My Coming of Age Story – The end of an Impossible DreamPosted: December 9, 2012
A coming of age story is a common trope in fiction. It features the series of adventures an adolescent goes through in order to become an adult, in a psychological sense.
This is my coming of age story.
Having said that, I don’t believe in adulthood. There is no magical finish-line that someone crosses and instantly becomes wise. Knowledge and wisdom are continuous processes, not binary attributes.
I am sure that the short natural lifespan of a human would not give sufficient wisdom to become fully mature, regardless of experience. It’s inevitable that future civilizations will scorn the wisest of us, just as we chuckle at the superstitious beliefs of ancient civilizations who perform rain dances to appease Gods for good harvest.
“Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence … when I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.” – C.S. Lewis
My real coming of age story, just like everyone else’s, has not even begun. It is inevitable that I will one day stumble upon new-found knowledge that will change my beliefs dramatically. Instead of one single coming-of-age story, there are simply many stories that make us who we are. And this is one of many stories yet to come.
Obviously, my story begins in my childhood.
I don’t have many early memories. Most of them were bad ones. If we had psychologists with us, the unorthodox ones might suggest a case of repressed memories.
My parents were abusive – physically and emotionally. As a result of a complicated divorce, extramarital affairs, and emotional instability from both sides, I did not have a good childhood. If my parents loved me, I did not feel it. They spent more time obsessing over the divorce and division of assets than properly raising a kid.
Common wisdom says that this tends to screw people up psychologically. I think I was. Children without caregiving figures in early childhood can get reactive attachment disorder; some becoming overly-attached to strangers, some carrying these symptoms into adulthood. I’m not a professional psychologist, so I cannot self-diagnose. But if we can assume it, much of the following story makes sense.
At this point, I should state the following: It is a fact that I am a genius.
“You’re wrong!” you cry with indignation. “IQ is just meaningless points / tests are racially biased / intelligence means nothing / you’re an arrogant asshole!”
Rather than directly trying to justify this point, I point you towards research aggregated by a friend of mine, alongside concrete evidence for non-negligibility. You are free to publish your own ground-breaking peer-reviewed papers if you disagree.
There’s a common temptation amongst people to deny or downplay that humans differ in intelligence, on both sides of the bell curve. People on the left don’t want to feel inferior to the mean, and people on the right want to avoid criticisms of narcissism and elitism. The unfortunate truth is that intelligence really exists. I won a genetic lottery; despite doing nothing to earn it, and unlike the objectivists, I’ll make no claims about any sort of moral superiority.
But reality doesn’t care about who deserves what – I got the long end of the stick, and I feel like denying this is an insult to anyone less intelligent than I am.
Like all other overly-ambitious, narcissistic, teenage geniuses, I never really fit in with people my age when I was young. This wasn’t voluntary. Like every other child prodigy, I did really well in school, but was terrible at social relationships. It took me a long time to learn to make friends; I was 12 before actually having anything that could be described as a “friend”. I learned to live with the feeling of constant isolation.
The problem with this is that I got into a death spiral about my own intelligence. When your entire world was fellow adolescents, mere geniuses might begin to imagine themselves more important than anyone else.
As long as I can recall, I’ve had a natural affinity for Politics and Economics. I’ve always been interested in the way society had been structured, and kept thinking of ways to improve it. Between the ages of 11 – 13, and contemplating the world around me, I independently came up with many of the principles of Marxism, epistemology, liberalism, and other things. I won’t go into detail about my early childhood political ideology – it is not important.
What I took away from this was that I am more competent than my peers, who were sheep and did not think about such things. I was young and wiser than most adults, nevermind my peers! Surely when I grew up I would become one of the smartest people on earth!
I began to attribute my achievements to intelligence, and solely intelligence, rather than a hundred other factors that could have influenced this, one of them being sheer luck. People have a tendency to attribute their achievements to sheer intelligence or ability, whilst discounting their failures as the result of external factors beyond their control.
One of these successes was being placed in position of power a few years later, once again, through sheer luck. Not a lot of power, but enough to inflate the ego of any child that age. It was a rag-tag group of about 40-50 political activists trying to prevent ACTA from taking place. And for a really brief period of time, I was leading it.
One thing let to another. Because of the connections I had already made, it was easy to exert influence on others, and gain even more connections. Over a period of two and half years, I became involved in several hacktivist groups, the details of which are irrelevant.
