On mind-reading

I feel that explicit communication of preferences and emotions is frequently oversimplified as an ideal habit. Obviously, clear and open communication is invaluable in most intentional social situations, but it’s also a common (and less frequently addressed) failure mode to not place enough value on needing to explicate as little as possible because you’re being understood more effortlessly, on an intuitive level.

The subcultures I vaguely identify and interact with tend to be especially fond of explicit communication over mind-reading. This could be because many people roughly in this category (nerdy, analytic, thing-oriented) would seem to be somewhat below average at intuitively reading other people, which could make it more difficult to see how well mind-reading works when it works, and in some cases because empathy and related concepts are disvalued as a result of this (and even seen as fundamentally opposed to systemizing and rationality). Dichotomies such as the empathising/systemising divide in Baron-Cohen’s work on autism contribute to these attitudes, and I’m guessing it’s not implausible that there’s something to this divide in how the human brain works, but these thinking styles being inherently neurofunctionally antithetical to each other to the extent that empathizing should deserve its irrational reputation isn’t something I would bet a lot of money on (except on the scale of individual situations, perhaps).

However, in many social environments I hang out in both online and in person, the culture has developed a firm appreciation of explicit communication while half-ignoring that explicit communication sometimes is actually genuinely worse than the nonverbal, gut-level understanding it enhances and replaces, that it certainly takes more effort from one or both of the parties in many situations, and that many people would probably benefit from cultivating and trusting their skills in intuitive empathy more than from being told that communicating every preference explicitly is the only good way to build and maintain healthy relationships (and expecting anything else is ridiculous and just causes silly problems to irrational people who expect some sort of magical mind-reading from others).

This doesn’t mean that all functional relationships require high levels of empathy, of course, and ideally the more empathetic people should of course accommodate those who require more verbal information about other people’s internal states. But in close relationships especially, you may run into a major compatibility issue where one person expects their intuitive signals to be understood because empathizing is a fundamental and important aspect of how they think, and the other person kind of scoffs at this and genuinely believes that the more empathetic party is demanding impossible, supernatural levels of mind-reading – again, because this is how their thinking generally, kind of fundamentally works. And this may not always be solved just by increasing explicit communication, because it in turn will quickly exhaust the person who possibly has spent most of their life not needing to describe their basic emotions and preferences to other people, and this is a form of labor that really really drains their energy. (I have on a few occasions been super exhausted by people who have wanted to have this great and healthy explicit communication thing with me, and I haven’t seen what the root of the problem was until years later, because of course explicit communication in every situation is the most important mark of a healthy relationship, and it would be silly to expect anyone to read my mind, right?)

In conclusion, the way discussing every issue explicitly is valued over everything else prevents many people from seeing that a close relationship they are trying to build with someone might just never work as well as it would with someone else because of this difference. Lots of explicit communication is not always a sign that your relationship is great or even functional; it isn’t what’s valuable in itself, being able and willing to respect each other’s preferences is. Lacking this, looking at the relationship and going “yup, gotta increase verbal communication” is sometimes a patch to fix something that wouldn’t have to be broken in the first place. Similarly, trying to improve your empathy levels to fix this may also not work out depending on the extent to which empathy is part of your congenital personality (and I’m sure many (most?) subcultures also demand exhausting accommodations from the people who would prefer very explicit emotional sharing – it’s just not something I run into as often as I see the anti-empathy sentiment described here). I’m not sure I have a good solution, but respecting other thinking styles and even trying them out to the extent that you can will probably not hurt, as unsatisfying and insufficient as it may sound.

Re: “We just don’t know enough about ecology to reliably prevent wild animal suffering without causing more damage in the process”

Say there’s a horrible moral disaster going on at the moment that you (1) know about, (2) know something could at least plausibly be done about, (3) know we don’t currently have enough information to safely do much about, but (4) know how to collect at least some relevant and potentially useful information about. This is not a very difficult problem: if you know what kind of information could be helpful to alleviate the issue, the first step in alleviating the issue is in fact collecting more information, not just deciding whether or not you should help based only on your existing knowledge.

