All of ben.smith's Comments + Replies

A Happiness Manifesto: Why and How Effective Altruism Should Rethink its Approach to Maximising Human Welfare

I was a bit worried about some possible methodological issues with the GiveWell measures of life satisfaction. I looked into the data, and the issue doesn't completely undermine the result, but I think having looked closely I am now moderately less convinced that the negative spillover effect observed is a real problem.

Some measures of "life evaluation" use a technique like the Cantril Ladder; this is often used as a measure of happiness or subjective well-being (e.g., in the World Happiness Report 2021). In the words of that report, the Cantril ladder que... (read more)

What are your main reservations about identifying as an effective altruist?

I'm the same. I'm a "member" and even a "community leader" in the "EA movement", and happy to identify as such. But calling yourself an "Effective Altruist" is to call yourself an "altruist", at least in the ears of someone who isn't familiar with the movement. I think it will sound morally pretentious or self-aggrandizing. Generally the label of "altruist" should be given to an individual by others, not claimed, if it should ever be applied to describe a specific individual, which actually seems a bit weird regardless of whoever is bestowing the label.

Yeah, I'm an EA: an Estimated-as-Effective-in-Expectation (in Excess of Endeavors with Equivalent Ends I've Evaluated) Agent with an Audaciously Altruistic Agenda.

Is it possible to submit to the 80,000 Hours Jobs Board?

The job in question, for those curious:

 


PostDoc Position on The Science of Well-Being at Yale

 

Dr. Laurie Santos in the Department of Psychology at Yale University is seeking a Postdoctoral Research Associate to start by June 1, 2021. The ideal candidate will have a PhD in Psychology, Cognitive Science, Behavioral Science, or a related field; research interests in positive psychology; a strong background in statistics and data science; and experience working with adolescents and adults in school settings. This is a one-year appointment with possib... (read more)

3MichaelStJules6moI would share this in Effective Altruism Job Postings on Facebook [https://www.facebook.com/groups/1062957250383195/], as Nathan mentioned, as well as in Effective Altruism, Mental Health and Happiness on Facebook [https://www.facebook.com/groups/EAmentalhealthandhappiness/] and with Happier Lives Institute [https://www.happierlivesinstitute.org/]. HLI runs the EA Mental Health and Happiness Facebook group.
Solving the moral cluelessness problem with Bayesian joint probability distributions

Which distribution would you use? Why the particular weights you've chosen and not slightly different ones?

 

I think you just have to make your distribution uninformative enough that reasonable differences in the weights don't change your overall conclusion. If they do, then I would concede that the solution to your specific question really is clueless. Otherwise, you can probably find a response.

come up with a probability distribution for the fraction of heads over 1,000,000 flips.

Rather than thinking of directly of appropriate distribution for the 1,... (read more)

Solving the moral cluelessness problem with Bayesian joint probability distributions

A good point.

There are things you can do to correct for this sort of thing-for instance, go one level more meta, estimate the probability of unforeseen consequences in general, or within the class of problems that your specific problem fits into.

We couldn't have predicted the fukushima disaster, but perhaps we can predict related things with some degree of certainty - the average cost and death toll of earthquakes worldwide, for instance. In fact, this is a fairly well explored space, since insurers have to understand the risk of earthquakes.

The ongoing pa... (read more)

Solving the moral cluelessness problem with Bayesian joint probability distributions

Thanks! That was helpful, and my initial gut reaction is I entirely agree :-)

Have you had an opportunity to see how Hillary Greaves might react to this line of thinking? If I had to hazard a guess I imagine she'd be fairly sympathetic to the view you expressed.

Solving the moral cluelessness problem with Bayesian joint probability distributions

There is an argument from intuition that carry some force by Schoenfield (2012) that we can't use a probability function:

(1) It is permissible to be insensitive to mild evidential sweetening.
(2) If we are insensitive to mild evidential sweetening, our attitudes cannot be represented by a probability function.
(3) It is permissible to have attitudes that are not representable by a probability function. (1, 2)

...

You are a confused detective trying to figure out whether Smith or Jones committed the crime. You have an enormous body of evidence that to evaluate.

... (read more)
2MaxRa6moWhile browsing types of uncertainties, I stumbled upon the idea of state space uncertainty and conscious unawareness, which sounds similar to your explanation of cluelessness and which might be another helpful angle for people with a more Bayesian perspective. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10670-013-9518-4 [https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10670-013-9518-4]
2MichaelStJules6moThis is a great example, thanks for sharing!
Solving the moral cluelessness problem with Bayesian joint probability distributions

> Hope this helps.

It does, thanks--at least, we're clarifying where the disagreements are.

If you think that choosing a set of probability functions was arbitrary, then having a meta-probability distribution over your probability distributions seems even more arbitrary, unless I'm missing something. It doesn't seem to me like the kind of situations where going meta helps: intuitively, if someone is very unsure about what prior to use in the first place, they should also probably be unsure about  coming up with a second-order probability distribution

... (read more)
Solving the moral cluelessness problem with Bayesian joint probability distributions

Her choice to use multiple, independent probability functions itself seems arbitrary to me, although I've done more reading since posting the above and have started to understand why there is a predicament.

