This week is roughly divided into “effective altruism days” and “rationality days”; Tuesday was technically an effective altruism day, although I learnt a lot about rationality! But I'm afraid I'm going to leave room for other attendees to blog about the content of the day and instead simply share some more subtly useful moments of the day that are indicative of the kind of cool little habits that a lot of effective altruists are developing in their everyday lives.
Firstly, I'm afraid I slept through the first introductory sessions about the ideas that make effective altruism distinctive so I can't tell you much about those, but if you are interested in what I missed, look up replaceability
and expected value
The first session I attended was about how to assess evidence and the time spent on each of three topics was divided up using a really quick, effective way of judging the audience's preferences that I haven't seen before. At the start, our presenter, Andrew Critch, briefly described three things that he could talk about: Bayesian updating
, arguments and scientific evidence. Then he asked us to raise our hands for each topic we wanted him to talk about (we could raise our hands more than once). He quickly estimated how many people raised their hands for each, rather than taking the time to count, and then allocated time roughly in accordance with that. So there were roughly 12 hands for Bayesian updating, 6 for arguments and 7 for scientific evidence, and we spent roughly half an hour on Bayesian updating, then 15 minutes each on arguments and scientific evidence. Pretty neat.
At one point during Rob Wiblin's presentation on the value of global prioritization (a.k.a. strategic cause selection
), Rob summed up a fairly complicated idea that I struggle expressing to people with the simple words: “The keys are unlikely to be under the lamppost but sometimes you should start looking there nevertheless.” He also asked for our ideas about why 20% of effective altruists focusing on global prioritization could turn out to be a mistake and then asked us to raise our hand for each one that we thought was a key risk; in this way he very quickly got an idea of how seriously to take each concern.
During the Q&A for Holden Karnofsky's talk about GiveWell
, Holden decided to number all the hands that were raised, answer them in order and then invite a new batch of hands to go up. This was to avoid someone sitting there with their hand up for ages with Holden never getting round to them. At the end, in addition to the usual “Thanks so much for coming, that was really useful, we love you etc.” that a host usually says, Nevin Freeman listed three really thoughtful ways that the audience could help out Holden.
Another little trick I learnt in conversation on Tuesday – play videos and audio in double speed so that you can absorb the information faster.