I think that you should consider connecting and collaborating with key parties who have interdependent goals & similar incentives
A small addition to your list would be this post about a study on a depression related intervention that I believe originated from within the EA community. Might well be worth contacting the author.
Interesting project! It reminds me a bit of Huberman lab, the existence and apparent popularity of which could be taken as an argument in favor of ESH to be worthwhile (although format, target audience and focus might of course differ quite a bit).
One thing I personally find very interesting is the point you mentioned as a counter argument: “Individual differences in benefit significantly outweigh the general differences in value between interventions”—in my opinion, this could even be viewed as quite the opposite: my impression is that in most easily digestible sources (such as pop-sci books, podcasts, blogs), this point is mostly ignored, and getting reliable information about this facet of health and well-being interventions would be great.
People very often speak of effect sizes as if they were a thing inherent to an intervention or substance, when actually they quite often seem to depend strongly on the person. An intervention with a strong positive effect size on only 10% of people could be much more exciting than an intervention with a weak effect on everybody. Even a large positive effect on small number of people combined with negative effects on the rest could be a very useful intervention, given you find out early enough whether it works for you or not. Getting some insight into the nature of variance of different interventions, if such data is available, could be really useful. It might of course be the case that most studies don’t offer such insights, because it’s impossible to tell whether the subset of participants that benefited from an intervention can be attributed to noise or not.
This is great, thanks for sharing!
I found the “let’s assume humanity remains at a constant population of 900 million” notion particularly interesting. On some level I still have this (obviously wrong) intuition that human knowledge about its history just grows continuously based on what happens at any given time. E.g. I would have implicitly assumed that a person living in 1888 must have known how the population numbers have developed over the preceding centuries. This is of course not necessarily the case for a whole bunch of reasons, but seeing that he wasn’t even aware that population growth is a thing was a serious surprise (unless he was aware, but thought it was close enough to the maximum to be negligible in the long term?).
It’s funny how he assumes a generation would span 31.125 years without giving any explanation for that really specific number. Maybe he had 8 children at this point in time, and took e.g. his average age during the birth of all of them?
And lastly, he as well as any readers of this letter would have greatly benefited of the scientific notation. Which makes me wonder what terrible inefficiencies in communication & encoding / expressing ideas we’re suffering from today, without having any inkling that things could be better… :)
Also, I think a few links are missing here:
David Chapman for inspiring us with these two posts in the Meaningness blog, Raemon for inspiring us with this LessWrong post
Some thoughts (not to say ideas) regarding 3:
come up with more ideas
just brainstorming in a very unconstrained way on relevant questions (e.g. “babble”)
trying some systematic ways to identify implicit assumptions in our existing beliefs and ideas, and questioning them
looking at existing entities (orgs, fields, causes, tools...) and thinking about how they could be different
share ideas more effectively in the movement
encourage sharing in the first place (makes me sad to read of posts people started in the past but never finished)
good compression of ideas (e.g. short posts, descriptive titles, beginning with a summary)
make things easy to find via search
talk to other EAs about your ideas
get feedback early on
maybe twitter is good for this?
a lot of ideas may exist, e.g. in the dusty archives of this forum, that nobody has ever acted on and people have more or less forgotten about or never heard of in the first place
some (or many) people may generally be more interested in thinking—maybe EA is implementation constrained rather than idea constrained after all? (but I guess there are a lot of constraints anyway, and they vary substantially by who you ask; so idea constraints most certainly are a thing, affecting some more than others)
There are definitely many coincidence of wants related problems, where someone has a good idea that someone would do or fund but that person never hears of it.
Very much agree with your points, this one in particular. I think in a perfect world we would all have a way of knowing of what others in the EA community are thinking about, working on and what they need help with. I’d love to have a way to share more openly (but without wasting other’s attention) what I’m focusing on so that others who think about similar things could be made aware of this opportunity for collaboration. But I don’t really know of any practical ways to achieve this. Write a forum post saying “Hey everyone I’m really interested in X recently and plan to spend the next 3 months diving into that topic”? Probably not.
EA G(X) could be helpful, because you can share your (current) interests in your profile on the networking app. And theoretically find others who mention the same keywords. But then swapcard comes along and doesn’t support proper searching, so I missed out on many potentially great relevant contacts. :( Plus of course it doesn’t happen all that often, and always contains only a relatively small subset of the community.
