comment by finm ·
2021-01-21T20:36:36.805Z · EA(p) · GW(p)
I think it can be useful to motivate longtermism by drawing an analogy to the prudential case — swapping out the entire future for your future, and only considering what would make your life go best.
Suppose that one day you learned that your ageing process had stopped. Maybe scientists identified the gene for ageing, and found that your ageing gene was missing. This amounts to learning that you now have much more control over how long you live than previously, because there's no longer a process imposed on you from outside that puts a guaranteed ceiling on your lifespan. If you die in the next few centuries, it'll most likely be due to an avoidable, and likely self-imposed, accident. What should you do?
To begin with, you might try a bit harder to avoid those avoidable risks to your life. If previously you had adopted a laissez faire attitude to wearing seatbelts and helmets, now could be time to reconsider. You might also being to spend more time and resources on things which compound their benefits over the long-run. If you'd been putting off investing because of the hassle, you now have a much stronger reason to get round to it. 5% returns for 30 years multiplies your original investment just over fourfold. 5% returns for 1,000 years works out at a significantly more attractive multiplier of more than 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. If keeping up your smoking habit is likely to lead to lingering lung problems which are very hard or costly to cure, you might care much more about kicking that habit soon. And you might begin to care more about 'meta' skills, like learning how to learn. While previously such skills seemed frivolous, now it's clear there's time for them to pay dividends. Finally, you might want to set up checks against some slide into madness, boredom, or destructive behaviour which living so long could make more likely. So you think carefully about your closest-held values, and write them down as a guide. You draw up plans for quickly kicking an addiction before it's too late.
When you learned that your future could contain far more value than you originally thought, certain behaviours and actions became far more important than you thought. Yet, most of those behaviours were sensible things to do anyway. Far from diminishing their importance, this fact should only underline them. The analogy to our collective predicament should be clear.
Curious to hear people's thoughts, and also whether this might make a nice (if short) post.