You might expect that all else being equal that if you are an average human being than of all the things out there there’d be some things you are good at, some that you are bad at and a large number of things that you are average at, roughly, clustering around the middle of the bell curve. Then since roughly 50% of all things that you can engage in you would be better than 50% of the people out there it would be relatively simple to go out there and do one of those things with your life. Easy peasy.
Only that’s not quite accurate. The problem is three fold. One when you engage in an activity you don’t know if you are one of the people who is good at it and indeed can’t know until you’ve spent a substantial amount of time on it. Two, the distribution of things you are good at and the things you both like and want to do are not likely at all to be aligned. Indeed more often than not you are likely to engage in an activity you want to do and enjoy doing and spend far more than the amount of time you might normally expect to spend on it trying to get good at it even though you might never be good at it. Lastly in every activity there will be over time what I call for lack of a better word drift.
Drift occurs when as people engage in an activity people get discouraged or bored and drop out. This happens when the environment is very negative or when the competitiveness is high. Over time a greater percentage of those who do poorly or averagely at an activity will drop out than those who do well. In competitive activities no one enjoys being the punching bag for the other players even if one enjoys the activity at its base. And of course communities tend to be very hard on activity members who lack the requisite skill or knowledge that they expect community members to have. In effect they engage in a kind of exclusionary practice essentially exiling those who want to engage in the activity but don’t meet their standards. And on top of this there is the effect of one’s mental state on one’s skill development. A constant string of failures may well lead one to fail to develop their skill to their potential due to having a shot confidence. In effect every unit of effort produces less of a return in gained skill meaning a person who starts off bad at a skill or doing poorly at it could require two or three times as many hours of practice to maximize their personal potential at that activity than it would someone who starts off average or above average. Or it may never be possible. The marginal return on effort may well reduce to near zero if one’s confidence is low enough. And then there’s luck as well. A certain percentage of users in luck affected skill based activities will simply have a prolonged period of unluckiness that results in a shot confidence or quitting even before once can develop the level of skill to reach their potential. That is guaranteed to happen to some due to the nature of randomness.
Over time all of this essentially shifts the bell curve to the right meaning the average activity member ends up having a higher and higher skill level (and confidence level). This can continue until there are a very tiny number of activity members left all of whom are either too arrogant or too deluded to realize their lower skill level, too stubborn to quit despite their lower abilities (perhaps because they’ve devoted so much time to the activity already that they are unwilling to give up), or are actually the most skilled in the population set.
There is no great solution to any of this. If you create amateur level activities, the bell curve just drifts to the right within those amateur levels. If you try to encourage activity groups to be more tolerant and accepting of new activity members or less skilled activity members it MAY slow down the amount of drift but it also may just make those less skilled activity members feel patronized (and in many cases they likely would be correct in feeling that way). Spreading free knowledge may well help people meet their personal potential a little faster but that just pulls a few more people into the elite pool a bit faster and doesn’t solve the problem at its core.
Sophisticated matching algorithms and reduced barriers to entry can help ensure that people find the activities that they are good at. But that just leads to a question. Should society care more about what citizens are good at or more about what citizens WANT to do. Doing something that one is good at but that makes one miserable may well result in reduced output, greater stress levels, and an early death. On the other hand doing something that one is not good at but that one enjoys may well result in the same outcome as drift results in one losing whatever joy they might have received from the activity after repeated failure. And even if it doesn’t, it doesn’t seem like an optimal solution for further human advancement.
Presumably we could hope that there is some kind of sweet point where one has a maximal enjoyment to skill ratio sufficient to lead one to work hard at an activity to improve their skill without them losing interest or becoming discouraged. Some will get lucky and find an activity that they both highly enjoy and are highly skilled at and the more time they spend on it the more skilled they get and they are always able to stay ahead of the drift. Others will get unlucky and never find any activity for which they find themselves sufficiently skilled that they enjoy to stay ahead of skill drift. They can either make a choice to suffer through an activity that they don’t enjoy very much but they are skilled enough to stay ahead of drift in or accept being behind the drift but at least know they are doing something they enjoy and try not to get discouraged or burned out. Everyone else will be somewhere in between.
In any case we should do everything in our power to ensure that the barriers to entry to try activities are low, that we do our best to match people up with the activities that they most enjoy and are best at so they can at least try them, that we make as much knowledge about activities open and available to everyone so they can ascend the curve as quickly as possible and that communities are as accepting and tolerant of differences in skill level as possible. And on top of that we should create as many stepping stone levels that insulate groups from engaging in an activity with activity members who far exceed their current skill level. We should also reduce as much as possible barriers to exit as well as exiting an activity once one has established that they don’t enjoy it or aren’t good at it can reduce the number of wasted hours and ensure that one find the activities they enjoy and are good at faster. We should do all of this and more because all of these things, although they don’t solve anything, do mitigate these problems at least a little and can make life a little more tolerable for everyone.
