Posts

How to apply for a PhD 2022-05-11T19:18:18.245Z
Abby Hoskin's Shortform 2022-04-22T11:05:42.890Z
What are the highest impact questions in the behavioral sciences? 2021-04-07T11:35:02.329Z
Come hang out with EA Princeton! 2019-09-11T04:55:02.113Z

Comments

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on Some unfun lessons I learned as a junior grantmaker · 2022-05-23T21:16:49.578Z · EA · GW

Thanks for writing this! 

I appreciate your points about how EA grantmakers are 1. part time, 2. extremely busy, 3. and should spend more time getting grants out the door instead of writing feedback. I hope nobody has interpreted your lack of feedback as a personal affront! It just seems like the correct way to allocate your (and other grantmakers') time. 

I think the EA community as a whole is biased too far towards spending resources on transparency at the expense of actually doing ~the thing~. Hopefully this post makes some people update! 
 

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on How many people have heard of effective altruism? · 2022-05-20T18:20:25.170Z · EA · GW

Really cool survey, and great write up of the results! I especially liked the multilevel regression and post-stratification method of estimating distributions. 

Peter Singer seems to be higher profile than the other EAs on your list. How much of this do you think is from popular media, like The Good Place, versus from just being around for longer? 

Peter Singer is also well known because of his controversial disability/abortion views. I wonder if people who indicated they only heard about Peter Singer  (as opposed to only hearing about MackAskill, Ord, Alexander, etc.) scored lower on ratings of understanding EA? I've had conversations with people who refused to engage with the EA community because we were "led by a eugenicist", but that's clearly not what EA believes in.

Also kinda sad EA is being absolutely crushed by taffeta. 

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on Most students who would agree with EA ideas haven't heard of EA yet (results of a large-scale survey) · 2022-05-19T20:34:03.869Z · EA · GW

Great question! We need more research ;)

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on Most students who would agree with EA ideas haven't heard of EA yet (results of a large-scale survey) · 2022-05-19T20:33:31.072Z · EA · GW

Sounds really cool! Would love to hear more when you're ready :)

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on Most students who would agree with EA ideas haven't heard of EA yet (results of a large-scale survey) · 2022-05-19T19:23:38.022Z · EA · GW

This is such cool research! Thanks to everybody who contributed :)

I've found the majority of EA University Club members drift out of the EA community and into fairly low impact careers. These people presumably agree with all the EA basic premises, and many of them have done in depth EA fellowships, so they aren't just agreeing to ideas in a quick survey due to experimenter demands, acquiescence bias, etc. 

Yet, exposure to/agreement with EA  philosophy doesn't seem sufficient to convince people to actually make high impact career choices. I would say the conversion rate is actually shockingly low. Maybe CEA has more information on this, but I would be surprised if more than 5% of people who do Introductory EA fellowships make a high impact career change. 

So I would be super excited to see more research into your first future direction: "Beyond agreement with basic EA principles, what other (e.g., motivational or cognitive) predictors are essential to becoming more engaged and making valuable contributions?"
 

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on How to apply for a PhD · 2022-05-19T18:13:10.666Z · EA · GW

Effective Thesis is awesome! I will mention their coaching services in the top post :)

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on How to apply for a PhD · 2022-05-13T00:09:08.162Z · EA · GW

Great advice! Thanks for sharing :) 

A bunch of this definitely does generalize, especially: 

"If you have multiple research ideas, considering writing more than one (i.e. tailored) SOP and submit the SOP which is most relevant to faculty at each university."

"Look at groups' pages to get a sense of the qualification distribution for successful applicants, this is a better way to calibrate where to apply than looking at rankings IMO. This is also a good way to calibrate how much experience you're expected to have pre-PhD."

And if you can pull this off, you'll make an excellent impression: "For interviews, bringing up concrete ideas on next steps for a professor's paper is probably very helpful."

CS majors and any program that's business relevant (e.g. Operations Research and Financial Engineering) have excellent earning/job prospects if they decide to leave partway through. I think the major hurdle to leaving partway through is psychological? 
 

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on What are your recommendations for technical AI alignment podcasts? · 2022-05-12T02:30:51.449Z · EA · GW

+1 to AXRP! 

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on EA and the current funding situation · 2022-05-12T02:24:44.182Z · EA · GW

I had the same exact reaction! "Only $200 for one attendee? In this economy? What is that, 20 bananas?" 
 

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on EA will likely get more attention soon · 2022-05-12T02:19:38.311Z · EA · GW

Thanks, Julia! The  "Advice for responding to journalists" doc you link is really excellent. Everyone should read this before speaking to the media. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1GlVEKYdJU2LqE6tXPPay_2tBmJTQrsQxAO27ZaeKAQk/edit#heading=h.86t1p0fnb9uz

Some advice I would add: if a journalist asks to interview you, try to understand where they are in their research. 

