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Aug 10, 2022Liked by Adam Mastroianni

The question “why aren’t smart people happier” basically takes the question asked by books such as Stumbling on Happiness that asks why people are not better at attaining happiness and modifies it to why aren’t smart people at least better at it.

This assumes people seek happiness as their primary goal, but I think there are well supported reasons to think that this is not true. The literature that points out that many people spend far too little time on activities that make them happy and too much time on those that don’t is commonly used to prove that people are fundamentally irrational or misinformed about what makes them happy. These same facts can alternatively be used to show that happiness is not peoples primary goal; that things like social status, money, or self-identity fulfillment are more important. These alternative explanations make the finding that people work more, commute longer, and take fewer vacations than one might expect under the hedonistic assumption unsurprising. Smart people are in fact better at the solving the problems of attaining higher social status, earning more money, etc.

As for what can actually explain any correlation between intelligence and happiness the author again does a poor job. The author points out that there are very few things people can do that reliably increase their happiness by a large amount but leaves out that this is because the majority of the variance between people in happiness is caused by factors like genetics that contribute to a persons baseline level of happiness. These factors are also correlated with personality factors such as extroversion, so it seems likely that any correlation between intelligence and happiness can be explained by correlations between intelligence and personality factors. Isn’t the idea that happiness is best attained by those who don’t try to attack it as a well defined problem just pointing out the negative correlation between neuroticism and happiness?

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I think we disagree about happiness being people’s goal, mainly because it’s hard to find people who say “I’d like to be successful and unhappy.” Instead they’ll insist that being successful *will* make them happy, even as they continually encounter evidence to the contrary.

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'it’s hard to find people who say “I’d like to be successful and unhappy.”' - while this may be true, it's not mutually exclusive with the statement above that "This assumes people seek happiness as their primary goal, but I think there are well supported reasons to think that this is not true."

It's sort of like whether actions or words are the more accurate assessment of a person's desires. People may say they want to be happy but then go and spend most of their actual time chasing status, wealth, addictions, etc.

I suspect the "wisdom" mentioned in the post is when someone has a better internal understanding of their true desires+reality and is thus better able to align their actions accordingly (and thus spend a greater fraction of time feeling "happy"). I'd guess "happy" is also the wrong term and something more nuanced like "peace" is what folks actually want.

There's probably no way to avoid experiencing the inevitable ups and downs of real life (happy and sad times), but you can shift your perspective so they don't affect you as harshly. The philosophers you mention have some good readings, would mention works like The Untethered Soul, Meditations, Tao Te Ching, etc. Many traditional philosophies/religions probably have elements of the solution (along with varying downsides). Maybe with better AI we'll be able to solve things from a more scientific perspective, will be interesting to see.

I enjoyed the post, thanks for penning it.

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Just realized many of the other threads similarly mention religion/philosophy. +1!

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It's hard to find people who say "I'd like to start a band and not get laid", but that doesn't necessarily mean musicians start bands because they have a goal of trying to get laid. Some may have other motives, even if they think being in a band *will* get them laid.

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Mensa member; sub genius here…a few comments-

I agree with your identified defects in intelligence testing.

We solve defined problems because they are easier, more useful and more satisfying.

My gift is the ability to identify concepts and patterns.

Ironically, my weakness is Mathematics which I attribute to a bad attitude in first grade towards arithmetic caused by being left handed. Ironically, I love physics and believe it to be metaphysical when coupled with Eastern Religion. But, I digress.

I’m intelligent and happy. Here’s why-

I grew up in a materialistic society. I’ve sampled most of it. BUT, I spent my adult life on the ultimate poorly defined problem-THE TRUE NATURE OF ALL THINGS!

Of course, I didn’t find it and don’t expect to but I did find the key to being happy at any intelligence level—-

THE REALIZATION THAT MOST THINGS ARE UNIMPORTANT AND HAPPINESS LIES IN RECOGNIZING THE BEAUTY OF SIMPLICITY.

Gotta go now…I’m chopping cedars at the Ranch.

