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siduri comments on Lotteries: A Waste of Hope - Less Wrong

28 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 13 April 2007 05:36AM

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Comment author: [deleted] 03 December 2010 12:51:27AM 6 points [-]

you're occupying your valuable brain with a fantasy whose real probability is nearly zero - a tiny line of likelihood which you, yourself, can do nothing to realize.

I have fantasies where I have superpowers and join the X-Men. I fuel these fantasies by reading comic books -- they cost a lot more than a dollar and it takes me much less than a day to read each one, so in this way, fueling my superhero fantasy is even stupider than fueling a millionaire fantasy by buying the occasional lottery ticket. And the likelihood of the superhero fantasy coming true doesn't just approach zero, it actually is zero. Does that make reading comic books a form of self-destruction? If not, how is it different from buying a lottery ticket every so often? What about sexual fantasies about getting with Jamie Bamber or Felicia Day--are these stupid and self-destructive too, or are they just harmless and pleasant indulgences?

The idea you lay out here--that the lottery-ticket fantasy would necessarily crowd out other, more realistic ideas for wealth generation--seems contrary to the way brains actually work. If the lottery-ticket fantasy fires often, wouldn't that strengthen rather than inhibit the areas where related information is stored? (i.e. the daydreams of "going to technical school, or opening their own business, or getting a promotion at work.") Don't related cognitive activities reinforce each other rather than crowd each other out? I'm not talking about addiction--I'll freely admit that's self-destructive--just about the value of engaging in fantasies "whose real probability is nearly zero," or even fantasies where the real probability actually is zero.

I think impossible fantasies are valuable, partially just because they are fun and I value fun, but partially also because I think they can still inspire us even when the correlation to reality is not direct. I think my superhero fantasies have inspired me to think more deeply about morality and about my place in the world. I buy lotto tickets every so often, and I have also read about investment strategies and I make sure my 401k is fully funded. I put MUCH, MUCH more money into index funds than I spend on the lottery, but buying the lottery ticket every so often helps tickle that "wouldn't it be nice to be rich" reward center in my brain, and THAT helps to keep me on track in my savings and investments. These things can be indirect.