- Morality, Contribution to Human Advancement, and Personal Fulfillment represent the three pillars of life based on the After-Life Quadrant
- The After-Life Quadrant outlines four post-life scenarios based on two events overlapping: The existence or non-existence of an After-life, and the survival or extinction of humanity. The resulting focuses of each scenario give way to the priority areas for life as described by the three pillars.
Why are we here? What is our purpose? What happens after death? Should I eat dessert? Life is something we all find ourselves questioning throughout our existence.
A famous French physicist, mathematician, and philosopher (don’t try and compare resumes with this gentleman) from the 1600’s asked himself very similar questions and came up with a clever approach. Bliase Pascal gave us Pascal’s Law (damn you fluid mechanics), numerous contributions to mathematics and the physical sciences, and an interesting philosophical argument regarding the existence of God. Pascal challenged humans to bet with their lives whether God exists or not and think about the potential outcomes. He says everyone must participate in the bet simply because everyone exists. On side of the coin, God exists and you have infinite gains, and on the other side God does not exist and nothing happens. A rational approach to this would be to bet that God exists, because of the potential gains if you are right. If you are wrong, then you lose nothing. However, if you choose to live as though God does not exist, and you are wrong, you could find yourself in hot water (literally).
We are taking on a similar thought exercise, inspired by the brilliant Pascal’s Wager. The After-Life Quadrant (ALQ) is a framework that gives us another possible way to think about how we should live our lives, or at least the areas that may be important to focus on. The ALQ examines post-life outcomes in order to determine what priorities we should have during our lives. In the ALQ there are four possible outcomes based on two overlapping events.
- The first is whether our soul lives on or not – we are reincarnated, re-born, go somewhere else (heaven, purgatory, etc.), or we simply cease to exist.
- The second is whether humanity survives long term as a species in the Universe, or not.
We can’t time travel (thanks Stephen Hawking…but I’m still hopeful!) and learn if humanity survives and we can’t test the accuracy of the stories we hear from those who have “come back” from near-death experiences. So, we’ll go through each potential outcome here, and what it means for how we should live our lives.
The first outcome is that there is an After-Life. If this is true, then assuming how we live our current life is a factor in determining the quality of our after-life, we should highly prioritize morality. Treat ourselves and others well, be kind and generous, and have a general set of principles that align to whichever after-life scenario (based on religion or other ideology) we believe to be most probable. Morality should have a significant weight indeed in this scenario since living for a finite amount of years is a small speckle of time compared to an eternity in the after-life.
A quick note here to answer the question that some of you may have asked: what if the behavior of our life has no bearing on what happens on our soul in the after-life? Good question! Within this framework, that outcome would simply align with the “NO AFTER-LIFE” scenario. If the choices we have in this life have ZERO bearing on whatever happens next, then it shouldn’t influence our choices.
That brings us to the second scenario – that there is no afterlife or permanent destination for our soul. So our time alive (or in simulation) is all we have before returning to the emptiness of nothing and ceasing to exist. This can be a positive or negative depending on whether you’re a glass half-full or half-empty kind of person. If you’ve murdered people or been in politics or both, this scenario is probably what you’re rooting for. With this outcome, personal fulfillment becomes the main objective. What do we need to do to feel fulfilled and content with the lives we live? More on this later.
In the third scenario we consider the survival of humanity beyond our individual lives. If humanity survives long term, then the collection and advancement of human knowledge and contribution to human progress is critical to that survival. For some, this may not be an important factor because they are more concerned with their own individual well being. For others, this is a very significant objective. The job or role you have contributing to society now matters a great deal because it supports our journey forward.
In our final scenario four, if humanity does not survive (due to Skynet and the Terminators coming online, a meteor, zombies, incurable disease, zombies, the sun exploding, etc.) then again, personal fulfillment becomes a primary objective. In this case, the work we do day-to-day and whatever we try to achieve as a society has no real long-term significance beyond whatever gratification we receive from it. Concepts like legacy no longer have any long term significance either. Sorry Tywin Lannister, but your kids are playing a meaningless and ultimately unproductive Game.
