All of Abby Hoskin's Comments + Replies

Some unfun lessons I learned as a junior grantmaker

Thanks for writing this! 

I appreciate your points about how EA grantmakers are 1. part time, 2. extremely busy, 3. and should spend more time getting grants out the door instead of writing feedback. I hope nobody has interpreted your lack of feedback as a personal affront! It just seems like the correct way to allocate your (and other grantmakers') time. 

I think the EA community as a whole is biased too far towards spending resources on transparency at the expense of actually doing ~the thing~. Hopefully this post makes some people update! 

How many people have heard of effective altruism?

Really cool survey, and great write up of the results! I especially liked the multilevel regression and post-stratification method of estimating distributions. 

Peter Singer seems to be higher profile than the other EAs on your list. How much of this do you think is from popular media, like The Good Place, versus from just being around for longer? 

Peter Singer is also well known because of his controversial disability/abortion views. I wonder if people who indicated they only heard about Peter Singer  (as opposed to only hearing about MackAsk... (read more)

Peter Singer seems to be higher profile than the other EAs on your list. How much of this do you think is from popular media, like The Good Place, versus from just being around for longer? 


Interesting question. It does seem clear that Peter Singer is known more broadly (including among those who haven’t heard of EA, and for some reasons unrelated to EA). It also seems clear that he was a widely known public figure well before ‘The Good Place’ (it looks like he was described as “almost certainly the best-known and most widely read of all contempo... (read more)

Most students who would agree with EA ideas haven't heard of EA yet (results of a large-scale survey)

This is such cool research! Thanks to everybody who contributed :)

I've found the majority of EA University Club members drift out of the EA community and into fairly low impact careers. These people presumably agree with all the EA basic premises, and many of them have done in depth EA fellowships, so they aren't just agreeing to ideas in a quick survey due to experimenter demands, acquiescence bias, etc. 

Yet, exposure to/agreement with EA  philosophy doesn't seem sufficient to convince people to actually make high impact career choices. I would ... (read more)

1Evan R. Murphy2d
Really interesting observations. Do you have any sense of how many of those people are earning to give or end up making donation to effective causes play a significant role in their lives? I wonder if 5% is at least a little pessimistic for the "retention" of effective altruists if it's not accounting for people who take this path to making an impact.

Yes: lots of people agree with EA in principle. But, of those, very few are motivated to do anything. As a suggestion for future research, could you look for what might predict serious commitment in later life?

FWIW, my hunch is the distribution of motivation to be altruistic is not normally distributed, but perhaps even approaching bi-modal: there few people are prepared to dedicate their lives to helping others, but most people will only help if the costs to them are very low. 

8Patrick Gruban9d
Why do you think a conversion rate of 5% is shockingly low? Depending on the intervention this can be a high rate in marketing. A fellowship seems like a relatively small commitment and changing the career is a relatively high ask. As we’re not emphasizing earning to give as much as before I would also expect many people to not find high impact work.
Do you have a sense of the fraction of people who do introductory fellowships, then make some attempt at a high impact career change? A mundane way for this 5% to happen would be if lots of people apply to a bunch of jobs or degree programs, some of which are high impact, then go with something lower impact before getting an offer for anything high impact.
3Peter Gebauer9d
Do you think part of the reason is that they may find it difficult to get into high impact careers, that they lose interest, or that there are other different factors affecting their decisions like pay, where they can live, etc?
This is a thing I and a lot of other organizers I've talked to have really struggled with. My pet theory that I'll eventually write up and post (I really will, I promise!) is that you need Alignment, Agency, and Ability to have a high impact. Would definitely be interested in actual research on this.
How to apply for a PhD

Effective Thesis is awesome! I will mention their coaching services in the top post :)

How to apply for a PhD

Great advice! Thanks for sharing :) 

A bunch of this definitely does generalize, especially: 

"If you have multiple research ideas, considering writing more than one (i.e. tailored) SOP and submit the SOP which is most relevant to faculty at each university."

"Look at groups' pages to get a sense of the qualification distribution for successful applicants, this is a better way to calibrate where to apply than looking at rankings IMO. This is also a good way to calibrate how much experience you're expected to have pre-PhD."

And if you can pull this of... (read more)

EA and the current funding situation

I had the same exact reaction! "Only $200 for one attendee? In this economy? What is that, 20 bananas?" 

1Benjamin Stewart16d
Haha what a crossover!
EA will likely get more attention soon

Thanks, Julia! The  "Advice for responding to journalists" doc you link is really excellent. Everyone should read this before speaking to the media.