A simple miniature version of the same situation is knowing someone vulnerable is lost in the freezing cold forest area nearby, knowing you could (with your better navigation equipment and warm clothing) probably track and save them if you were there, knowing you wouldn’t be able to find your way to the forest from where you’re currently standing, but also knowing you have a smartphone you could probably use to find your way there. Ignoring other things, obviously you should consult the smartphone or otherwise seek the necessary information to help out the person in trouble: you may not immediately know the best map application or where your winter boots currently are located, but there are many ways to increase your relevant knowledge base here, and thinking about it for a while instead of dismissing the issue sure would help. If we expand the analogue to include the rest of civilization as well, there’s also the helpful folks with dogs and helicopters: maybe you could encourage them to do the job in case you think it’s not where your comparative advantage lies. What you probably wouldn’t do is shrug and accept that someone will definitely die out there just because there are multiple steps and some uncertainty in the process, and you don’t immediately know how to do the object-level helpful things.

When talking about wild animal suffering, all but the most radical utilitarians and altruists are understandably super cautious about doing anything substantial. Some people simply have strong intuitions against meddling with the natural order (no, not the natural order that directly hurts human societies, just the more natural natural order, the nature, you know) which I think is a weak position for reasons I won’t go into right now because other people have written about it in length before. Some people don’t think things are so bad for wild animals anyway, probably because they feel suffering and satisfaction are somehow hedonistically commensurable and animal lives have some good moments as well (whereas I reject this view of pain an pleasure as the opposite, positive and negative aspects of the same stuff – they can be indirectly compared using preferences for different tradeoffs, sure, but experience-wise they’re not simply opposites in valence, but fundamentally different (and the bad is more relevant than the good)).

But the majority of people I interact with seem to basically accept that the lives of wild animals are often really bad, nature isn’t inherently sacred to the extent that we couldn’t help sentient beings out there – it’s just that we don’t have enough information, so our hands are basically tied. Some of these people accept that there might be a point in the distant future where we could maybe do something about the issue, while some people don’t really think about this possibility either, because the task sounds so thoroughly daunting. Both responses ignore the possibility of actually immediately working to increase our understanding of ecosystems so as to build sufficiently informed, actionable plans to alleviate ecological suffering, which is exactly what we should urgently be doing, instead of just accepting our temporary helplessness.

Beware of sneaky malicious agents in moral thought experiments

In moral philosophy, thought experiments are supposed to use and clarify common intuitions to help us distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable states and actions in morally problematic situations. Moral frameworks are currently built mostly by trying to make these intuitions as coherent as possible, as people have various (interpersonally different but, all things considered, fairly convergent) intuitive responses to ethical dilemmas. In addition to these normative intuitions, the end results of a thought experiment also rely on intuitions about what exactly is *going on* in the situation in the first place, and subtle misunderstandings on the descriptive level could easily damage the reliability of our responses to the experiments.

So I’m pretty sure that suffering caused by violence or other malicious acts subjectively feels at least somewhat worse than suffering originating from impersonal causes, even when the tissue damage is equivalent: it certainly feels vastly more terrifying, disgusting, and unacceptable from a third-person perspective (to me at least). So, to evoke the sense of absolutely maximal suffering in moral thought experiments, it’s useful to describe the suffering as torture or violence of some kind, as this maxes out the intensity of the suffering current human brains are capable of (and capable of empathizing with, for the purposes of the thought experiment). But there’s a tradeoff here: yeah, we probably make the experiment more emotionally effective, which all things equal gives us a better understanding of the relevant moral intuitions – but we also lose some clarity regarding the full implicit consequences in these scenarios in a way that I’m pretty sure will bias our judgment.