One thing I could imagine being very helpful is some kind of ongoing local group “mentoring”. So instead of one or two single calls on strategy or bottlenecks, having some experienced person more deeply invested with any particular local group in need. Somebody who might (occasionally) participate at our virtual meetups, our planning/strategy calls, gets to know our core members, our situation, needs and problems, and can provide actionable insights on all of them.
The problem with calls I’ve had in the past is that it’s quite difficult to get accross everything relevant, so we might just focus on one or two issues, obtain some pointers to other people or resources who might be helpful, and some relatively generic advice. Not to say it isn’t useful—but it also doesn’t seem to be like a complete solution. I’ve also read most of the EA Hub resources on running a group, but tend to come out of these articles thinking “yup this makes sense” and not actually turning it into anything concrete. Which, again, is probably entirely my responsibility. But I could imagine I’m not the only time/energy constrained local group coordinator struggling with properly utilizing the existing resources.
On the other hand, such more involved support over longer time of course also comes with significantly higher cost, and I can’t tell whether that would be worth it.
The distinction reminds me of the foxes vs hedgehogs model from Superforecasting / Tetlock. Hedgehogs being “great idea thinkers” seeing everything in the light of that one great idea they’re following, whereas foxes are more nuanced, taking in many viewpoints and trying to converge on the most accurate beliefs. I think he mentioned in the book that while foxes tend to make much better forecasters, hedgehogs are not only more entertaining but also good in coming up with good questions to forecast in the first place.
An entirely different thought: The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene was the first audible book I returned without finishing. It was packed with endless “human archetypes” described in great detail, making some rather bold claims about what “this type” will do in some given situation. You mention in the footnotes already that people who dislike e.g. personality profiling tools might not like this post. And it did indeed somewhat remind me of that book, but maybe your “assessor” way of describing the model, as opposed to Greene’s very overconfident seeming way of writing, made this seem much more reasonable. There seems to be a fine line between actually useful models of this kind which have some predictive power (or at least allow thoughts to be a bit tidier), and those that are merely peculiarly entertaining, like Myers-Briggs. And I find it hard to tell from the outside on which side of that line any given model falls.
One thing I could imagine happening in these situations is that people close themselves off to object level arguments to a degree, and maybe for (somewhat) good reason.
to the general public, the idea of AI being a serious (existential) risk is probably still very weird
people may have an impression that believing in such things correlates with being gullible
people may be hesitant towards “being convinced” of something they haven’t fully thought through themselves
I remember once when I was younger talking to a Christian fanatic of sorts, who kept coming up with new arguments for why the bible must obviously be true due to the many correct predictions it has apparently made, plus some argument about irreducible complexity. In the moment, I couldn’t really tell if/where/why his arguments failed. I found them somewhat hard to follow and just knew the conclusion would be something that is both weird and highly unlikely (for reasons other than his concrete arguments). So my impression then was “there surely is something wrong about his claims, but in this very moment I’m lacking the means to identify the weaknesses”.
I sometimes find myself in similar situations when some person tries to get me to sign something or to buy some product they’re offering. They tend to make very convincing arguments about why I should definitely do it. I often have no good arguments against that. Still, I tend to resist many of these situations because I haven’t yet heard or had a chance to find the best counter arguments.
When somebody who has thought a lot about AI safety and is very convinced of its importance talks to people to whom this whole area is new and strange, I can imagine similar defenses being present. If this is true, more/better/different arguments may not necessarily be helpful to begin with. Some things that could help:
social proof (“these well respected people and organizations think this is important”)
slightly weaker claims that people have an easier time agreeing with
maybe some meta level argument about why the unintuitive-ness is misguided (although this could probably also taken as an attack)
The cost of this seems pretty low, but in a way the expected value too seems limited (to me at least from the context you provided): I’d assume that unless this turns out to be so good that it becomes a “standard” of sorts (that people always tend to mention whenever organizational ineffectiveness comes up), it would likely end up as a relatively short lived project that doesn’t reach too many people and organizations. Although this could partially be mitigated if it’s stored in a persistent, easy to search and find way, so that future people on the lookout for such a guide would stumble upon it and immediately see its value.
Sounds really cool. Time to visit Berlin! :)
Just a side note: While Obsidian is free (and great), I’m pretty sure it’s not open source.
Thank you Michael!
