * Even those authors agree that per capita leisure increased by 4 hours per week over the past century in the USA. * Some of their claims are hard to believe. For example, they claim Really? Despite the gas oven, the washing machine, the dishwasher, etc? They claim that the typical 25-54-aged woman worked 50.4 hours per week in home production in 1900, and 31.1 hours per week in 2005. This change is way too small to be plausible. I think, frankly, that all kinds of activities are now being classified as home production work that would not have been so classified in 1990, and that their broad categories ("childcare", etc) are unable to measure this. You can see a general overview of the subject for the US here: A nice blogger put together a graph over hours worked over time in US history here: Data from various developed countries here:
More Work for Mother argues that the most of the physical labor was taken out of housework, but the amount of time required stayed high because standards went up.
It seems to me that there's a tremendous amount more fiction available in various media, and people are finding time to consume quite a lot of it.
Well, let's think about it. When people work they produce value (I'll handwave the concept of "value" into existence skipping the fiddly parts like the definition, constraints, caveats, etc.). That value either gets consumed or gets added to the accumulated wealth which we can also call capital. So what happens when productivity rises? People can work less but that means that consumption and capital accumulation remain constant. Or people can work similar amounts of time which means that the consumption and/or the capital accumulation will go up. In other words, people can work less time at higher productivity if they are willing to accept that their consumption (=standard of living, more or less) will not rise. Essentially you have a trade-off between leisure time and consumption (mostly of material goods, but not only). Given historical evidence, it's pretty clear that since the heyday of industrial revolution people prefer more consumption to more leisure time. Of course leisure time increased as well (e.g. we have a five-day 8-hour standard workweek now) but consumption increased MUCH more. Now that trade-off is not constant and depends on how much leisure time and how much consumption is on offer. I think we see leisure time valued more and more as our consumption gets saturated, but that's purely a guesstimate as I haven't seen any data (I haven't looked, I'm sure it exists). Of course there is also a lot of individual variation. Some people prefer more leisure time (part-timers & vagabonds), some people prefer more money (A-types). As to digging holes, I don't think that in reality this is mostly a function of mistakes in planning and allocation. I think that in reality this is mostly a way of redistributing value towards entities (such as social groups and companies) which have sufficient power to make it happen. A construction company gets paid for the bridge to nowhere and from its point of view it is a highly successful thing.
There was once a movement for a six-hour week. I haven't read the book I just linked, but clearly, the movement failed. I don't know if that was because of Evil Bosses wanting to stop the working classes from having the leisure to think (although that was explicitly said by some of them), or Greedy Kulaks grasping for as much work as they could get. ETA: Here's a book from 1919 whose first section deals with the six hour week. Some interesting quotes: Every year the workers become more intelligent and more acute reasoners. Think of the intelligence required in the workers to produce a modern locomotive or a greyhound of the Atlantic, or to work and operate the same, and to make and operate all the thousands of different types of machines now producing and working for the good of man. And each succeeding year demands still higher intelligence to produce still higher, better, and more complex mechanical utilities. The requirements of our ancestors were few, but as civilization advances, not only do the wants of the body for variety in food, raiment, and shelter increase, but as the mind and soul expand, the intellectual horizon widens and the higher plane of living demands more and more leisure to feed its hunger for better conditions of life. ... We are all agreed that the industrial situation has become the most pressing after-war problem to be solved, and that the solution will not be easy, not because there is more poverty in the United Kingdom to-day than ever -- as a matter of fact there is less poverty than ever before in our history -- but because there is a wholesome Labour unrest and national craving for vastly better conditions of life. The poor are not growing poorer, and the workman of to-day is better off than his employer was two centuries ago. But because -- and I rejoice that it is so -- the workman is each day becoming more ambitious, his mind and soul are expanding at a greater rate than, under existing conditions -- even with higher wages -- h
There were lots of movements like that -- see e.g. this from 1993. France at the moment has the legal 35-hour week. However these movements, at least historically, were mostly aimed at fighting high unemployment (and probably low demand, too). I think VW workers in Germany had effectively a four-day week during the few years of high unemployment, but when unemployment went down the four-day week ended.

Now that would be an interesting topic: The rationalist hobo.

I am actually considering something similar. There is the extremely early retirement community where the general suggestion is to earn much money in very short amount of time, to live below means in that time, to invest as much of it as possible and to then live from the interest gathered. Driven to extremes the necessary base capital can be quite low, such as in the low hundreds of thousands.

As interest is mobile and I can relocate to a country that almost does not tax capital interest I am free to roam the world. Additional income can come from local work or donations as I intend to still work some amount of time in theoretical research which essentially is just time consuming without need for capital expenditure.

For some time at least this would be very interesting.

Edit: The availability of so much free learning material online makes this even more viable. The only issue will be maintaining a good exercise regimen and good eating habits.

Edit 2: If you can learn remotely, you can work remotely. Being on the road does not preclude doing analysis or similar stuff to stil learn an income.

Just wanted to note for any fellow Americans that this is unfortunately not an option for us. The US taxes even when you're living abroad.
Mr. Money Moustache does/did something like this, though with a slightly different approach.
Three comments. Investments are risky. Your future "interest gathered" is uncertain and you're subject to a variety of risks including things like inflation. Don't fall into the trap of assuming that your investments will return you, say, 7% each year forever and that the amount of dollars sufficient to live on now will still be sufficient in ten years. Time and money are fungible to a certain extent. By retiring early you're buying time with money (which you are not going to earn). Make sure the exchange rate is good and that you won't spend most of your newly acquired time trying to compensate for lack of money. Humans, being what they are, don't do well in the absence of external pressure. To put it crudely, a life of leisure makes a man soft, dumb, and lazy. There are, of course, exceptions, but when people don't have to do much, they usually do not do much.
Yeah, but not that risky. If you start with a sum in the "low hundreds of thousands" like Metus describes, and are frugal, you could easily live for a decade without having to earn any positive return whatsoever. And on the scale of decades, a diversified portfolio of stock-based index funds, hedged with other asset classes, is very unlikely to do worse than inflation. See this chart.
That is true, of course. On the other hand after that decade you'll be without money, without a job, and probably having issues integrating back into working for a living. I disagree. The problem is that you're looking specifically at the US stock market and there is the issue of survivorship bias. On the scale of decades, what tended to happen to diversified portfolios of European stocks during the XX century? Or do you know when did the main Japanese stock index, the Nikkei 225 reach its top? It was in 1989 and all downhill since then.
Yes, true. It would probably not be a good idea to attempt to retire with only one decade's worth of funds and plan never to work again. On the other hand, you could see how things go for the first 5 years and then go back to work if needed. So would you expect a US + international market cap-weighted index fund like Vanguard's Total World Stock Index Fund (bonus: available as an ETF) to have more variance or do worse than the US stock market by itself? That would surprise me. Or were you just saying you think the US was exceptional during the 20th century, and investors should not expect similar returns (either by diversifying across nations, or reliably picking a winning nation) in the 21st? Hmm, now I am curious what stock market returns looked like for the whole world in the 20th C. Unfortunately I wasn't able to determine whether that particular chart took into account survivorship bias, but I did find this blog post written by the author of the book the chart was taken from, suggesting that he's at least familiar with the issue.
Yes, that is what I am saying. I meant survivorship bias in the country sense. What's the return of a German stock portfolio over the last century? It is zero -- the portfolio went to zero in WW2 and without additional money invested it stays at zero.
On the one hand, this is an important issue and shouldn't be ignored if you're planning for your retirement. On the other hand... Let's think about a scenario where you've worked hard and saved hard until (say) the age of 40, and then 10 years later there's a national catastrophe on the level of losing a major war which wipes out all your savings. You are, indeed, going to be in trouble. But so is someone who's been working for pay all that time: they've lost all their savings too, and probably their job. Either position's going to be pretty terrible.
But if your retirement portfolio is internationally diversified (and it should be!) then you aren't just vulnerable to war and revolution in your home country, you are vulnerable to war and revolution in any of the countries where you are invested. Survivorship bias is definitely relevant.
Sure. But now I remark that there are lots of countries and such total wipeouts are really quite rare. So, e.g., if your portfolio is something like equally divided among 10 major countries, and each of them has a total wipeout once per 30 years (of course these are both really crude approximations), then what happens is that once per 30 years you lose 10% of your investments, which is kinda like losing 0.3% per year, which is about what most index funds charge in management fees. (Of course it's worse really because it's "lumpier".) So, again, it's an important issue but I remain to be convinced that it's that important an issue.
Why don't you look at reality instead of going for abstract approximations? You are assuming that a "major country" being wiped out by a war would not affect other countries. Really? The 2008 crisis didn't even come close to being a wipeout and how correlated were the stock markets of the major countries during the crisis? Or, if you want to go back to WW2, which stock markets remained unscathed while Germany was wiped out?
I am concerned that our argument takes the form: "I think this effect is bigger than you think it is!" "Oh, but I think it's smaller than you think it is!" repeated a few times. For all we know, we agree about the actual effect but have wrong ideas about one another's estimates of how big it is. Can we perhaps find some actual concrete proposition that we disagree on? (Or, as may well happen, find that there isn't one.) Here's a candidate. It's a more detailed and, where possible, quantitative statement of my own opinion. It's a conjunction so there should be plenty to disagree with :-). I don't believe anything I've said in this discussion has been incompatible with any of these points. (1) Survivor bias at the country level is an important issue and you shouldn't ignore it in estimating the prospects of an investment portfolio. (2) The possibility that your own country gets wiped out economically is real; it has probability on the order of 0.5% or so per year (let's say 0.25% to 1.0%), it affects people who are still working at least half as badly as early retirees (I suspect nearer to parity than that), and while it's worth trying to be prepared for it I don't see it as a major factor in deciding whether to retire early. (3) The possibility that another country you're heavily invested in gets wiped out is also real; if your international investments are reasonably diversified (or small, though that has its own problems) then the impact is on the order of 0.3% loss per year. More precisely, I'll say 0.2% to 1.0%. (4) The possibility that another country with impact on one you're heavily invested in gets wiped out is also real; there are more ways for it to happen but the impact is smaller per instance. However, it's somewhat "priced in" already even for someone who's ignored the issue, because such impacts already affect whatever indices they've looked at. Let's say that the size of this effect beyond what a naive prospective early retiree is already expecting i
I think my original point was just that the effect (survivorship bias at the country level) exists and most people happily ignore it. Looks like we agree about that. My follow-up point was that this effect -- survivorship bias at the country level -- belongs to the class of things which makes your estimates of future returns suspect. However we've moved on to another issue -- how to account for the possibility of a major disaster (war, revolution, hyperinflation, etc.) while planning your life and what does this possibility and its consequences look like. I think I'd like to stress the the consequences will be complicated and widespread, not reducible to lopping a percentage point off your expected returns. I also think that estimates have to be country-specific. The probabilities of the US going down are noticeably less than the probabilities of, say, Russia, going down. However a Russian implosion will be more contained (in the sense of affecting other countries) while if the US implodes it might well take the entire North America and Western Europe down with it. One additional point is that you're not only interested in the expected return on your portfolio. You are also interested in the expected variance. The probability of disaster does not only reduce your expected return, but it also pushes up, considerably, your expected variance as well as makes your expected probability distribution asymmetric (more asymmetric, really). By the way, I do not agree that "the historical performance of an index like the S&P or Nikkei has the cross-country effects of disasters elsewhere already factored in." The reason is that the interdependency of countries is not a constant. It grew a LOT during the XX century, especially its last few decades. For example, S&P is much more correlated with Nikkei now than it was in the 60s. Chinese economic numbers whipsaw Brazil (which exports huge amounts of iron ore to China) and significantly affect the US stock market. Or, remember
These are different issues. This subthread is basically about estimating future returns from diversified stock portfolios and whether S&P returns for the last few decades provide a good baseline for that. You are talking about the stability of life and about whether saving money is useful if there's a chance your country will be smashed into little bits. By the way, a much more likely scenario for a Western country is not losing a major war but having a hyperinflation episode. In this case the guy with the savings loses all, while the guy with a job is much better off.
You raised the issue of survivorship bias at the country level and gave the example of a country wiped out by a major war. So I explained why, if you're adjusting the expectations of a retiree to account for what that sort of event could do to their investments, you also need to adjust the expectations of a non-retiree, who will also be hit hard by it. Hyperinflation is indeed a good example of something that could hurt the retiree a lot worse than someone still working, but it seems to me that it depends a lot on (1) what form the retiree's savings take and (2) what causes and consequences the hyperinflation has. For instance, if investments in the stock market lose a lot of their (real) value in a hyperinflationary episode, I'd expect that to be accompanied by a lot of job losses -- so the worst case for a retiree with a lot of stock-market investments is also bad for someone still working.
Hmm, interesting points. I had not seriously taken into account survivorship bias in this national sense before. I will have to think more about that.
Eric Weinstein argues strongly against returns being 20century level, and says they are now vector fields, not scalars. I concur (not that I matter)
Will you be allowed back into the labor force? Many employers, especially in the IT industry, will almost certainly turn you away if you have an unexplained hole in your resume that's 5 years wide. Basically the only reason that can cover a 5-year gap is education of some kind (usually something like graduate education). If you say, "Oh, I just retired for 5 years, but now I'm looking for a job again," that's not going to help your chances of landing a job.
This might not be as much of a problem in IT as you might worry, especially if you have personal projects or open source contributions to show for it. It's difficult enough finding skilled developers that if your skill is in demand, a good recruiter will still go to bat for you. I'd say it harms your chances, but it won't kill a career.
There is a huge amount of risk involved in retiring early. You're essentially betting that you aren't going to find any fun, useful, enjoyable, or otherwise worthwhile uses of money. You're betting that whatever resources you have at retirement are going to be enough, at a ratio of whatever your current earning power is to your expected earning power after the retirement decision.

