Help Me Imagine 2

Back in April I asked readers to help me imagine:

[Your] community was … so successful … that one hundred exact copies of [it] were made then and spread around the world. They copied all the same people, work and play roles and relationships, even all the workspaces and homes. … Consider … your attitude toward the other copies of your group. On one hand, … you might want to have nothing to do with those other copies. … On the other hand, you might be eager to maximize your chances to share insights and learn from the other groups. (more)

Today let me ask for help imagining a different situation.

A copy of you was made when you were ten years old. That was a century ago. Since then many thousands of (exact) copies have been made from that one copy. Most of these copies have grown up to do one of the few jobs where there is a big demand for copies of you. (Copies of you have tried other jobs, but so far they’ve not been competitive.) Every year a few dozen more copies are made and trained for these same few careers, but using slightly newer methods, to adapt to changing customers, techs, etc. Older versions of you often help to train younger versions.

Now here are my key questions:

  1. As an older copy, how free would you feel to push advice on younger copies? You could advice them on work, friends, love, etc. When there were consequences for you, how strongly would you want to insist that they follow your advice?
  2. As a younger copy, how much would you trust the advice of older copies of yourself? How eager would you be to get and follow such advice, even when you didn’t understand it? How willing would you be to get into situations where you had to do what they told you?

Today as parents, teachers, mentors, etc. we often give advice to kids, students, and junior co-workers. But our eagerness to advise is tempered by knowing that they are often quite different from us, and in addition times can change, reducing the relevance of our earlier experience. Our eagerness to listen to such advice when young is also tempered by the same reasons. Even so, the two sides often find themselves in conflict, with older folks pushing more advice than the younger folks want to take.

When the advisor-advisee relation is between an older and younger copy of at the same person, instead of between two quite different people, is there more or less conflict in the relation? Is more or less advice given and taken to heart? Do people feel more or less free and autonomous?

Added 5p: Today if asked in the (far-view) abstract, people say they’d want to take advice from those more experienced than they. But they often feel different when they get a specific (near-view) piece of advice that they don’t want to follow, or when they feel a rivalry with the person giving the advice. Then people look for excuses not to follow the advice. I’d think the same processes would happen even with copies of yourself. So I ask you to imagine particular near-view situations, and not just to consider the question in far-view.

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  • IMASBA

    “But our eagerness to advise is tempered by knowing that they are often quite different from us, and in addition times often change, reducing the relevance of our earlier experience.”

    If only that were true… Children would be a lot more inclined to follow their parent’s advice if the parents admitted that learning from mistakes forms character, teaches lessons, that times change and that memories adults have of their own childhood are often highly inaccurate. Smart children ask their grandparents for advice. Grandparents have gone through raising children already, so they know a child that makes a few mistakes usually turns out just fine, and quite often (mostly when they are over the age of 70 and it increases as they get older) they stopped caring about painting the daily life and morals of their own youth as idyllic.

    To answer the questions:

    1) Seeing as my younger copy would be geared by the system towards a path that resembles my own and since he would start out the same as me at age 10, I would feel very qualified to give advice and I hope I would remember what things were like when I was 10.

    2) I would trust my older copy to a high degree because I would know how similar we started out, but I could still distrust him somewhat if he did not let me find out some things on my own or told me that everything was better in his time and the children were more polite or something like that.

    • http://overcomingbias.com RobinHanson

      What if kids were in fact more polite in his day?

      • IMASBA

        What if there really is a wolf when the boys cries out? What if that lottery ticket you rationally decided not to buy this morning was the winning ticket? Well, that’s just too bad then… Of course it would be different if in your hypothetical world the copies were more honest to their younger copies than parents today are to their children: if falsely claiming everything was better in the past became rare then I’d at least expect my copies to pay more attention if older versions of them said something was better in the past.

  • Alicorn

    I really like these “help me imagine” posts.

    Since there are lots of us, I would probably not do lots of individual advising – seems inefficient and like it has drawbacks that could be smoothed away by coordinating on a higher level. I’m imagining collaborating with others of me throughout the age range to have some kind of master advice repository – these are good books to read but if you’re pressed for time or subspecializing differently here’s our summary of the content! Copies of this other person are good friends, if you meet one we advise talking about these conversation topics first and resist the temptation to correct their spelling! Polyamory-based partner recommendation service! The following things have substantial impacts on our psychological equanimity/productivity/happiness!

