ooooooh actual Hamming spent 10s of minutes asking people about the most important questions in their field and helping them clarify their own judgment, before asking why they weren’t working on this thing they clearly valued and spent time thinking about. That is pretty different from demanding strangers at parties justify why they’re not working on your pet cause.
He also didn’t ask them both questions at the same day.
Somehow this seems like a very big diff.
What are typical answers to the question you get?
I don’t get answers to that question because I don’t accost strangers at parties demanding they justify their life choices to me
EA/rationality has this tension between valuing independent thought, and the fact that most original ideas are stupid. But the point of independent thinking isn’t necessarily coming up with original conclusions. It’s that no one else can convey their models fully so if you want to have a model with fully fleshed-out gears you have to develop it yourself.
Well-known in tech circles. Ideas are cheap. Selection of promising ideas is somewhat valuable. Good execution of ideas is the major bottleneck.
I have a friend who spent years working on existential risk. Over time his perception of the risks increased, while his perception of what he could do about them decreased (and the latter was more important). Eventually he dropped out of work in a normal sense to play video games, because the enjoyment was worth more to him than what he could hope to accomplish with regular work. He still does occasional short term projects, when they seem especially useful or enjoyable, but his focus is on generating hedons in the time he has left.
I love this friend as a counter-example to most of the loudest voices on AI risk.You can think p(doom) is very high and have that be all the more reason to play video games.
I don’t want to valorize this too much because I don’t want retiring to play video games becoming the cool new thing. The admirable part is that he did his own math and came to his own conclusions in the face of a lot of social pressure to do otherwise.
I think this perspective of “if I can’t affect p(doom) enough, let me generate hedons instead” makes a lot of sense. But as someone who has spent way way way more time than his fair share on video games (and who still spends a lot of time on them), I want to make the somewhat nitpicky point that video games are not necessarily the hedon-optimizing option.
Here’s an alternative frame, and one into which I also fall from time to time: Suppose that, for whatever reason (be it due to x-risk; notoriously poor feedback loops in AI alignment research; or, in my case, past bouts of depression or illness), the fate of the world / your future / your health / your project / your day seems hard to affect and thus outside of your control (external locus of control). Then video games counteract that by giving you control (internal locus of control). Maybe I can’t affect <project>, but I can complete quests or puzzles in games. Games are designed to allow for continuous progress, after all.
Or as Dr. K of HealthyGamer puts it, video games “short-circuit the reward circuit” (paraphrased). Roughly, the brain rewards us for doing stuff by generating feelings of accomplishment or triumph. But doing stuff in the real world is hard, and in video games it’s easy. So why do the former? In this sense, video games are a low-level form of wireheading.
Also, excessive gaming can result in anhedonia, which seems like a problem for the goal of maximizing hedons.
To tie this pack to the start: if the goal is to maximize hedons, activities other than gaming may be much better for this purpose (<-> goal factoring). If the goal is instead to (re)gain a sense of control, then video games seem more optimized for that.
I know people like this. I really don’t understand people like this. Why not just take the challenge to play real live it’s a videogame with crushing difficulty. Oh wait that’s maybe just me who plays games on very hard difficulty most of the time (in the past when I did play video games). I guess there is probably not one reason people do this. But I don’t get the reason why you are being crushed by doom. At least for me using the heuristic of just not giving up, never (at least not consciously, I probably can’t muster a lot of will as I am being disassembled by nanobots, because of all the pain you know), seemed to work really well. I just ended up reasoning myself into a stable state, by enduring long enough. I wonder if the same would have happened for your fried had he endured longer.
Because gamification is for things with a known correct answer. Solving genuine unknowns requires a stronger connection with truth.
I am not quite sure what the correct answer is for playing Minecraft (let’s ignore the Ender Dragon, which did not exist when I played it).
I think there is a correct answer for what to do to prevent AI doom. Namely to take actions that achieve high expected value in your world model. If you care a lot about the universe then this translates to “take actions that achieve high expected value on the goal of preventing doom.”
So this only works if you really care about the universe. Maybe I care an unusual amount about the universe. If there was a button I could press that would kill me, but that would save the universe, then I would press it. At least in the current world, we are in. Sadly it isn’t that easy. If you don’t care about the universe sufficiently compared to your own well-being, the expected value from playing video games would actually be higher, and playing video games would be the right answer.
For a lot of people, especially people that aren’t psychologically stable, this is very, very good advice in general around existential risk.
To be clear, I think that he has an overly pessimistic worldview on existential risk, but I genuinely respect your friend realizing that his capabilities weren’t enough to tackle it productively, and that he realized that he couldn’t be helpful enough to do good work on existential risk, so he backed away from the field as he realized his own limitations.
especially people that aren’t psychologically stable
his capabilities weren’t enough to tackle it productively
man these seem like really unnecessarily judgemental ways to make this point
While I definitely should have been more polite in expressing those ideas, I do think that they’re important to convey, especially the first one, as I really, really don’t people to burn themselves out or get anxiety/depression from doing something that they don’t want to do, or even like doing.
