Thanks, very interesting!
I realize that my comment was somewhat poorly worded. I do not mean that you can follow the evidence in an absolute and empirical sense when forming a belief about the nature of consciousness. What you can do, however, and which Eliezer doesn't do, is to pay attention to what the philosophers who spend their lives working on this question are saying, and take their arguments seriously. The first principle approach is kind of "I have an idea about consciousness which I think is right so I will not spend too much time looking at what actual philosophers are saying".
(I did a master's degree in philosophy before turning to a career in social science, so at least I know enough about contemporary analytic philosophy to know what I don't know)
My comment "just follow the actual evidence" was not regarding consciousness or metaphysics, but regarding broader epistemic tendencies in the EA community. This tendency is very much Eliezer-ish in style: An idea that one knows best, because one is smart. If one has a set of "priors" one thinks are reasonably well-founded one doesn't need to look too much at empirical evidence, arguments among researchers or best practices in relevant communities outside of EA.
A case in point that comes to mind was some time ago when EAs debated whether it is a good idea that close colleagues in EA orgs have sex with each other. Some people pointed out that this is broadly frowned upon in most high-risk or high-responsibility work settings. Eliezer and other EAs thought they knew better, because, hey - first principles and we know ethics and we are smart! So the question then becomes: who should we trust on this, Eliezer and some young EAs in their early twenties or thirties, or high-powered financial firms and intelligence agencies who have fine-tuned their organizational practices over decades? Hm, tough one.
There are obviously huge differences between metaphysics, empirical evidence on various social issues, and sexual ethics in organizations. But the similarity is the first principles style of thought that is common in EA: we have good priors so no need to listen too much to outsiders.
I broadly agree with what the authors of "Doing EA better" wrote in their essay on this btw. They expressed similar points in a better and more precise way.
Given that Eliezer has had such a huge influence on epistemic practices in EA I therefore think it is valuable with takedowns like this. Eliezer is not that smart, actually, and his style of thinking has led EAs astray epistemically.
Thanks a lot, this was very useful to me!
The main limitation here, I think, is that "personal conversation" remains a black box. What kind of arguments were put forward in these conversations? Or, was it arguments at all, or rather seeing the behavioral example of others?
But there exists research on this which is illuminating and can shed light on these questions. Robert Frank's "Under the influence" is a very good primer on these mechanisms, I think. Good podcast/intro here: Peer pressure and social change - WHYY
Thanks a lot. This was a very convincing and valuable take-down of Eliezer. I tend to think, like you, that Eliezer's way of reasoning from first principles has done real damage to epistemic practices in EA circles. Just try to follow the actual evidence, for rationality's sake. It isn't more complicated than that.
Late to the party, but just wanted to say that this is fantastic work. I take off my non-existent hat and do a very deep and respectful bow. It immediately changed my thinking. I have for a while bought into the PTC framework, intuitively and without much reflection. Now I realize that it's more complicated.
I think these are important and crucial insights. I do remain convinced that PTC matters, at least in the long run. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and it would indeed be extraordinary if price, taste and convenience did not matter at all (or a lot) for food choice. (not saying you're claiming that, but just making it clear)
But it's clear from the evidence presented here that it's far from enough. One thing is cultural affinity and identity connected to meat, another issue is the power of special interests and the meat and dairy industry. And more. Meat and dairy won't go away even if we get very good alternatives up and running.
For me, these insights call for old-fashioned moralistic abolitionism: Let's remember to keep saying that eating animal products is wrong and gross. Probably does more to change norms in the long run than just saying non-animal alternatives are just as good.
One point of disagreement: I don't think you are correct in dismissing personal lifestyle change, or in being concerned that it will crowd out political/collective action (unintended consequences). There is beginning to emerge some experimental evidence, and so far it does not seem like it crowds out collective behavior. See here for a recent study: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2214629622003784?casa_token=Jp_mgkE8mkUAAAAA:oUltc3n4ndueQHddP6iTKRtB2U7Rru1W7RsTWOFWtPXSDQSoENdOZrI-pVs8PAQxGGI0DIdBh8Q
From a more historical perspective, which is more difficult to investigate causally of course, it also doesn't seem like social movements which emphasize the personal and lifestyle change stop being political or set themselves up for failure. Look at the Christian right in the US: very personal and very political at the same time. There is evidence that the cultivation of a certain lifestyle and culture has even been important for the long-term success of some movements, such as the NRA. See here: The Political Weaponization of Gun Owners: The National Rifle Association’s Cultivation, Dissemination, and Use of a Group Social Identity | The Journal of Politics: Vol 81, No 4 (uchicago.edu)
So I, for one, think that lifestyle interventions which link changes in lifestyle to political and collective goals, may actually be under-utilized and effective form of intervention.
The fact that a commonsensical proposal like this gets downvoted so much is actually fairly indicative of current problems with tribalism and defensiveness in EA culture.
...and updated research on climate risk.
It looks like an interesting book, btw. At first I thought it had come about after the SBF scandal, but it seems to have been in the work for quite some time.
Regarding what they write in the blog post, their criticism does come from a valid place, kind of. They certainly don't advocate doing nothing as an alternative to engaging in EA. That said, I think they are probably mistaken.
One of their unspoken assumptions seems to be that if EA was not around, much of the energy that has gone into EA would have gone to leftist movements for social and environmental justice. If this assumption is correct, then I would probably be inclined to agree with them. I'm an EA adjacent eco-socialist who has followed core EA tenets in my own life for many years, but I still think that the actual EA movement as it exists probably does less good in the world than labor movements, environmental movements, etc.
I don't think that their assumption is correct, however. If EA was not around I think it's much more likely that the energy that has gone into EA would just have gone to into making privileged people even more privileged. EA kids would probably not have become EAs without EA, but rather have gone on to lucrative careers which was mostly about themselves.
I don't have any strong data backing that prior, but it's my hunch at least.
So I think EA is probably more good than bad.
That said I will read the book when it comes out.