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I agree with this, inasmuch as I think happiness is a stupid goal. It's fleeting by definition. Saying "I don't primarily want to be happy" is not the same as saying "I want to be unhappy". I want to be "not miserable", but the extra step beyond that is just an occasional bonus that sometimes happens, and it's cool when it does, but it's absolutely not my goal in life, and making it my goal in life would, I think, actively harm my goal of "not being miserable".

I also want meaning - in my experience, there's no such thing as feeling fully satisfied and fulfilled in meaning-pursuit either, so as with happiness/misery, my goal is to not feel/be meaningless, to accomplish something worthwhile.

The idea that I should be primarily focused on maximizing happiness feels alien and strange to me. My main motive for pursuing things that will increase my happiness overall, beyond it's current level, is that I think it gives me a boost to my patience/compassion that I like having, because it aligns with my goals of, say, not fucking up my kids.

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Aug 10, 2022·edited Aug 10, 2022Liked by Adam Mastroianni

I've been using the phrase "ungoogleable question" for a few years now to try and get at something like the issue you're describing. The poorly-defined vs well-defined brings me a great deal of clarity to the matter.

In another Substack thread there was some discussion around how DALL-E type AI machines can't really make a distinction between "X does Y" and "X tries to do Y". Something about capturing the essence of "trying" becomes a very difficult concept, and it certainly tilts things toward the less-well-defined end of the spectrum. And anyway AI doesn't try, only does.

I think of the Daft Punk song, Human After All.

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That doing vs. trying thing is interesting! Trying is so ethereal––someone "trying to lose weight" could currently be sitting on the couch.

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I feel seen.

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Aug 9, 2022·edited Aug 9, 2022Liked by Adam Mastroianni

I think one of the reasons for this split has to do with something like a religious movement in opposition to the flaws of traditional religion. You point out that asking “how can we live a good life” fell out of fashion in the last 200 years or so; I think this is a result of western intellectuals trying to avoid the problems with religion. They ended up creating a kind of religion that says “it is not part of a good life to think seriously about what a good life consists of.” I made this argument in more detail here:

https://apxhard.substack.com/p/healing-the-wounded-western-mind

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Alain de Bouton has argued that 19th century Romanticism is the religious replacement for modernity. We can live a good life if we find the romantic partner made for us in heaven, who will complete us, understand us perfectly without the need for words, and will perfectly synthesize sexual desire and romantic love. Since al of that is impossible, it's hard to live a good life.

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I suspect that there are many such replacements, each of which contains a theodicy (explanation of evil) and an eschatology (defintion of what a good life is and how to live it.) We just don't typically call them religions.

Even nihilism fits the bill: The nihilistic theodicy is "it's all random, so both good and bad things will happen" and its eschatology is "don't try too hard, relax bro."

I suspect there's no real way out of religion, and the only thing that differentiates religious from 'nonreligious' people is the explicit nature of a religious person's religion.

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Yes. Agreed. The thing we traditionally called "religion" turned out to be a major routine running in our brain/mind/whatever, that couldn't be switched off, and had to be filled by SOMETHING. Societies that thought they could abolish "religion" by banning or crushing existing religions simply ended up replacing those religions with themselves. Communism; fascism; whatever the hell Pol Pot thought he was doing; the Juche ideology of Kim Il-sung, which led to his worship on the Day of the Sun, and his elevation to "eternal President of the Republic" four years after his death... (He rose again from the dead!) And his Ten Principles for a Monolithic Ideological System are basically a Korean bureaucrat's version of the Ten Commandments. "We must honor the Great Leader comrade Kim Il-sung with all our loyalty..."

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Aug 12, 2022Liked by Adam Mastroianni

I think you can simplify it down to the belief religions are attempts to define what 'good' means, and it's impossible for a person to live and function without some definition of 'good', either implicit or explicit.

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Yes. And totalitarian societies that define "the good" for everyone can go very badly wrong. But secular liberal societies that don't define it, and leave it up to the individual, can start to fragment badly into thousands of often bizarre and accidental micro-religions, many of them pretty psychologically unhelpful to the believers, and a lot of them in conflict. It's a hard problem!