    I don’t envision this as being about pushiness as much as a trustworthy reference. I would *like* having an Alicorns Wiki letting me know a little early about how to steer. I think I could trust myselves to give good advice and would be much more willing to follow orders from one of me than from someone else, but this is in large part because I’d expect mes to know what they were doing with younger mes and do it in a comfortable and comprehensible way; if this didn’t hold as expected (if, say, the orders-giving process was being co-opted for its trusted status by someone else) it’d break down fast. Incomprehensible instructions would be highly suspect: a me *should know better*.

    Since the fork begins when we’re ten, we probably also want to produce a guide to the care and feeding of preteen and teenage Alicorns, assuming we aren’t self-managing our copying and somebody else is bringing up the kids.

    • http://overcomingbias.com RobinHanson

      Yes, all the older copies might coordinate to offer their advice with one voice. But would that make younger copies more or less likely to listen to them?

      • Alicorn

        I could see this varying from copy-set to copy-set, but in my case the fact that our advice was crowdsourced and any medium-sized or larger errors would have probably been caught would definitely help.

      • IMASBA

        Then again, there would be the danger of groupthink, probably worse than anything we’ve seen before in history…

  • David Condon

    My current age: 28
    I would very readily accept and give advice on career and work. I would still give and accept advice on friends or love, but not with as strong of an emphasis. This is because I feel my knowledge of career decisions can be easily boiled down to simple, very valuable concepts, but while I probably know more about friends and love than my previous self, it is not so easy for me to translate relationships into any sort of life lessons. A big question is whether my older self suffers from the same types of brain degeneration that real people do. If his advice goes much further than I would be willing to go, I might wonder whether this is due to an error on his part, but if em brains have perfect memory, then I would be much less skeptical of his advice.

  • Jennifer Reston

    10 is far enough away that I don’t fully recall how well I responded to advice back then; but if I was to receive advice from myself, I would trust my future self more strongly than other figures of authority. But times do change, and I would (hopefully) place more weight on advice given by me, but I would still need to evaluate the advice in terms of the current society.

    As an older copy, I would advise, but would not strongly insist upon acting upon the advice. Consequences are not substantial enough to demand action, and I believe that the skill of evaluating the situation is better than any blind following of advice.

    I feel copies would be less conflict (to be fair, I’ve had little forceful advice thrust upon me; if it was forceful advice, there may be more enmity). The advice is (hopefully) given freely, and allows the younger self to choose to follow the same path or to choose a different one.

    • http://overcomingbias.com RobinHanson

      To be clear, I’m asking about how you’d feel across your whole lifespan, not just at the age of ten.

  • Dale

    When I read the first question, my reaction was that I would offer a lot of advise, but do little to enforce obedience, and perhaps even offer less advise if my younger copies seemed to resent it.

    My reaction to the second question, however, was that I would probably do whatever older versions of me said, and be grateful for the guidance. I would feel like I was fulfilling my role in the dynasty.

    And this reaction changed my feelings about the first one. I now would be very happy to advise my younger copies, and even scold them for non-compliance.

  • http://overcomingbias.com RobinHanson

    I added to the post.

  • Anon

    I would not follow my copy’s advice much, and when giving advice I would add idealized self-image clutter that wouldn’t actually help them.

    I know this because this is the kind of thing I do when crafting resolutions for future behavior, or committing to paths and plans, or writing letters to my future self that I read later.

    Most of my life’s decisions have not been shaped much by good advice, but far more by external factors and necessities. Basically none of my idealized commitments or resolutions have worked out, unless external factors and necessities happened to enforce them anyway. I see no realistic reason why the person-copying process would change that.

  • Joshua Brulé

    This is a fun question.

    As a young copy, I very much doubt I would be willing to follow orders from old copies of myself. Call it “desire for independence” or maybe just plain stubbornness.

    If I was ever on the fence about a major or moderately important life decision, I would listen to advice from my older self, but I don’t think I would give it much more weight than advice from any other mentor.

    As an old copy, I don’t think I could resist the temptation to give advice and trying to positively influence my younger copies. But I would also know that my younger selves’ “desire for independence” would result in direct orders being ignored.

    I would probably end up giving very general advice to young copies; I’d try to assemble something like Koans or “parables” for my younger self – anything that would force my younger self to treat the lesson I’m trying to impart as a puzzle.

    I haven’t decided if my younger self would find this annoying and condescending, or legitimately interesting.