Some advice I would add: if a journalist asks to interview you, try to understand where they are in their research. 

Do they have a narrative that they are already committed to and they're just trying to get a juicy quote from you? If so, it might not make sense to talk to them since they might t... (read more)

How to apply for a PhD

That's a good point, prestige is very important. I would argue having a good relationship with your advisor is the most important, since its a bad idea to be in an abusive relationship for multiple years, but I will edit the main post to take this perspective into account! 

Tentative Reasons You Might Be Underrating Having Kids

Sorry, you're right about Bryan Caplan making a more nuanced argument than what I suggested! But I just found his whole thing about how you can have more time if you don't drive your kid around to activities is basically inapplicable to early childhood. My partner and I easily spent 40 hours a week on childcare related stuff and the only places my kid goes to are daycare and the park. Young children just need a lot of attention! I found all his arguments about how to save time basically only apply to older kids who can read and amuse themselves, which sounds great, but is currently useless advice. 

Sorry, I didn't want to imply Caplan was making a more nuanced argument than you suggested! I do think he makes a much more nuanced argument than the OP suggests however. I think this is not only false, but also none of the authors claim this.
Tentative Reasons You Might Be Underrating Having Kids

I totally agree with your points on: movements that frown upon having children will repel top talent, and you can have kids and still be an über effective altruist.

I disagree with the idea that having kids makes people care more about the future. I deeply respect Julia Wise, and maybe this is true for her and other people, but I have found being a parent hasn't really lengthened my philanthropic time horizons. I would change my mind on this if anybody has studied changes in altruistic behaviors before/after people became parents, but after having a child I... (read more)

My gut-level feelings about the future changed, but it's not at all surprising to me that other parents like Abby had a different experience. I didn't mean to make a claim about what other people's experience was.

I agree with Abby that it's a mistake to read Caplan as meaning that parenting won't be hard. It will definitely be hard, especially in the early years. It just doesn't have to be quite as hard as current upper-middle-class US norms would have you think.

EA and the current funding situation

Thanks for this write up, Will! I hope it changes the minds of people who are skeptical/unhappy about our massive funding influx. 

I think a lot of EAs are not  motivated to seek personal financial rewards, instead they find themselves seeking truth in graduate school/academia or trying to improve the world via non-profits. They see their similarly intelligent, well educated peers go into industry, optimizing for "make as much money as possible" and they just fundamentally do not relate to that value function. I wonder if this kind of personality ... (read more)

I agree (and have formerly resembled this type...)  This is quite embedded in a lot of nonprofit culture. Part of it is what motivates the individual and their personality, part of it is the concept of supporters' money. 'Would the person who gave you £5 a month want you to be spending your money on that?' In practice this leads to counterproductive underspending. I remember waiting weeks to get maybe £100 worth of extra memory so I could crunch numbers at a reasonable speed without crashing the computer. The concept of taxpayers' money works similarly. 

There's probably a good forum post in there somewhere about how the psychology of charity affects perceptions of EA...

Some clarifications on the Future Fund's approach to grantmaking

I appreciate these clarifications! Thanks, Nick! 

Soliciting feedback on mistakes seems like a good idea. 

I would also be excited to see a progress update if that isn't super costly to produce. Though I might be more happy with granters prioritizing funding good projects over telling everybody what they're doing than the average EA forum reader.

Makes sense! We are aiming to post a progress update in the next month or so.

Abby Hoskin's Shortform

I had a great time at EAG! The organizers kicked ass, I'm sure it was a ton of work and I was really impressed by the entire thing. Here are some quick ideas on how to make upcoming EAGs even better:

  1. Reserve one room for low-barrier conversations. In this room, there should be a bunch of tables surrounded by a bunch of chairs. The rules are: anybody can sit in any open chair and join any conversation. This space provides a place for new people who don't know anybody at the conference to always have "something" interesting to do, instead of waiting around aw
... (read more)
Announcing Impact Island: A New EA Reality TV Show

I would enthusiastically watch this. You should implement a viewer voting mechanism, where viewers can vote for who should receive more research funding and who should have to move out of their private apartment into the island group house with one bedroom. 

*quadratic voting mechanism
This sounds like a great idea! I think it's very important to have democratic oversight into impactful funding and housing decisions!
A Primer on the Symmetry Theory of Valence

Just want to be clear, the main post isn't about analyzing eigenmodes with EEG data. It's very funny that when I am intellectually honest enough to say I don't know about one specific EEG analysis that doesn't exist and is not referenced in the main text, people conclude that I don't have expertise to comment on fMRI data analysis or the nature of neural representations. 