But the important part was that this luck made me influence events in such a way that I indirectly caused global news. I changed the world. I got people to rise up in an act of rebellion. When I saw the stuff I wrote plastered all over TV, I shat myself, and my ego inflated once more.
I felt directly responsible for what had happened, and that it was my skill and my talent alone that made this happen. I didn’t say this, of course, publicly. But deep inside my heart, I became aware of the fact I was a big deal.
Of course, the territory differed from the map inside my head. True, I created this. But it wasn’t like I masterminded it (even though it really felt as though I did). In retrospect, I wasn’t the one doing the coding. I wasn’t the one running exploits. I wasn’t the one herding bots. I I wasn’t the one that got the media to pay attention. Truth be told, I didn’t really do anything. Nothing important anyway.
I was merely the spark that started the fire, and then pretended as though he WAS the fire. It could have been anyone. It just happened to be me.
Because of the Internet’s anonymity, it was easy to appear older, wiser, and more sophisticated that I am. You wear a mask long enough and you begin to assume that the mask was you. Part of my role was to pretend to be larger, greater, more influential that I was, for the sake of theatrics, for the sake of appeasing the media.
I wonder if actors sometimes face identity crises with the characters that they play. Play a character long enough, and you begin to imagine yourself as them. Their thoughts, personalities, and characteristics carry over to your daily life. I slowly became the character I played.
And since this event, I constantly compared myself to my peers. Every success I gained, I attributed to talent over my peers. Every failure I received, I attributed to bad luck.
Why aren’t my peers as smart as me? Why was I special enough to change the world? If I can accomplish this at such a young age, how much more will I be in the future?
This was my childhood affective death spiral.
I was more intelligent than the average person. I don’t think that was a matter of debate. I just overestimated how much more intelligent I was.
It needs to be included that during all of this, I read all the cognitive biases out there. I was aware of the pitfalls of irrationality. I was already a Rationalist, having escaped from my deeply religious background at the age of 11. I knew all the logical fallacies. I knew what the Dunning Kruger effect was.
I knew what an affective death spiral was; and even that didn’t prevent me from falling into a dark pit.
It just wasn’t enough.
What do you think happens when you take a narcissistic, delusional, attention-seeking child and make him believe himself to be far more competent than he actually is?
He begins to desire the impossible.
“I am fond of prideful individuals. Individuals who harbor grand ambitions, not knowing they aren’t fit for the task. Simply observing such people gives me great enjoyment.
There are two kinds of pride. One where you aren’t fit for the task, and one where your desires are too grand. The former is commonplace stupidity, but the latter is rare and difficult to come by.
Those who have renounced their humanity for the superhuman wishes they harbor despite being born human…I never grow weary of watching their grief and despair.”
What was my impossible dream? I wanted to save everyone.
I took my utility function, and divided it equally onto every human on earth.
It’s not impossible. It’s not even really hard. All it takes is a form of selflessness caused by a stunted emotional development, and being raised by the collective consciousness of humanity.
I wanted to save everyone; without regard for my personal safety.
I saw people die in wars.
I saw people die to poor socioeconomic circumstances.
I saw people die to the stupidest and most preventable reasons.
And I resented that. I wanted to save each and every one of them.
And I began to realize that in order to save every single person, it wasn’t enough to individually help each one, there wasn’t enough time. The solution could not have been donating to charity either, for I would never acquire enough money to save each and every person.
I began to realize that in order to save everyone, I had to optimize things on a much grander scale. Eliezer Yudkowsky, someone who resembles me in many ways, choose AGI research as a method in his youth. The method that was the most intuitive for me was in politics. I had to obtain power to make sure everyone could be saved. I needed to rule the world.
I told myself I would do this or die trying.
I knew that realistically, that was impossible, so I settled on simply saving as many people as I can. I knew that ruling the world was seriously improbable, so I made backup plans, and backup plans for those backup plans. I made strategies and allies. I did my research.
I knew that politics was the mindkiller; of the difficulty of fighting irrationality in politics. I was naive, but not that naive. I do not think I have ever fell victim to partisan-politics, of defending your side against all opposing evidence. I understood all the arguments on all sides, and understood the difficulty of knowing which side was right. I tried to find the winning strategy. I read as much as I could, on every single political book I could find, by every political ideology. I constantly sought the truth on the internet, I joined political movements, I fought as much as I could.
