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The problem, in my opinion, isn't Holden's confession that he isn't particularly confident in his views here. In fact, I completely agree with you that we ought to have norms that encourage the expression of appropriate levels of epistemic humility.

The problem (/what may strike one as amusing) is rather the obvious incoherence in the combination of, on the one hand, Holden's lack of confidence regarding the claim Eliezer asks him to consider and, on the other hand, the much higher confidence he appears to place in the claim that something like donations to AMF are currently the way to go, or at least a very good idea (even in relative terms).

This combination of attitudes appears incoherent because his background views ought to make his opinion on the latter issue highly sensitive to his opinion on the former.

Accordingly, it would appear that Holden should either do a lot more thinking about this topic, or he should openly admit that he doesn't have much of a clue whether AMF-style interventions are a good idea, since he "hasn't thought much" about some of the key issues in this area.

(To make matters worse, Holden's take on the claim in question strikes me as having little initial plausibility.)

ELIEZER: How does AMF get us to a 1% better long-term future? Are you envisioning something along the lines of “Starting with a 1% more prosperous Earth results in 1% more colonization and hence 1% more utility by the time the stars finally burn out”?

HOLDEN: I guess so. A 1% better earth does a 1% better job in the SWH transition? I haven’t thought about this much and don’t feel strongly about what I said.


Nice post - many interesting points!

One minor comment, regarding this bit:

"In the light of this reality, the rationalist suggestion I have encountered – that one guard against a desire to become a parent by pre-emptively being sterilised before the desire has arisen – seems a recipe for psychological disaster."

It strikes me that one straightforward way to test this claim empirically would be to look at the extent to which the lives of people who are infertile due to some pathology tend to end in "psychological disaster.”

According to the most cited article on the topic ,

"The descriptive literature on the psychological consequences of infertility presents infertility as a devastating experience, especially for women. Attempts to test the psychological consequences hypothesis have produced more equivocal results. In general, studies which look for psychopathology have not found significant differences between the infertile and others. Studies which employ measures of stress and self-esteem have found significant differences."

Perhaps someone feels like investigating this particular sub-issue in more detail!