The End (of Sequences)

This con­cludes the fi­nal se­quence on Over­com­ing Bias /​ Less Wrong. I have not said ev­ery­thing I wanted to say, but I hope I have said (al­most) ev­ery­thing I needed to say. (Such that I ac­tu­ally could say it in these twenty-one months of daily post­ing, Au­gust 2007 through April 2009.)

The pro­ject to which Less Wrong is de­voted—the art and sci­ence and craft of hu­man ra­tio­nal­ity—is, in­deed, im­por­tant. But the calcu­lus of choos­ing among al­tru­is­tic efforts is, in some ways, a calcu­lus of who can take your place. I am more eas­ily re­placed here, than el­se­where. And so it has come time for me to be­gin pul­ling my fo­cus away from Less Wrong, and turn­ing to­ward other mat­ters, where I am less eas­ily re­placed.

But I do need re­plac­ing—or rather, the work that I was do­ing needs re­plac­ing, whether by one per­son or by many peo­ple or by e.g. a karma sys­tem.

And so my fi­nal se­quence was my let­ter that de­scribes the work that I can already see re­main­ing to be done, gives some ad­vice on how to con­figure the effort, and warns di­rely against stan­dard failure modes.

Any idea that can pro­duce great en­thu­si­asm is a dan­ger­ous idea. It may be a nec­es­sary idea, but that does not make it any less dan­ger­ous. I do fear, to a cer­tain ex­tent, that I will turn my fo­cus away, and then find out that some­one has picked up the ideas and run with them and got­ten it all wrong...

But you can only de­vote your whole life to one thing at a time. In those ways I have thought to an­ti­ci­pate, at least, I have placed a block­ing Go stone or two, and you have been warned.

I am not go­ing to turn my at­ten­tion away en­tirely and all at once. My ini­tial plan is to cut back my post­ing to no more than one post per week.

At some fu­ture point, though, there must come a time when I turn my at­ten­tion en­tirely away from build­ing ra­tio­nal­ism, and fo­cus only on that other task.

So, yes, just to be­la­bor the point—if there’s go­ing to be a last­ing com­mu­nity, and not just a body of on­line writ­ing that peo­ple oc­ca­sion­ally stum­ble across, it needs to set it­self up to run with­out me.

The last ex­plicit de­pen­dency left on me is pro­mot­ing posts, and I’ve been mostly do­ing that based on user vot­ing (though not en­tirely; my ac­ti­va­tion thresh­old is lower for posts I per­ceive as higher-qual­ity). I plan to start try­ing to del­e­gate that power to co-ed­i­tors shortly.

For my­self… I’ve been feel­ing rather burned out on writ­ing, so I’m think­ing of tak­ing a short va­ca­tion and then study­ing math and work­ing over the sum­mer, be­fore I go back to pro­duc­ing a book.

I’m no longer cer­tain about the time-in­vest­ment wis­dom of try­ing to con­vert the OB/​LW se­quences into mini­books. The Wiki might ac­com­plish a lot of the same pur­pose of mak­ing the info more ac­cessible and or­ga­niz­ing it. We’ll see how the Wiki de­vel­ops (es­pe­cially once my old posts are im­ported which should hap­pen Any Time Now).

Now, while I’m on semi-va­ca­tion, is a good time to have me speak at your hedge fund. If you wait un­til af­ter I write a book and it comes out, then, if things go re­motely well, it will cost you a lot more money to have me speak (be­cause the marginal util­ity to me of ad­di­tional money will have gone way down, and de­mand gone up). Right now, though, ad­di­tional money does have sub­stan­tial marginal util­ity to me. So those of you who work at the hedge funds who were ra­tio­nal enough to sur­vive: please re­quest me for your speaker pro­grams. I’m told that I give a won­der­ful, amaz­ing, etcetera talk for au­di­ences in­ter­ested in ra­tio­nal­ity, con­sid­er­ably more than twice as use­ful as talks from big-name speak­ers who cost con­sid­er­ably more than twice as much.

If the ra­tio­nal­ity book is writ­ten, sold, and takes off, I may well van­ish en­tirely off the face of the Earth, all pur­poses of pub­lic­ity hav­ing already been served. That is the op­ti­mal and de­sir­able out­come—it means I am al­lowed to spe­cial­ize nar­rowly.