You're essentially betting that you aren't going to find any fun, useful, enjoyable, or otherwise worthwhile uses of money.

No, you're betting that you aren't going to find enough such uses for enough money to outweigh the benefit of having hugely more leisure time.

I can think of pretty good uses for a near-unbounded amount of money (more than I am ever likely to have, alas). I can think of pretty good uses for a near-unbounded amount of time (more than I am ever likely to have, alas). Working full-time, working part-time, and not working at all (note: by "working" here I mean working for pay) make different trade-offs between time and money; none of them implies not having any use at all for time or not having any use at all for money.

you're only encountering the people for whom vagabonding worked

the ones you don't see are dead or destitute

I've sleep on the streets before during days in my travels in which it would be too complicated or expensive to get a hotel room, so I have met some people who live in the streets and made their acquantance. Given that I think your counterfactual is witty, but wrong. Within the reference class of Lesswrongers, veterans and lurkers alike, the failure case of ultravagabonding is to stop ultravagabonding and work (either teaching english to foreigners or in a menial job, or back to one's regular job). So yes, I'm meeting the surivivors in the survivor bias sense. But the price is not as high as you are claiming for those who fail this mode of life. I myself can't, for finantial reasons, personal security and emotional reasons, and specially due to visa status reasons, afford this lifesltyle anymore. So let's see in 5 months where I'll be, if I'm dead or destitute, I withdraw my contestation.

Personally, I've done a version of this. I've had jobs, but never a career, choosing to travel and have fun instead. I didn't need anyone to persuade me that this was an acceptable option, but I'm curious if anyone could persuade me that it's not. Redline mentioned giving the least possible effort and receiving maximum utility in return; this is the story of my life, only my "utility" has been fun.

First, I went to Guatemala and taught SAT prep 12 hours/week with 3 day weekends. This gave me the status of having a job, personal fulfillment of ma... (read more)