I definitely will be nicer about expressing those ideas, but they’re so important that I do think something like the insights need to be told to a lot of people, especially those in the alignment community.
There’s a thing in EA where encouraging someone to apply for a job or grant gets coded as “supportive”, maybe even a very tiny gift. But that’s only true when [chance of getting job/grant] x [value of job/grant over next best alternative] > [cost of applying].
One really clear case was when I was encouraged to apply for a grant my project wasn’t a natural fit for, because “it’s quick and there are few applicants”. This seemed safe, since the deadline was in a few hours. But in those few hours the number of applications skyrocketed- I want to say 5x but my memory is shaky- presumably because I wasn’t the only person the grantmaker encouraged. I ended up wasting several hours of my and co-founders time before dropping out, because the project really was not a good fit for the grant.
[if the grantmaker is reading this and recognizes themselves: I’m not mad at you personally].
I’ve been guilty of this too, defaulting to encouraging people to try for something without considering the costs of making the attempt, or the chance of success. It feels so much nicer than telling someone “yeah you’re probably not good enough”.
A lot of EA job postings encourage people to apply even if they don’t think they’re a good fit. I expect this is done partially because orgs genuinely don’t want to lose great applicants who underestimate themselves, and partially because it’s an extremely cheap way to feel anti-elitist.
I don’t know what the solution is here. Many people are miscalibrated on their value or their competition, all else being equal you do want to catch those people. But casting wider net entails more bycatch.
It’s hard to accuse an org of being mean to someone who they encouraged to apply for a job or grant. But I think that should be in the space of possibilities, and we should put more emphasis on invitations to apply for jobs/grants/etc being clear, and less on welcoming. This avoids wasting the time of people who were predictably never going to get the job.
I’m not sure supportive/helpful vs mean is a useful framing. It’s not reasonable for a grant-maker or recruiter to have much knowledge about your costs, let alone to weight them equal to the large value (though small probability) of a successful application.
I think the responsibility is always going to fall on the applicant to make these choices. Grantmakers and recruiters SHOULD be as clear as possible about the criteria for acceptance, in order to make the value side (chance of success) easier to predict, but the cost side isn’t something they are going to understand well.
Note that there is an adversarial/competitive aspect to such matches, so the application-evaluator can’t be as transparent as they might like, in order to reduce Goodhart or fraud in the applications they get.
This behavior from orgs is close enough to something I’ve been talking about for a while as being potentially maladaptive that I think I agree that we should keep a close eye on this. (In general, we should try and avoid situations where there are far more applicants for something than the number accepted.)
None of my principled arguments against “only care about big projects” have convinced anyone, but in practice Google reorganized around that exact policy (“don’t start a project unless it could conceivably have 1b+ users, kill if it’s ever not on track to reach that”) and they haven’t home grown an interesting thing since.
My guess is the benefits of immediately aiming high are overwhelmed by the costs of less contact with reality.
Much has been written about how groups tend to get more extreme over time. This is often based on evaporative cooling, but I think there’s another factor: it’s the only way to avoid the geeks->mops->sociopaths death spiral.
An EA group of 10 people would really benefit from one of those people being deeply committed to helping people but hostile to the EA approach, and another person who loves spreadsheets but is indifferent to what they’re applied to. But you can only maintain the ratio that finely when you’re very small. Eventually you need to decide if you’re going to ban scope-insensitive people or allow infinitely many, and lose what makes your group different.
“Decide” may mean consciously choose an explicit policy, but it might also mean gradually cohere around some norms. The latter is more fine-tuned in some ways but less in others.
GET AMBITIOUS SLOWLY
Most approaches to increasing agency and ambition focus on telling people to dream big and not be intimidated by large projects. I’m sure that works for some people, but it feels really flat for me, and I consider myself one of the lucky ones. The worst case scenario is big inspiring speeches get you really pumped up to Solve Big Problems but you lack the tools to meaningfully follow up.
Faced with big dreams but unclear ability to enact them, people have a few options.
try anyway and fail badly, probably too badly for it to even be an educational failure.
fake it, probably without knowing they’re doing so
learned helplessness, possible systemic depression
be heading towards failure, but too many people are counting on you so someone steps in and rescue you. They consider this net negative and prefer the world where you’d never started to the one where they had to rescue you.
discover more skills than they knew. feel great, accomplish great things, learn a lot.
The first three are all very costly, especially if you repeat the cycle a few times.
My preferred version is ambition snowball or “get ambitious slowly”. Pick something big enough to feel challenging but not much more, accomplish it, and then use the skills and confidence you learn to tackle a marginally bigger challenge. This takes longer than immediately going for the brass ring and succeeding on the first try, but I claim it is ultimately faster and has higher EV than repeated failures.
I claim EA’s emphasis on doing The Most Important Thing pushed people into premature ambition and everyone is poorer for it. Certainly I would have been better off hearing this 10 years ago
What size of challenge is the right size? I’ve thought about this a lot and don’t have a great answer. You can see how things feel in your gut, or compare to past projects. My few rules:
stick to problems where failure will at least be informative. If you can’t track reality well enough to know why a failure happened you definitely* need an easier project.
if your talk gives people a lot of ambitions to save the world/build billion dollar companies but their mind goes blank when they contemplate starting a freelancing business, the ambition is fake.
