What is this post about?
People often cling to their current identity as if the status quo was the best possible version of themselves. For example, they think they are “a person that is just bad at math” but don’t intend to change that since they have formed an identity around it. This even goes even further. When people are offered the hypothetical to gain 50 IQ with no strings attached some reject it because “they wouldn’t be the same”.
Whenever I realize something like that in myself, I feel caught red-handed and ashamed. Rationally, I don’t want to be a person that forms an identity around a suboptimal version of myself but realistically I often do.
I think this tendency is suboptimal for future versions of ourselves, our surroundings and society at large. Thus, I want to create a strong mantra and emotional commitment against it. I don’t want to cling to my current identity.
I want to be replaced!
Epistemic status: Motivational (inspired by John Wentworth)
I previously posted this article on the EA forum.
By a better future self
I don’t want to be a person that forms an identity around their current flaws and laughs them off like “I’m just the person who is bad at writing” like it was some inherent feature of mine. I want to be replaced by a future better version of myself, somebody that is similar to me in most aspects but a better writer.
I think this intuition works especially well with a Ship of Theseus-like, continuous flowy version of identity. The cells our bodies consist of are replaced multiple times within our lifetime, our bodies and brain change pretty drastically throughout childhood, puberty and adulthood, and yet, we always build an identity around the current version of ourselves. Why not accept the fact that we change and form an identity that welcomes better versions of the status quo rather than rejects them?
I want to be replaced by my future better self!
By a better partner
Some relationship decisions are driven by the fear of losing our partners, independent of the consequences for others. For example, if Bob is in a relationship with Alice but Alice realizes that she likes Chakresh better, Bob will traditionally fight for her and try to prevent her from being with Chakresh. After a while, the dust settles and everyone is unhappy. Bob is unhappy because he can’t make Alice as happy as she could be, and Alice+Chakresh are unhappy because they are not with each other.
The entire situation could be so much better if Bob just allowed Alice to be with Chakresh. Clearly, this goes against most social norms and instincts and yet it seems better in the long term to accept when you are a suboptimal fit. Furthermore, the easier it is for you to accept the situation, the less damage is done to everyone involved. I don’t want to be Bob.
I want to be replaced by a better partner!
By a better employee
People cling to their jobs as if it’s the only thing they can ever do. We hate to be fired, we hate being demoted and we hate it when other people are promoted while we are “the next in line”. For the economy at large, it is good when inefficient jobs are cut, bad employees are demoted and good ones promoted. Even for ourselves, it’s usually not as bad as we assume. If a better person gets promoted, that will likely benefit the company at large and thus us. If we get fired for bad work, we might not have been a perfect fit to begin with*. In the long run, it often means finding a better-fitting position or is better for society.
I want to be replaced by a better employee.
*I know that there are people in less privileged positions for whom this mantra doesn’t make any sense.
By a machine
Historically people have really disliked losing their job to automation. The weavers rioted against the introduction of the power loom and the coach industry lobbied against the car. And yet, from most other perspectives, automation has been a wild success. People have to do less risky and less monotonous jobs and are more productive.
So rather than being sad about the short-term loss, I should look forward to humanities’ gain and possibly more exciting opportunities when I’ll be replaced.
I want my job to be replaced by a machine.
By better humans
When I talk to people about future generations that could be vastly healthier, happier and more intelligent than we are, I often get responses along the lines of “Hmmm not sure, they are so … different”. And if I asked a person in the middle ages about a person in 2020 who lives for 80 years, is healthier and can communicate with someone in Australia in real-time, they would probably respond “Hmmm not sure, they are so … different”. Also, they wouldn’t know what Australia is.
It is as if people believe that the current state of progress was the optimum for some peculiar coincidence.
I look forward to future generations having better lives than we do and I’m happy if we get there faster.
I want to be replaced by better humans!
By a simulation
The physical world has limits that simulations can ignore. While there is limited space, food, water, metals, etc. on earth, we can basically have as much as we want in a simulation. Furthermore, our bodies have limits. We can’t fly, we can’t breathe underwater and our happiness is limited to a small part of the possible spectrum by our biology.
When people think of simulations, they often think of rats on heroin or matrix-like brain-in-a-vat scenarios. I prefer to think of a San Junipero where people have fun, nobody has to fight for resources, diseases don’t exist and no one needs to work if they don’t want to. A good simulation isn’t cold, it should feel like the best imaginable holiday forever.
I want to be replaced by a simulation!
Don’t get me wrong, most of these suck in the short term. It sucks to admit your weaknesses, it sucks to lose your partner, it sucks to get fired or demoted and it sucks to be automated away. It is also sad to realize that future sentient beings, whether on a carbon or silicon basis, might lead much better lives.
And yet, I don’t want to be bitter about these things. I want to accept that they are better for my future self, people I care about and society at large.
I want to be replaced!
One last note
If you want to get informed about new posts you can follow me on Twitter.
If you have any feedback regarding anything (i.e. layout or opinions) please tell me in a constructive manner via your preferred means of communication.