Meanwhile QRI does not have expertise to comment on many of the things they discuss, but they are super confident about everything and in the original posts especially did not clearly... (read more)

Generally speaking, I agree with the aphorism “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar;” For what it’s worth, I interpreted Gregory’s critique as an attempt to blow up the conversation and steer away from the object level, which felt odd. I’m happiest speaking of my research, and fielding specific questions about claims.
A Primer on the Symmetry Theory of Valence

Ok, thank you for these thoughts.

Considering how asymmetries can be both pleasing (complex stimuli seem more beautiful to me than perfectly symmetrical spheres) and useful (as Holly Ellmore points out in the domain of information theory, and as the Mosers found with their Nobel prize winning work on orthogonal neural coding of similar but distinct memories), I question your intuition that asymmetry needs to be associated with suffering. 

Welcome, thanks for the good questions. Asymmetries in stimuli seem crucial for getting patterns through the “predictive coding gauntlet.” I.e., that which can be predicted can be ignored. We demonstrably screen perfect harmony out fairly rapidly. The crucial context for STV on the other hand isn’t symmetries/asymmetries in stimuli, but rather in brain activity. (More specifically, as we’re currently looking at things, in global eigenmodes.) With a nod back to the predictive coding frame, it’s quite plausible that the stimuli that create the most internal symmetry/harmony are not themselves perfectly symmetrical, but rather have asymmetries crafted to avoid top-down predictive models. I’d expect this to vary quite a bit across different senses though, and depend heavily on internal state. The brain may also have mechanisms which introduce asymmetries in global eigenmodes, in order to prevent getting ‘trapped’ by pleasure — I think of boredom as fairly sophisticated ‘anti-wireheading technology’ — but if we set aside dynamics, the assertion is that symmetry/harmony in the brain itself is intrinsically coupled with pleasure. Edit: With respect to the Mosers, that’s really cool example of this stuff. I can’t say I have answers here but as a punt, I’d suspect the “orthogonal neural coding of similar but distinct memories” is going to revolve around some pretty complex frequency regimes and we may not yet be able to say exact things about how ‘consonant’ or ‘dissonant’ these patterns are to each other yet. My intuition is that this result about the golden mean being the optimal ratio for non-interaction [] will end up intersecting with the Mosers’ work. That said I wonder if STV would assert that some sorts of memories are ‘hedonically incompatible’ due to their encodings being dissonant? Basically, as memories get encoded, the oscillatory patterns they’re encoded with could subtly form a network which determines what sorts o
A Primer on the Symmetry Theory of Valence

Hi Mike, 

Thanks again for your openness to discussion, I do appreciate you taking the time. Your responses here are much more satisfying and comprehensible than your previous statements, it's a bit of a shame we can't reset the conversation.

1a. I am interpreting this as you saying there are certain brain areas that, when activated, are more likely to result in the experience of suffering or pleasure. This is the sort of thing that is plausible and possible to test.  

1b. I think you are making a mistake by thinking of the brain like a musical inst... (read more)

Hi Abby, I understand. We can just make the best of it. 1a. Yep, definitely. Empirically we know this is true from e.g. Kringelbach and Berridge’s work on hedonic centers of the brain; what we’d be interested in looking into would be whether these areas are special in terms of network control theory. 1c. I may be getting ahead of myself here: the basic approach to testing STV we intend is looking at dissonance in global activity. Dissonance between brain regions likely contribute to this ‘global dissonance’ metric. I’m also interested in measuring dissonance within smaller areas of the brain as I think it could help improve the metric down the line, but definitely wouldn’t need to at this point. 1d. As a quick aside, STV says that ‘symmetry in the mathematical representation of phenomenology corresponds to pleasure’. We can think of that as ‘core STV’. We’ve then built neuroscience metrics around consonance, dissonance, and noise that we think can be useful for proxying symmetry in this representation; we can think of that as a looser layer of theory around STV, something that doesn’t have the ‘exact truth’ expectation of core STV. When I speak of dissonance corresponding to suffering, it’s part of this looser second layer. To your question — why would STV be true? — my background is in the philosophy of science, so I’m perhaps more ready to punt to this domain. I understand this may come across as somewhat frustrating or obfuscating from the perspective of a neuroscientist asking for a neuroscientific explanation. But, this is a universal thread across philosophy of science: why is such and such true? Why does gravity exist; why is the speed of light as it is? Etc. Many things we’ve figured out about reality seem like brute facts. Usually there is some hints of elegance in the structures we’re uncovering, but we’re just not yet knowledgable to see some universal grand plan. Physics deals with this a lot, and I think philosophy of mind is just starting to grappl
More undergraduate or just-graduated students should consider getting jobs as research techs in academic labs

This is good advice. As somebody who basically did what you're describing, I can say that it worked for me. 

