Orthogonality Thesis and Money….

Something a bit different this time – I wanted to explore some ideas relating to psychology, money and the use of money. So recently, whilst reading on a somewhat unrelated subject (Artificial Intelligence), I came across this idea – the Orthogonality Thesis.

What is it? Well it states that if we had 2 factors, ‘intelligence level’ and ‘goal’ an Artificial Intelligence could have any combination of those 2 factors. This space could be represented as a graph such as this;


Now, intuitively we might expect data gathered to fall like this;


Basically, the greater the intelligence the greater the goals. What the Orthogonality Thesis actually proposes it something more like;


Where there is no correlation between intelligence and goals.

This blog isn’t about Artificial Intelligence, so what is the relevance of all of this. Well, firstly we need to define what we mean by intelligence and goals.

Dictionary.com defines intelligence as (among other things) capacity for learning, reasoning, understanding, and similar forms of mental activity;   aptitude in grasping truths, relationships, facts,meanings, etc.. I don’t think this should be too contentious, but that said we probably all have our own personal definitions of what intelligence is, who we think is intelligent and what we would define as an intelligent action. In spite of this, I think there is some consensus here.

Goals on the other hand are defined as “the result or achievement toward which effort is directed; aim; end.“, again no big deal here. However, we need to look into goals a little further.

Goals can be separated into 2 types – Instrumental Goals and Terminal Goals.

Instrumental Goals can be thought of as sub-goals, goals that are set along the way to reaching a Terminal Goal. A Terminal Goal, as the name suggests, is the end game, it is something that the agent wants to achieve maybe just because they want to achieve it.

This fits with the graphs above – we intuitively might expect a high level intelligence to only consider high level or ‘good’ Terminal Goals, and similarly, we might expect a low level intelligence to only consider (or even, only be aware of) low level Terminal Goals. However, in the case of Artificial Intelligence, this does not have to be true. It might be possible to create the most powerful and intelligent system we have ever seen, far beyond even the most intelligent humans, but depending on its design/set up/view of the world it might not have a corresponding high level goal – such as taking over the world, solving world poverty, etc. It is entirely possible its goals might be making sure every dog in the world has a collar on, or baking the ‘best’ loaf of bread, or something else of that nature.

So what about humans? And how does all this relate to money?

Well firstly, we often use our own subjective lens of the world to interpret reality. Whilst some Terminal Goals might be near universal, such as self-preservation, others may not be. This means that we are often trying to identify others Terminal Goals, based on our view of the world and our own Terminal Goals. Similarly, even if we do share a Terminal Goal with someone else, we might have different ideas or views on what Instrumental Goals might be needed to achieve said Terminal Goal.

So what should our goals be? Happiness? Being rich? Becoming fluent in Spanish? Writing a blog that no one reads?

Well some might have acquiring money as a Terminal Goal. As discussed earlier there is not anything objectively wrong with this, but I think a lot of people would agree that this could prove to be a little unfulfilling and will probably suffer from not being very well defined.

As the age old question goes, “Can money buy happiness?”. I am a big believer that the answer is “Probably”. The way the question is structured, and the way I view life, is that the acquisition of money is an Instrumental Goal, a stepping stone on the way to the Terminal Goal of happiness.

The question of what will bring you happiness, is only something you can answer, but the reality is that holding an Instrumental Goal of acquiring money will probably help you on your way to it.

Always bear in mind what your Terminal and Instrumental Goals are, periodically review them, and make sure your Instrumental Goals are consistent with your Terminal Goals.

Keep struggling everyone,

The Struggling Wantrepreneur


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