Epistemic status: amphetamines
Sooner or later, the great men turn out to be all alike. They never stop working. They never lose a minute. It is very depressing.— V.S. Pritchett
Sooner or later, the great men turn out to be all alike. They never stop working. They never lose a minute. It is very depressing.
— V.S. Pritchett
EA produces much talk about an obligation to donate some or even most of your wealth. In both direct work and earning to give, there's a connection between your work productivity and your (direct or indirect) impact. Hard work is also a costly signal of commitment that could substitute for frugality in our less funding-constrained phase of the movement. And working incredibly hard increases the chance of tail successes that might generate very high impact.
In the same way that you might want to attract converts by advancing a softer norm of donating only 10% of your income rather than everything above $40k, you might want to create a softer norm about productivity, and not feel bad about only following this norm. This post is addressed instead to those who haven't considered much at all the prospect of experimenting with working 60 hours a week rather than 30-40.
Don't dismiss this option out of hand because of general concerns about burnout. There are multiple good reasons to think you should work much harder.
First, the short-term optimal workweek might just be very long. Studies often find that CEOs work 50+ hours per week. Silicon Valley is very productive and has a "hustle culture" involving long work hours (see also). I agree with Lynette Bye that most of the working hours literature is poor—I'm even more skeptical than she is about agenda-driven research on Gilded Age factory workers—and that gaining an impression from anecdotes of top performers is better. Top performers in business routinely work long hours, and reading through lists of anecdotes like Daily Rituals (which is mostly writers and artists) you'll see a lot of strict routines, long hours, and stimulants of all kinds: caffeine, nicotine, amphetamines.
High-performing managers in the EA ecosystem report working long hours:
However, productive hours look more limited for certain types of cognitive or intellectual work:
So if you're interested in some kind of intellectual research (arguably a majority of 80k Hours's priority paths) then this experiment might be less worthwhile, but if you're working in operations, entrepreneurship, or community-building then it could provide valuable information about your work capacity.
Karnofsky's quote also presents the challenge that if you work normal hours, someone else can work twice as many hours as you but not three times as many. This isn't even half an order of magnitude, so you might expect work hours to be unimportant relative to working on the right problems.
This leads us to the second reason to think you should try working harder, which is that—especially early in your career—working more hours has superlinear returns because it increases the growth rate of your career. This can be true even if your short-term productivity stagnates or decreases. A good take on this: "One extremely under-rated impact of working harder is that you learn more. You have sub-linear short-term impact with increasing work hours because of things like burnout, or even just using up the best opportunities, but long-term you have super-linear impact (as long as you apply good epistemics) because you just complete more operational cycles and try more ideas about how to do the work."
A third reason is that burnout risk might be overrated if most of your impact comes from the small chance of you being a very high performer, perhaps because being 99th percentile is 100+ times better than being 90th percentile. This makes studying the habits of top performers even more useful because the survivorship bias is less important.
Consider this large nootropics survey and the metric "probability of life-changing effect":
Famous intellectuals, artists, and statesmen throughout history often took stimulants, sometimes in copious amounts. Silicon Valley culture has a similar reputation. Besides lifestyle interventions like lifting weights (12% chance of a life-changing effect), sleeping more, and running, there could be huge information value from experimenting with modafinil or amphetamines like Adderall (12.5% chance) just from a modest probability of a life-changing effect. If your AI timelines are long enough, you should consider long-term health effects: Scott Alexander wrote in 2017 that Adderall risks resemble “the risks of eating one extra strip of bacon per day.”
High energy output = exploit. I don't get the impression that dopaminergic pharmaceuticals are great for explore. This implies that we know what to do and just need to do it faster. I think the opposite conclusion is much more obvious.
But weightlifting and working longer hours would still help in both explore and exploit, right?
Why do you get the impression that Adderall and similar don't help with exploring for 50 hours a week? e.g. Erdos explored quite a lot
There are multiple things you can do.
I... actually think this post is mostly good advice. Like, I do indeed think some stimulant use is pretty good (though I would mostly stick to caffeine), and I also think working long hours is great. I feel a bit like the controversialness of this post is somewhat of an immune reaction to recent FTX stuff, which I think is somewhat justified, but I actually thought this post was pretty good.
I think the biggest red flags are using anecdotal evidence and intuition as evidence, combined with strong selection biases, to be concerning. I do think risks need to be taken, but I'd like much better evidence than this.
As recent events have illustrated, stimulant use can also have its downsides.
Strongly downvoted for advice that is almost certainly harmful to an average reader.
I don't think this is the right axis on which to evaluate posts. Posts that suggest donating more of your money to charities that save the most lives, causing less animal suffering via your purchases, and considering that AGI might soon end humanity are also "harmful to an average reader" in a similar sense: they inspire some guilt, discomfort, and uncertainty, possibly leading to changes that could easily reduce the reader's own hedonic welfare.
However -- hopefully, at least -- the "average reader" on LW/EAF is trying to believe true things and achieve goals like improving the world, and presenting them arguments that they can evaluate for themselves and might help them unlock more of their own potential seems good.
I also think the post is unlikely to be net-negative given the caveats about trying this as an experiment, the different effects on different kinds of work, etc.
I'm definitely sympathetic to the general argument here as I understand it: something like, it is better to be more productive when what you're working towards has high EV, and stimulants are one underutilized strategy for being more productive. But I have concerns about the generality of your conclusion: (1) blanket-endorsing or otherwise equating the advantages and disadvantages of all of the things on the y-axis of that plot is painting with too broad a brush. They vary, eg, in addictive potential, demonstrated medical benefit, cost of maintenance, etc. (2) Relatedly, some of these drugs (e.g., Adderall) alter the dopaminergic calibration in the brain, which can lead to significant personality/epistemology changes, typically as a result of modulating people's risk-taking/reward-seeking trade-offs. Similar dopamine agonist drugs used to treat Parkinson's led to pathological gambling behaviors in patients who took it. There is an argument to be made for at least some subset of these substances that the trouble induced by these kinds of personality changes may plausibly outweigh the productivity gains of taking the drugs in the first place.
Okay that's actually good advice, i feel like pos cause area
How do you feel about experimenting with meth?