Curated conversations with brilliant rationalists

by spencerg6 min read28th May 202117 comments

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AudioPublic DiscourseAIRationality
Curated

Since August 2020 I've been recording conversations with brilliant and insightful rationalists, effective altruists (and people adjacent to or otherwise connected somehow to those communities). If you're an avid reader of this site, I suspect you will recognize many of the names of those I've spoken to.

Since I suspect some LessWrong readers will appreciate these conversations, here is a curated list with links, organized by the LessWrong relevant topics we cover in each conversation. All of these conversations can also be found by searching for "Clearer Thinking" in just about any podcast app. If there are other people you'd like to see me record conversations with, please nominate them in the comments! The format is that I invite each guest to bring 4 or 5 "ideas that matter" that they are excited to talk about, and then the aim is to have a fun, intellectual discussion of those ideas.

 

Rationality

Lines of Retreat and Incomplete Maps with Anna Salamon

What does it mean to leave lines of retreat in social contexts? How can we make sense of the current state of the world? What happens when we run out of map? How does the book Elephant in the Brain apply to the above questions?

Rationality Education and Dating with Jacob Falkovich

What's the best way to teach rationality? How do you communicate rationalist principles to people who aren't already interested in thinking more clearly? What has COVID taught us about how people typically make decisions and think about problems? Where and how can the rationalist community improve? Does rationalism have anything to say about (for example) exercise, spirituality, art, or other parts of the human experience that aren't typically addressed by rationalists? What are some positive aspects of social media (especially Twitter)? What's going on with recent dating trends? Has dating gotten harder in recent years? How many people does it take to make a pencil? Is there a case to be made for anti-antinatalism?

Scout and Soldier Mindsets with Julia Galef

What are "scout" and "soldier" mindsets? How can we have productive disagreements even when one person isn't in scout mindset? Is knowing about good rationality habits sufficient to reason well? When do we naturally tend to be in scout mindset or soldier mindset? When is each mindset beneficial or harmful? Are humans "rationally irrational"? What are the two different types of confidence? What are some practical strategies for shifting our mindset in the moment from soldier to scout?

Comfort Languages and Nuanced Thinking with Kat Woods

What's the best way to help someone who's going through a difficult situation? What are the four states of distress? What are "comfort languages"? How can we introduce more nuance into our everyday thinking habits? When gathering information and forming opinions, how do you know who to trust? What's the difference between intelligence and wisdom?

Aging/Longevity

History and Longevity with Will Eden

What are the benefits of studying history? How do we find useful historical analyses? Can learning about history save us from repeating it? Is America decaying as a nation, empire, and/or leading world power? Generally speaking, what causes empires to fail? Is the aging and decay experienced by organic bodies analogous to the aging and decay experienced by an empire (or by any complex system, for that matter)? What are all the reasons organisms age, decay, and die? What are the most promising avenues of exploration in longevity research? What kind of stressors on our bodies are beneficial? How accurate is the efficient market hypothesis? What kinds of catalysts force a market to value assets at their "intrinsic" value? How rational are markets?

Artificial Intelligence

AI Safety and Solutions with Robert Miles

Why is YouTube such a great way to communicate research findings? Why is AI safety (or alignment) a problem? Why is it an important problem? Why is the creation of AGI (artificial general intelligence) existentially risky for us? Why is it so hard for us to specify what we want in utility functions? What are some of the proposed strategies (and their limitations) for controlling AGI? What is instrumental convergence? What is the unilateralist's curse?

Superintelligence and Consciousness with Roman Yampolskiy

What is superintelligence? Can a superintelligence be controlled? Why aren't people (especially academics, computer scientists, and companies) more worried about superintelligence alignment problems? Is it possible to determine whether or not an AI is conscious? Do today's neural networks experience some form of consciousness? Are humans general intelligences? How do artificial superintelligence and artificial general intelligence differ? What sort of threats do malevolent actors pose over and above those posed by the usual problems in AI safety?

Learning

Antagonistic Learning and Civilization with Duncan Sabien

Why do "antagonistic" teachers exist in popular culture but not in the classroom? What happens to student outcomes when "antagonistic" learning is implemented in real classrooms? What is the Field Theory of Parenting? What are things that we can do for others but can't do for ourselves? How can we notice and utilize costly and unfakeable signals? What is the core definition of civilization? How can we influence others ethically? Is explicit communication always better than implicit?