But if you are trying for, purely hypothetically a true and complete solution there are several more radical proposals one might examine.
One radical proposal might be to try and essentially cripple the skilled. That is reduce the top of the curve to try and induce a leftward shift. You could do this by trying to introduce a kind of cultural shame upon skill level or trying to deliberately put up barriers to slow down or reduce the capabilities of skillful activity users. But besides being completely morally repugnant this also would not be anywhere near an optimal solution for society. It would result in a lot of disgruntled angry skillful beings out for vengeance in the best case. In the worst case you get kind of a societal drudgery wherein everyone wonders at the pointlessness of striving since no one is ever able to accomplish anything of note or substance and in which no one has role models or even much in the way of hopes or dreams.
Another way to induce a left word shift might be well to force top skill level activity users to essentially retire with accolades. That is once you achieve level X you can’t do activity Y anymore. So the very top actors no longer act, the very top football players can’t keep playing. This is less repugnant than the above but certainly could still reduce the overall skill output of society (unless retired entities all find other activities that they are top skilled at, meaning it increases skill activity diversity, not overall output). We would have to ask ourselves if it’s worth it. We would also have to be aware that sometimes it might be difficult to determine where that rational cut off is. Somethings it’s easier to measure excellence in than others. How would you determine for example who the very best person at being interviewed is? And what would it mean to tell that person that they can no longer go on interviews exactly? The accolades part of this would have to be rather substantial too in order to ensure that skilled entities don’t just reject the scheme altogether. That could get expensive. Also you can expect that people will skill hop between related activities winning accolades in each and every one before retiring. That might not be a problem though.
Another even more radical crazy idea would be to use modern technology to create for every individual essentially their own environment wherein they can be faced only with carefully calibrating artificial intelligences to compete against. In this artificial world you can find the activity that maximizes your absolute enjoyment and then the AIs would calibrate around you so that you are provided with sufficient challenge to keep up your enjoyment but in which you always come out on top. In essence you become the most skillful or near the top of the skill chain at all time. You’re always ahead of the drift and you remain blissful and happy.
Of course everyone is going to have varied opinions on the morality of such a setup with most probably being appalled. Though utilitarians ought think it optimal I think. However, I suspect it would not work in practice for one simple reason. If you are aware that the universe around you is not real then you will inevitably feel less substantive joy out of that universe. If anything you will sort of go through a kind of psychological rejection of the world around you. Your accomplishments wont feel like accomplishments. Your pleasure won’t seem like real pleasure. You won’t be able to take things seriously that are happening to you. In the end I suspect you would start to act out against the simulation sort of as if you were a parasite trying to reject your host simulation tearing it down from the inside. So if this is going to be viable at all you would have to make everyone utterly ignorant that they are even in a simulation of this sort.
But there’s a bigger problem here even with ignorance. That is a question of can you truly trust the simulation? It would be in such a world trivial for someone who codes up the simulation to change a few variables and create what is in essence the greatest psychological torture device ever devised by humanity. What’s more, what about bugs? A slight tweak and you could find yourself not living your own personal utopia but some kind of miserable farce that leaves your cynical or depraved or even drives you mad. Also the simulation creators could just get it wrong, especially if they don’t have first hand knowledge or understanding of the activity you want to be best at or they lack a full and complete understanding of your psychology and mental states.
And even if the simulations could be perfect in theory who would monitor these simulations? Who would develop them? They would have to be self generating, that is AI creating AI or else you have a problem wherein the creators and maintainers of the simulation still being human still experience the very same problems described above. And these AI creators and maintainers would have to be sort of emotionless or otherwise be somehow programmed to not be like humans in order to avoid having their same problems themselves. Say for example they could be programmed to most enjoy building and maintaining simulations for humans and to all operate at precisely the same skill level. In any case I think it’s likely to be a mess.
The last radical idea I can come up with is that we do some kind genetic ninjitsu to essentially make us all maximally skilled at absolutely everything or at least maximally skilled at one thing and then match our enjoyment up with that thing. I’m pretty sure that’s impossible but even if it were it would raise pretty deep and profound moral questions and questions of about identity and soul. I suspect people would reject even voluntary and free manipulations of our genome like that.
Well that’s enough weird rambling for now. Suffice it to say that I just have no idea how to deal with this stuff and I despise it. All answers are bad but the status quo is also really bad. But then maybe I can’t see the solution for the simple reason that although I greatly enjoy thinking about, speculating about, and writing about various thoughts of this nature it’s entirely possible that I may not be very good at it.