+50 points for making UI mockups, makes it much more likely to get the feature.
Hah! You’re forgiven. I’ve seen this sort of thing a lot from users.
The new editor has this! :)
suggest an excerpt from either piece (say 400 words at most) that you think gets the central point across without forcing the reader to read the whole essay?
Sure thing. The M:UoC post is more like a meditation on a theme, very well written but less of a key insight than an impression of a harsh truth, so hard to extract a core argument. I’d suggest the following from the Fuzzies/Utilons post instead. (It has about a paragraph cut in the middle, symbolised by the ellipsis.)
If I had to give advice to some new-minted billionaire entering the realm of charity, my advice would go something like this:
To purchase warm fuzzies, find some hard-working but poverty-stricken woman who’s about to drop out of state college after her husband’s hours were cut back, and personally, but anonymously, give her a cashier’s check for $10,000. Repeat as desired.
To purchase status among your friends, donate $100,000 to the current sexiest X-Prize, or whatever other charity seems to offer the most stylishness for the least price. Make a big deal out of it, show up for their press events, and brag about it for the next five years.
Then—with absolute cold-blooded calculation—without scope insensitivity or ambiguity aversion—without concern for status or warm fuzzies—figuring out some common scheme for converting outcomes to utilons, and trying to express uncertainty in percentage probabilitiess—find the charity that offers the greatest expected utilons per dollar. Donate up to however much money you wanted to give to charity, until their marginal efficiency drops below that of the next charity on the list.
But the main lesson is that all three of these things—warm fuzzies, status, and expected utilons—can be bought far more efficiently when you buy separately, optimizing for only one thing at a time… Of course, if you’re not a millionaire or even a billionaire—then you can’t be quite as efficient about things, can’t so easily purchase in bulk. But I would still say—for warm fuzzies, find a relatively cheap charity with bright, vivid, ideally in-person and direct beneficiaries. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Or just get your warm fuzzies from holding open doors for little old ladies. Let that be validated by your other efforts to purchase utilons, but don’t confuse it with purchasing utilons. Status is probably cheaper to purchase by buying nice clothes.
And when it comes to purchasing expected utilons—then, of course, shut up and multiply.
If there were no great essays with similar themes aside from Eliezer’s, I’d be much more inclined to include it in a series (probably a series explicitly focused on X-risk, as the current material really doesn’t get into that, though perhaps it should). But I think that between Ord, Bostrom, and others, I’m likely to find a piece that makes similar compelling points about extinction risk without the surrounding Eliezerisms.
I see. As I hear you, it’s not that we must go overboard on avoiding atheism, but that it’s a small-to-medium sized feather on the scales that is ultimately decision-relevant because there is not an appropriately strong feather arguing this essay deserves the space in this list.
From my vantage point, there aren’t essays in this series that deal with giving up hope as directly as this essay. I think Singer’s piece or the Max Roser piece both try to look at awful parts of the world, and argue you should do more, to make progress happen faster. Many essays, like the quote from Holly about being in triage, talk about the current rate of deaths and how to reduce that number. But I think none engage so directly with the possibility of failure, of progress stopping and never starting again. I think existential risk is about this, but I think that you don’t even need to get to a discussion of things like maxipok and astronomical waste to just bring failure onto the table in a visceral and direct way.
As for “Beyond the Reach of God,” I’d prefer to avoid pieces with a heavy atheist slant, given that one goal is for the series to feel welcoming to people from a lot of different backgrounds.
I think that if the essay said things like “Religious people are stupid isn’t it obvious” and attempted to do social shaming of religious people, then I’d be pretty open to suggesting edits to such parts.
But like in my other comment, I would like to respect religious people enough to trust they can deal with reading writing about a godless universe and understand the points well, even if they would use other examples themselves.
I also think many religious people agree that God will not stop the world from becoming sufficiently evil, in which case they’ll be perfectly able to appreciate the finer points of the post even though it’s written in a way that misunderstands their relationship to their religion.
I think either way, if they’re going to engage seriously with intellectual thought in the modern world they need to take responsibility and learn to engage with writing about the world which doesn’t expect that there’s an interventionist aligned superintelligence (my terminology, I don’t mean nothing by it). I don’t think it’s right to walk on eggshells around religious people, and I don’t think it makes sense to throw out powerful ideas and pieces of strongly emotional/artistic work to make sure such people don’t need to learn to engage with art and ideas that don’t share their specific assumptions about the world.
Scott’s piece was part of the second edition of the Handbook, and I agree that it’s a classic; I’d like to try working it into future material (right now, my best guess is that the next set of articles will focus on cause prioritization, and Scott’s piece fits in well there).
Checks out, that makes sense.
*nods* I’ll respond to the specific things you said about the different essays. I split this into two comments for length.
I considered Fuzzies/Utilons and The Unit of Caring, but it was hard to find excerpts that didn’t use obfuscating jargon or dive off into tangents
I think there’s a few pieces of jargon that you could change (e.g. Unit of Caring talks about ‘akrasia’, which isn’t relevant). I imagine it’d be okay to request a few small edits to the essay.
