"But it's a good bet that some future societies will make ours look primitive and benighted"

A good bet but by no means guaranteed. While the most recent post-Enlightenment 200 years gives us optimism, there was very little progress for much of humanity's 200,000 year existence prior to that. So, to the extent that we can maintain our liberal democratic capitalist society, your bet will probably be correct. Keep in mind, though, that even in the 20th Century, communism/socialism and fascism threatened to plunge humanity into darkness. Those ideologies gained traction even among "respectable" people in the US, so the threat was by no means purely external. By the 1990s, one might have thought that humanity had reached the "End of History", where liberal democratic capitalism would persevere indefinitely. Some might say that it's less obviously the case now, although it's probably still a good bet.

The point is though that the human flourishing that the West has been blessed with is actually quite fragile when one considers the entirety of human history. We know for sure that we live in a (mostly) liberal democratic capitalist society right now. There is some risk, though perhaps small, that won't be the case in 100 years.

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Literally, the question asks what people *are* most thankful for, not what they *ought to be* more thankful for nor what they would be more thankful for if they put more thought into it. Most people probably have not contemplated very much not existing nor not existing as a human. If one takes being human for granted, then one won't be thankful for it. They probably have thought about the 21st Century West vs. other past and present societies and about inequality within the 21st Century West. So, people probably have answered quite honestly what they literally *are* most thankful for, given what they have contemplated seriously and what they take for granted.

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I think people are largely disregarding the first two choices. If one wasn't human, would one even understand the concept of "thankful" to compare against? In considering time in history, people probably did not consider the future. So, people probably were replacing the stated question with, "Are you more thankful to live in 21st Century Western society or for your relative status within that society?". (I assume that most respondents live in the West.) The "hidden motive" here is probably in wanting to answer a common question rather than the question that was literally asked. People want to answer this replacement question because, while we hear lots of discussion about inequality and the virtues of Western society, we have very little discussion about not existing or not existing as humans.

I interpret the results as people believe that the difference in quality of life between the 21st Century West and all other societies, past and present, swamps the inequalities within the 21st Century West.

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"people had to admit to some kind of unearned privilige [sic],...which is something most people don't like to do."

Off topic from the post, but in keeping with the overall theme of gratitude, living in a free and prosperous country is a blessing, not an unearned privilege. A blessing is something to be thankful for. Unearned privilege has a connotation of being something to feel guilty over and/or to undo. What people "don't like to do" is mischaracterize blessings as unearned privilege.

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Why are you interested in ratios of values? It is the values themselves that matter (by definition).

I suppose, on reflection, that every time one expresses an opinion he is signaling something. I meant that I did not think I was signaling anything other than that *this is my view about the answer to your question*.

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The ratio of value if exist vs not exist is infinite, but the ratio of exist relative to your expectation if uncertain is finite.

People who signal via such opinions are rarely aware that they do so.

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With the first option, you say that “your gain ratio is astronomical.” Actually, your gain ratio is infinite; but so what? It is the amounts of gain with the various options that we should be comparing, not any ratios. With the first option—having assigned a value of zero to non-existence--what is the expected value of existence? My thinking was that almost everything that exists has zero value: only the tiniest fraction of things benefit from their existence—perhaps it is only animals that enjoy positive value. So the expected value merely of existing is very, very close to zero. {On reflection, perhaps *collections of animals (including human beings)* can be said to exist, and a very high value can be assigned to many large collections of this sort. An example: The Citizens of Twentieth-Century USA, the value of which is presumably the sum of the values of the individuals in the collection. Whatever individual entities there are, there will be a much greater number of collections of individuals. I do not know whether the recognition of collections would change the calculation.}

My answer was the second option, since the expected value of being human is strongly positive, compared to the near-zero expected value of mere existence. There is a further, substantial gain from being a 20th-21st-century American; but I judge this to be less than the margin of humanity over mere existence.

In choosing the second option I do not think I am signaling anything.