I personally am definitely more time- than funding constrained. Or maybe evem “energy constrained”? But maybe applying for funding would be something to consider when/if we find a different person to run the local group, maybe a student who could do this for 10h a week or so.
regarding a fellowship: my bottlenecks here are probably “lack of detailed picture of how to run such a thing (or what it even is exactly)” and “what would be the necessary concrete steps to get it off the ground”. Advertising is surely very relevant, but secondary to these other questions for now.
on a slightly more meta level, I think one of the issues is that I don’t have a good overview of the “action space” (or “moves”) in front of me as an organizer of an EA local group. Running a fellowship appears to be a very promising move, but I don’t really know how to make it. Other actions may be intro talks, intro workshops, concepts workshops, discussions, watching EAG talks together, game nights, talks in general, creating a website, setting up a proper newsletter instead of having a manually maintained list of email addresses, looking for a more capable group organizer, facebook ads, flyers, posters, running giving games, icebreaker sessions, running a career club, coworking, 1on1s, meeting other local groups, reaching out to formerly-but-not-anymore-active members, and probably much more I’m not even thinking about. Maybe I’m suffering a bit from decision paralysis here and just doing any of these options would be better than my current state of “unproductive wondering what I should be doing”… :)
will message you regarding a call, thanks for the offer!
Given I just received a link to this article in the 80,000 Hours newsletter: https://80000hours.org/make-a-difference-with-your-career/ -- that article seems like something that a lot of students might potentially be interested in. So something like a brief description of the key idea plus a link to the article would be one option.
Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the flow and distribution of information (as in facts/ideas/natural language) as a meta level problem. It seems to me that “ensuring the most valuable information finds its way to the people who need it” could make a huge difference to a lot of things, including productivity, well-being, and problem-solving of any kind, particularly for EAs. (if anybody reading this is knowledgeable in this broad area, please reach out!)
Your post appears to focus on a very related issue, which is how EAs source their EA information and some specific ways to improve it. I definitely agree that this is an issue worth looking into and worth improving (I personally think that either the EA forum or the EA Hub are in the best position to make such improvements, although I’m unsure what these improvements would look like).
The EA Forum Job Hunt idea admittedly doesn’t seem very promising to me from how I understood it—it sounds like by far the most work of all the suggestions, for a problem that, to me, seems as if it’s solved to a pretty reasonable degree.
I don’t quite understand the EA Hub suggestion. What would be submitted and upvoted? Just the existence of (local) groups?
The remaining points regarding Twitter bots and feeds sound good to me, simply because they sound like very little work (unless I’m misjudging that), while potentially being helpful to probably many dozens of EAs.
By the way I do wonder what ratio of EAs is actively using twitter. I for once am not at all, and am not aware of many people I know personally doing so, but that might not mean much and not be very representative.
Great post, thanks for sharing! Pretty much exactly the type of post I had been hoping for for a while. Just hearing that one success story of a local group that was in a more or less similar state as mine (albeit arguably in a higher potential environment), but made it into something so impressive, is very inspiring.
Given I only have ~10h per week available to spend on EA things (and not all of them go into community building), I was particularly happy to hear your 80⁄20 remark. I do wonder if it’s possible to move a local group onto a kind of growth trajectory at only, say, 6h per week, or if that’s just a lost cause. Maybe I should just spend the majority of these 6h looking for a person with more time and motivation to take over the role. :)
Currently we’re definitely leaving a lot of low hanging fruit on the table (or tree) though. And a lot of that may be due to relatively trivial issues and inconveniences. Some examples of such limiting factors (and I do wonder if similar things are true for other small local groups):
I’ve heard fellowships mentioned & recommended a lot in the last 1-2 years, but have a fairly limited understanding of the concrete details. Should we run our own one? Should we redirect people to other online fellowships? What would I even tell people in order to motivate them to do so? Timing also needs to be taken into account.
Fear of organizing things and (almost) nobody (new) showing up. We had quite a few talks and such that ended up only being heard by our core team, although we were hoping to attract some new faces. That being said, our marketing was often pretty shy rather than aggressive.
Lack of detailed knowledge about the European data protection regulation and its implications prevents us/me from systemizing our “funnel” (which hardly exists). I have no idea if it’s even legal to have a database of names / email addresses / other personal information of people, whether we’d need to inform them beforehand, etc.
