When contemplating what’s in store for us in the future, it is tempting to take a snapshot of our current macro situation and extrapolate from it. This snapshot doesn’t show civilization from its best side: AI race dynamics are emerging between China and the US, some existential risks such as nuclear war that seemed a worry from the past are back on the table, and entirely new types of risks pop up, like the current crisis around truth leading to the “the total collapse of even semi-reliable communal sense making”.
That’s one possible dystopian path our future can take. But what if we instead focused on getting closer to utopia, protopia, eudaimonia, weirdtopia, raikoth, eucatastrophe, or any other positive motivating future vision?
Optimistic visions tickle a different part of our minds. They motivate us to act, more so than the currently all-too-vivid dystopian visions we’re racing toward. If we care about a positive long-term future for sentient beings like ourselves, the best way to bring it about might not be by focusing on the risks preventing us from getting there, but by concentrating on the possibilities that remind us why we want to be there in the first place.
We need a change of perspective: away from fatalism in the face of doomsday, and toward the “intelligent optimism” that sublime futures are within our reach—if we reach for them. This shift has to be wider than just first-principle philosophizing: It needs to be accompanied by action items and tools that spark action.
For that purpose, I started Existentialhope.com. This website collects the best work toward positive futures and pushes for a shift in our approach to the future—away from existential angst toward futures that inspire “existential hope.” I store this information in a series of constantly updated Google Docs, where I collect the best readings, podcasts, organizations, and people working in these fields. The index is intended to be collaborative—I encourage you to please comment with your favorite readings, podcasts, organizations, and people working toward futures that are neither impossible nor boring.
The future is a big place. Depending on the corner of it you want to explore, below is a selection of places to start. There are many other items to explore for each tool, and many other sections. (Start with “Existential Angst & Existential Hope” for the foundation of why the future matters).
I invite you to help populate this knowledge graph with me. Let’s index our knowledge, share it, and act on it.
- Read: Normative Uncertainty – Will MacAskill. Argues that we should treat moral uncertainty about what we ought to do and empirical uncertainty analogously, with expected utility theory as the framework.
- Watch: Facing the Unknown: The Future of Humanity – Nick Bostrom. Covers “crucial considerations.” Instead of considerations that lead to a minor adjustments in one’s life, crucial considerations radically impact our world view and are of utmost priority to get right.
- Do: Meaningness – David Chapman. Hypertext blog and book that seeks to create better ways of thinking, feeling, and acting by introducing “meaningness” as a concept to bridge the divide of human feelings of nihilism and longing for eternalism.
- Read: Rationality: From AI to Zombies – Eliezer Yudkowsky. Extensive intro to rationality, divided into six books: Map and Territory, How to Actually Change Your Mind, The Machine in the Ghost, Mere Reality, Mere Goodness, and Becoming Stronger.
- Listen: Rationally Speaking – Julia Galef. Podcast that explores the borderlines between reason and nonsense on a range of different topics: e.g. psychology, the Fermi paradox, and cybersecurity.
- Do: Center For Applied Rationality. CFAR offers workshops to train people in the art of rationality on the premise that thinking skills, dialogue skills, and a supportive social fabric are key in creating a positive long-term future.
- Read: I Am A Strange Loop – Douglas Hofstadter. Argues that the key to understanding selves and consciousness is a special kind of abstract feedback loop that inhabits our brains. Shorter, more accessible successor to his celebrated Goedel, Escher, Bach.
- Listen: Alan Watts’s podcast – Lectures by British philosopher Alan Watts, selected by his son and divided into three sections of essential lectures, meditative lectures, and seminar lectures.
- Do: Esalen workshops. These workshops at Esalen in California focus on meditation and self-exploration. Even if the workshops are too woo-woo for you, the place is balm for the mind.
- Read: The Psychedelic Experience – Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner, and Richard Alpert. This classic manual is divided into four parts: an introduction, a step−by−step description of the psychedelic experience, a guide to prepare and conduct a session, and passages to read during the session. The authors were engaged in psychedelic experiments at Harvard University until sensational national publicity led to their suspension.
- Listen: Psychedelic Salons – Podcast series on psychedelic education and psychedelics as tool for change. (Check out the one on microdosing.)