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One can be grateful for the high living standard in ones country without having any emotional bond to that country or its citizens and without being proud about being born there. I doubt that the main reason for the poll results was any kind of signaling. Rather the opposite: By choosing option 3, people had to admit to some kind of unearned privilige over other people born in different countries, which is something most people don't like to do. It also doesn't make much sense to choose option 1. Why should existence itself be better than non-existence? Pleasure is better than non-existence but suffering is worse than non-existence. It is also very hard to tell if humans experience on average more pleasure and less suffering than every single other animal. For example, animals are probably not aware of their mortality and this matters a lot. That's the problem with option 2. By choosing option 4, people could have signaled high status but declined to do so. To me it seems that the poll was answered quite honestly but it would have probably made sense to split time and place in history in two distinct options

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> Assume first that one is most thankful for the process which increased your gains by the highest ratio, relative to prior expectations.

This might be a reasonable assumption for an economist but I would guess that most people didn't think and answer like that. I think most people - even among your audience - didn't even parse 'conditional on' fully correctly. I'm mathematically trained but I do have trouble applying it to the antecedent and consequent. Most likely, e.g. availability bias and near-far played a bigger role.

This doesn't mean that your explanation - signaling loyalty - is wrong.

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Indeed, "Role and associates" is close, perhaps even closer than "Your particular associates", which was not a listed choice.

But in every case I asked myself "Am I happier with this choice than I would have been with the opposite?" I really have no reason to believe that I would have been less happy had I picked a different role and wound up with different associates.

Probably my best choice, had it been present, would have been thankfulness for "Being lucky" or "Being happy. "

I don't know whether I am lucky to have found the role and associates I wound up with or whether I am lucky just to have ended up as a pretty happy person. If the latter, I might have become so regardless of any of the implied alternatives. But either way is lucky, considering how many people seem to be unhappy.

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Isn't "your particular associates" pretty close to "my human relationships"?

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If I had been asked the question in "fill in the blank" format rather than multiple choice, I'd have answered something like "The quality of my human relationships", or perhaps "My luck in life", or "My sense of well-being". I realize that you asked the question in such a way to ask which answer you like best of those listed. But I have a hard time feeling thankful in any way for any of the choices you gave.

I have no reason to feel that I wouldn't be just as thankful as I am now had I been a raccoon or a cockroach, or if I had lived in ancient Carthage, or had wound up in a completely different role with different associates.

For completeness, I presume that happiness and unhappiness do not exist in the realm of non-existence, so I don't see how my own thankfulness as someone who exists can be compared with – what? The the thankfulness of someone who doesn't exist? But I think you covered this one in your response.

Somehow, this little ditty seems pertinent.

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What it suggests to me is simply that one isn't thankful for whichever option makes the most difference but just what counterfactual seems most salient. It's easiest to imagine being a person at another time.

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>“How much better is it to live in this time and place compared to other times and places?” (answer: obviously WAAAYYYY better)

Unless you see human history ending in the very near future, this is by no means true.

There will dozens -- possibly hundreds -- possibly thousands -- of future generations. There are billions upon billions of unborn. Some of them may not be recognizably human. But it's a good bet that some future societies will make ours look primitive and benighted; they may pity us, just as you seem to feel that it's "WAAYYYY better" to live now rather than in the 7th century.

The benefits of living in an advanced future society are VAST. Not only in terms of comfort, but also in more meaningful ways. Lifespans, for instance, may conceivably be lengthened indefinitely.

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It seems to me that I’m more natural explanation is that people ask themselves “how much better is it to be a human versus some other kind of creature?” (answer: unclear??? What would that even mean?), “How much better is it to live in this time and place compared to other times and places?” (answer: obviously WAAAYYYY better), and “ How much better is it to have my friends compared to other people’s friends?” (Answer: a bit? It seems like other people are probably decently happy).

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Gee, I had a different reaction to the results of your survey. I thought it was more about people reacting to the benefits of modern dentistry, non-stick pans, air conditioning or even the much-maligned internet.

The benefits of having the stage of life defined by courtship rituals lasting for a couple decades, instead of just a couple years.

I see a lot of downsides in the decline of community and extended families, but....to each his own.

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