Working (0-5 years experience)


I like thinking about effective altruism community building and about leveraging the upsides of being a bit more ADHD than the average person (while minimizing the tail risks of some of the downsides of coming down with a bad bout of "Sophia-itis" every now and then). 

Please do reach out about pretty much anything (as long as you’re okay with me maybe not getting around to replying because messages and emails, every now and again, turn into a massive ugh field and I can only progress on so many ugh fields at a time, see the more detailed note below πŸ˜ŠπŸ˜ΆπŸ™ƒπŸŒž).

I don’t have my full name on the forum because, even though anyone who knows me in person can probably tell who I am because I always say the same things (I’m a bit of a broken record sometimes), I want to be able to be honest about how I'm thinking about the best strategies to maximize my expected impact. This means I want to sometimes discuss my personal productivity bottlenecks and my mental health (and maybe how I'm working on these). I don’t necessarily really want to be this open about my mental health and other parts of who I am right now that I am working on improving (to, hopefully, do more good in the longer term) with anyone who thinks to google my full name.

(But I promise I'm still a real person - though maybe that is what a fake person would say πŸ˜…) 

How others can help me

How other people manage their own productivity bottlenecks to reach the payoffs they care deeply about (especially if people who have been diagnosed with ADD or people who relate to the experiences of other people who have been diagnosed with ADD[1]).[2] 

  1. ^

    or anyone who relates to Tim Urban's description of the feeling of absolutely not wanting to do anything but the shiny thing offered up by the fun monkey in his blog, Wait but Why.   

    The "What but Why" description of what goes on in a master procrastinator's head is a pretty accurate description of what my mind does naturally and seems to have caused a lot of the "productivity bottlenecks" that made a psychologist think to get me assessed for ADHD (and I know at least one person, who I've had the good fortune to observe up close, who doesn't relate much to Time Urban's description, who's strategies are therefore a little less useful to me because they don't address the challenges I  seem to face at the moment).  

    Some more rambly thoughts on this train of thought that I may or may not endorse at all if I thought more about them and may later really regret leaving here (but am going to leave them just because I think it'll be easier to get back to what I'm supposed to be doing if I put them somewhere for the moment 🀣): 
    I'm pretty sure a lot of people manage varying levels of these characteristics wouldn't meet the clinical criteria of ADHD (I'd guess the characteristic that me and other people in my family have in common that causes higher levels of some ADHD symptoms than other people I am close to who lack those characteristics  are not a binary: they seem to come on a pretty continuous spectrum in the people I know well enough/who I've seen try to work often enough and have been open about what is and isn't easy for them). If these characteristics are a continuous spectrum, then there are plenty of people who probably have great strategies that utilise the best of this nature and manage the challenges who wouldn't be diagnosable with ADHD, many who this is due to some combo of them having not that extreme levels of this characteristic and/or particularly amazing mindsets and strategies that help them  make the most of who they are. E.g. I  think that is not outside the realm of possibility that people in my family who have the same challenges as me in how their dopamine seems to distribute itself among all the various possible activities they could be doing might not actually be able to get diagnosed with ADHD because their strategies mean that they don't really have the symptoms to the same extreme level I had when I got my diagnosis.

    (The reason these thoughts seem relevant to my "how can you help me help others" profile is that managing my "productivity bottlenecks" is my current focus so I can better help others over my lifetime so if there is a place to put these reflections, this doesn't seem the worst place. This way people might also have nuance to add to these sorts of low-confidence thoughts so I can get a better model to progress on these bottlenecks faster if my current low-confidence, best-guess model is inaccurate)

  2. ^

    I have started documenting some of the strategies that work for me too (but there is a lot of personal info so I've decided to not leave up a public google doc). Feel free to reach out if you're curious to see what progress I've made so far and what bottlenecks I'm tackling next (whether that be to cross-reference your own experiences and see if anything I've done seems helpful or because you're wonderfully helpful and you want to see some more specifics to work out what you do that might be applicable to where I am right now or a bit of both or some other reasonable reason I haven't conjured up 😊). 

