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Learning, Knowledge, Intelligence, Mastery, Anki - TYHTL post 2

Just a side note: While Obsidian is free (and great), I'm pretty sure it's not open source.

Lessons from Running Stanford EA and SERI

Thank you Michael!

  • I personally am definitely more time- than funding constrained. Or maybe evem "energy constrained"? But maybe applying for funding would be something to consider when/if we find a different person to run the local group, maybe a student who could do this for 10h a week or so.
  • regarding a fellowship: my bottlenecks here are probably "lack of detailed picture of how to run such a thing (or what it even is exactly)" and "what would be the necessary concrete steps to get it off the ground". Advertising is surely very relevant, but secondary to these other questions for now.
  • on a slightly more meta level, I think one of the issues is that I don't have a good overview of the "action space" (or "moves") in front of me as an organizer of an EA local group. Running a fellowship appears to be a very promising move, but I don't really know how to make it. Other actions may be intro talks, intro workshops, concepts workshops, discussions, watching EAG talks together, game nights, talks in general, creating a website, setting up a proper newsletter instead of having a manually maintained list of email addresses, looking for a more capable group organizer, facebook ads, flyers, posters, running giving games, icebreaker sessions, running a career club, coworking, 1on1s, meeting other local groups, reaching out to formerly-but-not-anymore-active members, and probably much more I'm not even thinking about. Maybe I'm suffering a bit from decision paralysis here and just doing any of these options would be better than my current state of "unproductive wondering what I should be doing"... :)
  • will message you regarding a call, thanks for the offer!
     
If you could send an email to every student at your university (to maximize impact), what would you include in it?

Given I just received a link to this article in the 80,000 Hours newsletter: https://80000hours.org/make-a-difference-with-your-career/ -- that article seems like something that a lot of students might potentially be interested in. So something like a brief description of the key idea plus a link to the article would be one option.

A Case for Better Feeds

Recently I've been thinking a lot about the flow and distribution of information (as in facts/ideas/natural language) as a meta level problem. It seems to me that "ensuring the most valuable information finds its way to the people who need it" could make a huge difference to a lot of things, including productivity, well-being, and problem-solving of any kind, particularly for EAs. (if anybody reading this is knowledgeable in this broad area, please reach out!)

Your post appears to focus on a very related issue, which is how EAs source their EA information and some specific ways to improve it. I definitely agree that this is an issue worth looking into and worth improving (I personally think that either the EA forum or the EA Hub are in the best position to make such improvements, although I'm unsure what these improvements would look like).

The EA Forum Job Hunt idea admittedly doesn't seem very promising to me from how I understood it -- it sounds like by far the most work of all the suggestions, for a problem that, to me, seems as if it's solved to a pretty reasonable degree. 

I don't quite understand the EA Hub suggestion. What would be submitted and upvoted? Just the existence of (local) groups?

The remaining points regarding Twitter bots and feeds sound good to me, simply because they sound like very little work (unless I'm misjudging that), while potentially being helpful to probably many dozens of EAs.

By the way I do wonder what ratio of EAs is actively using twitter. I for once am not at all, and am not aware of many people I know personally doing so, but that might not mean much and not be very representative.

Lessons from Running Stanford EA and SERI

Great post, thanks for sharing! Pretty much exactly the type of post I had been hoping for for a while. Just hearing that one success story of a local group that was in a more or less similar state as mine (albeit arguably in a higher potential environment), but made it into something so impressive, is very inspiring.

Given I only have ~10h per week available to spend on EA things (and not all of them go into community building), I was particularly happy to hear your 80/20 remark. I do wonder if it's possible to move a local group onto a kind of growth trajectory at only, say, 6h per week, or if that's just a lost cause. Maybe I should just spend the majority of these 6h looking for a person with more time and motivation to take over the role. :) 

Currently we're definitely leaving a lot of low hanging fruit on the table (or tree) though. And a lot of that may be due to relatively trivial issues and inconveniences. Some examples of such limiting factors (and I do wonder if similar things are true for other small local groups):