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Aug 12, 2022Liked by Adam Mastroianni

I think secular liberal societies actually _are_ defining what good is, for everyone, but part of our definition of 'good' is that it's bad to explicitly define 'good', and so we pretend that it's not what we're doing. This is leading to an inordinate amount of confusion.

The phrase "separation of church and state", for example, is part of our implicitly defined notion of "good". Checks and balances, due process, equal protection, the will of the people, human rights, rule of law, diversity - what are those, if not beliefs in what constitutes "good"?

I think the only plausible solution that i can think of here is to define something like a 'minimally viable religion' and just be honest and up front about it. This is what i think liberalism is: a bare-bones religion that tries to be as minimal as possible in terms of when it advocates people use violence to enforce its values.

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I don’t think this is true. Over the ages various philosophers pondered the question of the meaning to life and by proxy how to live a good life. Mid 20th century Camus argued that in the extremes facing the meaningless of life is traditionally solved by a leap of faith or by escapism (through for example existentialism or nihilism). More recently Peterson also wrote a book concerning rules to life. It’s not that it went out of fashion, it’s always been there. The shift to more fast focus news, and short attention span with flash articles maybe makes this sort of stuff more esoteric than it should be. I still reckon people still think about it.

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It’s not zero, but it doesn’t get the same attention it once did. My own amateur read is that ancient philosophy is deeply concerned with the good life, but modern philosophy is often agnostic about it, Rawls being a good example.

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Aug 9, 2022Liked by Adam Mastroianni

My husband and I left the city last year and moved out to a rural area. Suddenly the problems he has to solve are less "how to increase in-game ad impressions" (well-defined), and more "how to make money from 5 acres of land" (poorly defined). He's never been happier.

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Ah, that's great!

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Aug 10, 2022Liked by Adam Mastroianni

I'll just briefly comment on the AI part: the real fear around AI is that, using your dichotomy, it's incredibly good at turning poorly defined problems into well-defined ones.

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I’m curious to know what you think are good examples of this. It seems to me like AI, the way we conceive of it, can give us answers to well-defined problems that we didn’t know already, like new moves in chess or how to fold a protein. But it won’t do something like tell us “you shouldn’t be spending your time trying to figure out how proteins fold, you have the wrong paradigm.”

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I read it as meaning, "You may give an AI what is a poorly defined problem and it, being extremely literal, will find a well-defined problem which is not the problem you want solved, and solve it - good and hard." Think monkey's paw/malicious djinn/paperclip maximizer.

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You make some excellent points made here. Maybe people are a little too literal and materialistic. The Moon is a big rock but it is also a fecund source of ancient symbolism that predates Christianity. "We've Had 100 Years of Psychotherapy-- And the World's Getting Worse" Hillman and Ventura is a worthwhile short read that might be of some value.

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Aug 13, 2022Liked by Adam Mastroianni

I didn’t see this in the comments, but: are you sure that being happy is the kind of thing that people can be good at?

Obviously, some people are happier than others, but maybe this is due almost entirely to luck.

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It's a good question. I think so! For one thing, we know that things like losing your job and getting divorced make people really sad for a long time, so being able to avoid those things can make a big difference. I've also experienced in my own life the startling realization that I simply didn't have to do some misery-inducing things that I thought I had to do. This is often something people find out in therapy. So although genes explain some of the variance between people, I'm optimistic that people really can get happier.

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Have you ever heard of the hedonic treadmill? People tend to adapt to whatever happens to them. You did not evolve just to be happy, rather your capacity to be dissatisfied is supposed to motivate you to change your behavior, thereby increasing your fitness. And there's no maximum for fitness, it can always be increased.

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Aug 10, 2022·edited Aug 10, 2022Liked by Adam Mastroianni

There's a division in classical, Attic thought between sophia and phronesis: the former is timeless/always true knowledge, like the speed of light in a vacuum. The latter is contingent, high-context knowledge like how to solve a social problem or motivate warriors. Aristotle says in the Ethics that phronesis is "what is suitable is . . . relative to the person, the circumstances, and the object" (1122a25-6), while of sophia "will study none of the things that make a man happy" (1143b119).