How I can help others


Feel free to reach out to me about anything where I seem like I might be helpful based on the various things I've said elsewhere in the meantime while this field loads.

Note: if I take a while to respond, it's just because your message probably got a bit ugh because I care about replying and I feel bad about not having replied already.  I tend to overcome many of my ugh fields eventually but I have a lot of them so it sometimes takes a bit of time for any particular one to get to the top of the pile (so sometimes it takes me a little longer than ideal to get back to people πŸ€£πŸ™ƒπŸŒž).


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Sophia's Shortform

I suspect that some ways we filter at events of existing groups are good and we should keep doing them.

 I also suspect some strategies/tendencies we have when we filter at the group level are counter-productive to finding and keeping high-potential people. 

For example, filtering too fast based on how quickly someone seems to "get" longtermism might filter in the people who are more willing to defer and so seem like they get it more than they do.

 It might filter out the people who are really trying to think it through, who seem more resistant to the ideas or who are more willing to voice their half-formed thoughts that haven't developed yet into something that deep (because thinking through all the different considerations to form an inside view takes a lot of time and voicing a lot of "dead-end" thoughts). Those higher value people might systematically be classed as "less tractable" or "less smart" when, in fact, it is sometimes[1] that we have just forgotten that people who are really thinking about these ideas seriously, who are smart enough to possibly be a person who could have a tail end impact, are going to say things that don't sound smart as they navigate what they think.  The further someone is from our echo chamber, the stronger I expect this effect to be. 

Obviously I don't know how most groups filter at the group-level, this is so dependent on the particular community organizers (and then also there are maybe some cultural commonalities across the movement which is why I find it tempting to make broad-sweeping generalisations that might not hold in many places). 

  1. ^

    but obviously not always (and I don't actually have a clear idea of how big a deal this issue is, I'm just trying to untangle my various intuitions so I can more easily scrutinize if there is a grain of truth in any of them on closer inspection)

Sophia's Shortform

Hey Chris 😊,  yeah, I think changing your mind and life in big ways overnight is a very big ask (and it's nice to feel like you're welcome to think about what might be true before you decide whether to commit to doing anything about it -- it helps a lot with the cognitive dissonance we all feel when our actions, the values we claim to hold ourselves to and what we believe about the world are at odds[1]).

 I also completely agree with some targeting being very valuable. I think we should target exceptionally caring people who have exceptional track-records of being able to accomplish the stuff they set out to accomplish/the stuff they believe is valuable/worthwhile. I also think that if you spend a tonne of time with someone who clearly isn't getting it even though they have an impressive track record in some domain, then it makes complete sense to use your marginal community building time elsewhere. 

However, my guess is that sometimes we can filter too hard, too early for us to get the tail-end of the effective altruism community's impact. 

It is easy for a person to form an accurate impression of another person who is similar to them. It is much harder for a person to quickly form an accurate impression of another person who is really different (but because of diminishing returns, it seems way more valuable on the margin to get people who are exceptional in a different way to the way that the existing community tends to be exceptional than another person who thinks the same way and has the same skills). 

  1. ^

    and we want people to make it easier for people to align these three things in a direction that leads to more caring about others and more seeing the world the way it is (we don't want to push people away from identifying as someone who cares about others or from shying away from thinking about how the world). If we push too hard on all three things at once, I think it is much easier for people to align these three things by either deciding they actually don't value what they thought they value, they actually don't really care about others, or they might find it incredibly hard to see the world exactly as it is (because otherwise their values and their actions will have this huge gap)

Sophia's Shortform

If my confidence in any of these claims substantially increases or decreases in the next few days I might come back and clarify that (but if doing this becomes a bit of an ugh field, I'm not going to prioritise de-ughing it because there are other ugh-fields that are higher on my list to prioritise de-ughing 😝)