Do they have a narrative that they are already committed to and they're just trying to get a juicy quote from you? If so, it might not make sense to talk to them since they might twist whatever you say to fit the story they have already written.

Alternatively, are they in information gathering mode and are honestly trying to understand a complex issue? If they have not written their story yet and you think you can give them information that will make their writing more accurate, then it makes more sense to do an interview. 
 

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on How to apply for a PhD · 2022-05-12T00:29:42.908Z · EA · GW

That's a good point, prestige is very important. I would argue having a good relationship with your advisor is the most important, since its a bad idea to be in an abusive relationship for multiple years, but I will edit the main post to take this perspective into account! 

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on Tentative Reasons You Might Be Underrating Having Kids · 2022-05-10T09:32:10.224Z · EA · GW

Sorry, you're right about Bryan Caplan making a more nuanced argument than what I suggested! But I just found his whole thing about how you can have more time if you don't drive your kid around to activities is basically inapplicable to early childhood. My partner and I easily spent 40 hours a week on childcare related stuff and the only places my kid goes to are daycare and the park. Young children just need a lot of attention! I found all his arguments about how to save time basically only apply to older kids who can read and amuse themselves, which sounds great, but is currently useless advice. 

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on Tentative Reasons You Might Be Underrating Having Kids · 2022-05-10T03:39:00.509Z · EA · GW

I totally agree with your points on: movements that frown upon having children will repel top talent, and you can have kids and still be an über effective altruist.

I disagree with the idea that having kids makes people care more about the future. I deeply respect Julia Wise, and maybe this is true for her and other people, but I have found being a parent hasn't really lengthened my philanthropic time horizons. I would change my mind on this if anybody has studied changes in altruistic behaviors before/after people became parents, but after having a child I've actually found myself more open to hyper short-termist altruism that I never would have considered pre-having children. (E.g., adopting a child makes more sense to me now. )

I also disagree on the Bryan Caplan stuff on how you can be a good parent with less effort than current USA norms dictate. Like, if you have an infant that needs to eat every 2 hours, 24 hours a day, for 3 months, there's no way to slack on that. You can hire somebody to do it for you, you can live near helpful family, or you can be a deadbeat parent. But somebody has to do this intense amount of labor or the child will die. Things definitely get easier once kids get older, and you can just choose to let your kid read all day after school instead of driving them around to a million extracurricular activities, but Bryan's focus on this being the "norm" that you can easily ignore reveals more about the social class of people he feels peer pressure from than what children actually normally do. I still think it's great to have kids, even though it's a lot of work. I just don't like people acting like it's not a lot of work.

I think one of the main reasons EA people are underrating having kids is because they almost never interact with children? At least in graduate school, very few people have children. I'm the only student in my department with a child. I get the sense that many EAs live in similar age segregated environments. I would encourage more people to babysit their young relatives if they have the opportunity, just so they can see how fun it is :)

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on EA and the current funding situation · 2022-05-10T03:13:38.577Z · EA · GW

Thanks for this write up, Will! I hope it changes the minds of people who are skeptical/unhappy about our massive funding influx. 

I think a lot of EAs are not  motivated to seek personal financial rewards, instead they find themselves seeking truth in graduate school/academia or trying to improve the world via non-profits. They see their similarly intelligent, well educated peers go into industry, optimizing for "make as much money as possible" and they just fundamentally do not relate to that value function. I wonder if this kind of personality type (if you can call it that) lies at the root of a lot of people's discomfort with EA non-profit jobs suddenly paying really well. 

Maybe we could offer special community building grants with the option that you will work in a basement, subsisting only on baguettes and hummus? ;)

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on Some clarifications on the Future Fund's approach to grantmaking · 2022-05-10T02:59:29.649Z · EA · GW

I appreciate these clarifications! Thanks, Nick! 

Soliciting feedback on mistakes seems like a good idea. 

I would also be excited to see a progress update if that isn't super costly to produce. Though I might be more happy with granters prioritizing funding good projects over telling everybody what they're doing than the average EA forum reader.