Having AI voices read my drafts back to me feels like it’s seriously leveled up my writing. I think the biggest, least replaceable feature is that I’m more less likely to leaves gaps in my writing- things where it’s obvious to me but I need to spell it out. It also catches bad transitions, and I suspect it’s making my copy editor’s job easier.
Are impact certificates/retroactive grants the solution to grantmaking corrupting epistemics? They’re not viable for everyone, but for people like me who:
do a lot of small projects (which barely make sense to apply for grants for individually)
benefit from doing what draws their curiosity at the moment (so the delay between grant application and decision is costly)
take commitments extremely seriously (so listing a plan on a grant application is very constraining)
have enough runway that payment delays and uncertainty for any one project aren’t a big deal
They seem pretty ideal.
So why haven’t I put more effort into getting retroactive funding? The retroactive sources tend to be crowdsourced. Crowdfunding is miserable in general, and leaves you open to getting very small amounts of money, which feels worse than none at all. Right now I can always preserve the illusion I would get more money, which seems stupid. In particular even if I could get more money for a past project by selling it better and doing some follow up, that time is almost certainly better spent elsewhere.
Here is some random NFT (?) company (?) that’s doing retroactive grants to support its community builders. I am in no way endorsing this specific example as I know nothing about it, just noticing that some are trying it out.
a person’s skill level has a floor (what they can do with minimal effort) and ceiling (what they can do with a lot of thought and effort). Ceiling raises come from things we commonly recognize as learning: studying the problem, studying common solution. Floor raises come from practicing the skills you already have, to build fluency in them.
There’s a rubber band effect where the farther your ceiling is from your floor, the more work you have to put in to raise it further. At a certain point the efficient thing to do is to grind until you have raised your floor, so that further ceiling raises are cheaper, even if you only care about peak performance.
My guess for why that happens is your brain has some hard constraints on effort, and raising the floor reduces the effort needed at all levels. E.g. it’s easier to do 5-digit multiplication if you’ve memorized 1-digit times tables.
My guess is the pots theory of art works best when a person’s skill ceiling is well above their floor. This is true both because it means effort is likely the limiting reagent, the artist will have things to try rather than flailing at random, and they will be able to assess how good a given pot is.
Sounds plausible. If this is true, then the best way to learn is to alternate ceiling-increasing learning with floor-increasing learning (because too much of one without the other gives diminishing returns).
It’s weird how hard it is to identify what is actually fun or restorative, vs. supposed to be fun or restorative, or used to be fun or restorative but no longer is. And “am I enjoying this?” should be one of the easiest questions to answer, so imagine how badly we’re fucking up the others.
There’s a category of good thing that can only be reached with some amount of risk, and that are hard to get out once you start. All of romance risks getting your heart broken. You never have enough information to know a job will always and forever be amazing for you. Will anti-depressants give you your life back or dull your affect in hard to detect ways?
This is hard enough when the situation is merely high variance with incomplete information. But often the situations are adversarial: abusive partners and jobs camouflage themselves. Or the partner/job might start out good and get bad, as their finances change. Or they might be great in general but really bad for you (apparently other people like working for Google? no accounting for taste).
Or they might be genuinely malicious and telling you the issue is temporary, or that their ex wasn’t a good fit or you are.
Or they might not be malicious, it might genuinely be the situation, but the situation isn’t going to get better so it’s damaging you badly.
You could opt out of the risk, but at the cost of missing some important human experiences and/or food.
How do you calculate risks when the math is so obfuscated?
Problems I am trying to figure out right now:
1. breaking large projects down into small steps. I think this would pay off in a lot of ways: lower context switching costs, work generally easier, greater feelings of traction and satisfaction, instead of “what the hell did I do last week? I guess not much”. This is challenging because my projects are, at best ill-defined knowledge work, and sometimes really fuzzy medical or emotional work. I strongly believe the latter have paid off for me on net, but individual actions are often lottery tickets with payouts in an undetermined currency.
2. prioritizing. There’s both “what’s the top priority?” and “what will reach this priority the fastest?” and they both feel pretty complicated.
It’s pretty goofy but for the past year I’ve had monthly calendar printouts hanging on my wall, and each day I put tally marks for how many hours of focused work I did, and usually scrawl a word or two about what I was doing that day, and when I figure out something important I draw a little star on that day of the calendar and write a word or two reminding myself of what it is (and celebrate that night by eating my favorite kind of ice cream sandwich). This is mostly stolen from the book Deep Work (not the ice cream sandwiches though, that’s my own innovation). Having those sheets hanging on my wall is good for “what did I do last week” or “what kinds of stuff was I doing last April” or “oh where has the time gone” type questions to myself.