Instead of multiple independent probability functions, you could start with a set of probability distributions for each of the items you are uncertain about, and then calculate the joint probability distribution by combining all of those distributions. That'll give you a single probability density function on which you can base your decision.

If you start... (read more)

3MaximeCdS6moI'm not sure what makes you think that. Prof. Greaves does state that rational agents may be required "to include all such equally-recommended credence functions in their representor". This feels a lot less arbitrary that deciding to pick a single prior among all those available and decide to compute the expected value of your actions based on it. I agree that you could do that, but it seems even more arbitrary! If you think that choosing a set of probability functions was arbitrary, then having a meta-probability distribution over your probability distributions seems even more arbitrary, unless I'm missing something. It doesn't seem to me like the kind of situations where going meta helps: intuitively, if someone is very unsure about what prior to use in the first place, they should also probably be unsure about coming up with a second-order probability distribution over their set of priors . I do not think that's what Prof. Greaves mean when she says "imprecise credence". This article [https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/imprecise-probabilities/] for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains the meaning of that phrase for philosophers. It also explains what a representor is in a better way that I did. I think Prof. Greaves and Philip Trammel would disagree with that, which is why they're talking about cluelessness. For instance, Phil writes: Hope this helps.
Alice Crary's philosophical-institutional critique of EA: "Why one should not be an effective altruist"

Thanks for your remarks. I'm looking forward to her full article being published, because I agreed that as it is, she's been pretty vague.  The full article might clear up some of the gaps here.

From what you and others have said, the most important gap seems to be "why we should not be consequentialists", which is much bigger than just EA! I think there is something compelling; I might reconstruct her argument something like:

  1. EAs want to do "the most good possible".
  2. Ensuring more systemic equality and justice is good.
  3. We can do things that ensure systemi
... (read more)
6Neel Nanda7moI think what you've written is not an argument against consequentialism, it's about trying to put numbers on things in order to rank the consequences? Regardless, that wasn't how I interpreted her case. It doesn't feel like she cares about the total amount of systemic equality and justice in the world. She fundamentally cares about this from the perspective of the individual doing the act, rather than the state of the world, which seems importantly different. And to me, THIS part breaks consequentialism
Reducing long-term risks from malevolent actors

I think the main solution is to develop strong and resilient institutions. Areas for improvement could be:

  • Distributing power over more individuals rather than less
  • Making office-holding unappealing for people with narcissistic or sadistic intentions or tendencies by increasing penalties for abuses of office
  • More transparency in government to make it harder to abuse the office
  • More checks and balances
  • Educating the electorate and building a healthier society so that people don’t want to elect a narcissist
Idea: the "woketionary"

James Lindsay has already created something like this, except he is very much "anti-woke" and his dictionary reflects his perspective. https://newdiscourses.com/translations-from-the-wokish/

Idea: the "woketionary"

James Lindsay has already created something like this, except he is very much "anti-woke" and his dictionary reflects his perspective. https://newdiscourses.com/translations-from-the-wokish/

AMA: "The Oxford Handbook of Social Movements"

Hi Michael, I was searching for demandingness discussion on the forum here and found your comment.

Are you are aware of any discussion on this before or since your comment?

One recent article is: https://faculty.wharton.upenn.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Effectiveness-and-Demandingness.pdf which claims "EAs must endorse the view that well off people have at least fairly demanding unconditional obligations" to donate money to effective charities.

It's not my prior view at all. I think the most good will be done by people partaking in activities that are not ... (read more)

Introducing Probably Good: A New Career Guidance Organization

Awesome, will love to have you! I'll message you direct with a couple of details.

Introducing Probably Good: A New Career Guidance Organization

Sounds like a great attempt to fill a very salient gap! We will be discussing your project at the EA Auckland meetup tomorrow night (Tuesday 6.30pm utc+13). Let me know if you have any interest in zooming into chat.

http://meetu.ps/e/JwPYk/tJw1V/d

6omernevo10moThat sounds really cool! I'll be happy to join! :-)
Life Satisfaction and its Discontents

Right now, the field is focusing on doing its empirical work better - the "open science" movement. I think that social scientists do engage in what we call "theoretical" work, but it is generally simply theories about how things empirically work (e.g., if religion is unique in its ability to produce high eudamonia for a large number of people, how can we conceptualize it as a eudamonia-producing system? Or which systems in the brain are responsible for production of pain experience; how is physical pain related to other forms of emotion... (read more)

Correlations Between Cause Prioritization and the Big Five Personality Traits

I second this question. Intuitively, your argument makes sense and you have something here.


But I would have more confidence in the conclusion if a False Discovery Rate correction was applied. This is also called a Benjamini-Hochberg procedure (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_discovery_rate#Controlling_procedures).

In R, the stats package makes it very easy to apply the false discovery rate correction to your statistics - see https://stat.ethz.ch/R-manual/R-devel/library/stats/html/p.adjust.html. You would do something like

p.adjust(p, method = "fdr
... (read more)
Life Satisfaction and its Discontents

Yes you're right.

