Life As A Resource Allocation Problem

Our primitive mind keeps us alive. It is excellent at identifying threats and tolerates many false positives. A single false negative can mean severe injury or death. Our threat detection systems not only identify threats, but they also identify many non-threats as threats. The primitive mind also reminds us to eat, sleep, and procreate. Procreation is not possible if you aren’t otherwise healthy. Some athletic coaches use the presence or lack thereof morning wood as a biomarker in male athletes. Notice how when you are seriously ill or injured, all other problems fade away. Survival becomes the top priority. Focus shifts from years/months to weeks/days, or even hours/minutes. It’s a humbling experience that forces us into the present.

Long term thinking is even just a means of shoring up short term needs. For example, harvesting food allows us to ensure our food supply over the long term. Building a fortress may keep us safe from harm and allows us to procreate, eat, etc. continuously and with ease. Elon Musk’s mega projects — sustainable energy and transport, and multi-planetary living are ultimately safety projects. They are focused on ensuring the safety of our species, which includes himself and his genetic relatives. If we destroy our planet, everyone is impacted.

The question becomes, how do we meet our needs? One could argue that capitalism allows those with capital to create more capital in a recursive loop. My current favorite definition of wealth is the ability to withstand catastrophe. For example, if your car breaks down and you are rich, you use your other car. If you’re less wealthy, you may miss work, lose money — you’re an hourly rather than salaried worker, and take the bus for a week.

We can meet our needs individually or collectively. Time seems to be best-spent meeting needs in the near term while creating systems to meet needs even better in the long term. Capital can increase autonomy. Money isn’t power, but money can bring power. Power, in this case, is the ability to get someone to do something they otherwise wouldn’t do. This is why we pay people to work.

Part of the trap of poverty is in what it does to the brain. Poverty makes thinking and planning for the future difficult. If all of your energy goes towards meeting near term needs, there isn’t energy left to place bets, invest in yourself and your tribe, and create a better future.

We have been trained to consume, that possessing more things will increase our well-being. This is not true. Once basic needs are met, the marginal benefits of new things decrease and don’t provide much lift to our well-being. See Dan Kahneman’s work for more. At best, they are insurance towards future prosperity. Ads say that objects, products, and services are necessary to ensure current well-being. Products are sold as solutions. For solutions to exists, problems must exist. This thinking further encourages the brain to see problems, again favoring false positives over false negatives, in an endless recursive loop.

If we think further about meeting our needs, we can much more effectively meet both our individual and collective needs when working together. Many hands make light work. Thus, the most prudent thing to do seems to be working with others to help each other, and strangers, to meet their needs. Aside from thieves and inheritors, the wealthiest among us are those who have created the most perceived value. Value begets value. This can snowball thanks to capitalism, though the snowball is fragile thanks to our threat detection systems.

We can split up meeting needs into meeting them in the present and the future. The key is to meet present needs and find ways to meet them using a minimum amount of effort. Then, more energy can go towards meeting future needs. It’s a delicate balance. If present needs aren’t satisfied, future needs become out of focus. Thus, perceived and actual safety is paramount. If things are safe but perceived to be unsafe, people will act based on that perception. If things are unsafe but perceived to be safe, people will act on that perception.

We can also invest resources towards honing the discernment of our threat detection systems. Better discernment helps to lessen the number of false negatives we identify. Merely having our needs met consistently helps eliminate false negatives. Being in community and knowing that someone has your back helps reduce them. Meditation and psychedelics also possess the ability to hone these systems.

PS- meeting needs collectively can increase bandwidth to think about meeting future needs without creating additional resources in and of itself. For example, whether you cook for yourself or a group, the dishes still need to be done.

PPS- establishing tracking systems can ensure that your needs are met. Habits are a simple way of doing this. The body has natural tracking systems, for example, a growling stomach to tell you when to eat. Environmental triggers can play a significant role, as well.

PPPS- even helping animals and the environment can be viewed as a means of helping ourselves. Destroying the environment or even just parts of it can have massive second and third-order effects, many of which we are unaware (see bees).