For post 500 on this blog I decided to do something that I don’t normally do, share my views on life and what/how I feel about bigger issues than what I’ve been doing day to day. Some of the things I talk about here will be at odds with some of the things that I have written about in this blog. Before now I haven’t thought out what I really think about a lot of these issues, and the ones that I have thought about I haven’t written down my thoughts to make them concrete and something I should answer to. With having these written down, and published, I will have something I must hold myself accountable to, or be inherently hypocritical.
There are certain strengths at which I believe in things, and my actions will take that priority in belief into account. The best way to describe this is by a religious analogy. If my belief in a certain religion were 10, I would devote my life to converting people to that religion. If it were 9, I would devote my life to teaching believers of that religion to strengthen their faith. If it were 7, I would devote my life to the religious community involved, but still have a job and other things outside the religious group. At 4 I would be a member of the religious group and do things with them frequently. At 2, I would claim belief, but not really act on it. At 1, I would roughly identify with the group, but not actively claim to be a member of anything specific. At 0, it would be a vague notion in the back of my head that I would take no actions towards. I point out this scale of belief, even though I will more likely explain what I believe I should be doing as actions instead of giving each belief a number in the above scale. The scale is neutral at 0, and there is no way to anti-believe in something. I feel that this accurately reflects the way to structure beliefs, as anything that may be less that 0 (belief in Scientology or Creationism) is something that I will not be covering as there area an infinite number of things to anti-believe in.
The big groups I will be covering are Religion, Ethics, Value of Life, Food/Drink, Lifestyle, Social, Economic, Socio-Economic, and Time Management. These will overlap somewhat.
Starting with one of the less contentious ones Time Management:
Belief: Time is the most valuable thing a person has
Explanation: The only thing we inherently have as people is time, and that is finite. People have different abilities that they can use that time for. “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us” Gandalf from LOTR. While it is a little silly to quote a fantasy novel, I think that J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis are two amazing thinkers, and would have loved to have been at their debates on religion. The value of time is something that I think about often, and I currently value my time at about $1 per minute. Controlling for that makes valuing things much more salient, as I think “Would I work for an hour to own those shoes?” or “Is seeing that movie worth $12 ticket plus $180 time?” The point of this is to maximize utility, not money. With a system that converts time to money and money to time, it would be easy to sit down and try to maximize the dollars. Doing so would completely miss the point of the system. The movie example is very close to passing that line, but what it is really getting at is “Will I enjoy this move more than something else I could spend $200 of value on?” I admit that this system is not complete, but it is a decent starting point. I should add in the utility of enjoying things as the final measurement, but as I’ll describe more in my section on ethics, utility is a hard thing to measure or define. The time value is also something that I think of as giving to people. When I am spending time with someone, I am giving up doing something else, and that is taken into the calculation. Going to visit parents, and spending time with Steph are two examples of this. The time value is not only a selfish thing, as I consider the time value of other people when asking things of them. Going to visit my parents and spending time with Steph are good examples of this as well. When I am taking their time and they are taking mine are we coming out ahead? In most cases this is a resounding yes! When it isn’t that means it is time to find something else to do, like playing games, or spending time with other people. There is certainly a diminishing marginal utility to spending time with people, but the rates involved and the starting values are highly variable from person to person. It also recharges after a while (e.g. a couple hours a week for a year with my parents would be higher utility than one week straight once a year). I am not willing, nor able, to mathematically calculate all the possible curves and values for this, but it something I constantly consider.
Strength of Belief: I strongly believe in managing my time wisely, and have this as one of my primary driving forces in my life.
Execution: I make sure that the longest periods of my life are spend doing things I enjoy (work on things I love, sleep in an amazing bed, spend time with excellent people). The time I have is actively managed, and not passively taken. At one point I was letting life happen, and I got lucky. Now I am taking life on my terms, and defining the path I wish to take.
