O Carciente

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I have a BASc in Philosophy and Psychology. I'm still trying to figure out how I could do anything useful here, so maybe someone could help me out. 

I'm 27 years old, and currently work in an after-school program teaching children music. I tend to have a talent for accelerated learning (I am currently teaching piano, violin, guitar, ukulele and drums, and have now been teaching at least two of those instruments for as long or longer than it took me to learn them to a level where I can teach them). That's sadly coupled with a lack of consistent emotional investment, though, so I have not been able to successfully capitalize on it. 

I got 94th percentile on Verbal in the GRE and a perfect 6 in writing, but a 30th percentile on quant (it bothers me personally that a score that would have been an A- in most educational contexts I've experienced, or perhaps a B+ in some of the more rigorous ones in absolute terms was so low, as I think that's misleading, but that is the nature of the skew in the distribution I guess). I had a 3.6 GPA in my last 2 years and a 3.3 GPA cummulative. All from a relatively unremarkable university. I am also disabled in such a way that I cannot count on my own reliability for prolonged periods of time, which makes everything harder, but because I'm "so smart" (according to the people around me) it seems rather wasteful that I haven't found anything I can have a higher impact on thus far. 

This means that, when dealing with 80,000 hours, etc, I find it rather hard to see what is actually applicable to me. I find it rather unlikely that I will get into a "top 20 school", for example, which is a fairly recurrent pattern in all of the academic paths (which professors told me over and over that I should pursue during my undergrad). 

This is not a way of despairing ("Oh no! Can I even make the world better if I don't have a perfect score on one unnecessarily expensive test?!") but instead a personal angle through which I can bring up that:

1.) I don't believe that 80,000 hours provides actually useful advice to people who are not exoribitantly high achievers (or at least, it hasn't provided it for me thus far and I've been checking it out on and off for like 7 years at this point). 

2.) I do believe that people here can provide such advice, so it would be nice if I could receive some. 

On top of that, I've been nursing a notion that it might be a good idea to make "rationality", "futurism" or even "emotional resilience" summer camps for children, and if anybody is interested in a project like that, please let me know. 

Maybe the right approach is not "developing" / "creating" this, but shifting the systems that are already partway there. You might have a bigger impact if you were working with Wikipedia to shift it more towards the kind of system you would like, for example. 

I really doubt that something like this would be profitable quickly, on the grounds that its utility would be derived from its rigour and... Well, people take a while to notice the utility of rigour. 

I am familiar with a few different areas, but I don't think I have a lot of expertise (hence why I said I'm not in a great position to help). 

Kinda blows my mind that this doesn't have more comments. I'm not really in a great position to help but I have a lot of time I could dedicate to something like this and would be willing to do so if you could point me in the right direction.

I think you are 100% correct and would be interested in helping you with a post about this if you wanted.

Epistemic status is 100% philosophy jargon. Hell, the word "epistemic" or the word "epistemology" is itself philosophy jargon. I only ever hear it from LW people/EAs and people in philosophy departments. 

I would like to add to this that there is also just the question of how strong a lot of these claims can be. 

Maybe the future is super enormous. And maybe me eating sushi tomorrow night at 6pm instead of on Wednesday could have massive repercussions. But it could also have massive repercussions for me to eat sushi on Friday, or something.

A lot of things "could" have massive repercussions. Maybe if I hadn't missed the bus last week, Super Hitler wouldn't have been born. 

There are some obvious low-hanging fruits in the world such that they would reduce the risk of catastrophe (say, nuclear disarmament, or the  Seed Vault, or something). But there are also a lot of things that seem less obvious in their mechanisms, and which could go radically differently than how the people who outline them seem to think. Interventions to increase the number of liberal democracies on the planet and the amount of education could lead to more political polarization and social instability, for example. I'm not saying it would, but it could. Places that have been on the receiving end of "democratizing" interventions often wind up more politically unstable or dangerous for a variety of reasons, and the upward trend in education and longevity over the past few decades has also been an upward trend in polarization, depression, anxiety, social isolation... 

Sure, maybe there's some existential risk to humanity, and maybe the future is massive, but what reason do I have to believe that my eating sushi, or taking public transit, or donating to one charity over another, or reading some book, is actually going to have specific effects? Why wouldn't the unintended consequences outweigh the intended ones?

It's not just skepticism about the potential size of the future, it's skepticism about the cause-effect relationship being provided by the potential "mugger". Maybe  we're 100% doomed and nothing we do will do anything because an asteroid is going to hit us in 50 years that we will not be able to detect due to a serendipitous astronomical occurrence, and all of it is pointless. Maybe some omnipotent deity is watching and will make sure we colonize the galaxy. Maybe research into AI risk will bring about an evil AI. Maybe research into AI is pointless because AIs will necessarily be hyperbenevolent due to some law of the universe we have not yet discovered. Maybe a lot of things. 

Even with the dedication and careful thought that I have seen many people put into these probabilities, it always looks to me like there aren't enough variables to be comfortable with any of it. And there are people who don't think about this in quantitative terms who would find even my hypothetical more comprehensive models to be inadequate. 

