Oh man, this is pretty cool. I actually like the fact that it's sort of jagged and crazy.
This was among the most important things I read recently, thanks! (Mostly via reminding me "geez holy hell it's really hard to know things.")
That is helpful, thanks. I've been sitting on this post for years and published it yesterday while thinking generally about "okay, but what do we do about the mentorship bottleneck? how much free energy is there?", and "make sure that starting-mentorship is frictionless" seems like an obvious mechanism to improve things.
In another comment you mention:
(One example would be the high levels of self-censorship required.)
I'm curious what the mechanism underlying the "required-ness" is. i.e. which of the following, or others, are most at play:
A related thing I'm wondering is whether you considered anything like "going out with a bang", where you tried... just not self-censoring, and... probably lo... (read more)
you'd get voted out of office
No, not this one. I don't think there was anything I wanted to say that would have been harmful enough to turn the Eye of Sauron(*) upon me.
there are costs imposed directly on you/people-close-to-you (i.e. stress)
Nah, any stress would have been a tertiary effect from...
you'd lose support from your political allies that you need to accomplish anything
This was the big one. I was already a black sheep when I got voted into office; I had negative amounts of political capital within my party. I had to focus a ton of... (read more)
The issue isn't just the conflation, but missing a gear about how the two relate.
The mistake I was making, that I think many EAs are making, is to conflate different pieces of the moral model that have specifically different purposes.
Singer-ian ethics pushes you to take the entire world into your circle of concern. And this is quite important. But, it's also quite important that the way that the entire world is in your circle of concern is different from the way your friends and government and company and tribal groups are in your circle of concern.
In part... (read more)
Just wanted to throw up my previous exploration of a similar topic. (I think I had a fairly different motivation than you – namely I want young EAs to mostly focus on financial runway so they can do risky career moves once they're better oriented).
tl;dr – I think the actual Default Action for young EAs should not be giving 10%, but giving 1% (for self-signalling), and saving 10%.
I recently chatted with someone who said they've been part of ~5 communities over their life, and that all but one of them was more "real community" like than the rationalists. So maybe there's plenty of good stuff out there and I've just somehow filtered it out of my life.
Alas, I started writing it and then was like "geez, I should really do any research at all before just writing up a pet armchair theory about human motivation."
I wrote this Question Post to try to get a sense of the landscape of research. It didn't really work out, and since then I... just didn't get around to it.
Currently, there's only so many people who are looking to make friends, or hire at organizations, or start small-scrappy-projects together.
I think most EA orgs started out as a small scrappy project that initially hired people they knew well. (I think early-stage Givewell, 80k, CEA, AI Impacts, MIRI, CFAR and others almost all started out that way – some of them still mostly hire people they know well within the network, some may have standardized hiring practices by now)
I personally moved to the Bay about 2 years ago and shortly thereaft... (read more)
I expect to want to link this periodically. One thing I could use is clearer survey data about how often volunteering is useful, and when it is useful almost-entirely-for-PR reasons. People often are quite reluctant to think volunteering isn't useful will say "My [favorite org] says they like volunteers!". (My background assumption is that their favorite org probably likes volunteers and needs to say so publicly, but primarily because of long-term-keeping-people-engaged reasons. But, I haven't actually seen reliable data here)
I just donated to the first lottery, but FYI I found it surprisingly hard to navigate back to it, or link others to it. It doesn't look like the lottery is linked from anywhere on the site and I had to search for this post to find the link again.
The book The Culture Map explores these sorts of problems, comparing many cultures' norms and advising on how to bridge the differences.
In Senegal people seem less comfortable by default expressing disagreement with someone above them in the hierarchy. (As a funny example, I've had a few colleagues who I would ask yes-or-no questions and they would answer "Yes" followed by an explanation of why the answer is no.)
Some advice it gives for this particular example (at least in several 'strong hierarchy' cultures), is instead of a ... (read more)
Tying in a bit with Healthy Competition:
I think it makes sense (given my understanding of the folk at 80k's views) for them to focus the way they are. I expect research to go best when it follows the interests and assumptions of the researchers.
But, it seems quite reasonable if people want advice for different background assumptions to... just start doing that research, and publishing. I think career advice is a domain that can definitely benefit from having multiple people or orgs involved, just needs someone to actually step up and do it.
