Co-Creation of the Library of Effective Altruism [Information Design] (1/2)

post by annaleptikon · 2022-07-10T17:31:59.812Z · EA · GW · 22 comments

Contents

  Background
    Goals
      Funding
    Intentions
    The Value of Visualizations and Information Design
      Visual EA (adjacent) Knowledge Projects
    The Choice of Books
      To Read or Not To Read
  The Process
    Design
    Information
  Decision-Making
    Importance of Books
  Contribute Your Perspective [Comment/Survey]
  Appendix
    Book Categories
    Current Book List Selection by Categories
      Introduction
      Ethics
      Rationality, Epistemology, Science, Scientific Methods & Measurement
      Entrepreneurship & Strategy
      Global Poverty
      Catastrophic & Existential Risks
      Governance & Systems
      AI Safety
      Animal Welfare & Rights
      Advocacy & Community Building & Soft Skills
      Well-Being & Mental Health
      Climate Change
      Transhumanism
      Nuclear Security
      Change-Makers (Biographies)
      Geopolitics
      Big History
      Learning from Failure
None
22 comments

This post describes the reasons for, process, and preliminary result of creating an information design poster of the essential books on effective altruism. Fundamentally this is an attempt at a visualization of an effective altruism library. 

However, this is only half the process. The current design is meant as an approximation, as a surface to collectively disagree with and to add perspectives and knowledge. It was designed with Cunningham's Law in mind, which states that the best way to get the right — if not any — answer on the internet is not to ask a question; it's to post the wrong answer. Once the comment and survey activity subsides I will synthesize the information into the final design (and second post).

The final design will be a digital document with hyperlinks or a physical scratch-off poster. 

This is a first attempt at visualizing the effective altruism library. The draft builds on Cunningham's Law; it is meant to be disagreed with. If you feel provoced to scream that something is wrong, this is intended, as this is an ongoing conversation.

Background

Goals

The goal of this endeavor is an information visualization that represents the most important books on and related to effective altruism. This product then affords various functions; it can, e.g., get printed as a scratch-off poster that can be handed out at introductory events and efficiently give a first overview of the knowledge space of effective altruism. Part of the value of the artifact is, however, the collective process of creating it, namely the creation of a first draft and external representation of the knowledge space, offering a surface to quickly show gaps or disagreements, which can then be integrated into the next version.

Funding

With these goals in mind, the project was funded by a one-month salary from CEA to conduct the scratch-off reading list. More complex information design projects will potentially be conducted. This will depend on how well this project is received and what was learned from the process of creating it. The reception of this project will be judged by how widely it will get used by different organizations and by the engagement with this EA Forum article. Ideas for what to visualize next are welcome.

Intentions

Why is creating an information visualization poster of books on effective altruism a meaningful endeavor? It helps to resolve many different issues, offers various affordances, and, accordingly, is a robustly valuable case:

By Matthew Barnett and Jackson Wagner in the EA Dank Memes Facebook Group 

The Value of Visualizations and Information Design

A visual diagrammatic representation communicates information fundamentally differently from uniform sentential - sequential verbal - content.  This is why Jill H. Larkin and Herbert A. Simon (1987) argue that “a Diagram is (Sometimes) Worth Ten Thousand Words”:

“When two representations are informationally equivalent, their computational efficiency depends on the information-processing operators that act on them. Two sets of operators may differ in their capabilities for recognizing patterns, in the inferences they can carry out directly, and in their control strategies (in particular, the control of search).”

Larkin and Simon show a diagram of a mechanism and next to it the information-theoretical equivalent is written in rules of the different components interacting. While from a "view from nowhere" the two representations contain the same information, humans can intuitively process the diagram better and make quick inferences about how the mechanistic system would react to certain interactions.

When the importance of one part of the information is for example represented by its relative size to other pieces of information, this decreases the cost of recognition and search strategies, as the perceptual system is directly “drawn to” what matters in the order of its importance. By the same logic, such a visual representation ensures that the most important pieces of information get processed first. This matters when the average interaction time with content is low. Which they usually are online. Most EA forum posts will not get read.

As an example of this point, here is the information representation of the Global Burden of Disease Compare tool, showcasing the causes of deaths in 2019 for humans with high-middle SDI. In the temporal process of looking at the image quite early on the relative size of IHD (ischemic heart disease) and strokes “pop out” to a human observer. The temporal processing in such a diagram is directly correlated to the relative importance of the squares to the topic at hand.