This division carries over to NLP pretty clearly. Humans are very good at close-up, high context language tasks ("close reading") while machines (statistical corpus methods or ML) are good at low context "distant reading."

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Should have known Aristotle said it first!

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Aug 10, 2022Liked by Adam Mastroianni

Many good points, in a clear prose!

I still believe that a few contrarian points should be considered more strongly:

1) What is the distribution of "undefined problem solving" in the population vs "defined problem solving"? The only hard link about a decoupling here is the "smart people do dumb things", which is not causal (as picked in other comments), and the unhappiness of the "intelligent" which varies strongly across societies. For all we know, it still might be highly correllated!

2) about the happiness, I have the nagging suspicion that it comes in part from having to navigate a "defined" world that is MADE "undefined" by the dominant mass of people who like to navigate this better. See the number of eminently scientifically tractable global problems that get irremediably crippled by politics; or just take a few hours / days navigating an ubuesque administration that should have taken all of 3 minutes. This can be despair inducing! This matches by the way with the "square peg in a round hole" feeling that a lot of intelligent / high IQ people report throughout their lives.

3) finally, we tend to focus on the failure modes of the high performers in cognitive tests and their correllates because they are relatively tractable as a domain of study. But the "undefined intelligence" failure modes abound (e.g: fuzzily interpretation of an exact theory leading to incorrect decisions, bad "instinctive" equivalence about morality of macro- vs personal economy, etc) but their study are either consigned to history, or are largely neglected because it smacks of class condescention in first approximation (behold: the mistakes of the poor and wretched...)

I hope that was clear, not a big commenter :)

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Good points!

1) I think the lack of a correlation between happiness and IQ is itself a piece of evidence that it doesn’t capture an important aspect of problem solving. You’ve got bills to pay, people to please, etc., and if IQ is general problem solving ability, you should be better at solving all those problems and your life should be measurably better. The fact that it isn’t suggests IQ is only measuring a certain kind of problem-solving ability.

2) Haha, “dumb people make life hard for smart people” is an attractive hypothesis. But what does being “smart” really mean if you’re no better at carving out a life you like than someone who is supposedly way dumber than you?

3) For sure, it’s easy to judge people’s failures on well-defined problems. I agree that failing poorly defined problems should be judged more harshly—for instance, climbing to the top of a hierarchy but ending up miserable and alone is nothing to aspire to!

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Aug 10, 2022Liked by Adam Mastroianni

Thanks for replying!

Yeah, the 2) was a bit tongue-in-cheek :). After thinking a bit, the crux might be that measuring happiness is _hard_, and the methodologies vary a lot over time and space. Which leads to many reports showing either one relationship (higher ed ~ IQ = lower happiness) or the other (figure 2, page 26 of https://epc2016.princeton.edu/papers/160630, found just googling a minute, claims just that.). So I think right now we can rationalize either way, but the field is a bit plagued by a lack of measurment consensus (obligatory XKCD: https://xkcd.com/927/). If the happiness evidence is what we update on, that might be something to consider!

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Education and intelligence correlate, education and happiness seem to correlate, but intelligence and happiness don’t seem to. There’s something interesting there!

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Seems education is a confounder here. This may be because education is probably linked to those ill-defined problems like having a stable family, getting nutritious food during growing up, being surrounded by people who know how to live a good life etc. So it's linked to both happiness & intelligence.

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Interestingly, GWAS studies show that genes correlated with education but NOT intelligence also seem to be correlated with schizophrenia.

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Aug 10, 2022Liked by Adam Mastroianni

Re: #2:

It means you're outnumbered. John Wick aside, I don't care how badass you are: if you by yourself try to fight 999 people, they will simply crush you by weight of numbers.

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Then maybe the smart thing to do is: if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em 😛

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If your goal is to be happy by avoiding conflict, then yes, it absolutely is.

