Vital Syllabus

Top-level areas

In our age of multiple pressures, dizzying opportunities, daunting risks, and accelerating disruption, what are the most important skills and principles to cherish and uphold?

The Vital Syllabus project (described here) aims to answer these questions. It aims, moreover, to draw attention to resources that can best assist students of all ages:

  • To acquire and deepen these skills
  • And to understand and embody the associated principles.

The proposed syllabus has been split into twenty-four top-level areas.

For resources related to each top-level area, click on the links that follow.

Note: This breakdown is subject to change as the project develops.

(1) Learning how to learn

How to pick up new skills quickly and reliably:

  1. The strengths and weaknesses of various online search tools
  2. Finding online courses that are best suited to individual needs
  3. Finding learning communities that can improve understanding
  4. Skills in evaluating the reliability of sources and communities
  5. The risks of overestimation of self-expertise
  6. Learning by listening, learning by discovery, and learning by doing
  7. Learning via playfulness and retrospectives
  8. How to consolidate new learning
  9. How to set aside previous learning that no longer pertains
  10. Knowing oneself better in order to learn in the best way

(2) Communications

Communications with a variety of different kinds of audiences:

  1. The importance of narrative as well as facts
  2. Graphic and video design
  3. Immersive communications
  4. Understanding audience needs
  5. Building empathy
  6. Better listening for better communications
  7. Converting negative critics and trolls into constructive partners

(3) Agility

How to manage uncertainty:

  1. Dividing up tasks into a series of short sprints
  2. Obtaining useful feedback at the end of each sprint
  3. Updating plans based on new information obtained
  4. Combining a series of short sprints into lasting positive change
  5. When Agile goes wrong

(4) Creativity

Going beyond existing methods and solutions:

  1. Methods for generating innovative new ideas
  2. Methods of evaluating innovative new ideas
  3. Methods for transforming new ideas into actual solutions
  4. Methods to decide between innovation and the status-quo
  5. Design and creativity

(5) Augmentation

Technology and tools to boost abilities:

  1. Traditional methods to boost memory, concentration, etc
  2. Uses of personal, wearable, and embedded technologies
  3. Biofeedback mechanisms
  4. Roles for brain-computer interfaces
  5. Tools that can act like a “personal guardian angel”
  6. Tools and techniques to strengthen critical thinking
  7. Tools and techniques to boost creativity
  8. Tools and techniques to boost resilience
  9. Tools and techniques to widen or deepen perspective
  10. The impact of various “consciousness raising” practices

(6) Collaboration

Becoming wiser and stronger together:

  1. Addressing individual blind-spots by collective analysis
  2. Designing teams to promote synergies rather than cancellation
  3. Forms of play and other team activities that boost mutual learning
  4. Strengths and weaknesses of wikis and other open systems

(7) Emotional health

Nurturing emotional strength:

  1. Mindfulness
  2. Playfulness and recreation
  3. The benefits of a growth mindset
  4. The strengths and weaknesses of positive thinking
  5. Not being slaves to inner anxieties and other “demons”
  6. Handling fear of failure
  7. Dealing with underperformance in oneself and others
  8. Failing forward and failing fast (associated with Agility)
  9. Social skills and perceptiveness
  10. Understanding, supporting, and valuing diversity
  11. Distinguishing eustress (“good stress”) from harmful distress
  12. Links between emotional health and social circumstances
  13. Links between emotional health and physical health

(8) Physical health

Factors impacting physical health:

  1. Augmenting the body
  2. Accelerating personalised medicine
  3. Opportunities for all-round “better than well” health
  4. Opportunities for lives in a state of permanent youthful vitality
  5. Anticipating the Longevity Escape Velocity
  6. Anticipating social changes due to greatly extended healthspans

(9) Foresight

Anticipating the unexpected:

  1. When forecasts were mistaken
  2. Forecasters and superforecasters
  3. The purpose of scenarios
  4. Identifying trends that have the potential to cause disruption
  5. The factors behind potential exponential change
  6. Identifying potential accelerators – and brakes – for trends
  7. Establishing “canary signals” for advance warning of tipping points
  8. How trends can combine to form breakthrough scenarios
  9. Examples of interconnections producing unforeseen scenarios
  10. Using imagination to anticipate novel scenarios
  11. Methods to evaluate the credibility of imagined scenarios
  12. Methods to evaluate the desirability of imagined scenarios
  13. Methods to assess actions to influence the actual course of scenarios
  14. Precautionary and proactionary approaches to risk and opportunity

(10) Leading change

Inspiring and maintaining transformations:

  1. Why major change initiatives often fail
  2. Positive methods to manage major change initiatives
  3. Cultivating a sense of urgency instead of complacency or resignation
  4. Building and managing a coalition to guide vital change
  5. Identifying and addressing misaligned incentives
  6. Moonshots and moonshot worship
  7. Crossing the chasm

(11) Technologies

In history, the present, and the future:

