Introspection – Learn to make the right decisions

Aubrey de Grey – Introspection – How to learn to make the right decisions.

Aubrey: It’s an interesting story really, I suppose. So one thing that’s always been really fundamental in how I make decisions is introspection. I’ve always felt that it’s very important to me to understand why I think what I think and this has led me to… I think perhaps an unusually self consistent way to think of thinking, I kind of always had good answers to questions along the lines of why. But you can take that too far.

Marzena Kmiecik: Actually you are very analytical.

Aubrey: Well either it’s natural or I’ve got that way over time through just a habit but one way or another, yeah I’m very introspective. I like to understand why I think what I think and there are two aspects of that, that are in a sense of conflicting but which have jointly led me to a very strong level of peace, you know. Self esteem but also satisfaction with whom I am and why I am the way I am.

First thing is, that I’ve just done this a lot, I’ve started thinking this kind of way even when I was a kid somehow. I don’t know why I got this way I think it was really something that had to do with how I was brought up by my mother, who definitely was extraordinary formative.

Even when I was 8 or 9 years old the one big thing that happened that I always come back to particular event that sticks in my mind where I was fighting with my mother about practicing the piano. I didn’t want to practice the piano, but somehow rather I did want to understand why I didn’t want to practice the piano and so I thought about it. I came to the conclusion that the main reason I didn’t really see much attraction in spending my time tapping away at the thing was that best possible consequence at the time to knew that I would become a good pianist and that didn’t seem much of a consequence because I’m already a lot of really good pianists. You would be adding negligibly to the overall quality of life of humanity.

Somehow I don’t know why that came to me but overtime, over in the next few years it crystallized into an understanding of what I wanted to do with my life which was to make a difference.

Marzena Kmiecik: At what age did this happen?

Probably around the age 8 or 9, with the initiating of that piano. And so by the time I was in my mid teen it was clear to me that I definitely wanted to be a scientist because I was very clear that scientist made the most difference in the long run, they make the most progress.  And I started to discover that I was a really good programmer and so I got into artificial intelligence after I graduated. The idea being, like you know “you can affect a lot of people’s life by automation” by developing machines that are smart enough to relieve us of the tedium of going down a mountain or serving hamburgers. So that’s what I did for several years.

When I met my wife who’s a biologist and we ended up talking about biology and eventually we started talking about aging. I was completely horrified to discover that she wasn’t interested in aging and I thought all biologists I was meeting were also uninterested in aging and that the other biologists I was meeting were also uninterested about aging, I thought well, “hang on, this makes no sense, aging is obviously the world’s most important problem, biologists themselves are the best people to work on it what the fuck, and it took me a good couple of years to come to terms with it to really believe this could be true and eventually I did and I was in a good fortunate position to switch fields, basically I was doing my research in my spare time already and had an undemanding job that was paying my bills, so switching to spend my spare time to in a different way was a risk free enterprise. But the other thing that is  very important about all of this is that that if you go one step deeper and ask: “why do I want to make a difference” I’m also satisfied in some sense with not having an answer to that. I’m satisfied with the fact that that is not important to me, this is who I am.

Nobody is criticizing me for this, so I guess that’s ok, but also I don’t really feel that there is an explanation, I feel that this is just like who I am.