I hope you are all doing well. I have made some technical updates to the website in the past week, I made what are called embed cards which allow me to style embedded content so that it is more streamlined with the rest of my website.
You can see the new video card in action in the web version of last week's letter and you can check out the new bookmark card being used in this one.
If you let me know what you thought of them I would appreciate it.
Please reply if you have any opinions on the look-and-feel or experience any glitches.
Also, remember last week when I was excited about hitting a record 1000 views in a month. Look at this (click on month, and then October 2019 to see the whole rundown).
There are many problems the world seems to be facing at the moment.
Can you imagine living in a future where they cease to be?
In one of my earliest pieces; What is Morality, I attempted to do just that:
“Imagine a world in which everyone was extraordinarily considerate of one another’s feelings, so much so that there was no my happiness or your happiness but rather each one of us striving for the happiness of all beings.
Imagine a world in which the word murder was only used in history class, where a person lying to you would be a noteworthy thing (as it seldom happens), where the concept of property did not even exist (everything was free, and not one single person deliberately abused this).
If morally bad behaviours, beliefs or values bring us closer to a dystopia, then a morally good behaviour moves us at least a little closer to a utopia.
This might seem like a simple question, but what exactly is the difference between these two? A dystopia is an environment that maximises to the suffering of conscious creatures like us, while a utopia is an environment that maximised their flourishing.”
Can you picture living in the world you want to live in?
As the great Karl Popper put it:
"All life is problem-solving."
And as the wonderful David Deutsch has expanded on this explicitly:
"All problems are solvable."
The rationale is simple:
- When there is a problem, that is simply a state of the universe.
- When the problem is solved, it is also simply a state of the universe.
If the desired outcome is compatible with the laws of physics, it is possible. All that is needed to reach it is the requisite knowledge.
Think about all the modernity we take for granted. The screen you are reading this letter on might as well be a miracle to anyone living only a century ago. Just as what is now possible was unthinkable in the past, undoubtedly what lies in the future is beyond what we would even consider today.
Given that we cannot see the edge of possibility, it strikes me as appropriate to dream as big as we can. From there we can take measured and reasonable steps we can to actualise those dreams.
What kind of dream would you like to come true?
An aside on cynicism
It bothers me when people drowning in their own cynicism are convinced they can see the bitter reality for what it is. Can they not see that this is simply the bitter lens through which they view it?
Do you feel that we cannot change our circumstance? Have you tested that hypothesis?
Have you ever looked back into the past and seen how far we have come?
There is also a serious double standard here. When brought face-to-face with the possibility that we can transition to a better world, our epistemic humility shines.
"You don't know that!"
"It might not work."
"There could be unintended consequences."
This is a very good thing at first. We should be thorough and consider every possibility. We should roll out changes carefully and in such a way we can reverse them if they do more harm than good.
But these are not reasons to continue to live with the same problems indefinitely!
We already don't know what we are doing. Many of our systems already are failing us. Our actions already have countless consequences that we fail to see.
There is a difference between testing our ideas against reason and evidence in a measured response and masking our fear of change behind a pretence of knowing things cannot be better.
The felt certainty that there is no way out of our predicaments is where our epistemic humility goes to die.
Can you envision a world in which we were happy and not harming one another, our fellow sentient beings or our descendants to live in such a way?
It is my view that we can play a non-zero sum game. We can achieve a net good. To me, this seems obvious.
The alternative to believing this is to believe that whenever goodness is realised in some part of the world, badness manifests also to the very same extent. What a strange reality this would be.
Do you really think life is a like a video game that has been rigged against us?
It is the very premise that for one to be happy another must suffer that needs to be scrutinised!
One day I would like to displace our felt sense that there is a minimum level of suffering required for society to run.
I do worry that the widespread belief that suffering is necessary or even good is largely responsible for why we continue to perpetuate it so unnecessarily.
We are living in an incredible time filled with wonder and worries. Scientific, technical and cultural marvels are all around. We have come a long way since we first stepped out of the plains of Africa, and we still have a long way to go. We seven billion humans are still learning to live with one another and our fellow creatures. We may be on the cusp of extinction, or we may still be in our infancy!
