Things that I’m currently the most interested in (Jan 21st of 2015 edition)

* Creating social environments that actively support and reinforce people’s growth, as well as the incentivizing the development of valuable projects. Our environment has a huge impact on us. The topics that we happen to see or hear discussed around us will, if not quite determine the topics that we spend our time thinking and ultimately caring about, at least vastly influence those topics. Similarly, the habits of the people around us affect our motivation and behavior: if everyone else is slacking off, then we too are likely to follow suit.

As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words: even people and communities with good intentions may get sidetracked into becoming less effective than they could be, if they spend a lot of time talking about noble goals but in practice do little but play games. On the flip side, if people really do consistently act in a purposeful manner, that is likely to also motivate the others around them.

I want to figure out the social technologies we need to consistently create communities which encourage people to develop themselves, work on valuable big-impact projects, and feel good about themselves.

* Reducing societal conflict by making people feel more safe. Our emotions evolved for specific purposes, one of which includes defending us and protecting us from threats. Someone lashing out in anger or exhibiting some other form of physical or emotional violence is an indication that there is a world-model in their head that evaluates the situation as being dangerous to their well-being, and requires a defensive reaction. Unfortunately, this has a tendency to make things worse: a person whose defensive systems has been engaged will predominantly focus on the potentially threatening aspects of the situation, causing them to exaggerate other people’s bad sides and be less likely to see those others as fellow humans. In response, the other person will (correctly!) feel unsafe, causing their protective systems to engage as well, and what started out as a minor disagreement may quickly escalate into a major conflict.

We are currently living in the safest, most well-off period in history. Our evolved instincts, still calibrated by evolution to a riskier time, have not properly caught up. What’s worse, parts of modern society exaggerate our perception of risks, and incentivize people to manufacture polarizing new conflicts. It can be seen all the time on social media, with communities united by their hate and mistrust of a common enemy, or people sharing articles ridiculing or highlighting the worst sides of their common enemies. As people stop viewing the people disagreeing with them as human beings inherently worthy of respect, and rather start to treat them as enemies, those others will lash out in return, their brains correctly interpreting the situation as a threatening one and engaging protective systems.

I would like to find ways to put a stop to this cycle.

* Creating a sense of purpose for people. Modern Western society has a distinct lack of clear vision and sense of purpose. Young people are told that they can do what they want with their lives, but are rarely given much in the way of suggestions of what could be a valuable, interesting thing to do with one’s life. Many drift aimlessly, never quite finding anything that would motivate them, or that would encourage them to really work hard for some deeply fulfilling aim.

There’s no need why this would need to be so. The world is full of valuable things that could be done, countless causes needing heroes. There are still people living in poverty, diseases that need to be cured, people living in unsatisfying circumstances, whole societal structures that could be reformed and remade, and even things threatening the survival of all of humanity. People just don’t know what they could do about all these things, nor have they been provided with emotionally compelling stories about working on these things that would make them feel valuable and important to do.

* Develop ways to live in harmony with one’s emotions. There’s a stereotype that has reason and emotions as two opposed things, and a popular view of the world that makes people think that in order to succeed in life, they often have to grit their teeth and force themselves to do things that they wouldn’t actually want to do.

I think that both ways of looking at things are mistaken. Reason and emotions are two mechanisms for furthering our goals and protecting our well-being: they only seem opposed when the two mechanisms aren’t properly sharing information with each other, and come into conflict instead of co-operating. Any time that we have to use willpower in order to make ourselves do something that we ”wouldn’t want to do” is a time when we have failed to bring different parts of our minds into harmony. They are situations when one part of our mind believes that we should do something and another is unconvinced, but instead of the two clearly considering the situation together and seeking to come to an agreement, one of them uses brute force to compel the other to obey.

This doesn’t need to be so. With enough practice, one should never need to encounter a situation where they needed to do something unpleasant. Either they would conclude that the thing wasn’t worth doing in the first place and happily give up on it, or had their whole being agree that it was worth doing and do it with pleasure.

3 comments

  1. Ari Timonen

    This is exactly my interest aswell. Self-study or self-work sucks (personal experience). There’s probably huge amount of productivity lost because people try to do things on their own which they should be doing together. Motivation to get something done is huge factor and one key factor here is to certain feeling of success and/or external validation. Obviously you also need some kind of reason why you are doing whatever you are doing. When learning difficult concepts progressing in small but visible steps has been important for myself.

  2. theworldinyourhead

    This is a lovely post! How do you feel about these topics now, 3 years later? The 3rd one resonates with me most strongly.

    • Thanks! Briefly, I think I’ve been making pretty good progress on the third (expect some future posts on that), and that if someone manages to fix the third one in themselves, then it’s a lot easier to find a purpose. I’ve come to suspect that a lot of purposelessness follows from having too many things in your head telling you what NOT to do, so that nothing feels compelling enough. Then I just need to figure out how to transmit the skills that I’ve learned to others.

      The first one is trickier, because in order to feel safe you should actually be safe, and a lot of not-being-safe is caused by other people not feeling safe and then attacking others who they think are dangerous. There are some things you can do to address that, but it looks like a very challenging problem.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.