Nod. I had "more experimentation" as part of what I meant to imply by "diversity of worldviews" but yeah it's good to have that spelled out.
This certainly seems like a viable option. I agree with the pros and cons described here, and think it'd make sense for local groups to decide which one made more sense.
My intuition is that the EA Funds are usually a much better opportunity in terms of donation impact than donor lotteries and having one person do independent research themself (instead of relying almost entirely on recommendations)
My background assumption is that it's important to grow the number of people who can work fulltime on grant evaluation.
Remember that Givewell was originally just a few folk doing research in their spare time.
My understanding (not confident) is that those people (at least Nick Beckstead) are more something like advisors acting as a sanity check or something (or at least that they aren't the ones putting most of the time into the funds)
I also think there's some potential to re-orient the EA pipeline around this concept. If local EA meetups did a collective donor lottery, then even if only one of them ends up allocating the money, they could still solicit help from others to think about it.
My experience is that EA meetups struggle a bit with "what do we actually do to maintain community cohesiveness, given that for many of us our core action is something we do a couple times per year, mostly privately." If a local meetup did a collective donor lottery, than even if only on... (read more)
(edit: whoops, responded to wrong comment)
My take: rank-and-file-EAs (and most EA local communities) should be oriented around donor lotteries.
What about donor coalitions instead of donor lotteries?
Instead of 50 people putting $2000 into a lottery, you could have groups of 5-10 putting $2000 into a pot that they jointly agree where to distribute.
-People might be more invested in the decision, but wouldn't have to do all the research by themselves.
-Might build an even stronger sense of community. The donor coalition could meet regularly before the donation to decide where to give, and meet up after the donation for updates from the charity.
-Avoids the unilateralist's curse.
-Less legally fraug
My intuition is that the EA Funds are usually a much better opportunity in terms of donation impact than donor lotteries and having one person do independent research themself (instead of relying almost entirely on recommendations), unless you think you can do better (according to your own ethical views) than the researchers for each fund. They typically have at least a few years of experience in research in their respective areas, often full-time, they have the time to consider many different neglected opportunities, and they probably get more feedback th... (read more)
I asked Critch about this today and he said it seemed fine.
This was quite an interesting point I hadn't considered before. Looking forward to reading more.
My understanding is that it's currently focused on nonprofits (in large part because it's much more logistically and legally complicated to send money to individuals)
Believing that my time is really valuable can lead to me making more wasteful decisions. Decisions like: "It is totally fine for me to buy all these expensive ergonomic keyboards simultaneously on Amazon and try them out, then throw away whichever ones do not work for me." Or "I will buy this expensive exercise equipment on a whim to test out. Even if I only use it once and end up trashing it a year later, it does not matter."
The thinking in the examples above worries me. People are bad at reasoning about when to make exceptions to r
Just wanted to say I super appreciated this writeup.
Thanks Raemon :-) I'm glad it was helpful.
I suspect the goal here is less to deconfuse current EAs and more to make it easier to explain things to newcomers who don't have any context.
(It also seems like good practice to me for people in leadership positions to keep people up to date about how they're conceptualizing their thinking)
Quick note that if you set All Posts to "sort by new" instead of "sort by Daily" there'll be 50 posts. (The Daily view is a bit weird because it varies a lot depending on forum traffic that week)
I don't have much to contribute but I appreciated this writeup – I like it when EAs explore cause areas like this.
For the record I'm someone who works on the forum and thought the OP was expressed pretty reasonably.
Strong upvoted mostly to make it easier to find this comment.
The Middle of the Middle of the funnel is specifically people who I expect to not yet be very good at volunteering, in part because they're either young and lacking some core "figure out how to be helpful and actually help" skills, or they're older and busier with day jobs that take a lot of the same cognitive bandwidth that EA volunteering would require.
I think the *End* of the Middle of the funnel is more of where "volunteer at EA orgs" makes sense. And people in the Middle of the Middle who think they have the "figure out how to be helpful and help" property should do so if they're self-motivated to. (If they're not self motivated they're probably not a good volunteer)
My claim is just that "volunteer at an org" is not a scalable action that it makes sense to be a default thing EA groups do in their spare time. This isn't to say volunteers aren't valuable, or that many EAs shouldn't explore that as an option, or that better coordination tools to improve the situation shouldn't be built.