 For the same reasons representing a knowledge space visually also affords more efficient disagreement and insight transmission in both directions. When an observer first sees the big picture representation a first disagreement could be about which dimensions in the representation are relevant and then about the largest and most relevant pieces of information. While in a sequential verbal representation the knowledge exchange might get derailed by the first piece of information about which there is a disagreement, even if it is relatively unimportant in relation to the big picture. An image can afford an information exchange that is in order of relevance and, given that it will usually be limited in time, more efficient exchange relative to time spent. 

Because of these effects, visual representations can function as tools for collective sense-making processes. This was established under the term “information mapping” by Bob Horn. He extended the use of visual language and visual analytics to develop methods—involving large, detailed infographics and argument map murals—for exploring and resolving wicked problems. On his website (bobhorn.us) you can find examples of information murals, for example on the economy of China, suicide prevention, sustainability dynamics, the history of Systems Science and Cybernetics, and many more. 

Another completely pragmatic reason for information maps is that they often look nice or, god forbid, even beautiful. Humans like to look at beautiful things and therefore spend more time doing so and are a bit happier while doing so.

Visual EA (adjacent) Knowledge Projects

For the sake of completeness, here is a list of past projects from inside the effective altruism and rationality community that visually maps their knowledge spaces. Please point me to the ones that were missed here. 

Other works and people worth mentioning:

The Choice of Books

Let’s address the elephant in the room. The most important information resources in the effective altruism and rationality community are not only books but also blog posts, talks, academic papers, tweets, Facebook posts, mailing lists, presentations, conversations….

Why then does this representation of the knowledge space focus on books? 

Firstly, it makes the problem tractable. The increased accuracy of thinking of the knowledge space in informal ideas and tracing their origins down multiplies the effort by orders of magnitude. While this could be a project of the future, for now, having thoughts published as a book means they have individually gone through various editorial and quality control processes. As a consequence, this makes the mapping of the knowledge space immensely more tractable. Many meta-questions about whether ideas should be included or not can, for this particular project, be circumvented by asking “well, are they in a book?”. One could of course argue that what makes for a book is not straightforward either, but most cases are surprisingly typical cases.

To Read or Not To Read

The focus on the books does not mean that you should be expected to read or have read them all. The meta-knowledge of their existence is an excellent start. And there are multiple intermediate steps to slowly reading the whole book, from reading a summary or skimming them to get a rough idea. 

Given the time trade-offs, it can often be harmful to spend too much time reading. Holden Karnofsky wrote more on the topic of time and retention trade-offs on his blog “cold takes” under the titles Honesty about reading and Reading books vs. engaging with them. (Thank you to Rob Bensinger for pointing out that this should be pointed out).

A mindset of completely trying to "hack" a deep understanding of complex topics is not feasible, even foolish. There is no one weird trick. A long-term commitment to learning, engaging with diverse materials, and putting in the related work is a prerequisite to what effective altruism is. I agree with Holden, that this value can not be operationalized as reading predefined books. Reading the same book can mean significant advances for one person and procrastination for another. What knowledge is meaningful for you to acquire or what ideas are valuable to engage with more depends on your goals, your current knowledge, and your education. Choose wisely.

 

The Process

The process of creating an information design of a library of effective altruism consists of the design process (“design”) and the process of generating and choosing its content (“information”).

Design

The first step was generating drafts of general design options related to a  library knowledge space. Along which dimensions and in which categories should the books be ordered, should they be represented by their title, spine, or covers, all in the same size or proportional to importance?

Pencil sketches to conceptualize the space of meaningfully abstracting library information

These drafts were then handed as inspiration to designers through a 99Design competition. 

Excerpts from the submitted designs in the 99Design competition

After external feedback on contenders in the design competition — requested in Effective Altruism Facebook groups — the aim was a representation of bookshelves with book spines as the essential element. Especially for digital nomads, such a poster would represent the non-existent library more pleasantly.

However, the lacking availability of images of book spines online turned the goal back to representing the books by their covers.

Information

The majority of the process of gathering information on important books in effective altruism was my year-long involvement with the community since 2014, reading the books myself, and talking about what content was valuable to others. 

The short-term process directly relevant to this project was first, to gather other projects that give overviews of effective altruism books and resources.


The List of Book Lists

In a first collective sense-making process I shared the Goodreads list in effective altruism Facebook group and call for more people joining in its upvote process. 

