But Why?

Published in Personal Development / Wellbeing - 4 mins to read

I somewhat enjoy achievements that seem largely pointless. Runescape is a great example - people put tens of thousands of hours into the game, in order to achieve wholly arbitrary things, such as max experience in all skills. I believe the fastest possible time someone can do this in is roughly 17,000 hours, and one player is on track to do it by the end of this year. I am reasonably confident he has not been 100% efficient, and so his actually playtime is likely going to be between 20000 and 25000 hours by the time he reaches "200m all" - max experience. Oh, by the way, this game has only been out since 2012.

Intelligent, skilled people dedicate incredible amounts of time to achieve things which essentially serve no further purpose than for them to say "I did it because I could". Many people might look at these achievements and think "why didn't they do something productive with their time?" perhaps instead of dedicating themselves to cancer research, becoming a polyglot or getting in good enough shape to run an ultramarathon. But for me, when Lynx Titan reaches 200m all later this year, his achievement will be just as valid as any other "meaningful" achievement that someone might achieve. The question is why...

... and the answer is because I am a petulant child. I'm sure we have all had that experience when a young kid thinks they are being incredibly smart, and when asked to do something, they respond with "why?". When they have an answer, they again inquire, "why?". And they repeat this over and over, until the adult talking to them says something like "because I said so", or gets angry with them - in other words, when they run out of a good answer to the question, "why?".

If you take a level headed approach to that kind of extrapolation, I think you usually end up arriving and one of a few answers. Something along the lines of "to make my life better", "to make someone else's life better", "to make people in general's life better", to increase me/your/our/their chances of survival from an evolutionary perspective, etc. Perhaps some vague element of morality creeps in there, and the answer is revolves around it being a "good" or "noble" thing to undertake. Then I think the argument totally breaks down though. Why? => To make our lives better => Why? => Because... that's a good thing to do => Why => Because of a preprogrammed and fairly arbitrary set of morals. Oh look - because <arbitrary statement>. The only reason we try to do "good" things is because we are programmed to do so by society, our upbringing and so on and so forth. Following this logic (warning lukewarm take ahead!) means that for me, attempting to cure cancer is just as arbitrary as getting 200m all on Runescape. This is what I admire about Lynx Titan and people like him - he might not have consciously reasoned it out, but he values his achievement just as highly as any others he could potentially strive for. He has removed all of the whys. I'm going to get 200m all => Why? => Because I can.

Incidentally, one of my big goals this year is to get max level (not max experience) on my own Runescape account, which requires a minimum of around 1500 hours, but will take me roughly 2500. I am also going to try see if I can train an AI to generate memes. I am even going to try and come up with some kind of meme-Turing Test, to see if I can fool people as to which memes are human generated and which are generated by a neural network. Could I spend this time writing a programme that would enhance people's lives? Absolutely. But I'd rather do things my way, and you know exactly why.