Once the concept of Capability Criticality is really understood, the solution for all our problems, even the whole conditio humana lies at hand: capability augmentation. That’s simply the acquirement and improvement of skills, which make us pursue more wisely chosen goals, and become better at reaching those goals. There are many such skills, which are universally useful:
- Rationality (especially the capability of being able to optimize your own life)
- Communication skills
- Productivity skills
- Organizing skills
- Being able to turn tedious tasks into exciting games (gamifying)
- Generating happiness
All those skills can be learned, but most of them are quite difficult to learn. In fact, they hardly taught in schools or universities. Only the self-help scene is really trying to provide those skills. Psychologists and psychotherapists are rather preoccupied with helping people with serious psychological problems. How many people go to a psychologist or psychotherapist and say: “Well, I have no serious problem, but I want to improve myself”? Think about it: If psychotherapies help people with big problems, they probably also help against small problems and can make people happier and more successful. This kind of psychological enhancement could have tremendous impact. Imagine you could be like you always wanted to be. You could have what you want to have – and even more than you had ever imagined. It is possible – it just takes a lot to get that far! Now here comes the good message: It becomes increasingly easy to get better in every way as mankind continues acquiring more knowledge and new technologies! Science rocks our world!
Consider the historical development of technologies, which facilitated our process of self-improvement:
- The invention of writing was absolutely essential to the progress of our civilization. Before knowledge was written down, it had to be pass on from generation n to generation n+1 or n+2 by …
- While scriptures and books were only affordable by the elites during most of our history, the printing press made humanities knowledge in written form available to the general populace.
- Science made it possible to gain knowledge in a systematic and reliable fashion.
- After the implementation of an infrastructure that provides electric power based on energy extraction from fossil fuels, machines could do as much work in a single hour as several humans in a whole day. Where this development was complemented with empowerment movements, this has granted precious spare-time to common workers.
- Sound recording made it possible to listen to any kind of music any time. This can be used for inducing or amplifying desired moods.
- Telegraphs, telephones and mobile phones enabled us to communicate with people in different distant places of the world nearly instantly.
- Radio, tape recorder and TV brought audiovisual information streams into the homes of nearly all people. Most of the transmitted material just isn’t suited for self-improvement, though.
- We can use pocket calculators and computers to carry out complicated computations.
- Modern travelling technologies like cars, trains and planes make it easy and affordable to travel to most places of our planet within one or two days. While most people in previous ages only heard about other cultures indirectly, nowadays it’s rather common to travel the world to further one’s horizon.
- The world-wide-web and its subsequent features like search engines, Wikipedia, blogs and social media made self-directed learning virtually instantaneous and interactive. From that time on, every human with internet access and moderate skills could spread es own thoughts and knowledge to a potentially very broad mass of people.
- There are various substances than can influence our brain chemistry in many different ways.
- By the invention of dual-N-back, we have got an effective tool for increasing our intelligence.
- Smart phones combined many telecommunication-, knowledge retrieval- and organizing technologies in a very practical and portable way.
Compared to humans living in the stone age, we are already have superhuman capabilities. And it’s obvious that this development is not at its end, yet. Future technologies will catapult (or rather teleport) us to the next levels and augment our abilities far beyond their current degree. Some of the technologies which might boost our capabilities in the future are brain-computer interfaces (BCIs), eyetaps, gene therapies, neural implants, ubiquitous 3D-printing, molecular nanotechnology (MNT) and artificial general intelligence (AGI). There will also be vastly better communication platforms in the web (think Facebook 3.0 as virtual 3D world), and possibly even applications which we just may not be ready to imagine yet. Even if some of the mentioned technologies will flop, there will still be enough innovation to amplify our abilities immensely. But for the enthusiastic user, the challenge lies in using the tools which are actually available in an optimal fashion. It’s hard not to be carried away by the entertainment value of new technologies, but to use them for personal development and other useful purposes. Ok, but how to do it the right way? Thankfully, there is an ever-growing number of good resources on that topic.
But let me start with something really essential: Really effective self-improvement requires the application of science! Patri Friedman presented the core of the scientific method for self-improvement in his presentation on lifehacking very clearly. There are 5 basic steps:
- Choose Goals
- Research Methods
- Try Methods
- Track Results
- Regularly Review / Tweak
A commonly made error is to leave out points 4 and 5. Not paying attention to data collection and review means that you aren’t applying the real power of the scientific method! Instead of doing thoroughly organized recursive self-improvement, people just stumble around, or get stuck with reading self-help books and blogs without reaping sustainable gains. Yeah, I’ve made that error myself. But once I really learned about that scientific method (initially from the book Feeling Good by David D. Burns – in connection with the principles of cognitive therapy), I went from depressed and burnt out to “This is impossibly good”-land within just 8 months! So, it can’t be stressed enough that this scientific method is the recipe for getting better at anything!