- Do: Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. This non-profit organization develops medical, legal, and cultural contexts for people to benefit from the careful uses of psychedelics and marijuana. Holds workshops and conferences.
Psychology & Persuasion
- Read: Sense And Nonsense – Kevin Laland and Gilliam Brown. Introduction to five evolutionary psychology schools: sociobiology, human behavioural ecology, evolutionary psychology, cultural evolution, and gene-culture co-evolution.
- Watch: The Evolutionary Lens – A four day online course by Bret Weinstein on evolutionary thinking, starting soon.
- Do: Center for Humane Technology – Tristan Harris’s organization to understand and push for how technology can be redesigned to put our best interests first.
- Read: “13 Articles That Might Change Your Life” – Tyler Alterman. Index of good readings, most of which are good intros to effective altruism, which is a social movement that uses evidence and reason to determine the most effective ways to benefit others.
- Listen: 80,000 Hours – Robert Wiblin. Interviews on how to use your career to solve the world’s most important problems, with guests like Robin Hanson, William MacAskill, Christine Peterson, and more.
- Do: EA Hub – Hub for effective altruists to coordinate projects, join discussion groups, and receive news via the newsletter and podcast.
- Read: Intellectual Dark Web – List of people of the “intellectual dark web” who share a willingness to engage in conversations with people who have different beliefs and political viewpoints, ideas worth listening to, value rationality over feelings, honor freedom of speech, seek truth, reject identity politics, and have regard for the individual.
- Listen: Second Enumerations – Podcast reading epistemic musings such as “Meditations on Moloch,” “Biases Against Overcoming Bias,” and “What You Can’t Say.”
- Do: Arbital.org. Interactive, collaborative, hybrid blog and wiki with features such as greenlinks, probability and agreement claims, collaborative editing and page organization, and moderated comments
- Read: Conceptual maps, such as Map of the Bay Area Memespace, Cognitive Bias Map, Typology of Human Existential Risks Map, Dark Enlightenment Map, xkcd’s Map of the Internet, Map of the Rationalist Community, AI Safety Research Landscape – These are all examples of conceptual maps that provide a useful overview of a specific field.
- Listen: 7 of the Best Knowledge Podcasts for Knowledge, 11 Podcasts to Make You Think, 21 Educational Podcasts – all recommend general-knowledge podcasts including Waking Up, Philosophize This, BBC Radio’s In Our Time, Stuff You Should Know, Radiolab, Invisibilia, and A History of the World in 1,000 Objects
- Do: Expertise Finder – Search engine to find academics and other experts by categories.
Predicting & Tracking
- Read: Superforecasting – Philip Tetlock. Book on why forecasting is hard and how to improve it
- Watch: Evaluating Hard-To-Measure Projects From an Effective Altruism Perspective – Christine Peterson and Allison Duettmann. Video of the Foresight Institute’s workshop on collecting tools to track ambitious, hard-to-measure projects, such as foundational science.
- Do: Metaculus. Online community dedicated to generating accurate predictions about future real-world events by aggregating the collective wisdom of participants. Topics include on nuclear war, the US presidential election, AI take-off, earthquakes, and cultured meat.
Communication & Collaboration
- Read: Skin in the Game – Nassim Taleb. Book on how agents need to have a stake in a project’s success if it is to succeed.
- Watch: Seminars on General Semantics. Lectures of the Institute of General Semantics that promote a scientific approach to understanding human behavior, especially in relation to language, critical thinking, rational behavior, and general sanity. One of my favorites: “The Map is Not the Territory” by Robert Anton Wilson.
- Do: Pick any book on communication you like (e.g. Non-Violent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg) and have your community (house, family, work team) read it so you speak the same language when communicating and collaborating.
Interest & Innovation
- Read: Power Tools For Progress – Thomas Kalil. Speech on the importance of tools for getting things done, including examples of strong tools.
- Watch: The Long-Run: Tools To Make It Beyond This Century – the Foresight Institute’s Vision Weekend panel I moderated with focus on existential risks, the long-run, and tools to foster innovative solutions to make it through this century.
- Do: Create a celebratory date to promote the cause you care about. e.g., Galactic Tick Day to foster long-term thinking, or William Bassett Day to foster existential-risk prevention.
This article is part of Quartz Ideas, our home for bold arguments and big thinkers.