Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Improving life by changing and eliminating goals.

The common question people ask is how do I achieve my given goals.

But sometimes the better route for a good life is having other goals.

Sometimes giving up on certain goals can make life better.

Many of our goals are unconscious. Knowing these goals and sometimes changing them is even a bigger challenge.

Sometimes, pursuing the goals "the way we want them" is plainly irrational.
Even not by our own standards. It is many times either stubbornness, or lack of thinking. But there are more emotional and cognitive structures that cause us to get stuck with only certain goals and ways to do things.

Certainly, we sometimes want the things that are good for us. We may not always know the exact way they are good for us. But the heart knows things the mind does not.
Sometimes it is the idiosyncrasy way of things that gives them special taste.

But the idea stays.

1) Changing goals can be the way to improve life.
2) Our goals and the good life are not always compatible.

PS. Some believe that the fact that we want something makes it worthy of pursuit.
This sounds tautological for me. Especially when we see people pursue goals that are quite clearly destructive.
I do not believe that personal goals are above reason and criticism (criticism in the common sense meaning). Our goals are not exempt from being stupid.

Update. I see there is research showing that disengagement from unattainable goals is linked ot better health and well-being.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Nozick's experience machine

Robert Nozick holds that people want real experience and not the subjective one.

I used to think he is entirely mistaken. It just sounds bad. It depends on how you phrase the question + most people cannot realistically understand the question.

Now I have two more points.
1) In line with the idea that many of our intuitions are rational as general decisions rules (Gigerenzer "ecological rationality" and "simple heuristics that make us smart").
Possibly we have a strong intuition against false deals and fake stuff. The whole experience machine sounds like cheating. If taken to its logical conclusion, it is a good deal when taken seriously, but most people are following their thinking rules, yielding a strong no. Would they be able to truly comprehend it they would have liked it.

2) Goals are another fancy issue. Do we want to feel good? or do we want status, sex and food?
It sounds contradictory, but human motivation need not be defined in feeling good. Humans seem to have in fact multiple motivations, and not all of them are always compatible, nor can we say that people know how to trade off between different goals.
If the evolutionary embedded goals are specific, we can understand why people refuse the experience machine. We have in mind the embedded goal of food not of its experience.

Does it imply that it is not experience that matters? surely not. Because it is quite possible that in a sense people prefer the good experience to the real stuff.
In a sense the want to feel good has better rational justifications, and is more coherent when looking at life, than when taking the various goals themselves seriously.

[PS. goals as means: Sometimes, these goals bring the good life indirectly, as when being immersed in an "important" task makes a person happy. He must truly believe in the essentially valuableness of the goal in order to have the experience.

If goals are means for the good life, than they will tell us to refuse the experience machine, but it will be misleading. Since they are means and the experience of the machine is the very end.]

Some will say that it is not good, since we need a way to determine what people want. How will we determine preferences, wants and goals, if people are so unreliable?
The question is mis-defined. Because it is very possible that we do not have a way to ascertain what people want. Maybe people themselves do not know.

This is also not contradictory to the idea that we should use certain rules for practical purposes, because even without knowing "really" and "for sure", we may take the rules that seem best for us.

But I believe that if we want to know what people want we got to look at the variety of people actions AND related thoughts. Analyzing actions and preferences in light of what people think and know when they decide and act. This is very subtle and unreliable. Smart skeptics will say impossible. But we have a glimpse.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Ego, stubbornness and what we want from life

I found myself to be quite stubborn and caring for my ego.
I wondered who should about these things.

OK. First of all these are psychological realities. This is how we function, no matter whether it is utilitarian, smart or not.

These have also utilitarian functions. Some derive utility from their very ego and being stubborn.

There are indirect positives of these. We all have lots of experiences and knowledge about ourselves that others lack. Being stubborn may mean caring for oneself with one's intimate knowledge.

BUT! our goal in life is having a good life. Which means that foregoing stubbornness can be very smart at times. Ego is irrelevant for its own sake.

This is a huge challenge. Especially if you are stubborn with a huge ego.

Friday, July 3, 2009

fixating most parameters vs. playing the whole system

There are two basic ways to play one's life.

1) Accepting almost all current conditions, no matter how much we like or dislike them, and then optimizing life accordingly. If we have a tendency to get annoyed easily, we will accept it and manage our life as to avoid getting annoyed.

This can be very effective way to make life better. It sounds depressing, but it is very rational and efficient.
As sad as it is to accept the realities of life, we may do much better that way.

2) Playing the assumptions.
Sometimes, basic assumptions about life are central in making life worse. It is wise in that case to change the basics.
This is tough. Starting to play life anew is risky and dealing with unknown things. (avoiding the unknown, is not just ambiguity aversion, we may not handle them as good as the known).

Actually, there are very many things in life that can theoretically be changed. We usually do not even start thinking about them. There are so many hidden assumptions in our lives. So many glasses and filters with which we filter and look at life.

Alternative plans, stability and being detached

We need to eat at times, we need love, we need a million other things.

Many times, no disaster will follow if we forgo the needed. But there is a psychological feeling that we must have this and this thing. This feeling will create a very negative feeling (even a physical one) if we do not get what we want. It also prevents us from thinking open mindedly about alternatives.

Stability comes from being able to be alive feel good being able to make decisions etc. at different states. Making oneself emotionally prepared to lack of want satisfaction brings stability, as the dependence on the actual satisfaction of needs is lowered. More stability is created by thinking on alternative plans for the need, which may bring real and good solutions.

I am wondering whether this is causing detachment from what one does or from the people one is related to. It is also unclear whether and when detachment is good (Meditation tradition praises detachment from various things, but promotes a certain feeling of connectedness. There is a lot to think about that).
Generally, I believe that having alternatives is very different from being detached. One can be fully there and related abnd still having other options. Still there are trade-ofs. It is hard to evaluate the meaning value and consequences of these. No free lunch. But there may be tricks to combine things throught maybe better emotional framing.