Yeah I remember that and it was certainly a megalomaniacal slip.

But I do not agree that arrogant is the correct term. I suspect "arrogant" may be a brief and inaccurate substitute for: "unappealing, but I cannot be bothered to come up with anything specific". In my dictionaries (I checked Merriam-Webster and American Heritage), arrogant is necessarily overbearing. If you are clicking on their website or reading their literature or attending their public function there isn't any easy way for them to overbear upon you.

When Terrel Owens does a touchdown dance in the endzone and the cameras are on him for fifteen seconds until the next play your attention is under his thumb and he is being arrogant. Eliezer's little slip of on-webcam megalomania is not arrogant. It would be arrogant if he was running for public office and he said that in a debate and the voters felt they had to watch it, but not when the viewer has surfed to that information and getting away is free of any cost and as easy as a click.

Almost all of us do megalomaniacal stuff all the time when nobody is looking and almost all of us expend some deliberate effort trying to not do it when people are looking.

The Singularity Institute's Arrogance Problem

by lukeprog 1 min read18th Jan 2012308 comments


I intended Leveling Up in Rationality to communicate this:

Despite worries that extreme rationality isn't that great, I think there's reason to hope that it can be great if some other causal factors are flipped the right way (e.g. mastery over akrasia). Here are some detailed examples I can share because they're from my own life...

But some people seem to have read it and heard this instead:

I'm super-awesome. Don't you wish you were more like me? Yay rationality!

This failure (on my part) fits into a larger pattern of the Singularity Institute seeming too arrogant and (perhaps) being too arrogant. As one friend recently told me:

At least among Caltech undergrads and academic mathematicians, it's taboo to toot your own horn. In these worlds, one's achievements speak for themselves, so whether one is a Fields Medalist or a failure, one gains status purely passively, and must appear not to care about being smart or accomplished. I think because you and Eliezer don't have formal technical training, you don't instinctively grasp this taboo. Thus Eliezer's claim of world-class mathematical ability, in combination with his lack of technical publications, make it hard for a mathematician to take him seriously, because his social stance doesn't pattern-match to anything good. Eliezer's arrogance as evidence of technical cluelessness, was one of the reasons I didn't donate until I met [someone at SI in person]. So for instance, your boast that at SI discussions "everyone at the table knows and applies an insane amount of all the major sciences" would make any Caltech undergrad roll their eyes; your standard of an "insane amount" seems to be relative to the general population, not relative to actual scientists. And posting a list of powers you've acquired doesn't make anyone any more impressed than they already were, and isn't a high-status move.

So, I have a few questions:


  1. What are the most egregious examples of SI's arrogance?
  2. On which subjects and in which ways is SI too arrogant? Are there subjects and ways in which SI isn't arrogant enough?
  3. What should SI do about this?