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"Follow your dreams" as a case study in incorrect thinking

Thanks for posting. That's great food for thought.

The article makes an assumption that when you engage in a competitive activity with an objective measure of success the subjective level of satisfaction is fully defined by your standing on the virtual ladder. If you spend ten years of your life trying to climb the ladder and don't even get to the median, you "fail". You've chosen poorly.

In practice, your level of satisfaction, your happiness, is a more complex function. Whichever activity you engage in, you may get a certain amount of happiness or suffering simply from doing it: some people like playing guitar and doing muscle ups, others hate every second of it. You also get happiness points from the absolute level of your progress: all else being equal, knowing that you can do 5 muscle ups makes you happier than knowing you can do only 3. Then there is happiness from making progress. And finally, you can get kicks from comparing yourself to others.

How all these different values are combined to produce a single value of happiness is different for each individual. The article makes perfect sense for a person for whom the last component, comparison to others, is not only dominant, but also skewed. If winning in a zero-sum game gives you +1 happiness while losing gives you -10, you should avoid any activity that has a well-known objective metric of success.

Consistent extrapolated beliefs about math?

Patrick Hayes did a similar thing for physics. Dennett calls it sophisticated naïve physics, a special case of axiomatic anthropology.

Patrick Hayes, the artificial intelligence researcher, once set out on a project to axiomatize the naïve (or folk) physics of liquids. The idea was to provide a robot with the propositions it would need to use as its core beliefs if it was going to interact with people (who rely on folk physics every day). It proved to be more challenging than he had anticipated, and he wrote an interesting paper about the project, "The Naïve Physics Manifesto" (Hayes, 1978). In the naïve physics of liquids, everything that strikes naïve folks as counterintuitive is, of course, ruled out: siphons are "impossible" and so are pipettes, but you can mop up liquid with a fluffy towel, and pull water out of a well with a suction pump. A robot equipped with such a store of "knowledge" would be as surprised by a siphon as most of us were when first we saw one in action. Hayes's project was what I would call sophisticated naïve physics because he was under no illusions; he knew the theory he was trying to axiomatize was false, however useful in daily life. This was an exercise in what might be called axiomatic anthropology: you treat what the folks say - and agree about - as your axioms or theorems, and try to render the data set consistent, resolving any contradictions encountered. And, of course, he didn't bother rounding up any actual informants; he figured that he knew the naïve physics of liquids as well as any normal person did, so he used himself as his sole informant: axiomatic auto-anthropology.