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The Human Potential Optimization Problem

A Grand Mission – The Human Potential Optimization Problem

There have been times when I have wondered what to do with my life. I honestly don’t care for a lot of the motivations others have. Fame and fortune are temporary and self-serving desires. In the end, it will all turn to dust anyway. No, I would like my existence to have a more meaningful legacy.

From time to time then, I toy with the idea of what I can do that would mean the most, a grand mission worthy of commanding me. While I’ll admit that this is mostly an exercise in hubris, it’s at least something of an ideal I can motivate myself with (and man, is it ever hard to be motivated when you find yourself questioning the whole point of everything on a routine basis).

Imperfection enables change. It allows for there to be a dynamic motion, a chaotic power that drives the universe forward. To reach perfection is to be done. Where's the adventure in that? A perfect world is stagnant; its potential is already reached.

The ideal is a goal to strive for, but the real prize is the process of making things better. Imagine if the world was perfect? What would the journey of life become? There would be no journey, no life, no passion for the future. In a way, the meaningful life comes out of the process of making things better.

Though it's a moot point, because perfection is nothing more than an abstract. Reality doesn't follow the rigid boundaries of perfection. Rather the closest thing we can get is the optimal. The ideal world then is the optimal world.

Thus, so far I have come up with this: a grand mission that is no less than to optimize the net potential of all humanity, and in doing so, create a world everyone can be happy being a part of.

Why would I want to do this? Well, because right now there is suffering in the world. There is injustice. Every single day, people live subpar lives simply because of circumstances beyond their control. And this is fundamentally something that irks me.

Why do I care about these people? I’ll admit that most of the time people annoy me. Many of them are just mind numbingly stupid, cruel, and selfish. But in truth I can’t blame them for that. The reality is that people are born knowing absolutely nothing, and are thrown into situations that are often absurd. I can not blame them if the cruelty of this imperfect world makes them jaded. I cannot blame them for trying to make the best of a bad situation. I cannot blame them that they are programmed genetically to be selfish in order to best survive.

Instead, what I would rather do is change the circumstances. A just society is one in which it is rational to be moral, rather than the other way around. And we have come a long way since the ancient empires when might made right and law was the fiat of the powerful. But I think we have a long way to go. Today we look at democracy and human rights, and we sit on our laurels saying how civilized we are now. But by the fact that scandals and intrigue remain one of the main reason why reasonable citizens avoid politics, it’s fair to say that we are far from a point where society can be considered ideal.

Why does this matter though? Who cares if our world is imperfect if it is inevitably doomed to become nothing more than cosmic dust one day? Because if the path leads inevitably towards oblivion or some unknown afterlife, then all we have now, is the journey that we take. And given the choice, I’d rather the journey be kind than cruel. So I suppose really, it all goes back to empathy. I feel and perceive. Even before I think therefore I am, there is the phenomenon of existing.

I also dream of doing this all for a girl who is worth creating this perfect world for, someone I can share my ideal world with, a mythical muse if there ever was one. And I’ll admit that such notions are hopelessly romantic and absurd, but really, this world is already fairly absurd.

So how do I go about attempting to achieve this grandiose mission? Realistically I’m in no position to even know where to start. However, I can reason that, given the daily array of decisions in the present that influence the future, the right decision to encourage my ideal is the one that is most probable to move in the direction of optimizing the potential, the happiness of all people in the world.

Taken as a mathematical problem, this means to try to make decisions that will approach the hypothetical state of reality that satisfies the global maximum of human potentiality. Basically, this would entail an algorithm for minimizing along the error surface of reality. To even begin to solve this problem would require God-like intelligence and awareness. Could an artificial intelligence satisfy this requirement, perhaps after the technological singularity? If so, this is a strong reason to continue in my current direction of researching artificial intelligence, and attempting to advance intelligence beyond its current limitations.

But what if the problem is simply undecidable? Would it not then be better to try to solve the problem heuristically by enacting political policies that adhere to a universal morality, and perhaps achieve a better, if not best state of reality? This would suggest a different direction to take, one more political in nature.

However, all this assumes that I am capable of being competent in acquiring and applying the knowledge necessary to achieve these goals, and that I will be sufficiently charismatic as to be able to convince others of the reason of this grand mission. In truth, I’ve so far shown very little of either. In truth, that I can even imagine being so, is nothing more than an absurd degree of arrogance.

In reality, most of this is an illogical desire to push back the wind and make the world more just. True justice, requires more than simple force of will. Do I have the wisdom, the conscientiousness to do what is right? Can I trust myself to be as selfless as I would have to be? Of course not, I am alas a mere human being. But given that it doesn’t matter in the end, that all we are sure we have is the world as it is, I’d rather try to create a better world simply because I don’t know that it’s impossible. That possibility may exist, and I want to live in a better, more interesting world. So I strive to create the world I want to exist in. I admit it’s a terribly selfish dream, but at same time, my ideal world is one that everyone, without exception, will benefit from, even if they don’t realize it. I mean, if everyone’s potential is fully maximized, shouldn’t they be benefiting from such a condition over every other possible condition? Of course I assume that by having their potential maximized I am also liberating people to pursue their own happiness, and if they feel the need, to self-actualize, to find their rightful place in this optimal world.

I know it is doubtful that this grand mission will succeed, after all, I command only myself for this mission, and I am next to nothing, soon enough to become nothing itself. Another point here I can make is that in my many existential crises, I’ve found that reason cannot reasonably find a solution to the problem of why I should exist. Reason can explain why I exist, but why should I? Given that we are capable of both good and evil in equal measure, what can we say about whether are existence is benefit or harm? A fundamental law of reality is that destruction is easier than creation (see: entropy). So that might argue that it is better not to exist (as David Benetar does), but at the same time, I feel that potential itself has merit. Because if something never existed, all the good and bad things associated with it are no longer possible. At the same time, if I never existed, I wouldn’t particularly care about this loss.

In the end, I can only conclude that this is a neutral stalemate. Existing, and not existing are, in the absence of certain precognition about what impact that life will have, is of equal value to the rest of the universe. So why exist? As far as I can find any reason to prefer existence, it lies in the emotions of being. I want to exist. I want to find out what’s next, to experience life in all its ups and downs, and to hell with what happens in the end. If in the end, God exists, and decides to judge me and send me to Hell for being human, well, I’ll deserve it, so there’s no point in complaining. Why should I fear what is just? Why should I desperately cling to a salvation I don’t deserve? I don’t care if it sounds more self-righteous than God, but I know if I act according to my ideals of justice, I firmly believe that I will be vindicated regardless of fate.

So, I say this: Do what you think is most likely to bring about the best of all possible worlds. If a God exists, and is benevolent, then you’re basically doing what is most probably consistent with the will of that benevolence. If God doesn’t exist, well, you’re acting to do everything in your power to create the world you’d rather live in. How to do this? Well, that is the Human Potential Optimization Problem I wish to solve. And to solve it is my Justified Lost Cause, my Grand Mission.

If Scientia Est Potentia (Knowledge is Power), then this is the ultimate goal of my Pax Scientia project. In its current form, Pax Scientia is a collection of essays by myself that is my attempt to develop a philosophical basis for the grand mission. Eventually, my hope is that Pax Scientia will be used to describe “Peace through Knowledge”, which is to say, world peace and prosperity achieved through Informational and Technological Superiority.

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Page last modified on July 23, 2014, at 02:57 PM