Let's say you want to raise the sanity waterline. You want humanity as a whole to act a little bit more reasonably and lower the chance of existential risks as a side effect. How would you go about it?

This question occupied my mind over the course of the last two years while I was casually exploring the Improving individual reasoning or cognition cause area. I've found a lot of projects, but it felt like when I walk into my kids' room and there is a massive pile of toys on the floor. First, I don't even know where to start. Second, when I finally set myself into motion, I don't know where they belong and which toys should I put on the same shelf. 

Fortunately, staring at this pile of interesting projects for a while helped and I started to see some vague patterns. Here are some characteristics with example projects belonging to each category.

Compounds

There are different aspects of sanity we can work on.

1. Self-awareness: Updating the map of ourselves

By better understanding ourselves, overcoming our biases and being able to spot emotional buildups, we are able to interact with the world more reasonably, prevent interpersonal conflicts and be more aware of what is going on around us.

For some of us, healing emotional traumas is part of this, so I loosely include mental health apps in this category.

Waking Up, Mind Ease

2. Empathy: Updating the map of others

If we increase mutual understanding and exercise cognitive empathy towards both our friends and adversaries, we promote collaboration and joy of that instead of tribalism and echo chambers.

Authentic Revolution, Apocalypse Aversion Project, Microsolidarity

3. Reasoning: Updating the map of the world

Having good epistemics, understanding probabilities, and being able to read and make forecasts. This helps us to make a sense of the world around us and estimate what might come next.

LessWrong, Metaculus, Manifold Markets, Our World in Data, Confido, Wait but Why, Bellingcat

4. Instrumental rationality: Acting in accordance with the maps

The gap between I know what to do and I'm doing it is jarring for a lot of us. We fail to apply what we've learned about ourselves, others, and the world. We need habits, decision-making tools and technologies to cross the last mile.

Atomic Habits, CFAR, Upgradable, Clearer Thinking

 

These categories overlap quite a lot and some projects develop multiple compounds at the same time.

There are also still some projects I don't know where to put, the same way there is a box called Other in the kids' room. There are some shelves yet to be identified.

Audience

Another possible characterization is looking at the target audience. Is the project rather selective about its' recipients or aiming at a broader range?

On the narrower side of this spectrum sits CFAR, which is aimed at intellectuals that want to further develop their skills. The whole Institutional decision-making cause area would belong here too as it can improve our compound rationality without improving each one of us.

On the other side of the spectrum, Wait But Why or Waking Up are built in a way that is available to a wide audience.

One can argue what is the more fruitful approach. Selecting an audience of expected future decision-makers can be effective. On the other hand, decision-makers and influencers are kind of hard to predict.

Means

The last optic to look at projects out there is their means. Some of them are rather conservative, others more experimental.

  • Education: A conservative approach, a lot of projects mentioned above fall into this category.
  • Neurohacking: Experimental approach to enhance our capabilities.
  • Technology: Clever usage of technology to prevent usual traps or make us more efficient.
  • Promoting values: Communities that cherish failures and admitting mistakes, or share altruistic values, might have a large impact.

Footnotes

I might have hijacked and expanded the term Raising the Sanity Waterline. Let me know if you have a better one.

Some toys on the shelves still look like they don't belong there. Some are spread across multiple and is hard to pick on where they belong. And then there is this box named Other. I'm pretending I don't see it, but it's still there. I would like to have a better system, suggestions are more than welcome.

You can find the complete list of the projects I've identified in this Airtable. I've overlooked plenty for sure, please share your picks.

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