Sëbus: A Book About Happiness

Wiki Contributions



I've been a lurker here for a long time. Why did I join?

I have a project I would like to share and discuss with the community. But first, I would like to hear from you guys. Will my project fit in here? Is there interest?

My project is: I wrote a book for my 6yo son. It is a bedtime-reading kind of book for a reasonably nerdy intelligent modern child.

Reading to young kids is known to be very beneficial to their development. There are tons of great books for any age and interests. My wife and me have read and enjoyed a lot of them with our boy.

However, I still wasn't satisfied. Most of what I could find was too stale, pedestrian, or just plain irrelevant to a child growing up in the modern world. The world is already vastly different from what the authors of these books had to experience. Right now, our world is on the verge of becoming even more unrecognizably different.

So, I wrote my own. I did read it to my boy, and he enjoyed it a lot. My wife enjoyed it too, and suggested it might be interesting to others.

Why Lesswrong? I think there are both cons and pros (in that order) to publishing it here.

Cons: This is not a book teaching young kids rational thinking as such. Its focus is more on psychological matters: overwhelm, emotions, attachments, obligations. One of the book's themes is cheating: with so much help available from the increasingly sentient technology, when using that help becomes cheating? Another core topic is happiness: what makes us happy? How to achieve and maintain that state? Can there be a cheated happiness?

Pros: It is a weird and rather complex book. Its subject matter includes virtual companions, space travel, and benevolent but still scary superintelligences. My boy is a bit of a language nerd, so there are elements of language-themed wordlbuilding as well. Overall, even though it's a book for kids, I was trying to make it interesting for adults too - at least, for adults who are somewhat similar to me. Lesswrong is one of the few places I know where such people gather.

More cons: Despite sounding vaguely sci-fi, it's not serious sci-fi. I don't pretend to describe the real, or even to any extent realistic, world. It's basically a fairy tale. At times, it chooses to be poetic at the expense of rationality. Also, at times it's quite idiosyncratic to our family so may sound confusing or even off-putting to others.

More pros: I do think it's reasonably well written and fun to read :)



I think I would prefer a future in which AIs do all the non-teacher work and leave humans teach each other, so that ~50% of workforce is teachers and we no longer have the bottleneck and mass-production problems in education. Reason for my preference: I think in such a world, a human-only referendum on "are we in dystopia?" has more chances to be defeated. 


Exciting on so many levels.

First: it is practical and doable now, while having the saving-the-world vibes. I thoroughly support this idea. I think the advances in storage will soon enough (sooner than AIs reach the rewriting-history stage) allow us to record multiple physical copies of the 100+Tb database and spread them out throughout our habitat, making the revisionist AIs' task significantly more difficult. 

An even grander idea: laser-beam the data into space, aiming at several stars at different distances, and listen to the echoes coming back, reflected from the star system's components. These echoes will be super weak but hopefully detectable and decipherable with future technology, and importantly, it will be absolutely unforgeable by AIs here on earth. For example, aim at a star 50ly away and get back your data in 100 years, guaranteed untampered. 

But then, I think that your list of "what it takes for this to work" misses a critical item:

7. Those in the future who care about knowing the truth will need the guts to accept that data about the past contained in these hashed torrents is true, even if it contradicts their ideas and memories of that past.

I think that for superintelligent AIs it will be much easier to convince us all (and probably themselves) in a wrong version of the past, perhaps combined with faking some evidence, than seek and subvert all the evidence there is. I find it quite probable that this is the road they will take first, and they won't even much care about subverting your hashed torrents because it won't be necessary.

Imagine you live in a future. Imagine you are as confident of your memories and your general idea of the past as you are now. Imagine you get interested, verify the hashes and timestamps, unzip the torrents, start to read, and start seeing references about pink unicorns everywhere! Imagine all these papers and books mention pink unicorns as a pretty common thing that exists, and can be seen, experienced, studied, filmed, etc.

What do you think would be a more common outcome then:

  • You decide that your whole idea of what existed in the past is wrong, and you relearn it all from scratch from those zipped torrents, incorporating pink unicorns into it.
  • You decide this is someone's elaborate hoax, post it online for lulz, and go on with your life undisturbed. 

It seems probable that if you stay in Russia, you stay in Russia. As time goes on, the regime will be moving towards closeness, the outer world will be moving to isolate Russia more, and you will be getting older which always makes emigration harder. So, my personal opinion: run while you can.


Very close thinking to mine overall, thank you for this post! 

My own approach is simple. We don't know whether we're heading towards dystopia or utopia. In some cases, it's wise to be maximally pessimistic and assume dystopia. However, in the vast majority of cases, it is wiser to not only assume a utopian future, but to behave, to an extent which is realistic, as if we are already in a utopia. This "utopian zone" in our life should I think cover most interpersonal relationships, and definitely our relationship with our kids. 

This simple principle - always act as if you're in utopia, unless it's too out of place - gives easy answers to most of the questions in this post. Should we have kids? Yes, because if we don't, we're already in dystopia! What to teach our kids? Assume we're in utopia and teach them the skills of being happy, fulfilled, self-realized, not bored. Should we tell them about dangers ahead? Yes, because even in a utopia, you can tell kids scary fairy tales - kids love scary stuff. And so on.

My thinking on this was much stimulated by my writing a book for my 6yo son. I plan to publish it here on Lesswrong. A description is in the pinned comment in my profile. Would appreciate your checking it out!


It seems like on a basic strategical level (ignoring the politeness of trying to change others’ values) you would much prefer have 2 than 1, because it is longer lasting, and doesn’t involve you threatening conflict with other people for the duration.

There's surface actions and then there's background convictions. I think public shaming only works for the surface actions. For example, you don't want racists to use racist insults, so when you see someone doing it, you're very motivated to shoot it on your phone and post publicly. I think it's plausible that such shaming deters racists from acting out in public. But I don't think it moves the needle on their background racist convictions. 

What works for background convictions is storytelling: fiction, movies, real-life stories about someone. We are primed to elicit hints on how-important-people-think from all this and to adjust our worldview to conform.  


the ‘Swastika Holding Company’

I think this only looks like an anachronism to a superficial observer. Swastika was a quite fashionable symbol in 1920s and around. Nazis didn't pull it out of Indian tradition on their own. They just appropriated what was already very much present in Western culture.