This is because torture (or other personal, malicious causes of suffering) doesn’t actually happen in a consequentialist void where the torture is the only consequence and correlate of a choice, and no otherwise alarming or threatening events follow. Most importantly, this has basically never happened in the history of human evolution that has shaped all of our intuitions, which means they may not be well equipped to pretend there is such a void even when it’s required by the experiment. In our descriptive-level intuitive interpretation of the situation, the presence of torture or violence probably implies there is an obviously callous, probably unpredictable agent around who thinks it’s OK to hurt others, an unknown unsafe environment where such agents apparently are born, no one around with enough empathy and power to stop the violence, possibly something that poses a threat to us too, etc. (Though note that this is exactly the kind of idle evo-psych speculation your mother warned you about; I don’t know if anyone knows how intuitions really work.) Yes, often other causes of intense suffering, such as starvation or disease, also imply there’s something wrong on a community-affecting level – but probably not quite as saliently and alarmingly as personal violence does, because violence requires direct, immediate action. Whatever the exact cause is, I think there’s an intuitive emotional reaction against violence that isn’t purely reducible to its direct consequences (the suffering it causes), because it has always been such a different kind of a problem to solve, I guess?

Links & misc #5

petunia

• I took the Giving What We Can Pledge a few months ago! I’ll probably write about the reasoning behind my decision to do it now some more in the future, but basically people are bad at consistently caring about things for an entire lifetime, so if you have anything at all you care about (that you, with solid justification, hope to care about in the future as well) you should probably just sell your soul to GOOD before EVIL HEDONISTIC INDIFFERENCE has a chance to make an offer, because it will, and at that point refusing it could feel like giving up something cool you really really want. Human brains: not even once.

• Foundational Research Institute lists some basic intuitions that support suffering-based ethics.

• The inevitable evolution of bad science (original article here)

• Scott Aaronson v. Roger Penrose on conscious computers. Fave paragraph: “Similarly, a biologist asked how I could possibly have any confidence that the brain is simulable by a computer, given how little we know about neuroscience.  I replied that, for me, the relevant issues here are ‘well below neuroscience’ in the reductionist hierarchy. Do you agree, I asked, that the physical laws relevant to the brain are encompassed by the Standard Model of elementary particles, plus Newtonian gravity? If so, then just as Archimedes declared: ‘give me a long enough lever and a place to stand, and I’ll move the earth,’ so too I can declare, ‘give me a big enough computer and the relevant initial conditions, and I’ll simulate the brain atom-by-atom.’ The Church-Turing Thesis, I said, is so versatile that the only genuine escape from it is to propose entirely new laws of physics, exactly as Penrose does—and it’s to Penrose’s enormous credit that he understands that.”

• I gave a presentation on Aaronson’s fantastic essay Why Philosophers Should Care About Computational Complexity for a philosophy class and haven’t stopped thinking about the subject since that. And someone mistook me for a mathematician afterwards, so I guess I did something right?

• From the Weird Sun blog, a list of men. Also on a more serious note, Descriptive Before Normative.

• Cool project by Pippin Barr (known among other things as the Ancient Greek Punishment guy): It is as if you were playing a videogame (later applied to chess)

• “Existence values are an unusual and somewhat controversial class of economic value, reflecting the benefit people receive from knowing that a particular environmental resource, such as Antarctica, the Grand Canyon, endangered species, or any other organism or thing exists.”

• Based on this interview, Peter Unger sounds like a vaguely frustrating guy but I’m also tempted to agree with many of his pessimistic views regarding academic philosophy (with a great deal of exceptions though, such as many ideas in ethics and philosophy of science maybe?). Ugh now everything is going to feel slightly meaningless for a few days, yeah thanks a lot vaguely frustrating guy

• WikiHow seems like a rabbit hole you never really get around exploring because the concept sounds kinda boring and possibly not rabbit-hole-y enough on the surface, but occasionally you’ll bump into an article on how to pretend you have magical ice powers that leaves you in a weird state of low key wondering what else is out there though probably still not being sufficiently motivated to find out.