No, my problem was not irrationality in politics. It was something far more fundamental. I analyzed the outside world so much that I had forgot to analyze myself. I’ve always been bad at introspection, feeling far more comfortable taking the macro-cosmic view.
It is written in the Sun Tzu’s art of war; “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle. ”
I did not know myself. Thus I was defeated.
I thought myself more intelligent, with more willpower, with more strength than I actually had.
I did not underestimate my task. I overestimated myself.
I was 16 years old when my hubris reached its highest point.
I reasoned that if I managed to accomplish as much with the limited amount of time I had, I could do so much more had I been given more time. Reading on politics was not something that could be done in the incredibly limited amount of time I had, and with hundreds of books on my reading list, and many other activist groups I began to neglect, I had to obtain more time. The answer became clear. I had to drop out of school.
Normally, dropping out of school is a bad move. I acknowledged this. After all, I was the type that researched everything possible, for knowledge, I had said, was power.
The issue here was that if you divide your utility function equally amongst all humans, your own utility function is going to end up really, really small. I would only fulfill my own biological needs on the basis of my existence fulfilling the utility functions of others.
Tuxedage(16), had he been given two choices, between a 1% chance of saving 102 people, and 99% chance of dying, or a 100% chance of living, would have chosen the first.
Was that wrong? To most people, this was insanity. Was Tuxedage(16) insane? For him to love humankind so much, that he could treat every person as he treated himself? To apply the Golden rule to its logical extreme?
I acknowledged that dropping out of school was a risky move for my future. But I didn’t care about my future. I cared about the future of everyone else, and I figured that I would take this risk.
In retrospect, merely dropping out of school was not the end of the world. It does carry an inherent risk, but one can always go back to school, even if his education is delayed by a few years. But put yourself in the mindset of a 16 year old, especially one that has incredibly unsupportive parents. Imagine that you’ve been raised in an asian culture that strongly valued education, and deemed anyone without an education an utter failure. Imagine being raised in a culture that regularly bred children who committed suicide if their grades were deemed not good enough by their parents.
It took a lot of courage to decide to drop out and take the third option. Everyone but me thought it was insanity. If my parents didn’t hate me before, now they definitely did. If I did not live my life exactly the way they wanted me to, they couldn’t accept me as a son. I couldn’t stay with them any longer. This was the first time I experienced homelessness.
It’s not a very pleasant experience. The good news is that I anticipated it, and left home prepared, on my own volition. I went couch-hopping, and managed to keep living long enough to fulfil the next step of my plan.
Long before I dropped out, I kept optimizing and refining my strategy. I tried to research historical figures who achieved the same things I wanted to achieve, and tried to emulate them; by joining political groups, and by gathering my own set of allies.
Half my time came to be spent in the acquisition of knowledge and political experience. The other half was spent trying to make connections. Networking was important, I told myself. It was about who you knew as much as what you knew. Naturally, it wasn’t easy.
Since I didn’t believe that the political change I desired could be obtained by working completely within the system, I had to persuade people to work outside the system too. Some people perceive this as an act of rebellion. For my strategy to work, the kind of person that I needed (at the start) were not mindless sheep for obeying orders, but intelligent and initiative-taking people, ones that could be described as natural born leaders. I wanted brilliance. But above all, I wanted people with a high amount of dedication to this. From my political experience, people had a tendency to drop out of projects prematurely, especially if it were on the scale of years. I couldn’t have that, after all. There was a world to be saved, and every single of my ally should be willing to sacrifice the chips of their life in this lottery of politics.
Obviously, such people are not easily found. The combination of intelligence, interest, and suicidal dedication was rare. I used every possible strategy I could come up with. I made contact with a lot of people, both online and offline. I had to make a lot of promises, to assure them that I would get this done, and to get them to trust me.
To accomplish this, I needed money. For the sake of my own survival, as well as the sake of the group’s plans. I needed an Engels. It cannot be understated that it is really difficult to secure the means of provision by living off donations, but I tried to obtain this nonetheless. This is a fairly long story that I will not dwelve into, but suffice to say that due to a number of biases such as the just-world fallacy, or the availability heuristic, the ones who desired political change the most are often the ones least capable of financially supporting me.
Was this what made me a failure? No. I was ready to do what I could to achieve this, or die trying. I knew the risks, and did it anyway. I willingly choose an unstable and dangerous lifestyle despite being more than capable of living in relative comfort.