Decision-Making

How many books should be represented? 

The initial idea was to aim for roughly one hundred books, but, as Rob Bensinger pointed out, it is unlikely that a specific number passes some threshold of importance. In future iterations, there will be either cutoffs represented to indicate different levels of importance or the number of books will get adapted. Currently, the reduced opacity reflects that these books were added on a whim.

Importance of Books

Books are to be chosen based on expected value and importance along multiple dimensions


Finding the most important books along many dimensions can easily become a complex problem itself. This complex decision process can be easiest approached by:

  1. Sorting books into different categories (tends to be quite straight-forward)
  2. Ordering books inside the categories by their general importance and relevance to the category
  3. Determining the relative importance of different categories of books, including meta categories (the relative importance of different cause areas is empirically grounded in EA surveys [EA · GW] around how the causes are funded and valued relative to each other. The question of how important the underlying principles are relative to the cause area knowledge, however, is up in the air. To what extent is effective altruism a body of knowledge or a way of thinking and acting. The current estimate is roughly 50:50)
  4. Filling up the category: Including the most important books in their categories until either a quality threshold or maximum amount of books per category, as determined by category importance, is reached

 

Contribute Your Perspective [Comment/Survey]

Your three options are commenting on this post, answering the survey, and, less importantly, voting on the Goodreads list.

Should you find commenting tedious or not want to share your opinion for others to see, here is a survey that guides you through the questions, books, and categories. In the survey, most answers are not required, accordingly, you can quickly skim through the survey to find sections that are relevant to the perspectives, knowledge, and feedback you want to share. Otherwise, please comment directly:

  1. Speak up about overview pages that are missing in the list of resource and book lists. Were there any meta lists of books from the community or related organizations forgotten?
  2. Are there other existing visualization projects in EA and adjacent communities?
  3. “To what extent is effective altruism a body of knowledge or a way of thinking and acting”? How large should the methods, principles, and the underlying philosophy section be represented relative to knowledge and practice relevant to specific causes?
  4. Which books would you personally remove or add to the list in general? This could be judged by how important the books were to you personally, in forming motivation and mindset, or in learning and insights gained. It can be judged by how important the books were for EA in general according to your knowledge, how important you think they will be for the future of EA, or how important you think they are in creating common ground in the community.
  5. Which books give the best cases for specific causes and which contain the most relevant knowledge about the causes?
  6. In a specific category, which books would you add or remove? Which categories would you add or remove?

You can also vote on the Goodreads Effective Altruism List so your personal perspective gets integrated there.
 

Appendix

Book Categories

Current Book List Selection by Categories

Unnumbered means not on the current poster

Introduction

  1. Doing Good Better (William MacAskill)
  2. 80.000 Hours
  3. The Life You Can Save
  4. The Precipice
  5. The Most Good You Can Do
  6. EA Handbook 1-3
  7. What We Owe The Future
  8. Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality
  9. Poor Economics
  10. Factfulness

Ethics

  1. Reasons and Persons
  2. On What Matters (Derek Parfit)
  3. Practical Ethics
  4. Famine, Affluence, and Morality
  5. Good & Real
  6. On Liberty & Utilitarianism
  7. The Hedonic Imperative (Pearce)
  8. Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them
  9. Suffering-Focused Ethics: Defense and Implications
  10. The Moral Landscape (Sam Harris)
  11. Against Empathy
  12. The Expanding Circle: Ethics, Evolution, and Moral Progress
  13. Ethics in the Real World
  14. Frank Ramsey: A Sheer Excess of Power
  15. Moral Uncertainty

I would love to include Essays on Reducing Suffering by Brian Tomasik, but they don't fulfill the book standard.

Rationality, Epistemology, Science, Scientific Methods & Measurement

  1. Rationality: From AI to Zombies
  2. Thinking, Fast & Slow
  3. Heuristics and Biases
  4. On Bullshit
  5. Nature of Rationality
  6. Rationality (Pinker)
  7. The Scout Mindset
  8. Predictably Irrational
  9. Algorithms to Live By
  10. Adaptive Thinking
  11. The Rationality Quotient
  12. Thinking in Bets
  13. The Undoing Project
  14. Sources of Power (Gary Klein)
  15. Superforecasting
  16. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
  17. Surely, You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman
  18. Exact Thinking in Demented Times
  19. Logicomix (Bertrand Russell)
  20. Fooled by Randomness
  21. Slate Star Codex (Abridged)

The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life (left out by mistake!)