  • Lord

    I would readily welcome such advice when young. That doesn’t mean I would follow it, but weigh it with the circumstances then and now along with other current advice. I would offer such advice when asked, but knowing people aren’t always ready for it or want it, I would not waste my time trying to force it. Advice isn’t particularly valuable but experience is, so what someone should do is anyone’s guess, but what someone did is history and history is more valuable than suppositions. I would be more interested in providing learning opportunities than instruction. Conflict tends to occur between those with responsibility and those dependent on them, so without this relationship there isn’t much. That is largely avoidable though not something everyone wants to avoid.

  • http://gworley3.github.io/ G Gordon Worley III

    I would expect a stronger, but not dramatically stronger, uptake of advice by younger copies of myself from older copies than children taking advice from their elders.

    Trying to remember what it was like when I was 10, I would probably be more willing to trust advice given to me by myself. After all, if someone is more like me when I was their age, it would be more likely that their advice would be useful to me as there is stronger evidence that it applies to me. And who was more like me at my age than someone who was exactly like me at my age.

    That said, I expect better advice to also be given by the older copies. The advice can be better framed and the older copy can better manipulate the younger copy into compliance because of better understanding of the younger copy’s thinking.

    I don’t expect advice to be dramatically stronger though, say to the point of generating significant inter-generational improvements, both because most of those gains will likely be exhausted within one or two generations and because advice seems to only be of limited use.

    After one or two generations, I expect to see a stable point in advice-driven gains because of changing environment and limitations on useful advice that can be given. This is basically the situation we have now, but in the first couple generations there may be a lot to be gained from advice because the environment will be totally new. After a couple generations, though, changes aside, most of what will be useful advice will likely have been found.

    Also, advice, much as it is today, would still be only of limited use. Many pieces of advice are not useful to people because they don’t have the experiences to understand the value in it. In order for advice to work, it often requires sufficient data to support the advice. So the young copy must still experience many things in order to take advantage of the advice.

    Of course, in an em world this experience can be bought by trading off processing speed for money, but only in terms of wall-clock time, not subjective time. However perhaps advice could be used to do a better job of creating experiences that will make certain advice useful. Yet this isn’t all that different from what parents do for their children: trying to create experiences that will help them grow.

    So in the end I guess advice from older to younger copies is likely to be better and more impactful than advice between older and younger kin (or strangers), but within the same order of magnitude of usefulness.

  • http://space-hippo.net/ John Moore

    As an adult, I wouldn’t so much offer advice as encouragement.

    All the advice I’d give would be “Don’t necessarily follow advice. Just follow your own heart.” I’d say, “What I did was pretty good, but if I were you, I’d try to do something different, just for variety.”

    As a child, I would be suspicious of any other advice than that.

  • Anonymous

    I feel that for me, it doesn’t matter who it is who gives the advice, as long as they signal that this particular instance is not a status game but genuine altruism. (As long as I can avoid the situation where I pay a big status penalty in return for following sound advice.)
    Self-deprecation is a good signal, but not everyone understands it; presumably copies of me do.

  • Brian

    I don’t give advice, I ask difficult questions. But if it were a copy of me, I’d want to be as uninvolved as possible because I’d like to see how far this version of me might vary on a number of different spectrums: Religiousity, intellectual curiosity, sexuality, family life, criminality. It would be fascinating to have a large number of me in a large number of circumstances to help discover how much of me is because of my genetic makeup and how much is attributable to other variables.

  • Harmony

    Current age: 18 (this may reflect in the things I care about)

    I’m thinking about the sorts of advice I would give. The stuff that comes to mind are things regarding music (what albums to listen to) and other media (what to watch, etc.). I think I would be pretty receptive to hearing this from myself, assuming that I phrased it in a way that I would find palatable (and I believe I would, I think I have a pretty good model of what sorts of advice I care about).

    But my interest in the subject I currently study was sparked (3 years ago) suddenly by a series of events. I suspect it would be much more difficult to replicate this in younger copies of myself, and a disinterested me would be less open to advice about what to study. An interested me (after this event) would be very open to advice on how to better fulfill these goals.

    But general life advice? I think I would be more inclined to give advice to my copy than to someone who is not me who I know equally well, but I might not be more inclined to receive such advice favorably. I generally don’t take life advice very well, and I don’t think I would take life advice from myself well either, since I think I’m pretty aware of my flaws and actively try to fix them and advice on self-improvement has a fairly good chance of coming off as redundant. But I also have better models of what sorts of advice I’m more likely to respond to, which might counteract this. If your model of yourself is too good, I wonder if it might even be legitimate to worry about being manipulated by your copies.

