Mental conditions and non-mental conditions

Projects fare better if they have a clear picture of success. There’s a big project that we’re all in together — all 8 billion of us. Call it the Civilization Project. So, for this project, what’s our goal? What does success look like?

One way of describing the big-picture, first-principles goal that’s been resonating for me lately is: a world full of good times. We want a world that’s full of sentient life, having a good experience.

If that’s the end goal, how might we best pursue it? One way to break it down is into quantity and quality:

  • Scale (quantity) — A world full of good times is a world full of minds capable of having subjective experience. To impact this goal, we’d take steps to get more sentient minds into the world.
  • Reliability (quality) — The other part of a world full of good times is that the minds that exist are reliably having good times. To impact this goal, we’d take steps to increase the average happiness of the minds that exist.

I’ve said elsewhere that I see reliability as the bigger bottleneck at the moment. So if we’re going to focus on reliability, how might we best pursue it?

One way to break reliability down comes from meditation teacher Shinzen Young. He describes two ways to get happiness:

  • Change conditions in the world to suit your desires.
  • Change conditions in your mind to directly create happiness irrespective of external conditions.

A benefit of this breakdown is that it helps to remind us how much of our subjective well-being depends on our purely mental actions.

A drawback is that there’s (to me at least) something ontologically fuzzy about it. The mind is part of the world. Changing the mind’s traits takes intentional, skillful, consistent effort — just like changing conditions in the external world. When I try to analyze the distinction closely, I fail to find joints at which to cut.