The only things I would take issue with are: grades/fellowships/awards are not totally useless. They can help you signal you will be a good asset to a lab, and they can help you get funding from big agencies later in your career. I agree that undergraduates overvalue their grades relative to getting actual research experience or publishing something (the best currency once you graduate), but I would not endorse completely disregarding your grades.  

I totally agree that they're not useless--prestige/signalling in general is useful! And I think the median student is probably not going to be the kind of person who can fail out and still be wildly successful. But, I think they are way overvalued. If the choice is between getting straight A's and honor societies and awards, or getting B's and also getting paid to do research, I think too many people choose the former over the latter.
A Primer on the Symmetry Theory of Valence

Hi Michael,

I appreciate your comment here, and am a big fan of your work.

In response to point #3, I think it is extremely revealing how you ask for definitions of a few phrases, and Mike directs you to a link that does not define the phrases you specifically ask for.   Edit: Mike responded directly to this below, so this feels unfair to say now. 

Good catch; there’s plenty that our glossary does not cover yet. This post is at 70 comments now, and I can just say I’m typing as fast as I can! I pinged our engineer (who has taken the lead on the neuroimaging pipeline work) about details, but as the collaboration hasn’t yet been announced I’ll err on the side of caution in sharing. To Michael — here’s my attempt to clarify the terms you highlighted: * Neurophysiological models of suffering try to dig into the computational utility and underlying biology of suffering -> existing theories talk about what emotions ‘do’ for an organism, and what neurochemicals and brain regions seem to be associated with suffering * symmetry Frank Wilczek calls symmetry ‘change without change’. A limited definition is that it’s a measure of the number of ways you can rotate a picture, and still get the same result. You can rotate a square 90 degrees, 180 degrees, and 270 degrees and get something identical; you can rotate a circle any direction and get something identical. Thus we’d say circles have more rotational symmetries than squares (who have more than rectangles, etc) * harmony Harmony has been in our vocabulary a long time, but it’s not a ‘crisp’ word. This is why I like to talk about symmetry, rather than harmony — although they more-or-less point in the same direction * dissonance The combination of multiple frequencies that have a high amount of interaction, but few common patterns. Nails on a chalkboard create a highly dissonant sound; playing the C and C# keys at the same time also creates a relatively dissonant sound * resonance as a proxy for characteristic activity I’m not sure I can give a fully satisfying definition here that doesn’t just reference CSHW; I’ll think about this one more. * Consonance Dissonance Noise Signature A way of mathematically calculating how much consonance, dissonance, and noise there is when we add different frequencies together. This is an algorithm developed at QRI b
A Primer on the Symmetry Theory of Valence

Object level questions:

1. Why would asynchronous firing between the visual word form area and the fusiform face area either cause suffering or occur as the result of suffering?

2. If your answer relies on something about how modularism/functionalism is bad: why is source localization critical for your main neuroimaging analysis of interest? 

3. If source localization is not necessary: why can't you use EEG to measure synchrony of neural oscillations?

4. Why can't you just ask people if they're suffering? What's the value of quantifying the degree of thei... (read more)

Hi Abby, thanks for the questions. I have direct answers to 2,3,4, and indirect answers to 1 and 5.

1a. Speaking of the general case, we expect network control theory to be a useful frame for approaching questions of why certain sorts of activity in certain regions of the brain are particularly relevant for valence. (A simple story: hedonic centers of the brain act as ‘tuning knobs’ toward or away from global harmony. This would imply they don’t intrinsically create pleasure and suffering, merely facilitate these states.) This paper from the Bassett lab is ... (read more)

Why can't you just observe that objects fall towards the ground? What's the value of quantifying the degree of their falling using laws of motion? How much do newborns suffer? Whales? Ants?
A Primer on the Symmetry Theory of Valence

I feel like it's important to highlight two things QRI people have said. These statements illustrate why STV sounds extremely implausible to me. 