 Understanding Naturalism

Focusing

 

Entrepreneurship & Strategy

  1. The Personal MBA
  2. How to Launch a High-Impact Nonprofit
  3. Startup Playbook
  4. Good Strategy, Bad Strategy
  5. Freakonomics

Introduction to Microeconomics

  1. How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of "Intangibles" in Business

 

Global Poverty

  1. The Age of Sustainable Development
  2. Reinventing Philanthropy: A Framework for More Effective Giving (Friedman)
  3. The End of Poverty
  4. How much have global problems cost the world

Global Problems, Smart Solutions: Costs and Benefits

The Nobel Laureates Guide to the Smartest Targets for the World 2016-2030

 

Catastrophic & Existential Risks

  1. The Black Swan
  2. Averting Catastrophe (Sunstein)
  3. Morality, Foresight, and Human Flourishing: An Introduction to Existential Risks
  4. Worst-Case Scenarios (Sunstein)
  5. Global Catastrophic Risks
  6. Engines of Creation

 

Governance & Systems

  1. The Systems Bible
  2. Anarchy, State, and Utopia
  3. Inadequate Equilibria
  4. Governing the Commons
  5. How Change Happens
  6. Seeing Like a State
  7. Thinking in Systems
  8. Skin in the Game

Introduction to Theory of Complex Systems (Thurner)

Markets, Networks, Crowds


 

AI Safety

  1. Human Compatible
  2. Our Final Invention
  3. The Singularity is Near
  4. Life 3.0
  5. Superintelligence
  6. The Alignment Problem

Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach

Smarter than us

Reframing Superintelligence: Comprehensive AI Services As General Intelligence 


 

Animal Welfare & Rights

  1. Animal Liberation
  2. The End of Animal Farming
  3. Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows
  4. How to Create a Vegan World: A Pragmatic Approach

 

Advocacy & Community Building & Soft Skills

  1. Change of Heart
  2. Influence
  3. The Art of Gathering
  4. Non-Violent Communication
     

Well-Being & Mental Health

  1. Flourish
  2. The Origins of Happiness
  3. Well-Being

Climate Change

  1. Climate Shock
  2. Our Final Hour
  3. The Uninhabitable Earth

 

Transhumanism

  1. Ending Aging
  2. Human Enhancement

 

Nuclear Security

  1. The Doomsday Machine
  2. Command and Control (Schlosser)


 

Change-Makers (Biographies)

  1. A Lab of One’s Own

Sometimes Brilliant


 

Geopolitics

  1. Principles for a Changing World Order


 

Big History

  1. Why Nations Fail
  2. Guns, Germs, and Steel

Humankind: A Hopeful History


 

Learning from Failure

  1. Gulag Archipelago
  2. Confessions of an Economic Hitman
  3. The Righteous Mind

22 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by davidad · 2022-07-11T15:28:21.330Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I want to put in a strong bid to replace Parfit’s On What Matters Volume One with Parfit’s On What Matters Volume Three. Between volumes Two and Three, Parfit had many fruitful discourses with leading moral antirealists (Gibbard, Railton, Blackburn, etc), which are partially reproduced in Volume Three, where they really start to converge on some claims and get beyond their previous talking-past-each-other. It’s truly amazing to read. Volume Three is self-contained and I think it should be considered as the best and final revision of Parfit’s ethics.

Replies from: annaleptikon
comment by annaleptikon · 2022-07-11T15:38:40.590Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I didn't know that, very valuable!

comment by Rubi J. Hudson (Rubi) · 2022-07-11T14:56:23.702Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I love the idea of a Library of EA! It would be helpful to eventually augment it with auxiliary and meta-information, probably through crowdsourcing among EAs. Each book could also be associated with short and medium summaries of the key arguments and takeaways, and warnings about which sections were later disproven or controversial (or a warning that the whole thing is a partial story/misleading). There's also a lot of overlap and superseding within the books (especially within the rationality and epistemology section), so it would be good to say "If you've read X, you don't need to read Y". It would also be great to have a "Summary of Y for people who have already read X" that just covers the key information.

I do strongly feel that a smaller library would be better. While there are advantages to being comprehensive, a smaller library is better at directing people to the most important books. It is really valuable to say that someone should start with a particular book on a subject, rather than their uninformed choice from a list. Parsimony in recommendations, at least on a personal level, is also important for conveying the importance of the recommendations you do make. It somewhat feels like you weren't confident enough to cut a book that was recommended by some subgroup, even if there were better options available.

