1060Joined Sep 2014


I am Issa Rice. https://issarice.com/


Topic Contributions

Do you know of any ways I could experimentally expose myself to extreme amounts of pleasure, happiness, tranquility, and truth?

I'm not aware of any way to expose yourself to extreme amounts of pleasure, happiness, tranquility, and truth that is cheap, legal, time efficient, and safe. That's part of the point I was trying to make in my original comment. If you're willing forgo some of those requirements, then as Ian/Michael mentioned, for pleasure and tranquility I think certain psychedelics (possibly illegal depending on where you live, possibly unsafe, and depending on your disposition/luck may be a terrible idea) and meditation practices (possibly expensive, takes a long time, possibly unsafe) could be places to look into. For truth, maybe something like "learning all the fields and talking to all the people out there" (expensive, time-consuming, and probably unsafe/distressing), though I realize that's a pretty unhelpful suggestion.

I'd be willing to expose myself to whatever you suggest, plus extreme suffering, to see if this changes my mind. Or we can work together to design a different experimental setup if you think that would produce better evidence.

I appreciate the offer, and think it's brave/sincere/earnest of you (not trying to be snarky/dismissive/ironic here - I really wish more people had more of this trait that you seem to possess). My current thinking though is that humans need quite a benign environment in order to stay sane and be able to introspect well on their values (see discussion here, where I basically agree with Wei Dai), and that extreme experiences in general tend to make people "insane" in unpredictable ways. (See here for a similar concern I once voiced around psychedelics.) And even a bunch of seemingly non-extreme experiences (like reading the news, going on social media, or being exposed to various social environments like cults and Cultural Revolution-type dynamics) seem to have historically made a bunch of people insane and continue to make people insane. Basically, although flawed, I think we still have a bunch of humans around who are still basically sane or at least have some "grain of sanity" in them, and I think it's incredibly important to preserve that sanity. So I would probably actively discourage people from undertaking such experiments in most cases.


It may end up being that such intensely positive values are possible in principle and matter as much as intense pains, but they don’t matter in practice for neartermists, because they're too rare and difficult to induce. Your theory could symmetrically prioritize both extremes in principle, but end up suffering-focused in practice. I think the case for upside focus in longtermism could be stronger, though.

If by "neartermism" you mean something like "how do we best help humans/animals/etc who currently exist using only technologies that currently exist, while completely ignoring the fact that AGI may be created within the next couple of decades" or "how do we make the next 1 year of experiences as good as we can while ignoring anything beyond that" or something along those lines, then I agree. But I guess I wasn't really thinking along those lines since I find that kind of neartermism either pretty implausible or feel like it doesn't really include all the relevant time periods I care about.

It's also conceivable that pleasurable states as intense as excruciating pains in particular are not possible in principle after refining our definitions of pleasure and suffering and their intensities.

I agree with you that that is definitely conceivable. But I think that, as Carl argued in his post (and elaborated on further in the comment thread with gwern), our default assumption should be that efficiency (and probably also intensity) of pleasure vs pain is symmetric.


I am worried that exposing oneself to extreme amounts of suffering without also exposing oneself to extreme amounts of pleasure, happiness, tranquility, truth, etc., will predictably lead one to care a lot more about reducing suffering compared to doing something about other common human values, which seems to have happened here. And the fact that certain experiences like pain are a lot easier to induce (at extreme intensities) than other experiences creates a bias in which values people care the most about.

Carl Shulman made a similar point in this post: "This is important to remember since our intuitions and experience may mislead us about the intensity of pain and pleasure which are possible. In humans, the pleasure of orgasm may be less than the pain of deadly injury, since death is a much larger loss of reproductive success than a single sex act is a gain. But there is nothing problematic about the idea of much more intense pleasures, such that their combination with great pains would be satisfying on balance."

Personally speaking, as someone who has been depressed and anxious most of my life and sometimes have (unintentionally) experienced extreme amounts of suffering, I don't currently find myself caring more about pleasure/happiness compared to pain/suffering (I would say I care about them roughly the same). There's also this thing I've noticed where sometimes when I'm suffering a lot, the suffering starts to "feel good" and I don't mind it as much, and symmetrically, when I've been happy the happiness has started to "feel fake" somehow so overall I feel pretty confused about what terminal values I am even optimizing for (but thankfully it seems like on the current strategic landscape I don't need to figure this out immediately).


Has Holden written any updates on outcomes associated with the grant?

Not to my knowledge.

I don't think that lobbying against OpenAI, other adversarial action, would have been that hard.