Sophia's Shortform

(I am not confident I will reflectively endorse much of the above in 24 hours from now, I'm just sharing my off-the-cusp vibes which might solidify into more or less confidence when I let these thoughts sit for a bit more time)

Sophia's Shortform

EDIT: I copied and pasted this comment as a direct reply to Chris and then edited it to make it make more sense than it did the first time I wrote it and also to make it way nicer than my off-the-cuff/figuring-out-what-thought-as-I-went stream-of-consciousness but I left this here anyway partly for context for the later comments and also because I think it's kind of fun to have a record (even if just for me) of how my thoughts develop as I write/tease out what sounds plausibly true once I've written it and what doesn't quite seem to hit the mark of what intuition I'm attempting to articulate (or what intuition that, once I find a way to articulate it, ends up seeming obviously false once I've written it up). 

I am not arguing that we should not target exceptional people, I think exceptionally smart and caring people are way better to spend a lot of one-on-one time with than people who care an average amount about helping others and for whom there is a lot of evidence that they haven't yet got a track record of being able to accomplish things they set their minds to. 

My guess is that sometimes we can filter too hard, too early for us to get the tail-end of the effective altruism community's impact. 

It is easy for a person to form an accurate impression of another person who is similar to them. It is much harder for a person to quickly form an accurate impression of another person who is really different (but because of diminishing returns, it seems way more valuable on the margin to get people who are exceptional in a different way to the way that the existing community tends to be exceptional than another person who thinks the same way and has the same skills). 

Sophia's Shortform

Basically, my current best guess is that being really open-minded and patient with people once your group is at a place where pretty much everyone has demonstrated they are a tail person in one way or another (whether that's because of their personal traits or because of their fortunate circumstances) will get us more people who have the potential to have a positive tail-end impact engaging with us enough for that potential to gave a great shot of being realised. 

Sophia's Shortform

This is a proof of existence of these kinds of people. It doesn't really tell us all that much about what proportion of people without the backgrounds that make the EA language barrier a lot smaller (like philosophy, econ and STEM) are actually good at the thinking processes we value very highly that are taught a lot in STEM subjects. 

I could have had this experience with people who I know and this still not mean that this "treating people with a huge amount of charity for the reason that some people might have the potential to have a tail impact even if we'd not guess it when we first meet them" is actually worth it overall. I've got a biased sample but I don't think it's irrational that this informs my inside view even if I am aware that my sample is likely to be heavily biased (I am only going to have built a common language with people/built trust with people if there is something that fuels our friendships -- the people who I want to be friends with are not random! They are people who make me feel understood or say things that I find thought-provoking or a number of other factors that kind of makes them naturally a very cherry-picked pool of people).  

Sophia's Shortform

(I mainly have this experience with people who maybe didn't study maths or economics or something that STEM-y who I have other "languages" that mean I can still cross inferential gaps reasonably efficiently with them)

Sophia's Shortform

This impression comes from knowing people where I speak their language (metaphorically) and I also speak EA (so I can absorb a lot of EA content and translate it in a way they can understand) who are pretty great at reasoning transparency and updating in conversations with people whom they've got pre-established trust (which means when miscommunications inevitably happen, the base assumption is still that I'm arguing in good faith). They can't really demonstrate that reasoning transparency if the person they are talking to doesn't understand their use of language/their worldview well enough to see that it is actually pretty precise and clear and transparent once you understand what they mean by the words they use. 

Sophia's Shortform

I'm also not sure, once we're already targeting people who have track records of doing the things they've put their minds to (which obviously won't be a perfect proxy for tail potential but it often seems better than no prioritisation of where the marginal group should go), I'm not sure how good we are at assessing someone's "tail potential", especially because there are going to be big marginal returns to finding people who have a different comparative advantage to the existing community (if it is possible to communicate the key ideas/thinking with high fidelity) who will have more of an inferential gap to cross before communication is efficient enough for us to be able to tell how smart they are/how much potential they have. 

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Working (0-5 years experience)