A while back I was discussing long term future values, i.e., what we want our descendants to be or achieve, and I realized that pretty much any simple description of such values seems crazy. With a little effort it is easy to find counter-examples, or at least discomfort-examples, to most any description much beyond “I hope future folks get what they want.”
I’ve also noticed that among smart folks, the most successful keep their smarts on a short leash. They use their smarts to make the sale, win the case, pass the test, get published, etc., but they don’t use much smarts to consider whether they really want to make the sale, win the case, etc. Oh sure they might express some angst at a Saturday dinner, but come Monday they are back on the job.
In contrast, on average smart folks gain far less success when they seriously apply their smarts to big pictures, reconsidering what they want, what we really know, how the world is organized, what they can do to make the world a better place, and so on. They go off in a thousand directions, and while some might break new ground, on average such smart folk gain much less personal success, and may well do less to help the world.
I count myself in this smart sincere syndrome. I’m often distracted by what I see as important neglected topics, which offer fewer academic or other rewards. These topics have included future robot econ, foundations of quantum mechanics, prediction markets, and much more. Lately I find myself obsessed by a homo hypocritus account of human nature. I’m not at all clear on the best route to pursue this, but no route seems especially promising for success in ordinary terms, or to rely heavily on skills I’ve previously invested in developing. Yet on I go.
Applying these observations to myself, I think I have to conclude that I just don’t know much about what I really want, or what I should do to get it, in general far terms, and can’t trust my far mind to tell me much. Lacking a good basis for challenging ordinary concepts of success, I should accept them. If I’m feeling insecure, where success matters more, I should follow the example of smart successful folks in positions similar to me. You know, write academic papers or books, or do business consulting.
In contrast, if I’m feeling rich and comfortable, and so less in need of success, well then I should enjoy myself by doing whatever seems appealing at the time, as long as that doesn’t threaten my basic stable position in life. I’m capable of doing a lot more abstract thinking about what is good for me or the world, but at the moment I just don’t trust that thinking much. What I most enjoy may well be to think on big far topics, but I shouldn’t presume I have a coherent integrated account showing their true global importance.