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on Abby Hoskin's Shortform · 2022-04-22T11:05:43.073Z · EA · GW

I had a great time at EAG! The organizers kicked ass, I'm sure it was a ton of work and I was really impressed by the entire thing. Here are some quick ideas on how to make upcoming EAGs even better:

  1. Reserve one room for low-barrier conversations. In this room, there should be a bunch of tables surrounded by a bunch of chairs. The rules are: anybody can sit in any open chair and join any conversation. This space provides a place for new people who don't know anybody at the conference to always have "something" interesting to do, instead of waiting around awkwardly for their next talk or meeting. It also seems like a cool way to meet a bunch of people quite quickly. 
  2. Higher profile/more senior career people who get a lot of 1:1 meeting invites from junior people who they don't have time to meet with should hold office hours. By office hours, I mean they should choose one of the chill hangout spaces, tell everybody who wants to meet with them where they are, and plant themselves there for an hour or two. This allows them to see a bunch of junior people simultaneously, as well as allows people with similar niche interests to meet each other. 
  3. At some point somebody published a spreadsheet of all the attendees, I think to get around swapcard shenanigans. I actually found the spreadsheet SUPER useful, and easier to navigate than swapcard. Maybe this spreadsheet could be made available next time too? 
Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on Announcing Impact Island: A New EA Reality TV Show · 2022-04-01T16:39:45.956Z · EA · GW

I would enthusiastically watch this. You should implement a viewer voting mechanism, where viewers can vote for who should receive more research funding and who should have to move out of their private apartment into the island group house with one bedroom. 

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on A Primer on the Symmetry Theory of Valence · 2021-09-13T22:33:16.311Z · EA · GW

Just want to be clear, the main post isn't about analyzing eigenmodes with EEG data. It's very funny that when I am intellectually honest enough to say I don't know about one specific EEG analysis that doesn't exist and is not referenced in the main text, people conclude that I don't have expertise to comment on fMRI data analysis or the nature of neural representations. 

Meanwhile QRI does not have expertise to comment on many of the things they discuss, but they are super confident about everything and in the original posts especially did not clearly indicate what is speculation versus what is supported by research. 

I continue to be unconvinced with the arguments laid out, but I do think both the tone of the conversation and Mike Johnson's answers improved after he was criticized. (Correlation? Causation?) 

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on A Primer on the Symmetry Theory of Valence · 2021-09-10T01:41:53.618Z · EA · GW

Ok, thank you for these thoughts.

Considering how asymmetries can be both pleasing (complex stimuli seem more beautiful to me than perfectly symmetrical spheres) and useful (as Holly Ellmore points out in the domain of information theory, and as the Mosers found with their Nobel prize winning work on orthogonal neural coding of similar but distinct memories), I question your intuition that asymmetry needs to be associated with suffering. 

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on A Primer on the Symmetry Theory of Valence · 2021-09-08T18:41:03.009Z · EA · GW

Hi Mike, 

Thanks again for your openness to discussion, I do appreciate you taking the time. Your responses here are much more satisfying and comprehensible than your previous statements, it's a bit of a shame we can't reset the conversation.

1a. I am interpreting this as you saying there are certain brain areas that, when activated, are more likely to result in the experience of suffering or pleasure. This is the sort of thing that is plausible and possible to test.  

1b. I think you are making a mistake by thinking of the brain like a musical instrument, and I really don't like how you're assuming discordant brain oscillations "feel bad" the way discordant chords "sound bad". (Because as I've stated earlier, there's no evidence linking suffering to dissonance, and as you've stated previously, you made a massive jump in reasoning here.) But this is the clearest you have explained your thinking on this question so far, which I do appreciate. 

1c. I am confused here. I did not ask whether dissonance in VWFA causes dissonance in FFA. I asked how dissonance between the two regions causes suffering. What does it mean neurologically to have dissonance within a specific brain area? I thought the point of using fMRI instead of EEG was that you needed to measure the differences between specific areas. 

1d. You're saying dissonance in place a could cause dissonance in place b, or both could be caused by dissonance in place c. That sounds super reasonable. But my question is why would dissonance between a and b cause suffering? It doesn't really matter what brain areas a and b are, I know I keep hammering at the point of why suffering == dissonance, but this is the most important part of your theory, and your explanation of "This  is a huge, huge, huge jump, and cannot be arrived at by deduction" is incredibly unsatisfying to me.

2&3. Ok, I appreciate this concrete response. I don't know enough about calculating eigenmodes with EEG data to predict how tractable it is. 

4. Your current analysis is incompatible with wearable biotech. Moving your body even a millimeter within the fMRI scanner negatively affects data quality. This is part of the reason I am confused about why you are focused so much on fMRI. I appreciate in general the value of accurate biomarkers for wellbeing, but I don't think symmetry/harmonics is either accurate or useful. 

5. The labs I am in (although not me personally) are working on closed loop fmri neurofeedback to improve mental health outcomes of depressed patients. I am familiar with the technical challenges in this work, which is partially why I am coming at you so hard on this. Here's a paper from my primary and secondary academic advisors: https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.06.07.137943v1.abstract

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on A Primer on the Symmetry Theory of Valence · 2021-09-08T16:11:29.379Z · EA · GW

Ok, so you want to know if whales experience more suffering than ants? And you're proposing a way to do this that involves putting them into an fMRI scanner? That seems like not the best way of asking or answering the question of how much does being X suffer and how does it compare to being Y.