1Adam Zerner
That sounds completely awesome! I've always imagined that sort of lifestyle, but it always felt too abstract. Reading your description has helped my understanding become more concrete and vivid. Thanks you. Ok, so the following is the state of my beliefs and understanding. In a way, I feel rather confident in it, because I've done a good amount of reading into other arguments, and after doing so I still think my reasoning makes more sense. But on the other hand, I definitely notice confusion, enough such that I wouldn't describe myself as "very confident". I wrote about it a bit more in depth here and here, which you might be interested in. It's about as well as I could articulate it without spending weeks writing and researching. Summary - Morality is sort of a question asking about what you should do. Someone might say, "you should do X" or "you shouldn't do Y". My response - "should requires an axiom". You can only say, "you should do X... in order to achieve this end". Or "you shouldn't do Y... in order to achieve this end". The way people use the word, they're usually referring to an end implicitly. Then there's the question of "well, what should the end be?". Which is circular. Consider two things though: 1) Preferences 2) Goals Your Preferences are what produce the most desirable "mind-states". Imagine a thought experiment where you take a person, stimulate his brain to produce a bunch of different mind-states and have him rank them according to how preferable they are. This is what I'm mean by Preferences. Goals are what you choose to strive towards. For example, you may choose to strive towards being a good mother, even if it doesn't maximize your Preferences. You could choose whatever Goals you want. Preferences are pretty fixed though (seemingly). Anyway, I don't think there's really an answer to "what Goals should you choose?". You have to say, "what Goals should you choose... in order to achieve this end". Goals are arbitrary. Rationality is ab
Thanks so much for sharing! Sorry for the late reply, just got back from vacation. I have had the exact same thought so many times! But I perform cost-benefit analyses only for small decisions, like your ticket example, with pretty clear cut preference ratios. When it comes to the option of pursuing a life goal, everything gets really fuzzy. I think it's that fuzziness that's keeping me from seriously considering giving up my fun-filled life to do something more ambitious. I guess my life goals right now are pretty simple: maximizing happiness and avoiding feeling guilty for being so happy. I maximize happiness by having fun and doing nice things for people on the individual level, and I manage to discharge most of my guilt through effective altruism. Despite my natural resource consumption, I think I contribute enough happiness to the world for it to be better off than it would have been without me. As for caring about what other people think, this actually doesn't come up often in real life. Almost everyone I associate with is also pretty into fun-centric activities, and think my life is cool, even if they appreciate the status and high income from more prestigious jobs. I think it's from perusing Less Wrong that I finally started to feel self-conscious about my choices. I see such a high percentage of rational people with high intelligence doing ambitious stuff, so I was curious whether there was an objective reason for it. So if being on LW is contributing to a slight increase in guilt, but not enough to make me want to become more ambitious, I should consider deleting my account and reading more fiction instead, haha. Pretty sure the cost-benefit ratio will keep me here though. I think I agree with you here. But if goals are arbitrary, I might as well continue delighting in my career-less life for now. Maybe when I'm older, I'll have more ambition... It seems like some people do, but my dad is very smart and perfectly content working 10 hours/week as a lawy
1Adam Zerner
Very understandable. It makes sense that things that are more clear have a bigger influence on your motivation than things that are less clear. I think it's a really good sign that you a) know this and b) acknowledge it. Given that it's such an important topic, it seems worth putting proportional thought into it though. And it seems like you are trying to do that. Check out Ugh fields if you haven't already. It's been one of the most practical articles I've found here. Count me among them! In some not so far away alternate universe, I'm doing the same things you are. Which is why your situation is interesting to me. I think it's a pretty hard question that most people don't seem to actually take seriously. For the record, my impression is that most people here aren't really too ambitious. Two big reasons seem to be a) "it's too difficult/unlikely that I succeed" and b) akrasia. Perhaps you'd like to investigate this further and more formally. If you do, please let me know what you find. If you don't, I probably will, but it'd be at the end of my current to-do list. But anyway, you seem to be trying to take the question pretty seriously, and seem to be a pretty self-aware and reasonable person. I shall try to say something useful. * Question: What are your terminal goals. The ends that you seek. Obviously an incredibly difficult question. It may be possible to proceed without a perfect answer to it though if you have a rough idea of what your preference ratios are. * Question: How strong an impulse do you feel to do something ambitious? How manageable is this impulse? How do you expect this impulse to change over time? Personally, I have an incredibly strong impulse to do some ambitious things, and I've taken it into account that I expect that this impulse would remain strong and would make my life unpleasant if I ignored it. * Question: How happy would you be if you weren't to pursue an ambitious life? Seems like you have done a pretty good job so far. It
Thanks for the link. You're right about this being an "ugh field" for me, something I usually flinch from even thinking about. I think my doubts about Christianity used to be an "ugh field" too, but I feel a lot better for having confronted them. Those seem to apply to me too. I'd never heard of akrasia before, what a great word. If I investigate this further among the LW community, I'll let you know. Thanks so much for your thorough reply. I really, really appreciate it! Answers to your questions: * You're right. This is an incredibly difficult question. Based on the sample human terminal goals given, I think the biggest for me are health, joy, and curiosity. Can environmentalism be a terminal goal? What about efficiency in general? * My impulse to do ambitious things is about a 2 out of 10, so not very strong at all, and very manageable, currently. It used to be more like a 1 though, so the current trend seems to be that the older I get, the more attractive a life of accomplishment looks. * How happy would I be not pursuing ambition? You're right; I'm super happy right now. I have absolutely no idea if this happiness with a leisurely lifestyle is something I can maintain or not. My dad and his best friend are both super smart and not very ambitious, and seem to be quite happy even as they approach their 50's, which makes me think I could stay very happy. Then again, I might be different. Maybe my lack of ambition was just from the way I was raised (in my family, we all bragged about acing tests with no outside study, about never having homework, about never doing assigned readings, about skipping class to hang out in the rec room, etc.. kinda pathetic, in hindsight). * How big an impact would I have? If I knew this, things would be lots less fuzzy! One goal that I'd love to pursue would be promoting hitchhiking/slugging. This has to do with my other values of environmentalism and efficiency. I also think it would be wonderful if people were less fearful
3Adam Zerner
A big part of the reason why I'm ambitious is because I try really hard to not fall victim to scope insensitivity. And regarding ambition, there's some really really big magnitudes at play. Ex. * Even a small increase in the chance that I don't die and get to live another bajillion years has a huge expected value(EV). * Same with altruism - even a small chance that I help billions of people has a huge EV. * Regarding my happiness, I think I may be lying to myself though. I think I rationalize that the same logic applies, that if I achieve some huge ambition there'd be a proportional increase in happiness. Because my brain likes to think achieving ambition -> goodness and I care about how much goodness gets achieved. But if I'm to be honest, that probably isn't true. Another reason why I'm ambitious is more practical - I want to retire early, really ASAP. Starting a startup, making a lot of money and being able to retire would be great.
Re: afterlives - we have tons of data. Brain damage can cause loss of function in a way which varies depending on what part of the brain is damaged. Everything points towards total brain damage causing total lack of function. We also have evidence that stimulating one part of the brain can turn off consciousness, and some evidence that conscious experience requires many parts of the brain working together. I posted about the first part of that somewhere, though apparently not in response to the linked post. Probably I did not respond to that one because I'd already made this point, and it gets tiring to see people ignoring it again.
Oh, interesting, thanks for sharing! Data is good; that's cool that we know that, and I think I agree that it makes any afterlife extremely improbable. Sorry, I wasn't ignoring your point, I just noticed this now as a result of having just realized I can click on the little orange envelop and see replies and private messages.
1Adam Zerner
Glad to help (if I am actually helping)! I find this fun. Of course, anything can be a terminal goal :). But consider how strong a statement it is to say that something is a terminal goal. That it has intrinsic value. As for environmentalism, would the environment matter if there was no one on earth to experience it? If not, it makes me think that environmentalism matters to the extent that it makes peoples lives better, and thus would be an instrumental goal. Some people would respond to what I just said by saying something along the lines of "Of course it wouldn't matter if no one was on earth, but don't be ridiculous - be practical." My response to that is that in discussing things like this, it's important to be very precise with what you say. Because a lot of disagreement comes from arguing over semantics, which comes from bad communication. The good thing is that a) this is a testable question that you'll get more and more evidence for as time progresses, and b) you can easily adjust the extent to which you pursue ambitions. It's not like you have to decide once and for all now (not to imply you don't know that, just saying). My guess is that you will be able to maintain your happiness. a) The happiness set point theory seems rather accurate (my reason for thinking this is mostly based on anecdotal evidence, not on reading much into the research). b) Anecdotally, it also seems to me that the "need to be ambitious" is also pretty set in stone. Ie. You know if you're one of those people, and you know somewhat early in life. I don't know of many 40 year olds who suddenly develop an irresistible urge to do something ambitious. Note: in HPMOR the distinction between having ambition and being ambitious is made. That's amazing! I hated school and did a lot of rebellious things out of spite. Back to that alternate universe again... I wish my family was like that. One of my favorite rebellious things was that I refused to do some AP Micro project at the end of t
You know it's funny, I've never thought about this before, but I actually would like for the earth to stay beautiful, even if there are no humans around to enjoy it. Feeling such a strong attachment to the earth makes me think that I empathize a bit too much with Kaczynski... which got me thinking about psychopathic tendencies, and after looking them up, I realized I borderline have many of them. I'm not really too worried about myself, but this got me back to morality again. Psychopaths are probably quite rational about pursuing their own personal terminal goals. You can't say they're doing anything wrong, can you? Is there anything you can really say to convince a rational psychopath who is smart enough to get away unpunished for his actions to act in a way that is better for society? Anyway, yeah, I think you're right that I could maintain my happiness. I'll probably continue in this "phase" of life another 2-3 years at least, enjoy my free time, do a lot of reading, and start thinking harder about what to do with the rest of my life. My back-up plan is to become a cop/detective in the Bay Area, which would be somewhat physically and mentally engaging, offer great hours and benefits, allow me to retire on pension after 25 years, and pay enough that I would probably end up donating more than 10%... a fun, comfortable, guilt-free life, but definitely not something that would change the world or leave me filling immensely fulfilled. So, I'll take your suggestion and try to work out the pieces to the puzzle for a few more ambitious ideas. A distinction between being ambitious and having ambition? Wow, I think I'm going to love that book. Yes!! Haha I did the same thing, when it came to final exams, some people would calculate the score they needed to bump their grades up one notch, but for me, every year, every class, even in college, my question was "What's the lowest score I can get and still get an A in the class?" If I knew I would get a C without studying, or
1Adam Zerner
I doubt it. In my experience, the average person is quite stupid. My thought is that the fact that they're a sociopath means that they have different goals, but not necessarily that they're more instrumentally rational (better at achieving your goals, whatever they are). No, but I can say that I don't like them :) Interesting question. If they genuinely prefer to cause harm to people, and if they really are instrumentally rational enough to only do things that help them achieve their goals, then no. But altruistic acts are one of the biggest correlates of happiness in normal people, so perhaps their psychopathy isn't set in stone and they could be convinced that there's a way to achieve more happiness. You may need a lot less money to retire than you'd think. Depending on how much you spend. The author argues (throughout the site) that a lot of spending is on essentially status-related goods, and that spending money on free time (indirectly) and security is more likely to lead to happiness (if you're the right type of person, but I sense that you are). My thoughts on this are a bit unconventional. Most people use the term intelligence to refer to things like aptitude, working memory size and ability to remember things. I think that those things are overrated and that the ability to break things down like a reductionist is underrated. I started to write about it here, but am having trouble. I welcome any feedback (if you have any thoughts, please use Medium's side comments, it's really useful) Yes! Well, I think it's an oversimplification, but I very much agree with the direction of the advice. I hate formality. In school they give you all of these rules about how to write, and these rules seem to take you further and further away from how you actually speak. I always thought that these rules were bad, and I rebelled and got only average grades in writing even though I think I'm an amazing writer :) That seems to be the central point the article is about, and a
Okay, yeah, I should have added the word some. Kaczynski is the only psychopath I've really read much about, so maybe I really did extrapolate his seeming rationality onto other psychopaths, even though we probably never hear about 99% of them. That would have to be some kind of bias; out of curiosity how would you label it? Maybe survivorship bias? Or availability heuristic? Anchoring? Or maybe even all of the above? Believe me, I know. Even without trying to save money, I actually end up spending less on myself (excluding having paid for college) than on charity. Free hobbies are great. I didn't mean a pension was a reason to become a detective; it would just be a nice perk. Thanks for the link, though. Lots of good articles on that site! Well, I'm biased in favor of this idea, since I have an awful memory, but a pretty good ability (sometimes too good for my own good) to break things down like a reductionist and dissolve topics. I'll check out your post tomorrow and try to give some feedback. I think so too! Nope, there's really not, but another thing I've realized from reading SSC is that a major component of great writing (and teaching) is the sharing of relevant, interesting, relatable examples to help an idea. If you skillfully parse through an idea, the audience will probably understand it at the time. But if you want the idea to actually sink in and stick with them, great examples are key. This is one reason I like Scott's posts so much; they actually affect my life. Personally, I was borderline cocky when I was younger (but followed social norms and concealed it). Then, I got older and started to read more and more, moved to the Bay Area, and met loads of smart people. Because of this, my self-esteem began to plummet, but I read that article just in time to stabilize it at a healthy, realistic level. Anyway, Scott allows people to go easy on themselves for contributing less to the world than they might like, relative to their innate ability. Can we al
1Adam Zerner
I don't know too much about him other than the basics ("he argued that his bombings were extreme but necessary to attract attention to the erosion of human freedom necessitated by modern technologies requiring large-scale organization"). I think that his concerns are valid, but I don't see how the bombings help him achieve the goal of bumping humanity off that path. Perhaps he knew he'd get caught and his manifesto would get attention, but a) there's still a better way to achieve his goals, and b) he should have realized that people have a strong bias against serial killers. The reason I think his concerns are valid is because capitalism tries to optimize for wanting, which is sometimes quite different from liking. And anecdotally, this seems to be a big problem. I'm not sure what the bias is called :/. I know it exists and there's a formal name though. I know because I remember someone calling me out on it LWSH :) Yes, I very much agree. At times I think the articles on LW fail to do this. Humans need to have their System 1's massaged in order to understand things intuitively. Idk. This seems to be a question involving terminal goals. Ie. if you're asking whether our innate conscientiousness makes us "good" or "bad". When I think of morality this is the/one question I think of: "What are the rules we'd ask people to follow in order to promote the happiest society possible?". I'm sure you could nitpick at that, but it should be sufficient for this conversation. Example: the law against killing is good because if we didn't have it, society would be worse off. Similarly, there are norms of certain preference ratios that lead to society being better off. I don't think we'd be better off if the norm was to have, say equal preference ratios for everyone in the world. Doing so is very unnatural would be very difficult, if not impossible. You have to weigh the costs of going against our impulses against the benefits that marginal conscientiousness would bring. I'm
Yeah, this was irrational. He should have remembered his terminal value of creating change instead of focusing on his instrumental value of getting as many people as possible to read his manifesto. -gives self a little pat on back for using new terminology- Could you please elaborate on this idea a little? Anyway, thanks for the link (don't apologize for linking so much, I love the links and read through and try to digest about 80% of them...). The liking/wanting difference is intuitive, but actually putting it into words is really helpful. I'm interested in exactly how you tie it in with Kaczynski, and I also think it's relevant to my current dilemma. Anyway, Scott's example about smoking makes it seem as if people want to smoke but don't like it. I think it's the opposite; they like smoking, but don't want to smoke. Do I really have these two words backwards? We need definitions. I think "liking" has more to do with your preferences, while "wanting" has to do with your goals. I recognize in myself, that if I like something, it's very hard for me not to want it, and personally I find matrix-type philosophy questions to actually be difficult. That's why I've never tried smoking; I was scared I might like it and start to want it. Without having tried it, it's easy to say that it's not what I want for myself. Is this only because I think it would bring me less happiness in the long run? I don't think so. Even if you told me with certainty that smoking (or drugs) feels so incredibly good and is so incredibly fun that it could bring me happiness that outweighs the unhappiness caused by the bad stuff, I still wouldn't want it! And I have no idea why. Which makes me wonder... what if I had never experienced how wonderful a fun-filled mostly-hedonic lifestyle is? Would I truly want it? Or am I just addicted? Funny that you mention this example; I wouldn't say it's reasonable. Let me share a little story. When I was way younger, maybe 10 years ago, I went through a brief
0Adam Zerner
Sure! In brief: Kaczynski seems to have realized that economies are driven by wanting, not liking, and that this will lead to unhappiness. I think that that conclusion is too strong though - I'd just say that it'll lead to inefficiency. Longer explanation: ok, so the economy is pretty much driven by what people choose to buy, and where people choose to work. People aren't always so good at making these choices. One reason is because they don't actually know what will make them happy. * Example: job satisfaction is important. There are lots of subtle things that influence job satisfaction. For example, there's something about things like farming that produces satisfaction and contentment. People don't value these things enough -> these jobs disappear -> people miss out on the opportunity to be satisfied and content. Another reason why people aren't good at making choices is because they don't always have the willpower to do what they know they should. * Example: if people were smart, McDonalds wouldn't be the huge empire that it is. People choose to eat at McDonalds because they don't weigh the consequences it has on their future selves enough. The reason why McDonalds is huge is because tons of people make these mistakes. If people were smart, MealSquares and McDonalds would be flip-flopped. Kaczynski seems to focus more on the first example, but I think they're both important. Economies are driven by the decisions we make. Given the predictable mistakes people make, society will suffer in predictable ways. Kaczynski seems to have realized this. I avoided using the terms "wanting" and "liking" on purpose. I'll just say quickly words are just symbols that refer to things and as long as the two people are using the same symbol-thing mappings, it doesn't matter. What's important is that you seem to understand the distinction between the two things as far as wanting/liking goes. I do see what you mean about the term "wanting", and now that I think about it I ag