Learning and Governance with Emerson Spartz

What's the best way to learn? Why is learning how to learn "the most important skill"? When should we explore, and when should we exploit? What are the merits and demerits of various models of governance? How should we think about the problems around free speech?

Knowledge Management and Deugenesis with Jeremy Nixon

What is "The Index"? What are some benefits of externally compiling and organizing one's knowledge? When is spaced repetition useful? How can we co-opt our visual systems to boost memory? Would we all be more interested in producing an external personal knowledgebase if we could feel on a visceral level how much information is constantly being forgotten? How and when should we move up and down the ladder of abstraction? What sorts of problems can be solved by simulation? What is a generative model (as opposed to a predictive model)? How can constraints improve creativity? How useful are credentials as a guide to how much a person knows and whether or not a person is "allowed" to have an opinion on a topic? What do credentials actually signal about a person? What are "fox" and "hedgehog" thinking? What is deugenesis?

Cryptocurrency

Crypto Pros and Cons with Sam Bankman-Fried

What's the current state of cryptocurrency? What are the good and bad aspects of crypto? To what extent have the promises of crypto panned out? How do blockchain and cryptocurrency even work anyway? What are "proof of work" and "proof of stake"? What are the differences between Bitcoin and Ethereum? What sorts of transactions are made easy or possible by the blockchain that are difficult or impossible to perform with traditional currencies? What are non-fungible tokens (NFTs)? What (if anything) prevents people from doing nefarious things with cryptocurrencies? What are some of the exciting, positive things coming up on the crypto horizon?

Philosophy

Aesthetics and Polyamory with Sam Rosen

How can we improve art museums? Does aesthetics need something equivalent to the effective altruism movement? What is steel-aliening? What are the most important social skills to learn, and how can we learn them? Can anybody become polyamorous? What does it take to succeed in a polyamorous relationships? Why do societies decay over time?

Utilitarianism and Its Flavors with Nick Beckstead

​What is utilitarianism? And what are the different flavors of utilitarianism? What are some alternatives to utilitarianism for people that find it generally plausible but who can't stomach some of its counterintuitive conclusions? For the times when people do use utilitarianism to make moral decisions, when is it appropriate to perform actual calculations (as opposed to making estimations or even just going with one's "gut")? And what is "utility" anyway?

Moral Discourse and the Value of Philosophy with Ronny Fernandez

What is normative hedonism? What's the difference between wanting something and wanting to want something? Should we only care about the experiences of conscious beings? What's wrong with moral discourse? Does philosophy ever actually make progress, or is it still only discussing the things that were discussed a thousand years ago? What is (or should be) the role of intuition in philosophy? Why should people study philosophy (especially as opposed to other disciplines)? What can we do to create more rationality or systematic wisdom in the world? How can we disagree better?

Life Experiments and Philosophical Thinking with Arden Koehler

What is 80,000 Hours? What sorts of people should become entrepreneurs? How can you run cheap experiments on yourself? What are some beneficial modes of philosophical thinking?

Meditation / Enlightenment

Meditation and Ontology with Daniel Ingram

Why should we meditate? What are the typical developmental stages as one progresses along the contemplative path? What does it mean to "hold an ontology loosely"? Are some meditative techniques inappropriate for some practitioners? Are there risks associated with meditation?

Enlightenment and Sex Work with Aella

What is enlightenment? What are the different kinds or definitions of enlightenment? What was Aella's religious upbringing like, and why did she lose her faith? How did Aella get into sex work, and what has her career as a sex worker been like? How do we ask great questions, and what is Askhole?

Taboo beliefs

Death and Story-Telling with A.J. Jacobs

Are there more meaningful and ethical ways of honoring the dead than our traditional rituals? Why is it useful to adopt probabilistic thinking in our everyday lives? What sorts of things do we value intrinsically (i.e., that we would value even if they had no other positive benefits)? What do stories do well and not so well?

Preference Falsification and Postmodernism with Michael Vassar

How much preference falsification is occurring in society? What's the difference between conflict theory and mistake theory? Why is postmodernism useful to understand?

Education and Charity with Uri Bram

Are universities a cult? Do charitable interventions like de-worming work? How much should we trust the conclusion of well-respected charity evaluators like GiveWell?

Self-improvement

Self-Improvement and Research Ethics with Rob Wiblin

What are the best strategies for improving ourselves? How are line managers useful? Why does Rob prefer long-form content for the 80,000 Hours podcast? What are the sorts of things humans value and why? In what ways do research ethics considerations fail to achieve their stated objectives? Why are prediction markets useful?