I think the note on Not Invented Here syndrome is actually amazing and I'm very happy you introduced that concept into this discussion.

If we want to spread those values, I agree with you that learning about competitor philosophies, ideologies, cultures and perspectives (I personally spend a fair bit of time on this) would be important, and that lowering language barriers could be helpful.

Wonderful! What specific actions could we take to make that easier for you (and others like you for whom this would be a worthwhile pursuit)?

Maybe a reading group that meets every week (or month). Or an asynchronous thread in which people provide reviews of philosophical articles or world literature. Or a group of Duolingo "friends" (or some other language-learning app of people's choice, I have a variety of thoughts on which languages should be prioritized, but starting with something would be good, and Spanish-language EAs seem to be growing in number and organization). 

It could also be useful to explore whether there are interventions in cultures that we’re less familiar with that could improve people’s well-being even more than the typical global health interventions that are currently recommended. Perhaps there’s something about a particular culture which, if promoted more effectively, would really improve people’s lives. 

Bhutan's notion of Gross Domestic Happiness, Denmark's "hygge", whatever it is that makes certain people with schizophrenia from Africa get the voices to say nice things to them, indigenous practices of farming and sustainable hunting, and maybe the practice of "insulting the meat" just off the top of my head, would probably be good things to make more broadly understood and build into certain institutions. Not to mention that knowledge of cultural features that need to be avoided or handled somewhat (for example, overtly strict beauty standards which harm people in a variety of different cultures). 

(Though if we want to improve, say, shrimp welfare in Asia, learning local languages could help us work and recruit more effectively as well as spread values.)

And, very importantly, it could allow you to discover new things to value, new frameworks, new ways of approaching a problem. Every language you learn comes with new intuition pumps, new frames upon which you can hang your thoughts. 

Even if you think the vast majority of moral patients are non-human and our priorities should reflect that, there are ways of thinking about animals and their welfare that have been cultivated for centuries by less WEIRD populations that could prove illuminating to you. I don't know about them, because I have my own areas of ignorance. But that's the kind of thing that EA could benefit from aggregating somewhere. 

I would be very interested in working on a project like that, of aggregating non-EA perspectives in various packages for the convenience of individual EAs who may want to learn about perspectives that are underrepresented in the community and may offer interesting insights. 

Thank you! I don't think it's necessarily the most pivotal [1] but it is one part that has recently begun having its barrier of entry lowered [2]. Additionally, while reading broadly [3]could also help, the reason why language-learning looks so good in my eyes is because of the stones-to-birds ratio. 

If you read very broadly and travel a lot, you may gain more "learning about wild(to you) perspective" benefits. But if you learn a language [4]you are: 

1) benefitting your brain, 

2) increasing the amount of people in the world you can talk to, and whose work you can learn from, 

3) absorb new ideas you may not have otherwise been able to absorb, 

4) acquire new intuitions [5]

You can separately do things that will fulfill all four of those things (and even fulfill some of the other benefits that language learning can provide for you) without learning another language. But I am very bad at executive skills, and juggling 4+ different habits, so I generally don't find the idea of say... 

  • doing 2 crosswords, 2 4x4x4 sudoku a day, and other brain teasers + 
  • taking dance classes or learning a new instrument + 
  • taking communications classes and reading books about public speaking and active listening + 
  • engaging in comparative-translation reading +
  • ingratiating myself to radically different communities in order to cultivate those modes of thought [6] 

...to be less onerous than learning a new language.  Especially since language-learning can help and be done concurrently with these alternatives [7].

Language learning is also something that can help with community bonding, which would probably be helpful to the substantial-seeming portion of EAs who are kind of lonely and depressed.  It can also help you remember what it is like to suck at something, which I think a lot of people in Rationalist spaces would benefit from more broadly, since so many of them were gifted kids who now have anxiety, and becoming comfortable with failure and iteration is also good for you and your ability to do things in general. 

  1. ^

    Travelling broadly will probably provide better results to most people, but it also costs a lot of money, even more if you need to hire a translator.

  2. ^

    Especially with Duolingo offering endangered languages now.

  3. ^

    Say, reading a national award-winning book from every nation in the world.

  4. ^

     Or, preferrably, if you learn 2, given that the greatest benefits are found in trilinguals+.

  5. ^

    I find that personally, I am more socially conservative in Spanish and more progressive in English, which has allowed me to test ideas against my own brain in a way that most monolinguals I talk to seem to find somewhat alien and much more effortful. Conversely, in French, I am not very capable, and I find that quite useful because it allows me to force myself to simplify my ideas on the grounds that I am literally unable to express the complex version. 

  6. ^

     + [whatever else I haven't thought of yet that would help obtain these benefits]

  7. ^

    Music terminology is often in French or Italian, learning languages will just broaden your vocabulary for crossword puzzles, knowing another language is a gateway to communities that were previously closed to you, and you can engage in reading different translations of something more easily if you can also just read it in the original language.  

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