There's a Pareto principle at play here, where reading 20% of the books will provide 80% of the value, and a repeated Pareto principle where 4% provide 64% of the value.  I think you could genuinely recommend four or five books from this list that provide two-thirds of the EA value of the entire list between them.  My picks would be The Most Good You Can Do, The Precipice,  Reasons and Persons, and Scout Mindset.  Curious what others would pick.

Replies from: RobBensinger
comment by RobBensinger · 2022-07-11T21:52:39.596Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

My picks for a Core Longtermist EA Bookshelf (I don't see myself as having any expertise on what belongs in a Core Neartermist EA Bookshelf) would be:

  • HPMoR ↔ Scout Mindset
  • Rationailty: A-Z ↔ Good and Real
  • SSC (Abridged)
  • Superintelligence
  • Inadequate Equilibria ↔ Modern Principles of Economics (Cowen and Tabarrok)
  • Getting Things Done (Allen)

Some people hate Eliezer's style, so I tried to think of books that might serve as replacements for at least some of the core content in RAZ etc.

If I got a slightly longer list, I might add: How to Measure Anything, MPE, The Blank Slate (Pinker), Zero to One (Thiel), Focusing (Gendlin).

Note that I tried to pick books based on what I'd expect to have a maximally positive impact if lots of people-who-might-help-save-the-future read them, not based on whether the books 'feel EA' or cover EA topics.

Including R:AZ is sort of cheating, though, since it's more like six books in a trenchcoat and therefore uses up my Recommended EA Reading Slots all on its own. :p

I haven't read the vast majority of books on the longer list, and if I did read them, I'd probably change my recommendations a bunch.

I've read only part of The Blank Slate and Good and Real, and none of MPE, How to Measure Anything, or Focusing, so I'm including those partly on how strongly others have recommended them, and my abstract sense of the skills and knowledge the books impart.

comment by RobBensinger · 2022-07-11T21:19:51.430Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I like this project, and the book selection looks good to me! :)

I would vote against The Singularity is Near, because I don't think Kurzweil meets the epistemic bar for EA and I don't think he contributes any important new ideas. If you want more intro AI books, there's always Smarter Than Us (nice for being short).

Though honestly, a smaller AI section seems fine to me too; I would rather trade away some AI space on the EA Bookshelf in exchange for extra space in a hypothetical future EA Blog Post Shelf. :P The only published AI-risk book I'm super attached to is Superintelligence (in spite of its oldness).

+1 for adding Elephant in the Brain in the next version. :)

I don't much like The Structure of Scientific Revolutions; a lot of people acquire a sort of mystical, non-gearsy model of scientific progress from Kuhn. And I'd guess a blog post or two suffices for learning the key concepts?

Replies from: RobBensinger
comment by RobBensinger · 2022-07-11T21:56:43.906Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

On Bullshit doesn't seem important to me. (Having read it.)

I'd guess Expert Political Judgment might be better than the average book in the rationality section? (But I haven't read it.)

comment by egastfriend · 2022-07-11T12:43:36.715Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I love it!

Two suggestions:

  1. Some books are more important than others. E.g., Thinking Fast and Slow is much more foundational to the EA mindset than the Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Kuhn (IMHO but hopefully that's not very controversial). I think the visualization would benefit from showing some of the books as larger and others as smaller.
  2. It would be cool if you could mouseover/click on books to get more info about them. Some of the titles are too small to read, even when zoomed in.

Thanks for doing this!

comment by Gavin Bishop · 2022-07-11T06:01:28.093Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

This is an excellent project and an excellent post. Big kudos for making it happen. Also, thanks for introducing me to the term visual knowledge projects. I’d never heard of the specific term before and have always thought these sorts of visual maps are fantastic. 

I’ve been trying to think of any important topic areas which have been missed and the first one that springs to mind is one on rational and compassionate/altruistic interpersonal communication. I really enjoyed Nonviolent Communication but I’m not sure it’s our best bet due to a lack of randomised studies and some of the vibe. Maybe something on CBT like Feeling Good? Although this may now be drifting out of EA scope.

Secondly, for anyone who has enjoyed Factfulness by Hans Rosling or anything by Steven Pinker, I’d recommend this video essay for some strong counterpoints. I learned a lot and it’s made me more cautious regarding the global application of ‘new optimism’. 

