X-Message-Number: 30166
Date: Tue, 18 Dec 2007 10:58:39 EST
Subject: "selfishness" & "altruism"

There continues to be, even in this venue, a lack of understanding of  
questions and answers regarding conscious motivation.
The Hedonists with their "pleasure principle," and many others from  

antiquity to the present who have advocated a self centered approach to the  
of life, were basically correct, but were unable to build on their  insight, 

quickly got off track, never became popular, and are now generally  regarded as
My effort in Youniverse aimed to extend and refurbish the insights of the  
Hedonists, Epicureans, Utilitarians, Skeptics, Positivists,  Pragmatists, and 
the school of Enlightened Self Interest, as inspired  and allowed by recent 
technological advances. 
Some would say such an effort is overly ambitious, because too much remains  
unknown, e.g. the nature of space and time and qualia. Indeed, every 

conclusion  must be tentative, but I believe I have shown the way to 
improvement, on a probabilistic basis.
One of my core theses is that conscious motivation ALWAYS stems from self  
interest, whether you know it or not and whether you like it or not. To put  

anything other than self interest first is not only undesirable but physically
impossible. By definition, conscious motivation means what moves the self. 

Every  conscious choice you make is based on what YOU want, hence is intended to
serve  YOUR interests.
Confusion arises from several causes. First, some of our wants or needs may  
be inconsistent with others, but that is merely a complication, not a  
refutation. Any "sacrifice" can only be that of one want for another, not  of 
yourself for something or someone else. 
Another confusion arises from the fact that actions or choices do not  result 
only from conscious motivation, but also, for example, from unconscious  

processes and often from mere habit and sometimes purely by accident. We have  
potential ability, at least to some degree, to change our habits and our  

unconscious responses, but if we only improve our conscious decision processes
this opens up enormous room for gain.
Another confusion arises from feedbacks, internal and external. When  

considering consequences, it is easy to overlook or underestimate effects,  
short or 
long term. But we have to try, unless we just drift with the  current.
Now let's look at "selfishness" vs. "altruism." If "selfishness" be  taken to 
mean being self centered on the conscious level, then, as I have  said, 

everyone is purely selfish at all times and in all ways. No exceptions.  "True"
altruism does not exist and cannot exist. However, there has always been  

tremendous social pressure favoring "ethical" or "virtuous" behavior, including
demands that soldiers sacrifice their lives for whatever. Many professional  
advisers, including psychologists and therapists, opine that "value" and  
"meaning" are to be found primarily in the joy of giving. 
As usual, this kind of advice has some merit for some people in some  

situations, in terms of probable internal results, the mental states that are  
to develop. Nevertheless, on balance, I think, most people, most of the  
time, have allowed themselves to be hoodwinked and suckered into mindless  

obedience to societal doctrine, at the expense of their own well being  if not 
very lives. 
A full-fledged self centered philosophy is certainly too demanding for many  
people, perhaps for most. They lack both the desire and the competence to  
examine the foundations of their beliefs and attitudes or habits. But if we  

can't do everything, we can do something. If you can't take a big bite, at least
you can nibble a little. Sometimes that is enough to make a difference.
Robert Ettinger

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