Announcing What The Future Owes Us

post by peterbarnett · 2022-04-01T15:08:19.376Z · EA · GW · 10 comments

I am excited to announce the sequel to the recently announced [EA · GW] book What We Owe The Future. This new book will be called What The Future Owes Us, and will focus primarily on the common criticism “why should I do anything for the future if they won’t do anything for me?”

The first half of the book dives into ways in which the future can do things for us. Sometimes this is in straightforward ways, such as carrying forward our values and continuing our legacies. But it will be argued that there are much more impactful and direct ways the future can do things for us via acausal trade [? · GW] and via the future’s acausal influence over the past [EA · GW] (our present). Due to the vast number of potential people in the future, we expect that they will be able to exert a large amount of acausal control over the past (the specifics of this argument will be fleshed out by the future author). 

The second half of the book looks at ways we can ensure the future acts in the best interest of the past, just as we have acted in the best interests of them. We will investigate commitment devices, and novel metaphysics which may allow this to be possible. Ultimately it will be argued that we in the present can control the future, which can in turn have a positive impact on us today.

 Hopefully, this book will bring more moral egoists to longtermism, because the best way to help oneself may be to help the future.

The book is not up for preorder yet, but we do have cover designs.

US Version
UK Version


 

10 comments

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comment by William_MacAskill · 2022-04-01T15:58:39.499Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I love this, haha.

But, as with many things, J.S. Mill did this meme first!!! 

In the Houses of Parliament on April 17th, 1866, he gave a speech arguing that we should keep coal in the ground (!!). As part of that speech, he said:
 

I beg permission to press upon the House the duty of taking these things into serious consideration, in the name of that dutiful concern for posterity [...] There are many persons in the world, and there may possibly be some in this House, though I should be sorry to think so, who are not unwilling to ask themselves, in the words of the old jest, "Why should we sacrifice anything for posterity; what has posterity done for us?"

They think that posterity has done nothing for them: but that is a great mistake. Whatever has been done for mankind by the idea of posterity; whatever has been done for mankind by philanthropic concern for posterity, by a conscientious sense of duty to posterity [...] all this we owe to posterity, and all this it is our duty to the best of our limited ability to repay."

all great deeds [and] all [of] culture itself [...] all this is ours because those who preceded us have cared, and have taken thought, for posterity [...] Not owe anything to posterity, Sir! We owe to it Bacon, and Newton, and Locke, and Bentham; aye, and Shakespeare, and Milton, and Wordsworth."

Huge H/T to Tom Moynihan for sending this to me back in December. Interestingly, in the 1860s there seems to have been a bit of a wave of longtermist thought among the utilitarians, though their empirical views about the amount of available coal were way off.

Replies from: julianhazell
comment by JulianHazell (julianhazell) · 2022-04-01T17:20:26.785Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Let's fulfil Mill's wishes by buying some coal mines.

comment by Lukas_Finnveden · 2022-04-03T00:11:25.137Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

The future's ability to affect the past is truly a crucial consideration for those with high discount rates. You may doubt whether such acausal effects are possible, but in expectation, on e.g. an ultra-neartermist view [EA · GW], even a 10^-100 probability that it works is enough, since anything that happened 100 years ago is >>10^1000 times as important as today is, with an 80%/day discount rate.

Indeed, if we take the MEC approach to moral uncertainty, we can see that this possibility of ultra-neartermism + past influence will dominate our actions for any reasonable credences. Perhaps the future can contain 10^40 lives, but that pales in comparison to the >>10^1000 multiplier we can get by potentially influencing the past.

comment by A_lark · 2022-04-01T22:40:42.638Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I pre-ordered this next year and fully agree with Stephen Fry. So far, future people seem more caught up in the theory. I’m disappointed that we’re not seeing a lot of direct work from them yet, but I have some hope this book will move the needle.

comment by Dan_Keys · 2022-04-01T20:31:26.720Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

How much overlap is there between this book & Singer's forthcoming What We Owe The Past?

comment by alexrjl · 2022-04-01T17:41:14.711Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

This is truly spectacular. By far the post of the day.

comment by HaydnBelfield · 2022-04-01T17:11:40.890Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Building on pioneering work on 'retrocausality' by Huw Price in Time's Arrow and Archimedes Point: New Directions for the Physics of Time.

comment by Linch · 2022-08-26T00:35:17.347Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Wait, isn't this just a loan (or debt or promise)? Or, put another way, isn't every concept of "owe" implicitly one where the future owes us? If I lend $10 to Bob, future Bob owes me $10. 🤨
 

comment by MakoYass · 2022-04-01T23:11:39.881Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hah!

I think it's worth discussing the straight answer to this, though: The future gives back simply by creating many of the things that I want to exist, which is a class of service that encompasses most of my values (I think).
This illuminates an interesting and surprising fact: Not all trade requires an exchange of physical objects, or even information. It is, in some cases, possible to evidence that something will occur, without ever entirely confirming it, which we will later find to be a foundational resolution in inter-universal moral trade schemes

comment by Tyner · 2022-04-01T15:21:53.212Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

This one is great