But I think that overall the posts talk like how experts would talk in an interview, directly and substantively. I don’t think you should be afraid to show people a high-level discussion, just because they don’t know all of the details being discussed already. It’s okay for there to be details that a reader has a vague grasp on, if the overall points are simple and clear – I think this is good, it helps see that there are levels above to reach.
It’s like how EA student group events would always be “Intro to EA”. Instead, I think it’s really valuable and exciting to hear how Daniel Kahneman thinks about the human mind, or how Richard Feynman thinks about physics, or how Peter Thiel thinks about startups, even if you don’t fully understand all the terms they use like “System 1 / System 2″ or “conservation law” or “derivatives market”. I would give the Feynman lectures to a young teenager who doesn’t know all of physics, because he speaks in a way that gets to the essential life of physics so brilliantly, and I think that giving it to a kid who is destined to become a physicist will leave the kid in wonder and wanting to learn more.
Overall I think the desire to remove challenging or nuanced discussion is a push in the direction of saying boring things, or not saying anything substantive at all because it might be a turn-off to some people. I agree that Paul Graham’s essays are always said in simple language, but I don’t think that scientists and intellectuals should aim for that all the time when talking to non-specialists. Many of the greatest pieces of writing I know use very technical examples or analogies, and that’s necessary to make their points.
See the graph about dating strategies here. The goal is to get strong hits that make a person say “This is one of the most important things I’ve ever read”, not to make sure that there are no difficult sentences that might be confusing. People will get through the hard bits if there’s true gems there, and I think the above essays are quite exciting and deeply change the way a lot of people think.
Congratulations! I’m happy to hear that.
That makes me happy to hear :)
I thought a bit about essays that were key on me becoming more competent and able to take action in the world to improve it, that connected to what I cared about. I’ll list some and the ways they helped me. (I filled out the rest of the feedback form too.)
Feeling moral by Eliezer Yudkowsky. Showed me an example where my deontological intuitions were untrustworthy and that simple math was actually effective.
Purchase Fuzzies and Utilons Separately by Eliezer. Showed me where attempts to do good can get very confused and simply looking at outcomes can avoid a lot of problems from reasoning by association or by what’s ‘considered a good idea’.
Ends Don’t Justify Means (Among Humans) by Eliezer. Helped me understand a very clear constraint on naive utilitarian reasoning, which avoided worlds where I would naively trust the math in all situations.
Dive In by Nate Soares. Helped point my flailing attempts to improve and do better in a direction where I would actually get feedback. Only by actually repeatedly delivering a product, even if you changed your mind about what you should be doing and whether it was valuable 10 times a day, can you build up real empirical data about what you can accomplish and what’s valuable. Encouraged me to follow-through on projects a whole lot more.
Beyond the Reach of God by Eliezer. This helped ground me, it helped me point at what it’s like to have false hope and false trust, and recognise it more clearly in myself. I think it’s accurate to say that looking directly and with precision at the current state of the world involves trusting the world a lot less than most people, and a lot less than establishment narratives would say (Steven Pinker’s “Everything is getting better and will continue to get better” isn’t the right way to conceptualise our position in history, there’s much more risk involved than that). A lot of important improvements in my ability to improve the world have involved me realising I had unfounded trust in people or institutions, and realising that unless I took responsibility for things myself, I couldn’t trust that they would work out well by default, and this essay was one of the first places I clearly conceptualised what false hope feels like.
Money: The Unit of Caring by Eliezer. Similar things to the Fuzzies and Utilons post, but a bit more practical. And Kelsey named her whole Tumblr after this, which I guess is a fair endorsement.
Desperation by Nate. This does similar things to Beyond the Reach of God, but in a more hopeful way (although it’s called ‘Desperation’, so how hopeful can it be?). It helped me conceptualise what it looks like to actually try to do something difficult that people don’t understand or think looks funny, and to notice whether or not it was something I had been doing. It also helped me notice (more cynically) that a lot of people weren’t doing things that tended to look like this, and to not try to emulate those kind of people so much.
Scope Insensitivity by Eliezer. Similar things to Feeling Moral, but a bit simpler / more concrete and tries to be actionable.
Some that I came up with that you already included:
500 Million, But Not A Single One More
It’s odd that you didn’t include Scott Alexander’s classic on Efficient Charity or Eliezer’s Scope Insensitivity, although Nate’s “On Caring” maybe is sufficient to get the point about scope and triage across.
This is awesome.
I’m sorry, I’ve been overwhelmed with things lately, I didn’t get round to it. But please do something similar next year!
I think your questions are great. I suggest that you leave 7 separate comments so that users can vote on the ones that they’re most interested in.
This is such an odd question. Could produce surprising answers though, if it’s something like “the least interesting ideas that people still took seriously” or “the least interesting ideas that are still a little bit interesting”. Upvoted.
What’s a regular disagreement that you have with other researchers at FHI? What’s your take on it and why do you think the other people are wrong? ;-)
Can you describe what you think it would look like 5 years from now if we were in a world that was making substantially good steps to deal with the existential threat of engineered pandemics?
Can you describe what you think it would look like 5 years from now if we were in a world that was making substantially good steps to deal with the existential threat of misaligned artificial general intelligence?
Can you tell us something funny that Nick Bostrom once said that made you laugh? We know he used to do standup in London...