Nope, your longer explanation was perfect, and now I understand, thanks. I'm just a little curious why you would say those things lead to inefficiency instead of unhappiness, but you don't have to elaborate any more here unless you feel like it. Again, now I'm slightly curious about the rest of it... Good guess. You're right. But (I initially thought) smoking would hardly prevent those things, and I still don't want to smoke. Then again, addiction could interfere with a), and the opportunity cost of buying cigarettes could interfere with b). No way! A while back, I facebook-shared a very similar link about the ridiculousness of the diamond marketing scheme and proposed various alternatives to spending money on a diamond ring. I wasn't even aware that the organization was inhumane.. yikes, information like that should be common knowledge. Also, probably at least some people don't really want to get a diamond ring... but by the time the relationship gets serious, they can't get themselves to bring it up (girls don't want to be presumptuous, guys don't want to risk a conflict?) so yeah, definitely a good kind of thing to get out of the way in a dating profile, haha. Wow, that's so interesting, I'd never heard of virtue ethics before. I have many thoughts/questions about this, but let's save that conversation for another day so my brain doesn't suffer an overuse injury. My inner virtue-ethicist wants to become a more thoughtful person, but I know myself well enough to know that if I dive into all this stuff head first, it will just end up to be "a weird thinking phase I went through once" and instrumentally, I want to be thoughtful because of my terminal value of caring about the world. (My gut reaction: Virtues are really just instrumental values that make life convenient for people whose terminal values are unclear/intimidating. (Like how the author of the link chose loyalty as a virtue. I bet we could find a situation in which she would abandon that loyalty.) But
0Adam Zerner
I didn't mean anything deep by that. Inefficiency just means "less than optimal" (or at least that's what I mean by it). For him to say that it will lead to actual unhappiness would mean that the costs are so great that they overcome any associated benefits and push whatever our default state is down until it reaches actual unhappiness. I suspect that the forces aren't strong enough to push us too far off our happiness "set points". Just did a write up here. How convenient. Yeah, it is. Check out the movie Blood Diamond and the song Conflict Diamonds. Not the most formal sources, but at least it'll be entertaining :) It seems that you don't want to think about this now. If you end up thinking about it in the future, let me know - I'd love to hear your thoughts!
I like your point about being afraid/ashamed to do something and the two cases in general and with regard to drinking as a social lubricant. I'll post my drinking experience over there too, though I don't have too much to say. Haha, ok How convenient. I thought about it a bit more after all. I actually still like my initial idea of virtues being instrumental values. I commented on the link you sent me, but a lot of my comment is similar to what I commented here yesterday...
0Adam Zerner
As a consequentialist, that's how I'm inclined to think of it too. But I think it's important to remember that non-consequentialists actually think of virtues as having intrinsic value. Of being virtuous.
0Adam Zerner
For reference: You: Also: Absolutely! That's how I'd start off. But the question I was getting at is "why does your brain produce those emotions". What is the evolutionary psychology behind it? What events in your life have conditioned you to produce this emotion? By default, I think it's natural to give a lot of weight to your emotions and be driven by them. But once you really understand where they come from, I think it's easier to give them a more appropriate weight, and consequently, to better achieve your goals. (1,2,3) And you could manipulate your emotions too. Examples: You'll be less motivated to go to the gym if you lay down on the couch. You'll be more motivated to go to the gym if you tell your friends that you plan on going to the gym every day for a month. So you don't think terminal goals are arbitrary? Or are you just proclaiming what yours are? Edit: Are you sure that this has nothing to do with maximizing happiness? Perhaps the reason why you still want to donate is to preserve an image you have of yourself, which presumably is ultimately about maximizing your happiness. (Below is a thought that ended up being a dead end. I was going to delete it, but then I figured you might still be interested in reading it.) Also, an interesting thought occurred to me related to wanting vs. liking. Take a person who starts off with only the terminal goal of maximizing his happiness. Imagine that the person then develops an addiction, say to smoking. And imagine that the person doesn't actually like smoking, but still wants to smoke. Ie. smoking does not maximize his happiness, but he still wants to do it. Should he then decide that smoking is a terminal goal of his? I'm not trying to say that smoking is a bad terminal goal, because I think terminal goals are arbitrary. What I am trying to say is that... he seems to be actually trying to maximize his happiness, but just failing at it. DEAD END. That's not true. Maybe he is actually trying to maximize
Oops, just when I thought I had the terminology down. :( Yeah, I still think terminal values are arbitrary, in the sense that we choose what we want to live for. So you think our preference is, by default, the happiness mind-state, and our terminal values may or may not be the most efficient personal happiness-increasers. Don't you wonder why a rational human being would choose terminal goals that aren't? But we sometimes do. Remember your honesty in saying: I have an idea. So based on biology and evolution, it seems like a fair assumption that humans naturally put ourselves first, all the time. But is it at all possible for humans to have evolved some small, pure, genuine concern for others (call it altruism/morality/love) that coexists with our innate selfishness? Like one human was born with an "altruism mutation" and other humans realized he was nice to have around, so he survived, and the gene is still working its way through society, shifting our preference ratios? It's a pleasant thought, anyway. But honestly, I literally didn't even know what evolution was until several weeks ago though, so I don't really belong bringing up any science at all yet; let me switch back to personal experience and thought experiments. For example, let's say my preferences are 98% affected by selfishness and maybe 2% by altruism, since I'm very stingy with my time but less so with my money. (Someone who would die for someone else would have different numbers.) Anyway, on the surface I might look more altruistic because there is a LOT of overlap between decisions that are good for others and decisions that make me feel good. Or, you could see the giant overlap and assume I'm 100% selfish. When I donate to effective charities, I do receive benefits like liking myself a bit more, real or perceived respect from the world, a small burst of fuzzy feelings, and a decrease in the (admittedly small) amount of personal guilt I feel about the world's unfairness. But if I had to put a mon
0Adam Zerner
The way I'm (operationally) defining Preferences and words like happy/utility, Preferences are by definition what provides us what the most happiness/utility. Consider this thought experiment: So the way I'm defining Preferences, it refers to how desirable a certain mind-state is relative to other possible mind-states. Now think about consequentialism and how stuff leads to certain consequences. Part of the consequences is the mind-state it produces for you. Say that: * Action 1 -> mind-state A * Aciton 2 -> mind-state B Now remember mind-states could be ranked according to how preferable they are, like in the thought experiment. Suppose that mind-state A is preferable to mind-state B. From this, it seems to me that the following conclusion is unavoidable: In other words, Action 1 leads you to a state of mind that you prefer over the state of mind that Action 2 leads you to. I don't see any ways around saying that. To make it more concrete, let's say that Action 1 is "going on vacation" and Action 2 is "giving to charity". * IF going on vacation produces mind-state A. * IF giving to charity produces mind-state B. * IF mind-state A is preferable to mind-state B. * THEN going on vacation leads you to a mind-state that is preferable to the one that giving to charity leads you to. I call this "preferable", but in this case words and semantics might just be distracting. As long as you agree that "going on vacation leads you to a mind-state that is preferable to the one that giving to charity leads you to" when the first three bullet points are true, I don't think we disagree about anything real, and that we might just be using different words for stuff. Thoughts? ---------------------------------------- I do, but mainly from a standpoint in being interested in human psychology. I also wonder from a standpoint of hoping that terminal goals aren't arbitrary and that they have an actual reason for choosing what they choose, but I've never found their reas
Okay, I guess I should have known some terminology correction was coming. If you want to define "happiness" as the preferred mind-state, no worries. I'll just say the preferred mind-state of happiness is the harmony of our innate desire for pleasure and our innate desire for altruism, two desires that often overlap but occasionally compete. Do you agree that altruism deserves exactly the same sort of special recognition as an ultimate motivator that pleasure does? If so, your guess that we might not have disagreed about anything real was right. Okay...most people want some vacation, but not full-time vacation, even though full-time vacation would bring us a LOT of pleasure. Doing good for the world is not as efficient at maximizing personal pleasure as going on vacation is. An individual must strike a balance between his desire for pleasure and his desire to be altruistic to achieve Harmonious Happiness (Look, I made up a term with capital letters! LW is rubbing off on me!) Yay!!! I didn't think of a mother sacrificing herself for her kids like that, but I did think the most selfish, pleasure-driven individuals would quite probably be the most likely to end up in prison so their genes die out and less probably, but still possibly, they could also be the least likely to find spouses and have kids. I almost never get offended, much less about this. I appreciate the sympathy! But others could find it offensive in that they'd find it arrogant. My thoughts on arrogance are a little unconventional. Most people think it's arrogant to consider one person more gifted than others or one idea better than others. Some people really are more gifted and have far more positive qualities than others. Some ideas really are better. If you happen to be one of the more gifted people or understand one of the better ideas (evolution, in this case), and you recognize yourself as more gifted or recognize an idea as better, that's not arrogance. Not yet. That's just an honest perspective
0Adam Zerner
I agree that in most cases (sociopaths are an exception) pleasure and doing good for others are both things that determine how happy something makes you. And so in that sense, it doesn't seem that we disagree about anything real. But you use romantic sounding wording. Ex. "special recognition as an ultimate motivator". So they way motivation works is that it's "originally determined" by our genes, and "adjusted/added to" by our experiences. So I agree that altruism is one of our "original/natural motivators". But I wouldn't say that it's an ultimate motivator, because to me that sounds like it implies that there's something final and/or superseding about altruism as a motivator, and I don't think that's true. I'm going to say my original thought, and then I'm going to say how I have since decided that it's partially wrong of me. My original thought is that "there's no such thing as a special motivator". We could be conditioned to want anything. Ie. to be motivated to do anything. The way I see it, the inputs are our genes and our experiences, and the output is the resulting motivation, and I don't see how one output could be more special than another. But that's just me failing to use the word special as is customary by a good amount of people. One use of the word special would mean that there's something inherently different about it, and it's that use that I argue against above. But another way people use it is just to mean that it's beautiful or something. Ie. even though altruism is an output like any other motivation, humans find that to be beautiful, and I think it's sensible to use the word special to describe that. This all may sound a lot like nitpicking, and it sort of is, but not really. I actually think there's a decent chance that clarifying what I mean by these words will bring us a lot closer to agreement. True, but that wasn't the point I was making. I was just using that as an example. Admittedly, one that isn't always true. I'm curious - wa
Yes, that's exactly what I meant to imply! Finally, I used the right words. Why don't you think it's true? I did just mean "inherently different" so we're clear here. I think what makes selfishness and goodness/altruism inherently different is that other psychological motivators, if you follow them back far enough, will lead people to act in a way that they either think will make them happy or that they think will make the world a happier place. Well, the idea of being completely selfish by nature goes so completely against my intuition, I didn't really suspect it (but I wouldn't have ruled it out entirely). The "Yay!!" was about there being evidence/logic to support my intuition being true. Prisons didn't exist, but enemies did, and totally selfish people probably have more enemies... so yeah, I understand :) No, you're right! Whenever someone says something and adds "no offense" I remark that there must be something wrong with me, because I never take offense at anything. I've used your exact explanation to talk about criticism. I would rather hear it than not, because there's a chance someone recognizes a bad tendency/belief that I haven't already recognized in myself. I always ask for negative feedback from people, there's no downside to it (unless you already suffer from depression, or something). In real life, the only time I feel offended/mildly annoyed by what someone flat-out claims I'm lying, like when my old teacher said he didn't believe me that I spent years earnestly praying for a stronger faith. But even as I was mildly annoyed, I understood his perspective completely because he either had to disbelieve me or disbelieve his entire understanding of the Bible and a God who answers prayer. Yeah, ditto all the way! It's entirely great :) I feel off the hook to go freely enjoy my life knowing it's extremely probable that somewhere else, people like you, people who are smarter than I am, will have the ambition to think through all the good ideas and b
0Adam Zerner
I think we've arrived at a core point here. See my other comment: Back to you: Oh, I see.
0Adam Zerner
The way I'm defining preference ratios: Preference ratio for person X = how much you care about yourself / how much you care about person X Or, more formally, how many units of utility person X would have to get before you'd be willing to sacrificing one unit of your own utility for him/her. So what does altruism mean? Does it mean "I don't need to gain any happiness in order for me to want to help you, but I don't know if I'd help you if it caused me unhappiness."? Or does it mean "I want to help you regardless of how it impacts my happiness. I'd go to hell if it meant you got one extra dollar." [When I was studying for some vocab test in middle school my cards were in alphabetical order at one point and I remember repeating a thousand times - "altruism: selfless concern for others. altruism: selfless concern for others. altruism: selfless concern for others...". That definition would imply the latter.] Let's take the former definition. In that case, you'd want person X to get one unit of utility even if you get nothing in return, so your preference ratio would be 0. But this doesn't necessarily work in reverse. Ie. in order to save person X from losing one unit of utility, you probably wouldn't sacrifice a bajillion units of your own utility. I very well might be confusing myself with the math here. Note: I've been trying to think about this but my approach is too simplistic and I've been countering it, but I'm having trouble articulating it. If you really want me to I could try, otherwise I don't think it's worth it. Sometimes I find math to be really obvious and useful, and sometimes I find it to be the exact opposite. This depends on the person, but I think that everyone experiences it to some extent. If the person is trying to maximize happiness, the question is just "how much happiness would a marginal 1k donation bring" vs. "how much happiness would a 1k vacation bring". The answers to these questions depend on the person. Sorry, I'm not sure what y
Yeah, this has gotten a little too tangled up in definitions. Let's try again, but from the same starting point. Happiness=preferred mind-state (similar, potentially interchangeable terms: satisfaction, pleasure) Goodness=what leads to a happier outcome for others (similar, potentially interchangeable terms: morality, altruism) I guess my whole idea is that goodness is kind of special. Most people seem born with it, to one extent or another. I think happiness and goodness are the two ultimate motivators. I even think they're the only two ultimate motivators. Or at least I can't think of any other supposed motivation that couldn't be traced back to one or both of these. Pursuing a virtue like loyalty will usually lead to happiness and goodness. But is it really the ultimate motivator, or was there another reason behind this choice, i.e. it makes the virtue ethicist happy and she believes it benefits society? I'm guessing that in certain situations, the author might even abandon the loyalty virtue if it conflicted with the underlying motivations of happiness and goodness. Thoughts? Edit: I guess I'm realizing the way you defined preference doesn't work for me either, and I should have said so in my other comment. I would say prefer simply means "tend to choose." You can prefer something that doesn't lead to the happiest mind-state, like a sacrificial death, or here's an imaginary example: You have to choose: Either you catch a minor cold, or a mother and child you will never meet will get into a car accident. The mother will have serious injuries, and her child will die. Your memory of having chosen will be erased immediately after you choose regardless of your choice, so neither guilt nor happiness will result. You'll either suddenly catch a cold, or not. Not only is choosing to catch a cold an inefficient happiness-maximizer like donating to effective charities, this time it will actually have a negative effect on your happiness mind-state. Can you still prefe
0Adam Zerner
In a way, I think this is true. Actually, I should give more credit to this idea - yeah, it's true in an important way. My quibble is that motivation is usually not rational. If it was, then I think you'd be right. But the way our brains produce motivation isn't rational. Sometimes we are motivated to do something... "just because". Ie. even if our brain knows that it won't lead to happiness or goodness, it could still produce motivation. And so in a very real sense, motivation itself is often something that can't really be traced back. But I try really hard to respond to what people's core points are, and what they probably meant. I'm not precisely sure what your core point is, but I sense that I agree with it. That's the strongest statement I could make. Unfortunately, I think my scientific background is actually harming me right now. We're talking about a lot of things that have very precise scientific meanings, and in some cases I think you're deviating from them a bit. Which really isn't too big a deal because I should be able to infer what you mean and progress the conversation, but I think I'm doing a pretty mediocre job of that. When I reflect, I find it difficult to deviate from the definitions I'm familiar with, which is sort of bad "conversational manners", because the only point of words in a conversation is to communicate ideas, and it'd probably be more efficient if I were better able to use other definitions. Haha, you seem to be confused about virtue ethics in a good way :) A true virtue ethicist would completely and fully believe that their virtue is inherently desirable, independent of anything and everything else. So a true virtue ethicist who values the virtue of loyalty wouldn't care whether the loyalty lead to happiness or goodness. Now, I think that consequentialism is a more sensible position, and I think you do too. And in the real world, virtue ethicists often have virtues that include happiness and goodness. And if they run into a co