However, as we as a species have grown immensely, the nature of our threats and issues has also. There right now exist enough nuclear warheads to drive civilisation to rubble, the planet is warming faster than it has since the dawn of civilisation and is not on track to slowing, the intelligent systems we are developing to aid us may one day become a threat to ourselves, despite our immense growth in wealth we fail terribly in its distribution and leaving tens of millions of our kin to starve and we waste resources systematically displacing and slaughtering billions of our fellow animals which could have been used to feed them.
Each of these is unacceptable, we must do whatever it takes to tackle these problems in the scope of our lifetimes. Yet, this is not the beatific vision I referred to. It is merely the dispelling of obstacles in the way.
As enormous and gravely important all of these problems seem, if and when the glorious day comes that they are no more — we will simply have cleaned up our own mess!
What lies beyond
"The sky calls to us, if we do not destroy ourselves, we will one day venture to the stars."
When we have resolved the problems that ail us, life will go on and we will once more be faced with the task of occupying our time. What mischief will we get to then?
The above quote by Carl Sagan offers insight into what lies beyond. We have spent most of our time here exploring the world we were born in... perhaps we aren't quite done yet!
What realms of mind and matter are out there to be found?
Will we someday realise Stephen Hawking's dream of formulating a theory of everything? Will Elon Musk's vision to colonise Mars be actualised? Will we win the game of politics and at last discover a reliable means of living harmoniously with one another? Will we ever encounter intelligent extraterrestrial life? Will we eradicate poverty once and for all? Will we finally find the cure for cancer? Will we ever understand once and for all the mystery of how consciousness arises?
All these questions remain unanswered!
What a shame it would be for this story to end prematurely.
There still so much to discover about our world and ourselves. Another problem with our culture that leads to fatalism and nihilistic paralysis is that we continually appeal to fear. People already have an idea of what they are running away from, but where are they going? Is there a place worth going to?
What will the other shore be like? And can we have fun along the way?
I can see a world where we truly live in abundance and leisure. Where not only are we prosperous as a whole but we are sharing it such that we are all freed from pointless starvation. Where the drudgery we once believed was necessary for life is taken care of by our machines and we are free to spend our time as we please. Where we all have a deeper understanding of what constitutes happiness and we act on it in service of ourselves and one another. Where we feel free to spend all of our time in the means we find most fulfilling and not in the endless pursuit of the phantom that is stability.
We can solve the engineering problem of ageing and illnesses we now consider fatal can be reduced to a mere inconvenience. We can realise the transhumanist vision of superhuman lifespan, intelligence and well-being. With enough knowledge and creativity even solving currently intractable problems like wild-animal suffering are on the menu.
How far can we go?
We no longer burn women alive for witchcraft. We no longer sacrifice one another in an appeal to our imaginary gods. Slavery is no longer fashionable and the persecution of minorities which was the norm is widely frowned upon.
We as a society know better than we did in the past. We have changed our attitudes and actions over and over and have been learning how to no longer endlessly cause such pointless misery to ourselves and each other.
We can continue. We are still growing, we are still developing. We are still learning how to live with one another. There is no deep reason why the way we treat each other in this time in history needs to go on forever, we do not have to continue perpetuating our suffering in the ways we tend to.
As we have improved in the past, we can do so again and again. There is no reason to believe there is a limit here.
This is already looking to be the longest letter I have ever sent out. If you have read this far, thank you very much.
Beatific may not be a word you are familiar with, it essentially means blissful. A beatific vision is one of happiness. Can you see the beatitude?
I have asked this question a few times through this piece, but can you picture in your mind's eye a world that you want to live in? Can you visualise a world where the problems of today have vanished and we have moved on to other things? Can you see past the illusion of a bitter reality?
What would a better world look like to you? If you can visualise this please send me a reply and let me know what it looks like to you. I would love to hear from you. What needs to be accomplished for us to have the confidence to let be and simply enjoy our lives?
Once again, thank you for reading this. It is because of you that these thoughts of mine have any hope of benefitting anyone.