davidhartsough

Mostly regarded as a happy human, conversationalist, drummer, developer, wannabe psychologist, imminent philosopher, and stuntman — more or less... (definitely less towards the end there).

Catch me in the wild @ davidhartsough.com

Professionally, I'm an engineer at Spark Wave. Personally, I'm an unserious homie who is pretty obsessed with connection, creation, music, and cereal.

I'm here to discuss "flourishing" and to just meet you! (So stop by, come thru, say hey, grab a slice of 'zza, kick off your shoes, stay awhile. Stay stupendous.)

Topic Contributions

Comments

Welfare Estimation 201: Understanding Life-Valuation Variability

Haha "chutzpah", nice. Big fan of this series! Hope it continues! Can't wait to see the 300s.

Welfare Estimation 101: Money is not Fungible

Love this article and the series. Couldn't be happier to see you get this discussion rolling!

Questions for you regarding this piece:

The fungible thing in the analysis, i.e. the common unit of account, should be a year of healthy, happy, flourishing human life.

Just out of curiosity, why do you think this measure ought to be the unit? You could say "a month" or "a day" or "a decade" or "a six second conscious moment", but the choice is "a year".

And how do we deal with "healthy, happy, and flourishing" as a singular unit, when, in a sense, each of these things are in themselves such complex, multidimensional metrics?

What is your overall basis for this conclusion that the healthy, happy human life-year is the best unit of measurement vs other possible measures of "welfare"?

(Just to be clear, I 100% agree with you that we should use this unit of measurement, especially in favor of money. But I have been struggling with these additional questions and have a feeling you might have some insights to offer.)

Introducing Effective Self-Help

+1 to the "living reviews" idea! Love that Peter! Such a good goal to have the outputs be "consistently improved and updated over time".

Introducing Effective Self-Help

Great question! I don't actually know. (Although I do know that Spark Wave, the parent organization, is also the "parent" of Positly [both founded by Spencer Greenberg], so they probably have a deal worked out haha. Who knows.)

Introducing Effective Self-Help

Fantastic! I feel as though nearly any project founded with the basis of those 7 principles is bound to be pretty amazing.

I can't wait to see how you'll tackle these challenges and uncertainties. You've got great question along with a great idea.

I had a few thoughts pop up throughout the read, but I'll just stick to 2 to post in this comment:

#1.) I'm curious to hear what people in the EA forum think about the idea of ESH running its own research from time to time to help fill in any gaps or further test any ideas. If ESH is truly struggling to find good research on a particular topic, then could the ESH team conduct its own studies? For example, Clearer Thinking runs its own studies for almost every article it writes. Thoughts?


#2.) Since your feedback request is for potential flaws, I'll briefly mention a risk that I've seen in self-help that is adjacent to two of the points you mentioned in the "Downside risks" section ("ESH gives advice that proves to be of net harm" and "Individual differences in benefit significantly outweigh the general differences in value between interventions") ::

Some self-help interventions can be wonderful for resolving a personal problem for X% of people in a particular set of circumstances yet also exacerbate the problem for Y% of people with a particular factor that changes the conditions. (And without getting into details, I'll just say that the cascading consequences tend to result in a lot of suffering for the people in group Y.)

So how can this be prevented? In the section on "differences in value between interventions" you mentioned the idea of using "a screening quiz for prioritising recommendations based on the individual." I think that's a great idea. Maybe there are other solutions to come up with as well.

I just wanted to call this out since sometimes interventions aren't just a positive "difference in value" between people — sometimes they're helpful for most yet harmful to a few. And with any given medium/format for the resources ESH will provide, it will need to consider how to communicate this (if there is that risk of harm). In the form of an article, sometimes all you can do is empower the reader with the tools they need to evaluate their own conditions/circumstances to determine which intervention makes sense for them personally (or how to customize an intervention, or whether or not they should even consider the intervention for themselves at all). Beyond articles, it would be terrific to incorporate more interactive elements (like the screening idea) to not only improve the effectiveness of the ESH resources but also prevent potential harms/risks. (And I think these ideas fall nicely into "Practicality", "Comprehensiveness/Breadth", "Presentation", "Research Rigor", and [personalized] "Prioritization".)


(Overall, I'm in love with the idea and am surprised it didn't come into being 10 years ago. Thanks for the thorough introduction!)

Native languages in the EA community (and issues with assessing promisingness)

+1 to being able to speak about these important topics and concepts to a broad, general audience.

+1 to striving to be inclusive.

+1 to making me laugh at the irony of how this post has some technical (jargon) words both in the title (what is "promisingness"? hehe) and in the post. (But to be fair: you know your audience here on the forum.)