Most of our small number of members are busy with their own things / studies / careers and have hardly any capacity to engage with the group beyond one weekly social/discussion, so there’s little room for organizing bigger things or spending more time on community building, and I find that situation somewhat demoralizing
We have a whatsapp group and a Slack workspace. Whatsapp is great to get new people on board quickly, but it’s surprisingly difficult to get them to sign up on Slack, and if they do we can never rely on them seeing new messages, or looking in there at all. Right now our Slack workspace is almost exclusively used by our few core members, and others hardly ever engage.
I feel very aversive to “push” people to do things, and wonder if that’s a necessary skill to have for a community builder, or ideally people should be motivated enough that they only need to be “enabled”/supported instead.
It sounds interesting, albeit to be fair a bit gimmicky as well. To me at least, which may not mean much: I can imagine taking a few minutes to play around with such a tool if it existed, maybe find some contradiction in my beliefs (probably after realizing that many of my beliefs are pretty vague and that it’s hard to put these hard labels on them), and get to the conclusion that really my beliefs weren’t that strong anyway and so the contradiction probably doesn’t matter all that much. I can imagine others would have a very different experience though (and maybe my expectation about myself is wrong as well of course).
I’d be interested in your thoughts on a few questions:
Can you describe an example “user journey” for Philosophy Web? What beliefs would that imaginary user hold, how would they interact with the software, what would come out, just as one prototypical example?
Would there be other, maybe simpler ways for that imaginary user to get to the same conclusion, not involving Philosophy Web? What bottleneck prevents people from making these conclusions?
Who would be the primary target audience for this? What would make the tool “effective”? Are you primarily thinking about EAs getting to a more self-consistent belief set? Philosophy students? Everyone?
What are the most likely ways in which such a project would fail, given you found the necessary support to build it?
Does the project’s success depend on some large number of users? What’s the “threshold”? How likely is it to pass that threshold?
What would be the smallest possible version (so MVP basically) of the project that achieves its primary purpose? Could something be prototyped within a day that allows people to test it?
Assuming the project is built and completed and people can use it as intended—what are the most likely reasons for members of your target audience to not find it useful?
As an additional note, I’m quite a fan of putting complex information into more easily digestible forms, such as mind maps, and could imagine that “data structure” in itself being quite valuable to people merely to explore different areas of philosophy, even to a limited degree. I’m not quite sure though if the project entails such a web being presented visually, or if users would only see the implications of their personal beliefs.
Just wanted to say I very much like the idea, although I’ll probably not get involved myself. I was very happy about the anki deck of EA key numbers that was published two months ago, and would find it great if there were more ways to easily add important EA ideas to one’s anki deck (e.g. you mention the 80,000 Hours key ideas in the google doc, great idea!).
It would be quite surprising to me if your idea did not work out, simply because doing good for animals via donations tends to be really low cost (but might depend on what “a lot more money” really means in your case). Imagining for instance that for each and every restaurant in the world some non-negligible cut of the rent (say 5%) would go into effective animal charity, my super rough 3 minute Fermi estimate says that would amount to something in the order of $10 billion per year. Given that about 80 billion land animals are slaughtered each year, that would mean that at a cost effectiveness of sparing 8 animal lives per dollar donated (which doesn’t sound entirely unrealistic), your suggested approach to leasing to restaurants would, on a global scale, not only be net positive, but very theoretically end factory farming of land animals (obviously not in practice given diminishing marginal returns). It’s a very hypothetical argument, but maybe it adds something.
Apart from that, maybe there’s a way to attract more vegetarian/vegan restaurants in particular? No idea about the concrete processes and legislature around that, but maybe you have some power in that regard.
Some random thoughts from me as well:
I wonder if different people may have quite different bottlenecks with regards to how to learn most effectively, and it may be not so much about “do these things” but rather “from these typical bottlenecks, which one affects you the most?”
the framing of “The best way to learn” seems a bit dangerous to me; even if “scientifically proven”, it still basically just means that it works well on average, but not necessarily for everybody. While active recall and spaced repitition probably are indeed very general, it might be good to add a few notes regarding how people might differ.
on a similar note, 80,000 Hours tends to incorporate “reasons why you might disagree” or “where we’ve been wrong in the past” kind of sections and articles, which too I feel would help a little. E.g. “things Anki isn’t ideal for”, which definitely exist.
