Thursday, October 28, 2010

Extended Personhood

Extended personhood is something that seems to unify a surprising amount of the ideas and research I've been mulling over lately. For example, the Tao Te Ching to me was largely about extending your sense of purpose into the entire universe. I've been in doubt about the validity and utility of the ego or self for some time now after reading the Cosmist Manifesto. This was reinforced by meditation on what I would sacrifice myself for. It would have to be to save something or someone in a way that advances my goals better than I could by continuing my existence, and that situation, while unlikely, is not implausible. I still hold that individualism is a very powerful philosophy, particularly in the ethical systems it is able to generate, but there is clearly a theoretical shear here that I'll hopefully be able to better identify and rectify soon. The simple fact of that matter is that the existence of my ego and its need for status and other things often hinders the optimal achievement of my highest goals. The biases are often very slight, which makes them even harder to properly correct for, but I can tell they are there. This is a significant problem because they are pervasive across an enormous range of situations and crucial decisions. I know that I am generally much happier in the long run if I act in the more neutral decision making mode. It simply allows you to make much better decisions, largely because of the wu-wei principle. You are no longer fighting with the universe, but instead working with it. I still need to re-read Reasons and Persons to refine my grasp of what personhood is and then of course The Extended Mind Hypothesis naturally comes to mind (haha), although an extended mind is not quite the same as an extended person. Yet, my understanding seems to fuse the two, so I think they may ultimately be isomorphic at some level. I'll have to borrow it from Alex sometime. When I finally order a copy of MITECS I can play around with philosophical psychology even further. I'm excited about Player of Games, because so far it seems to be grappling in a very useful way about problems of self and purpose. Man: The Moral Animal is fantastic because of the beastly analytic framework it gives for identifying sources of bias and emotion that prevent coherent action. Ultimately, more and more things seem to be fusing together, and that's extremely exciting. Even more promising however, are the ripples of wrongness that some of those fusions are creating in my mental structure. The most productive thoughts usually come out of those. I just wish school would let up a little bit, because I've got an enormous amount of work before me without all the suboptimal additions.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


I was asked today if I ever do anything for the fun of it. After some consideration, my answer was no. I wondered how this could be possible... how could I not do anything for the sheer fun of it? Not even sheer fun, but it seems as though I do not even consider fun as a factor.
I thought that I must be tricking myself, surely there was something I was forgetting or some loophole in my formulation of the problem that I was accidentally exploiting.
It turns out that I do a great many fun things, and I enjoy them as much as or sometimes even more than most people, but I never do them for the fun of it. It always comes down to a consideration of social bonding, or occasionally just loosening up my mind. This is the kind of productive play that Ben Goertzel describes. When I make decisions, fun is just never a primary factor at all in my mind. It's a side effect.
As my friend who asked me the original question pointed out, this is not even remotely normal. However, I wouldn't have it any other way. This is not the defense of some stressed out workaholic who insists that they are happy either. Living my life without fun as a goal allows me to constantly choose only purposeful activities that build up me and the people around me, allowing me to do an enormous amount of good in the world. Furthermore, while my goal is to do good, not have fun, a side effect of this mentality is that I have tons of fun. Knowing that you are always doing your best assessment of what you ideally should be doing ensures that you never have to worry about what you are passing up to do it. You can take the experience as it comes and really have fun with it. Furthermore, after a fun night, there's no regret. You spent it in a completely productive way and often had a great time doing so. Since it allows you to improve the general conditions of your world and abilities of your self, it opens up opportunities to have great times that wouldn't otherwise be available. I've done so many incredible things with friends and been able to participate in so many fun things because of it (like Academic Bowl, for a recent example).

As a side note, I'm now even more eager to read Eliezer's posts on fun theory when I get the chance!