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The World's Biggest Problems

I wrote this for a discussion about why I think politics is the wrong place to focus efforts in order to improve the world:

I have an unusual perspective on this because I think I could work highly effectively in any field on any project if I thought it was best. (Limited to knowledge work, not e.g. being a pro football player or manual laborer.) So I've thought about what the world's most important problems are. Most people don't choose projects in this way for a variety of reasons including that they don't think they are very important (they don't think their life matters much) and they don't think they are a very flexible learner or super smart.

There are a lot of very important and urgent problems. So just finding a good one isn't enough in my view – I'm also interested in prioritizing.

For example, I could work on life extension. Death due to aging is a BIG deal. Seriously fucking massive issue. And there is reasonably hope of significant progress on this in the reasonably near future with a lot less money than goes to many other projects.

Or I could work on AGI, which could really change the world. Or nanotechnology. Or space colonization.

And there's plenty of very broken things that could be improved. E.g. most or all large companies have massive inefficiencies. And people suffer so much from dating and marriage practices. And people are harmed so much by psychiatry (which does things like circumvent the law to imprison people without a trial. it also keeps some criminals out of jail. and did you know they basically still do lobotomies, they just renamed them?).

some people kill themselves because of the counter-productiveness of current anti-suicide efforts.

and i haven't even left the US yet. lots of people lack clean water, basic medical care, adequate food and nutrition, etc, etc, let alone internet access.

there are sooooo many projects to consider.

what's the most important?

my answer is that people are bad at thinking. if they were better at thinking, they would do better on all the projects i listed above!

instead of picking one of these projects, i'd rather pick the meta-project of helping enable people to do projects.

helping people think better also means they can run their own daily lives better and various other good things such as voting in much better political policies. an e.g. 2/3 majority can pretty easily get what it wants politically when there's actual unified opinion about something instead of a variety of kinda similar mixed messages. such majorities would come to exist on many issues if most people were substantially better at thinking.

why are people bad at thinking? some major parts of the answer are:

  • current parenting and schooling practices are grossly irrational and destructive. and, especially, so much harm is done at young ages which is hard to fix later. most adults are super alienated from learning, education, improving thinking methods, reason, philosophy, etc, in general (sometimes someone isn't so broken in some narrow area, and then they are regarded as a brilliant genius at the top of their field).

  • static memes.

  • bad philosophy ideas that are common in our culture. philosophy is the name of the field which includes topics like how to think, how to learn, how to judge ideas. many other ideas are also relevant, like about human capabilities and intelligence.

so those are what i care the most about and try to work on. (btw i actually changed fields, i wasn't always a philosopher. before i found The Fabric of Reality, i liked and was good at stuff like programming, chess, computer games, and math.)

one of the big difficulties with my project is that people largely do not want the help. they largely don't want advice and suggestions, let alone criticism. this difficulty applies both to ideas about how to think better in general, and also if i use my thinking skill to create ideas about what they are already doing.

another difficulty is that, today, popularity is primarily gained by social status games rather than rational idea quality. so should i learn and outcompete people at the social status games? the problem with that is they contradict the kinda stuff i advocate, so they're counter-productive to my project.


Elliot Temple on August 23, 2017

Comments (2)

My "meta-project" suffers from the same kind of hurdles as yours it appears. In my case people are unwilling to make the effort to actually understand the basic idea. It's like a person who knows only a little arithmetic trying to understand the theory of special relativity without first learning any algebra. The typical response is to insist that they do understand when they do not or to simply say "that will never work" without any explanation for why it won't work. Criticism is vital but simply saying "you're wrong" and nothing else is a waste of time.

I suspect that you have run into the same kind of response.

With respect to popularity being gained by social status games all I can say is that's been my experience and observation for over 70 years so I doubt it's only begun happening recently.

Anonymous at 5:29 AM on September 11, 2017 | #9027
want to share your project?

social status games are thousands of years old. some surface details keep changing on a short timeframe, but some of the core ideas haven't been changing. for a broader perspective on that, see the discussion of rational and anti-rational memes in this book: http://beginningofinfinity.com

Anonymous at 8:40 AM on September 11, 2017 | #9028

What do you think?

(This is a free speech zone!)