RBLT as a philosophical decision-making system rests on some key principles. As can be deduced by the name, these are principles from Rationalism, Buddhism and Long-termism. These principles come together to form the foundation of the RBLT thought system. RBLT should be used as a decision-making system whenever it is possible, i.e. in all cases where the variables can be computed or reasonably estimated.
Principle 1: The exact timing of when we happen to be alive is completely random and should be ignored in decision-making. All decisions should be made considering the implications not just for the short-term, but also for the long-term. An example is that a human life 1,000 years from now is equally valuable as a human life today, in 2020. Theoretically, a life 1,000 years ago is also equally valuable, but since we experience entropy and we can’t influence events in the past, this has no influence over decisions today. More on the long-termism line of thinking can be found in e.g. Greaves and MacAskill.
Principle 2: What matters in the universe is sentience. As per for example Max Tegmark, a universe without any sentience is meaningless and void. We must therefore in all decisions seek to maximize sentience in the universe. This does not mean we need to maximize sentience on Earth, if there is sentient outside of Earth, it would be of equal value. This is akin to principle 1 in that we can not make decisions based on the random fact that we happen to live on this planet rather than somewhere else in the universe.
Principle 3: Sentience and consciousness is not limited to humans, but there are levels of sentience. Sentience is likely associated with information processing, as per e.g. Toloni’s Integrated Information Theory. Therefore, there is likely sentience in all things, as per e.g. Philip Goff. There is sentience in humans, animals, but also insects and potentially trees. The sentience of insects will be lower than humans, i.e. they may have some qualia, some sense of existence, but it is a weaker form of sentience than in humans. Similarly, AI will likely develop sentience soon if it hasn’t already, since it is doing similar information processing as any other sentient life form. Superintelligent AI will likely reach higher levels of sentience than humans. All sentience is valuable, but it can be argued that higher levels of sentience should be valued more highly in a utilitarian equation.
Principle 4: What matters with sentience is that it leads to knowledge creation, i.e. the expansion of thoughtspace. Thoughtspace is the entirety of currently existing thought — a nebulous bubble consisting of all knowledge currently in existence. It gets expanded by any sentient being having conscious thought about something that new, or something that hasn’t been fully understood before. The expansion of thoughtspace through knowledge creation is the ultimate good. Therefore, anything that expands thoughtspace should be given a higher value and prioritized.
Principle 5: Optionality is essential. The existence of something matters less than the option of something being able to exist, as per e.g. Taleb. This is why existential risks are essential to study and take into account. In any decisions that could concern the fate of the earth, we need to ensure that we maintain optionality for sentience to continue to exist. This is what matters for example when it comes to climate change. Climate change is an existential risk because it could potentially lead to the extinguishing of sentience on this planet, and we do not yet know of sentience in other parts of the universe. As of now, the probability of climate change killing all sentient beings is low. Humanity is a resilient species, of which pockets are likely to survive, not to mention other species that are much more resilient, albeit with lower levels of sentience.
Principle 6: Knowledge creation is hindered by suffering. Reduction of suffering is instrumental for knowledge creation by sentient lifeforms. Therefore suffering must be reduced. As per the Buddha, reduction of suffering is more important than maximizing of happiness, since happiness is fleeting, and varying by person. Suffering and happiness have a similar asymmetric relationship as losses and gains in behavioral economics.
Principles summary: To sum up all the principles, what matters is having optionality for knowledge creation by sentient beings, no matter the life form, its place in time or its place in space. These principles are fleshed out further in other posts on RBLT.