Your actual terminal values are your actual terminal values

One of the coolest things I’ve internalized during the past year is this: you don’t need to have a particular emotional response to the things you deem terminally valuable, and you don’t need to assign any moral relevance to the things you happen to feel, unless you endorse these feelings as part of your moral framework. You get to decide what your terminal, inherently important values are, with no particular obligation to infer them from simple unprocessed gut feelings, emotions, or other stuff outside of your direct conscious analysis and control. Sure, all sorts of affects and intuitions are going to influence your decisions and form the basis of your motivation, but still, to what extent you endorse a given potentially morally relevant feeling and how much it’s weighed if embedded into your explicit values is something you get to decide for yourself. And once you have a somewhat satisfactory set of terminal values, you don’t need to care about anything else than that (as well the identifiable instrumental goals that connect to it, which of course is a lot to care about, but like).

This dissociation between a genuinely meaningful life and a life full of conventional, individualistic, sometimes entirely superficial but emotionally salient markers of success is to me extremely liberating because of the relative fickleness of personal happiness. The causal pathways that lead to personal wellbeing are only somewhat reliable: unfortunately, it’s easy to overestimate the value of external life changes, or have a brain that just generally is never really satisfied in the stimuli it encounters. This is not to say that the actions you take to affect the rest of the world have certain effects either, of course – but you probably have more empirical information on how they transform the world, and these effects are usually large enough to make it a safer bet despite the uncertainties involved. Compared to altruism, hedonistic psychological egoism especially when tied to external factors is a treadmill that leads to distress and powerlessness: you can’t decide to be loved, wealthy, or high status in the same way you can decide to show love to someone else, help out people around the world with vastly lower incomes, or act respectfully towards others. Effort-wise, it’s cheaper to do your best to make sure other people have their basic needs fulfilled than to strive to improve your own state which probably already is subject to the principle of diminishing returns.

To not have to see myself as a morally special, intensely relevant entity just because this is how the subjective point of view I inhabit automatically feels like (and because any subjective entity as a result of evolutionary processes has a natural egoistic bias) lets me accept even severe personal emotional setbacks as the inevitable, but absolutely not catastrophic, infinitesimally small moral negatives that they are. After screwing something personal up I may be in pain I’m unable to alleviate, but there are other people in pain as well, some of which I may be able to do something about. This grants me safety, but also control and power over making the world as a whole better: maybe I can take a moderately laborious action that improves my long-term wellbeing by a puny hopeless expected 0.05%; but inherently it is exactly equally important that any other person is spared from unhappiness, so a similar amount of work will usually lead to larger expected effects by an order of magnitude or more if I simply reject my default intuitive human egoism (to the surprisingly large but of course not complete extent that such a rejection is possible). Again, this doesn’t mean you have direct control over how the actions you take will be transduced into qualia experienced by the entities whose lives you seek to improve, but e.g. making statistically sure fewer people suffer for weeks and maybe die of painful preventable diseases is very likely to be a good idea in this respect, and a benefit of a magnitude by which you will probably not be able to easily improve your own life.

At a glance, this seems somewhat like an inversion of Stoicism: instead of accepting that you have no control over external happenings and focusing on cultivating appropriate attitudes towards the world in order to reach an internal sense of peace, you accept you sometimes have very little power over your internal emotional states, and turn your attention to the outside world to at least reduce the distress of other sentient beings. This incompatibility is illusory, and I’ve found these attitudes reinforce each other quite neatly, at least if your preferred flavour of Stoicism is modern in that it’s based on empirical, statistical observations about the extent of the effects of your actions. To me, it seems the virtues of Stoic philosophy were originally designed to counter the same futile hedonistic egoism I oppose, not explicitly to advocate resignation to the world as a place full of disease, abuse, and suffering you can’t do anything to alleviate (impartial empirical altruism just sort of hadn’t been invented yet). Accepting personal emotional setbacks as something not super morally relevant reinforces a Stoic acceptance of things outside of your control, and lets you focus on achieving vastly more important things without disproportional aversion or fear of personal discomfort.