I also have a to-do list using an online kanban tool and I always move tasks into a Done column instead of just archiving them directly. This is entirely pointless, because now and then I’ll go through the Done column and archive everything. So I added an extra step that does nothing. But it feels nice to get an extra opportunity to revisit the Done column and feel good about how many things I’ve done. :)
individual actions are often lottery tickets with payouts in an undetermined currency
I feel your pain, but anyway those were things you wanted to do. In some sense, the information “this doesn’t work” is also a payout, just not the one you hoped for, but that is hindsight. If your best guess was that this was worth doing, then actually doing it is a legitimate work done, even if it ultimately didn’t achieve what you hoped for.
There is some kind of “doublethink” necessary. On one hand, we ultimately care about the results. Mere effort that doesn’t bring fruit is a waste (or signalling, that detracts from the intended goal). On the other hand, in everyday life we need to motivate ourselves by rewarding the effort, because results come too infrequently and sometimes are too random, and we want to reward following a good strategy rather than getting lucky. (Also: goals vs systems.)
There’s both “what’s the top priority?” and “what will reach this priority the fastest?” and they both feel pretty complicated.
Perhaps we should always add “according to my current knowledge” at the end of these question, just to remind ourselves that sometimes the right thing to do is stop prioritizing and collect more information instead.
some features I definitely want in an app:
* ~infinitely nested plans similar to workflowy or roam
* when I check off a task on a plan, it gets added to a “shit I did on this date” list. I can go to that page and see what I did on various days
Out of curiosity, did Roam turn out to support the functionality I mentioned in my other comment here?
Many outliner apps can already do that, and from what I can tell this doesn’t even require plugins. You mention Roam, but there are also e.g. Logseq (free) and Tana (outliner with extensive AI features; currently lacks smooth onboarding; is in beta with a waitlist, but one can get an instant auto invite by introducing oneself in their Slack channel).
I personally don’t use outliners anymore after learning from Workflowy that I absolutely need the ability to write non-nested stuff like long-form text, so I unfortunately can’t tell if those apps are a good fit for people who do like outliners.
Anyway, after clicking around in Logseq, here’s how your requested feature looks there: Whenever you open the app, it loads a Journal page of the current day where you’d add the tasks you want to do that day. Then tasks marked as TODO or DONE can be found in the graph view, like so.
In Roam, these TODO and DONE pages supposedly also exist (from what I can tell from here, anyway), so the same strategy should work there, too.
And in Tana, you can probably also do things just like this; or you would add tasks anywhere (including on a project page), then mark tasks with a #task tag so Tana treats them like items in a database, and then you’d add a Done Date field to tasks.
“Do or Do Not: There is No Try”
Like all short proverbs each word is doing a lot of work and you can completely flip the meaning by switching between reasonable definitions.
I think “there is no try” often means “I want to gesture at this but am not going to make a real attempt” in sentences like “I’ll try to get to the gym tomorrow” and “I’ll try to work on my math homework tonight”.
“there is no try” means “I am going to make an attempt at this but it’s not guaranteed to succeed” in sentences like “I’m going to try to bench 400 tomorrow”, “I’m trying to solve the Birch–Tate conjecture” and “I’ll try flipping the circuit breaker and see if that helps”
The latter is actively good epistemics and agentiness and we shouldn’t invoke a weapon aimed at “yeah I’ll get to the gym eventually” on them.
OOOOH it’s maybe encapsulated in “I’ll try to do action” vs “I’m trying this action”
A repost from the discussion on NDAs and Wave (a software company). Wave was recently publicly revealed to have made severance dependent on non-disparagement agreements, cloaked by non-disclosure agreements. I had previously worked at Wave, but negotiated away the non-disclosure agreement (but not the non-disparagement agreement).
But my guess is that most of the people you sent to Wave were capable of understanding what they were signing and thinking through the implications of what they were agreeing to, even if they didn’t actually have the conscientiousness / wisdom / quick-thinking to do so. (Except, apparently, Elizabeth. Bravo, @Elizabeth!)
I appreciate the kudos here, but feel like I should give more context.
I think some of what led to me to renegotiate was a stubborn streak and righteousness about truth. I mostly hear when those traits annoy people, so it’s really nice to have them recognized in a good light here. But that righteous streak was greatly enabled by the fact that my mom is a lawyer who modeled reading legal documents before signing (even when it’s embarrassing your kids who just want to join their friends at the rockclimbing birthday party), and that I could afford to forgo severance. Obviously I really wanted the money, and I couldn’t afford to take this kind of stand every week. But I believe there were people who couldn’t even afford to add a few extra days, and so almost had to cave
To the extent people in that second group were unvirtuous, I think the lack of virtue occurred when they didn’t create enough financial slack to even have the time to negotiate. By the time they were laid off without a cushion it was too late. And that’s not available to everyone- Wave paid well, but emergencies happen, any one of them could have a really good reason their emergency fund was empty.
So the main thing I want to pitch here is that “getting yourself into a position where virtue is cheap” is an underrated strategy.
This is one benefit to paying people well, and a reason having fewer better-paid workers is sometimes better than more people earning less money. If your grants or salary give you just enough to live as long as the grants are immediately renewed/you don’t get fired, even a chance of irritating your source of income imperils your ability to feed yourself. 6 months expenses in savings gives you the ability to risk an individual job/grant. Skills valued outside EA give you the ability to risk pissing off all of EA and still be fine.