"STV makes a big jump in that it assumes the symmetry of this mathematical object corresponds to how pleasurable the experience it represents is. This  is a huge, huge, huge jump, and cannot be arrived at by deduction; none of my premeses force this conclusion. We can call it an educated guess. But, it is my best educated guess after thinking about this topic for about 7 years before posting my theory. I... (read more)

Hi Abby,

I feel we’ve been in some sense talking past each other from the start. I think I bear some of the responsibility for that, based on how my post was written (originally for my blog, and more as a summary than an explanation).

I’m sorry for your frustration. I can only say I’m not intentionally trying to frustrate you, but that we appear to have very different styles of thinking and writing and this may have caused some friction, and I have been answering object-level questions from the community as best I can.

A Primer on the Symmetry Theory of Valence

To be clear, the comment flow was originally disrupted because Mike deleted one of his comments. Then some of his comments got buried under so many downvotes that they're hidden. I edited my top post to try to partially address this. 

A Primer on the Symmetry Theory of Valence

This sounds overwhelmingly confident to me, especially since you have no evidence to support either of these claims. 

If there is dissonance in the brain, there is suffering; if there is suffering, there is dissonance in the brain. Always.

This is in fact the claim of STV, loosely speaking; that there is an identity relationship here. I can see how it would feel like an aggressive claim, but I’d also suggest that positing identity relationships is a very positive thing, as they generally offer clear falsification criteria. Happy to discuss object-level arguments as presented in the linked video.
A Primer on the Symmetry Theory of Valence
  1. In brief, asynchrony levies a complexity and homeostatic cost that harmony doesn’t. A simple story here is that dissonant systems shake themselves apart; we can draw a parallel between dissonance in the harmonic frame and free energy in the predictive coding frame.

I appreciate your direct answer to my question, but I do not understand what you are trying to say. I am familiar with Friston and the free-energy principle, so feel free to explain your theory in those terms. All you are doing here is saying that the brain has some reason to reduce “dissonance i... (read more)

Hi Abby, to give a little more color on the data: we’re very interested in CSHW as it gives us a way to infer harmonic structure from fMRI, which we’re optimistic is a significant factor in brain self-organization. (This is still a live hypothesis, not established fact; Atasoy is still proving her paradigm, but we really like it.)

We expect this structure to be highly correlated with global valence, and to show strong signatures of symmetry/harmony during high-valence states. The question we’ve been struggling with as we’ve been building this hypothesis is ... (read more)

Hi Abby, to be honest the parallels between free-energy-minimizing systems and dissonance-minimizing systems is a novel idea we’re playing with (or at least I believe it’s novel - my colleague Andrés coined it to my knowledge) and I’m not at full liberty to share all the details before we publish it. I think it’s reasonable to doubt this intuition, and we’ll hopefully be assembling more support for it soon. To the larger question of neural synchrony and STV, a good collection of our argument and some available evidence would be our talk to Robin Carhart-Harris’ lab: (I realize an hour-long presentation is a big ‘ask’; don’t feel like you need to watch it, but I think this shares what we can share publicly at this time) >I agree neuroimaging is extremely messy and discouraging, but you’re the one posting about successfully building an fmri analysis pipeline to run this specific analysis to support your theory. I am very annoyed that your response to my multiple requests for any empirical data to support your theory is you basically saying “science is hard”, as opposed to "no experiment, dataset, or analysis is perfect, but here is some empirical evidence that is at least consistent with my theory." One of my takeaways from our research is that neuroimaging tooling is in fairly bad shape overall. I’m frankly surprised we had to reimplement an fMRI analysis pipeline in order to start really digging into this question, and I wonder how typical our experience here is. One of the other takeaways from our work is that it’s really hard to find data that’s suitable for fundamental research into valence; we just got some MDMA fMRI+DTI data that appears very high quality, so we may have more to report soon. I’m happy to talk about what sorts of data are, vs are not, suitable for our research and why; my hands are a bit tied with provisional data at this point (sorry about that, wish I had more to share)

I know that this is the EA forum and it’s bad that two people are trading arch emoticons...but I know I’m not the only one enjoying Abby Hoskin's response to someone explaining her future journey to her. 

Inject this into my veins.


Maybe more constructively (?) I think the OP responses have updated others in support of Abby’s concerns.

In the past, sometimes I have said things that turned out not to be as helpful as I thought. In those situations, I think I have benefitted from someone I trust reviewing the discussion and offering another perspective to me.