Yay, agreement :) Great point. I actually had a similar thought and added the qualifier "psychological" in my previous comment. Maybe "rational" would be better. Maybe there are still physical motivators (addiction, inertia, etc?) but this describes the mental motivators? Does this align any better with your scientific understanding of terminology? And don't feel bad about it, I'm sure the benefits of studying science outweigh the cost of the occasional decrease in conversation efficiency :) Then I think very, very few virtue ethicists actually exist, and virtue ethicism is so abnormal it could almost qualify as a psychological disorder. Like the common ethics dilemma of exposing hidden Jews. If someone's virtue was "honesty" they would have to. (In the philosophy class I took, we resolved this dilemma by redefining "truth" and capitalizing; e.g. Timmy's father is a drunk. Someone asks Timmy if his father is a drunk. Timmy says no. Timmy told the Truth.) We whizzed through that boring old "correspondence theory" in ten seconds flat. I will accept any further sympathy you wish to express. Anyway, I think that any virtue besides happiness and goodness will have some loophole where 99% of people will abandon it if they run into a conflict between their chosen virtue and the deeper psychological motivations of happiness and goodness. Edit: A person with extremely low concern for goodness is a sociopath. The amount of concern someone has for goodness as a virtue vs. amount of concern for personal happiness determines how altruistic she is, and I will tentatively call this a psychological motivation ratio, kind of like a preference ratio. And some canceling occurs in this ratio because of overlap. Yes! I wish I could have articulated it that clearly for you myself. Instead of saying we "prefer" an optimal mind-state... you could say we "like" it the most, but that might conflict with your scientific definitions for likes and wants. But here's an idea, feel free to cr
0Adam Zerner
Hmmm, so the question I'm thinking about is, "what does it mean to say that a motivation is traced back to something". It seems to me that the answer to that involves terminal and instrumental values. Like if a person is motivated to do something, but is only motivated to do it to the extent that it leads to the persons terminal value, then it seems that you could say that this motivation can be traced back to that terminal value. And so now I'm trying to evaluate the claim that "motivations can always be traced back to happiness and goodness". This seems to be conditional on happiness and goodness being terminal goals for that person. But people could, and often do choose whatever terminal goals they want. For example, people have terminal goals like "self improvement" and "truth" and "be man" and "success". And so, I think that for a person with a terminal goal other than happiness and goodness, they will have motivations that can't be traced back to happiness or goodness. But I think that it's often the case that motivations can be traced back to happiness and goodness. Hopefully that means something. Wait... so the Timmy example was used to argue against correspondence theory? Ouch. Perhaps. Truth might be an exception for some people. Ex. some people may choose to pursue the truth even if it's guaranteed to lead to decreases in happiness and goodness. And success might also be an exception for some people. They also may choose to pursue success even if it's guaranteed to lead to decreases in happiness and goodness. But this becomes a question of some sort of social science rather than of philosophy. I like the concept! I propose that you call it an altruism ratio as opposed to a psychological motivation ratio because I think the former is less likely to confuse people. Eh, I think that this would conflict with the way people use the word "like" in a similar way to the problems I ran into with "preference". For example, it makes sense to say that you like
I had just reached the same conclusion myself! So I think that yeah, happiness and goodness are the only terminal values, for the vast majority of the thinking population :) Note: I really don't like the term "happiness" to describe the optimal mind-state since I connect it too strongly with "pleasure" so maybe "satisfaction" would be better. I think of satisfaction as including both feelings of pleasure and feelings of fulfillment. What do you think? I think that all these are really just instrumental goals that people subconsciously, and perhaps mistakenly, believe will lead them to their real terminal goals of greater personal satisfaction and/or an increase in the world's satisfaction. It was an example of whatever convoluted theory my professor invented as a replacement for correspondence theory. Exactly. I think people like the ones you mention are quite rare. Ok, thanks :) What if language isn't the problem? Maybe the connection between mind-states and actions isn't so clear-cut after all. If you like mind-state A more than mind-state B, then action A is mind-state-optimizing, but I'm not sure you can go much farther than that... because goodness.
0Adam Zerner
:) I haven't found a term that I really like. Utility is my favorite though. Idk, I want to agree with you but I sense that it's more like 95% of the population. I know just the 2 people to ask though. My two friends are huge proponents of things like "give it your all" and "be a man". Also, what about religious people? Aren't there things they value independent of happiness and goodness? And if so wouldn't their motivations reflect that? Edit: Friend 1 says it's ultimately about avoiding feeling bad about himself, which I classify as him wanting to optimize his mind-state. Friend 2 couldn't answer my questions and said his decisions aren't that calculated. Not too useful after all. I was hoping that they'd be more insightful. Oooooo I like that term! It seems clear-cut to me. An action leads to one state of the world, and in that state of the world you have one mind-state. Can you elaborate? Not sure what you mean by that either.
Yeah, ask those friends if in a situation where "giving it their all" and "being men" made them less happy and made the world a worse place, whether they would still stick with their philosophies. And if they genuinely can't imagine a situation where they would feel less satisfied after "giving it their all," then I would postulate that as they're consciously pursuing these virtues, they're subconsciously pursuing personal satisfaction. (Edit: Just read a little further, that you already have their responses. Yeah, not too insightful, maybe I'll develop this idea a bit more and ask the rest of the LW community what they think.) (Edit #2: Thought about this a little more, and I have a question you might be able to answer. Is the subconscious considered psychological or physical?) As for religious people...well, in the case of Christianity, people would probably just want to "become Christ-like" which, for them, overlaps really well with personal satisfaction and helping others. But in extreme cases, someone might truly aspire to "become obedient to X" in which case obedience could be the terminal value, even if the person doesn't think obedience will make them happy or make the world a better place. But I think that such ultra-religiosity is rare, and that most people are still ultimately psychologically motivated to either do what they think will make them happy, or what they think will make the world a better place. I feel like this is related to Belief in Belief but I can't quite articulate the connection. Maybe you'll understand, if not, I'll try harder to verbalize it. No, if that's all you're saying, that "If you like mind-state A more than mind-state B, then action A is mind-state-optimizing" then I completely agree! For some reason, I read your sentence ("But I'm not sure that it makes sense to say that you necessarily like action A more than action B, given the way people use the term "like") and thought you were trying to say they necessarily like action
How about this answer: "If that makes me less happy and makes the world a worse place, the world would be decidedly weird in a lot of fundamental and ubiquitous ways. I am unable to comprehend what such a weird world would be like in enough detail to make meaningful statements about what I would do in it."
Let's just focus on "giving it your all." What is "it"?? You surely can't give everything your all. How do you choose which goals to pursue? "Giving it your all" is a bit abstract.
0Adam Zerner
That's exactly what I asked them. The first one took a little prodding but eventually gave a somewhat passable answer. And he's one of the smartest people I've ever met. The second one just refused to address the question. He said he wouldn't approach it that way and that his decisions aren't that calculated. I don't know how you want to explain it, but for pretty much every person I've ever met or read, sooner or later they seem to just flinch away from the truth. You seem to be particularly good at not doing that - I don't think you've demonstrated any flinching yet. And see what I mean about how the ability to not flinch is often the limiting factor? In this case, the question wasn't really difficult in an intellectual way at all. It just requires you to make a legitimate effort to accept the truth. The truth is often uncomfortable to people, and thus they flinch away, don't accept it, and fail to make progress. I could definitely answer that! This really gets at the core of the map vs. the territory (maybe my favorite topic :) ). The physical/psychological distinction are just two maps we use to describe reality. In reality itself, the territory, there's no such thing as physical/psychological. If you look at the properties of individual atoms, they don't have any sort of property that says "I'm a physical atom" or "I'm a psychological atom". They only have properties like mass and electric charge (as far as we know). I'm not sure how much you know about science, but I find the physics-chemistry-biology spectrum to be a good demonstration of the different levels of maps. Physics tries to model reality as precisely as possible (well, some types of physics that is; others aim to make approximations). Chemistry approximates reality using the equations of physics. Biology approximates reality using the equations of chemistry. And you could even add psychology in there and say that it approximates reality using the ideas (not even equations) of biology. As far a
Well, thanks! How does that saying go? What is true is already so? Although in the context of this conversation, I can't say there's anything inherently wrong with flinching; it could help fulfill someone's terminal value of happiness. It someone doesn't feel dissatisfied with himself and his lack of progress, what rational reason is there for him to pursue the truth? Obviously, I would prefer to live in a world where relentlessly pursuing the truth led everyone to their optimal mind-states, but in reality this probably isn't the case. I think "truth" is just another instrumental goal (it's definitely one of mine) that leads to both happiness and goodness. Yeah! I think I first typed the question as "is it physical or psychological?" and then caught myself and rephrased, adding the word "considered" :) I just wanted to make sure I'm not using scientific terms with accepted definitions that I'm unaware of. Thanks for your answer!! You are really good at explaining stuff. I think the "cognitive psychology" is related to what I just read about last week in the ebook too, about neural networks, the two different brain map models, and the bleggs and rubes. I don't know your religious background, but if you don't have one, that's really impressive, given that you haven't actually experienced much belief-in-belief since Santa (if you ever did). But yeah, basically, this sentences summarizes perfectly: Any time a Christian does anything but pray for others, do faith-strengthening activities, spread the gospel, or earn money to donate to missionaries, he is anticipating as if God/hell doesn't exist. I realized this, and sometimes tried to convince myself and others that we were acting wrongly by not being more devout. I couldn't shake the notion that spending time having fun instead of praying or sharing the gospel was somehow wrong because it went against God's will of wanting all men being saved, and I believed God's will, by definition, was right. But I still acted in
1Adam Zerner I agree with you that there's nothing inherently wrong with it, but I don't think this is a case of someone making a conscious decision to pursue their terminal goals. I think it's a case of "I'm just going to follow my impulse without thinking". Haha thanks. I can't remember ever believing in belief, but studying this rationality stuff actually teaches you a lot about how other people think. I was raised Jewish, but people around me were about as not religious as it gets. I think it's called Reform Judiasm. In practice it just means, "go to Hebrew school, have a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, celebrate like 3-4 holidays a year and believe whatever you want without being a blatant atheist". I'm 22 years old and I genuinely can't remember the last time I believed in any of it through. I had my Bar Mitzvah when I was 13 and I remember not wanting to do it and thinking that it's all BS. Actually I think I remember being in Hebrew school one time when we were being taught about God and I at the time believed in God, and I was curious how they knew that God existed and I asked, and they basically just said, "we just know", and I remember being annoyed by that answer. And now I'm remembering being confused because I wanted to know what God really was, and some people told me he was human-like and had form, and some people just told me he was invisible. I will say that I thoroughly enjoy Jewish humor though, and I thank the Jews very much for that :). Jews love making fun of their Jewish mannerisms, and it's all in good fun. Even things that might seem mean are taken in good spirit. Hey, um... I have a question. I'm not sure if you're comfortable talking about it though. Please feel free to not answer. It sounds really stressful believing that stuff. Like it seems that even people with the strongest faith spend some time deviating from those instructions and do things like have fun or pursue their personal interests. And then you'd
Few people make that many conscious decisions! But it could be a subconscious decision that still fulfills the goal. For my little sister, this kind of thing actually is a conscious decision. Last Christmas break when I first realized that unlike almost all of my close friends and family in Wisconsin, I didn't like our governor all that much, she eventually cut me off, saying, "Dad and I aren't like you, Ellen. We don't like thinking about difficult issues." Honesty, self-awareness, and consciously-selected ugh fields run in the family, I guess. That's funny. I just met someone like you, probably also a Reform Jew, who told me some jokes and about all these Jewish stereotypes that I had never even heard of, and they seem to fit pretty well. It's exactly like that, just multiplied times infinity (adjusted for scope insensitivity) because hell is eternal. Yeah, hell is basically what led me away from Christianity. If you're really curious, how convenient, I wrote about it here to explain myself to my Christian friends. You'll probably find it interesting. You can see how recent this is for me and imagine what a perfect resource the rationality book has been. I just wish I had discovered it just a few weeks earlier, when I was in the middle of dozens of religious discussions with people, but I think I did an okay job explaining myself and talking about biases I had recognized in myself but didn't even know were considered "biases" like not giving much weight to evidence that opposes your preferred belief (label: confirmation bias) and the tendency to believe what people around you believe (label: I forget, but at least I now know it has one) and many more. But how did I survive, believing in hell? Well, there's this wonderful book of the Bible called Ecclesiastes that seems to mostly contradict the rest of Christian teachings. Most people find it depressing. Personally, I loved it and read it every week to comfort myself. I still like it, actually. It's short, you
2Adam Zerner
Indeed. True. In the case of my friend, I don't think it was, but in cases where it is, then I think that it could be a perfectly sensible approach (depending on the situation). This was the relevant part of the conversation: It's possible that he had legitimately decided earlier to not put that much calculation into these sorts of decisions, because he thinks that this strategy will best lead to his terminal goals of happiness or goodness or whatever. But this situation actually didn't involve any calculation at all. The calculations were done for him already - he just had to choose between the results. To me it seems more likely that he a) is not at all used to making cost-benefit analyses and makes his decisions by listening to his impressions of how virtuous things seem. And b) in situations of choosing between options that both produce unpleasant feelings of unvirtuousness, he flinches away from the reality of the (hypothetical) situation. I should mention that I think that >99% of people are quite quite stupid. Most people don't seem very agenty to me, given the way I define it. Most people seem to not put much thought behind the overwhelming majority of what they do and think and instead just respond to their immediate feelings and rationalize it afterwards. Most people don't seem to have the open-mindedness to give consideration to ideas that go against their impulses (this isn't to say that these impulses are useless), nor the strength to admit hard truths and choose an option in a lose-lose scenario. Really, I don't know how to word my thoughts very well on this topic. Eliezer addresses a lot of the mistakes people make in his articles. It'd take some time for me to really write up my thoughts on this. And I know that it makes me sound like a Bad Person for thinking that >99% people are really stupid, but unfortunate truths have to be dealt with. The following isn't a particularly good argument, but perhaps it's an intuitive one: consider how we thin
So a possible distinction between virtue ethicists and consequentialists: virtue ethicists pursue their terminal values of happiness and goodness subconsciously, while consequentialists pursue the same terminal values consciously... as a general rule? And so the consequentialists seem more agenty because they put more thought into their decisions? Yeah, that's what I was trying to get across, and it's why I titled the post "Do You Feel Selfish for Liking What You Believe"! I hesitated to include the analogy since it was the only part with the potential to offend people (two people accused me of mocking God) and taint their thoughts about the rest of the post, but in the end I left it, partly as a hopefully thought-provoking interlude between the more theological sections and mostly so I could give my page a more fun title than Deconversion Story Blog #59845374987. The happiness set point theory makes sense! Actually, it makes a lot of sense, and I think it's connected to the idea that most people do not act in agenty ways! If they did, I think they could increase their happiness. Personally, I don't find that it applies to me much at all. My happiness has steadily risen throughout my life. I am happier now than ever before. I am now dubbing myself a super-agent. I think the key to happiness is to weed not only the bad stuff out of your life, but the neutral stuff as well. Let me share some examples: 1. I got a huge scholarship after high school to pursue a career in the medicine field (I never expected to love my career, but that wasn't the goal; I wanted to fund lots of missionaries). I was good at my science classes, and I didn't dislike them, but I didn't like them either. I realized this after my first year of college. I acknowledged the sunk cost fallacy, cut my losses, wrote a long, friendly letter to the benefactor to assuage my guilt, and decided to pursue another easy high-income career instead, law, which would allow me to major in anything I wanted. S
2Adam Zerner
[mind officially blown] Ok, could we like Skype or something and you tell me everything you know about being happy and all of your experiences? I have a lot to learn and I enjoy hearing your stories! Also, idk if you've come across this yet but what you're doing is something that us lesswrongers like to call WINNING. Which is something that lesswrongers actually seem to struggle with quite a bit. There's a handful of posts on it if you google. Anyway, not only are you killing it, but you seem to be doing it on purpose rather than just getting lucky. This amount of success with this amount of intentionality just must be analyzed. You sound like you are somewhat intimidated by the people here and that they all seem super smart and everything. Don't be. Your ability to legitimately analyze things and steer your life in the direction you want it is way more rare than you'd guess. You should seriously write about your ideas and experiences here for everyone to benefit from. Or maybe you shouldn't. Idk. You probably already know this, but never just listen to me or what someone else tells you (obviously). My point really is that I sense that others could legitimately benefit from your stories - idk if you judge that writing about it is the best thing for you to be doing though. Sorry if I'm being weird. Idk. Anyway, here are the beginnings of a lot of questions I have: * Your idea to avoid not only negative things but also neutral things sounded pretty good at first, and then made a lot more sense when I heard your examples. I started thinking about my own life and the choices I've made and am starting to see that your approach probably would have made me better off. But... I can't help but point out that it can't always be true. Sometimes the upfront costs of mediocrity must be worth the longer term benefits right? But it seems like a great rule-of-thumb. Why? What makes a good rule-of-thumb? Well, my impression is that aside from being mostly right, it's about be
