Improving the World

by Viliam_Bur1 min read10th Oct 201425 comments

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What are we doing to make this world a better (epistemically or instrumentally) place?

Some answers to this question are already written in Bragging Threads and other places, but I think they deserve a special emphasis. I think that many smart people are focused on improving themselves, which is a good thing in a long run, but sometimes the world needs some help right now. (Also, there is the failure mode of learning a lot about something, and then actually not applying that knowledge in real life.) Becoming stronger so you can create more good in the future is about the good you will create in the future; but what good are you creating right now?

 

Rules:

Top-level comments are the things you are doing right now (not merely planning to do once) to improve the world... or a part of the world... or your neighborhood... or simply any small part of the world other than only yourself.

Meta debates go under the "META" comment.

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Helping get Effective Altruism Helsinki on its feet. To copy the report I posted on the EA forum:

Yesterday, me and two others ran the first bigger and more broadly marketed introductory EA event in Helsinki, Finland. We advertised it mainly on Facebook and on the mailing lists of a few student groups. Around 30 people showed up in total, many if not most of them new to EA.

The event consisted of two parts: an introductory lecture, where I compared PlayPumps with Deworm the World (borrowing the story from Will MacAskill's upcoming book) to help drive home the concept of EA and illustrate what the slogan "effective altruism combines the head and the heart" really means. Then I said a few words about different EA organizations, about how it's not just about charitable organizations but also things like 80,000 hours evaluating how to directly make the biggest impact on your life, and how I thought that EA is a really exciting idea.

The talk seemed to be well received and I got positive feedback of it later on. Then we ran a Giving Game, with my co-organizers having contributed 200 euros and The Life You Can Save sponsoring us by 5 euros per participant. I had picked Schistosomiasis Control Initiative, GiveDirectly, and Fistula Foundation as the three organizations to compare, on the basis of TLYCS having ready materials for them and them being sufficiently similar but also sufficiently different to make it meaningful and interesting to compare between them.

People seemed to find this an interesting question and quickly started talking about it. We used a format that had proven successful in our Less Wrong meetups, where we first told people to form groups of three or four, and then after some time asked them to new form new groups of a similar size to get new perspectives. In this case, it meant 15 minutes of discussion for the first groups, reform, and then another 15 minutes of discussion. After that we had people make their decisions and pick their favorite charity by filling an e-mail form on one of the two laptops brought by the organizers; they could optionally also give us their e-mail address if they wanted to stay in touch. People who were short on time could also leave earlier and make their decision as they left (we had placed one of the laptops by the door).

Another organizer has the exact figures, but as I recall, the results of the Giving Game had SCI as by far the most popular pick (around 80% support), with GiveDirectly the second (around 15%) and Fistula Foundation coming in third.

Altogether I'm quite happy with the event, and looking forward to organizing more local EA activities.

Trying to get FHI and CSER approved for gift matching by Google; I have money set aside to give as soon as this works out.

Great! Thanks for doing this.

MIRI has received ~$165,000 since the beginning of 2011 from the Google matching program alone.

I want to share my parenting experience and knowledge. I think positive parenting is undervalued and many parents appear to have no structured idea of how to help their children develop all those interesting or necessary abilities - in an easy and fun way. I am under the impression that my own parenting efforts were quite successful, well-informed and non-demanding. I think one part of the success was to know about and have a plan for providing learning and development opportunities for my children for each week, month, year.

My idea is to share my approach and make suggestions for children of all ages available online. I am right now developing a platform which automatically suggests suitable activities based on the estimated developmental age and the ratings of prior suggested activities. I want to combine this with a wordpress based blog where the activities and other parenting posts can be discussed. I have also started collecting seed posts for the blog. I got the impression that some LW parents might like this idea and I'm wondering if and how my blog can be multilingual (I plan to write it primarily in German).

I'm interested in feedback about this idea and whether there are chances for possibe collaboration (guest posts, add-ons to the recommendation system, graphical design).

[-][anonymous]7y 4

What do you think about The Nurture Assumption?

In short: I don't aim to influence their personality. I have given up on that long ago. Instead I aim for knowledge. Knowledge is not heriditary and evolution better not throws knowledge passed on from parents to children out of the window.

