All of aspencer's Comments + Replies

Update on Envision: progress thus far and next steps

Our conference does have an application process. To provide accommodation for participants, travel reimbursement, and events that allow participants to engage with speakers we can only have a limited number of participants. Right now, we seek to maximize the impact that the conference has by selecting participants who are likely to be leaders in the future. We've narrowed down criteria we believe are indicative of becoming future leaders.

That said, I do agree with your point and I worry about our ability to accurately predict who will become a leader in t... (read more)

EA Survey 2017 Series: Qualitative Comments Summary

I see the benefit of cultivating a strong standards within the community, but how does this weigh against the benefits of having a more open community?

Perhaps we can focus on suggesting alternative ways of involvement that work to incorporate individuals who are low income or less consistent in their involvement. It is a balance between doing so and not diluting the community, though.

In my interpretation, the OP is asking us to review the questions they're asking and give feedback on the questions.

The desired nature of the feedback on the questions is unclear, but on their website they describe the initiative as "a research project assessing the hypothesis that the world would be better if more people had experiences with psilocybin."

I imagine this means that they want us to help them design questions that assess this hypothesis.

S-risk FAQ

This sentence in your post caught my attention: " Even if the fraction of suffering decreases, it's not clear whether the absolute amount will be higher or lower."

To me, it seems like suffering should be measured by suffering / population, rather than by the total amount of suffering. The total amount of suffering will grow naturally with the population, and suffering / population seems to give a better indication of the severity of the suffering (a small group suffering a large amount is weighted higher than a large group suffering a small amou... (read more)

If I understand right, the view you're proposing is sort of like the 'average view' of utilitarianism. The objective is to minimize the average level of suffering across a population. A common challenge to this view (shared with average util) is that it seems you can make a world better by adding lives which suffer, but suffer less than the average. In some hypothetical hellscape where everyone is getting tortured, adding further lives where people get tortured slightly less severely should make the world even worse, not better. Pace the formidable challenges of infinitarian ethics, I generally lean towards total views. I think the intuition you point to (which I think is widely shared) in that larger degrees of suffering should 'matter more' is perhaps better accommodated in something like prioritarianism, whereby improving the well-being of the least well off is given extra moral weight to its utilitarian 'face value'. (FWIW, I generally lean towards pretty flat footed utilitarianism, as there some technical challenges with prioritarianism, and it seems hard to distinguish the empirical from the moral matters: there are evolutionary motivations (H/T Carl Shulman) why there should be extremely severe pain, so maybe a proper utilitarian accounting makes relieving these extremes worth very large amounts of more minor suffering). Aside: in population ethics there's a well-worn problem of aggregation, as suggested by the repugnant conclusion: lots and lots of tiny numbers when put together can outweigh a big numbers, so total views have challenges such as: "Imagine A where 7 billion people live lives of perfect bliss, versus B where these people suffer horrendous torture, but TREE(4) people with lives that are only just barely worth living". B is far better than A, yet it seems repulsive. (The usual total view move is to appeal to scope insensitivity and that our intuitions here are ill-suited to tracking vast numbers. I don't think perhaps more natural replies (e.g
How do you feel about the mere addition paradox []? These questions are not simple.
What do DALYs capture?

Categorizing quality of life based on personal testimony is a challenging task. The reasons you listed show many specific problems, and more generally, human judgement is fickle and error-prone. For instance, Thinking Fast and Slow claims that we are loss-averse and that we overweight the cost of losing something. I wonder, then, how the responses of perceived quality of life differ between people who were born with particular illnesses (like blindness) and people that suffered from it later in life.

The inherent fallacies in human judgement cause me to wo... (read more)

If you don't think you can quantify QoL by self-reports, I'm not sure how you're going to be able to quantify useful social functions instead! FWIW, measuring happiness turns out to be basically fine. You might like this article on the topic which discusses it: []
Getting Nuclear Policy Right Is Hard

"Making blunt pushes for different policies are likely to be unimpactful on policy or harmful if impactful." I think that this is true in many cases, but is often not considered by activists lobbying for change. It's very easy to protest in favor of an ideal, but asking for an extreme alternative immediately seems naive to people in positions to cause direct change. In my opinion, activists are most effective when they consider the pressures that are preventing change from the current state, and ask for alternatives that are mindful of these pressures.

Great example that we need to take the time to educate ourselves and assume that most of the people making decisions are smart, capable people.