I’m emphasizing risk here because I think it’s the bigger issue. If you know something is wrong, you’ll usually figure out a way to act on it. The bigger problem is when you some concerns but they legitimately could be nothing, but worry that investigating will imperil your livelihood.
I agree, and it seems important, but could you perhaps give more examples (maybe as a separate article)?
“If you never sign an NDA, truth-telling becomes cheaper.”
(Question is, how much cheaper. I mean, people can still sue you. Not necessarily because you said something false, just because they can, and because the process is the punishment.)
How to generate more examples? Go through a list of virtues and think: “what preparation could I make in advance to make this easier / what to avoid to prevent this becoming harder”? Let’s try it:
prudence—study things, be (epistemically) rational
fortitude—practice expanding your comfort zone? or rather, practice martial arts and build a safety network?
temperance—practice self-control? or rather, make sure that your needs are satisfied all the time, so that you are not too strongly tempted? (the latter seems more in spirit of your example)
justice—don’t do things that would allow others to blackmail you, gather power
chastity—get married to a person who enjoys sex
faith—observe miracles, avoid nonbelievers
People talk about sharpening the axe vs. cutting down the tree, but chopping wood and sharpening axes are things we know how to do and know how to measure. When working with more abstract problems there’s often a lot of uncertainty in:
what do you want to accomplish, exactly?
what tool will help you achieve that?
what’s the ideal form of that tool?
how do you move the tool to that ideal form?
when do you hit diminish returns on improving the tool?
how do you measure the tool’s [sharpness]?
Actual axe-sharpening rarely turns into intellectual masturbation because sharpness and sharpening are well understood. There are tools for thinking that are equally well understood, like learning arithmetic and reading, but we all have a sense that more is out there and we want it. It’s really easy to end up masturbating (or epiphany addiction-ing) in the search for the upper level tools, because we are almost blind.
This suggests massive gains from something that’s the equivalent of a sharpness meter.
I think alternating periods of cutting and sharpening is useful here, reducing/increasing the amount of sharpening based on the observed marginal benefits of each round of sharpening on the cutting.
Actual axe-sharpening rarely turns into intellectual masturbation because sharpness and sharpening are well understood.
I have met people who geeked out over sharpening. They are usually more focused on knives but they can also geek out over sharpening axes.
Is it that you have never met a person who geeked out over sharpening (maybe because those people mostly aren’t in your social circles) or do you think that’s qualitatively different from intellectual masturbation?
I think doing things for their own sake is fine, it’s only masturbation with negative valence if people are confused about the goal.
Some things are coordination problems. Everyone* prefers X to Y, but there are transition costs and people can’t organize to get them paid.
Some things are similar to coordination problems, plus the issue of defectors, Everyone prefers X (no stealing) to Y (constant stealing), but too many prefer X’(no one but me steals). So even if you achieve X, you need to pay maintenance costs.
Sometimes people want different things. These are not coordination problems.
Sometimes people endorse a thing but don’t actually want it. These are not coordination problems either.
But sometimes it’s ambiguous. In particular if some people genuinely prefer X to Y, and some people endorse X over Y but don’t, in their heart of hearts, want it enough to pay the costs, you can spend a lot of time trying to fix a coordination/maintenance problem that doesn’t actually exist.
Anyways this week I finally drove someone to shout “because no one likes reading or writing as much as you!” at me and it explains a lot.
I think I would have missed the inference if I didn’t know what the specific thing was here (although maybe I am underestimating other people’s inferencing)
I asked ChatGPT:
Someone wrote the following message:[...]What did the author likely do, which “drove someone to shout …”?
Someone wrote the following message:
What did the author likely do, which “drove someone to shout …”?
Based on the context provided in the message, it seems that the author likely engaged in persistent efforts to fix a coordination or maintenance problem related to reading and writing. They might have been advocating for or trying to implement a system or activity (e.g., a reading or writing initiative) that they believed most people would prefer (X) over the current situation (Y).However, despite some people endorsing the idea of reading and writing (X), they didn’t have enough genuine interest or willingness to invest in the transition costs or maintenance efforts required for the change. This lack of true commitment led to the frustration of the person shouting at the author, expressing that nobody else liked reading or writing as much as the author did. Essentially, the author was trying to solve a coordination problem (or maintenance problem) that didn’t have enough genuine support from others, and this led to tension and frustration.
Based on the context provided in the message, it seems that the author likely engaged in persistent efforts to fix a coordination or maintenance problem related to reading and writing. They might have been advocating for or trying to implement a system or activity (e.g., a reading or writing initiative) that they believed most people would prefer (X) over the current situation (Y).
However, despite some people endorsing the idea of reading and writing (X), they didn’t have enough genuine interest or willingness to invest in the transition costs or maintenance efforts required for the change. This lack of true commitment led to the frustration of the person shouting at the author, expressing that nobody else liked reading or writing as much as the author did. Essentially, the author was trying to solve a coordination problem (or maintenance problem) that didn’t have enough genuine support from others, and this led to tension and frustration.
