I wrote an essay about the advantages (and disadvantages) of maximizing over satisficing but I’m a bit unsure about its quality, that’s why I would like to ask for feedback here before I post it on LessWrong.

Here’s a short summary:

According to research there are so called “maximizers” who tend to extensively search for the optimal solution. Other people — “satisficers” — settle for good enough and tend to accept the status quo. One can apply this distinction to many areas:

Epistemology/Belief systems: Some people, one could describe them as epistemic maximizers, try to update their beliefs until they are maximally coherent and maximally consistent with the available data. Other people, epistemic satisficers, are not as curious and are content with their belief system, even if it has serious flaws and is not particularly coherent or accurate. But they don’t go to great lengths to search for a better alternative because their current belief system is good enough for them.

Ethics: Many people are as altruistic as is necessary to feel good enough; phenomenons like “moral licensing” and “purchasing of moral satisfaction” are evidence in favor of this. One could describe this as ethical satisficing. But there are also people who try to extensively search for the best moral action, i.e. for the action that does the most good (with regards to their axiology). Effective altruists are good example for this type of ethical maximizing.

Social realm/relationships: This point is pretty obvious.

Existential/ big picture questions: I’m less sure about this point but it seems like one could apply the distinction also here. Some people wonder a lot about the big picture, spent a lot of time reflecting on their terminal values and how to reach them in an optimal way. Nick Bostrom would be good example for the type of person I have in mind here and what could be called “existential maximizing”. In contrast, other people, not necessarily less intelligent or curious, don’t spend much time thinking about such crucial considerations. They take the fundamental rules of existence and the human condition (the “existential status quo”) as a given and don’t try to change it. Relatedly, transhumanists could also be thought of as existential maximizers in the sense that they are not satisfied with the human condition and try to change it – and maybe ultimately reach an “optimal mode of existence”.

What is “better”? Well, research shows that satisficers are happier and more easygoing. Maximizers tend to be more depressed and “picky”. They can also be quite arrogant and annoying. On the other hand, maximizers are more curious and always try hard to improve their life – and the lives of other people, which is nice.

I would really love to get some feedback on it.

Here are my thoughts having just read the summary above, not the whole essay yet.

They take the fundamental rules of existence and the human condition (the “existential status quo”) as a given and don’t try to change it.

This sentence confused me. I think it could be fixed with some examples of what would constitute an instance of challenging the "existential status quo" in action. The first example I was thinking of would be ending death or aging, except you've already got transhumanists in there.

Other examples might include:

  • mitigating exist
... (read more)
1[anonymous]5yAnd sometimes, a satisfier acts as his image of a maximizer would, gets some kind of negative feedback and either shrugs his shoulders and never does it again, or learns the safety rules and trains a habit of doing the nasty thing as a character-building experience. And other people may mistake him as a maximizer himself.

Open thread, Mar. 9 - Mar. 15, 2015

by MrMind 1 min read9th Mar 2015109 comments


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