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Adam - you suggest here and in other places that happiness should be correlated to problem solving, that is happiness is restrained by unsolved problems. Happiness, at its core, is a tool that evolution wired into our brains to make decisions that will pass on our genes. It is a momentary goal from nature's perspective. (If finding a single nut kept a squirrel happy for a long time, it would not seek out more nuts.) Modern humans take this feeling, designed evolutionarily for a different purpose, and decide that this feeling should be a continuous goal of modern life. I am not opposed to happiness, but I think many people, including intelligent ones, focus on larger goals outside of happiness. Some of these goals we believe will make our future lives more comfortable (maybe happier) and some are in support of our values, such as sacrificing our own comfort for a better planet and less suffering for others. - Dave

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IQ is correlated with paying your bills.

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Aug 10, 2022Liked by Adam Mastroianni

> Over the last generation, we have solved tons of well-defined problems. We eradicated smallpox and polio. We landed on the moon. We built better cars, refrigerators, and televisions. We even got ~15 IQ points smarter! And how did our incredible success make us feel?

Depends who 'us' is. I'm from a middle-income country, and I feel comfortable saying my generation would score a lot higher on national average self-reported subjective wellbeing (Cantril ladder, say) than our grandparents, who were very poor and desperate. The World Happiness Reports give a lot more data and a more global perspective: https://worldhappiness.report/archive/ In the US there's also that Easterlin paradox dynamic due to increasing economic inequality as well.

But I'm being uncharitably nitpicky. I liked and agreed with most of your essay, and certain passages crystallized hazy intuitions I've always struggled to articulate, so thank you for that!

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You’re right! People do seem to get happier as their country develops, but it eventually levels off.

I was going to go into the cross-national IQ data, but it’s so bad that a paper recently got retracted for using it: https://www.psychologicalscience.org/publications/psychological_science/clark-2020-retraction-editorial.

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There are many papers on IQ across nations, and they don't all get retracted. That one in particular got people mad.

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Aug 9, 2022Liked by Adam Mastroianni

This is a really useful way of defining the different categories, and why "IQ" is so unsatisfying as an all encompassing metric despite all the evidence you lay out for it.

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Anyone who is using IQ as an 'all-encompassing metric' has no idea what they're doing and likely has little to no education/training in what IQ actually is and what it's actual uses are.

There's a lot of what I can only call 'folk beliefs' out there about what IQ is, what it means, and how it's used. Perhaps that's where the 'all encompassing' part comes from.

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Aug 9, 2022Liked by Adam Mastroianni

I think that this might be a result of comparisons between happiness levels being difficult. How do you know that happiness is but for your subjective experience. How do you know what “happiness” means but comparing with the normal usage which probably depends on the average of the people around you.

People with higher IQ have some weird beliefs but highlighting examples of smart people with weird beliefs doesn’t seem like a good argument. What matters is the relative frequency.

If we described the traits of successful people, then the intelligent would disproportionately have those traits. They finish high school, attend college, get PhDs, avoid welfare dependency, avoid divorce, avoid prison at higher rates. I think that the idea that life is an IQ test seems to hold to some extent. Smart people avoid bad things. I think happiness is just tricky to measure.

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I'm cherry picking the smart people who do dumb things, but the cherries are very easy to find and I think that's important evidence. If you score 7 SDs above average on a math test, you shouldn't struggle with a math question that lots of average people find easy. If you do, something about the test is off.

If the problem is that happiness is hard to measure, we shouldn't see it correlating with other things. But it correlates with plenty of other variables: https://www.gwern.net/docs/iq/1998-deneve.pdf.

Lots of the things that look like conventional success––attending college, getting a PhD, saying married, etc., actually seem like pretty foolish things to do if they make you miserable!

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Aug 10, 2022Liked by Adam Mastroianni

(On finding smart people who do dumb things.)

