David_Althaus

1376Joined Mar 2015

Comments
58

I wanted to push back on this because most commenters seem to agree with you. I disagree that the writing style on the EA forum, on a whole, is bad. Of course, some people here are not the best writers and their writing isn't always that easy to parse. Some would definitely benefit from trying to make their writing easier to understand. 

For context, I'm also a non-native English speaker and during high school, my performance in English (and other languages) was fairly mediocre.

But as a whole, I think there are few posts and comments that are overly complex. In fact, I personally really like the nuanced writing style of most content on the EA forum. Also, criticizing the tendency to "overly intellectualize" seems a bit dangerous to me. I'm afraid that if you go down this route you shut down discussions on complex issues and risk creating a more Twitter-like culture of shoehorning complex topics into simplistic tidbits. I'm sure this is not what you want but I worry that this will be an unintended side effect. (FWIW, in the example thread you give, no comment seemed overly complex to me.)

Of course, in the end, this is just my impression and different people have different preferences. It's probably not possible to satisfy everyone. 

I agree that this is a problem though I'm unsure how to solve it (or whether that's even possible). 

(The following is only tangentially related to the issue at hand.)

A related but broader problem I have with the EA forum is that it tends to incentivize participating in the discussion immediately, rather than taking a couple of days or weeks of reflection before contributing one's point of view. (Needless to say, the EA forum scores much much better on this dimension than most of the rest of planet, especially Twitter.)

To give a concrete example of what I have in mind: Comments that were published on the same day as a given post often receive much more engagement than comments published a week later or so. One feels pressure to read the EA forum every day and comment on a post as soon as possible. I don't think this sense of urgency is ideal for fostering discussions guided by reflection, nuance, and scholarship. (Of course, there are also downsides to always taking your sweet time and not being "up to date".)

Again, all of this is probably unavoidable to a large extent but perhaps there are clever improvements to be made here. For example, perhaps comments on older posts could receive some sort of visibility boost.

Somewhat related is also Against News by Hanson.

Other people have also had negative reactions to the apology (e.g., Habiba here), so maybe I'm in a minority.

My sense is that many people thought the apology was reasonable. Your comment and Ofer's comment, both of which defend the apology as reasonable, have both 65 Karma which makes them among the most upvoted comments in this whole discussion (both statements are made Jan 13, 11:23 CET). I also think Bostrom's apology is reasonable (needless to say, I share your and Ofer's negative reaction to the original email.)

I think it's much riskier, reputation-wise, to state that one had a positive reaction to the apology than to state that one had a negative one, so we will see more of the latter. I think votes are in this case a more accurate reflection of people's views. 

I'd be careful with this sort of advice. 

All I have to offer is my personal story which is of course very little evidence (though I've seen similar stories play out among many of my friends and colleagues). I'll first talk about my experience with stimulants and then about my experience with pushing myself to work more.

In my mid twenties I basically followed the same sort of logic and started taking amphetamines (very reasonable dosages, not more than twice a week). Every skeptic I told, among other things, the story of Paul Erdős who took amphetamines practically every day for decades and was perhaps the most productive mathematician ever. (In fact, Erdős was so productive that his friends created the widely used Erdős number which "describes a person's degree of separation from Erdős himself, based on their collaboration with him, or with another who has their own Erdős number.") 

Well, for me personally this worked for a few months after which side effects started to slowly show up (low mood, fatigue, insomnia, etc.). It was so gradual that I needed another few months to attribute them to amphetamines. It was also very much unlike how I expected side effects and withdrawal to manifest. It's (for many people) not this immediate thing that happens after the first time you take amphetamines. It's usually more gradual than that. Several of my friends also experimented with amphetamine for productivity-enhancing effects, for none of them it turned out positively. 

That being said, I've had somewhat better experiences with Ritalin (though I still often wonder whether it was net positive). And I made much better experiences yet with MAO inhibitors like tranylcypromine (which still have lots of side effects). (I might write more on this in the future.)

Regarding pushing yourself to work more: I think in my case this backfired extremely hard and caused me to burnout. In my twenties I always had this suspicion that talk about burnout is widely exacerbated, perhaps especially by lazy or selfish people who want to work less. (I was pretty stupid.) In my experience, especially if you are a researcher, pushing yourself hard doesn't work that well, at least not in the long  term. Your best ideas are probably two orders of magnitude more important than your average idea. If you start caring primarily about how many hours you work, you risk working on ideas that are easy to write about or execute. Coming up with good ideas often doesn't look like work at all. You might just be reading for your own pleasure or out of curiosity. That's at least how it worked for me. (As an example, I've had most of the core ideas for this article after I had reduced my working hours substantially.)

