May 7, 2013
Hi all, I'm leaving Lesswrong for a few months to pursue a Masters, and this Text below will never be finished. It is just a story of what is it like to grow up outside where everything is going on, a country where humanities are sad and terrible, and people are fun, but not quite wise.
Original Summary: Two things (Note: Were going to) permeate this text, an autobiographical short account of what is it like to grow up far from where things are happening, and an outside view account of some of the people and institutions (MIRI,LW,Leverage Research, FHI,80k,GWWC) whom presently carry, as far as I can see, the highest expected value gamble of our time. I have visited all those institutions, and my account here should be considered just a biased, one subjective perspective data point, not a proper evaluation of those places. Other people who come from developing world countries might have interesting stories to tell, and I'd encourage them to do so (Pablo in Argentina, many in India, China and elsewhere)
(NOTE: There is nothing about the institutions here, only the growing up part was written by the time I decided to halt this writing)
Far away, across the sea
As is the case with most outliers, outcasts, and outsiders in general, a large amount of sociological facts were determinant of me being the first person in Brazil acquainted with the cluster of ideas to which the institutions mentioned belong. Jonatas, the other Brazilian who entered this world early on (2004), has a very similar story to tell. The prerequisites seem to have been: young, middle class, children of early adopters, inclined towards philosophy, living in a cosmopolitan area, with a particular disregard for authority (uncommon in Brazil), high IQ (aprox 4 SDs above Brazilian average) beginning to get stuck in a nonsense university system in the humanities. Due to expected income considerations and a large variance in income among Brazilians, most of the high IQ people go for Medicine, Engineering, Law and sometimes physical sciences. Thus many of the humanities become just signalling that you praise the right authorities (right here meaning whomever your advisor or professor was compelled to praise by his professor) and the cycle rolls on and on.
So I was left with good resources (time, curiosity, intellectual eagerness) and internet access. The web changed it all. It was hard to capture the signal among the noise in the intellectual world there, and my path was reading an interview in a magazine with this guy who thought so differently that he seemed amazing, a biogeographist is what the magazine called him (I had to invent a meaning for that), that was Jared Diamond. Then Guns Germs and Steel, and, buying books, waiting two months for them to come, I slowly built a foundational knowledge of the Third Culture people, those whom John Brockman currently gathers on The Edge website.
It seemed they were sensible and smart people, Dawkins, Dennett, Pinker, and many others. Yet in our closed country in the humanities, no one had any idea of what that was all about. Understandably, I frequently thought I was wrong, or crazy, since that is what others thought about me. The neodarwinians were a huge problem in the moral punishing intellectual world I was living, they were enough to make you an outcast, an untouchable perhaps. But they were not the worse, the worse was yet to come.
The worse was when I found Aubrey de Grey and Nick Bostrom. I should call those early years the schizophrenic ones, because only focusing all my brainpower in being schizophrenic could I possibly survive among my peers while considering the opinions and thoughts of those two individuals sensible and worthy. It has recently been pointed out in one the best posts here that:
Any idiot can tell you why death is bad, but it takes a very particular sort of idiot to believe that death might be good.
That very particular sort of idiot composes 98% of our humanities academy, the intelligence that is valued is the subtle and sophisticated one that makes small benefits salient while concealing obviously enormous costs, or the one that signals capacity while making the world a worse place.
At the young age of eighteen I was learning Freudian babble during the day, reading Russell at late afternoon, since he was both sensible and acceptable among my peers, being a 100 years old Lord, and subscribed to the Shock Level 4 email group controlled by Eliezer at night, noticing that something really big was going on and not having anyone around to talk about it. I'd be thinking about the Simulation Argument, and my friends would be thinking about what the teacher's password was for that particular behaviorist explanation that was discredited 70 years ago, and how they hated it because the Freudian alternative obviously felt right. It takes schizophrenia to survive in the wild.
The Path Became Smooth
Time went by, memes were spread and slowly but steadily it was possible to come out of the closet about a lot of my beliefs and thoughts. The classes on how to write ambiguous commentaries on Hegel didn't stop, but the sanity waterline was being raised, specially among my colleagues who were pursuing exact science degrees. 2008 was the shifting point, suddenly I met one other Transhumanist, and eventually a rationalist, and near the end an utilitarian. Schizophrenia was no longer that necessary. Fast forward to now 2013 and you have many of those ideas, such as Singularity, ending ageing, considering cognitive science a part of psychology, brain machine interface, etc... all on the cover page of major magazines and being topic of conversation on TV shows.
Some few people started actually caring about that. Meanwhile something else was growing, the Effective Altruist movement.
(here this abruptly finishes, and won't be continued)