I have been around ridiculously smart people for most of my adult life, and I am fairly sharp myself. I have come up with a shorthand way of explaining to neurotypical people how to think about and deal with smart people:

"Smart people screw up way less often than most people, but when they do screw up, they screw up big and it's very hard to fix."

Part of the reason for this is that they're so used to being right that when people try to tell them they're wrong, they dismiss it because most of the time when they disagree with someone, it's the other person who's wrong. It's nearly impossible to talk most really smart people out of a position they have arrived at independently. You *certainly* cannot do it with any kind of appeal to numbers. If I'm smarter than 999 people in a thousand, you can provide me hundreds of examples of people who disagree with me and by pure numbers, it's still more likely that I'm right than they are.

The worst-case, fully-developed version of this is "World's Smartest Garbageman" syndrome. Logically, the World's Smartest Garbageman argument makes perfect sense. But you are not the World's Smartest Garbageman, and if you think you are, you end up being Christopher Langan, etc.

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"they dismiss it because most of the time when they disagree with someone, it's the other person who's wrong. "

Like AI, this is mostly true for well-defined problems, making it far easier for smart people to fool themselves on less well-defined problems.

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> Lots of the things that look like conventional success––attending college, getting a PhD, saying married, etc., actually seem like pretty foolish things to do if they make you miserable!

That's a big "if": what is the evidence that doing those things vs not doing those things makes you miserable? My understanding is that marriage seems to result in happiness, while you yourself said above that education is correlated with both happiness & IQ even though IQ isn't correlated with happiness.

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Aug 26, 2022Liked by Adam Mastroianni

We define most of the skills as hard and soft based on what can get us money and social status. The more we can make out of a skill, more it gets appreciated and celebrated by the society we have created.

Money is a good indicator of how useful any skill is and the skill should get recognition in society, but having no upper limit to the “accumulation” desire in humans, happiness will always be traded off.

AI section - Every major aspect of technology, and growth is about how to make our “life” easier. Life here for businessmen is to make more money, for Governments is to keep a tap on every individual and intellectuals bigger status and for a tiny fraction, all the 3 but, there is this 90% (guess) of people like me who seems to be using it for getting lazy and dependent. When we calculate the happiness of this globe, these 90% significantly matter. Guessing on the trend, I think the scores gonna go down. For the top 10% also, they might have achieved the goals for themselves, but in this process, they create many more variables to deal with and when they find their family and loved ones left out to be the part of that 90%, again gets unhappier.

Working to understand it better.

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Aug 16, 2022Liked by Adam Mastroianni

Kleinberg and colleagues writing about Algorithmic Fairness (2015-2018) in the context of criminal sentencing and academic admissions proved that if you define fairness by a series of clear, unambiguous criteria it is impossible to create a decision rule (algorithm) that enables all the fairness criteria to be satisfied simultaneously. In other words, many real-life problems, even if you can define them well, are impossible to solve using "intelligence" alone.

The way to solve what mathematicians refer to as "over-constrained" problems is to relax some of the constraints. But choosing which constraints to relax for real-life problems is often not at all obvious. Here's where the practical wisdom described by Aristotle and exemplified by Adam's grandma comes in. For real-life human problems, only humans can possess that practical wisdom because it comes from a lifetime of human experience, emotion, and finitude.

However, I would not be too quick to write off the ability of machines to cope with poorly-defined or over-constrained problems in realms other than human real-life. Who knows what thoughts are coursing through the Azure cloud? And could humans understand them even if we knew they existed?

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Pareto Frontiers are already used to deal with Risk vs Reward, now this can be used to deal with egalitarianism vs meritocracy.

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Aug 15, 2022Liked by Adam Mastroianni

This guy is smart and right.

Thanks.

(Professor) William Maxwell, Ed.D.

(Ed.D. Harvard University)

Founder and President

International Conference on Thinking(R), icot21023,org

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Aug 14, 2022Liked by Adam Mastroianni

I love this post. It makes so much sense, and I especially like the last bit about the wisdom of grandmothers.

I lost my mother this year, and my kids are experiencing the loss of a favorite Gaga that resonates very strongly with this.

Thank you

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