What are the consequences of the answers you get? If newborns show less neural asynchrony, does that mean its morally acceptable to torture them? Or does that mean they are more at peace, so it's less morally acceptable to torture them?

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on More undergraduate or just-graduated students should consider getting jobs as research techs in academic labs · 2021-09-08T15:47:58.065Z · EA · GW

This is good advice. As somebody who basically did what you're describing, I can say that it worked for me. 

The only things I would take issue with are: grades/fellowships/awards are not totally useless. They can help you signal you will be a good asset to a lab, and they can help you get funding from big agencies later in your career. I agree that undergraduates overvalue their grades relative to getting actual research experience or publishing something (the best currency once you graduate), but I would not endorse completely disregarding your grades.  

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on A Primer on the Symmetry Theory of Valence · 2021-09-08T15:29:54.583Z · EA · GW

Hi Michael,

I appreciate your comment here, and am a big fan of your work.

In response to point #3, I think it is extremely revealing how you ask for definitions of a few phrases, and Mike directs you to a link that does not define the phrases you specifically ask for. https://www.qualiaresearchinstitute.org/glossary   Edit: Mike responded directly to this below, so this feels unfair to say now. 
 

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on A Primer on the Symmetry Theory of Valence · 2021-09-08T14:28:26.652Z · EA · GW

Object level questions:

1. Why would asynchronous firing between the visual word form area and the fusiform face area either cause suffering or occur as the result of suffering?

2. If your answer relies on something about how modularism/functionalism is bad: why is source localization critical for your main neuroimaging analysis of interest? 

3. If source localization is not necessary: why can't you use EEG to measure synchrony of neural oscillations?

4. Why can't you just ask people if they're suffering? What's the value of quantifying the degree of their suffering using harmonic coherence?

5. Assuming you are right about everything, do you think EA funds would more efficiently reduce suffering by improving living conditions of people in poor countries, or by quantifying the suffering of people living in rich countries and giving them neurofeedback on how coherent their brain harmonics are at the cost of over $500 per hour?

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on A Primer on the Symmetry Theory of Valence · 2021-09-08T13:26:57.673Z · EA · GW

I feel like it's important to highlight two things QRI people have said. These statements illustrate why STV sounds extremely implausible to me. 

"STV makes a big jump in that it assumes the symmetry of this mathematical object corresponds to how pleasurable the experience it represents is. This  is a huge, huge, huge jump, and cannot be arrived at by deduction; none of my premeses force this conclusion. We can call it an educated guess. But, it is my best educated guess after thinking about this topic for about 7 years before posting my theory. I can say I’m fully confident the problem is super important and I’m optimistic this guess is correct, for many reasons, but many of these reasons are difficult to put into words."

"I started out very skeptical of STV myself, and in fact it took about three years of thinking it through in light of many meditation and exotic high-energy experiences to be viscerally convinced that it's pointing in the right direction."

These are not satisfying arguments.
 

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on A Primer on the Symmetry Theory of Valence · 2021-09-08T13:09:47.213Z · EA · GW

To be clear, the comment flow was originally disrupted because Mike deleted one of his comments. Then some of his comments got buried under so many downvotes that they're hidden. I edited my top post to try to partially address this. 

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on A Primer on the Symmetry Theory of Valence · 2021-09-07T14:06:57.918Z · EA · GW

This sounds overwhelmingly confident to me, especially since you have no evidence to support either of these claims. 


If there is dissonance in the brain, there is suffering; if there is suffering, there is dissonance in the brain. Always.

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on A Primer on the Symmetry Theory of Valence · 2021-09-07T02:42:45.151Z · EA · GW
  1. In brief, asynchrony levies a complexity and homeostatic cost that harmony doesn’t. A simple story here is that dissonant systems shake themselves apart; we can draw a parallel between dissonance in the harmonic frame and free energy in the predictive coding frame.

I appreciate your direct answer to my question, but I do not understand what you are trying to say. I am familiar with Friston and the free-energy principle, so feel free to explain your theory in those terms. All you are doing here is saying that the brain has some reason to reduce “dissonance in the harmonic frame” (a phrase I have other issues with) in a similar way it has reasons to reduce prediction errors. There are good reasons why the brain should reduce prediction errors. You say (but do not clearly explain why) there’s a parallel here where the brain should reduce neural asynchrony/dissonance in the harmonic frame. You posit neural asynchrony is suffering, but you do not explain why in an intelligible way. “Dissonant systems shake themselves apart.” Are you saying dissonant neural networks destroy themselves and we subjectively perceive this as suffering? This makes no sense. Maybe you're trying to say something else, but I have made my confusion about the link between suffering and asynchrony extremely clear multiple times now, and you have not offered an explanation that I understand. 
 