Personal wellbeing is probably going to be a part of the stuff you value, and it might not be very universalizable to assign no intrinsic value at all on one’s own happiness, but in the end, you still get to decide whether your subjective experience is restricted to a solely instrumental role, a parameter you only need to improve insofar as it helps you advance other features of the world. From this, it follows that even if you’ll never feel especially “happy”, even if you’ll never be successful or particularly high status or whatever it is that you feel you may so far have failed at, you may still be doing your best towards progressing the things that you truly value. Even persistent anhedonia doesn’t have to mean anything at all: even without the associated emotional reward, you can still succeed at the things that actually matter.

More on status-based motivation

People frequently speak of social status like it’s something virtuous people aren’t supposed to be super concerned about: caring a lot about how others see you is for shallow people, while respectable people do things “for their own sake”, driven by “genuine passion”. Still, when investigated further – according to the most cynical interpretations at least – most of these supposedly noble urges, such as caring about the suffering of distant people or devoting one’s time to scientific research, are in fact also best explained by the motivation to increase and signal one’s social status: many of the states that the human brain recognizes as rewarding are probably triggered by social cues, and the rest by things that traditionally are closely associated with them, which according to the cynical view means that what other people think about us is in fact effectively the only motivation we have (though it sometimes is coded in values that inherently feel important regardless of social benefits, precisely due to their long history of being tightly coupled with status).

I basically agree with the gist of this view, though I guess its concrete empirical basis is currently a bit too thin to justify extremely high confidence – anyway, most of my quibbles are about the frequently implied moral implications of status-based motivation. Even after people understand how much of human motivation is actually based on pursuing status and how crucial one’s social standing can be to their happiness and mental health, the vague disapproval surrounding status seems to persist. Anecdotally at least, it’s common even for reasonable people to simultaneously (1) acknowledge that everyone is motivated to a great extent by social status, (2) admit that alternative, inherently prosocial incentive structures don’t seem to be feasible at all, and (3) view status as a morally reprehensible source of motivation, something good people should basically be ashamed to be motivated by. This introduces a feeling of dissonance that I think is needless, and can be alleviated by distinguishing between different kinds of status.

***

Social status is a versatile good with many different sources, effects, uses and forms. When judging whether it’s in some sense virtuous to strive for it, we tend to lump all of these forms together just because there’s a convenient word we can use when we mean any of them. So when good is done in order to gain status, the deed has a negative connotational load, because seeking status is more often talked of in contexts where people act in harmful,  pretentious, and frivolous ways (such as buying bigger cars, or whatever the current universal status-seeking caricature is); but this kind of otherwise reasonable conceptual connection doesn’t mean these things are morally equivalent or comparable, it just means they are similar in some ways crucial enough for our languages to have developed a broad term for all of them.

Compare seeking status with seeking material wealth (which of course can ultimately be seen as another way to gain status, but let’s roll with it for now). It doesn’t matter much where your money comes from or how you acquire it: it’s always the same, more or less, and owning it has roughly the same effects to you no matter its source. Contrary to this, there are countless different kinds of social status, only some of which usually are experienced as rewarding by any given person with certain goals and values, and only some of which should be seen as shallow or useless, and some of which we should hope more people to seek – the positive attention received by giving to charity, the admiration gained by doing or teaching valuable research, the reputation of an honest and trustworthy person. Most importantly, people seek status selectively and very often only feel good about some aspects of social status aligned with their values: a physicist might expend considerable effort to gain respect in their research group while getting little out of other superficial and morally irrelevant status sources. To be consequentially virtuous, then, doesn’t need to include being motivated by some pure morals completely decoupled from status, the virtues themselves: it can also mean being reliably motivated by the right kind of status while ignoring the more frivolous pursuits. It feels absurd to suggest that a person who has high status in an altruistic community due to their consistent charitable donations and effective outreach work could just as well have invested more in expensive clothes and hairstyles; the status gained by the latter actions would probably not have felt meaningful or worth it to the person in question, even if they could plausibly have resulted in more absolute admiration in some other social groups.