  • http://praxtime.com/ Nathan Taylor (praxtime)

    Given youth being wasted on the young, it’s not clear the amount of advice accepted would change from today. On the other hand, I think advice from an older duplicate copy is potentially far more valuable than advice from some random uncle. So there could be a very strong selective effect for ems who have an innate temperament that lets them accept advice from older copies. In turn this would feedback into norms, making advice taking more acceptable and common. So I’d say yes, more advice offered and taken, but this comes indirectly from selection effects (with some feedback into norms) rather than in young people intellectually realizing old people in general have something useful to say. The counter argument of course would be if taking advice from old copies is not very helpful, and if that were true (for example in a regime of rapid change) then the opposite selection effect could occur. But assuming a stable society, I see clan copies being highly loyal to to each other as a competitive advantage. If you squint, you could think of this as a kind of genetic kin selection. Ant colonies are fiercely loyal to one another and quite successful.

    • http://overcomingbias.com RobinHanson

      Yes, selection effects seem plausible.

  • http://www.gwern.net/ gwern

    For question 1 and 2, I think the answer is the non-cynical: yes, you should feel free to give advice; and yes, you should take it.

    Consider human twins: they grow up to be eerily alike, their health outcomes and most other things are highly correlated (‘everything is heritable’), they early on communicate in their own ‘twinspeech’, trust each other to incredible extents, and AFAIK they are pleased to have a twin (eg. the ‘Twins Days Festival’). To the extent they don’t get along, it’s because they’re *too* similar and one wants to define himself more in relation to the other.

    Would a twin take his other twin’s advice on whether he’d like a job, a movie, a woman, especially if the other is speaking from personal experience? I’m thinking, probably, yes; who knows him better or could compare experience better?

    Now, consider the a fortiori argument: twins are not 100% genetically identical (de novo mutations and other issues), they experience different nonshared environments (by definition), they still have different lives however similar, and don’t share exactly their memories and knowledge up to any point in time. An em of you would share all of those to the extent possible. They would be more your twin than any twin ever was their twin’s twin, and for all those reasons better suited and more to be heeded.

    If you can’t take your em’s advice, then you are truly incorrigible.

  • Rebecca

    IMO, the driving factor will be how much autonomy and individuation is valued in this hypothetical society.

    I think that the justification this day in age is driven by “differences in who we are and our circumstances” — but the reality is that most advice is not heeded because of a drive for individuation.

    Special snowflake syndrome, if you will.

  • Guest

    Ten year old me was an idiot and I can’t imagine why there would be high demand for his work. I think he’d disagree with most of the advice I’d have for him, so I wouldn’t bother offering much.

    • http://overcomingbias.com RobinHanson

      Copies of you that start at ten would grow older. So the question can apply to those older versions.

  • Ronfar

    Ten-year-old me was a little monster. I’d be much more likely to take advice from a me forked at 14 but not at 10, because I feel as though I have some very different values than 10-year-old me and I don’t know how contingent the changes were.

  • Wei-Hwa Huang

    In real life, I am usually generous and give advice to people, but exceptions are made when I am potentially in competition with those people. If I’m at a sporting event or playing in a chess tournament, I will not give my opponent advice on how best to beat his opponent (namely, me). However, if I don’t perceive them as a threat (e.g., I’m teaching an inexperienced player how to play a game), then I am much more generous with the advice.

    The converse is also true. If my opponent tries to talk to me during a competition, I’m going to be wary of their advice. In a teaching environment, great.

    In a cooperative environment, the drive to give and receive advice is even stronger. If our goals are better achieved by working together, then yes, come with the advice!

    What is interesting is when one side believes the environment is competitive and the other side believes the environment is cooperative. A scenario might be two people working for the same company — are they both cooperating because they both want the company to do well, or are they competing for one job opening?

    I think overall, whether the environment is cooperative or competitive matters a lot more than whether the other person is a genetic copy of me or not. Of course it does matter to some extent — even though I share 90% of my genetic information with a housecat, I’m not very likely to give or receive advice from it.

  • Steve Dye

    I think the accepting of advice can be very difficult. In the EO network (entrepreneur organization) people are taught to share relevant experience not advice. In my experience this avoids the issues noted related to advice giving and getting as well as acknowledges no two situations are the same.

    As I do with my kids I would do with my other self’s.

    Share the personal experiences that are related to the issues, listen to others experiences and integrate that into my decision.