Which is essentially what seems reasonable to guess, though it’s not very specific. My first guess as to specifics is “Elizabeth tried to organize a weekly gathering where people would pick a paper, read it, write up their thoughts, and discuss it at the meeting, and couldn’t get people to commit the time necessary, and ended up questioning someone along the lines of ‘Well, several people said it was good to practice these skills, and that the summaries are valuable public services, so why aren’t they …?’, leading to the incident at the end.” Other variations that came to mind included hiring a writing teacher for a group, or some kind of large-scale book buying, though neither of those involves both reading and writing.
That’s a pretty reasonable guess, although I wasn’t quite that dumb.
I’m temporarily working a full time gig. The meetings are quite badly run. People seemed very excited when I introduced the concept of memo meetings, but it kept not happening or the organizer would implement it badly. People (including the organizer) said nice things about the concept so I assumed this was a problem with coordination, or at least “everyone wants the results but is trying to shirk”.
But I brought it up again when people were complaining about the length of one part of a meeting, and my boss said “no one likes reading and writing as much as you”, and suddenly it made sense that people weren’t failing to generate the activation energy for a thing they wanted, they were avoiding a thing they didn’t want but endorsed (or I pressured them into expressing more enthusiasm than they actually felt, but it felt like my skip boss genuinely wanted to at least try it and god knows they were fine shooting down other ideas I expressed more enthusiasm over).
So the problem was I took people’s statements that they wanted memo meetings but got distracted by something urgent to be true, when actually they at best maybe kind of endorsed memo meetings (or maybe just skip boss endorsed them, and no one else argued?) but did not actually want them.
Like my sense is they would genuinely prefer inefficient meetings to the work it takes to make them efficient, but that sounds bad so no one strongly advocated the position.
where the organizer writes their thoughts ahead of time and the beginning of the meeting is people synchronously reading and commenting on the doc. This lets the organizer get their thoughts really crisp, without worrying about forgetting something, people read and process at their own pace, get time to articulate their own thoughts well instead of trying to shove it in, read other people’s thoughts at their own pace instead of sitting through 40 seconds of contentless thought while waiting for the good part, missing the good part because they’re thinking about their own thing, or navigating who talks when. You do this synchronously partly for fast responses and partly because no one else will actually read and comment on documents in a timely fashion if you don’t force them.
he would like me to note he wasn’t shouting, I exaggerated for comedic effect
I have a new project for which I actively don’t want funding for myself: it’s too new and unformed to withstand the pressure to produce results for specific questions by specific times*. But if it pans out in ways other people value I wouldn’t mind retroactive payment. This seems like a good fit for impact certificates, which is a tech I vaguely want to support anyway.Someone suggested that if I was going to do that I should mint and register the cert now, because that norm makes IC markets more informative, especially about the risk of very negative projects. This seems like a good argument but https://www.impactcerts.com/mint seems borked and I don’t know of better options. Now this is requiring thought and the whole point was to not have to do that yet.So I’m crowdsourcing. What are your thoughts on this? What are potential best practices I should support? Counter arguments?*my psychology is such that there’s no way around this that also guarantees speeding up the work. If someone wanted to fund the nice things for Elizabeth project I’d accept but no guarantee I would produce any faster. I *have* asked for funding for my collaborator and a TBD research assistant. I will definitely not be sharing the object level project in this thread.I hurt my hand so if my replies look weird that’s why.
In the spirit of this comment on lions and simulacra levels I present: simulacra and halloween decorations
Level 1: this is actually dangerous. Men running at you with knives, genuinely poisonous animals.
Level 2: this is supposed to invoke genuine fear, which will dissipate quickly when you realize it’s fake. Fake poisonous spiders that are supposed to look real, a man with a knife jumps with a fake knife but doesn’t stab you, monsters in media that don’t exist but hit primal fear buttons in your brain.
Level 3: reminds people of fear without ever actually making you concerned for your life (which may still be a little unsettling, depending on your sensitivity, and everything has someone who’s deathly afraid of it even in a nonthreatening form). Halloween decorations top out here unless you spend a ton of money at specialty shops.
Level 4: reminds people of things that induce fear without ever for a second unnerving (most of) them. Goofy looking bat balloons.
I agree with 1-3, but would change level 4 to something like “people don’t even associate it with fear, we just think it is a cute tradition for small kids (see: bat balloons)”. I think that level 4 is like: “it might be connected to the territory somehow, but I really don’t care how, it just seems to work for some unspecified reason and that is okay for me”.
Analogical things could be said about Christmas, but on level 1 it is actually two unrelated things (birth of the Messiah; Saint Nicholas).
Actually, all holidays have an aspect of this; some people celebrate Independence Day or Labor Day to make a political statement, but most people just do it because it is a tradition.
I know we hate the word content but sometimes I need a single word to refer to history books, longrunning horror podcasts, sitcoms, a Construction Physics blog post, and themepark analysis youtube essays. And I don’t see any other word volunteering.
All of what you’ve described can be considered texts but that’s usually in the context of critique/analysis. I see content as the preferable term when not engaging in critique/analysis though.
Back in the ancient days we called all this stuff “media”.
Oh yeah, that did seem better.
