There are various important, conceptual things that I just don't really understand. For example, creating wealth. What exactly does that mean? I read Paul Graham's essay on the topic but my understanding is nonetheless shaky and shallow. And I am confident that I'm not alone.

On the surface perhaps that sounds strange. Isn't the bar pretty low? We're talking fundamental topics here. Things that intellectually curious people should pretty easily have identified as important and subsequently pursued an understanding of. Maybe not a super comprehensive understanding, but for the basic overarching idea, yeah, they should have an understanding. The basic overarching idea isn't usually that difficult or time consuming to understand.

Well, things just don't end up working out that way. I've met enough smart people at this point and observe that human beings have gaps. My theory is that there are too many basic things out there. It's hard to actually go through and understand them all.

But we can try! Tsuyoku naritai, right? Here's where Core Concept Conversations come in. It's a post on Less Wrong about a topic that the author feels shaky on, like what it actually means to create wealth. And then people... err... talk about it.

I'm not sure what exactly that should look like, but here are a few ideas:

  • The author goes into some depth about why they feel confused and people in the comments try to address that confusion.
  • Commenters take a stab at ELI5ing the concept. Or maybe ELI10. Or ELI20. Whatever. Along similar lines of the Feynman Technique.
  • People contribute examples of the concept in action. Or caveats. Or loopholes. Or implications. Or predictions. I'm thinking about something I remember reading in educational/cognitive psychology about how this sort of engaging with a topic from all sorts of different angles helps you to develop a deeper understanding.
  • Other commenters mention what confuses them about the concept and people discuss those points of confusion in addition to the ones mentioned by the original author.
  • You can bring up a misconception that you see as common.
  • If your name is Scott Alexander, you can contribute a cute and fun poem that perfectly captures the essence of the concept in just 236 words.
  • Whatever other things people normally do in conversations.

There doesn't have to be just one Core Concept Conversations post about a topic by the way. If someone posts "Core Concept Conversations: Making Wealth" and then you want to continue the conversation two months later, just post "Core Concept Conversations: Making Wealth (2)" or something.

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1 comment, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 6:43 PM

One way that Buddhism might deconfuse this concept of wealth is to say that it wasn't "not meeting your needs" that was causing suffering in the first place, it was grasping. The better you get at meeting your needs, the more you think that's a solution, but it actually causes more grasping.

Hence your realization that wealth doesn't seem to make people happier. Not only does wealth not make people happier - it's fairly plausible that e.g. hunter gatherers were actually more happy than agrarians.

I think truly grasping this (and it's obvious when you look at the decoupling between happiness and wealth, as you do here), really erodes some of the foundations of the humanist/transhumanist philosophy that underpins much of the rationality community.

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