This blog has taken a very long view of humanity several times and the basic idea has been one which would agree with Adam Smith and the Utilitarians. It was to maximize the ultimate number of moments of human contentment when viewed from the very distant future when the humans species was extinct. The assumption is that after a short time, say a minute, each person would be asked if that particular moment was a positive one which they would be willing to live again. The corollary idea, of course, is the opposite of not wanting to relive that moment. The assumption is that most people would consider most moments of their life in a positive way and that the sum of human experience would be positive. My previous thinking was simply to maximize those positive moments by maximizing the total minutes lived by human beings.
This week I have been reading Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast and Slow and his research definitely complexifies that simple utilitarian view. The problem lies with the way people view their experiences. People do not view their past experiences as a summation of moments of time spent upon each experience but more from a few key experiences relating to the their past which they have woven into a personal story. What people remember most vividly are the transitions associated with the opening events, peak experience and ending events as related to a given experience and most of the rest goes into a generalized happening that is only mentally accessed as some secondary material. People are most affected by stories relating to those things about an event rather than the number of moments of pain or pleasure during the event.
Perhaps, my long-term view of humanity should be changed to accommodate what humans actually remember, rather than their moments of experience. However, measuring those things in a laboratory setting is difficult enough and doing it in ongoing normal life is even more difficult and postulating some time in the distant future to measure them, even speculatively, seems impossible. History books, local newspapers and even personal diaries are probably not very good indicators of how people actually felt moment to moment. This quality of life measurement was not intended to be a scientific number that can be graphed through time but rather a guide to making decisions about how an individual person, such as myself, should relate to humanity as a whole
However, using my old standard, if every person could be measured every second and their happiness state recorded, a graph through time could be created. Therefore, not finding a clear way to view humanity in a better way I will stick, at least for the time being, with the old one:
Act in a way to maximize the total moments of happiness of humanity’s total life.