But I am a bit more pessimistic about it – the last time I checked, many of the times someone had said "huh, it looks like there should be all this free labor available by passionate people, can't w... (read more)
A membrane is a semi-permeable barrier that things can enter and leave, but it's a bit hard to get in and a bit hard to get out. This allows them to store negentropy, which lets them do more interesting things than their surroundings.
An EA group that anyone can join and leave at a whim is going to have relatively low standards. This is fine for recruiting new people. But right now I think the most urgent EA needs have more do with getting people from the middle-of-the-funnel to the end, rather than the beginning-of-the-funnel to the middle. ... (read more)
Notes from a "mini talk" I gave to a couple people at EA Global.
Local EA groups (and orgs, for that matter) need leadership, and membranes.
Membranes let you control who is part of a community, so you can cultivate a particular culture within that community. They can involve barrier to entry, or actively removing people or behaviors that harm the culture.
Leadership is necessary to give that community structure. A good leader can make a community valuable enough that it's worth people's effort to overcome the barriers to entry, and/or maintain that barrier.
Part of the problem is there are not that many volunteer spots – even if this worked, it wouldn't scale. There are communities and movements that are designed such that there's lots of volunteer work to be done, such that you can provide 1000 volunteer jobs. But I don't think EA is one of them.
I've heard a few people from orgs express frustration that people come to them wanting to volunteer, but this feels less like the orgs receive a benefit, and more than the org is creating a training program (at cost to themselves) to provide a benefit to the volunteers.
Updated the thread to just serve as my shortform feed, since I got some value out of the ability to jot down early stage ideas.
I’m not yet sure that I’ll be doing this more than 3 months, so I think there’s a bit more value to focus more on generating value in that time.
I think the actions that EA actually needs to be involved with doing also require figuring things out and building a deep model of the world.
Meanwhile... "sufficiently advanced thinking looks like doing", or something. At the early stages, running a question hackathon requires just as much ops work and practice as running some other kind of hackathon.
I will note that default mode where rationalists or EAs sit around talking and not doing is a problem, but often that mode, in my opinion, doesn't actually rise to the level of "thinking for real." Thinking for real is real work.
So I actually draw an important distinction between "mid-level EAs", where there's three stages:
"The beginning of the Middle" – once you've read all the basics of EA, the thing you should do is... read more things about EA. There's a lot to read. Stand on the shoulders of giants.
"The Middle of the Middle" – ????
"The End of the Middle" – Figure out what to do, and start doing it (where "it" is probably some kind of ambitious project).
An important facet of the Middle of the Middle is that peopl... (read more)
What goals, though?
I didn't write a top level post but I sketched out some of the relevant background ideas here. (I'm not sure if they answer your particular concerns, but you can ask more specific questions there if you have them)
Integrity, Accountability and Group Rationality
I think there are particular reasons that EA should strive, not just to have exceptionally high integrity, but exceptionally high understanding of how integrity works.
Some background reading for my current thoughts includes habryka's post on Integrity and my own comment here on competition.
A few reasons for I think competition is good:
Competition in the EA Sphere
A few years ago, EA was small, and it was hard to get funding to run even one organization. Spinning up a second one with the same focus area might have risked killing the first one.
By now, I think we have the capacity (both financial, coordinational and human-talent) that that's less of a risk. Meanwhile, I think there are a number of benefits to having more, better, friendly competition.
I'm interested in chatting with people about the nuts and bolts of how to apply this.
Some background thoughts on why I think the middle of the EA talent funnel should focus on thinking:
Mid-level EA communities, and cultivating the skill of thinking
I think a big problem for EA is not having a clear sense of what mid-level EAs are supposed to do. Once you've read all the introductory content, but before you're ready to tackle anything real ambitious... what should you do, and what should your local EA community encourage people to do?
My sense is that grassroots EA groups default to "discuss the basics; recruit people to give money to givewell-esque charities and sometimes weirder things; occasionally run EAGx conferences; gi... (read more)
Grantmaking and Vetting
I think EA is vetting constrained. It's likely that I'll be involved with a new experimental grant allocation process. There are a few key ingredients here that are worth discussing:
I think if you've read Ben's writings, it's obvious that the prime driver is about epistemic health.