It would be helpful if you could agree with or contest with that claim before we move on to the other upside.
Right. I’m saying that the math we should care about is:
effect from boosting efficacy of current long-termist labor + effect from increasing the amount of long-termist labor + effect from short-termist benefits
I think that math is likely to work out.
Given your priors, we’ve been discounting “effect from short-termist benefits” to 0.
So the math is then:
effect from boosting efficacy of current long-termist labor + effect from increasing the amount of long-termist labor
And I think that is also likely to work out, though the case is somewhat weaker when we discount short-termist benefits to 0.
(I also disagree with discounting short-termist benefits to 0, but that’s doesn’t feel like the crux of our present disagreement.)
Let’s go. Upside 1:
effect from boosting efficacy of current long-termist labor
Adding optimistic numbers to what I already said:
Let’s say EAs contribute $50m† of resources per successful drug being rolled out across most of the US (mainly contributing to research and advocacy). We ignore costs paid by everyone else.
This somehow causes rollout about 3 years earlier than it would otherwise have happened, and doesn’t trade off against the rollout of any other important drug.
At any one time, about 100 EAs†† use the now-well-understood, legal drug, and their baseline productivity is average for long-term-focused EAs.
This improves their productivity by an expected 5%††† vs alternative mental health treatment.
Bottom line: your $50m buys you about 100 x 5% x 3 = 15 extra EA-years via this mechanism, at a price of $3.3m per person-year.
Suppose we would trade off $300k for the average person-year††††. This gives a return on investment of about $300k/$3.3m = 0.09x. Even with optimistic numbers, upside 1 justifies a small fraction of the cost, and with midline estimates and model errors I’d expect more like a ~0.001x multiplier. Thus, this part of the argument is insignificant.
Also, I’ve decided to just reply to this thread, because it’s the only one that seems decision-relevant.
† Various estimates of the cost of introducing a drug here, with a 2014 estimate being $2.4bn. I guess EAs could only cover the early stages, with much of the rest being picked up by drug companies or something.†† Very, very optimistically, 1,000 long-term-focused EAs in the US, 10% of the population suffer from relevant mental health issues, and all of them use the new drug.††† This looks really high but what do I know.†††† Pretty made up but don’t think it’s too low. Yes, sometimes years are worth more, but we’re looking at the whole population, not just senior staff.
Let’s say EAs contribute $50m†… Various estimates of the cost of introducing a drug here, with a 2014 estimate being $2.4bn. I guess EAs could only cover the early stages, with much of the rest being picked up by drug companies or something.
An EA contribution of far less than $50m would be leveraged.
The $2.4bn estimate doesn’t apply well to psychedelics, because there’s no cost of drug discovery here (the drugs in question have already been discovered).
As a data point, MAPS has shepherded MDMA through the three phases of the FDA approval process with a total spend of ~$30m.
The current most important question for legal MDMA & psilocybin rollout in the US is not when, but at what quality. We’re at a point where the FDA is likely (>50% chance) going to reschedule these drugs within the next 5 years (both have received breakthrough therapy designation from the FDA).
Many aspects of how FDA rescheduling goes are currently undetermined (insurance, price, off-label prescription, setting in which the drugs can be used). A savvy research agenda + advocacy work could tip these factors in a substantially more favorable direction than would happen counterfactually.
Doing research & advocacy in this area scales fairly linearly (most study designs I’ve seen cost between $50k-$1m, advocates can be funded for a year for $60-$90k).
Very, very optimistically, 1,000 long-term-focused EAs in the US, 10% of the population suffer from relevant mental health issues, and all of them use the new drug.
From the OP:
The 2019 Slate Star Codex reader survey offers some data here: 17.4% of survey respondents have a formal diagnosis of depression (another 16.7% suspect they are depressed but haven’t been diagnosed); 12.6% of respondents have a formal diagnosis of anxiety (another 18.7% suspect they have anxiety but haven’t been diagnosed).
So somewhere between 34.1% − 65.4% of SSC readers report having a relevant mental health issue (depending on how much overlap there is between the reports of anxiety & reports of depression).
I think SSC readers are an appropriate comparison class for long-term-focused EAs.
That said, I agree with the thrust of this part of your argument. There just aren’t very many people working on long-termist stuff at present. Once all of these people are supported by a comfortable salary, it’s not clear that further spend on them is leveraged (i.e. not clear that there’s a mechanism for converting more money to more research product for the present set of researchers, once they’re receiving a comfortable salary).
So perhaps the argument collapses to:
effect from increasing the amount of long-termist labor + effect from short-termist benefits
And because of your priors, we’re discounting “effect from short-termist benefits” to 0.
I still propose that:
effect from increasing the amount of long-termist labor
is probably worth it.
Doesn’t feel like a stretch, given that this mechanism underpins the case for most of the public-facing work EA does (e.g. 80,000 Hours, CFAR, Paradigm Academy, Will MacAskill’s book).
This was a really interesting and well-written thread! To clarify, Milan, is your argument that psychedelics would make people more altruistic, and therefore they’d start working on protecting the long term future? I didn’t quite understand your argument from the OP.
To clarify, Milan, is your argument that psychedelics would make people more altruistic, and therefore they’d start working on protecting the long term future?
Yes, from the OP:
The psychedelic experience also seems like a plausible lever on increasing capability (via reducing negative self-talk & other mental blocks) and improving intentions (via ego dissolution changing one’s metaphysical assumptions).
By “changing one’s metaphysical assumptions,” I mean that the psychedelic state can change views about what the self is, and what actions constitute acting in one’s “self-interest.”
I was using “improving intentions” to gesture towards “start working on EA-aligned projects (including long-termist projects).”
(There’s a lot of inferential distance to bridge here, so it’s not surprising that it’s non-trivial to make my views legible. Thanks for asking for clarification.)
In general, I’m not sure people who have tried psychedelics are overrepresented in far future work, if you control for relevant factors like income and religious affiliation. What makes you think increasing the number of people who experience a change in their metaphysical assumptions due to psychedelic drugs will increase the number of people working on the far future?
I think psychedelics can make people more altruistic.
Unfortunately, at present I largely have to argue from anecdote, as there are only a few studies of psychedelics in healthy people (our medical research system is configured to focus predominately on interventions that address pathologies).
Lyons & Carhart-Harris 2018 found some results tangential to increased altruism – increased nature-relatedness & decreased authoritarianism in healthy participants:
Nature relatedness significantly increased (t (6)=−4.242, p=0.003) and authoritarianism significantly decreased (t (6)=2.120, p=0.039) for the patients 1 week after the dosing sessions. At 7–12 months post-dosing, nature relatedness remained significantly increased (t (5)=−2.707, p=0.021) and authoritarianism remained decreased at trend level (t (5)=−1.811, p=0.065).
Whether psychedelics make people more altruistic is one of the studies I most want to see.
I don’t think the psychedelic experience per se will make people more altruistic and more focused on the longterm.
I think a psychedelic experience, paired with exposure to EA-style arguments & philosophy (or paired with alternative frameworks that heavily emphasize the longterm, e.g. the Long Now) can plausibly increase altruistic concern for the far future.
if you control for relevant factors like income and religious affiliation
fwiw, controlling for religious affiliation may not be appropriate, because psychedelics may increase religiosity. (Another study I want to see!)