Let’s say there’s a drug that gives people 20% more energy (or just cognitive energy). My intuition is that if I gave it to 100 people, I would not end up with 120 people’s worth of work. Why?
the energy gets soaked up by activities other than the ones I am measuring. e.g. you become better at cleaning your house, or socializing, or spend more time on your hobby.
The benefits accrue to other people- you have more energy which means you lose chore-chicken with your partner, who now has slightly more energy for their stuff.
Energy wasn’t the only limiting reagent on your work. Energy improvements after a certain point are wasted because you need something else.
the drug might make you worse at those other things. E.g. adderall gives some people more energy and focus but less creativity and collaboration. Made more confusing because the drug can have opposite effects in different people
The scenarios you described sound plausible, but it could also be the other way round:
if there is a constant amount of work to do at house, you can do it 20% faster, so not only you have more energy for the remaining work but also more time;
you could spend some of the extra energy on figuring out how to capture the benefits of your work;
you could spend some of the extra energy on fixing things that were slowing you down;
the drug might make you better at other things, or at least having more energy could create a halo effect.
So I guess the answer is “it depends”, specifically it depends on whether you were bottlenecked by energy.
I don’t know what “cognitive energy” nor “worth of work” means, in any precise way that would let me understand why you’d expect a 100% linear relationship between them, or why you’d feel the need to point out that you don’t expect that.
If I did have such measures, I’d START by measuring variance across days for a given person, to determine the relationship, then variance across time for groups, and various across groups.
Only after measuring some natural variances would I hypothesize about the effect of a pill (and generally, pills aren’t that “clean” in their effect anyway).
edit (because I can’t reply further): Deep apologies. I will stop commenting on your shortforms, and attempt to moderate my presentation on posts as well. Thanks for the feedback.
This is the 5th comment you’ve left on my shortform, most of which feel uncollaborative and butterfly-squashing. I think your comments are in the harsh-side-of-fine zone for real posts, but are harsher than I want to deal with on shortform, so I ask that you stop.
I’m convinced people are less likely to update when they’ve locked themself into a choice they don’t really want.
If I am excited to go to 6 flags and get a headache that will ruin the rollercoasters for me, I change my plans. But if I’m going out of FOMO or to make my someone else happy and I get a headache it doesn’t trigger an update to my plans. The utilitarian math on this could check out, but my claim is that’s not necessary, once I lock myself in I stop paying attention to pain signals and can’t tell if I should leave or not.
I think “locked themself into a choice” is unhelpful, and perhaps obfuscatory. There are lots of different lock-in mechanics, and they are incredibly unequal. I also don’t see this as a failure to update, but just a different weighting of costs and benefits. though there’s ALSO a failure to update, in that I tend to lie to myself if I don’t want to question a decision.
Depending on the group and the frequency of contact, it’s quite likely that the relationship impact will be an order of magnitude larger than the actual hedonic content of the outing. In this case, you’d absolutely be willing to suffer some in order to maintain plans.
That said, I cannot explain how it is that I forget the existence of analgesics so regularly.
I have friends who, early in EA or rationality, did things that look a lot like joining nonlinear. 10+ years later they’re still really happy with those decisions. Some of that is selection effects of course, but think some of it is the reasons they joined were very different.
People who joined early SingInst or CEA by and large did it because they’d been personally convinced this group of weirdos was promising. The orgs maybe tried to puff themselves up, but they had almost no social proof. Whereas nowadays saying “this org is EA/rationalist” gives you a built-in audience. You can prestige hack within EA (and I think nonlinear did) and convince people they should join you because you’re ingroup and can grant them prestige in the group.
Orgs that attract via object-level ideas rather than prestige are probably healthier to work at (although still pretty easy to fuck yourself up with), and people attracted by ideas rather than ingroup prestige are probably more emotionally resilient. They’re also more likely to leave if the program isn’t good for them.
E.g. grants programs announced with great fanfare that, in the fine print, had tiny budgets.
Sometimes different people have different reaction to the same organization simply because they want different things. If you want X, you will probably love the organization that pushes you towards X, and hate the organization that pushes you away from X.
If this is clearly communicated at an interview, the X person probably will not join the anti-X organization. So the problem is when they figure it out too late, when changing jobs again would be costly for them.
And of course it is impossible to communicate literally everything, and also sometimes things change. I think that a reasonable rule of thumb would be to communicate the parts where you differ significantly from the industry standard. Which leads to a question what is the industry standard. Is it somewhere documented explicitly? But there seems to be a consensus, if you e.g. go to Workplace Stack Exchange, about what is normal and what is not.
(...getting to the point...)
I think the “original weirdos” communicated their weirdness clearly.
Compared to that, the EA community is quite confusing for me (admittedly, an outsider). On one hand, they handle tons of money, write grant applications, etc. On the other hand, they sometimes pose as an informal group of weird friends just having fun, living together, debating kinky sexual behavior while brainstorming how to save the world.
So I am confused—what the hell is the “industry standard” here? What are the reasonable expectations here?