There were three major realizations that made me go back on my past ideals; that made me break my promises to my friends.
The first realization that hit me was my LessWrongian enlightenment, the culmination of the most important enlightenment understood by Eliezer Yudkowsky.
Nominally, LessWrong is a community of people dedicated to studying Rationality, based on a series of essays totaling one million words, written by Eliezer Yudkowsky about how to think more efficiently.
Eliezer Yudkowsky calls this imparted knowledge a “Bayesian Enlightenment”, but I prefer the term Lesswrongian Enlightenment because I was already a dedicated rationalist before I joined LessWrong. I made no obvious mistakes, I was careful to understand that politics was the mindkiller. I always questioned my own side, and made friends with people from every political perspective, lest I fell into a death spiral.
The biggest insight that LessWrong imparted to me was not that of these methods of Rationality, but of the technological Singularity, a period of time where we manage to create a feedback loop of intelligence.
It was this click of insight that started me on my journey to Adulthood. Intelligence, I knew, was a superpower. The rise of human intelligence in its modern form reshaped the Earth, and is responsible for every single human invention and weapon in existence. It is intelligence that made humans the dominant species on this planet, and it is intelligence that sent us to the moon.
If we manage to use that intelligence to improve that intelligence, this closes the loop and creates a positive feedback cycle. If we invent computer-brain interfaces that improve our intelligence, we’ll use that additional intelligence to design the next generation of computer-brain interfaces, and the next generation will create an even better one.
The key idea is that if we can find a way to improve intelligence even a little, the process accelerates. It’s kind of like a nuclear reaction, it only takes a few atoms to spark a chain reaction.
If I could poetically describe it, it would be the victory condition for the human race.
The possibility of an intelligence explosion needed me to reconsider every single one of my plans. I had always assumed the ability to save everyone would come from political, rather than scientific means.
Related to this was the concept that the rate of scientific discovery was exponential, rather than linear. In retrospect, it would be immediately obvious to anyone who sincerely analyzed human history, but somehow this had never occurred to me. Technology is a self-recursive feedback loop; the more technology we have, the easier we can utilize it to invent more technology. The rate at which humans discover new innovations is not linear.
One measure of how fast things are changing is that within the United States and Canada, GDP per Capita , even adjusted for inflation, doubles every 15 years. If the average person earned $30 000 annually when he is 20, and stays at the same job for the rest of his life, he will be earning $60 000 by the time he is 35, $120 000 by the time he is 50, and by the end of his life, he will be earning half a million dollars per year.
As someone who was attempting to save everyone using politics, it was impossible to ignore technological determinism; technology changes what political system and decisions are feasible and unfeasible.
For example, many forms of democracy would be impossible in the past. Currently, our voting system itself relies on many technological innovations. The invention of cars allow for quick transportation of ballot papers. The invention of wireless communication allows for the votes of millions of citizens to be totaled, counted, and for a winner to be chosen within days, and the news spread instantaneously. The invention of the printing press, the Radio, the television and Internet allows for informed decisions regarding candidates to be made.
It could also be argued that the popularity of Monarchism and Feudalism in the olden times could be attributed to political limitations due to the impossibility of Democracy and a knowledgeable population. In addition, every time a King died, a new ruler could come about without sparking a massive civil war of various warlords fighting for command!
I had subconsciously assumed that it was possible to extrapolate linear technological trends into the future. It turns out that I had severely underestimated how much technology would change in my lifetime. The political systems that I had thought optimal were useless, and the political systems I thought impossible suddenly became optimal.
Moreover, there was a further possibility that had been revealed to me. The possibility of indefinite life extension, through methods such as cryonics, biological repairing, or mind-uploading. The evidence for each of these methods being possible was overwhelming, and aggregated, there is a significant chance that I could live forever.
People usually have a tendency to reject immortality for ridiculous reasons. I firmly believe that Life is good, death is bad; health is good, sickness is bad, and that there is no critical age where it suddenly flips polarity, and living becomes bad. When most people say they want to die, what they actually want is to end their suffering, not life itself. If the sickness and weakness associated with aging would be cured along with aging itself, if a person were to find life free of suffering and full of fun, there would be no logical reason to die.
I’m not a fan of compartmentalization; of conveniently putting conflicting ideas into different boxes, and never bothering to update on your beliefs. I had to reconcile utility-maximizing strategy to include this possibility.
