nickmatt

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Reading science fiction to build intuition about longtermism:

Throughout my involvement over the past 2 years leading and participating in EA fellowships, I've heard numerous fellows say something like "longtermism seems interesting and somewhat convincing, but I find it hard to think about and at times intractable". This difficulty in thinking about how our current actions can have massive long-term impacts on timelines longer than say, a century, isn't something most people coming into an intro to EA fellowship have thought about. 

From my experience these students then, on average, are more likely to work on other EA cause areas like animal welfare/global poverty/etc.

I have never had difficulty thinking about longtermism. I suspect this is partly because I read a large amount of science fiction. In books like Foundation, The Three-Body Problem, and The Mote in God's Eye, the stories unfold over hundreds or thousands of years, and the actions of characters at the beginning of the books dramatically affect entire civilizations generations later.

I encourage others in the EA community to think about whether there is a correlation between people who find longtermism not just academically persuasive but intuitive and people with exposure to this kind of science fiction. It may be useful for us to encourage others in the community to consume this type of science fiction to motivate the pursuit of working on long-term causes (though of course we don't want people to then think of longtermism as "science fiction"  in the worst sense of the word).