  • I've heard fellowships mentioned & recommended a lot in the last 1-2 years, but have a fairly limited understanding of the concrete details. Should we run our own one? Should we redirect people to other online fellowships? What would I even tell people in order to motivate them to do so? Timing also needs to be taken into account.
  • Fear of organizing things and (almost) nobody (new) showing up. We had quite a few talks and such that ended up only being heard by our core team, although we were hoping to attract some new faces. That being said, our marketing was often pretty shy rather than aggressive.
  • Lack of detailed knowledge about the European data protection regulation and its implications prevents us/me from systemizing our "funnel" (which hardly exists). I have no idea if it's even legal to have a database of names / email addresses / other personal information of people, whether we'd need to inform them beforehand, etc.
  • Most of our small number of members are busy with their own things / studies / careers and have hardly any capacity to engage with the group beyond one weekly social/discussion, so there's little room for organizing bigger things or spending more time on community building, and I find that situation somewhat demoralizing
  • We have a whatsapp group and a Slack workspace. Whatsapp is great to get new people on board quickly, but it's surprisingly difficult to get them to sign up on Slack, and if they do we can never rely on them seeing new messages, or looking in there at all. Right now our Slack workspace is almost exclusively used by our few core members, and others hardly ever engage.
  • I feel very aversive to "push" people to do things, and wonder if that's a necessary skill to have for a community builder, or ideally people should be motivated enough that they only need to be "enabled"/supported instead.
Philosophy Web - Project Proposal

It sounds interesting, albeit to be fair a bit gimmicky as well. To me at least, which may not mean much: I can imagine taking a few minutes to play around with such a tool if it existed, maybe find some contradiction in my beliefs (probably after realizing that many of my beliefs are pretty vague and that it's hard to put these hard labels on them), and get to the conclusion that really my beliefs weren't that strong anyway and so the contradiction probably doesn't matter all that much. I can imagine others would have a very different experience though (and maybe my expectation about myself is wrong as well of course).

I'd be interested in your thoughts on a few questions:

  1. Can you describe an example "user journey" for Philosophy Web? What beliefs would that imaginary user hold, how would they interact with the software, what would come out, just as one prototypical example?
  2. Would there be other, maybe simpler ways for that imaginary user to get to the same conclusion, not involving Philosophy Web? What bottleneck prevents people from making these conclusions?
  3. Who would be the primary target audience for this? What would make the tool "effective"? Are you primarily thinking about EAs getting to a more self-consistent belief set? Philosophy students? Everyone?
  4. What are the most likely ways in which such a project would fail, given you found the necessary support to build it?
  5. Does the project's success depend on some large number of users? What's the "threshold"? How likely is it to pass that threshold?
  6. What would be the smallest possible version (so MVP basically) of the project that achieves its primary purpose? Could something be prototyped within a day that allows people to test it?
  7. Assuming the project is built and completed and people can use it as intended - what are the most likely reasons for members of your target audience to not find it useful?

As an additional note, I'm quite a fan of putting complex information into more easily digestible forms, such as mind maps, and could imagine that "data structure" in itself being quite valuable to people merely to explore different areas of philosophy, even to a limited degree. I'm not quite sure though if the project entails such a web being presented visually, or if users would only see the implications of their personal beliefs.

Open call for EAs with passion for meta-learning <3

Just wanted to say I very much like the idea, although I'll probably not get involved myself. I was very happy about the anki deck of EA key numbers that was published two months ago, and would find it great if there were more ways to easily add important EA ideas to one's anki deck (e.g. you mention the 80,000 Hours key ideas in the google doc, great idea!).

How much money donated and to where (in the space of animal wellbeing) would "cancel out" the harm from leasing a commercial building to a restaurant that presumably uses factory farmed animals?

It would be quite surprising to me if your idea did not work out, simply because doing good for animals via donations tends to be really low cost (but might depend on what "a lot more money" really means in your case). Imagining for instance that for each and every restaurant in the world some non-negligible cut of the rent (say 5%) would go into effective animal charity, my super rough 3 minute Fermi estimate says that would amount to something in the order of $10 billion per year. Given that about 80 billion land animals are slaughtered each year, that would mean that at a cost effectiveness of sparing 8 animal lives per dollar donated (which doesn't sound entirely unrealistic), your suggested approach to leasing to restaurants would, on a global scale, not only be net positive, but very theoretically end factory farming of land animals (obviously not in practice given diminishing marginal returns). It's a very hypothetical argument, but maybe it adds something.

Apart from that, maybe there's a way to attract more vegetarian/vegan restaurants in particular? No idea about the concrete processes and legislature around that, but maybe you have some power in that regard.

Teaching You How To Learn post 1 is live!

