Effective strategy and an overlooked area of research?

post by uvizhe · 2020-09-22T15:12:56.647Z · score: 0 (7 votes) · EA · GW · 7 comments

This is a link post for https://supersapiens.org/manifesto/en/

Hello!

Some time ago, I wrote an essay where I argue that there's a top priority area for research and charity, and if we want to mitigate the existential risk and promote everyone's well-being (ASAP or probably ever), then we should put the most of our efforts into this area.

Recently I realized that the idea is closely related to EA, so I am here. In short, this is about inducing pro-social behavior by means of transformative knowledge (TK), what this TK can be, and why it's crucial for humanity.

Please, bear in mind that the text is addressed to a more general audience.

UPD:
A more detailed synopsis of the essay:
1. From a game-theoretical and evolutionary perspective we (humanity) are doomed for conflicts of interest. This is the nature of life and this is what Scott Alexander calls Moloch (https://slatestarcodex.com/2014/07/30/meditations-on-moloch/).
2. Conflicts of interest are what bring the most negative changes in our societies, negate many positive changes, and increase the potential of x-risks. So it looks like the primary contributor to our ill-being and hence the first thing we should try to get rid of.
3. We, however, cannot easily avoid conflicts of interest because in our human world they arise also from the differences of beliefs. So we must find something that unites us and exploit this, and I argue that there is such a thing —the deep understanding of the nature of life and the resulting set of beliefs.
4. There is a kind of knowledge that we call tacit knowledge (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tacit_knowledge) which is based on personal experience. I argue that understanding the nature of life is possible for everyone and can be simple with the help of personal experience so that it results in tacit knowledge (and it probably helps to build an intellectual understanding too).
5. This tacit knowledge of the nature of life affects our thought/behavior patterns and may result in increased pro-social behavior and the decrease of conflicts of interest. So I call it transformative knowledge (TK).
6. I argue that many religious traditions try to acquire this TK with the help of different practices or psychoactive substances or whatever else.
7. I hypothesize how TK changes personal thought/behavior patterns and show how this applies to Buddhist tradition.
8. I argue that empathy and related concepts we study today are connected to this TK and are probably the same things to some extent. So we must extensively study empathy, transformative experiences, their relations, and try to figure out what the minimal TK can be and how to induce it easy.

7 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Thomas Kwa (tkwa) · 2020-09-25T02:01:04.284Z · score: 14 (4 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Here are my thoughts, which may sound overly critical, but are an honest attempt to communicate my ideas clearly.

When I start reading, I immediately notice two red flags:

  • The argument is formatted as a long manifesto by someone without a known track record of good epistemics. The manifesto claims to solve global cooperation, something many competent people have tried hard to solve.
  • The idea of a type of transformative knowledge that causes people to suddenly ignore their current incentives and start cooperating sounds fantastical.

Because of these red flags, I decide that the claim is extraordinary and you need to provide extraordinary evidence. From reading further, I notice further problems. To be clear, I don't think patching these problems will save the thesis: I would still be skeptical due to the prior implausibility and lack of a clear, plausible plan for increasing the world's empathy levels 10%.

  • Aligning everyone's beliefs won't solve conflict; you need to fix structural problems too.
  • If you could communicate obvious true beliefs and get people to internalize them properly, everyone would be an EA. A general method of communicating non-obvious true beliefs about the nature of reality to people, and getting them to act on it, sounds implausible.
  • You say "At some critical point a positive feedback loop will emerge so that every human becomes supersapient over time." If this is the natural result of some small critical mass of people becoming supersapient, why has Buddhism not taken over the world with its millions of enlightened people over thousands of years of existence?

The version of this idea that is scaled back to be plausible to me sounds something like "Scientists should study the benefits of meditation more; with a LOT of funding and rigor this could possibly get past 'does meditation work' to identifying specific benefits and best practices. People should also practice meditation and, if they can safely, experiment with psychedelics, to better understand themselves and possibly become more rational and empathic." That's something I believe, but interventions may not be cost-effective enough to be an EA cause area. (There are EA-adjacent efforts to improve mental health in the developing world, but not many stand out as highly leveraged.)

comment by uvizhe · 2020-09-25T12:52:46.505Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thomas, thanks for taking the time to read and an honest critique!

