That sounds cool. Happy to see that some of this work is going on and glad to hear that you're specifically thinking about tail-risk climate change too. Looking at fungi as a food source is obviously only one of the dimensions of use I describe as relevant here, and in ALLFED's case, cost of the production is surely only one relevant dimension from a longtermist perspective. In general, I'm happy to see that some of your interventions do seem to consider fixing existing vulnerabilities as much as treating the sympoms of a catastrophe. I'll go through the report you have online (2019 is the most recent one?) to check who you're already in contact with and whether I can recommend any other experts to you who it might be useful for you to reach out to.
On a seperate note and because it's not on the Q&A of your website: are you indeed fully funded by EA orgs (BERI, EA Lottery as per report)? I found it surprising that given your admirable attempts to connect with the relevant ecosystem of organisations you would not have funding from other sources. Is this because you didn't try or because it seems no one except EAs want to grant money for the work you're trying to do?
Hi Alex - thanks for stopping by of course! Delighted you found it enjoyable to read. How cool that you know Merlin, he seems fascinating. We've only briefly been in contact and I can't wait to see what he does next after this book was such a success. He seems to be a deeply creative person.
For anyone who doesn't know Merlin and wants to get a taste: here's a video of him eating his own words :)
Hi Aaron, I'm afraid as mentioned I don't know this area very well so I'm not familar with the literature and cannot point you towards particular papers. I used this fungi case study as an example to point out that risk must be understood as more than the hazard (e.g. drought), but also the vulnerablity (e.g. resilience levels of plants against drought): if resilience has decreased, the trend in yield will not decrease to show the increased risk up until the point where the hazard hits and the vulnerability is exploited.
But I'm happy to point Open Phil towards researchers who do know and think a lot more about this. Tail-risk studies in climate change are generally neglected, so some of our peparedness efforts might have to be based on conversations with experts rather than a literature search.
Hi Charles, I'm afraid I didn't really understand your comment. These are pretty pictures though!
Thanks Ozzie! Yes, I'm very aware that this is a strange post for the EA forum. In fact I think this post would have been strange anywhere. There's no venue and a small audience for a post on fungi and existential risk.
Yet as with platforms such as instagram or twitter, I'm a fan to try defy the accepted and most rewarded formats and move the needle a little towards a more flexible format and more flexible thinking. That does of course mean that I give up likes or upvotes, but I have not spend enough time on these forums to care about this. Unfortunately I think there is a considerable number of posts that get upvoted a lot more than I would have found appropriate given their level of scholarship or originality. Lastly, the post did not take much time to write - as I mention I simply wrote up my naive impressions, in parts because I wanted to retain memory of the content of the book, in parts because there's not much disccusion within EA on ecology-existential risk. I don't know how long the illustrations took, but Magdalena is very talented and I suspect not much. So, thank you for you sympathy, but I'm ok :)
As for the rest of your comment: feeling conflicted seems useful! I agree with your last bullet points, even though they are so broad they are hard to argue with I guess (destroying the climate?). I have very little hope that this article alone will inspire grant funders to consider fungi research or start-ups, nor that EAs suddenly become very interested in ecology research, species extinction and the lessons we can learn from the climate crisis about existential risk.
But if I make it more likely that others who (unlike me) have studied these subjects, will write about them here and feel justified in steel-manning the position that our earthsystems and ecosystems play a vital role in existential risk, then I have moved the needle a little.
I doubt organisations would attend the forums if it would not influence their decision making afterwards. It is exactly the type of meeting which I would love to see more transparency around.
I think I should have stated more clearly that I don't see these tendencies as abnormal. I see them as maladaptive given the goal EA has. When thinking about the question of whether fandom is a good feature for epistemic health, I don't care too much about whether fandom tendencies exists in other communities. I know that it's the norm (same with hierarchy and homogeneity).
It can be quite effective to have such a community strucutre in situations in which you want to change the minds of many people quickly. You can now simply try change the mind of the one who others look up to (e.g. Toby Ord/ Y. Bengio) and expect other members will likely follow (models in 'misinformation age' by C. O'Connor & J Weatherall). A process of belief formation which does not use central stars will converge less quickly I imagine, but I'd have to look into that. This is the kind of research which I hope this article makes palatable to EAs.
My guess is there is not only a sweet spot of cog. diversity but also a sweet spot of how much a community should respect their central stars. Too much reverence and you loose feedback mechanisms. Too little and belief formation will be slow and confused and you lose the reward mechanism of reputation. I expect that there will always be individuals who deserve more respect and admiration than others in any community, because they have done more or better work on behalf of everyone else. But I would love for EAs to examine where the effective sweet spot lies and how one can influence the level of fandom culture (e.g. Will's recent podcast episode on 80k was doing a good job I think) so that the end result is a healthy epistemic community.
Such a great comment, I agree with most you say, thank you for writing this up. Curious about a formal mechanism of communcal belief formation/belief dissemination. How could this look like? Would this be net good in comparision to baseline?
1. I never spoke specifically of corporate advocates, so despite the fact that I agree with you that other motives are often at play, my point here was that one reason some advocates support traditional diversity is because they have reason to believe it tracks different views on the world. That's neither mutually exclusive with the reasons you outline nor is this article about corporate motivation.
2. As you cite I state this list is 'non-exhaustive'. If the prominent EAs who are not on this list agree that reverence is not good for a community's epistemic health, then they should not even want to be on the list. After publishing this article I was also notified of prominant female EAs who could have maybe made this list, but since I only listed individuals who I experienced directly as being talked about in a revered manner, they are not listed. My experience won't generalise to all experiences. My two points here are: there are revered individuals and they are mostly male. I agree there are likely a few revered women, but I would be surprised if they are numerous enough to balance out the male bias.
3. Fair point. I find it hard to tell how much things have changed and simply wanted to point out some evidence I found in writing.