I’ve learned that neuroimaging data pipelines are often held together by proverbial duct tape, neuroimaging is noisy, the neural correlates of consciousness frame is suspect and existing philosophy of mind is rather bonkers, and to even say One True Thing about the connection between brain and mind is very hard (and expensive) indeed. I would say I expect you to be surprised by certain realities of neuroscience as you complete your PhD, and I hope you can turn that into determination to refactor the system towards elegance, rather than being progressively discouraged by all the hidden mess.

I mean, I've done ~7 peer reviewed conference presentations on my multiple fmri research projects, and I also do multi-site longitudinal research into the mental health of graduate students (with thousands of participants), but thanks for the heads up ;)  

I agree neuroimaging is extremely messy and discouraging, but you’re the one posting about successfully  building an fmri analysis pipeline to run this specific analysis to support your theory. I am very annoyed that your response to my multiple requests for any empirical data to support your theory is you basically saying “science is hard”, as opposed to "no experiment, dataset, or analysis is perfect, but here is some empirical evidence that is at least consistent with my theory."

I wish you came at this by saying, "Hey I have a cool idea, what do you guys think?" But instead you're saying "We have a full empirical theory of suffering."

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on A Primer on the Symmetry Theory of Valence · 2021-09-06T22:49:28.083Z · EA · GW

Hi Mike, 

I am comfortable calling myself "somebody who knows a lot about this field", especially in relation to the average EA Forum reader, our current context. 

I respect Karl Friston as well, I'm looking forward to reading his thoughts on your theory. Is there anything you can share? 

The CSHW stuff looks potentially cool, but it's separate from your original theory, so I don't want to get too deep into it here. The only thing I would say is that I don't understand why the claims of your original theory cannot be investigated using standard (cheap) EEG techniques. This is important if a major barrier to finding empirical evidence for your theory is funding. Could you explain why standard EEG is insufficient to investigate the synchrony of neuronal firing during suffering?

I was very aggressive with my criticism of your theory, partially because I think it is wrong (again, the basis of your theory, "the symmetry of this representation will encode how pleasant the experience is", makes no sense to me), but also because of how confidently you describe your theory with no empirical evidence. So I happily accept being called arrogant and would also happily accept being shown how I am wrong. My tone is in reaction to what I feel is your unfounded confidence, and other posts like "I think all neuroscientists, all philosophers, all psychologists, and all psychiatrists should basically drop whatever they’re doing and learn Selen Atasoy’s “connectome-specific harmonic wave” (CSHW) framework." https://opentheory.net/2018/08/a-future-for-neuroscience/

You link to your other work in this post, and are raising money for your organization (which I think will redirect money from organizations that I think are doing more effective work), so I think it's fair for my comments to be in reaction to things outside the text of your original post. 

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on A Primer on the Symmetry Theory of Valence · 2021-09-06T21:06:40.566Z · EA · GW

Hi Mike! I appreciate your openness to discussion even though I disagree with you. 
 

Some questions:
 

1. The most important question: Why would synchrony between different brain areas involved in totally different functions be associated with subjective wellbeing? I fundamentally don't understand this. For example, asynchrony has been found to be useful in memory as a way of differentiating similar but different memories during encoding/rehearsal/retrieval. It doesn't seem like a bad thing that the brain has a reason to reduce, the way it has reasons to reduce prediction errors. Please link to brain studies that have found asynchrony leads to suffering. 

2. If your theory is focused on neural oscillations, why don't you use EEG to measure the correlation between neural synchrony and subjective experience? Surely EEG is a more accurate method and vastly cheaper than fMRI? 

3. If you are funding constrained, why are none of your collaborators willing to run this experiment for you? Running fMRI and EEG experiments at Princeton is free. I see you have multiple Princeton affiliates on your team, and we even have Michael Graziano as a faculty member who is deeply interested in consciousness and understands fMRI. 
 

My advice is to run the experiment I described in my original comment. Put people in an fMRI scanner (or EEG or MEG), ask them to do things that make them feel suffering/feel peaceful, and see how the CDNS changes between conditions. This is an extremely basic experiment and I am confused why you would be so confident in your theory before running this. 
 

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on A Primer on the Symmetry Theory of Valence · 2021-09-06T20:54:27.590Z · EA · GW

Hi Jpmos, 

I think context is important here. This is not an earnest but misguided post from an undergrad with big ideas and little experience. This is a post from an organization trying to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars. You can check out their website if you want, the front page has a fundraising advertisement. 

Further, there are a lot of fancy buzzwords in this post ("connectome!") and enough jargon that people unfamiliar with the topic might think there is substance here that they just don't understand (see Harrison's comment: "I also know very little about this field and so I couldn't really judge"). 