Aligning everyone's beliefs won't solve conflict; you need to fix structural problems too.

I don't think so. Aligning everyone's beliefs solves conflicts but, indeed, doesn't fix structural problems by itself. However, if a single person is able to see structural problems (while unable to fix them alone), the society with aligned (around everyone's well-being) interests and pro-social attitudes would be also able to see them and cooperatively fix these problems.

If you could communicate obvious true beliefs and get people to internalize them properly, everyone would be an EA. A general method of communicating non-obvious true beliefs about the nature of reality to people, and getting them to act on it, sounds implausible.

Well, I guess that most educated people of the 17th century would find the claim of extracting huge amounts of energy from small man-made devices (nuclear weapons) implausible. But this tells nothing about physics. If I say that communicating non-obvious true beliefs about the nature of reality to people sounds plausible to me it constitutes the same argument, actually. So I doubt this argument is valid.

I think, the reason you see it implausible is that you imagine some process of common education and this is really a hard way, even for obvious true beliefs. I use the concept of TK to show that there's a way to learn some things fast from personal experience (in contrast to the traditional education process of conveying intellectual knowledge).

You say "At some critical point a positive feedback loop will emerge so that every human becomes supersapient over time." If this is the natural result of some small critical mass of people becoming supersapient, why has Buddhism not taken over the world with its millions of enlightened people over thousands of years of existence?

How did you get an estimate of millions of enlightened people? What percent of enlightened people do you account as a critical mass? I think that's not a case with Buddhism because it didn't deliver enough "supersapient" people. Maybe there were times and places when it did but they were isolated in monasteries until death (e.g., from invaders) so it had no effect on the global population.

Actually, I don't consider Buddhism as an enlightening machine. Sometimes it works, most of the time it doesn't. But because it works sometimes there's something we can learn.

I would still be skeptical due to the prior implausibility and lack of a clear, plausible plan for increasing the world's empathy levels 10%.

Indeed, I don't have a clear plan. However the aim of the manifesto is rather to
provide some framework for further thought. I also understand that my idea can't be examined from cost-effectiveness perspective (at least now).

comment by nathan98000 · 2020-09-24T01:11:58.249Z · score: 7 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I didn’t downvote, but I’ll give my two cents after having read the abstract.

Your abstract didn’t leave me wanting to read the rest of your essay.

You say that the cause of our lack of coordination and management of x-risks is because of “human nature.” This is such a nebulous term, it’s unclear how to evaluate this claim, and given many people’s tendency to wax poetic without saying much of substance about human nature, I worry your essay is in this genre. You also say we cannot change human nature. It’s unclear how you would argue for this and why this wouldn’t immediately lead to a defeatist attitude. But given advances in neuroscience, genetics, and AI I strongly doubt that any conception of human nature is as fixed as you would claim. You do later say that a cooperative society is possible, which seems inconsistent with the earlier part of your abstract.

The key to cooperating and managing x-risks, you say, is acquiring an understanding life and human nature. Again, this is too vague to evaluate.

And you say this knowledge can be made quick and easy to acquire, which seems... utopian? So I strongly doubt that the essay would lead to actionable advice.

comment by uvizhe · 2020-09-24T14:15:13.356Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the comment. I changed nebulous "human nature" with a bit less nebulous "nature of life" in the abstract. Unfortunately, I don't know what other words in abstract (except of the full text of essay) can help to clear up questions that arise and make you want to read the text. But anyway I updated the post with a more detailed synopsis, hope this helps.

comment by uvizhe · 2020-09-23T12:03:50.142Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'd really appreciate it if people who are going to downvote this post do point me to my mistakes as well.

comment by EdoArad (edoarad) · 2020-09-23T20:14:42.597Z · score: 8 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I actually haven't decided yet whether to downvote or not. It would really help if you could summarize better what you mean by TK and what is it that you argue for - this can enable people to decide whether or not to read the whole post and to get the gist of it immediately. The abstract of the linked post is itself a bit vague, which I feel has similar problems. 

comment by uvizhe · 2020-09-24T14:14:39.620Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hey, thanks for the comment. I updated the post with a more detailed synopsis.