posts about me

True Value in Life


Have you figured out what life goals are worth pursuing? How did you acquire them?

Were they drawn from your values? But where did you get these values from?

Well, it’s a mixture of your genes, including the environment that has created and shaped these values. You have learned to cherish some values, perhaps even condemn some. But why would they necessarily be the ones that define your life (as you strive towards having more of each value)?

I don’t think I am personally okay with this apathy. It seems like we spend most of our lives chasing for more of values like fun, beauty, love, but are they fundamentally the sort of values we should be going after? We don’t usually even internalize how we’ve obtained them or whether we could be wrong about them. We don’t acknowledge the possibility of there being an even greater value.

So what has this sort of true value for us?

True Value

I think it is safe to say that we don’t really know whether fun, beauty and love are really the values we’re truly after (if we knew any better), even after all these decades of thought, life, experience, knowledge.

Do we know anything that has certain value for us, that isn’t just elicited based on some aspects based on who were our ancestors and how we grew up? I don’t know any such values and I am very pessimistic of whether anyone knows this yet.

There’s even no evidence suggesting to consider one value over another - e.g. love being more important than fun. Or even beauty over the ability to stretch your arms really high after a long day at work.

We want to get most value out of life for us. In order to maximize the expected true value of our life, we should first find out what it is! But since we don’t know what this would be, then until that moment the only sure bet that increases this expected value - more time!

(Sadly, as it is with expected values, there might not actually be any value found anywhere. Also I apologize to the readers who argue that finding true value in life is a malformed problem proposition - by true value I mean a non-random value you’d hold in a nonzero positive regard given you have actually found it.)

So - how do we get more time?

Maximizing Expected Value (Community Level)

Whatever keeps the human species alive is a good place to start for maximizing the expected value. That would mean working on minimizing existential risks. If we’re dead, that means we have no time at all.

Another thing is maximizing the lived hours of humans as whole. One way would be to just increase the population, but it is hard to provide enough resources for everyone to able to utilize their full potential, but I guess someone can figure out the optimum.

We could also use the existing human capital and trying to maximize its output towards humanity’s goals (i.e. finding this true value). Naturally, not everyone wants to be a part of it and we shouldn’t really force anyone either, but changing the culture to be more supportive towards aligning oneself to humanity’s goals would be quite welcome. Right now it seems more like a vocation rather than something taken in high regard, as far as I have seen. I think it’d be neat if we could align status to that.

And then there’s the immortality research, also known as life extension research. Extending the humans’ healthy lifetime not only gives them more time, but also it gives people the power to reach higher heights when it comes to research, if you can build on even more decades or eventually even hundreds years of experience. Right now people tend to have at most only a few decades of useful work per lifetime, and this is a huge limit to accumulating knowledge. Some of it is written down and passed on, true, but reacquiring this knowledge as a ‘new’ person takes a lot of time, effort and is prone to errors in communication and cognition, including the lack of background experience that the original owner of these ideas might have had.

Maximizing Expected Value (Individual Level)

Having exhausted the obvious correlata like keeping fit, eating well and staying active, it gets notoriously difficult to squeeze more time out of your life.

Evolution won’t help you fast enough, actually not at all because you cannot rebirth yourself. Medical lifespan enhancements can only go so far, because the human organism is horrible at its ‘design’, making any improvements in the field be likely largely insignificant for you, personally, within your normal lifetime.

Now I don’t know how to estimate the likelihoods, but many people put a lot of emphasis on the possibility of intelligence explosion through self-improving artificial general intelligence (AGI), which we have yet to successfully implement. The impact of the vastly superior intelligence should not be underestimated, however when and how are questions still on the table. Given that this AGI is friendly, it will undoubtedly be able to solve the issue of dying before you have chosen to do so.

Could you then really find any more rational things to do in your life other than either work in the fields important for friendly (read: useful) AGI, or supporting it with everything you can? You can donate, spread knowledge about it, or do it in your own way, e.g. getting into politics with the goal of advancing humanity and yourself through optimizing for the possibility of a friendly AGI.

Final Thoughts

As disclosure, how I got to this idea was that someone was arguing for the case that nothing has any expected value right now except for immortality research and that people are wasting their lives on some bullshit that they’ve learned to value from their environment, but not really working on things that are truly fundamentally valuable.

I, however, find that immortality research, although super important, isn’t the only thing we can do right now to help the cause. If we consider we can go from maybe 80-year average lifespan to immortality not gradually, but within one average lifetime, then it definitely has the highest expected utility, but right now the only way I see that happening is through friendly superintelligent AI, but there’s more confusion than clarity around when that should happen.

Even though most of us are already entangled in whatever we’re already doing and cannot really optimize for providing maximum value for humanity, I believe there’s a growing amount of people who reason from first principles and would really like to build their skills, personality and career around what is actually most important. I think it’s paramount that we find what that is, at least probabilistically.

Can you put your main activities in the context of aligning yourself to true values? Or, alternatively, have you thought of it in an individulistic context? Could you justify your current values?

I also believe saying “I don’t care, let me live my life” is a completely valid point. But just in case… you don’t know what’s up, there’s more objective arguments to what you could be doing.