As somebody who knows a lot about this field, I think it's important that my opinion on these ideas is clearly stated. So I will state it again.

There is no a priori reason to believe any of the claims of STV. There is no empirical evidence to support STV. To an expert, these claims do not sound "interesting and plausible but unproven", they sound "nonsensical and presented with baffling confidence". 

People have been observing brain oscillations at different frequencies and at different powers for about 100 years. These oscillations have been associated with different patterns of behavior, ranging from sleep stages to memory formation. Nobody has observed asynchrony to be associated with anything like suffering (as far as I'm aware, but please present evidence if I'm mistaken!). 

fMRI is a technique that doesn't measure the firing of neurons (it measures the oxygen consumed over relatively big patches of neurons) and is extremely poorly suited to provide evidence for STV. A better method would be MEG (expensive) or EEG (extremely affordable). If the Qualia Research Institute was a truth seeking institution, they would have either run the simple experiment I proposed themselves, or had any of the neuroscientists they claim to be collaborating with run it for them.

This is a bad post and it should be called out as such. I would have been more gentle if this was a single misguided researcher and not the head of an organization that publishes a lot of other nonsense too.

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on A Primer on the Symmetry Theory of Valence · 2021-09-06T17:10:39.859Z · EA · GW

The Symmetry Theory of Valence sounds wrong to me and is not substantiated by any empirical research I am aware of. (Edited to be nicer.) I'm sorry to post a comment so negative and non-constructive, but I just don't want EA people to read this and think it is something worth spending time on.

Credentials: I'm doing a PhD in Neuroscience and Psychology at Princeton with a focus on fMRI research, I have a masters in Neuroscience from Oxford, I've presented my fMRI research projects at multiple academic conferences, and I published a peer reviewed fMRI paper in a mainstream journal. As far as I can tell, nobody at the Qualia Research Institute has a PhD in Neuroscience or has industry experience doing equivalent level work. Keeping in mind credentialism is bad, I am still pointing out their lack of neuroscience credentials compared to mine because I am confused by how overwhelmingly confident they are in their claims, their incomprehensible use of neuro jargon, and how dismissive they are of my expertise. (Edited to be nicer.) https://www.qualiaresearchinstitute.org/team

There are a lot of things I don't understand about STV, but the primary one is:  

  • If there is dissonance in the brain, there is suffering; if there is suffering, there is dissonance in the brain. Always.

Please provide evidence that "dissonance in the brain" as measured by a "Consonance Dissonance Noise Signature" is associated with suffering? This should be an easy study to run. Put people in an fMRI scanner, ask them to do things that make them feel suffering/feel peaceful, and see how the CDNS changes between conditions. I'm willing to change my skepticism about this theory if you have this evidence, but if you have this evidence, it seems bizarre that you do not lead with it?
_________________________________________________________
Edit: I have asked multiple times for empirical evidence to support these claims, but Mike Johnson has not produced anything. 

I wish I could make more specific criticisms about why his theory makes no sense theoretically, but so much of what he is saying is incomprehensible, it's hard to know where to start. Here's a copy paste of something he said in a comment that got buried below about why suffering == harmonic dissonance:
 

A simple story here is that dissonant systems shake themselves apart; we can draw a parallel between dissonance in the harmonic frame and free energy in the predictive coding frame.

He's using "predictive coding frame" as fancy jargon here in what I'm guessing is a reference to Karl Friston's free-energy principle work. Knowing the context and definition of these words, his explanation still makes no sense. 


All he is doing here is saying that the brain has some reason to reduce “dissonance in the harmonic frame”  in a similar way it has reasons to reduce prediction errors (ie mistakes in the brain's predictions of what will happen in an environment). There are good reasons why the brain should reduce prediction errors. Mike offers no clear explanation for why the brain would have a reason to reduce neural asynchrony/"dissonance in the harmonic frame". His unclear explanation is that dissonance == suffering, but... WHY. There is no evidence to support this.

He says “Dissonant systems shake themselves apart.” Is he saying dissonant neural networks destroy themselves and we subjectively perceive this as suffering? This makes no theoretical sense AND there's no evidence to support it. 