Hahaha, reading such fanmail just increased my happiness even more :) Sure, we can skype sometime. I'm going to wrap up my thoughts on terminal values first and then I'll respond more thoroughly to all this, and maybe you can help me articulate some ideas that would be useful to share! In the meantime, this reminded me of another little happiness tip I could share. So I don't know if you've heard of the five "love languages" but they are words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, gifts, and physical touch. Everyone gives and receives in different ways. For example, I like receiving words of affirmation, and I like giving quality time. My mom likes receiving in physical touch, and giving in acts of service. The family I nanny for (in general) likes receiving in quality time and giving in gifts (like my new kindle which they gave me just in time to get the rationality ebook!) For people that you spend a lot of time with-family, partner, best friends, boss, co-workers-this can be worthwhile to casually bring up in conversation. Now when people know words of affirmation make me happy, they'll be more likely to let me know when they think of something good about me or appreciate something I do. If I know the family I nanny for values quality time, I might sit around the table and chat with them an extra hour even though I'm itching to go read more of the rationality book. I know my mom values physical touch, so I hug her a lot and stuff even though I'm not generally super touchy. Happiness all around, although these decisions do get to be habits pretty quickly and don't require much conscious effort :)
0Adam Zerner
Ok, take your time. And sorry for continuing to bombard you. Happily! Interesting. I'll ask more about this in the future when you're ready.
2[anonymous] Just submitted my first article! I really should have asked you to edit it... if you have any suggestions of stuff/wording to change, let me know, quick! Anyway, I'll go reply to your happiness questions now :)
2Adam Zerner
First very quick glance, there's some things I would change. I'll try to offer my thoughts quickly. Edit: LW really need a better way of collaboration. Ex. One of the things I want to do is revamp this website. Helping rational people interact and pursue things seems to be relatively high impact. Hey, no rush. It's a big topic and I don't want to overwhelm you (or me!) by jumping around so much. Was there anything else you wanted to finish up first? Do you want to take a break from this intense conversation? I really don't want to put any pressure on you.
Thanks so much!! Ok, yeah, let's take a little break! I'm actually about to go on a road trip to the Grand Canyon, and should really start thinking about the trip and get together some good playlists/podcasts to listen to on the drive. I'll be back on Tuesday though and will be ready jump back into the conversation :)
0Adam Zerner
Awesome! Ok, whatever works for you.
Also: I learned something new and seemingly relevant to this discussion listening to a podcast on the way home from the Grand Canyon: Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which as knowledgeable as you seem, you're probably already familiar with. Anyway, I think I've been doing just fine on the bottom four my whole life. But here's the fifth one: Self-Actualization needs - realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences. So it seems like I'm working backwards on this self-actualization list now. I've had tons of super cool peak experiences already. Now, for the first time, I'm kind of interested in personal growth, too. On the page I linked, it talked about characteristics of self-actualizers and behavior of self-actualizers... I think it all describes me already, except for "taking responsibility and working hard" and maybe I should just trust this psychology research and assume that if I become ambitious about something, it will actually make me even happier. What do you think? Have you learned much psychology? How relevant is this to rationality and intentionally making "winning" choices?
0Adam Zerner
:) I remember reading about it for the first time in the parking lot when I was waiting for my Mom to finish up at the butcher. (I remember the place I was at when I learned a lot of things) Psychology is very interesting to me and I know a pretty good amount about it. As far as things I'm knowledgeable about, I know a decent amount about: rationality, web development, startups, neuroscience and psychology (and basketball!). And I know a little bit about economics, science in general, philosophy, and maybe business. Interesting. I actually figured that you were good with the top one too. For now, I'll just say that I see it as more of a multiplier than a hole to be filled up. Ie. someone with neutral self-actualization would mostly be fine - you multiply zero (neutral) by BigNumber. Contrast this with a hole-to-be-filled-up view, where you're as fulfilled as the hole is full. (Note that I just made this up; these aren't actual models, as far as I know). Anyway, in the multiplier view, neutral is much much better than negative, because the negative is multiplied by BigNumber. So please be careful!
Hi again :) I'm back from vacation and ready to continue our happiness discussion! I'm not sure how useful this will be since happiness is so subjective, but I'm more than willing to be analyzed as a case study, it sounds fun! Oh, I still am! I wouldn't trade my ability to make happiness-boosting choices for all their scientific and historical knowledge, but that doesn't mean I'm not humbled and impressed by it. Now for your bullet points... * Avoiding neutralness isn't actually a rule of thumb I've consciously followed or anything. It just seemed like a good way to summarize the examples I thought of of acting to increase my happiness. It does seem like a useful rule of thumb though, and I'm psyched that you think it could help you/others to be happier :) I might even consciously follow it myself from now on. But you ask whether the upfront costs of avoiding mediocrity are sometimes worth the long term benefits... you may well be right, but I can't come up with any examples off the top of my head. Can you? * I don't have any clear strategies for choosing between short-term vs. long-term happiness. I think my general tendency is to favor short-term happiness, kind of a "live in the moment" approach to life. Obviously, this can't be taken too far, or we'll just sit around eating ice cream all day. Maybe a good rule of thumb - increase your short-term happiness as much as possible without doing anything that would have clear negative affects on your long-term happiness? Do things that make you happy in the short-term iff you think there's a very low probability you'll regret them? I think in general people place too much emphasis on the long-term. Like me choosing to change my major. If I ultimately were going to end up in a career I didn't love, and I had already accepted that, what difference did it make what I majored in? In the long term, no predictable difference. But in the short-term, those last 2 years would quite possibly account for over 2% of my life. W
2Adam Zerner
I think that's "true" in practice, but not in theory. An important distinction to make. Definitely. The problem is that I'm not completely sure :/. I think a lot of it falls under the category of being attached to their beliefs though. Here's an example: I was just at lunch with a fellow programmer. He said that "the more programmers you put on a project the better", and he meant it as an absolute rule. I pointed out the incredibly obvious point that it depends on the trade off between how much they cost and how much profit they bring in. He didn't want to believe that he was wrong, and so he didn't actually give consideration to what I was saying, and he continues to believe that "the more programmers you put on a project the better". This is an extreme case, but I think that analogous things happen all the time. The way I think about it, knowledge and aptitude don't even really come in to play, because close-mindedness limits you so much earlier on than knowledge and aptitude do. "Not stupid" is probably a better term than "smart". To me, in order to be "not stupid", you just have to be open-minded enough to give things an honest consideration and not stubbornly stick to what you originally believe no matter what. In short, I think I'd say that, to me, it's mostly about just giving an honest effort (which is a lot harder than it sounds). What are your objectives with this blog? To convince people? Because you like writing? Edit: idea - maybe your way of having an impact on the world is to just keep living your awesome and happy life and lead by example. Maybe you could blog about it too. Idk. But I think that just seeing examples of people like you is inspiring, and could really have a pretty big impact. It's inspired me.
Haha, what?? Interesting. Aha, so basically, to you, stupidity involves a lot of flinching away from ideas or evidence that contradict someone's preconceived notions about the world. And lack of effort at overcoming bias. Yeah, most people are like that, even lots of people with high IQ's and phd's. I think you're defining "stupid" as "irrational thinking + ugh fields" which was what I originally thought you meant until I read your example about past vs. present. Why do you think we'll be less stupid in the future then? Just optimism, or is this connected to your thoughts on AI? In the case of the only three posts I've done, they were just to defend myself, encourage anyone else who was going through similar doubts, and stir up some cognitive dissonance. I do like writing though (not so much writing itself, I have a hard time choosing the right words... but I love sharing ideas) and maybe I will soon blog about how rationality can improve happiness :) :) I actually am just about to write a "Terminal Virtues" post and share my first idea on LW. And then I want to write something with far more practical value, a guide to communicating effectively and getting along well with less rational people :) Aw, well thanks! I am enjoying this conversation immensely, partly because I've never talked to someone else who was so strategic, analytic, and open-minded before, and knowledgeable, and I really appreciate those qualities. And partly because I feel like even the occasional people who think I'm awesome don't appreciate me for quite the same reason I've always "appreciated" myself, which I always thought was "because I'm pretty good at thinking" which I can now call "rationality" :)
2Adam Zerner
In practice, it seems to me that a lot of virtue ethicists value happiness and goodness a lot. But in theory, there's nothing about being a virtue ethicist that says anything about what the virtues themselves are. But I'm realizing that my incredibly literal way of thinking about this may not be that useful and that the things you're paying attention to may be more useful. But at the same time, being literal and precise is often really important. I think that in this case both we could do both, and as a team we have :) Exactly. Another possibly good way to put it. People who are smart in the traditional way (high IQ, PhD...) have their smartness limited very much to certain domains. Ie. there might be a brilliant mathematician who has proved incredibly difficult theorems, but just doesn't have the strength to admit that certain basic things are true. I see a lot of traditionally smart people act very stupidly in certain domains. To me, I judge people at their worst when it comes to "not stupidness", which is why I have perhaps extreme views. Idk, it makes sense to me. There's something to be said for the ability to not stoop to a really low level. Maybe that's a good way to put it - I judge people based on the lowness they're capable of stooping to. (Man, I'm loosing track of how many important things I've come across in talking to you.) And similarly with morality - I very much judge people by how they act when it's difficult to be nice. I hate when people meet someone new and conclude that they're "so nice" just because they acted socially appropriate by making small talk and being polite. Try seeing how that person acts when they're frustrated and are protected by the anonymity of being in a car. The difference between people at their best and their worst is huge. This clip explains exactly what I mean better than I could. (I love some of the IMO great comedians like Louis CK, Larry David and Seinfeld. I think they make a handful of legitimately insightful poi
I've tried to clarify my thoughts a bit: Terminal values are ends-in-themselves. They are psychological motivators, reasons that explain decisions. (Physical motivators like addiction and inertia can also explain our decisions, but a rational person might wish to overcome them.) For most people, the only true terminal values are happiness and goodness. There is almost always significant overlap between the two. Someone who truly has a terminal value that can't be traced back to happiness or goodness in some way is either (a) ultra-religious or (b) a special case for the social sciences. Happiness ("likes") refers to the optimalness of your mind-state. Hedonistic pleasure and personal fulfillment are examples of things that contribute to happiness. Goodness refers to what leads to a happier outcome for others. Preferences ("wants") are what we tend to choose. These can be based on psychological or physical motivators. Instrumental values are goals or virtues that we think will best satisfy the terminal values of happiness and goodness. We are not always aware of what actually leads to optimal mind-states in ourselves and others.
0Adam Zerner
Sounds good to me! Given the way you've defined things. Edit: So what do you conclude about morality from this?
Good question. I conclude that morality (which, as far as I can tell, seems like the same thing as goodness and altruism) does exist, that our desire to be moral is the result of evolution (thanks for your scientific backup) just as much as our selfish desires are results of evolution. Whatever you call happiness, goodness falls into the same category. I think that some people are mystified when they make decisions that inefficiently optimize their happiness (like all those examples we talked about), but they shouldn't be. Goodness is a terminal value too. Also, morality is relative. How moral you are can be measured by some kind of altruism ratio that compares your terminal values of happiness and goodness. Someone can be "more moral" than others in the sense that he would be motivated more by goodness/altruism than he is by his own personal satisfaction, relative to them. Is there any value in this idea? No practical value, except whatever personal satisfaction value an individual assigns to clarity. I wouldn't even call the idea a conclusion as much as a way to describe the things I understand in a slightly more clear way. I still don't particularly like ends-in-themselves. Reduction time: Why should I pursue clarity or donate to effective charities that are sub-optimal happiness-maximizers? Because those are instrumental values. Why should I pursue these instrumental values? Because they lead to happiness and goodness. Why should I pursue happiness and goodness? Because they're terminal values. Why should I pursue these terminal values? Wrong question. Terminal values, by definition, are ends-in-themselves. So here the real question is not why should I, but rather, why do I pursue them? It's because the alien-god of evolution gave us emotions that make us want to be happy and good... Why did the alien-god give us emotions? The alien-god does not act rationally. There is no "why." The origin of emotion is the result of random chance. We can explain o
0Adam Zerner
I pretty much agree. But I have one quibble that I think is worth mentioning. Someone else could just say, "No, that's not what morality is. True morality is...". Actually, let me give you a chance to respond to that before elaborating. How would you respond to someone who says this? Very very well put. Much respect and applause. One very small comment though: I see where you're coming from with this. If someone else heard this out of context they'd think, "No... emotion originates from evolutionary pressure". But then you'd say, "Yeah, but where do the evolutionary pressures come from". The other person would say, "Uh, ultimately the big bang I guess." And you seem to be saying, "exactly, and that's the result of random chance". Some math-y/physicist-y person might argue with you here about the big bang being random. I think you could provide a very valid bayesian counter argument saying that probability is in the mind, and that no one has a clue how the big bang/origin came to be, and so to anyone and everyone in this world, it is random.
Thanks :) Yeah, I have no clue what evolutionary pressure means, or what the big-bang is, or any of that science stuff yet. sigh I really don't enjoy reading hard science all that much, but I enjoy ignorance even less, so I'll probably try to educate myself more about that stuff soon after I finish the rationality book.
0Adam Zerner
Ok, that's perfectly fair. My honest opinion is that it really isn't very practical and if it doesn't interest you, it probably isn't worth it. The value of it is really just if you're curious about the nature of reality on a fundamental level. But as far as what's practical, I think it's skills like breaking things down like a reductionist, open mindedness, knowledge of what biases we're prone to etc.
Yeah, I guess one person has only so much time... at least for now... I am curious, but maybe not quite enough to justify the immense amount of time and effort it would take me to thoroughly understand.
Example case: True morality is following God's will? Basically everyone who says this believes "God wants what's best for us, even when we don't understand it." Their understanding of God's will and their intuitive idea of what's best for people rarely conflict though. But here's an extreme example of when it could: Let's say someone strongly believes (even in belief) in God, and for some reason thinks that God wants him to sacrifice his child. This action would go against his (unrecognized) terminal value of goodness, but he could still do it, subconsciously satisfying his (unrecognized) terminal value of personal happiness. He takes comfort in his belief in God and heaven. He takes comfort in his community. To not sacrifice the child would be to deny God and lose that comfort. These thoughts obviously don't happen on a conscious level, but they could be intuitions? Idk, feel free to throw more "true morality is..." scenarios at me...
0Adam Zerner
What if it does conflict? Does that then change what morality is? And to play devils advocate, suppose the person says, "I don't care what you say, true morality is following God's will no matter what the effect is on goodness or happiness." Hint: they're not wrong. I hope I'm not being annoying. I could just make my point if you want.
But it seems like morality is just a word people use to describe how they think they should act! People think they should act in all sorts of ways, but it seems to me like they're subconsciously acting to achieve happiness and/or goodness. As for your quote... such a person would be very rare, because almost anyone who defines morality as God's will believes that God's will is good for humanity, even if she doesn't understand why. This belief, and acting in accordance with it, brings her happiness in the form of security. I don't think anyone says to herself "God has an evil will, but I will serve him anyway." Do you?
0Adam Zerner
It often is. My point is that morality is just a word, and that it unfortunately doesn't have a well agreed upon meaning. And so someone could always just say "but I define it this way". And so to ask what morality is is really just asking how you define it. On the other hand, asking what someone's altruism or preference ratios are is a concrete question. You seem to be making the point that in practice, peoples definitions of morality usually can be traced back to happiness or goodness, even if they don't know or admit it. I sense that you're right. I doubt that there are many people who think that God has an evil will. But I could imagine that there are people who think that "even if I knew that God's will was evil, following it would still be the right thing to do."
Sure. But any definition of "right" that gives that result is more or less baked into in the definition of "God's will" (e.g. "God's will is, by definition, right!"), and it's not the sort of "right" I care about.
1Adam Zerner
I think that's what it often comes down to.
Yay, I got your point. Morality is definitely a more ambiguous term. You've helped me realize I shouldn't use it synonymously with goodness. Yes, my point exactly. I am trying really hard to imagine these people, and I can't do it. Even if God's will includes "justice" and killing anyone who doesn't believe, even if it's a baby whose only defect is "original sin," people will still say that this "just" will of God's is moral and right.
0Adam Zerner
Hmm. Well you know a ton more about this than me so I believe you.
The way I'm (operationally) defining Preferences and words like happy/utility, Preferences are by definition what provides us what the most happiness/utility. Consider this thought experiment: So the way I'm defining Preferences, it refers to how desirable a certain mind-state is relative to other possible mind-states. Now think about consequentialism and how stuff leads to certain consequences. Part of the consequences is the mind-state it produces for you. Say that: * Action 1 -> mind-state A * Aciton 2 -> mind-state B Now remember mind-states could be ranked according to how preferable they are, like in the thought experiment. Suppose that mind-state A is preferable to mind-state B. From this, it seems to me that the following conclusion is unavoidable: In other words, Action 1 leads you to a state of mind that you prefer over the state of mind that Action 2 leads you to. I don't see any ways around saying that. To make it more concrete, let's say that Action 1 is "going on vacation" and Action 2 is "giving to charity". * IF going on vacation produces mind-state A. * IF giving to charity produces mind-state B. * IF mind-state A is preferable to mind-state B. * THEN going on vacation leads you to a mind-state that is preferable to the one that giving to charity leads you to. I call this "preferable", but in this case words and semantics might just be distracting. As long as you agree that "going on vacation leads you to a mind-state that is preferable to the one that giving to charity leads you to" when the first three bullet points are true, I don't think we disagree about anything real, and that we might just be using different words for stuff. Thoughts? ---------------------------------------- I do, but mainly from a standpoint in being interested in human psychology. I also wonder from a standpoint of hoping that terminal goals aren't arbitrary and that they have an actual reason for choosing what they choose, but I've never found their reas
Also, I thought your posts were well-written, so if you recommend any others, I will read them :)
0Adam Zerner
Interesting, thanks for the feedback. I hope you're being honest. I have a bit of a hard time judging the quality of my own writing.

