People observe that observed happiness doesn’t seem to respond much to interventions, so they deprioritize such interventions. This is partially due to the illegibility of variance in happiness.
I think there were some previous links in a debate about this on FB that I’m not finding now.
It’s a U shaped curve since rural folks are also unhappy. My own sense was that there was a phase shift somewhere between 100k and 250k (exact mapping to density I don’t know) related to whether the schelling points for social gathering condense or fracture. I’d recommend people find out for themselves by visiting smaller and happier places. People in SV for instance can spend time in Santa Cruz which is #2 in happiness in the nation.
Fair. I may be over updating on the EAs I know who don’t seem particularly concerned that they are default stressed and unhappy. Also I think people living in high density cities underestimate how stressed and unhappy they actually are.
The methodological diversity necessary to get any consilience in highly abstract areas makes it very hard for donors to evaluate such projects. Many of the ideas that form the basis of the AI memeplex, for instance, came from druggy-artist-scientists originally. So what happens in practice is that this stuff revolves around smoking gun type highly legible philosophical arguments, even though we know this is more hedgehog than fox, and that this guarantees we’ll only, on average, prepare for dangers that large numbers of people can comprehend.
Concretely: the more money you have, the higher the variance on weird projects you should be funding. If the entire funding portfolio of the Gates’ foundation are things almost everyone thinks sound like good ideas, that’s a failure. It’s understandable for small donors. You don’t want to ‘waste’ all your money only to have nothing you fund work. But if you have a 10 billion and thus need to spend 500 million to 1 billion a year just to not grow your fund, you should be spending a million here and there on things most people think are crazy (how quickly we forget concrete instances like initial responses to the shrinking objects to nanoscale idea?). This is fairly straightforward porting of reasoning from startup land.
An org devoted to researching measurement methods that are relevant to human welfare. Because no one wants to fund this directly it only gets worked on indirectly at orgs working on other things.
There seems to be strong status quo bias and typical mind fallacy with regard to hedonic set point. This would seem to be a basically rational response since most people show low changes in personality factors (emotional stability, or 1/neuroticism, the big five factor most highly correlated with well being reports, though I haven’t investigated this as deeply as I would like for making any strong claims) over their lifetime. In particular, environmental effects have very transient impact, colloquially referred to as the lottery effect, though this instantiation of the effect is likely false.
After doing personal research in this area for several years one of the conclusions that helped me make sense of some of the seeming contradictions in the space was the realization that humans are more like speedrunners than well-being of the video game character maximizers. In particular the proxy measure is generally maximizing the probability of successful grandchildren rather than anything like happiness. In the same way that a speedrunner trades health points for speed and sees the health points less as the abstraction of how safe the protagonist is and more as just another resource to manage, humans treat their own well being as a just another resource to manage.
Concretely, the experience is that only people *currently* in the tails of happiness seem to be able to care about it. People in the left tail obviously want out, and people in the right tail seem to be able to hold onto an emotionally salient stance that *this might be important* (they are currently directly experiencing the fact that life can be much much better than they normally suppose). In the same way that once people exit school their motivation for school reform drops off a cliff. It has been noted that humans seem to have selective memory about past experiences of intense suffering or happiness, such as sickness or peak experiences, as some sort of adaptation. Possibly to prevent overfitting errors.
More nearby, my guess is that caring about this will be anti-selected for in EA, since it currently selects for people with above average neuroticism who use the resultant motivation structure to work on future threats and try to convince others they should worry more about future threats. Positive motivational schemas are less common. Thus I predict lots of burnout in EA over time.
Don’t know anything more than just what is written here about it, but this pinged my absurdity filter. This sounds totally within the expected teething problems of a new charity.
The 8.3 billion should have grown since 2011. Openphil’s grants have not even totalled 800 million yet and that is the amount that the fund should have grown *per year* in the interim.
Great links to the psychology research on the subject. I think there’s also the outwardly directed version which exacerbates poor information diet tendencies and thus ADHD which goes something like ‘I must find and keep track of all relevant considerations or I will accidentally act in a morally inexcusable fashion.’ This search strategy results in them seeking out the most virulent scrupulosity enhancing memes.
The map of ideologies can also be thought of as the map of memetic immune disfunction, with different kinds of cancers finding fertile grounds in different types of mind architectures.
Thanks for writing this and making clear points. I think it helps the quality of discourse in these areas.
A couple potential downsides:
Mimesis means that integrating with traditional philanthropy makes us more likely to also adopt the same blind spots that prevent them from seeing order of magnitude improvements. Correlated strategies → correlated results.
Involvement in existent niches usually means fighting with the organisms already exploiting that niche. Even if you try to explain that you’re helping them. See pulling the rope sideways.
One writing point: I almost skipped this post due to the title. Maybe something more direct?
A common misconception is that if something is being talked about publicly there is probably funding available for it somewhere. But the number of weirdness dollars actually available in the wild for anything not passing muster with Ra can still be safely rounded to zero for most purposes. Even people who have had past success in more conventional areas often have trouble getting funding for weirder ideas, and if they do wind up spending a lot of time fundraising.
Reminds me that MDMA was originally used for marriage counseling.
10 or even 100% of the population having better data driven methods for weighing career decisions is very much in everyone’s interests even if the low hanging fruit is more in the early days.
For people who worry that the list sounds onerous I am happy to report that having done many of the items my life feels better, not worse. I’d say the biggest negative has been a reduction in how much I feel I can relate to people on more normal life paths, but this feels like an additional benefit in many ways since I wind up spending more time with people doing other non-standard things.
oof, this speaks against tractability due to politics.
Agree about books. I’d say the main ways that I differ in my approach came from reading a ton of books in specific areas which, besides just the straightforward skill-up, also made me less correlated with others’ approaches thus increasing the potential for consilience.
My sense is that there are definitely divergent and convergent value drifts. That is to say, some people seem to become less coherent over time and others more coherent.
This would seem a solid enough record to be in the ballpark of other exploratory grants that are being made. Is EA Hotel applying with the various funds for a grant?
Sumner thinks they’re worryingly confused.
When considering observer moments, as in analysis of immune neglect, I suspect chronic pain shoots to the top pretty fast. My guess is that testing mental health Interventions along with a gold standard checklist of intervention strategies would be a potential top charity.