Joe Carlsmith's latest post discusses the difference between the probabilities that one puts on events on a gut level and on a cognitive level, and advocates updating your gut beliefs towards your cognitive beliefs insofar as the latter better tracks the truth.
The post briefly notes that there can be some negative mental health consequences of this. I would like to provide a personal anecdote of some of the costs (and benefits) of changing your gut beliefs to be in line with your cognitive ones.
Around 6 months ago my gut realised that one day I was going to die, in all likelihood well before I would wish to. During this period, my gut also adopted the same cognitive beliefs I have about TAI and AI x-risk. All things considered, I expect this to have both decreased my impact from an impartial welfarist perspective and my personal life satisfaction by a substantial amount.
Some of the costs for me of this have been:
- A substantial decrease in my altruistic motivation in favour of self-preservation
- A dramatic drop in my motivation to work
- Substantially worse ability to carry out causes prioritisation
- Generically being a less clear thinker
- Differing my exams
- I expect to receive a somewhat lower mark in my degree than I otherwise would have
- Failing to run my university EA group well
There have also been some benefits to this:
- I much more closely examined my beliefs about AI and AI X-risk
- Engaging quite deeply with some philosophy questions
Note that this is just the experience of one individual and there are some good reasons to think that the net negative effects I've experienced won’t generalise:
- I’ve always been very good at acting on beliefs that I held at a cognitive level but not at a gut level. The upside therefore to me believing things at a gut level was always going to be small.
- I have a history of ruminative OCD (also known as pure O) - I almost without caveat recommend that others with ruminative OCD do not engage with potentially unpleasant beliefs one has at a cognitive level on a gut level.
- I’ve been experiencing some other difficulties in my life that probably made me more vulnerable to depression.
In some EA and Rationalist circles, there’s a norm of being quite in touch with one’s emotions. I’m sure that this is very good for some people but I expect that it is quite harmful to others, including myself. For such individuals, there is an advantage to a certain level of detachment from one’s emotions. I say this because I think it’s somewhat lower status to reject engaging with one’s emotions and I think that this is probably harmful.
As a final point, note that you are probably bad at affective forecasting. I’ve spent quite a lot of time reading about how people felt close to death and there are a wide variety of experiences. Some people do find that they are afraid own deaths when close to them, and others find that they have no fear. I’m particularly struck by De Gaulle’s recollections of his experiences during the first world war where he found he had no fear of death, after being shot leading his men during his early years in the war as a junior officer.