Intrinsically Valuable State

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Author: Piotr Wozniak
Date: July 2020


Intrinsically Valuable State (IVS) or Self-Valuable State is any state with intrinsic value (i.e. nonderivative value). It is the goal of all goals. It is an atheist's mathematical substitute for God.


Intrinsically Valuable State is a universal goal for any sentient being with the ability to grasp the concept. As long as we do not know if intrinsic value exists, the only sensible thing we can do is to try to understand the reality in the quest for intrinsic value.

Intrinsically Valuable State is important for the following reasons:

  • unification of human goals under the umbrella of an eternal quest for knowledge
  • elimination of the psychological burden of self-centeredness
  • unification of intelligence (see: Artificial intelligence might destroy humanity)
  • ultimate elimination of all existential uncertainties and anxieties

The quest for the Intrinsically Valuable State is helpful in naturally achieving the ultimate form of stoicism.


The following reasoning lead me to proposing the term. All value we see around is derived from the value of something else:

Value(A) = Value(B)*P(B)

Value of A (e.g. learning math) is determined by Value of B (e.g. getting a good job) given the probability of reaching B given A (e.g. probability of getting a good job while knowing math). In philosophy, derived value is called instrumental value.

For most people, the chain of value derivations ends with a religious belief (e.g. I want to get to God's paradise), or with the joy of living (i.e. I want my life to be fun). Some philosophers will label love, human life, consciousness or even democracy as intrinsic value, but these are just arbitrary determinations.

Science does not predicate on the existence of intrinsic value. It may then appear that the world of science is a cold world with no value. Our existence would have no valuation or meaning. We can say that today's science cannot determine the value or the existence of intrinsic value. It implicitly says that intrinsic value does not exist (in the same way as it implicitly says "There is no good reason to believe in God"). Stephen Wolfram (and many others) stated the fact explicitly saying that without religion, it is impossible to determine intrinsically valuable goals for humanity.

However, human life still has a probabilistic value because science can change, intrinsic value may appear possible, and this defines the meaning of our existence. All we need to know is that the probability of intrinsic value is greater than zero. All statements have a probability greater than zero, for there are dozens of factors of uncertainty, incl. the reliability of our own perception, or the approximate nature of all generalizations that occur in the brain.

I translate the above into a claim that the only sensible thing people can do is to expand their knowledge and model the reality in the quest to find or disprove the existence of intrinsic value. Nothing else matters. Alexander Wissner-Gross defines this as the force of intelligence. We are driven ahead by some hard-to-determine hazy purpose.

This thinking is very convenient because it frees everyone from the quest for immortality, self-interest, etc. We all have the same purpose and thus should work in harmony to achieve the goals. That's an "end of all wars" formula.

The ultimate purpose of human existence today is to understand the purpose of human existence

My own evolution

I was raised as a Catholic. Reading about evolution, around the age of 10, I concluded that science has best answers to all problems. However, by the age of 15 I started having some existential doubts: "What for all the effort of exercise and learning if we all die one day?".

Around the age of 18, when I noticed that science does not define or determine the existence of intrinsic value, I decided that the only purpose of life can be to determine that value. The Intrinsically Valuable State, by definition, is the only viable goal. You can thus use IVS as the only possible scientifically viable purpose in life. As religion or pleasure do not provide scientific grounds for determining value, we can say, most people live without a true absolute purpose. When they say "I choose an arbitrary goal", they need to be aware that when I say I rely on science, I mean I seek the truth. IVS is not arbitrary, and arbitrary value is not a true intrinsic value.

When I first mentioned the concept of the Intrinsically Valuable State during a class of Polish (1980), my teacher suggested in all seriousness that this might be grounds for a psychiatric consultation. For her, a teen "dreaming" of non-existent states was a sign of something wrong going on in a young mind. Instead she could have just listened to my story. However, there is no room or time for discussions in a class. Teachers need to rush with the curriculum. As a result, philosophy has no place in a classroom.

In the 1980s, I tried to develop a mathematical theory of the Intrinsically Valuable State, but each time I lectured on the subject, I was met with ridicule. I was actively discouraged from pursuing the subject of IVS and the theory of value. By 1985-1986, I realized that associating IVS with human consciousness or with an individual is just my anthropocentric way of seeing the world. I became interested in probabilities of unknown phenomena and concluded that it is far more likely, on sheer mathematical grounds, that IVS is shared by the mankind. Most of all, we have no choice but we need to strive at better knowledge of the universe. Until then, individual quests, e.g. for immortality, are just a misappropriation of resources.

In my last effort, I wrote a letter to the Polish strongman, general Jaruzelski, with a request to mention the subject in his UN speech (Sep 1985). I thought that one goal for all people is the best formula for peace. I got a polite "thank you", invitation for a TV interview, and found some echoes of my letter in the speech heavily filtered by the context of Cold War (equally well, the echoes might be an expression of my creative imagination).

In 1990, I opted to use the term scientific axiology long before I knew the terms had already been used by Robert Hartman and others. In the early 1990s, I still occasionally spoke about IVS with my most intellectually curious colleagues, but they did not show much interest. I recall only three of my best brain colleagues agree with the concept half-heartedly. Even worse, in later years, they had a very hazy recall of the fact or even turned to ridiculing the concept.

I thought I found a scientifically valid goal in life, and nobody seemed interested. As if we were all driven by God or the fun of the moment. This is not up to a standard required of a scientists. Humans can do better.

Human goals

All human goodness and good deeds can be explained in terms of the Intrinsically Valuable State.

The only scientifically valid purpose of human existence today is a scientific exploration of reality

Only in recent years, some of my new friends on the net (mostly users of SuperMemo), showed some interest in the concept of the Intrinsically Valuable State. This is why I jotted down a few words on this page. I will write more if anyone is ever interested. In the meantime, see my "Goodness of knowledge", which explains why knowledge is good on average. See also why, for the same reasons, I am not worried about artificial intelligence (Artificial intelligence might destroy humanity).

Personal importance

Having a simple goal set in stone simplifies my life. All worries, anxieties and uncertainties are gone. It makes it possible to run the life on a happy autopilot. Productivity is easy if there are no existential issues bothering the mind. I have been puzzled for decades why others do not avail of such a handy philosophical tool. At this moment, I do not know anyone who would drive his life by intrinsic value (with no axiomatic assumptions, e.g. on the existence of God, etc.). If you are one or know anyone, please let me know.


In over four decades since conceiving the concept, I did not meet genuine independent proponents of IVS. In February 2024, I was surprised to discover that Elon Musk might be one (2:26-2:56).

For more texts on memory, learning, sleep, creativity, and problem solving, see Super Memory Guru