I would like to take this mo­ment to con­fess, once again, that I have had ul­te­rior mo­tives in all this—as is right and proper to a ra­tio­nal­ist. It is not the pure ser­vice of ra­tio­nal­ity that di­verted my fo­cus here… though I have served that overt cause as a thing in its own right, with its own in­tegrity.

And I will not in­sist on re­cruit­ing all the ra­tio­nal­ists that I cre­ate...

But still...

In the end, these 21 months were wa­gered upon your ac­tive re­sponse, not your pas­sive pos­ses­sion of truth. Even those of you who are not moved to care about the thing that I pro­tect, may still be moved to al­ign their ac­tivi­ties with Seast­eading, or the Methuse­lah Foun­da­tion, or Givewell, or cry­on­ics. And, per­haps, tell them that we sent you, so that they know that this “ra­tio­nal­ity” busi­ness is work­ing to their fa­vor; so that maybe they will say a thing or two about ra­tio­nal­ity. And some­one who en­coun­ters the craft there, will read on it fur­ther, and even­tu­ally donate pro­fes­sion­ally spe­cial­ized hours (in one form or an­other) to the Sin­gu­lar­ity In­sti­tute. What goes around comes around, I hope.

To the ex­tent that you don’t feel moved to do any­thing in par­tic­u­lar—even in­clude a link in your sig­na­ture, or link to ap­po­site posts now and then in your blog—then I have lost my gam­ble of these 21 months. Or I have lost that part of the stakes which was about you and de­ci­sion pro­cesses similar to you. (No, that doesn’t mean you should seize this op­por­tu­nity to post about how I lost my gam­ble with you. You should know bet­ter by now, if you want any ra­tio­nal­ist cause to get any­thing done ever, whether or not you are a part of it.)

And this ad­vice: If there is some ra­tio­nal­ist cause you have de­cided to help even­tu­ally, I ad­vise you very strongly to help that cause now—even if it’s just a tiny amount. One of the reg­u­lar­i­ties I have dis­cov­ered, work­ing in the non­profit in­dus­try, is that peo­ple who donated last year donate the next year, and peo­ple who are plan­ning to donate next year will, next year, still be plan­ning to donate “next year”. The gap be­tween lit­tle helpers and big helpers is a lot more per­me­able than the mem­brane that sep­a­rates helpers and pro­cras­ti­na­tors. This holds whether you would help my own cause, or any of the other causes that have ra­tio­nal­ity as their com­mon in­ter­est.

As for why Earth needs ra­tio­nal ac­tivists in par­tic­u­lar—I hope that by now this has be­come clear. In this frag­ile Earth there are many tasks which are un­der­served by ir­ra­tional al­tru­ists. Scope in­sen­si­tivity and the pur­chase of moral satis­fac­tion leads peo­ple to donate to puppy pounds as eas­ily as ex­is­ten­tial risk pre­ven­tion; cir­cu­lar al­tru­ism pre­vents them from go­ing so far as to mul­ti­ply utilons by prob­a­bil­ities; unso­cial­ized in ba­sic eco­nomics, they see money as a dirty thing in­fe­rior to vol­un­teer­ing un­spe­cial­ized la­bor; they try to pur­chase warm fuzzies and sta­tus and utilons all at the same time; they feel ner­vous out­side of con­ven­tional groups and fol­low the first thought that as­so­ci­ates to “char­ity”...

And these are all very nor­mal and hu­man mis­takes, to be sure—for­give­able in oth­ers, if not in your­self. Nonethe­less, I will ad­vise you that a ra­tio­nal­ist’s efforts should not be wasted on causes that are already pop­u­lar far out­side of ra­tio­nal­ist cir­cles. There is noth­ing re­motely ap­proach­ing an effi­cient mar­ket in utilons.

Is all this in­clu­sive­ness a pre­tense? Did I, in the end, gam­ble only upon the por­tion of the ac­tivism that would flow to my own cause? Yes, of course I did; that is how the calcu­la­tion comes out when I shut up and mul­ti­ply.

But I have faith­fully served the in­tegrity of that pre­tense, be­cause that in­clu­sive­ness mat­ters to my own cause as well.

So I say to you now, on be­half of all our causes: Do, what­ever you may find worth do­ing.