Edit 2: My lab is working on fmri based neurofeedback to improve mental health outcomes of depressed patients, if neurofeedback to reduce psychological suffering is something you're interested in. (This is not my personal research focus, I'm just familiar with the challenges in fMRI neurofeedback paradigms.) Here's a paper from my primary and secondary academic advisors: https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.06.07.137943v1.abstract

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on You should write about your job · 2021-07-20T21:44:37.143Z · EA · GW

This is an awesome idea! 80k would probably be interested in compiling a bunch of the answers you get :)

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on You should write about your job · 2021-07-20T21:42:43.327Z · EA · GW

I would love to hear more about your job, and it might be really useful for RP too since they're hiring ;)

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on What are the highest impact questions in the behavioral sciences? · 2021-05-19T13:49:35.291Z · EA · GW

This is really cool! Thanks for sharing, Michael :)

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on Should you do a PhD in science? · 2021-05-19T13:48:29.129Z · EA · GW

The national averages were determined using the same measurement instruments we used, but they did not control for non-respondents the way we did. My intuition is that the national averages are pretty accurate because they had big sample sizes and did not seem to be obviously sampling from a more depressed/anxious segment of the population. 

But you can decide for yourself:  

In a national sample collected by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (n = 31,366), 8.75% of people in the United States meet the criteria for moderate to severe depression. When restricting the national sample to only those with a college degree or above (n = 6,660), national rates of moderate or severe depression were much lower than what we found in our graduate student sample: 3.8%

In a national sample (n = 5,030), 5.1% of Americans met the criteria for moderate or severe anxiety on the same measure (Löwe et al., 2008).

We controlled for non-responders by keeping track of how many reminders it took subjects to respond to the survey, and checked to see whether the harder it was to get people to respond predicted their depression or anxiety scores. It did not. We also had such a high response rate (30%) that even if all of our non-respondents felt depression or anxiety at rates equal to national averages (unlikely), the graduate students would still be worse off on average. 

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on Should you do a PhD in science? · 2021-05-11T14:05:54.584Z · EA · GW

We are writing up the paper now! We sampled in 2019 and 2020. We used the PHQ9 to measure to depression and the GAD7 to measure anxiety. Happy to answer any questions if you have :)

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on Should you do a PhD in science? · 2021-05-10T02:14:28.910Z · EA · GW

In my research I have found Princeton graduate students experience higher rates of moderate to severe depression (21.99%-27.90%) and anxiety (24.53%-27.80%) compared to national averages (8.75% for depression, 5.1% for anxiety). We had over 900 respondents (~30% response rate), and used a difficulty to reach technique to check our results generalize to non-respondents, which most other studies of this kind do not do.

As a result, I am very confident PhD students are more depressed and anxious than the general population, and I am very hesitant to recommend doing a PhD.

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on What are the highest impact questions in the behavioral sciences? · 2021-04-12T11:26:13.709Z · EA · GW

I think these are really important questions too! 

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on What are the highest impact questions in the behavioral sciences? · 2021-04-08T13:41:06.169Z · EA · GW

It has been very frustrating sitting in Psychology seminars led by big prestigious professors, listening to them spout absolute nonsense completely unsupported by quantitative analysis. So I feel your pain for sure! 

Digging up one of my old tweets: Social Psych talk: no error bars, description of stats, or listing size of subject groups. p values displayed as p=0. This is accepted?

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on What are the highest impact questions in the behavioral sciences? · 2021-04-08T13:38:09.158Z · EA · GW

I like these a lot! Thanks for sharing :)

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on What are the highest impact questions in the behavioral sciences? · 2021-04-08T13:37:22.378Z · EA · GW

This is cool, thanks for sharing! Looks like Lucius Caviola's and Stefan Schubert's research projects are already on your radar ;)

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on Why do EAs have children? · 2021-03-15T20:01:19.893Z · EA · GW

The following list is not ordered.

  1. I am glad my parents decided to have me. 
  2. My parents seem to be glad they had me. 
  3. It appears that my parents and my husband's parents derive an intense amount of joy from interacting with their first grandchild, more joy than they receive from any other activity.
  4. My family is one of my main sources of happiness and meaning. It will literally die off if I do not have children. (Alternative path: invent longevity technologies? Unfortunately not my skillset.)
  5. I am relatively young, healthy, and financially stable. Statistically my child has a very strong chance of leading a positive utility life.
  6. You don't have to choose between having a positive impact on the world and having children; you can very much do both. 
    1. During my child's first year of life, I started working on some cool EA Psych/X Risk research. 
    2. During my child's first year of life, my husband published a highly appreciated (objectively measured by upvotes!) AI-alignment literature review and did EtG without getting fired. 
    3. Plenty of EAs doing AMAZING work have kids (e.g., Toby Ord, Julia Wise, Michelle Hutchinson, Peter Singer). 
    4. Nothing at all was accomplished for the first three months after having a baby. Little was done between 3-6 months. 50% productivity was achieved between 6-12 months. At 12 months, things are pretty good. The massive hit to productivity seems to be a 1 X child event, which, amortized over the next 30 years of our expected careers, is not too bad. 
  7. After having a child, I feel more connected to humanity in a way that is difficult to describe but is nice. Things I file under this category include:
    1. Having spontaneous, warm conversations with people who would absolutely never speak to me otherwise when I was visibly pregnant. I lived in the same town for 7 years and went from having approximately 1 conversation with strangers a month to ~10 a month. These interactions were all very kind, and made me very happy. (Your mileage may vary if you don't like interactions with strangers.)
    2. Going from feeling vaguely positively towards children to feeling incredibly protective of all human children. Reading about violence against children went from unpleasant to intolerable.
    3. Having more positive conversations with my family/my in laws than ever before. 
       