(To use an example unrelated to the current debate, if an idealistic girl coming right out of university brings her plan to eradicate malaria and asks for grant money, should she expect an impartial scientific evaluation of her plan, or should she expect to be invited to a dinner by a man twice her age who will tell her about polyamory and if she isn’t interested then this may be the last time anyone important talked to her? What is the EA “industry standard”? Clearly we have two wildly different expectations here; which person is being unreasonable in this story?)
Returning to the current debate, it is “industry standard” in EA organizations to get a written contract? To live in the same house as your boss, even if you prefer not to? To be paid in cash, rather than having your expenses covered? To be discouraged from talking to people unrelated to your business? To be threatened to be blacklisted from the industry if you publicly complain about any of the above?
If there is an authoritative source on the “industry standard”, someone please give me a link, so that I can refer to it in future, when a behavior of an EA company is discussed again. Or perhaps we (some EA people) should write it. Because in its absence, any company can tell their employees that whatever they do is the standard behavior (and the prestige hacking makes it sound likely), and the employees have no easy way to verify this.
Threatening employees by lawsuits and blacklisting for discussing their working conditions is very bad also on the meta level, because it prevents us from discussing what is actually happening. It goes completely against the original ethos of the rationalist community.
AFAICT, for novel independent work:
genuine backchaining > plan-less intuition or curiosity > fake backchaining.
And most attempts to move people from intuition/curiosity to genuine backchaining end up pushing them towards fake backchaining instead. This is bad because curiosity leads you to absorb a lot of information that will either naturally refine your plans without conscious effort, or support future backchaining. Meanwhile fake backchaining makes you resistant to updating, so it’s a very hard state to leave. Also curiosity is fun and fake backchaining is miserable.
For well-defined work you also have the option of someone telling you what to do, and that can fit anywhere in the comparison depending on their skill level and yours.
What’s an example of fake backchaining?
Real backchaining is starting from a desired outcome and reverse engineering how to get it, step by step.
e.g. I want to eat ice cream ← I had ice cream in the house ← I drove to the store and bought ice cream X no wait I don’t have a car X I ordered ice cream delivered ← I had money ← I had a job
Fake backchaining is claiming to have done that, when you didn’t really. In the most obvious version the person comes up with the action first, forward to chains to how it could produce a good outcome, and the presents that as a backchain. I think forward chaining can be fine (I’d probably rank “I forward chained and BOTECed the results” ahead of intuition alone), but presenting it as backchaining means something screwy is going on.
The more insidious version follows the form of backchaining, but attention slides off at key points, generating terrible plans.
E.g. (from the same person, who lacks a car) I want to eat ice cream ← I had ice cream in the house ← I drove to the store and bought ice cream ← I own a car ← I had money ← I had a job.
The difference between faking backchaining and being honest but bad at it is that if you point out flaws to the latter kind of person they are delighted to find an easier way to achieve their goals. The fake backchainer in the same situation will get angry, or be unable to pay attention, or look attentive but change nothing once you walk away (although this can be difficult to distinguish from the advice being terrible).
E.g. I have a planned project (pending funding) to do a lit review on stimulants. I think this project has very high EV, and it would be really easy for me to create a fake backchain for it. But the truth is that someone suggested it to me, and I forward chained as far ahead as “make x-risk workers more effective”, and left it at that. If I had created a fake backchain it would imply more thought than I put in to e.g. importance of x-risk work relative to others.
I feel like it was a mistake for Hanson to conflate goodharting, cooperative coordination, accurate information transfer, and extractive deception.
[good models + grand vision grounded in that model] > [good models + modest goals] > [mediocre model + grand vision]
There are lots of reasons for this, but the main one is: Good models imply skill at model building, and thus have a measure of self-improvement. Grand vision implies skill at building grand vision unconnected to reality, which induces more error.
[I assume we’re all on board that a good, self-improving models combined with a grand vision is great, but in short supply]
I think it’s weird that saying a sentence with a falsehood that doesn’t change its informational content is sometimes considered worse than saying nothing, even if it leaves the person better informed than the were before.
This feels especially weird when the “lie” is creating a blank space in a map that you are capable of filling in ( e.g. changing irrelevant details in an anecdote to anonymize a story with a useful lesson), rather than creating a misrepresentation on the map.
I’ve always thought it was weird that logic traditionally considers a list of statements concatenated with “and’s” where at least one statement in the list is false as the entire list being one false statement. This doesn’t seem to completely match intuition, at least the way I’d like it to. If I’ve been told N things, and N-1 of those things are true, it seems like I’ve probably gained something, even if I am not entirely sure which one out of the N statements is the false one.
I think the consideration makes sense because “lies are bad” is a much simpler norm than “lies are bad if they reduce the informational usefulness of the sentence below 0″. The latter is so complex that if it were the accepted norm, it’d probably be so difficult to enforce and so open to debate that it’d lose its usefulness.
Do you have any examples in mind? I’m having a hard time thinking about this without something concrete and am having trouble thinking of an example myself.
I’m surprised that you find this weird. Beliefs are multi-dimensional and extremely complicated—it’s almost trivial to construct cases where a loss in accuracy on one dimension paired with a gain on another is a net improvement.