After all, if I were to live for 80 years, but die at 30 for the sake trying to save everyone, that would be 50 years lost. A large number to some people, but in the grand scheme of things, negligible.
But if living for billions, even trillions, of years were possible, I would lose billions of times greater utility than if living forever was impossible.
Similarly, if I wanted to maximize utility, if I wanted to save people, my old tactic couldn’t work. If I could extend a single person’s lifespan by 1 million years, and consequently add that much utility, it may be worth more than saving a hundred thousand people, and extending their lifespan by 5 years.
Did you feel an emotional reaction to this statement? Trust in math, not intuition. This isn’t about your feelings. A human life, with all its joys and all its pains, adding up over the course of millions of years, is worth far more than your brain’s feelings of comfort or discomfort with a plan. Does computing the expected utility feel too cold-blooded for your taste? Well, that feeling isn’t even a feather in the scales, when a life is at stake. Intuition is not the most reliable guide for what policies will actually produce the best results, particularly in cases where we can actually do calculations with the relevant quantities.
Just shut up and multiply, even when it feels wrong.
My second enlightenment came out of my LessWrongian Enlightenment. It was the realization of existence of the level above mine. For the first 16 years of my life, I (falsely) believed that I was the most intelligent person I knew, especially in the fields that I had a natural aptitude for.
I knew that it was physically impossible for me to be the most intelligent person on earth. I wanted to find people more intelligent than I was, in the fields that I cared about. I wanted to measure the distance between them and me.
Being able to vocalize the words “There is someone more intelligent than I am, even at the best thing I can do.” is one thing. Being shown the magnitude of your folly, having your “genius” ideas beaten to the ground again and again, being drop-kicked and humiliated, and your idiocy revealed, is another.
The brain is a chemical calculator. For you to factor your priors into your decisions, you have to “feel” them, rather than think them.
And for the first time in my life, I genuinely felt incompetent. Small. Insignificant compared to the intellectual heavyweights that I challenged.
Like just every other child prodigy, I grew up being constantly reminded of my own intelligence. Forced into overwhelmingly inefficient systems of outdated learning, I couldn’t help but compare myself to my peers, and look down upon them.
But if I was a one in a thousand genius, there remained 7 million people more intelligent. Even factoring in specialization and a natural aptitude for a specific field, there will exist people whose competency far exceeds my own.
It’s even more stunning when you realize a person who outmatches your intelligence has undergone this exact same revelation, to reach a point where he realizes his child prodigy license has officially completely expired.
To me, that person was Eliezer Yudkowsky. He was the first person I truly measured my intelligence against, and the first person to truly make me feel incompetent, on a deep and emotional level. If at this point you have no idea who this man is or what makes him so intelligent, take a peak at the LessWrong sequences. I strongly recommend it.
I aspire to reach his level. I aspire to be as much the Master of Economics as Eliezer is in Artificial Intelligence / Reflectivity. I can even plead that I am far younger, had a far more difficult life, or that I had much less encouraging parents than he had, making a mockery of deference.
How large was the difference between us?
Might it be that Eliezer’s brain is specialized off in a different direction from mine, and that I could never approach Eliezer level competence on AI, and yet he wouldn’t do so well in human societal optimization?
Or could it be that I’m simply dumber than Eliezer, dominated by him along all dimensions? Maybe, if Eliezer had a slightly different childhood, or had reached a slightly different conclusion on how to save everyone, he would have succeeded where I had failed?
And yet Eliezer himself admits that there are vast levels above his. People like E.T. Jaynes. Von Neumann. Conway.
I’m not even sure, at this point, if I’m of above average intelligence on LessWrong itself. Despite being used to debates, despite priding myself on being epistemically vigorous, I feel as though the best I could manage is to defend my own logic, rather than win any significant argument.
And I’m sure, statistically speaking, that there are levels of competence I cannot manage to understand. As a general rule, it’s impossible to differentiate between too many levels above your own.
I couldn’t, and neither could the people who falsely believed in my intelligence.
Sure, just because there exists people far more intelligent than me, doesn’t necessarily make me unfit to play the role of a Messiah. I always knew they existed. But it contributed to me seriously doubting my abilities, for during this period of time, I had repeatedly failed in achieving a number of milestones I set for myself.