Belief: Worry and Regret are wastes of time
Explanation: First I’ll define worry and regret. Worry is the unstructured thought of something that you don’t know the outcome of in a way that does not effectively give you the means to change the outcome or mediate the effects of the outcome. The constructive form is concerned thought, where you plan ways to change the thing that is of concern. This only works if you can change the outcome of something, and if you can’t you shouldn’t think about it. Regret is the unstructured thought of something that has occurred in a way that does not effectively give you the means to change the outcome of a similar situation in the future. Planning in a structured way that allows you to avoid situations like the ones you want to avoid or ways to avoid the outcomes you don’t want is the best way to deal with unwanted outcomes, not regret. As you can probably tell, my thoughts on this topic are along the lines of ‘do something about it.’ There is something that is called the Serenity prayer that goes like ” Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,. The courage to change the things I can,. And wisdom to know the difference.” This nicely summarizes my beliefs on this point.
Strength of Belief: I plan to do this as frequently as possible
Execution: I try very hard to avoid worry and regret, and stick to concern and planning.
Belief: Interactive entertainment is the best way to increase utility
Explanation: Going along with the previous belief, I should devote my time to increasing utility. This generally means making people happy, but it is much more complicated than that with the notion of utility. Two things that this ties closely to is the value of life and ethics. Life expectancy is high enough, and adding to it gives minor returns on utility, but adding happiness to peoples lives gives greater returns. The best way to add happiness is by entertainment. The best way to add prolonged happiness is by interactive entertainment, that is both interactive with the entertainment system, as well as other people. This can be done in multiple ways. Dancing is a great example of this, with the people and the dance being very interactive. Diving, Sailing, Hiking, and other things like that can also be interactive entertainment. These forms of entertainment tend to be restricted to specific locations and times. They are also things that are well without my expertise. Interactive media entertainment is something I can do. This is multi-player games. I can easily make games that can then be played by many people across the world, and I think that this form is the best way in which I can maximize my impact on world utility. The other areas of my expertise (environmental and polymer engineering) would make me a small part of a larger impact, but I believe my marginal impact on these efforts would be less than the impact I can do as an independent game creator.
Strength of Belief: I am devoting my life to increasing utility via multi-player games.
Execution: Make games in the way that will bring the most enjoyment to the largest number, and only work on games that are addictive through being enjoyable.
This is a good place to step into Ethics so that I can get this pesky bit of “what is utility” out of the way.
Belief: Utility is the Ultimate End
Explanation: To start off it is important that you know the two bases for ethics on a large scale. There is the utilitarian school of the ends justifies the means, and the Kantian school of the categorical imperative. The categorical imperative is something that must always be true. The best examples of this are the 10 commandments and things like “do not steal, do not kill.” I am going to go ahead and say that I am fully in the camp of the Utilitarians; however, I believe that laws and rules must be Kantian. The best way to explain this apparent discrepancy is that laws and rules by nature are Kantian, and that there is no way to get around this. If you were to make Utilitarian laws and rules you would have to put the judgement of utility into the hands of every individual; which would be chaotic. The judgement of ultimate utility must rest with a governing body or other overseeing group. The group could be everyone, but it must be a group that is deciding the laws and rules for the purpose of having a clearer view of the ultimate utility. The group then decides the best Kantian law or rule that would maximize the utility. This is then enforced in a utilitarian manner, and judged in a utilitarian manner. I say “is” for enforcement and judgement, because that is the current state of things. There are people breaking the law all over the place that the police completely ignore based on prioritization of other laws. In a purely Kantian enforcement, the police wouldn’t care about priority of laws, but would enforce every law they could when they could. Similarly there would be no extraneous circumstances when in court. Self defense would not be an acceptable reason for killing someone under a purely Kantian law of do not kill. The prioritization of the selective enforcement is usually done on an enforcer by enforcer level, which I think is not the way to go about it. This selective enforcement should be similarly decided by a larger group to understand the larger implications of utility. The exact definition of the term utility is still a little fuzzy in my belief structure, but I’m working with “happiness, enjoyment, and the absence of misery.”
Strength of Belief: I base most of my other beliefs on this one, so it is strongly integrated into most everything I do.
Execution: I work towards the maximization of utility for everyone, but focus on those I can most directly effect. This is mainly myself and my friends. I look at causes to donate time and money to based on the marginal utility of my donation. I fail in many cases to work purely for this through salience and the availability heuristic, but I do try to step back and look at the larger picture when it occurs to me to do so.