A Primer on the Symmetry Theory of Valence

Hi Mike, 

I am comfortable calling myself "somebody who knows a lot about this field", especially in relation to the average EA Forum reader, our current context. 

I respect Karl Friston as well, I'm looking forward to reading his thoughts on your theory. Is there anything you can share? 

The CSHW stuff looks potentially cool, but it's separate from your original theory, so I don't want to get too deep into it here. The only thing I would say is that I don't understand why the claims of your original theory cannot be investigated using standard... (read more)

I’m glad to hear you feel good about your background and are filled with confidence in yourself and your field. I think the best work often comes from people who don’t at first see all the challenges involved in doing something, because often those are the only people who even try. At first I was a little taken aback by your tone, but to be honest I’m a little amused by the whole interaction now. The core problem with EEG is that the most sophisticated analyses depend on source localization (holographic reconstruction of brain activity), and accurate source localization from EEG remains an unsolved problem, at least at the resolution and confidence we’d need. In particular we’ve looked at various measures of coherence as applied to EEG and found them all wanting in various ways. I notice some backtracking on your criticism of CSHW. ;) it’s a cool method, not without downsides but occupies a cool niche. I have no idea what your research is about but it might be useful for you to learn about for some purposes. I’m glad you‘re reading more of our ‘back issues’ as it were. We have some talks on our YouTube channel as well (including the NA presentation to Friston), although not all of our work on STV is public yet. If you share what your research is about, and any published work, I think it’d I’d help me understand where your critiques are coming from a little better. Totally up to you though.
A Primer on the Symmetry Theory of Valence

Hi Mike! I appreciate your openness to discussion even though I disagree with you. 

Some questions:

1. The most important question: Why would synchrony between different brain areas involved in totally different functions be associated with subjective wellbeing? I fundamentally don't understand this. For example, asynchrony has been found to be useful in memory as a way of differentiating similar but different memories during encoding/rehearsal/retrieval. It doesn't seem like a bad thing that the brain has a reason to reduce, the way it has ... (read more)

A Primer on the Symmetry Theory of Valence

Hi Jpmos, 

I think context is important here. This is not an earnest but misguided post from an undergrad with big ideas and little experience. This is a post from an organization trying to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars. You can check out their website if you want, the front page has a fundraising advertisement. 

Further, there are a lot of fancy buzzwords in this post ("connectome!") and enough jargon that people unfamiliar with the topic might think there is substance here that they just don't understand (see Harrison's comment: "I also ... (read more)

This reads to me as insinuating fraud, without much supporting evidence. I appreciate that in other comments you followed up with more concrete criticisms, but this still feels against the "Keep EA Weird" spirit to me. If we never spend a million or two on something that turns out to be nonsense, we wouldn't have applied hits-based giving very well. (Despite the username, I have no affiliation with QRI. I'll admit to finding the problem worth working on. )
Edit: probably an unhelpful comment
A Primer on the Symmetry Theory of Valence

The Symmetry Theory of Valence sounds wrong to me and is not substantiated by any empirical research I am aware of. (Edited to be nicer.) I'm sorry to post a comment so negative and non-constructive, but I just don't want EA people to read this and think it is something worth spending time on.

Credentials: I'm doing a PhD in Neuroscience and Psychology at Princeton with a focus on fMRI research, I have a masters in Neuroscience from Oxford, I've presented my fMRI research projects at multiple academic conferences, and I published a peer reviewed fMRI paper ... (read more)

People are asking for  object-level justifications for the Symmetry Theory of Valence:

The first thing to mention is that the Symmetry Theory of Valence (STV) is *really easy to strawman*. It really is the case that there are many near enemies of STV that sound exactly like what a naïve researcher who is missing developmental stages (e.g. is a naïve realist about perception) would say. That we like pretty symmetrical shapes of course does not mean that symmetry is at the root of valence; that we enjoy symphonic music does not mean harmony is ... (read more)

Thanks for adjusting your language to be nicer. I wouldn’t say we’re overwhelmingly confident in our claims, but I am overwhelmingly confident in the value of exploring these topics from first principles, and although I wish I had knockout evidence for STV to share with you today, that would be Nobel Prize tier and I think we’ll have to wait and see what the data brings. For the data we would identify as provisional support, this video is likely the best public resource at this point:

Hi, all. Talk is cheap, and EA Forum karma may be insufficiently nuanced to convey substantive disagreements. 