Some random thoughts from me as well:

  • I wonder if different people may have quite different bottlenecks with regards to how to learn most effectively, and it may be not so much about "do these things" but rather "from these typical bottlenecks, which one affects you the most?"
  • the framing of "The best way to learn" seems a bit dangerous to me; even if "scientifically proven", it still basically just means that it works well on average, but not necessarily for everybody. While active recall and spaced repitition probably are indeed very general, it might be good to add a few notes regarding how people might differ.
  • on a similar note, 80,000 Hours tends to incorporate "reasons why you might disagree" or "where we've been wrong in the past" kind of sections and articles, which too I feel would help a little. E.g. "things Anki isn't ideal for", which definitely exist.
  • maybe a relevant part of effective learning is to be more aware of one's true motives in doing things, be it getting a degree, reading non-fiction books, having an anki routine etc., and whether one's truly doing this to learn things, and if so for what exact purpose
  • related to this, there are different dimensions to learning, similar to productivity: what are you learning (and why), how are you learning, and how much time are you spending. So basically direction, quality, quantity of the learning process. It seems that many resources, maybe including your site, mostly focus on the quality part, whereas the direction part may be even more important and comparably neglected.
  • during one of the EAG Virtual conferences I talked to somebody who was involved in creating a free ebook on the most effective learning strategies for students during pandemic times; wasn't able to find it again so far, but if I do I'll add a link
  • I personally would find it very useful to get some better/clearer mental models of learning and knowledge. Maybe the kind of thing Spencer Greenberg tends to do, e.g. in his podcasts, where he frequently goes into "Well I think X can be broken down into 4 categories: ..." mode and suddenly X makes way more sense than it did before that breakdown.
  • for a long time I've been of the conviction that the way we tend to structure information is highly suboptimal. I'm mostly referring to linear texts about things. 1. Texts are good for some things, but by far not for everything, 2. we're not at all using our brain's immense capability for spatial and visual processing, 3. texts are static and non-interactive, 4. while you have things like table of contents, chapters/headlines and some formatting, it's not an ideal implementation of "different zoom levels", and there are certainly better ways of letting people learn things on a very high level first and then "zoom in" further. As a learner, you have to take what you've got of course. But the other side of the coin - how can you make learning for others easier as a content provider of any sort? - seems very important as well, and I think such a page would be in a great position to experiment with such ways, and not rely on classical linear text form.

About the concrete project:

  • I think providing anki cards at the bottom of your posts is a great idea
  • 80,000 Hours tends to have small summaries of their articles at the top, which I would find useful here as well
  • The Key Ideas Guide post is currently very text-heavy, which makes sense since it's in progress and you probably want to focus on the ideas themselves rather than the presentation. For the future though I think it would make it much more digestible if there was a bit more variety to it, be it pictures, graphs, or even just some formatting tweaks. E.g. one or two screenshots from actual anki cars would be a start, or a graph of the forgetting curve.
  • Style-wise, you're using parantheses a lot in your post, which I can totally relate with - I do it all the time e.g. when exchanging messages with people or writing forum posts and comments. But it does still seem sumoptimal to me, as it hurts the reading flow, and may be a sign one's not focusing on what's actually essential.
  • The post to me feels quite a bit like it's trying to sell me something. I was almost expecting a "subscribe to my newsletter to get a FREE ebook!" while reading. :) This is something 80,000 Hours avoid pretty well by being very open and grayscale about things.
  • I find it great that you've just started doing it and putting it out there looking for feedback; I'm working on one or two vague similar-ish projects (not related to learning though) and didn't yet manage to get over my semi-perfectionist "I'll just make sure I have something good before showing it to anybody" attitude, although I know that's a bad approach
  • minor note, at one point you write "(god this bold is intense)" although there's nothing actually bold; maybe the formatting got lost somewhere on the way?

Some counter points on drawbacks/challenges of Anki:

  • you need to be rather conscientous to use it effectively; missing a week can easily break the habit of daily ankiing, because you're suddenly looking at potentially 100s of flashcards to review
  • it might push people to go for memorizing (often useless) facts rather than really learning and understanding deeper concepts
  • also, adding anki cards to your deck now feels like progress; e.g. after reading a book (or chapter), you might have a feeling that not creating new cards is bad. This might nudge you to add useless cards rather than nothing, degrading the quality of your deck over time. I find it really hard to prevent this personally. After reading a book and going through my notes, if I add nothing to my Anki deck, I feel like having read the book was a waste of time. So I'm motivated to add things simply to feel better about the sunk cost. But looking at my deck honestly, I'm almost sure 50% of the stuff in there doesn't really add anything to my life.
  • setting up such a system and getting into it takes a lot of work and willpower, and many people may just not be willing to go that far (even if it does indeed pay off in the long term)

That all being said, if I went back to university, I'd definitely use Anki and I'm sure it would improve my performance a lot compared to my time there in the past where I didn't know what spaced repetition even is. I'd just say that it's maybe something like 40% of my personal ideal learning system, and there would be a lot beyond that (e.g. how to watch lectures, how to take notes, how to work on actual exercises, the fact that explaining things to others is very helpful, how to motivate yourself, how to plan and build a reliable system, ...).

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