+1 to your suggestions. Great suggestions :)

I'm reminded of the successes of scientific educators that this EA community could learn from. For example educators like Neil deGrasse Tyson or Kurzgesagt demonstrate how taking some of the most complex and difficult-to-understand topics and explaining them in simple, everyday language can actually get a huge, broad, and diverse audience to care about science and genuinely get excited about it (to the point of wanting to participate).

This is something I feel I have yet to see happen at a similar scale of success with EA. I tend to believe effective communication with the use of everyday language is one of the most important keys to "building effective altruism".

Supporting Video, Audio, and other non-text media on the Forum

Well written! Great points! 10/10 am convinced.

I would love to have more audio and video content. I consume in that medium almost exclusively. I always prefer audiobooks over ebooks, podcasts over blogs, and videos over articles.

But the medium I love most of all is the combination of all of it together in a beautiful, complementary harmony. Give me the audio paired with the text transcript paired with the visual imagery and video elements 🤌

Mmmm what a pairing! (If only I could taste the altruism and smell the effectiveness.)

We've evolved to listen to other people talk and to parse visual imagery. Our ears are remarkable listening tools honed by evolution over 2 million years at least (speculative assumptions here), and our eyes are tremendous observation tools for extracting meaningful images out of visual patterns (also developed by evolution since basically forever). We shouldn't willfully neglect these things.

Bring the senses together, and you've got a recipe for effectively encoding information that will not be easily forgotten and will be much more easily retrieved!

The main critiques from the comments here are:

  • Text is the only medium best suited for "serious discourse" (assuming serious discourse never happened elsewhere or before text was commonplace, like on a stoa in ancient Athens).
  • We aren't casual here. This isn't fun and games. We're serious. And again, the only serious medium is text. Don't bother us with your funny stuff like audio or video. Those are for casual sites only. (Sorry, I like to poke fun with exaggeration.)
  • Text may be the cheapest medium. And we can't afford much...? (Good point generally, but that doesn't really mean you can't allow for other more expensive mediums in addition to text. Right?)
  • Text only, or else...! [Insert some "slippery slope" notions that things could maybe get bad probably, possibly, perhaps, somehow...?] (Not sure what to make of it.)
  • Please don't mess with the front page. (Agreed.)
  • and, "oh god please no, don't bring 'engagement' up in here ever again please." (Understandable.)
  • (also, please just focus on cultivating good discussion.)

To be fair, there's good concern there regarding the whole "engagement" thing, but that misses the point of this and focuses too much on a problem that isn't really a problem on this forum.

(Also side note probably not worth mentioning... If we looked at the stats on how many people read the average post on here [and for how long], then I don't think any of us would be deeply concerned about "engagement" being a problem right now haha. [Not sure where those stats would be, but I kinda imagine that the average post on here gets rather few reads and most people don't spend a whole lot of time on here in general.])

I think there are wonderful things to be learned from two great examples: TED and Kurzgesagt.

TED has figured out the power of a short talk (less than 18 minutes, usually) to effectively spread an important idea. As an organization they've given thorough thought to their process and structure, concluding that a "talk" is the most effective means to communicate ideas worth spreading. They help people condense their incredible research and books into ~15 minutes of good discussion, usually paired with visual imagery accompaniment. But they also go way out of their way to get all their talks transcribed into every language they can. And on their website, you can watch the talk, listen to audio, and read along all at the same time, while the website automatically highlights the currently spoken sentence in the transcript. (You can even click on any portion of the transcript to jump straight to that point in the talk.) And the entire transcription is timestamped. It's really fantastic but could still be even better!

Imagine written forum posts having the complementary accompaniment of (1) the author reading the post as a script and (2) helpful imagery to visualize the concepts and ideas in the discussion. At that point, you're basically breaking down all the classic components of a video and letting them each provide benefit when needed. (Again, the more senses activated, the better the encoding and retention.)

Secondly, I mention Kurzgesagt because it's just incredibly successful at getting the public to care about science and education in a way that is rather surprising. Consider the fact that this little YouTube channel, founded by brilliant information designers, now has 17.5M subscribers. Every video they release is immediately trending in the top 10 videos on YouTube for usually two days, getting easily 5M+ views within the first week. Each video they make is serious and spends upwards of 10-15 minutes explaining a concept in great detail. They're packed with valuable information from rigorous research.

If this kind of communication can suddenly spark the interest of millions and millions of people to care about thinking through topics like energy, meat, disease, and existential risks (all with a scientific lens), then why wouldn't it be possible to do the same with EA concepts?

These things captivate me.

I want to be captivated by EA content and writings in this same way. I want it. And despite this desire, I so rarely read text and text alone. I'm not the only person out there like this. If great ideas from EA folks only ever sit on the shelves of this forum in text alone, they may never reach a broader audience. And that's a shame, because I relate to that audience and have the audacity to believe that they have some terrifically valuable contributions to offer.