I've taken the liberty to sketch out several forecasting questions that might reflect underlying differences in opinion. Interested parties may wish to forecast on them (which the EA Forum should allow you to do directly, at least on desktop) and then make bets accordingly.

Feel free to also counterpropose (and make!) other questions if you think the existing question operationalizations are not sufficient (I'm far from knowledgeable in this fi... (read more)

For what it's worth, I read this comment as constructive rather than non-constructive. 

If I write a long report and an expert in the field think that the entire premise is flawed for specific technical reasons, I'd much rather them point this out rather than for them to worry about niceness and then never getting around to mentioning it, thus causing my report to languish in obscurity without me knowing why (or worse, for my false research to actually be used!)  

Hi Abby, I‘m happy to entertain well-meaning criticism, but it feels your comment rests fairly heavily on credentialism and does not seem to offer any positive information, nor does it feel like high-level criticism (“their actual theory is also bad”). If your background is as you claim, I’m sure you understand the nuances of “proving” an idea in neuroscience, especially with regard to NCCs (neural correlates of consciousness) — neuroscience is also large enough that “I published a peer reviewed fMRI paper in a mainstream journal” isn’t a particularly ringing endorsement of domain knowledge in affective neuroscience. If you do have domain knowledge sufficient to take a crack at the question of valence I’d be glad to hear your ideas. For a bit of background to theories of valence in neuroscience I’d recommend my forum post here [] - it goes significantly deeper into the literature than this primer. Again, I’m not certain you read my piece closely, but as mentioned in my summary, most of our collaboration with British universities has been with Imperial (Robin Carhart-Harris’s lab, though he recently moved to UCSF) rather than Oxford, although Kringelbach has a great research center there and Atasoy (creator of the CSHW reference implementation, which we independently reimplemented) does her research there, so we’re familiar with the scene.

I’m a bit hesitant to upvote this comment given how critical it is [was] + how little I know about the field (and thus whether the criticism is deserved), but I’m a bit relieved/interested to see I wasn’t the only one who thought it sounded really confusing/weird. I have somewhat skeptical priors towards big theories of consciousness and suffering (sort of/it’s complicated) + towards theories that rely on lots of complicated methods/jargon/theory (again, sort of/with caveats)—but I also know very little about this field and so I couldn’t really judge. Thus, I’m definitely interested to see the opinions of people with some experience in the field.

Edit: This comment now makes less sense, given that Abby has revised the language of her comment. 


I strongly endorse what you say in your last paragraph: 

Please provide evidence that "dissonance in the brain" as measured by a "Consonance Dissonance Noise Signature" is associated with suffering? ... I'm willing to change my skepticism about this theory if you have this evidence. 

However, I'd like to push back on the tone of your reply. If you're sorry for posting a negative non-constructive comment, why not try to be a bit more construct... (read more)

1[comment deleted]9mo
You should write about your job

This is an awesome idea! 80k would probably be interested in compiling a bunch of the answers you get :)

You should write about your job

I would love to hear more about your job, and it might be really useful for RP too since they're hiring ;)

Should you do a PhD in science?

The national averages were determined using the same measurement instruments we used, but they did not control for non-respondents the way we did. My intuition is that the national averages are pretty accurate because they had big sample sizes and did not seem to be obviously sampling from a more depressed/anxious segment of the population. 

But you can decide for yourself:  

In a national sample collected by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (n = 31,366), 8.75% of people in the United States meet the criteria for moderate to sev... (read more)

Should you do a PhD in science?

We are writing up the paper now! We sampled in 2019 and 2020. We used the PHQ9 to measure to depression and the GAD7 to measure anxiety. Happy to answer any questions if you have :)

1Xing Shi Cai1y
Oh, I am going to start advise undergrads on career choices soon. Many of them will want to go to graduate schools. So I would like to give them some cautions. Please let me know when your article comes out. Good luck with publishing it!
Should you do a PhD in science?

In my research I have found Princeton graduate students experience higher rates of moderate to severe depression (21.99%-27.90%) and anxiety (24.53%-27.80%) compared to national averages (8.75% for depression, 5.1% for anxiety). We had over 900 respondents (~30% response rate), and used a difficulty to reach technique to check our results generalize to non-respondents, which most other studies of this kind do not do.

As a result, I am very confident PhD students are more depressed and anxious than the general population, and I am very hesitant to recommend doing a PhD.