So what does the ALQ teach us about how to live our life? Simply that by focusing on the following three pillars of life we maximize the probability of fulfilling our purpose for all four scenarios:
- Human Advancement
- Personal Fulfillment
If we give attention to all three, we have covered the gamut of outcomes. So let’s review the three pillars or focus areas of life.
Morality, or ethics, the principles of right and wrong. We have a number of compasses to guide us in this respect if we choose to follow them. The first are the laws of the sovereign areas within which we live including laws that provide moral guidance such as those stating not to kill, not to drive drunk, and not gamble unless you’re in Las Vegas or out at sea. Second, we have religious frameworks to guide you very specifically in how to achieve your after-life aspirations. In Christianity you accept Jesus as your savior. In Islam, you follow the 5 pillars and try to accumulate more good deeds than bad. In Buddhism, follow the eightfold path. In Hinduism, rid yourself of bad karma. And so on. You can subscribe to one religion or theoretically try to follow the teachings of all of them, though that may nullify some of your individual memberships. Thirdly, you can come up with your own morality for what you believe is right and wrong, and follow that the best you can. For example, you can say that you will follow laws that make sense, and while you don’t believe in the religious frameworks, you acknowledge that their could exist a higher being, and that in general you intend to be a good person and treat others fairly.
Human Advancement and the attainment of knowledge. The whole point of this one is to contribute to the long term survival of humanity, because if we don’t survive, most of what we do day-to-day when it comes to “accomplishments” and “contribution” don’t mean anything of value in the long run. How do you make a contribution to our survival? You work as a society to solve problems that threaten our well being, and invest in research and advancements in our knowledge and capabilities. This includes but is not limited to, research to fight diseases including aging, space travel to expand our footprint in the universe, anti-meteor defenses, and anti-zombie samurai swords…just to name a few. It’s working together to achieve peace and a higher standard of living for all, especially in education. Education, ideally, is the path from a non-contributing member of society to a contributing member of society so its role in this pillar of life is crucial. Because at the individual level, how we can contribute is by maximizing our own individual potential. By finding what things you’re good at, enjoy doing, and can support yourself doing, you maximize the opportunity to reach that potential. Much of this journey of self-discovery and knowledge can be achieved through proper education. One that teaches you about the world, yourself, and where you fit in it. After you have a system in place that helps each individual find their corresponding contribution in society, and the available roles in society align with long term human survivability, you maximize the pillar to keep humanity thriving.
To summarize this pillar, as an individual your role is to find a way to contribute to society. Now this doesn’t mean that you have to actually be Elon Musk and build rockets, or even work at his company. Any person who is able to take care of themselves and live in peace is doing their part. If you are working, and able to provide food and shelter for yourself that is usually enough. Because chances are that you are paying taxes or you’re consuming goods. In either case, your capital is going to corporations and governments, which hopefully in turn are investing in the areas we previously discussed. Now, as we may all know, that may not be happening to the extent we want. But as individuals, we’ve done our part at that point. The only thing more we can do is to pressure governments and corporations to invest in areas that directly impact human advancement and survivability.
The third and final pillar is personal fulfillment. This is the foundational pillar of life. Because if humanity does not survive and there is no after-life, this is what you are left with. Personal fulfillment is a bit trickier than the previous two which have slightly clearer definitions, albeit different paths to achieve them. With personal fulfillment, this may vary pretty dramatically from person to person because the definition itself will vary. Simply put, fulfillment means achieving your desired conditions. The problem is you could very high number of conditions, or variables that need to be addressed to complete those requirements. For example you may want material things, like cars and houses, a high paying job, a beautiful spouse, to travel the world, to read 1000 books, and so on. Another person could be content eating ice cream every day. And what fulfills you could change over time. Ice cream every day would work wonders for my son. But when he gets older, what fulfills him will evolve. After you buy that Ferrari and that mansion, you may desire other things or realize that what you thought fulfilled you, no longer does. So how do we determine our own fulfillment equation? This is a grand quest in itself for that my dear readers, stay tuned for a stand-alone deep diving expedition.