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Sadly I did not yet have time to consider Phil Goetz's comment.
"Why does importance entail persisting indefinitely?"
Because if you take a sufficiently long-term perspective, Eliezer, a non-persisting causal chain has no effects.
Again it is, How can I help reality as whole? not How can I help my neighbor or my fellow human being? Actually How can I affect reality? is a better phrasing of the question. I chose the phrasing, How can I help? to make a nice contrast to, What is in it for me?
One big reason How can I affect reality? strikes me as the right question is that reality as a whole is much more important than I am.
Note that Kepler, Galileo, Newton and the people who discovered that the universe is 10 billion years old were instrumental in helping me arrive at that conclusion. Darwin, Wallace and brain scientists helped a lot, too, by helping me understand that no part of me extends beyond the unitary reality that is the object of the study of the physicists.
My guess is that these answers will seem potentially satisfactory only to the rare reader who has silenced the voice that constantly asks, But what will become of me? -- the rare reader who has silenced his ego in other words. If the ego has not been silenced, it easily drowns out the kind of answers I give here.
The trick in this game, IMHO, is silencing or ignoring motivations and sources of answers within one's mind that are not as reliable as the most reliable parts of one's mind. Some voices I consider unreliable are my motives of personal survival, of not being ostracized, of gaining or keeping status and of making a better living -- particularly if those entail managing the impression I am making on others. In contrast, what I consider the most reliable part of my mind is the part that delights to learn the modern theory of rationality a la E.T. Jaynes and Judea Pearl. The scientist in me rather than, e.g., the political animal.
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