Interesting, thank you for sharing. Do you have a take on how accurate the national average estimates are? In particular, I'd be interested in whether they were determined using a different methodology, and so perhaps one that will be biased toward "underreporting". Where as at first glance your methodology might seem to be biased toward "overreporting" (though idk to what extent you may have "corrected" for non-reponse bias, which would be one source of "overreporting").
5Xing Shi Cai1y
Have you published your results?
What are the highest impact questions in the behavioral sciences?

It has been very frustrating sitting in Psychology seminars led by big prestigious professors, listening to them spout absolute nonsense completely unsupported by quantitative analysis. So I feel your pain for sure! 

Digging up one of my old tweets: Social Psych talk: no error bars, description of stats, or listing size of subject groups. p values displayed as p=0. This is accepted?

What are the highest impact questions in the behavioral sciences?

This is cool, thanks for sharing! Looks like Lucius Caviola's and Stefan Schubert's research projects are already on your radar ;)

Why do EAs have children?

The following list is not ordered.

  1. I am glad my parents decided to have me. 
  2. My parents seem to be glad they had me. 
  3. It appears that my parents and my husband's parents derive an intense amount of joy from interacting with their first grandchild, more joy than they receive from any other activity.
  4. My family is one of my main sources of happiness and meaning. It will literally die off if I do not have children. (Alternative path: invent longevity technologies? Unfortunately not my skillset.)
  5. I am relatively young, healthy, and financially stable. Stat
... (read more)
5Jack Malde1y
Thanks for sharing! I don't think anyone denies this. People say that having children will reduce effectiveness, not completely obliterate it. This is nice to hear. How do you think your work productivity now compares to what it would have been if you hadn't had children? Also, how confident are you that this will continue? I'm not sure how the difficulty of being a parent is supposed to vary with the age of child, but it seems at least plausible that things can get even more difficult in the years when children are functioning human beings with their own flaws and troubles!
Avoiding Munich's Mistakes: Advice for CEA and Local Groups

Same. Especially agree that the format of the event needs to be structured so that ideas are not presented as facts, but are instead open to (lots of public) criticism. 

Avoiding Munich's Mistakes: Advice for CEA and Local Groups

As somebody currently involved in a university group, I am extremely sympathetic towards the EA Munich group, even though they might have made a mistake here. There is a huge amount of pressure to avoid controversial topics/speakers, and it seems like they did not have a lot of time to make a decision in light of new evidence. I have hosted Peter Singer for multiple events (and am glad to have done so), but it has led to multiple uncomfortable confrontations that the average student group (e.g., knitting society) just does not have to deal with.

This highl... (read more)

For this and also Robert Wiblin's comment [] , I'm interested in whether unrepentant opponents of scientific replication [] should be considered beyond the pale in EA circles. It's not a central problem in most people's minds, but a) it's uncontroversially bad in our circles and b) EAs have a stronger case for considering denial of truth very bad than other groups. This is arguably not a hypothetical example (note that I do not have an opinion on the original research). EDIT: Removed concrete examples since they might be a distraction.
Parenting: Things I wish I could tell my past self

I agree with absolutely everything you've written, Michelle!

Something that I wish I had internalized a bit more was the negative impact of baby induced sleep deprivation. Everybody tells you that you'll miss sleep after you have a baby, but I still think I was unprepared for what that meant. It's really hard to describe the psychological torture of not getting to sleep for more than 3 hours in a row for months on end. We did sleeping shifts too, but because of breastfeeding and supersonic mommy hearing, I feel like I still woke up every 2-3 ... (read more)

EA Focusmate Group Announcement

This looks cool, I just signed up. Hope to see you guys online.

Update: I love Focusmate and it is directly responsible for me actually getting anything done. 11/10, hugely recommend.

Come hang out with EA Princeton!

Sir, I resent your insinuation that Princeton is not a major city.

I'll have you know our population is large enough to support a bar AND a pub. The latter only serves ice cream, but still.

Come hang out with EA Princeton!

Hello hello!

Our big lectures (e.g., Will MacAskill on September 30th) are open to ALL, regardless of university affiliation. Hope you can come :)

Our weekly dinner discussion groups are also open to all. They are pretty short (60 minutes) so they're only worth coming to if you're not commuting from far away. Since we order food in advance for these, it would be super helpful to RSVP on facebook if you're planning to come.

A small selection of our events will be closed due to huge demand. For example, people will need to apply for dinner with Peter Singer. This will be made clear in our publicity for each event.



Thank you for the information - I'll keep tabs via your groups FB page for future events! Sorry for such a delayed response - I haven't been able to check in on these forums as much as I'd like lately.