***

Humans are a cooperative species, and the fact that our survival and wellbeing is determined by whether our peers want us around or not is the force behind this cooperativeness. Even if we are just a bunch of genes trying to replicate, the dynamics of social status make us adopt being useful to each other as a part of our value systems, resulting in things like wishing to avoid hurting others, wanting to make people happy, and baking cheesecakes. The mechanisms with which we judge a person’s status are (from a very roughly sketched evo-psych perspective that should be taken as non-literally as possible) concerned with how powerful and benevolent an ally they would be, and to what extent we can expect them to be good to us; likewise, when we want to increase our own status, we strive to prove ourselves more valuable and more beneficial to others than we would otherwise be. Status-seeking isn’t something that undermines human morality, it’s part of the foundation on which it is originally built.
The system isn’t perfect, of course. When we optimize for status (instead of the good things we pretend to directly, often human-impossibly optimize for), we easily get stuck in counterproductive signalling competitions, and in many environments with weird social structures there are ways to increase status effectively by actively harming others (fear-based dominance, “evil is sexy”, super misguided charity work that mostly gets in the way of everyone trying to improve things) or yourself (emulating the cool kids by smoking). When people complain about other people being motivated by status-seeking, this sort of things are usually what they are picking up on, and quite rightly too – but I wish the complaints were directed at seeking the wrong kinds of status, instead of pretending that it’s virtuous and good or indeed possible at all to be a human who doesn’t care about status. When people are reluctant to admit that they seek status rewards instead of something pure, or condemn other people who do so because it doesn’t fit their idea of good motives, they approach the issue from the wrong angle, and end up impairing their perfectly functional motivational systems. Understanding and accepting the principle of status-motivated behaviour, on the other hand, can be tremendously useful. Accepting status games as an okay thing for humans to be involved in lets us assess them more honestly and tie them more closely to positive externalities, so that status games become more about generating lasting value to morally relevant entities, less to senseless negative-to-zero-sum races.

Links & misc #4

All right, time to return from the unofficial summer break I almost accidentally took from blogging! I have actually written quite a lot this summer, but most of it is currently in a half-finished(/half-assed) state, so here’s another exciting list of links and miscellany.

Things I have been up to since my last post include but are not limited to shooting tortoise videos, hanging out at my grandparents’ summer home, picking tons of wild strawberries and using them to decorate weird cakes, coding & eating candy until I feel sick and/or doze off, complaining about how it’s too hot to code & eat candy until I feel sick and/or doze off, and making a fabulous alien giraffe out of newspaper pulp. (The giraffe is the one on the left. It’s actually almost three metres tall, I just placed it in a ditch here in order to not feel sad and inadequate standing next to its majestic physical form.)DSC_0407x1

Links:

• A list of terms that psych papers frequently use but probably should generally avoid due to their ambiguity or inaccuracy (e.g. “a gene for”, “hard-wired”, “neural signature”). I’m so glad to see this recent trend of people calling out researchers using superficially convincing, but substantially vague and misleading terminology. (Related classic: Still Not Significant.)

• A group at Karolinska Institutet has built a functional artificial neuron capable of communicating with human cells. At this stage it looks pretty clumsy, but the authors believe that miniaturized devices following the same principles are probably feasible in the future and could be utilised e.g. for remote-controlled release of neurotransmitters, all of which makes this technique pretty interesting.

• A neat summary of the wide variety of problems that governments could face when trying to regulate the development of powerful AIs. Novel areas of technological progress tend to be difficult to control as a default, because changing laws is practically always a tremendously slow process compared to the speed of profitable technological advances, but there are many good reasons to assume that AI will be an exceptionally tricky research area to attempt to regulate.

• Similar things have been done in E. coli before, but this looks potentially very useful: a common gut bacterium can now be equipped with synthetic sensory receptors and other basic computing components which allow its gene expression to be programmed and controlled e.g. by the food the host eats.