I will try a slightly different claim that links neuropsychology to moral philosophy then. If you think maximizing well-being is the key aim of morality, and you do this with some balance of positive and negative affect, then I predict your balance of positive and negative affect at least as an empirical matter will change your ideal number of people to populate the Earth and other environments with in the total view.

Maybe it's too obvious: if we're totally insensitive to negative affect, then adding any number of people who experience any... (read more)

Life Satisfaction and its Discontents

A few random thoughts from a researcher with a background in psychology research:

  • One driver for preferences for LSTs or eudaimonia frameworks for SWB is an intuition that solely focusing our well-being concerns on happiness or affect would lead us to conclude that happiness wireheading as a complete and final solution, and that's intuitively wrong for most people.
  • Because psychologists are empiricists, they don't spend too much time worrying about whether affect, life satisfaction, or eudamonia are more important in a philosophical or ethical sen
... (read more)
3MichaelPlant1ySome interesting points here, thanks! Yes, I agree many people are against hedonism because of the (at least initially) counter-intuitive examples about wireheading and experience machines. As a purely sociological observation, I've been struck that social scientists I talk to are familiar with the objections to hedonism, but unfamiliar with those to desire theories and the objective list. Theorising doesn't penetrate too deeply into the social sciences. As you say: I spend quite a lot of type talking to social scientists and it used to surprise me that they seem to think theorising is pointless ("you philosophers never agree on anything"). I now realise this is largely a selection effect: people who like empirical work more than theoretical work become social scientists instead of philosophers.That social scientists don't spend too much time theorising is, I think, a bit of a problem. The impetus to write the paper came from the fact social scientists have developed this notion that life satisfaction is what really matters, and been running with it for some decades, without really stopping to think about what that view would imply.
4MichaelStJules1yOn your last point about positive and negative affect, I'd also add that we don't have good reason to believe they're measurable cardinally, either. If we try to use people's intuitive preferred tradeoffs, then there's really no one size fits all. Maybe we could ask people to judge relative intensities. I also think trying to balance affect won't lead to a prior existence view, since that's too fragile. Just a little higher, and then we're positive; and just a little lower, and then we're negative. Also, it will depend on the population distribution and other morally irrelevant factors to the question of how they should be balanced, sone of which we manipulate, e.g. improving quality of life.
Against anti-natalism; or: why climate change should not be a significant factor in your decision to have children

Yes, I tend to think that any one individual's impact on the world around them probably balances out roughly neutral.

So I don't use the argument that your own children might do a lot of good for the world and therefore you should raise children. That seems too speculative. And so the more known direct impact of having children on your own happiness and their happiness balances out the very speculative, almost entirely uninformed prior of the indirect effects having children might lead to.

Where you have a clear idea of a high and direct impact career that w

... (read more)
Physical theories of consciousness reduce to panpsychism

It's worth checking out this very much ongoing twitter thread with Lamme about related issues.

https://mobile.twitter.com/VictorLamme/status/1258855709623693325

Physical theories of consciousness reduce to panpsychism

I arrived here from Jay Shooster's discussion about the EA community's attitude to eating animals.

I wasn't aware of the current scientific consensus about consciousness; this article was a good primer on the state of the field for me in terms of which theories are preferred. I do like your though and I think it's an interesting challenge or way to approach thinking about consciousness in machines. I've typed out/deleted this reply several times as it does make me re-evaluate what I think about panpsychism. I believe I like your app... (read more)

2MichaelStJules1yI think we couldn't justify not assigning them some value with such an approach, even if it's so little we can ignore it (although it could add up). I agree, and I think this could be a good approach. My reading leading up to this post and the post itself were prompted by what seemed to be unjustifiable confidence in almost all nonhuman animals not being conscious. Maybe a more charitable interpretation or a steelman of these positions is just that almost all nonhumans animals have only extremely low levels of consciousness compared to humans (although I'd disagree with this).
Against anti-natalism; or: why climate change should not be a significant factor in your decision to have children

Thanks. This is a challenging response to reply to. (3) risks "proving too much" but it seems like a valid argument on its face.

2MichaelStJules2yI left a related comment here [https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/pT7AYJdaRp6ZdYfny/estimates-of-global-captive-vertebrate-numbers#TwYazsQC2xpC9jANJ] . Specifically: This is the global average, and the vast majority of farmed chickens and fishes are factory farmed [https://www.sentienceinstitute.org/global-animal-farming-estimates]. The numbers should be at least a few times higher in developed countries on average, since animal product consumption is higher. On their welfare, see this report [https://www.charityentrepreneurship.com/blog/from-humans-in-canada-to-battery-caged-chickens-in-the-united-states-which-animals-have-the-hardest-lives-results] , which of course involves subjective judgements. In developed countries, usually at least 20 farmed land animals are raised for food per person per year on average.
Ask Me Anything!

I've been trying to evaluate career decisions about studying psychology and neuroscience. Do you think that studying motivation from a neuroscientific perspective is an effective way to contribute to AI alignment work? Do you think that-considering the scale of mental illnesses such as anxiety of depression-doing work on better understanding anxiety and depression is also highly effective?