Value of Life
Belief: All life has value based on level of awareness
Explanation: Any life form has inherent value, and utility. This means that I value human life on a scale with other forms of life. Many people do not have that view. The official Judeo-Christian stance is that man is created in the image of God and thus cannot be put on the scale against other life forms. I do not follow that belief; but I respect those that follow that belief to the logical conclusions (the worst person in the world is more valuable than all non-human life forms; assuming that humans would still survive without them). I don’t respect people who claim this belief as Judeo-Christian believers and then deviate from it at some point. This is somewhere in between biocentrism and ecocentrism. The value of life is defined by its level of awareness. I won’t get into the details on this one, as it would be epic in length and require a lot of debate to nail down the details. This however follows into the Utilitarianism in that other forms of life are given utility. This is already exemplified is some laws of animal cruelty. It is not ok for you to torture many higher level animals, even though thy are otherwise not recognized as having value by the legal system and most ethical systems. This level of animal rights is something that I strongly agree with, and something that I believe should be more consistently applied. This animal cruelty laws is the best example of the utility of non-humans being put in contrast with the utility of humans. An animals well-being and happiness is of greater value than a humans happiness when the human is gaining happiness at the animals expense. This is not applied in many other situations, and is a big part of my food/drink section. Besides the food/drink this comes into my view of environmental issues, and all modern forms of manifest destiny and expansionism (which I’m mainly against). There is also the issue of one life against another, even within humans. The value of a life is something that is applied all the time in things like legislation and your own calculations of risk vs. enjoyment/money. This is something that I’d like to discuss in greater depth in a comment to this post, once I get the time to fully flush out my views on it.
Strength of Belief: I am uncertain on the level at which everything should be valued, and how we should even go about valuing life. This makes my strength in this belief relatively weak, and something that I won’t typically act on.
Execution: I will take the value of life into account when taking actions, and do what I can to avoid needless loss of life. Since the valuation is still fuzzy it is hard to be terribly specific. This is one area I would like to debate and discuss.
Belief: Humanity is defined by the mind, not the body
Explanation: If you were to remove the brain from a body and had the brain in a jar (still living and hooked up to a network), and the body (still living) I would say that the brain was a human, and that the body was not. The requirement to be called a human I define as the capacity for self-awareness, along with the genetic structure. I won’t define self-awareness because I can’t. I also will point out that it is the current capacity, and not potential capacity. The result of this is that vegetative state bodies I don’t consider humans, as well as fetuses before full development of the brain to the point of self-awareness (again I won’t define that because I can’t).
Strength of Belief: I’m never tested on it, and it isn’t that strongly held
Execution: nothing really, since I’m never tested on it
Belief: Utilitarian God
Explanation: I will start with saying that I don’t believe in a personal God, which is the god of the Judeo-Christian beliefs. I do believe in monotheism, but in a God that takes into account the larger groups of people, not individuals. This is primarily driven by the question of “Why do bad things happen to good people?” when there is a omnipotent, omniscient, all caring God. One of those things must give, and I decide to not believe that God cares about individuals for the individual. I believe that God cares about groups, and the larger the group the more God cares. I also believe that God is similarly Biocentrists and Ecocentrists in the same way I am, but there is no way of knowing about God’s preferences in these areas besides what can be witnessed to occur in the world. I believe that the great people throughout history were created from groups. While Gandhi and MLK Jr. were great people, I believe that the communities from which they came were destined to create A Gandhi or A MLK Jr., but it didn’t necessarily have to be that specific person. Had they not chosen to represent their people, someone else would have come to the forefront. I am not saying that great people aren’t needed, I’m saying that the creation of great people is through circumstances that are greater than the person involved.
Strength of Belief: My views are not very deeply developed and thus not terribly strongly held, but this is one area I am interested in talking about and developing further.
Execution: Debate and discuss further based on evidence of what happens in the world.