So, if you want to start your journey to being who you really want to be, then it makes sense to begin with some excellent books, which will enlighten you. Here’s the basic tour, which is suited for nearly all purposes:
- Feeling Good or The Feeling Good Handbook by David D. Burns (the latter is bigger and covers more topics, but has slightly less awesomeness per page) present lots of helpful principles and techniques of cognitive therapy.
- Success Built to Last: Creating a Life that Matters by Jerry Porras, Stewart Emery and Mark Thompson will help you to find your purpose of life, and to define your goals.
- Getting Things Done by David Allen is the classical manual for getting everything in your life organized effectively.
- Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals by Heidi Grant Halvorson will update you on the latest results on methods which are scientifically proven to be effective.
Once you have read, understood, and applied those books, you will be fairly advanced already when it comes to self-optimization. If you want to go further, then there are some really good blogs like
- Less Wrong, which will teach you how to become more rational.
- Steve Pavlina’s blog, which is full of excellent articles on all kinds on personal development.
- Zen Habits, which teaches you to improve your life by simplifying it.
- And a lot of other excellent blogs, which are presented in a list on Personal Hack.
Don’t get stuck at just reading! It’s essential that you really apply the insights you gained to your life. Write down your goals, your plans, your experiments and your levels of success! Evaluate all of them regularly and push yourself to the next level! If you want to be optimally organized, get an Android smart phone and install some good productivity apps on it. Using the latest technologies for self-improvement is also the ideal of the small, but excellent German free-thinker community Plateau Trivial, which can act as sophisticated training platform for its members (once it had an international area, but it was closed down due to inactivity). It’s a good example of how to do it right in principle: It’s web presence features a wiki, a forum, a blog and an IRC chatroom. If you think that is much, then you have to consider that it is relatively easy to set up that software on your own PHP-enabled web space (which you can get for less than 10$ per month). However, most internet communities don’t even support these basic capabilities. In addition to its web features, the Plateau Trivial also had held more than 10 inspiring real-life meetings in Germany. Currently Alice Miller‘s insights are discussed and applied on the Plateau intensively. They seem to be important, if you really want to reevaluate your life and strengthen your own will.
Well, I have explained how you can increase at least some of your capabilities, but why do I think that capability augmentation is so powerful that it will solve all our problems? Look, the challenges that our global civilization will face in the future will be very hard:
- How do we eliminate poverty and establish global abundance in a world which is threatened by a global collapse caused by resource depletion, energy shortage and climate change?
- How can we prevent great catastrophes created by the use of weapons of mass destruction, which get more and more easily available as technology progresses?
- How can we avert a possible bad ending for humanity once we share our planet with AGIs and highly advanced robots?
Perhaps we might not be able to solve all these problems at the current level of our mental capabilities; but while our challenges become bigger and more difficult rapidly, also our capabilities can grow at the same, or even at a higher rate. Rapid technological development also enables rapid personal development. In the end, we will face the problems of resource depletion and existential risks, but with largely augmented capabilities. To scarce resources, we can respond with better recycling and manufacturing technologies. We will also be able to tap more sources of energy with higher efficiency. With better capabilities, we will be able to use solar power to an unprecedented level, mine the seas and the skies, and feed the whole world by leveraging advanced biotechnology.
And by pooling all our resources intelligently, we will become clever enough to know how to deal with dangerous bio weapons and other safety hazards. The closer we come to understanding the human brain, the better we get at understanding how to create really working and benign AGI. Even if we mess up a bit and create some form of relatively unfriendly AI, it won’t be inapt humans vs. superintelligent machines – it will be exceedingly highly skilled, globally telempathically connected cyborgs, assisted by ubiquitous AI apps vs. artificial entities, which may have some advantages due to their improved design patterns (which might be quite buggy initially, however). Even better: There is no reason we won’t be able to make use of those improved design patterns, too. We could feed them into our apps, which will be woven into our exocortices; or we could even upload ourselves onto computers and modify our own minds directly. That way, we will be able to adapt to any new challenge that awaits us. No challenge is too hard for us, once we have augmented our capabilities to a sufficiently high level. Therefore, capability augmentation will solve all our problems, finally!
Note: The image above is from nasaimages.org.