As an example, one of this was the desire to write a book about my ideas. But, of course, I failed. I didn’t have enough motivation, nor enough experience to do something like that. I also tried to create several political “operations”, and planned a number of things to increase the efficiency of political activism I was involved in, and so on. I failed at that too.
It’s ridiculous how lazy I am, even with my life at stake. This mattered more to me than my life, and I managed to botch it up anyway. It turns out that I can’t work 14 hours a day, every day. I was never really pushed to challenge my willpower in school, so I never realized its limitations. This was also the first time I discovered that I, too, am human. I’ve always thought of myself as having above-average willpower and conscientiousness. But the truth is that if you measure willpower alone, I’m probably one of the laziest people you know.
The reason why I never realized that was because I was really competent at doing things, and found shortcuts that others couldn’t. I also had the weight of the entire world on my shoulders; when something is at stake, most people find a mysterious innate strength inside them, like stories of mothers lifting entire cars when their children is trapped underneath them. Furthermore, I had an internal compulsion to understand the world around me, so things involving learning become somewhat fun.
But take away all these things, and you’re left with someone without willpower. Once the novelty of my new situation wore off, I couldn’t manage to do the necessary things I hated doing. It became a cycle of attempting a new task, before the novelty and thus the willpower dissapeared, and me failing at the task. Again and again. With the world at stake.
This really angered me. It made me feel incredibly incompetent and unworthy to play the role I wanted to. I was less intelligent than I thought I was. I had less willpower than I thought I had.
It was with this, that my childhood affective death spiral ended, and that I discovered the greatest folly of my youth, in believing that I was fit to play the hero.
The third and final realization that made me who I am today was the value of Nakama. Like I mentioned; a Japanese word with which there is no equivalent. In English, “friends” is used to describe someone you enjoy the company of. Someone whom you happen to associate with.
Nakama can go much deeper than that. Nakama can mean friend, comrade, and under some contexts, “people who are considered closer than family”. People you would save at all costs. People you may even die for.
Fiction is powerful. It can be used to gain experience that would otherwise take several lifetimes to achieve. It can teach important things and life lessons that would be impossible to understand using any other method. It can fix an emotionally stunted child incapable of empathy.
Anime was initially something that I watched when my willpower was weak, and my brain could no longer function due to stress. It was merely “something that prevented me from reading about politics”. I didn’t think much of it.
I didn’t realize it back then, but in retrospect it gradually made me less emotionally stunted, which I became as a result of a screwed up childhood. It made me feel emotions I never felt in years. It made me genuinely interested in others, rather than just being the Machine that is Tuxedage Maho.
Anime has made me more emotionally sensitive, and less of a heartless calculator.
It has taught me that there was more to being human than intelligence alone. And that, in retrospect, I was a horribly bad human being, desiring to save everyone, despite being manipulating, lying, cold, narcissistic, and denying all the qualities that made humanity worth saving in the first place.
It forced me to stop thinking of the people I met in the pursuit of my goal as pawns, and more as human beings that I truly value. Of my friends in school I looked down upon, who are in retrospect, better than I am. Of everyone I chatted with, marched with, camped in the freezing cold with, studied with. Of everyone who considered me as a friend, despite the fact that I was a prick who couldn’t reciprocate such friendship.
I think most of all, it made me understand the value of my own life, a concept I had long forgotten. Perhaps saying this will be met with ridicule, since Anime is stereotypically seen as either children cartoons, or pornographic animations, but Anime has saved my life. It made me a much better person.
It was the combination of these three realizations that had finally caused me to admit defeat. None of these alone could have made me break down, but cumulatively, it forced my crisis of faith. The final straw was that during this period of half a year, I couldn’t achieve anything substantial. I also procrastinated. Even with the world at stake, I couldn’t muster enough emotional strength to dedicate my entire self to this.
I realized that I couldn’t save everyone. I can only save a few, if any. So I needed to begin to think about who to save, to shut up and multiply. I realized that not all methods of salvation are equal; some methods are worth far more. A handful of people living indefinitely may be worth more utility than an entire country combined.
I realized that I was far less competent than I assumed I was. That there were people far more suited to my ambitions than I was, and that I needed only do what was humanly possible.
I realized that I valued my friends; the many people I have met whilst attempting to achieve my goals. Because life for me would eventually be worth living, even if it currently isn’t, and that I had to protect the people I valued whilst I still existed.
I realized that I no longer wanted to die for my ideals, and needed to break the most fundamental of promises, the one to myself: That I would never conform, never put my own life above all others, to never give in to the selfish desires I was born with.