All this being said: the first three months after childbirth is literally torture for whoever is waking up at night to feed the baby. Plus there is a strong possibility that I and/or my baby would have died if I hadn't given birth in a high quality hospital (we had a prolapsed cord and then a lot of maternal hemorrhaging). So despite all the nice stuff written above, I don't think it's an easy decision to make.

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on Avoiding Munich's Mistakes: Advice for CEA and Local Groups · 2020-10-23T18:01:34.954Z · EA · GW

Same. Especially agree that the format of the event needs to be structured so that ideas are not presented as facts, but are instead open to (lots of public) criticism. 

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on Avoiding Munich's Mistakes: Advice for CEA and Local Groups · 2020-10-15T20:59:20.492Z · EA · GW

As somebody currently involved in a university group, I am extremely sympathetic towards the EA Munich group, even though they might have made a mistake here. There is a huge amount of pressure to avoid controversial topics/speakers, and it seems like they did not have a lot of time to make a decision in light of new evidence. I have hosted Peter Singer for multiple events (and am glad to have done so), but it has led to multiple uncomfortable confrontations that the average student group (e.g., knitting society) just does not have to deal with.

This highlights why Larks' post is so important. When groups face decisions about when to carry out or cancel an event, having an explicit framework for this decision making would be incredibly helpful. I'm very glad to see Julia Wise/CEA engage with this post, as I think it would be helpful for both CEA and local groups to decide at the beginning of term/before inviting speakers what qualifies people to be speakers.

The main (in my opinion, reasonable) principles elucidated in this post as I read it are:

1. Openness to unusual ideas is one of the guiding principles of Effective Altruism; groups should uphold and promote this.

2. Fundamental cause research that challenges existing ideas to the movement is important; we should not punish people for engaging in it.

But it is also important to consider what *disqualifies* people from speaking.

The most critical thing to me would be a speaker's history of promoting ideas in bad faith. (E.g., promoting ideas that have been clearly falsified with scientific evidence; deliberately falsifying data in order to push a specific agenda.) I am sure there are other factors that would also make sense to consider! It would be helpful for them to be elucidated somewhere.

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on Parenting: Things I wish I could tell my past self · 2020-09-18T03:56:32.824Z · EA · GW

I agree with absolutely everything you've written, Michelle!

Something that I wish I had internalized a bit more was the negative impact of baby induced sleep deprivation. Everybody tells you that you'll miss sleep after you have a baby, but I still think I was unprepared for what that meant. It's really hard to describe the psychological torture of not getting to sleep for more than 3 hours in a row for months on end. We did sleeping shifts too, but because of breastfeeding and supersonic mommy hearing, I feel like I still woke up every 2-3 hours when Lizzie cried. There's a video recording of me talking about current events a couple of months after Lizzie was born, and I HAVE NO MEMORY OF PARTICIPATING IN THIS EXPERIENCE. Watching my zonked out zombie self on camera really drove home how much the sleep deprivation changed me.

This essay sums it up pretty well: https://www.scarymommy.com/100-days-darkness-new-baby/

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on EA Focusmate Group Announcement · 2020-07-13T03:37:13.776Z · EA · GW

This looks cool, I just signed up. Hope to see you guys online.


Update: I love Focusmate and it is directly responsible for me actually getting anything done. 11/10, hugely recommend.

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on Come hang out with EA Princeton! · 2019-09-14T15:50:48.909Z · EA · GW

Sir, I resent your insinuation that Princeton is not a major city.

I'll have you know our population is large enough to support a bar AND a pub. The latter only serves ice cream, but still.

Comment by Abby Hoskin (AbbyBabby) on Come hang out with EA Princeton! · 2019-09-14T15:47:49.086Z · EA · GW

Hello hello!

Our big lectures (e.g., Will MacAskill on September 30th) are open to ALL, regardless of university affiliation. Hope you can come :)

Our weekly dinner discussion groups are also open to all. They are pretty short (60 minutes) so they're only worth coming to if you're not commuting from far away. Since we order food in advance for these, it would be super helpful to RSVP on facebook if you're planning to come.

A small selection of our events will be closed due to huge demand. For example, people will need to apply for dinner with Peter Singer. This will be made clear in our publicity for each event.

Yours,

Abby