Blog posts as epistemic trust builders

by adamzerner1 min read27th Sep 20207 comments


Intellectual Progress (Society-Level)Community

I've really been enjoying Zvi's weekly posts on the coronavirus. Keeping up with what's going on is something I want to do, but not badly enough to put in the time myself. I'm not even sure how capable I would be even if I wanted to put in the time myself; it seems difficult to sift through all of the information out there.

Reading Zvi's posts works out perfectly for me though. 20-30 minutes a week and I get just what I need.

But all of this only works because I trust Zvi.

Like most people nowadays, I spend a lot of time online. In particular, reading blog posts. LessWrong, Overcoming Bias, Slate Star Codex, Hacker News, FiveThirtyEight, etc. When I need a break, I have my little routine of websites that I click through.

Sometimes I reflect on how much value I get out of reading all of these blog posts. Nothing against the authors, but when I finish an article, I usually am not left with the feeling that I've gained much. I see it as a numbers game: most of the time I don't gain much, but once in a while I come across something that really influences me.

But even when I'm not left off feeling particularly inspired by a post, I think that there is something more subtle that I gain by reading it: epistemic trust.

By reading the same authors over and over again, I start to get a feel for how much I can trust their reasoning ability. The more I trust them, the more I update in response to what they say. And when I reflect on the updates I perform, a surprisingly large proportion of them are of the (rough) form "I'll take your word for it".

The ultimate example of this is probably with respect to AI safety. I think AI safety is a huge deal, but the reason why I think so largely comes from me saying "I'll take your word for it". I have a very amateurish understanding of it all and wouldn't really be able to come to the conclusion "this is by far the most important thing in the world" via gears level reasoning.

But fortunately, I have a very high level of epistemic trust for the rationalist community. I've been able to cash in on this trust and update my beliefs about something that is very, very important.

I want to be careful about what I'm implying here. I'm not trying to imply that epistemic trust building is the main purpose of blog posts. I'm not even trying to be at all precise about how important I think that function is. My point is just that I think it's a function important enough to take note of.