I researched the effect I can have on the life success of my parenting and came to the concusion that effects exist - esp. at the high end of the spectrum. I haven't written about that yet and need to pull the references together first. One quote from the Handbook of Parenting Vol. 4 I just looked up:

That variations in many developmental outcomes can be at least partly accounted for by individual differences in parenting quality is a premise that has widespread empirical support. (Baumrind, 1970; Clarke-Stewart, 1973; Isabella and Belsky, 1991; Tamis-LeMonda, Bornstein, Baumwell, and Damast, 1996). Conceptualizations of competent parenting, however, will by necessity depend on the specific child outcomes of interest. Language development, for example, appears to be best fostered by caregiving environments rich in language inputs, tailored to the child’s developmental level, and responsive to the child’s bids to communicate (Bornstein and Tamis-LeMonda, 1997; Warren and Walker, in press). Parent-provided language mastery experiences and parental responsivity to child behavior are similarly important for promoting children’s intellectual development (Bornstein and Tamis-LeMonda, 1989; Carew, 1980; Tamis-LeMonda et al., 1996), and to these we can add the adequacy with which parents structure their children’s environments to be intellectually stimulating (e.g., in terms of providing appropriately stimulating play materials and variety in daily stimulation; Bradley, 1999). Attachment theorists, by contrast, would likely define competent parenting in terms of parental sensitivity, or the ability of the parent to read and respond contingently and appropriately to infant distress, bids for comfort, and cues for interaction and withdrawal (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, and Wall, 1978; Belsky, 1999). Conceptualizations of parenting competence would also differ in relation to age-related differences in children’s developmental competencies and specific needs.

--

For the Greman speakers this is the introductory paragraph I already wrote for the blog:

Erziehungsziele - Erziehungspremissen

Ich vermute, dass Werte oder zumindest wertekonformes Verhalten flüchtig sind, während Wissen und Kompetenzen erhalten bleiben und ein Fundament bilden.

Werte, die während der Kindheit anerzogen wurden, werden während der Pubertät auch durch die natürliche Gehirnentwicklung in Frage gestellt und die Jugendlichen finden ihre eigenen Werte - und setzen sie durch, rebellieren oder leiden ggf. unter dem resultierenden Konflikt.

Meinem Verständnis der Evolutionspsychologie nach nutzt dieses natürliche Verhalten den jungen Erwachsenen, da sie selbstbestimmt mehr (Fortpflanzungs-)Erfolg haben.

Ich glaube, dass Werte und Verhaltensweisen, die eingefordert oder unfreiwillig angenommen werden (und sozialer Druck kann da viele Formen annehmen) keine nachhaltige Wirkung haben. Selbst wenn die Eltern/Erzieher selber diesen Regeln folgen kann der gefühlte oder reale Druck zu Gegenreaktionen führen.

Wissen und Methodenkompetenzen jedoch gehen in der Pubertät nicht verloren (das wäre ja auch evolutionsmäßig kontraproduktiv). In der Erziehung in Wissen zu investieren ist also effizienter als in Werte.

Nichts desto trotz kommt man um Werte- oder Verhaltenserziehung nicht herum - sonst hat man es selbst nicht leicht und Erwartungen anderer werden enttäuscht. Und für die Kinder ist es auch nicht besser.

Ein Kompromiss den ich sehe ist, Werte und Verhaltensweisen nicht einzufordern, sondern als Wissen zu thematisieren. Das Wissen (inkl. die spielerische Erfahrung damit), welche akzeptablen oder problematischen Verhaltensweisen es gibt, ermöglicht es den Kindern später diese Verhaltensweisen nicht nur auszuüben (wenn sie es denn wollen), sondern auch bei anderen zu beobachten und zu reflektieren. Natürlich geht das erst wenn die Kinder in der Lage sind dies zu verstehen.

...

(Baumrind, 1970; Clarke-Stewart, 1973; Isabella and Belsky, 1991; Tamis-LeMonda, Bornstein, Baumwell, and Damast, 1996)

Out of curiosity, do any of these account for heritable factors such as by using behavioral genetics approaches or dealing with research like that summarized in The Nurture Assumption?

For the Greman speakers this is the introductory paragraph I already wrote for the blog: [...]

I'm not much of a writer, and this might not be the final version, but I still like giving advice.

I'd really like to see some citations and references here. Are all those opinions based only on you own observations or also from things you have read? Since I don't have children, I'm not interested in the answer to that question, but your readers will be.

Werte, die während der Kindheit anerzogen wurden, werden während der Pubertät auch durch die natürliche Gehirnentwicklung in Frage gestellt

Ich würde "auch durch die natürliche Gehirnentwicklung" hier entfernen, da es eigentlich keine Informationen liefert. Außer du hättest villeicht irgend eine Referenz um deine Behauptunt (Werte werden in der Puberät in Frage gestellt) wissenschaftlich zu untermauern. Dann könnte das statdessen hin.

Meinem Verständnis der evolutionspsychologie nach nutzt dieses natürliche Verhalten den jungen Erwachsenen, da sie selbstbestimmt mehr (Fortpflanzungs-)Erfolg haben.