Belief: Wealth is in use, not ownership
Explanation: I don’t enjoy owning things, or having money for the ownership of the things or the accumulation of the money. I recognize things and money as instruments to experiences. These experiences may be as simple as owning an AC unit makes my time during the summer more pleasant. The way I then base my judgments of whether or not to own something get back to the utility of ownership vs. the utility of use. Ownership only makes things convenient for use. Use in this case can be bragging and status, but I still consider that a use. With that taken care of I then look at the maintenance and worry that will be generated by the ownership of the item vs. the alternative scenarios. I decided that owning a car was more worry and maintenance than it was worth when compared with biking, getting rides, and Zipcar. That led me to donate the car to charity (It also wasn’t technically mine and the process of transferring ownership and CA registration wasn’t going to be worth it when I didn’t want to own it anyway). I decided that this was a good mantra to follow with most things. I enjoy renting boats, housing, and many other things that I don’t have to maintain or worry about. This is not only about renting, but sharing. I own things that I share with other people without reservation and enjoy the things they share. The higher the level of sharing the more we all enjoy. I minimize my maintenance and worry, as do they by having these shared assets. This applies less now that I’m living in a studio apartment by myself, but still applies with the friends I spend time with. I believe that communities based around this communal sharing are very beneficial to those involved as long as there is accountability for contribution.
Strength of Belief: strong enough to get rid of a car. I generally don’t like owning things with this as one of the driving factors.
Execution: Sharing/renting more and owning less.
Belief: Living modestly while working on what I love is better than lots of money
Explanation: I work hard on whatever I am working on, but I want that to be something I believe in and enjoy. Since it is such a large part of my life the utility is much higher than almost any amount of money could provide. If I were the richest man in the world, but I had to work on something I hated all day, my life would be much worse than if I was living in a basement studio making games. The exact manifestation of this will be different for everyone, but the key is doing what you love and creating utility for others. This is the value that they will then give you money for so that you can survive. Money is a tool for utility, and something that has greatly diminishing returns when you get beyond the amount required for survival. One of my favorite podcasters Justin Jackson says “money doesn’t buy happiness, it just pays off misery.” Paying off misery can come in many forms, and is generally aided by having a safety net of savings. Keeping that safety net around is something I plan to do and advise others do, but the size of the safety net should be modest.
Strength of belief: This is driven by my time management and ethics, so it is pretty core
Execution: Do something I love that creates value for others.
Belief: Working out is an integral part of the day.
Explanation: The health benefits of working out are very well documented and proven for physical and mental health. The methods of working out have also been well studied and something that I should follow more rigorously. The best way to work out is doing something you enjoy, but certain types of activities in the workout regimen are hard to find good means of execution like weight lifting. Having it at the start of the day with another person is the best method, so that you have a strong start to the day and there is social accountability to it. Since I bike everywhere, going from place to place ends up being a good exercise, but only hits on the low intensity cardio, and nothing else.
Strength of belief: I know this is something that I should do, but it is something that is hard to incorporate into my routine without some social accountability
Execution: I should find someone to join me in working out, multiple mornings per week.
Belief: Alcohol is unhealthy and an unnecessary social tool
Explanation: Most of what I know about alcohol says that it is bad for my body. The beneficial effects of alcoholic beverages that I have seen have nothing to do with the presence of the ethanol, but the properties of the plants that were used in the production process. This generally equates to the plants being good for you, with no need for the alcohol consumption. The studies that have equated the long lived people with moderate alcohol drinkers aren’t well controlled, and correlative at best. I choose to believe that these people are long lived due to their moderation in all things, including alcohol, and not the ethanol promoting long life. I also believe that the calories in alcoholic drinks are not the best thing for me, besides the ethanol content. As a social tool there is certainly a use for alcohol, but it is a bad way to lubricate social situations. It is a quick fix for the long term shortcomings of social awkwardness. These shortcomings are things that should be worked on in other ways, such as theater, improv, and increased social exposure. Relaxation is another common use for alcohol, but there are many other methods which relax me more, and are much more appropriate. These things tend to be good for my health, and more social. Some alcoholic drinks are very tasty, but there are plenty of drinks without alcohol that are just as tasty. This is another case where the ethanol is not the part of the drink I’m after, so finding a way to not include it should work just as well if not better.
Strength of belief: I will no longer be consuming alcohol, excepting very specific occasions in very small quantities. Relaxing and social lubrication is something that I will not be using alcohol for.