At first I did not want to admit it. Nobody likes realizing that they failed, especially on a fundamental level.
I was wrong about how the world worked. I was wrong about myself. I was wrong about logic itself.
It took me a long time to realize this. Much longer than it should have.
But it is difficult to imagine anyone who actively questions the world around him, and not, at least once in their life, realized that they were utterly wrong about everything they took as obvious truth. Anyone who hasn’t been through this probably has never seriously pursued truth, or are still wrong, or are either incredibly lucky. Notice that Intelligence is not in this list, because one of the things I was forced to learn was that intelligence doesn’t shelter you from being wrong.
I say this because the most intelligent people in the past were wrong about pretty much everything. They were wrong about reality, wrong about science, wrong about quantum mechanics, chemistry, philosophy, physics, wrong about politics, about the universe itself. The more intelligent you are, the more you go through this process of thought-purging. Intelligence means that you think more. You observe more. You gain more ideas, and consequently have more of those ideas turn against you. A rock is never wrong, and if your goal is to never be wrong, then the best strategy is to not think at all.
But that’s not my goal. Nor should it be anyone else’s. I hate being wrong. But if not being wrong also means never being right, then I will fail as many times as necessary.
The feeling of defeat and humiliation of realizing your ideas were wrong should be welcomed. It means that you are still learning. It means that you are growing. I cling on to this idea, and it keeps the guilt of betraying my past-self at bay.
But I was a Bayesian Rationalist, goddamnit! It was for this exact reason that I trained myself to think. To avoid the affective death spiral. To avoid the sunk cost heuristic, and to face reality, to believe that a hot iron is hot, and a cold iron is cold.
I wasn’t going to rationalize away my failure of judgement, or blame it on someone else.
I wasn’t going to shy away from the truth, or refuse to update given new priors.
I wasn’t going to let my pride stop me.
So I’m going to admit freely, in this essay, for the world to hear.
I have failed. I have failed. I have failed.
I have severely overestimated my own competence.
I’ve been far too narcissistic, gambled with far too much, and I have failed.
I have failed to create the change I desire, politically, and more.
I have failed in my gamble of becoming a high school dropout.
I have failed in believing I was competent enough to contribute intellectually to
I have failed to uphold the promises that I have made, to the many who have trusted me, as well as the promises I have made to my past self.
I have failed by losing my martyr complex, with the newfound prior of potential immortality.
I have failed by hurting so many members of a group that I once swore my soul to.
I have failed by being unable to produce the results I have claimed I would produce.
I have failed by overestimating my willpower and underestimating the difficulty of my tasks.
I have failed by overestimating the power of my intelligence, and underestimating the value of hard work.
I have failed by wrongly calculating the probability of certain events, even when I have compensated for my propensity for overestimation.
I have failed by being distracted by hedonism instead of the pursuits that I have previously sworn myself to.
I have failed by discarding the pursuits I have previously sworn myself to, in the desire for more hedonism.
I have failed by acknowledging the value of my own life, and gaining the fear of death in the process.
I have failed through the poor maintenance of many friendships whom I now highly value.
I have failed by having a false sense of superiority through which I have looked down upon many people that in retrospect, are better people than I am.
I have failed by not being intelligent enough, and despite that failure, being unable to realize that I am not intelligent enough, early enough.
I have failed by refusing to acknowledge my previous failures, instead relying on meaningless excuses to justify them.
There is a common folk wisdom nowadays along the lines of; do not regret your failures, because every failure is a learning experience. This is bullshit, and an excuse for the emotionally weak who can’t take responsibility for their failures. People who tend to say this, I’ve also noticed, tend to have never had any grand desires, and as a result have never truly failed, especially failures where lives are at stake. These people have no right to talk about regret.
I will not claim to not regret my failures – in the best possible world, I would not fail a single time. But what I will claim is that I want to live in the real world, in this world. If an object is hot, let me believe that the object is hot, and if it is cold, let me believe that it is cold. So in many ways, I would rather acknowledge now that I have failed, than never acknowledge that failure, and continue believing in cold fire.
This essay is an apology for these failures.
To the people I have betrayed, lied to, and looked down upon.
To the people who believed in me that I have disappointed through my incompetence.
To Tuxedage (11-17), for 6 years of my life.
And as a reminder to my future self, lest I ever forget.