Finally, here’s another of my favourite visual knowledge projects: The Map of Philosophy by Carneades.org

Replies from: annaleptikon
comment by annaleptikon · 2022-07-11T10:35:34.082Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for the kind comment!

Those designs come under many different terms, from information design to data visualizations. Many different semantic pointers point in a similar direction. I love the map of philosophy, too. You might also (already know and) like Domains of Science. Very related to metascience and science of science. Here e.g. Max Noichl does a network analysis of current philosophy [More: 1, 2, 3]. More links here.

Yes, good point regarding interpersonal communication, I was also thinking about more "soft skills" to add. I did consider nonviolent communication but wasn't sure. Btw once talking about (human) communication theory I actually prefer Watzlawick and von Thun in their content. Or at least, the are equally important work if one cares about the topic of interpersonal communication. I don't know whether to include any of this or not, I'll wait for more opinions to form mine in this context.

Yes, again, excellent point. I agree that Rosling and Pinker in their argumentation follow e.g. naive empiricism (the world will continue the trends from the past) and have progress as an underlying assumption. The books on Ending Poverty have similar narratives and assumptions. Reading "How the world thinks" by Julian Baggini helped me to understand how much the assumption of progress is in general a fact about Western philosophy in particular. However, I don't think just skipping these books or this perspective is the right way either. One can't just read "the right perspective", one needs to triangulate insights from multiple sides and narratives. As Taleb, who also makes many arguments against Pinker, is included multiple times, I feel like the antithesis is also properly reflected. Thanks for bringing it up!

 

comment by Devin Kalish · 2022-07-11T20:23:12.402Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Good list! I might also recommend Radical Markets, Progress and Poverty, and On Liberty for politics. I might also represent the somewhat more deontological perspective on animal rights with Fellow Creatures and Dialogues on Ethical Vegetarianism. For ethics, the Methods of Ethics comes to mind as a possibility, if you are open to older books, as it is one of both Singer’s and Parfit’s biggest influences. In a similar historical vein I’m fond of the Happiness Philosophers, but I’m not sure where that would fit. Possibly also in ethics.

comment by levin · 2022-07-11T11:06:25.463Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Books that have significantly reshaped my thinking in a useful way since I got into EA that are EA or adjacent both in authorship and in content, and that I therefore find myself recommending to EAs all the time:

  • Moral Tribes (delighted to see it on here)
  • Hidden Games by Yoeli and Hoffman
  • Elephant in the Brain by Simler and Hanson (and relatedly I'm somewhat surprised to not see Age of Em in the AI section; I haven't read it yet but it's one of the books that EA Books Direct gives out, if I'm not mistaken)
Replies from: annaleptikon
comment by annaleptikon · 2022-07-11T12:30:17.676Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I noticed that I missed Elephant in the Brain, it's a remarkable book and I agree with including it in the next version.
Hidden Games I had not thought of at all.
Thank you!

comment by Ben_West · 2022-07-14T15:24:53.830Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Some thoughts:

  1. Entrepreneurship and strategy: 
    1. I think lean startup seems better than everything there.
    2. If you're looking for something in particular drop, maybe good strategy, bad strategy?
  2. Change of heart: I don't think this has survived the replication crisis well, I would drop it. 
  3. Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows: I didn't think this was a very epistemically rigorous book, I would drop it
comment by johnburidan · 2022-07-11T12:41:59.799Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I love this! 

How to Measure Anything is in the Global Poverty  section, so don't forget to fix that!

Governance could probably handle The Myth of the Rational Voter.

I wonder if The Model Thinker should be included as a high-value easy to read mathematical modelling book. 

Replies from: tessa
comment by Tessa (tessa) · 2022-07-11T15:40:59.981Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Freakonomics also currently in Global Poverty!

comment by Indra · 2022-07-11T08:04:35.173Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Great initiative!! I hope it gains traction. As for the selection of books, I miss and would like to see more books on evolutionary thought, which can e.g. teach us about human nature, the nature of the natural world as well as teach us something on the design of systems. For example, this can yield evolutionary economics, wherein our actual human nature reveals a deep rationality distinct from traditional notions of rationality, and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs can be replaced and updated. I just finished Douglas T. Kenrick’s book Sex, Murder and the Meaning of Life (subtitle: a psychologist investigates how evolution, cognition and complexity are revolutionizing our view of human nature) in which these two points are raised. Furthermore, epistemic rationality requires worldview consistency and thus scientific consilience, also necessitating evolutionary thinking, among the integration of other sciences. In general I would like to see more books on integrating perspectives, as for example illustrated in David Deutsch’ books.