Some of your examples seem to boil down to "it's possible to convince other people to support you, while providing nothing much in return". If rejecting such lifestyle options is a "Protestant ethic", then color me Protestant.

Other examples you provide are more like "if you aren't picky about the lifestyle you want, or where to live, then you can support yourself on less". Fair enough. Most people are more picky than that. For example, I like indoor plumbing, and can think of very little that I would be interesting in spending... (read more)

I was raised to have a job and a career. It was not a matter of religion or capitalism, it was just "all people work" and "you'll go to the best high school, best university and then have a career". My parents worked. My grandparents worked. I was raised more by nurseries, kindergartens and schools than by my family, so "everybody earns money at a job" is the default for me.

Yet, partly by chance, partly by laziness, partly through feeling of insecurity I never got a job. I studied, got married, had a kid, studied some more, ha... (read more)

That is about what my wife did. The difference being that we planned it that way from the beginning. Esp. if you have more than two children, a large extended family and a house one being the 'family manager' and one the high income provider is much more efficient than two work half and half due to the concave income per effort curves (same as with physics: a mix of air of two different temperatures cannot hold the same amount of water as the air prior to mixing: mist/fog). I don't know why people don't get this. Must be some misunderstanding of the principle of equality. Sure it is important to make sure that no dependency arrises from the power of income. But with children the primary child care giver at least has a legal or moral lever - but see
My experience was two parents as high income providers and state facilities as children carers. The same plan was my default. This made me easily realize the lack of parents-related memories and how I did not want the same for my kids. If I was faced with a default "both parents are healf-heartedly working and raising children", full time homemaking would have been a much more difficult choice. From a more philosophical point of view, I blame second wave of feminism for this situation and hope the third one will help women sort carrier and family balance out. FYI: grossly simplyfying things, the second wave of feminism, in the '60s and '70s, promoted the image of women being able to do (and work) the same things as men did, depreciating in fact stereotypical (natural?) female roles. The third wave (since the '90s) is supposed to bring the message that women can do whatever they choose - be it manly work or womanly homemaking and caring for their appearance - unlike tomboyish stereotypical feminists.
This third wave (which I don't see be really there at least here in Germany) will not be complete before the tasks associated with traditional females roles will be valued as highly as they should. Raising, parenting and educating children for modern society is demanding. Only some countries honor the traditional occupations of child care worker, nursery-school teacher and elementary school teacher as high as they should (Japan for example). Same for the caregiver occupations. I once proposed a quota of the number of men in these occupations. To reach these quotas the salary might be raised to incentivise more men to enter into these professions (which in many cases benefits the cared for people by providing more social variaty). Once the quota is reached these jobs should be valued sufficiently highly to drop the quota.
This quota idea is a really interesting one. I like how it uses side effects (more men lured by higher pay) to get to the real goal (higher status of job). This should be done more often! Right now know only 2 men working as kindergarten teachers (or, more specifially, one of them is working and I lost contact with the other one when he entered the job market), and it makes even me uneasy to see the first one at my son's kindergarten. On one hand I feel "yay for equality" but on the other hand I can't stop thinking "what's wrong with this guy?"

Every time the topic of blind people seeking employment comes up in relevant fora, the Brits express similar sentiments to diegocaleiro: "soul-sucking work for money/status you won't ever have time to spend? Why?"

In the US, SSI for a disabled individual living alone is a little over $700, but one is not allowed to possess more than $2000 in resources at any given time (residence and a single vehicle for transportation are not counted as resources). All of that is the best case, of course; fail to properly report anything, wind up with $2k in your... (read more)


I want to have a job because I want to know that I'll have access to (healthy) food and (pleasant) shelter, and I don't want to live with my parents for the rest of their life.

How can I be reasonably confident that I'll have those two things without having a job?

Edit: To the person who downvoted this comment, why? It was a completely serious comment, which responded to a question Diego asked in the post.

I've lived off my parents ever since I graduated from college back in 2006...

This is mostly common in european countries and in the rich parts of poor countries, since the earning potential of people younger than 30 is usually way below the cost of rent and living, and the awesome, fantastic, brilliant tradition of moving away from your city to go to college, like americans do, is much less present.

This has been one of my dreams for forever. I remember playing Okami and encountering a "wandering artist " character who travels the world and interprets what he sees in the form of art, and thinking to myself "wow, that is exactly what I want to do".

But it seems like more of a thing to do for a few years and then go back into the workforce than something to do for the rest of your life. For starters, it would probably get tiring. Secondly, it would be a lot easier and less terrifying if you saved up a bunch of money in preparation fo... (read more)

My main idea was to show this can be done for years. I don't consider it to be a good option for life. Generally, I don't consider the universe is predictable enough at this point for any decision for life to be taken. Thus I'm against christian forever marriage and having children as rational ideas for instance, since there is no turning back (also commiting murder and some other things. Even learning musical theory at this point sounds risky to me, since some claim there is no turning back) Back to work. So I commented on my lastest few years in which I was not working (or getting a masters). Now I do want to work in the East SF bay area, either an academic job, or helping Leverage or MIRI or CFAR would be the best options. Then some teaching related non academic job. Then writing long-footage movies (which I did back in 2005). and finally, you know, just getting a job, like some people do. Just merely finding a place that says, yes, we are in Berkeley, yes we will get your visa approved for working status, thus you'll be able to live here. Welcome, here is your normal vanilla job and your regular low paying salary, we don't care you wrote a book, speak five languages or gave a TED talk, just arrange these books there, serve coffe from 4 to 8 and check the cashier at the end of the day. I've got some difficulty making my skills sellable, even though I have the two hardest to fake properties that people claim make a difference in the workforce: Social skills and high IQ. On your wandering artist dream though, there are several ways to turn your wanderer-ness into some (small) money. Writing books or blogs on travelling like the very author of ultravagabonding. Giving lectures like Puneet Sahani. Proving theorems like Paul Erdos. I'd say more, but you get the gist.

The most basic rudiments of childcare cost two orders of magnitude more than the amounts that you're talking about living on, and having a stable family life that the children will actually enjoy is going to cost another order of magnitude.

But, if you don't plan on having kids, knock yourself out.

I surprised (pleasantly) nobody has raised ethical concerns, debt to the world or what not. I worked a nothing bank job for five years despite being very financially secure (which I did nothing to earn) and am quitting in a month or so. (32yo) I was almost completely motivated to work out of guilt, and am just now over it. Thanks for the post; I wish I read it four years ago.

In fairness, that's a pretty unusual situation to be in. For most people, much the most reliable route to becoming "very financially secure" involves working, for someone else, for money. (How reliable a route that is to becoming VFS is, of course, very variable.)

Do you consider food, shelter, and clothing to be optional? You know those things cost money, right?