It seems like once OpenAI was created and had disrupted the "nascent spirit of cooperation", even if OpenAI went away (like, the company and all its employees magically disappeared), the culture/people's orientation to AI stuff ("which monkey gets the poison banana" etc.) wouldn't have been reversible. So I don't know if there was anything Open Phil could have done to OpenAI in 2017 to meaningfully change the situation in 2022 (other than like, slowing AI timelines by a bit). Or maybe you mean some more complicated plan like 'adversarial action against OpenAI and any other AI labs that spring up later, and try to bring back the old spirit of cooperation, and get all the top people into DeepMind instead of spreading out among different labs'.


Eliezer's tweet is about the founding of OpenAI, whereas Agrippa's comment is about a 2017 grant to OpenAI (OpenAI was founded in 2015, so this was not a founding grant). It seems like to argue that Open Phil's grant was net negative (and so strongly net negative as to swamp other EA movement efforts), one would have to compare OpenAI's work in a counterfactual world where it never got the extra $30 million in 2017 (and Holden never joined the board) with the actual world in which those things happened. That seems a lot harder to argue for than what Eliezer is claiming (Eliezer only has to compare a world where OpenAI didn't exist vs the actual world where it does exist).

Personally, I agree with Eliezer that the founding of OpenAI was a terrible idea, but I am pretty uncertain about whether Open Phil's grant was a good or bad idea. Given that OpenAI had already disrupted the "nascent spirit of cooperation" that Eliezer mentions and was going to do things, it seems plausible that buying a board seat for someone with quite a bit of understanding of AI risk is a good idea (though I can also see many reasons it could be a bad idea).

One can also argue that EA memes re AI risk led to the creation of OpenAI, and that therefore EA is net negative (see here for details). But if this is the argument Agrippa wants to make, then I am confused why they decided to link to the 2017 grant.

What textbooks would you recommend for these topics? (Right now my list is only “Linear Algebra Done Right”)

I would recommend not starting with Linear Algebra Done Right unless you already know the basics of linear algebra. The book does not cover some basic material (like row reduction, elementary matrices, solving linear equations) and instead focuses on trying to build up the theory of linear algebra in a "clean" way, which makes it enlightening as a second or third exposure to linear algebra but a cruel way to be introduced to the subject for the first time. I think 3Blue1Brown videos → Vipul Naik's lecture notes → 3Blue1Brown videos (again) → Gilbert Strang-like books/Treil's Linear Algebra Done Wrong → 3Blue1Brown videos (yet again) → Linear Algebra Done Right would provide a much smoother experience. (See also this comment that I wrote a while ago.)

Many domains that people tend to conceptualize as "skill mastery, not cult indoctrination" also have some cult-like properties like having a charismatic teacher, not being able to question authority (or at least, not being encouraged to think for oneself), and a social environment where it seems like other students unquestioningly accept the teachings. I've personally experienced some of this stuff in martial arts practice, math culture, and music lessons, though I wouldn't call any of those a cult.

Two points this comparison brings up for me:

  • EA seems unusually good compared to these "skill mastery" domains in repeatedly telling people "yes, you should think for yourself and come to your own conclusions", even at the introductory levels, and also just generally being open to discussions like "is EA a cult?".
  • I'm worried this post will be condensed into people's minds as something like "just conceptualize EA as a skill instead of this cult-like thing". But if even skill-like things have cult-like elements, maybe that condensed version won't help people make EA less cult-like. Or maybe it's actually okay for EA to have some cult-like elements!

He was at UW in person (he was a grad student at UW before he switched his PhD to AI safety and moved back to Berkeley).

Setting expectations without making it exclusive seems good.

"Seminar program" or "seminar" or "reading group" or "intensive reading group" sound like good names to me.

I'm guessing there is a way to run such a group in a way that both you and I would be happy about.

The actual activities that the people in a fellowship engage in, like reading things and discussing them and socializing and doing giving games and so forth, don't seem different from what a typical reading club or meetup group does. I am fine with all of these activities, and think they can be quite valuable.

So how are EA introductory fellowships different from a bare reading club or meetup group? My understanding is that the main differences are exclusivity and the branding. I'm not a fan of exclusivity in general, but especially dislike it when there doesn't seem to be a good reason for it (e.g. why not just split the discussion into separate circles if there are too many people?) or where self-selection would have worked (e.g. making the content of the fellowship more difficult so that the less interested people will leave on their own). As for branding, I couldn't find a reason why these groups are branded as "fellowships" in any of the pages or blog posts I looked at. But my guess is that it is a way to manufacture prestige for both the organizers/movement and for the participants. This kind of prestige-seeking seems pretty bad to me. (I can elaborate more on either point if you want to understand my reasoning.)

I haven't spent too much time looking into these fellowships, so it's quite possible I am misunderstanding something, and would be happy to be corrected.

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