Explanatory Depth and Growth Mindset with Daniel Greene

What is the illusion of explanatory depth? Are there forms of debate or dialogue that actually help people to change their minds (instead of stacking the incentives such that people feel forced to harden and defend their views)? What is epistemic "debt"? Should people avoid having opinions on things where they haven't thought deeply and carefully about all of the relevant considerations? How does one choose which experts to trust? What is "growth mindset"? How can social science be used to do good in the world?

Note that the above is a partial list of recordings, focussing on just those people and topics most connected to LessWrong. Some other relevant people that I've already recorded with, but haven't yet released the episodes for include: Kaj Sotala, Divia Eden, Stefan Schubert, Alyssa Vance, Satvik Beri, and Joe Carlsmith. Please let me know who else I should record with! :)

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17 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 1:57 AM
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Also one Spencer recorded with me: "Lines of Retreat and Incomplete Maps". Not sure why it isn't above; maybe was from earlier than the ones listed.

Oh whoops, that was definitely a mistake on my part, I meant to include that one, sorry for the oversight! I updated the post!

Is there anywhere that there are transcripts available for these conversations?

I hear you antanaclasis. I. Hear. You.

Unfortunately, we don't have transcripts for these! Sorry about that. I recommend listening at 1.5x-2.5x speed.

for reference of how costly transcripts are, the first "speech-to-audio" conversion is about $1.25 per minute, and it could take 1x the time of the audio to fix the mistakes when both have native accents, and up to 2x the audio time for non-native speakers. For a 1h podcast, this would amount to $75 + hourly rate, so roughly $100/podcast. Additionally, there's a YT-generated-subtitles free alternative. I'm currently trying this out, I'll edit this to let you know how long it takes to fix them per audio hour.

IMO, that's shockingly cheap, and there's little reason to not do transcripts for any podcast which has a listening audience larger than "your gf and your dog" and pretensions to being more than tissue-level entertainment to be discarded after use. If a podcast is worth taking hours to do and expecting hundreds/thousands of listeners to sit through spending man-hours apiece and trying to advertise or spread it in any way, then it's almost certainly also then worth $100 to transcribe it. A transcript buys you search-engine visibility (as well as easy search/quotation in general), foreign audiences (reading is a lot easier than listening), the ability to annotate with links/references, and a lot of native listeners who don't want to sit through it in realtime (reading is also vastly faster than listening). Notice how much more often you see Econlog, 80k Hours, or Tyler Cowen's Conversations linked than many other podcasts, which decline to provide transcripts, and whose episodes instantly disappear*.

* I'm looking at you, A16Z. Not transcribing your podcasts is ludicrous when you are one of the largest VC firms in the world and attempting to remake yourself into an all-services VC empire based in considerable part on contemt marketing.

Thanks for the cost estimates on producing transcripts, that's helpful! 

FWIW I find it taking more than 1x for native speakers, but I think never longer than 2.5x for anybody.

I don't feel like listening faster solves the same problem as having a transcript...

Also yeah, like the podcasters below mentioned, it's totally worth it to make transcripts. Just use Rev.com. 

There's Otter.ai which costs $8-30/month depending on which plan you get. You can try their free plan too to get a feel of how good their transcription is.

I haven't used rev.com compared to Otter, but I think it also takes ~1x the time of the audio to fix the mistakes of Otter.ai, which would make it similar in time-cost to fixing Rev.com transcripts. So Otter.ai might be a way cheaper option than Rev.com. And the transcripts should be ready within 30-60 minutes of you upload it, given that it's AI-based, versus Rev, which I think is actual people typing your transcript.

Curated. This seems like a great resources of conversations and thinking. I think our community has a lot of good ideas locked away inside people's minds that are effortful to translate into blogpost form. 

I'm in favor of people writing down conversations (and endorse the commenters suggesting Spencer get a transcript of these via Rev.com), but meanwhile having recordings is great. :)

Wonderful. Thanks for creating this. One small tip: when doing remote interviews consider sending your guests a cheap mic or headset. Even a $30 mic/headset can drastically improve sound quality and would really improve listening experience for some of your episodes.

great idea! blue yeti used to be a relatively cost-effective option ($100) for US/Canada. For Europe, I'd recommend the t.bone which comes with a suitcase, pop filter and support for $70 (including shipping). for headsets I'd recommend any studio one for about $50, such as the Audio Technica ones.

Nice idea, thanks for the suggestion!

This is great Spencer. Looking forward to listening.

Subscribed. Thanks for these, I'm excited to listen!