On saving one’s world

If the world is likeliest to be saved by sober scholarship, then let us be sober scholars in the face of danger.

If the world is likeliest to be saved by playful intellectual exploration, then let us be playful in the face of danger.

Strategic, certainly; aware of our situation, of course; but let us not throw away the one mental mode that can actually save us, if that’s in fact our situation.

If the world is likeliest to be saved by honest, trustworthy, and high-integrity groups, who by virtue of their trustworthiness can much more effectively collaborate and much more quickly share updates; then let us be trustworthy. What is the path to good outcomes otherwise?

CFAR has a notion of “flailing”. Alone on a desert island, if you injure yourself, you’re likelier to think fast about how to solve the problem. Whereas injuring yourself around friends, you’re more likely to “flail”: lean into things that demonstrate your pain/​trouble to others.

To my eye, a lot of proposals that we set aside sober scholarship, or playful intellectual exploration, or ethical integrity, look like flailing. I don’t see an argument that this setting-aside actually chains forward into good outcomes; it seems performative to me, like hoping that if our reaction “feels extreme” enough, some authority somewhere will take notice and come to the rescue.

Who is that authority?

If you have a coherent model of this, we can talk about it and figure out if that’s really the best strategy for eliciting their aid.

But if no one comes to mind, consider the possibility that you’re executing a social instinct that’s adaptive to threats like tigers and broken legs, but maladaptive to threats like Unfriendly AI.

If you feel scared about something, I generally think it’s good to be honest about that fact and discuss it soberly, rather than hiding it. I don’t think this is incompatible with rigorous scholarship or intellectual play.

But I would clearly distinguish “being honest about your world-models and feelings, because honesty is legitimately a good idea” from “making it your main strategy to do whatever action sequence feels emotionally resonant with the problem”.

An “extreme” key doesn’t necessarily open an “extreme” lock. A dire-sounding key doesn’t necessarily open a dire-feeling lock. A fearful or angry key doesn’t necessarily open a lock that makes you want to express fear or anger.

Rather, the lock’s exact physical properties determine which exact key (or set of keys) opens it, and we need to investigate the physical world in order to find the right key.