comment by David Mears · 2022-07-15T09:02:26.823Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I would lean away from encouraging people to all read the same books, for intellectual diversity reasons. I think there's great value in having different people read many different books, and then bringing a fresh perspective. Things like the scratch-off poster idea go too far in the direction of creating a canon, where each book is not particularly thoroughly vetted in any case, and leans towards promoting existing bestsellers rather than hidden gems.

How do 'book recommendations' fit into this 'diversity' stance? My feeling is that book recommendations should arise organically, rather than be centrally organised, since the former is firstly more adaptable (evolvable), and secondly allows for much more thorough vetting (people generally have to read the book before recommending it to a friend).

Replies from: annaleptikon
comment by annaleptikon · 2022-07-17T11:19:52.781Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I agree with your points made and I tried to explicitly address similar arguments in the original post!

The poster is meant to exactly distill the "canon" or "current orthodoxy" by aggregating what people currently and historically so far found most important to read. It is explicitly meant to distill this to quickly get a meta-knowledge of what that entails for various reasons: getting a quick introduction to precisely this meta-knowledge and the content but also to have a representation on which to build, precisely that, namely one's criticism of what is missing e.g. how about making a "10 knowledge spheres and their books, from which EA could gain a lot from" as a co-creational poster answer. Then more people could read in those directions and the next poster in a couple of years could entail exactly more of the new books many found crucial. The post also explicitly addresses that it is not meant to encourage anyone to read all of them.

This project is not centralized at all btw. I'm one member of the community making a draft to ask other community members what they think about it. It's an open conversation.

By having such a representation you can also more quickly understand which book is actually a "venturing out" into new territory versus just one's lack of knowledge of how central it already is in the community. I have seen that many times that someone would read a book and feel like they found something completely new and important, while I already knew that many have read and thought through exactly the same literature already.
 

Think "introductory textbook" into a field as an analogy. It's difficult to make an argument that they shouldn't exist because they don't already in-depth contain all the other options and criticisms of the stances. The metaphor often used for this problem is that of Wittgenstein's ladder: "My propositions serve as elucidations in the following way: anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical, when he has used them—as steps—to climb beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.) He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the world aright."
 

comment by Indra · 2022-07-20T22:05:50.980Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I would much recommend Thomas Schelling’s book: The Strategy of Conflict. This nobel-prize winning economist describes game theory around nuclear deterrence. “Original, and providing a way forward, but unfortunately not yet developed further,” says Daniel Ellsberg, in e.g. 80.000 interview, author of the here-included Doomsday Machine. Next to this topic, this book makes an excellent introduction into relevant and cutting edge game theory, with relevance in (the improvement of) all of our interactions.

comment by JaimeRV · 2022-07-11T10:25:17.621Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Great article! Here another list from the study-buddy channel in the Virtual Programs Slack workspace. The channel is made to promote self-study of this kind of EA material. https://bit.ly/3rblLj1

Replies from: annaleptikon
comment by annaleptikon · 2022-07-11T10:36:03.433Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thank you very much!
One insight I got from the list is to simply put Why Nations Fail (and accordingly Guns, Germs, and Steel) into the Global Poverty / Development bracket

comment by annaleptikon · 2022-07-17T11:50:26.143Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thank you to the many of you who have filled out the Google form as an alternative to writing a comment!

Here are some great points made:

  • the current average is at EA as a knowledge space being 75% principles/values and only 25% concrete knowledge

Introduction:

  • What We Owe The Future is heavily upvoted by those who already read it
  • Removing Factfulness from top line of books as there have been substantial critiques of New Optimism "people on both sides of the 'is the world getting better' debate can try to make the world better."
  • HPMOR should not be included in the introductory section "it teaches a certain mindset that fits inside Effective Altruism, but fails to introduce many important parts of the community", the style does not fit the values of a serious movement (person likes it a lot, though)

Ethics:

  • maybe replace 'The Moral Landscape' by Sam Harris with 'Think' by Simon Blackburn
  • Moral Tribes is extremely digestible for a philosophy book, much more so than Practical Ethics
  • Current ethics list is unfocused: "Parfit is an important ethicist and reasons and persons is important. But he isn't really more EA than many other ethicists. On Liberty is not really that EA-relevant. Utilitarianism is good. I like Hedonic Imperative but Pearce's writing style is a turn-off for many, I think. I'd strongly prefer collections of papers/articles than a list of full books. Reading full books is just a terrible strategy for getting a handle on important issues in ethics. If it has to be books, than I would use books that are collections of papers. Particularly: (1) The Oxford Handbook of Population Ethics. And (2) Greaves & Pummer's Effective Altruism: Philosophical Issues. (But I think you could do even better than these collections if you handpicked papers.) To these I would add (3) Mill's Utilitarianism (4) Singer's Expanding Circle. Strongly prefer a small list. Apologies that these thoughts are dashed off and unorganized."

Rationality:

  • redundant information, strongly prefer culling all but maybe one or two.
  • The Scout Mindset was fantastic, and of all the EA books I've read, it's probably the one I'm most inclined to recommend to pretty much everyone I know.
  • Once again, I just think it’s a bad idea to include all these books that are only tangentially related to EA, but are part of niche subcultures with their own worldviews. We’re not going to get a diverse community with fresh ideas if we filter for people who have a similar culture to current EAs.
  • https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/handbook-rationality this collection (The Handbook of Rationality) is a more information-dense path to learning this stuff I think. There are likely equally good subs

Economics:

  • Add Nudge and Make It Stick
  • Freakonomics is not important to read. It's just some fun cases of applied economics. It's not an efficient learning tool and it isn't focused on important issues. It is entertaining. I don't think microeconomics is important because it helps with entrepreneurial decisions; these should maybe be considered separately. Quantitative economics is at least as important as micro. Prefer a culled list. Possibly culled to zero.
  • Black Swan contains some helpful stuff, but it is off-puttingly polemical and not focused on extinction risks. Would make sense in a very large library maybe.
  • Can't really see a justification for including Anarchy, State, and Utopia. I think this list is too long. I don't think EA has a unified or consistent political ideology for short-term nation-states; I think this is a good thing and don't want a list that implies that EA does have one.
  • Add Radical Markets by Posner and Weyl and Nudge

AI:

  • The Alignment Problem, while I would say is overall good, does jump around quite a bit narratively. I would want to read other books in this category before recommending it too strongly.
  • "Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach" is the only book I'm familiar with on the list that I dislike. The vast majority of people need something more accessible.
  • Animal Liberation was a great "why" book, The End of Animal Farming was a great "how" book. They serve different purposes. Overall, I found Animal Liberation more compelling than The End of Animal Farming, though it is quite a bit denser.

Community and Soft Skill:

  • How to Make Friends and Influence People

Happiness:

  • Daniel Haybron's work on happiness is the best I've come across by far: Happiness and Well-Being: Integrating Research Across the Disciplines; The Pursuit of Unhappiness: The Elusive Psychology of Well-Being (Oxford University Press, 2008); Happiness: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2013).

Transhumanism:

  • Haven't read ending aging but this seems like a preoccupation of the rationalist community that makes little sense by EA-lights? I'd prefer to get rid of this category.

Other

  • Would be surprised if anything beyond what's included in the main EA recommendations is helpful here. Cull!
  • Biographies of changemakers seem like not particularly important reads?

Are there categories missing?

  • BioSecurity/Global Catastrophic Biological risks
  • I think you did an extremely thorough job. Well done!
  • Connections to other philosophies that value EA principles; ask e.g. Buddhist, Christian, and Jewish EA groups for recommendations

Should a category be removed?

  • I think people will assume the importance of an issue is proportional to the number of books included in it on the diagram. As a result, I would remove all object-level categories save the most important, and I would cull within them dramatically. I also think presenting object-level books seems like an endorsement, when mostly they are probably intended as jumping-off points for future thinking.
  • In general, I view MBA-style business strategy books as a negative signal. Of the philosophy books, Parfit is the only positive signal for me. The others mostly scan as popular philosophy.
  • I get a negative impression of people who are really into rationalist books and not much else—convinced of their own superiority, narrow-minded unless the idea is from a trusted rationalist guy, etc.

anything important missing?

  • Strangers Drowning, by Larissa MacFarquhar

Which books if understood by others would make you more confident in collaborating with them?

  • The Scout Mindset, Human Compatible, The Scout Mindset, anything introductory, Waking Up