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A Primer on the Symmetry Theory of Valence

You're right. The questions of moral realism and hedonistic utilitarianism do make me skeptical about QRI's research (as I currently understand it), but doing research starting from uncertain premises definitely can be worthwhile.

A Primer on the Symmetry Theory of Valence

Thanks for the response. I guess I find the idea that there is such a thing as a platonic form of qualia or valence highly dubious.

A simple thought experiment: for any formal description of "negative valence," you could build an agent that acts to maximize this "negative valence" form and still acts exactly like a human maximizing happiness when looking from the outside (something like a "philosophical masochist"). It seems to me that it's impossible to define positive and negative valence independently from the environment the agent is embedded in.

A Primer on the Symmetry Theory of Valence

Disclaimer: I'm not very familiar with either QRI's research or neuroscience, but in the spirit of Cunningham's Law:

QRI's research seems to predicated on the idea that moral realism and hedonistic utilitarianism are true. I'm very skeptical about both of these, and I think QRI's time would be better spent working on the question of whether these starting assumptions are true in the first place.

Some thoughts on the EA Munich // Robin Hanson incident

Thanks for writing this post. I'm glad this incident is getting addressed on the EA forum. I agree with most of the points being made here.

However, I'm not sure if 'becoming more attentive to various kinds of diversity' and maintaining norms that allow for 'the public discussion of ideas likely to cause offense' have to be at odds. In mainstream political discourse it often sounds like this is the case, however I would like to think that EA might be able to balance these two concerns without making any significant concessions.

The reason I think this might be possible is because discussions among EAs tend to be more nuanced than most mainstream discourse, and because I expect EAs to argue in good faith and to be well intentioned. I find that EA concerns often transcend politics, and so I would expect two EAs with very different political views to be able to have more productive discussions on controversial topics than two non-EAs.

The Case for Education

I'm not sure what kinds of programmes or certifications you're thinking of, but as far as I know, if someone wants to learn maths, physics, economics, ML... or just almost any kind of academic subject, universities are literally the only option. There is no middle path between learning things completely on your own and jumping through all the higher education hoops. And even if a person manages to learn some subject up to a graduate level, there is no way to get it recognized.

The reason I posted this here is because I think there is an interesting contradiction in how EAs approach education for themselves (very important) vs at the institutional level (not worth improving). I do think that the goal of improving education should be taken more seriously by EAs. Though I might have underestimated the inferential distance between my understanding of the problems in the education system and that of the average EA.

Writing about my own proposed solutions wasn't really the main point of posting on the EA Forum. In this post I only mention it in one paragraph.

The main reason I crossposted The Best Educational Institutions in the World is because it is also a testimonial of the EA Hotel.

The Case for Education

Here are some resources about the case against the current education system for those not familiar with the arguments:

Bryan Caplan on 80k

The Case Against Education (LW)

The Case For Dropping Out of College (my best summary of the arguments)

Democracy Promotion as an EA Cause Area

Thanks for the post. I agree that the promotion of democratic institutions as an EA cause area is worth a closer look. I think you might find this EA Forum post by Ben Kuhn interesting: “"Why Nations Fail" and the long-termist view of global poverty.”

Though I'm skeptical. A lot of the benefits from democracy require liberal democracy. For example, both Iran and Russia are technically democracies, yet neither seems like a force for domestic welfare or international peace. In The Great Delusion, John Mearscheimer also casts some doubt on the democratic peace theory, pointing out that the US has toppled a number of democratically elected governments: “Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, Brazil in 1964, and Chile in 1973.” He also references a 1994 paper, “Kant or Cant: The Myth of the Democratic Peace”:

Perhaps the most damning evidence against the case for liberal democratic norms is found in Christopher Layne’s careful examination of four cases where a pair of liberal democracies marched to the brink of war, but one side pulled back and ended the crisis. He carefully examines the decision-making process in both Britain and the United States during the 1861 Trent Affair and the Venezuelan Crisis of 1895–96, the Fashoda Crisis between Britain and France in 1898, and the 1923 Ruhr Crisis involving France and Germany, and convincingly argues that liberal norms had little to do with settling these crises. There was substantial nationalist fervor on each side, and all four outcomes were primarily determined by strategic calculations involving the balance of power.

I don’t know how strong these objections really are, but I would take the democratic peace theory with a grain of salt.

Then there is China. Acemoglu and Robinson argue that China’s model is unsustainable in the long run, that it will end up having to liberalize in order to maintain economic growth, but this is disputed. China seems to be quite unique in terms of competence among authoritarian countries. Human rights would definitely improve if China were to become a liberal democracy, but the effects on long-term growth seem less obvious.

One issue is that the evidence in this area is fairly weak. See Kuhn’s post for more details on that.

With respect to neglectedness and tractability, I think it is best to do an analysis on a country by country basis. Promoting democracy in China for example seems not to be very tractable, and also carries some downside risk (making China hostile to EA). The question of whether promoting democracy might be an EA cause probably depends on whether it is possible to find a single country where there exists any examples of neglected and tractable interventions.

I think it is possible to find such interventions. Kuhn speculates that sponsoring independent investigative media in Senegal might be effective. Maybe there are some specific effective interventions in pro-democracy aid or election monitoring. I would love to see more research into similar interventions.

Patrick Collison on Effective Altruism

Yeah, it does sound like he might be open to fund EA causes at some point in the future.

I do think though that it is still a good criticism. There is a risk that people who would otherwise pursue some weird idiosyncratic, yet impactful, projects might be discouraged by the fact that it might be hard to justify it from a simple EA framework. I think that one potential downside risk of 80k's work for example is that some people might end up being less impactful because they choose the "safe" EA path rather than a more unusual, risky, and, from the EA community's perspective, low status path.

In praise of unhistoric heroism


"But EA orgs can't be inclusive, so we should have a separate social space for EA's that is inclusive. Working at an EA org shouldn't be the only option for one's sanity."

Seeking Advice: Arab EA

On a meta level, it would be nice if there was some more general advice on this. Even though EA outreach to authoritarian countries is generally viewed as a bad idea (see here), we cannot help that at least some people in these countries will learn about EA and will want to communicate and contribute in some way.

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