I guess if you have (very) short timeline, are generally quite young, healthy and robust, I'd be much more optimistic about such strategies. And as the case of e.g. Erdős shows, outliers do exist.

whether this was "naive utilitarian went too far" (bad) or "sociopath using EA to reputation-launder" (bad).

I think this is a false dichotomy. You can be a psychopath (i.e. have highly elevated psychopathic traits) and nonetheless be a true believer in an ideology that is about bettering the world. For example, Stalin clearly had highly elevated psychopathic traits but (IIRC) he also risked his life to further communist goals. (To be clear, I'm not saying that Sam is nearly as bad as Stalin.)

Very much agree. Some EAs knew SBF for almost a decade and plausibly interacted with him for hundreds of hours (including in non-professional settings which are usually more revealing of someone's character and personality).

To be clear, I think there were multiple causal factors, and believing in EA probably explained a lot less variance than SBF's idiosyncratic character traits (e.g., plausibly dark triad traits, especially narcissism and Machiavellianism which entail immense lust for power and fame, disregard of common-sense morality such as not lying, etc.). I mean, there are like 10,000 EAs and I don't know of anyone who has committed a serious crime because of EA.

A hypothetical human with the same personality traits as SBF but who doesn't believe in EA, plausibly would have done pretty shady things as well. Unfortunately, it is possible that EA motivated SBF to amass even more power and money than otherwise. Also, EA provided SBF with a network of highly competent, motivated and trusting people. 

I think conceiving of SBF as someone who totally did not believe in EA principles and did everything just for money and power is simplistic and false. 

We will obviously never know the precise contents of SBF's internal monologue. But it is conceivable that  he thought he is doing everything only because of EA. Everyone is the hero of their own story.

But you cannot blindly trust your internal monologue. SBFs actions were probably shaped to a large extent by subconscious motivations.  My best guess is that SBF might have been somewhat aware that he has ulterior motives but that he thought this is okay and that he is it all under control ("no one is perfect" "I'll use my desires for power as additional motivational fuel", etc.). Though it's also possible that he thought of himself as practically a saint. 

As Astrid Wilde noted on Twitter, there is a distinct possibility that the causality of the situation may have run the other way, with SBF as a conman taking advantage of the EA community's high-trust environment to boost himself.

What makes this implausible for me is that SBF has been involved in EA since very early one (~2013 or earlier?). Back then, there was no money, power or fame to speak of, so why join this fringe movement? 

This might get us off track but it’s easy to not sufficiently understand the nature and importance of interindividual variability in this area. Most effectiveness studies can only show you how effective a therapy (or drug) is for the average individual suffering from a given syndrome. (More sophisticated studies and meta analyses include moderator analyses; they might look at personality variables such as high self-criticism, personality variables, and so on. More on this below.)

This is all good and informative. If you suffer from a mental health problem, say, depression, you should just try the therapy or antidepressant that works the best for the average person. You should just go with the prior that you are like the average person (unless you have evidence to the contrary). 

However, once you tried out the first line treatment (be it a drug or a therapy) and it didn’t work for you, you can either i) give up or ii) try other treatments or drugs. I generally recommend step ii). This post was written, as mentioned in the summary, primarily for people who are interested in therapy (and inner multiplicity) but have had disappointing experiences with IFS and/or CBT. What is your advice? That they try the same approach repeatedly even if it hasn’t worked for them in the past? 

I’d like to explain in more detail how it is possible that i) most studies find that CFT, ST and CBT are comparatively effective and ii) some people might see bigger therapeutic improvements from seeing a CFT or ST therapist than from a CBT therapist—and the reverse

For the sake of illustration, let’s use a completely hypothetical and unrealistic scenario: Assume that all clients suffer from depression but only differ in two aspects: Some are high on self-criticism, some are low; some are good at mental imagery, some are poor. 50% of clients are low on self-criticism and poor at mental imagery, 25% high on self-criticism and good at mental imagery, and 25% fall in the other two categories. Researchers run a perfectly designed and administered RCT that tests the effectiveness of two different therapies on this sample: therapy A and therapy B. The results are as follows.

 Average reduction in depression score
 Low self-criticism & poor mental imagery (50%)High self-criticism & good mental imagery (25%)Remaining population (25%)Overall
Therapy A-400-2
Therapy B0-80-2

If you average across all people, therapy A and B are equally effective. They both reduce depression scores by 2 points, on average. 