Zu sagen, dass etwas von Evolutionärem Nutzen ist, da es den Fortpflanzungserfolg steigert ist (zumindest nahezu) eine Tautologie, braucht also eigentlich nicht gesagt zu werden. Dass etwas was den evolutionären Erfolg steigert dem Individuum nutzen muss (du schreibst "nutzt [,,,] den jungen Erwachsenen"), stimmt meines Wissens nach nicht (Egoistisches Gen und so). Was ich hier wirklich gerne wissen möchte ist, warum Selbstbestimmtheit deiner Meinung nach den evolutionären Erfolg steigert.

Thank you for your feedback. Yes I have quite some references to back that up. I didn't give them because they are unordered and incomplete and I just wrote the text as a first draft. I'm unclear about how to include them. Options I consider:

  • references only via linking correspondings passages

  • Inline references (short with links)

  • references at the end

  • writing separate posts with a focus on the particular referenced topic.

I'd really prefer the last one as it'd also bridge the inferencial gap behind it and I started to structure some post in that way, but it is also the most complex approach.

Ich glaube, dass Werte und Verhaltensweisen, die eingefordert oder unfreiwillig angenommen werden (und sozialer Druck kann da viele Formen annehmen) keine nachhaltige Wirkung haben. Selbst wenn die Eltern/Erzieher selber diesen Regeln folgen kann der gefühlte oder reale Druck zu Gegenreaktionen führen.

Rules (Regeln) and values (Werte) are two different things. Developing what's commonly called a "growth mindset" seems important and is something I would put under the category of values. It's something where my teacher at school really messed up and that I learned later in life.

A refreshing breath of good style in German instead of the usual drivel I get links to, thank you.

I am consistently pursuing a policy of releasing what I can under permissive OpenSource or OpenContent licenses. This includes educating my co-employees about copyright and legality and the whole OpenSource idea, in a fields where no-one ever considered it before (human language resources). I daresay I have been quite successful in educating them, less in actually persuading them.

My motivation is a bit on the ideology and idealistic side, but I sincerely believe that data should be free (and would make a better world). Though it is true that this does actually hurt a certain business segment and thus it is an open question what is the improvement/detriment ratio.

the whole OpenSource idea, in a fields where no-one ever considered it before (human language resources)

Feel free to write a post about it, or link to your blog or something.

There's not much I can achieve with my current education level, but I give blood twice a year.

[-][anonymous]7y 8

Upvoted because I never gave blood and then I lost the ability to give blood. This frustrates me, and is one of my few, real, life regrets. Thanks for doing your part.

This has reminded me to arrange to give blood. Thank you.

Some things I just remembered: You can also donate blood plasma, sign up as a marrow donor and in case you do not want to go through with cryonics you can sign up as an organ donor. Your marrow is especialy valuable if your genetic makeup differs from the majority population.

Another procrastinator here. I gave blood before but fainted once before and felt uncomfortable all other times. I'll try and give blood again soon to see if that issue cleared up.

I also give blood once a year. It's one of those winwin cases where there is a benefit for oneself as well as for others:

Blood donation

The studies related to this have some methodological issues but overall the effect size is so large, and the cost and risks so low, that it is worth inclusion. Several studies have indicated that, for men, regular blood donation results in a massive reduction in heart attack.[1][2][3] Other studies have found no such relation.[4] There are also additional health benefits to blood donation.[5] These are just some of the studies on this subject, but on balance after reviewing the evidence, I can say that donating blood once a year is almost certainly worth it if you're a man. Donating too often is probably bad for you though.

http://lesswrong.com/lw/jrt/lifestyle_interventions_to_increase_longevity/

I am getting an education in hopes of getting a high-paying job, which I can use to earn large amounts of money and donate to an effective charity. I'm also a vegetarian and an aspiring vegan, but that's really more that I'm failing to make the world a worse place.

META

Comments about this topic or this thread belong here.

This might go against the grain: I advise people to think more about themselves than others.

Too often I see people working themselves to death with obvious symptoms of fatigue and stress helping their kith and kin beyond any reasonable measure. The more immediate case is the person trying to save something or someone from a fire and dying in the process. They would be better advised to think of themselves, raising their wellbeing and making others more self reliant in the process. Or more effective overall.

Promoting this cryonics/life extension/transhumanism convention in Laughlin, Nevada, next month:

http://venturist.info/conventions.html

I have to make some changes to the website, but we've confirmed cryobiologist Greg Fahy, Ph.D., as a speaker:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greg_Fahy

And Maria Konovalenko:

http://mariakonovalenko.wordpress.com/about/

I may speak at the convention, but I have social anxiety issues and I don't know how I will hold up when the time comes.