  1. The structure of industrial revolutions
  2. Technologies and overhang
  3. Energy systems
  4. Food, clothing, shelter, and beyond
  5. Nanotech
  6. Biotech
  7. Infotech
  8. Cognotech
  9. Virtual and Augmented Reality
  10. Robotics
  11. Space tech
  12. Social tech

(12) Economics

In history, the present, and the future:

  1. The positive accomplishments of free markets
  2. The failure modes of free markets
  3. The tragedy of the commons
  4. The mixed model
  5. The role of business
  6. The roles of money and banking
  7. Cryptocurrencies
  8. Tokenomics
  9. Protecting property
  10. Crime and punishment
  11. The circular economy

(13) Governance

In history, the present, and the future:

  1. Regulating technologies
  2. Incentivising technologies
  3. Evidence-based policy vs. ideology-based policy
  4. Socialism and its issues
  5. Egalitarianism and its issues
  6. Meritocracy and its issues
  7. Minimal governance
  8. Lean governance
  9. Self-regulating technologies
  10. Trustable monitoring
  11. The narrow corridor
  12. Redistribution
  13. Social safety nets and social contracts
  14. UBI and FALC
  15. Centralisation vs. decentralisation
  16. Industrial strategy

(14) Democracy

In history, the present, and the future:

  1. Technocracy and democracy
  2. The separation of powers
  3. Proactive vigilance
  4. Failure modes of democracy
  5. Deliberative democracy
  6. Enhancing democracy with AI
  7. The role of career politicians
  8. Beyond party politics
  9. Toward superdemocracy

(15) Geopolitics

Influencing political processes, nationally and internationally:

  1. Sovereignty and interdependence
  2. The international separation of powers
  3. Alliances and partnerships
  4. Self-governing virtual states
  5. Seasteading
  6. Rejuvenating the Bretton Woods institutions

(16) Numeracy

Arithmetic and analysis for the modern age:

  1. Exponentials
  2. Probabilities
  3. Lies, damned lies, and statistics
  4. Estimating harm vs. ruin
  5. Complexity

(17) Science

Distinguishing “good science” from “bad science”:

  1. When scientists were mistaken
  2. Normal science and revolutionary science
  3. Debates over scientific methods
  4. Cognitive biases
  5. Social pressures on science
  6. Science and parascience (parapsychology)
  7. Potential limits of science

(18) Philosophy

Thinking about thinking:

  1. When philosophers were mistaken
  2. Practical examples of the impact of philosophical decisions
  3. The potential large impact of transcendent thinking
  4. Awareness of philosophical biases and fallacies
  5. Implications of modern science and tech for traditional worldviews
  6. Strengths and weaknesses of religions
  7. Strengths and weaknesses of humanism
  8. Virtue signalling
  9. Evaluating unborn generations
  10. Free will
  11. Approaches to determine ultimate priorities
  12. Evolving a framework for ethics fit for the 2020s

(19) Transhumanism

A philosophy particularly suited to the 2020s:

  1. Components of transhumanism
  2. Varieties of transhumanism
  3. The values of active transhumanism
  4. The transhumanist shadow
  5. Criticisms of transhumanism
  6. Transhumanist culture
  7. Anticipating the growth of transhumanism

(20) Culture

The basis for extended flourishing:

  1. Societies with increasingly diverse subcultures
  2. Limits to tolerant coexistence
  3. Coexistence with AIs and robots
  4. Coexistence with animals with uplifted capabilities
  5. Options for the future of work

(21) The environment

The context in which humanity exists:

  1. Our cosmic context
  2. Environmental independence and interdependence
  3. Planetary boundaries
  4. The co-evolution of life and mind
  5. Options for re-wilding
  6. Options for de-extinction
  7. Options for paradise engineering
  8. Options for exploring the wider universe
  9. Alien life and the Fermi paradox

(22) Landmines

Identifying and addressing the biggest risks ahead:

  1. The left behinds
  2. WMD proliferation
  3. Biotech hazards
  4. Infotech hazards
  5. Financial instabilities
  6. Environmental instabilities
  7. Political instabilities
  8. Cancers within society
  9. Reason under threat
  10. Divided nations
  11. Divided aging
  12. Bubbling under
  13. Existential opportunities

(23) The Singularity

Options for the advent of artificial superintelligence:

  1. The singularitarian stance
  2. The singularity shadow
  3. Different routes to ASI
  4. Hard and soft take-off
  5. Possible timescales to reach ASI
  6. The control problem
  7. The alignment problem
  8. Human-ASI merger
  9. No Planet B
  10. The singularity principles
  11. AGI or not AGI: fundamental choices

(24) Ultimate futures

Beyond the event horizon:

  1. Picotech and femtotech
  2. Ultimate physics: births and deaths of universes
  3. Beyond human death: cryonics and reanimation
  4. Space-time engineering and technological resurrection
  5. The transcension hypothesis
  6. The simulation hypothesis
  7. Parallel multiverse branches: communication beyond base reality

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