Money is a resource to get those things but not the only one. If you have good social skills and a reputation as someone who's company is highly valuable you can get shelter by staying at friends places. A modern city provides plenty of pigeons to eat. Dumpster diving is another way used by many people to get food. Clothing still costs a bit of money but a lot less if you buy second hand stuff.
Yes, you can. But guess what, someone is still paying for it, even if it is your "friend".
It also possible that the friend owns his place and is not paying rent for it. At the moment I'm living in a one room 25 m^2 meter flat and I don't have good space to host people. A while ago I was living in an arrangement where I had enough space to comfortable host guests but a renting contract didn't really allow for renting out a room for money. Having cool friends stay over wasn't costing me anything. There are plenty of rich people with who own flats in multiple cities and don't have any problem with having a trustworthy stay some time in one of their flats while they aren't using the flat. People go on vacation and profit from someone being in the flat who feeds the cat and waters plants while they are away.
Even if they own place, someone still needs to pay for the maintenance, electricity, etc.
There are a bunch of home maintenance tasks where you care hire someone to do it but you can also just do it yourself or get help from friends to do it. Thinking of money as the only way to get things done is limiting.
Hmm, are there parts of the world where this is commonly an option? In Finland, "owning an apartment" generally means "owning a share of a housing cooperative", and shareholders are required to pay their share of the cost of maintaining the building. I guess that it would be possible for someone to avoid paying anything if they contributed their work instead, and managed to persuade the rest of the co-op to permit it, but I've never heard of anyone doing that.
It might come to a surprise but there are people who live in standalone buildings that don't contain multiple apartments. A task like watering plants is home maintenance. Clearing someone's computer from viruses is also more or less home maintenance. Building an IKEA cupboard is home maintenance. I would guess most people on Lesswrong have fixed the computer of a friend without getting payed for it. We engage in a lot of activities that produce value for someone but which aren't payed for with money. I once read in a role playing handbook that while bribing a diplomat with money might produce heavy resistance, giving the diplomat a good contact that's useful for the diplomat might make him owe you a valuable favor. If you are a nerd who's too shy to approach woman and you go to a bar with a friend who has very high social skills and that friend does the opening of conversations and tells a girl what a great guy you are and you end up in a relationship with the girl, that's a favor that very valuable but not easy to buy with money. I'm no communist who opposes money in principle, but want to stress the point that money is not the only way to exchange value. Simply being aware of your environment and creating value for other people can often create relationships where they are also happy to do something for you but no money exchanges hands.
No need to get snarky. I'm obviously aware of that, but I was commenting in the context of your earlier comment, which talked specifically about "flats". So a more exact phrasing of my comment would have been "Are there parts of the world where this is commonly an option [for flat-owners]". And I never made the claim that money is the only way to exchange value. I just got curious about how flat-ownership works in other countries, that's all.
1Said Achmiz
Do you advocate doing this? Or are you just making the point that it's possible? If you're not doing any of the things that are traditionally held to be worthwhile (working, teaching, studying, creating art, etc.)... then you are legitimately unlikely to be an interesting person, someone whose company is valuable. Are you serious with this?
I know people who more or less do this. Do I advocate it as the solution for everyone or even for myself? No. On the other hand it's a valid choice for some people. More importantly it's limiting to think of money as the only way to acquire stuff. I personally can't work as effectively on a notebook as I can when I work at my own setup with a monitor, a separate keyboard and a mouse. I have no problem being 12 hours per day in front of my computer setup but if I spent 2 hours in front of a notebook my back gets tense. Looking for a way to get payed can constrain the work that you are doing. Einstein did most of his important work in 1905 in his free time and not at his formal job as a patent clerk. Julian Assange would be someone who did very important work at Wikileaks which didn't pay and who never had a formal residence but just went from sleeping at one person place to sleeping at the place of the next. As far as education goes Steve Jobs is a good example. After he dropped out of school he crashed at friends places to have shelter and he went to those lectures that interested him. In my experience autodidacts are often more interesting people than people who are formally educated. Tim Ferriss wrote a guide on how to catch pigeons for eating. I think it's somewhere in the 4 hour Chef. I see no real reason against the practice. Being the kind of person who can cook a good self caught pigeon meal also helps with being an interesting person.
What city do you live in? If I'm ever around, we are throwing the biggest and best Less Wrong Pigeon Barbeque party in the World's history. We are doing this. (We can totally donate some 30 dollars to vegan outreach on the side, or [edit< sarcasm sign] ]spread the vegetarian allergenic mexican beetles in some urban area later to make up for the poor birds)
Berlin. Hosting a Pigeon Barbeque party sounds like a great idea. I think as far as the legalities go you have to have a hunting permit to do it, but I have a survivalist friend who has it and probably if he oversees it. That phrase doesn't show up on google, what do you mean with it?
Okay. On that point I have to say bioterrorism isn't cool. Last week I read a bit about Osho and my first reaction would be: "What are those people thinking?" But I do understand the kind of thinking that lead to . It's wrong, don't do it, it isn't cool.
Yes, that is why my post begins with the sarcasm sign. I don't really want people to spread those insects around either.
The post you link does, but your in this thread doesn't. Do to information hazards and schelling fences you just don't joke about commiting bioterrorism on a public forum where you don't know whether someone is reading who won't get the joke. Especially when shut up and calculate utilitarians are around.
Point well taken.
Unemployment/disability benefits can help pay for these, provided one isn't trying to live alone in a high-end neighborhood, but a social safety net and a lack of debt are pretty much requirements.
Money can be used to get them and thats the most common way in the developed world these days. But money is a system of tokens that people use to keep track of transactions. Other tokens can be used. Like trust or social status. Or one could bypass a token economy all together.

Utility : Expression of subjective preference between two or more ways to acquire well-being.

Money : Measure of utility. Exchange means with the highest probability of acceptance.

Wage labor : contractual exchange of a portion of one's freedom to use a part of his life time against money. Each party seeks to secure its supply over time of convenience being exchanged . (subordination vs money) .

We learned early on that we could do more and better bearing our needs and desires by using mutual and exchange . By specializing in specific tasks and allocating tas... (read more)


I have yet to see a plan, that would actually work for me. I would really love to quit my job, unfortunately I don't see a course of action that would give me enough confidence about my future to actually do it.

Also in case you'd like to live in a paradise valley taking Santo Daime (a religious ritual with DMT) about twice a week, you can do it with a salary of aproximatelly 500 dollars per month in Vale do Gamarra, where I just spent carnival, that is what the guy who drove us back did. Given Brazilian or Turkish returns on investment, that would cost

... (read more)
Look, there are plenty of good looking places where you need little money to live. The best practice would be to earn or inherit some money before you go. like the 50000 I suggested. You know, for cancer safety and similar risks. Vale do gamarra is a territory where religious christian communities that take DMT while saying new age jesus stuff exist, and some people live there, in the middle of nowhere but well connected with nature, since there are small huts which are part of a kind of hotel, you get normal urban people visiting every now and then. You can work for whoever owns the land doing things like taking people places, lighting the fire which makes the sustainable hot tub work, helping with events etc.... maybe you can grow some crops. I don't think it is the only one, there are more in the amazon forest and north of brazil. I'll bet also in Peru there are similar things. You can also go to buddhist temples and monasteries, specially in the phillipines and southeast asia, and live for a few months there. Again, none of those options sound to me like a "for the rest of your life" kind of option. Basically because nothing sounds like that to me. I look around and I see no reason to believe people do the same thing their entire lives. I know almost none who kept only one profession, lived in only one city, or one romantic partner for life. Even fewer kept the same job. Same job in the sabe company. Wow, we are getting to the low millionths here. etc.... Why would I be different? I don't want the half EA, quarter ultravagabond, quarter Academic lifestyle I've had for 6 years any longer. I want a job, and that, as Americans have known for centuries. Is totally Ok as well. The hard part is that I want it to lead to saving the world in the long run and not through earning to give, given relative advantages and disadvantages of being me. But anyway, I wrote on not getting job. I want a job, and I'm completely fine with that.

It's a bit overrated, in my estimation. I left to live in tropical destination. I rented a car a spent a week scoping the place out. I slept in a youth hostel but basically lived out of my rented car. I brought only a backpack with me.

I was back home in less than two weeks. I saw some of the most beautiful things I'd ever seen (beaches, etc.) and it was quite literally like a dream come true. But it got boring quick.

I missed being close to my family and I was dating someone at the time who I also missed a great deal—both played a big part in my discontentm... (read more)

Maybe you didn't go through the tourist traveller transistion, which precedes the travelller nomad transition. The transition is made when the setting matters much less than the people and personalities you meet, and you start travelling to meet people, and arranging your travel plans according to the types of people, and activities you intend to do, not the places you want to go. The nomad transition I never experienced myself, there was always a place to call "home".
I think you are right about my failure to truly become nomadic. I therefore likely never found out if I could be happier as a roaming adventurer. Though, to the point of your post, I'd argue a non-nomadic existent with consistent work seems to be the happy equilibrium for most personality types. I think novelty wears off quick when I travel. And adding additional novelty only serves to remind me of the fact that while every new experience is novel, it also similar to other novel experiences, and therefore not that novel at all. My current conclusion is, for my personality type, travel ends up to be a grass-is-greener sort of exercise where I am itching to go somewhere new, only to miss home—and all that home offers—soon after I leave. I'd posit most people are like this. That is why people have "jobs" and travel on 3-15 day vacations.

It's not so much protestant work ethic as the market revolution work ethic. Going to a building for a specified number of hours per week then getting a fixed salary is a fairly modern invention, and it has become normalized as the proper way to live in the US (unless you are exceptional).

Directing an NGO, giving free talks as an intellectual and couch surfing the world (which requires a fair bit of effort to do cheaply - the average person would rack up a huge bill) are not what I think about when I think about being "unemployed". Of course I wou... (read more)

Eighteenth century, more or less? Plus, the dominant alternative is being a peasant or a small craftsman which is even further away from living as a member of couch-surfing intelligentsia :-)

Its expensive to get health insurance when you aren't buying with a group.

In the US, yes. Part of the poster's point is that you don't need to stay in the US. I won't make his choice, mostly because I like being around employed people more than I like being around unemployed people, but international mobility is clearly a point in favour of the lifestyle he's suggesting.
How hard is it to become a benefits-receiving citizen of another country?
Depends on the country, obviously. I do not know of any country where you don't have to go through a complex administrative procedure that takes months or years. In places where social services are very good (say Switzerland) it is much harder to get citizenship than where they aren't. If you're planning to receive benefits for the rest of your life, researching the prerequisites for various countries should be well worth your time. The easiest way is always the same, however: Convince a citizen of that country to marry you. Many countries have discrimination policies where it is harder to acquire citizenship by marriage if you're from, say, Nigeria, but coming from the US it'll be easy in most places.
3Said Achmiz
Indeed. Is there such a thing as an unemployed person, providing little of value but receiving enough support (in whatever form) to live on, who is nonetheless working with passion, skill, and knowledge in some interesting domain? Is there, in other words, such a thing as a person who does not support himself by providing value... yet is interesting? I have not met anyone like that.
I have. One of them is composing classical music, another is writing a PhD on medieval history, a third is an occasional guest lecturer at university (for a symbolic fee). All use their relatively abundant time to achieve excellence in what they do. Of course they are all over age 65 and have worked all their life, so that's the demographic where to look for such people.
1Said Achmiz
Yes, fair enough. It's a good point, and one I should've thought of; a lifetime of doing interesting and useful things plausibly entitles one to freedom from continued active provision of value. However, I don't actually think that "living in retirement, benefiting from the fruits of one's past labors" counts as "unemployed"; the literal meaning may be there, but the connotation definitely doesn't match. In any case, I hope the thrust of my comment is now clarified.
It seems to me that there's an intermediate path between conventional retirement and outright vagabondage, which is probably more common than the latter: if you live frugally, save wisely, and happen to have sufficiently marketable skills, you have a good chance of being able to retire much earlier than is usual and live modestly off your savings. SaidAchmiz, do you (1) think people who do this are failing to do their social duty, and (2) have any opinion on whether they are likely to be interesting?
3Said Achmiz
I don't think "social duty" is a real thing, beyond being shorthand for the sum total of various ethical duties to various individuals, so my answer to (1) is no. As for (2), well, to be honest, I don't think I've met any such people. I haven't even heard of any of my friends ever meeting such people. So can I have no opinion on the matter that's based on any kind of experience. I think I'd have to, at very least, hear about some actual cases of what you describe, before I could even speculate. Questions abound: what did the person do when they did work? What are they doing now that they've retired? Just engaging in passive leisure activities? Or working on some nontrivial personal projects? Do they have family? Do they engage in volunteering or charity? etc. So yeah, if you know such a person, I'd love to hear a description of an actual case.
Please take it as a shorthand for 'whatever "plausibly entitles one to freedom from continued active provision of value"', as you put it. I don't think I personally know any such people. There are a few internet-famous examples (who claim that Anyone Can Do It, rather optimistically if you ask me because the basis of their argument is that "all you need to do is save half your income for N years" and saving half your income is much easier for well-paid people); maybe the best known is the one who calls himself Mr Money Mustache. A more extreme example is Early Retirement Extreme. Both these people show every sign of being actual real people who actually believe what they say (which is not always true for personal-finance gurus). Of course famous examples are generally atypical, but to answer your questions: I think MMM was a software engineer or something of the kind, and ERE was [EDITED: used to say "in finance" but I checked and that was completely wrong] a physicist in academia. I haven't read enough of ERE's stuff to know how he spends his life now. MMM writes a blog promoting frugal early retirement (I think his real interest is more in "sustainability" than in personal finance as such), works intermittently as a builder -- both of these bring in money, so you can debate whether he should really be called "retired"; I think he would answer that he is retired because he now only works on things he wants to work on for reasons other than getting paid -- and doubtless does other things but I don't know what. I don't know anything much about what either does for charity.
3Said Achmiz
The reason I asked about people you personally know is that anyone can write a blog claiming any old thing. With these sorts of claims in particular, it's hard to know how much of what's claimed is just bullshit. Some of it could be outright lies, some of it could be selective reporting, some of it could be certain unemphasized atypical aspects of their personality / mental make-up / life situation / who the hell knows what. On the other end of the issue, how am I to judge whether these people are interesting? As far as social duty (suitably expanded from the shorthand) goes... I think that what "entitles" you to freedom from provision of value (to the extent that the notion of entitlement is even ethically meaningful, which is an extent of which I am unsure) is, very roughly, not having to sponge off other people. You see, it's not that I think expending effort is inherently morally praiseworthy. I don't think "working" is a virtue in itself. I think it may well be wonderful (modulo various fun-theoretic considerations) if people didn't have to work for a living and also didn't have to depend on other people to provide for them. When we come to live in a world where such universal leisure is possible, we can revisit that conversation. But we don't live in that world now. When you live in your friend's apartment, sleeping on their couch, using their facilities, and so forth, your lack of having to work for a living is dependent entirely on your friend's income and wealth. You are not entitled to that freedom from provision of value; you happen to have it, by the leave and the grace of your friend; but if your friend tires of your leeching one day and kicks you out onto the street, you have, it seems to me, no moral case against them. If you work, save up, and retire, it's different. You are dependent on no one but your past self. (Well, no more than the average citizen is dependent on, collectively, his fellow citizens, for taxes and all the rest of it.) So to
That all sounds very reasonable. Thanks.