maybe a relevant part of effective learning is to be more aware of one’s true motives in doing things, be it getting a degree, reading non-fiction books, having an anki routine etc., and whether one’s truly doing this to learn things, and if so for what exact purpose
related to this, there are different dimensions to learning, similar to productivity: what are you learning (and why), how are you learning, and how much time are you spending. So basically direction, quality, quantity of the learning process. It seems that many resources, maybe including your site, mostly focus on the quality part, whereas the direction part may be even more important and comparably neglected.
during one of the EAG Virtual conferences I talked to somebody who was involved in creating a free ebook on the most effective learning strategies for students during pandemic times; wasn’t able to find it again so far, but if I do I’ll add a link
I personally would find it very useful to get some better/clearer mental models of learning and knowledge. Maybe the kind of thing Spencer Greenberg tends to do, e.g. in his podcasts, where he frequently goes into “Well I think X can be broken down into 4 categories: …” mode and suddenly X makes way more sense than it did before that breakdown.
for a long time I’ve been of the conviction that the way we tend to structure information is highly suboptimal. I’m mostly referring to linear texts about things. 1. Texts are good for some things, but by far not for everything, 2. we’re not at all using our brain’s immense capability for spatial and visual processing, 3. texts are static and non-interactive, 4. while you have things like table of contents, chapters/headlines and some formatting, it’s not an ideal implementation of “different zoom levels”, and there are certainly better ways of letting people learn things on a very high level first and then “zoom in” further. As a learner, you have to take what you’ve got of course. But the other side of the coin—how can you make learning for others easier as a content provider of any sort? - seems very important as well, and I think such a page would be in a great position to experiment with such ways, and not rely on classical linear text form.
About the concrete project:
I think providing anki cards at the bottom of your posts is a great idea
80,000 Hours tends to have small summaries of their articles at the top, which I would find useful here as well
The Key Ideas Guide post is currently very text-heavy, which makes sense since it’s in progress and you probably want to focus on the ideas themselves rather than the presentation. For the future though I think it would make it much more digestible if there was a bit more variety to it, be it pictures, graphs, or even just some formatting tweaks. E.g. one or two screenshots from actual anki cars would be a start, or a graph of the forgetting curve.
Style-wise, you’re using parantheses a lot in your post, which I can totally relate with—I do it all the time e.g. when exchanging messages with people or writing forum posts and comments. But it does still seem sumoptimal to me, as it hurts the reading flow, and may be a sign one’s not focusing on what’s actually essential.
The post to me feels quite a bit like it’s trying to sell me something. I was almost expecting a “subscribe to my newsletter to get a FREE ebook!” while reading. :) This is something 80,000 Hours avoid pretty well by being very open and grayscale about things.
I find it great that you’ve just started doing it and putting it out there looking for feedback; I’m working on one or two vague similar-ish projects (not related to learning though) and didn’t yet manage to get over my semi-perfectionist “I’ll just make sure I have something good before showing it to anybody” attitude, although I know that’s a bad approach
minor note, at one point you write “(god this bold is intense)” although there’s nothing actually bold; maybe the formatting got lost somewhere on the way?
Some counter points on drawbacks/challenges of Anki:
you need to be rather conscientous to use it effectively; missing a week can easily break the habit of daily ankiing, because you’re suddenly looking at potentially 100s of flashcards to review
it might push people to go for memorizing (often useless) facts rather than really learning and understanding deeper concepts
also, adding anki cards to your deck now feels like progress; e.g. after reading a book (or chapter), you might have a feeling that not creating new cards is bad. This might nudge you to add useless cards rather than nothing, degrading the quality of your deck over time. I find it really hard to prevent this personally. After reading a book and going through my notes, if I add nothing to my Anki deck, I feel like having read the book was a waste of time. So I’m motivated to add things simply to feel better about the sunk cost. But looking at my deck honestly, I’m almost sure 50% of the stuff in there doesn’t really add anything to my life.
setting up such a system and getting into it takes a lot of work and willpower, and many people may just not be willing to go that far (even if it does indeed pay off in the long term)
That all being said, if I went back to university, I’d definitely use Anki and I’m sure it would improve my performance a lot compared to my time there in the past where I didn’t know what spaced repetition even is. I’d just say that it’s maybe something like 40% of my personal ideal learning system, and there would be a lot beyond that (e.g. how to watch lectures, how to take notes, how to work on actual exercises, the fact that explaining things to others is very helpful, how to motivate yourself, how to plan and build a reliable system, …).