Research Facilitation Invitation

by LoganStrohl4 min read10th Jul 20212 comments

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Rationality
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Summary: Would you like to help me with my research by letting me try to help you with your research?


One of my brand new sub-projects at the moment (underneath the larger "naturalism" heading) is research facilitation.

So far, I've mostly been developing the [school? methodology? whatever it is] by asking people to bring me their problems, and then helping them re-orient to the "problem" as a field of study. This is an especially valuable approach for problems that have stuck around for a long time despite repeated attempts to solve them.

But that's not the primary use case I envision for naturalism. Or at least, it's not the one that makes me eager to pour all of these resources into it.

When someone brings me a confusing or recalcitrant problem, and then they begin to relate to it as a field of study using naturalist methods, they almost invariably go through this period that I should probably have named by now. Let's call it "pre-conceptual intimacy".

In pre-conceptual intimacy, they're making a lot of fascinating observations and surprisingly quick improvements to relevant parts of life. But they're also feeling very confused and disoriented, because their pre-existing concepts around the problem just don't seem to make sense anymore, and they don't have new stories about what's going on yet either. They tend to utter phrases like, "Is memory even a thing?", "How could I ever have thought that?", and "I really have no idea what's going on with this, and it turns out I never have."

The spark of life in my work, the place where I'm most confident I have something really valuable here, is the progress I see people making in the midst of pre-conceptual intimacy.

Why? Because it means I may have a general methodology that works at intellectual frontiers, in the absence of established paradigms. Which is where we are, as a species, in human rationality, AI alignment, and presumably other important places I'm not even able to gesture toward.

So here is my vision for this research facilitation sub-project.

If I imagine that I've succeeded utterly, I envision that I'm able to meet with a researcher for one hour who is starting with "I have a hunch that there's something important, and I'm motivated to work on it, but I don't even know what the thing is, I have no idea where to start, and there are no domain-specific resources because I might be the first person who's ever even tried to think seriously about this, and like who even am I anyway to be working on something like this,"

and help them get to "I have traction and I'm confident I'll continue making consistent progress as I lay the groundwork for this nascent field."

I have some pretty specific ideas about how to get there from here, but they're almost certainly quite wrong. I know I have some crucial skills and insights, but I don't know how to apply them yet in this specific type of interaction. I won't be good at it right away. It's bound to be very messy and confusing for a while. But I figure the only way out is through.

So I'm looking for people who want me to clumsily fumble through the very earliest stages of a research project with them.

I expect I'll be most helpful to you if you

  • don't know how to start,
  • don't quite know what the thing even is, or
  • feel that you're waiting for [something] before you're allowed to seriously get to work.

I expect you will be most helpful to me if you

  • have an adventurous, collaborative, "let's try it!" sort of attitude
  • do not expect an ordinary life coach could be of much use to you, and
  • can meet during PST business hours.

Here are some examples of topics and/or mental states I imagine might fit the bill (though I expect my imagination here is quite impoverished at this stage):

  • "Something is up with how distinctions work, and I suspect it's really important."
  • "There's this particular kind of thought that keeps popping up in my work on agent foundations, and I'm not sure where it's coming from, why I seem to be drawn to it, or what I should do about it."
  • "I have a vague but insistent hunch that my whole organization/sub-field/collection-of-past-selves is going about it all wrong, but I'm somehow paralyzed and have done nothing about this."

If you would like to spend an hour (or three) helping me figure out this research facilitation thing, please send an email with the subject "research facilitation" to LoganNaturalism@gmail.com, and take a stab at answering, "How can you tell that you may have found something worthwhile to investigate?"

My psychosocial budget for meetings is, alas, very small, so I expect to get a lot more responses than I can accommodate. If you don't get a time slot, please try not to take it personally. This may turn out to be something of a lottery.

ETA: When answering, "How can you tell that you may have found something worthwhile to investigate?" I recommend against trying to convince me that your topic is important. For my present purposes, I do not care at all whether you're more likely to save the world or invent a slightly worse variant of tic tac toe. What I care about is how you relate to whatever is that's on your mind.

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I feel like you're proposing deconfusion as a service, at least in the way I decompose it here. Since my research is basically freelance deconfusion for Alignment researchers, I would be very interested of talking to you about how you do it. :)