Matthew_Brown

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List of possible EA meta-charities and projects

It is really helpful to have all these ideas listed in one place, thank you.

I am involved in running a scheme similar to Year Here (Think Ahead) and have occasionally wondered if a similar scheme for EA would be worthwhile. Programmes like ours and Teach for America, Teach First, Frontline, Police Now etc. have proven extremely effective at attracting talented people into particular career paths. I haven't devoted much time/thought into how one might design something like this for the very diffuse career path of "being an EA", but I would be up for exploring it if anyone is interested.

I also think intervening further "upstream" in the graduate career trajectory, while students are still at university, could also pay off. I am dimly aware that there are already efforts underway here such as EA societies at universities. I have put some thought into how one might restructure the university experience more fundamentally so that courses themselves, and the general university ethos/community, gave people the understanding, motivation, and skills to pursue EA careers. But I'm unsure whether this would be the most cost-effective way to achieve the desired outcomes.

Thanks again.

Cause profile: mental health

I found this extremely interesting and useful, thanks.

I am likely to be biased in favour of working in mental health, as I work on this cause now and began working in the area before I discovered EA. But nevertheless I find your arguments fairly compelling.

Three points:

  • On the issue of where on a life satisfaction scale might be the neutral point / equivalent to not being alive, have you looked into whether there is any data on where on this scale people typically are when they are suicidal? This is not necessarily an appropriate answer to the question, because suicide can be influenced by short-term distress, psychosis, lack of mental capacity etc. (i.e. not just life satisfaction). But if any such data exists it might provide an interesting additional reference point.
  • Similarly, are you aware of any cost-effectiveness estimates for mental health charities/programmes in terms of suicides averted? This would be more closely comparable to lives saved through other types of intervention.
  • I think there is a whole other interesting area of work wrapped up in your comments about basing policy decisions on subjective wellbeing measures. As I'm sure you (and many on this forum) are aware, there is lots of work happening on this around the world. But the field still feels in its infancy, and there are potentially quite radical implications for how we would organise our societies, economies etc. if we were to place these measures as the end-goals of policymaking. I recognise that wellbeing and mental health are not exactly the same thing, but it is interesting to consider the question of what a society would look like that structurally encouraged good mental health.

Thanks again.

What’s the Use In Physics?

Your comment, and the links, were very helpful and thought-provoking - thanks.

I've definitely reached the limit of my expertise - so take this with a pinch of salt - but I think the key thing for me is whether any of the interpretations lead to observable real-world differences.

I didn't fully understand the link you provided to the many worlds interpretation making testable predictions, but it appeared to be talking only of thought experiments that would require non-existent technology to carry out in practice.

I agree with you that some interpretations would, if "true"*, require additional mathematics to describe the new underlying mechanism they postulate. But, from my limited understanding, that new mathematics would itself not be testable - because it would only result in the same real-world observable behaviour as all the other interpretations.

Thanks again.

*I'm not really sure what this word even means in this context (spot the non-philosopher), when there is no means of using experimental results to distinguish between interpretations.

What’s the Use In Physics?

Thank you for writing this. I think it serves an important purpose, because like you I think the most likely impression for a physicist to form from the highest-profile EA career advice is that they should take their highly valuable transferable skills and get out of physics (even if it's not explicitly stated). This may be the correct advice, but it's worth explicitly considering whether that is true.

I did (computational quantum) physics to PhD level before exiting to policy, initially in climate change, so I effectively followed this advice (although before the EA movement existed in its current form). From my sample of one, I did find the skills/experience highly transferable.

However, I tend to believe that staying in physics can also offer high impact - and you have highlighted lots of reasons why. To be fair, the general potential of research is well profiled by e.g. 80k, it's just that physics doesn't get highlighted as a top choice.

Some people make the argument that generally boosting economic growth is so assured of positive results that it offers good impact to focus one's efforts generically in this direction. I wonder if a similar argument could apply to increasing humanity's understanding of the fundamental nature of the universe?

(A minor question: You refer to the many worlds interpretation as a possible reason to believe in a multiverse, and to consider the potential ethical implications of that. I am rusty, but my understanding was that all interpretations of quantum mechanics are essentially hypothetical ideas rather than rooted in any empirical evidence? I.e. unlike a "proper" theory, the different interpretations do not result in any changes to the underlying mathematics and are not testable? If I've got that right, then for me the interpretations would provide little to no motivation for taking their model of reality into account in decision-making.)

Thanks again.