Supporting Video, Audio, and other non-text media on the Forum

It would be amazing if every post had a direct link to its respective audio version (on each major podcast platform). Ex: I would love to go to a post on the front page, read the first paragraph, decide I'd like to give it a go, click a link on the post's page that could take me straight to the track on Spotify, hit play, return to the post, and then read along with the audio.

The Importance-Avoidance Effect

Haha, I love how you captured the vibe in such a great image! Thank you for the compliment as well :)

(Hopefully some of these strategies will help us navigate the things that truly are "most important" in our lives.)

The Importance-Avoidance Effect

Thank you so much for your thoughtful response! I really appreciate your ideas. I'll reply inline here:

"Bigger and more-complex projects tend to be more important (or else we probably wouldn't do the project), and the complexity and size tend to make it harder to get started or get into a rhythm."

Totally agree with this, and these things are compounding.

Most of my claim is that some people struggle with a cognitive bias effect that pushes them to avoid all of this, all together.

So you're right, it's not necessarily always the "importance" of the project that leads to avoidance or a struggle to effectively prioritize it; instead, it can be the complexity or a lack of clarity or vision that keeps the project out of arm's reach.

Curiously, I often imagined that the people who struggle with the Importance-Avoidance Effect have typically already started their project(s) to some degree. And maybe they've even mapped out an outline of steps they need to follow to complete a series of milestones. Yet despite having had some start and having some clarity and vision, they lack the initiative and prioritization. This is very similar to what you describe as struggling to "get into a rhythm." I really like that phrasing.

But anyways, there may be several compounding effects leading to a disruption in getting in rhythm. And it's not always just the "importance" alone that is to blame. But the fact is that sometime it is a major contributor, and for me, that has been something I've neglected to recognize for years! Hence why I want to bring attention to it. (We've known about our inabilities to tackle projects of great complexity. And now I'm hoping to expand on that understanding.)


"I feel that I am decently capable of motivating myself to work on such projects [as simple data entry] in batches (perhaps even more so when it is more important!)"

That is fantastic that you are able to manage such dedication and prioritization. I'll be honest though, this is a major struggle for me and for some of my friends who I wrote this article about.

For us, no matter how little skill is required and no matter how simple the task may be, the more important it becomes, the less it gets reasonably prioritized and worked on. (I have two ongoing projects that have sat around for over a year because they only require about 10–25 hours of menial work to complete. I have tried working on them in "batches" or sessions, but those sessions are shorter and fewer and farther between... No amount emphasis on the "importance" increases motivation and prioritization. It often backfires.)

So whatever it is that you're doing that allows you to be able to muster that motivation and prioritization, please share 😄 (because I for one am not achieving that).


"These bigger and more-complex projects also tend to have longer deadlines, and longer deadlines plays into procrastination habits."

100% accurate. This is another compounding factor.


"If you notice yourself having to force/motivate yourself to work on something, it's typically because you don't want to do it despite its importance."

While this is certainly true in some cases, the people and projects I was thinking of when I wrote this would not fall into this category.

I posted this to the EA forums because the people I know who struggle with this are people who want to do these projects because of the project's importance, and because they genuinely want to do these things. They can't think of anything they would rather do. It really does become a life mission and grand purpose for them. They want to dedicate their lives to it, and they believe it is their magnum opus — their great contribution to making the world a better place.

Yet these same people find themselves needing effective strategies to "motivate" (initiate) themselves to do the hard work involved in getting these projects to fruition.

Hence why I mentioned this thought in the post:

"the solution is often about implementation strategies, such as basic behavioral change techniques to prioritize action"


"Is it possible that there is a degree of observation bias in that we might not notice all the cases where the importance of a project successfully motivated us to work on it? Or, perhaps more importantly/clearly, we might not consider all the times we just gave up on a potential project/task when we deemed it not important (rather than unsuccessfully berating ourselves to complete the task)?"

This is very plausible! Thank you for bringing this potential bias to this discussion.

How might we further explore this? If this is a possible blindspot for me, perhaps others might be consulted to provide more perspective on this.

However, I will note that, even if there are other cases not as readily considered, it might not necessarily change the idea that, in some key cases, this might be a very real problem people face.

The exciting thing about this is that, if we properly diagnose the problem as originating from this sort of avoidance effect, then we can just try out the best implementation strategies/techniques. See where that leads 🙂

"I think it's possible to overestimate the causal relationship between importance and avoidance due to other correlated factors and observation biases."

I agree. I don't want people running around "over-diagnosing" this 😅 especially when other factors might be much more significant, impactful, influential, etc.

But I also do want to bring this factor into our considerations, as I feel it can be easily overlooked and neglected. (Let's give it some of the attention it deserves for a while to see how prevalent and consequential the effect truly is.)

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