Wanting to Want (was: Uploads and betrayal)

Robin Hanson (rhanson@gmu.edu)
Thu, 02 Dec 1999 09:49:07 -0500

Ken Clements responds to Glen Finney:
> > I may get rid of some of the more autonomic ones should they no longer be
> > necessary, such as hunger, thirst, etc., but curiosity, compassion, loyalty
> > are likely to be with me a long, long, long time.
>If only the vast majority of the world had your good wants, or at least
>wanted to have those wants, my heart would soar like an eagle.

I'm not so sure. In many ways we fool ourselves into thinking that that our values are the ones others would approve of, and are not very aware of the degree to which our values are otherwise, and of how functional those other values are.

For example, consider "limerence", or the feeling of being in love. In this state, people think their current love is by far the most important thing in life, and are confident this feeling will last for a long time. But in fact they don't actually change that much in their life for their love, and the feeling passes much more quickly than they expect.

I think this made evolutionary sense; by fooling themselves they can fool their partner, and thereby convince their partner to stay with them. Or more accurately, it seems a signaling game; the more you actually plan on staying the more you are willing to fool yourself into thinking you'll stay even longer. You may some stupid decisions in this state, but that can be worth it to gain the partnership. And hopefully inertia and friends will limit just how much stupidity results.

In the future, all sorts of trouble will come from people who fall in love and then change themselves to stay in that state of mind, forever writing love poems, using pet names, and sacrificing all for their partner, even when that partner did not so change themselves and have passed on to other relationship stages (including goodbye).

Similarly, great trouble will come from people making themselves actually be more like the loyal, fearless, upbeat, compassionate, exciting, etc. person they think they are, and want to become even more. By not realizing how functional it is to often have the opposite of these characteristics, they will become substantially less functional.

So I am selfish, but like most people I want to think of myself as compassionate, and so in that sense I want to want to care. But realizing the above problem, I don't want to want to care as much. (So Hal, is that a good example of W3? :-)

Robin Hanson rhanson@gmu.edu http://hanson.gmu.edu Asst. Prof. Economics, George Mason University MSN 1D3, Carow Hall, Fairfax VA 22030
703-993-2326 FAX: 703-993-2323