A person that doesn’t know whether she is high or low on self-criticism or mental imagery, should be indifferent between the two therapies or go with the therapy that is cheaper, easier, or more widely used. BUT, if you have tried therapy A and it didn’t work for you, you should try therapy B (and vice versa). Likewise, if you know that you are high on self-criticism, you should try out therapy B, and vice versa.

Coming back to the real world. More and more studies start to include such moderator analyses (e.g., the study by Leaviss & Uttley (2015) mentioned above). However, in reality, people differ in hundreds of potentially therapy-relevant aspects, not all of which can be studied. For example, a therapist might work well for most people but doesn’t work well for committed atheists who are high on conscientiousness, low on neuroticism and extraversion, high on self-criticism, low on mental imagery, have a family history of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, like Bayesianism, and who were bullied early in their lives. 

I think there are actually good reasons to expect such relevant interindividual differences. One can already observe them in the case of antidepressants, for example. Generally, there is enormous variability between humans in all sorts of psychological and physiological traits. A few individuals do perfectly fine with 5 hours of sleep, some need 9 or more hours (I think Bostrom and Brian Tomasik are among those). For most people, whole grain bread is probably fine and even healthy. But some have Coeliac disease. Some people swear to benefit from meditation, others claim to have suffered enormous negative consequences. The list goes on.

Of course, I’m not saying one should now totally give up on evidence-based medicine. If you start out and haven’t done a lot of self-experimentation, go with the first-line treatment and recommendations that work for the majority of people (e.g., CBT, SSRIs, 8 hours of sleep, etc.). But if a therapy, food, lifestyle choice or antidepressant isn’t working for you, take an empirical approach, and try out alternatives that might work better for you.

I acknowledge that there is a failure mode here of trusting your own experience and experiments too much and, e.g., start swearing on the effectiveness of energy crystals, tarot cards, and so on. I’d say that trying out CFT and ST (and IFS) is still far removed from this failure mode; for the reasons listed in the post and my above comment. 

First of all, I’d say that schema therapy (ST) and CFT ( to some extent) are part of the mainstream. (It’s  fair to say that IFS is not part of mainstream medicine. This is also a major reason for why we wrote this post: To introduce readers to more “mainstream” therapy approaches that work with inner multiplicity.) 

  • You can find dozens of articles about CFT and ST published in mainstream psychology and psychotherapy journals, often with hundreds of citations.
  • CFT and ST are taught in many CBT schools. For example, Ewelina learned about these CFT and ST in her 4-year CBT training (accredited by The European Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Therapies, probably the largest and most mainstream CBT organization in Europe). 
  • As we write in the post, schema therapy was developed by a CBT therapist (Young) in close collaboration with Aaron Beck, the founder of CBT (see also Beck’s review of this standard ST book). Paul Gilbert, the founder of CFT, also collaborated with Aaron Beck who was supportive of his work

Generally, there isn’t a “clash” between ST, CBT and CFT and many other often called “third-wave” CBT schools (like, e.g., ACT and DBT). ~No expert in this area thinks that CBT is the only therapy school that is “evidence-based” and that there is no reason to explore or work with other therapy modalities.

My sense is that most CBT scholars respect CFT and ST and other CBT-affiliated schools and view them as complimentary (more on this below). It’s very common that major CBT figures recommend CFT and ST and incorporate techniques from these (and other!) schools. Just as an example, Judith Beck, the daughter of Aaron Beck and perhaps one of the most respected and well-known living CBT therapists had this to say about the standard CFT book for clinicians: 

This excellent and comprehensive volume contains a biopsychosocial model, informed by evolutionary theory. It is an important resource, systematically exploring compassion from many vantage points. It has certainly motivated me to put an increased focus on incorporating principles of compassion-focused therapy into my cognitive behavior therapy practice. I highly recommend this book!

Second, as we mention in the post, there is (tentative) evidence that CFT and ST work as effectively as CBT and for certain problems more effectively. For example, ST seems to work better for personality disorders (Bamelis et al., 2014), particularly borderline personality disorder (Jacob & Arntz, 2013, p.175 -178) than standard CBT. [1]This is not too surprising because ST was developed particularly for clients with long-standing emotional problems and personality disorders, for whom CBT doesn’t seem to work so well. 

Likewise, there is tentative evidence that CFT works better for patients high on self-criticism and shame (Leaviss & Uttley, 2015). Again, this makes sense because Gilbert developed CFT when he realized that standard CBT therapy doesn’t work that well for such clients. 

Of course, the evidence base isn’t as strong as one might like (it never is). Kaj discusses some of the reasons for this.

  1. ^

    It should be mentioned that for borderline in particular, the evidence base for DBT is probably even stronger (Lynch et al., 2007); we mention DBT briefly in the last section.

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