402Joined Sep 2014


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Announcing Squiggle: Early Access

This looks awesome and I'm looking forward to playing with it!

One minor point of feedback: I think the main web page at, as well as the github repo readme, should have 1-3 tiny, easy-to-comprehend examples of what Squiggle is great at.

EA's Culture and Thinking are Severely Limiting its Impact

Very nice! I really enjoyed this post -- it aligns well with a lot of my personal critiques of EA as well as things I've been working on. Thanks for writing this up.

Some research questions that you may want to tackle

Is there a $100B idea with a 1% chance of working?

Coming from the startup world: it's pretty unlikely you will find great startups by thinking from this angle. Why? First, entrepreneurship appears to work much better when you don't over-index on the "what if it works?" storyline too early, as it causes people to dig a hole that's "broad and shallow" (which causes your feedback loops to suck, which causes you to fail to make progress, get demotivated and quit) . Second, a ton of other people are trying to find ideas with similar chances of success (competitors only matter early on in a huge market, but an idea of this value must be in a huge market).

Forecasting Through Fiction

It seems like you are indexing heavily on hubris. I think you should do the exercise of going through various historical examples that express a similar amount of hubris, and doing the Discord poll of those also. e.g., the creation of the USA; the rise of Hitler. With enough details changed that people can't just recognize the example.

There will be many more effective altruist billionaires

I really like this post! It is well aligned with things I believe about the trends in EA.

"Big tent" effective altruism is very important (particularly right now)

The call to action here resonates -- feels really important and true to me, and I was just thinking yesterday about the same problem.

The way I would frame it is this:

The core of EA, what drives all of us together, is not the conclusions (focus on long term! AI!) -- it's the thought process and principles. Although EA's conclusions are exciting and headline-worthy, pushing them without pushing the process feels to me like it risks hollowing out an important core and turning EA into (more of) a cult, rather than a discipline.

Edit to add re. "celebrate the process" -- A bunch of people have critiqued you for pushing "celebrate all the good actions" since it risks diluting the power of our conclusions, but I think if we frame it as "celebrate and demonstrate the EA process" then that aligns with the point I'm trying to make, and I think works.

Do you offset your carbon emissions?

Yes, I offset my carbon (using Wren). It comes out of my lifestyle budget, not my EA charity budget, because the carbon impact also comes from my lifestyle. I feel strongly it is not ok to offset carbon using my charity budget because it is not one of the most effective things to do with that budget, but it makes me feel better about the way the rest of my life is going.

Longtermist EA needs more Phase 2 work

Thanks. I definitely can't count Wave in that category because longtermism wasn't a thing on my radar when Wave was founded. Anyway, I missed that in your original post and I think it somewhat invalidates my point; but only somewhat.

Longtermist EA needs more Phase 2 work

Who's the "we" in "we are not doing phase 2 work"?

You seem to have made estimates that "we" are not doing phase 2 work, but I don't understand where such estimates come from, and they aren't sourced.

If the point of your post is "more people should think about doing Phase 2 work" then I totally agree with the conclusion! But if your argument hinges on the fact that "we" aren't doing enough of it, I think that might be wrong because it is totally non-obvious to me how to measure how much is being done.

This seems like an easy pitfall, to squint at what's happening on the EA forum or within EA-labeled orgs and think "gee that's mostly Phase 1 work", without considering that you may have a biased sample of a fuzzily-defined thing. In this case it seems perfectly obvious that things explicitly labeled EA are going to lean Phase 1, but things influenced by EA are dramatically larger, mostly invisible, and obviously going to lean Phase 2.

(Context: I run a 2000+ person org, Wave, founded under EA principles but presumably not being counted in the "we" who are doing Phase 2 work because we're not posting on the Forum all the time, or something.)

“cocoons”: an idea to critique.

Welcome! I enjoyed reading this post also.

Some quick feedback:

First, the piece is very long. My attention was held because of the title and intro paragraph (it promises to get at "where's today's Beethoven") but I am a very fast reader, and I kept asking myself "ok, I get this is going to be about musical improv so tell me where's today's Beethoven". I checked the scroll position multiple times while reading it. Ultimately I did not feel the piece paid off in terms of answering the question (though I did learn interesting things while reading).

I don't understand what "cocoons" has to do with either the topic, or the contents. It seems almost unrelated to the actual point you are trying to make. I think it is intended as an answer to "we need to build these things in order to reenable improv" but the piece weakens as soon as you introduce that concept. It is not well enough connected to the rest of the contents.

I liked that you went into detail about the reasons you think improvisation is exciting; and I liked that it was backed up by interesting quotes from sources I trust.

The beginning seems kind of crankish. I think probably because it is addressed to Holden, and talks at a meta level about your own beliefs, personal story, etc., before diving into the actual content. You can cut all that and just start with "Abridged Detailed Defense". Similarly, the end becomes crankish again starting with "A cocoon is a physical space".

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