• In a recent experiment, researchers induced in the subjects a sense of body ownership (similar to the rubber hand illusion) for “a virtual balloon changing in size, and a virtual square changing in size or color, in synchrony with movements of their real hand”. The authors suggest that previous experiments have overemphasised the resemblance between the subject’s own hand and the other object, and that sufficient synchrony does indeed let us identify with objects that don’t even look like our limbs. Woohoooooooooo etc.

• A strange art project trying to visualise what Windows93 could have looked like (utterly ridiculous, very colourful, a bit disturbing).

• According to one study, people on physically unstable surfaces are less likely to believe their current relationship is going to last (subjects also reported less affection towards their partner as well as generally lower relationship quality, so at least they’re, uh, being internally consistent in their assessments?).

Other stuff:

• I don’t even play video games myself, but I watched a friend’s dev stream the other day and it looked like a lot of fun, so I downloaded Unity, started learning C#, and am now in the process of making my first tiny little game (which is one of the reasons I have sort of neglected this blog lately). I’m not sure if the end result is going to be anything interesting – basically I just wanted to establish some sort of a coding habit, and messing around with games turned out to be a motivating way to do this, because I get to alternate between scripting which I enjoy on a challenging problem-solving level and making graphics which I enjoy because it’s relaxing, but I’m sure the process will remain more rewarding if I end up actually finishing something cool, so we’ll see. (Ha ha just kidding – when someone says they’ll “see” whether they’re going to Accomplish a Thing, they’re very reliably not going to Accomplish the Thing. But I’m learning new stuff anyway, so!)

I realised chalkboard paint exists and have now painted most of the suitable surfaces in my apartment with it. This is so worth it. After spending the first day drawing rainbow-coloured bubbles everywhere, I can now have text all around me and effortlessly keep all sorts of proto-insights in sight so I spend more time processing ideas just because they happen to grab my attention more often – I also used to have a problem with forgetting many potentially interesting thoughts because I couldn’t be arsed to keep a bunch of mostly low-quality jottings organised on paper, but now I can just write everything down with low threshold and erase it later on without cluttering my desk or text files.

My moods have been super positive for a few months now, which is v cool after a long time of mild-to-moderate anhedonia following a burnout/depression thing I had a couple of years ago. Things that may be going on here:
– Probiotics, which I started taking after noticing there’s a surge of recent articles about their potential mood benefits and noticing that supplements with a few lactobacillus strains are dirt cheap. Temporally this coincides extremely well with my moods starting to improve and in any case, even if the research on psychobiotics is still at an early stage, this is a great solution as far as placebos go: sufficiently convincing, cheap, completely safe AFAIK.
– Summer and sunlight – even when my moods are fine, I seem to be slightly less effective during the darker months of the year, so it’s pretty likely that this is a factor too. I have considered eventually moving someplace else, but most of the countries I have always wanted to move to (Iceland! Northern Norway!) are very Finland-like in this respect, so idk. To do: start wanting to move to places closer to the equator.
– Recovery/regression to the mean & this being something like my normal hedonic baseline. Mayyyybe? When I was depressed, I recall taking it as a given that my baseline mood was & had always been somewhat lower than average, but now I’m not so sure about it – this whole “feeling generally cheerful, getting stuff done as long as it’s interesting, finding new things to be fascinated about all the time” thing actually feels very very familiar and is also consistent with lots of my old writings, so yeah, this could just be how it used to be. It’s not like mood-related memories are going to be totally accurate when you’re depressed.

Definitely also related: reading lots of Douglas Hofstadter. I’m being at least 38% serious here. I mean I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t be able to enjoy his writing as much as I do now if I were still intensely anhedonic, but then again I pretty consistently feel slightly better on the days I start out reading one of his books, so what do I know. The super compassionate, curious and sincere mindset he has seems to be very effective at reminding me of All The Good In The World – I’m almost sure this guy is actually from some secret cotton-candy coated parallel universe where science and philosophy actually are full of romance and beauty instead of excessive cynicism and sketchy frustrating signalling competitions, debates don’t have people resenting and wanting to hurt each other as a default component, and everything just generally is at least 30% more motivating, wonderful, pure and good, and yes I am having a huge crush on this person.