Execution: Don’t consume alcohol in unplanned situations. Planned situations should not be for social lubrication or relaxing, but for something more significantly social. Any consumption should be done in excessively small amounts
Belief: Social events should be enjoyable and about the people
Explanation: Doing things with people should be about the people in addition to being about the thing done. This especially applies to doing things like going out to concerts, clubs, bars, sporting events, movies, etc. If I am not doing the thing with the person and enjoying the event at the same time I shouldn’t be there. I don’t typically go to concerts or clubs for this reason. I prefer listening to things at normal volumes around people I enjoy in settings I enjoy while interacting with those people. I don’t need to go see the movie/concert/event live to get the maximum level of enjoyment. Sporting events are very much in this vein, I get a better view of the game, if I really care about it, on the TV, and it is much easier to interact with the people I care about if we are at a house instead of a stadium.
Strength of Belief: I feel strongly about this, but realize that others would like to go to these kinds of things. I join them to spend time with them, even though I would prefer to do so in a different setting.
Execution: Go with people to events that enrich our relationship, and aren’t just something to go to. If it would be better to watch the event remotely, do so.
Belief: Eating animals isn’t required for health
Explanation: It is possible to get all the required nutrients from plants, and eating animals is strictly a preference for most people in the first world. This does not apply to everyone, just most people in the first world. In many cases the consumption of animals is actually worse for health in the nutrients gained from animals vs. the nutrients that would be gained from a plant based diet. There is an economic and social aspect to this, as it is seen as socially acceptable to eat meat, and somewhat socially awkward to not (you require specific dishes be made for you if you are vegetarian or vegan). The resources to produce meat is also greater than the resources to produce the same amount of nutrition from plants. The health risks of disease are greater when eating animals due to the pathogens being able to move from mammal to mammal much more easily than from plant to mammal. The only major risk is that a plant based diet must be controlled carefully for the amino acid consumption to be balanced. The combination of a plant based diet having more nutrients, fewer possible diseases, and less intensive production should make it a clear choice. The big detractors to the plant based diet are the social impacts, and the taste preferences of most people (Steph excluded).
Strength of Belief: I should care more than I do, but this is low in my priority of beliefs.
Execution: I will be trying Soylent as my way of doing a mostly plant based diet (it has Fish Oil as the only animal ingredient). I will still have other things in moderation in social settings.
Belief: Sustenance and Social/Enjoyment aspects of food need not be linked
Explanation: The nutritional value of food does not need to be consumed as a social or enjoyment activity. The social and enjoyment activities can be done together or separate, and are a big party of life, but the sustenance does not have to come from this social activity. The reason I want to separate these aspects of food is that the tastiest food, and food served in social settings, is not the healthiest food. If I have small amounts of the unhealthy food slowly I can gain all the benefits of the social situation and enjoyment of the food, without tying myself to the health profile of the social/enjoyable food.
Strength of Belief: This is not very strongly held or well formed, and there is little to back this up.
Execution: Soylent will be an attempt to separate the sustenance from the enjoyment and social aspects of food. I will still eat socially and for enjoyment, but I won’t try to tie the sustenance and nutrition parts to the social and enjoyment aspects. I will get the foods that I want and enjoy small amounts of them slowly and socially while having the Soylent for all the nutritional requirements.
In the greater realm of socio-economics I have loosely held beliefs that I don’t tend to execute on at all
Belief: Unwanted Children are one of the biggest drains on society
Explanation: Unwanted children have been shown to be statistically more likely to become criminals when grown, they are a drain on the social safety nets while growing up, and their lives don’t tend to be happy ones. If it were possible I would make it illegal to have children unless you want to have children. This isn’t feasible for multiple reasons, the worst and most prevalent of which is religious. There is a lot of land use, crime, and economic drain that comes from these unwanted children, and I would like to eliminate this if possible. I approve of the efforts of planned parenthood in this regard.
Strength of Belief: This is loosely held, and just something I think about, but wouldn’t act on.
Execution: Not have kids
I could expound on many more beliefs and may add them as comments, but I’ll stop here for now.
I welcome debate and discussion of these, as I am always up for changing my beliefs in the face of new evidence and better logical processes than those applied here.