Epistemic status: uncertain. I removed most weasel words for clarity, but that doesn't mean I'm very confident. Don’t take this too literally. I'd love to see a cluster analysis to see if there's actually a trend, this is a rough guess. I'm interested in feedback on this; if it matches the intuitions of others reading this, and if there are important aspects I've missed or really messed up.
I separate a lot of interesting intellectuals into disagreeables and assessors.
Disagreeables are highly disagreeable. They're quick to call out bullshit and are excellent at coming up with innovative ideas. Unfortunately, they produce a whole lot of false positives; they're pretty overconfident and wrong a great deal of the time. They're "idea detectors" with the sensitivity turned up to 11.
Disagreeables often either work alone or on top of a structure that believes (almost) everything they say.
Assessors are well-calibrated. If/when they participate in forecasting tournaments, they do really well. Assessors don't try to come up with many brilliant new ideas and don't spend particularly much effort questioning the most deeply held group assumptions, but they're awfully good at not being wrong. When they say X is true, X is indeed very likely to be true.
Both disagreeables and assessors are frustrated by mainstream epistemics, but for different reasons.
Disagreeables tend to make dramatic statements like,
Assessors would make more calm clarifications like,
If the emperor really has no clothes, disagreeables would be the first to (loudly) call that out. If the emperor has a large set of broadly reasonable policies, but a few that are subtly mistaken, the assessors would be a better fit to diligently identify and explain these.
Some disagreeables include Socrates, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Nassim Taleb, Robin Hanson, early Steve Jobs, other tech founders, angry public figures, professional gurus of all kinds.
Assessors include David Hume, Bertrand Russell, Robert Caro, Scott Alexander, Superforecasters, some of late Steve Jobs, good CEOs, many not-particularly-angry politicians (Eisenhower/Clinton/Obama come to mind).
To the disagreeables, assessors seem like boring blankfaces and bureaucrats who maintain the suffocating status quo. To assessors, disagreeables often seem like reckless cult leaders who go around creating epistemic disarray.
Disagreeables value boldness and novelty; being the most interesting person in the room, making a big statement. Assessors value nuance, clarity, discernment. Getting things really right, even if the truth is tedious or boring.
I feel like Rationalists lean disagreeable, and Effective Altruists lean assessment.
The ideal is a combination of both. Have disagreeables come up with ideas and assessors assess them. But this is really hard to do!
Disagreeable normally don't exactly pronounce they are disagreeable; they often have compelling sounding arguments why everyone else is wrong (including all the assessors). Disagreeables often really truly and absolutely believe their inaccuracies. Meanwhile, accessors can be very soft-spoken and boring. Great accessors who are unsure about X, even after a lot of research, can seem a whole lot like regular people who are unsure about X.
I wish we had a world where the people with great ideas are also all well-calibrated. But we don't live in that world. As such, I can rarely easily recommend interesting books, I need to condition my reviews.
"These books are very interesting, but I'd only recommend them if you're already familiar with the topic and surrounding debate, otherwise they might cause you more harm than good."
Or with people,
"These people have the cool ideas, but you can't take them too seriously. You instead have to wait for these other people to review the ideas, but honestly, you’ll likely be waiting a while."
“There’s a big conspiracy that everyone is in on”
“Everyone is just signaling all the time, they’re not even trying to be right”
“This organization is a huge Ponzi scheme”
“Yes, disagreeable person said X is a huge Ponzi scheme. There’s some truth there, but it’s a big oversimplification”
“I’m quite sure that Y’s paper is unlikely to replicate, after closely looking at the related papers”
 This work has flavors of personality profiling tools like the Enneagram and Myers-Briggs. If you hate those things, you should probably be suspicious of this.
 These aren't all the types, but they're the main ones I think of. Another interesting type is "bulldogs", who dogmatically champion one or two ideas over several decades. Arguably "philosopher king/queen/ruler" is a good archetype, though it overlaps heavily with disagreeables and assessors.
 I'm not really sure about Hume, this is just my impression of him from several summaries.
 See this set of interviews of superforecasters for an idea. I think these people are interesting, but I could easily imagine overlooking them if I just heard them speak for a short period.
Seems like a specific application of Babble and Prune to intellectual work.
Good point, agreed.
In undergrad humanities, we called these archetypes dads and lovers.
That's interesting to know, thanks!
As a non-public intellectual, I don't have a persona I'm trying to project. I treat these as roles I can take in discussions, rather than as attributes as me as a person. Very useful to have them described so clearly.
As with Babble and Prune, one needs to train both.
Is there a name for the archetype of "Reads about a novel, controversial idea, gets mind blown, adopts idea immediately and zealously spreads it to others until the next novel idea comes along"?
I just (loosely) coined "disagreeables" and "assessors" literally two days ago.
I suggest coming up with any name you think is a good fit.
I like this post a lot.
One thing I keep thinking about is this sentence:
They're quick to call out bullshit and are excellent at coming up with innovative ideas. Unfortunately, they produce a whole lot of false positives; they're pretty overconfident and wrong a great deal of the time.
Are they excellent at coming up with innovative ideas?
In the context of the framing you're using here: On the one hand, yes of course they are. On the other hand, a stopped clock is excellent at being right twice a day. I have a bit of a hard time differentiating the two hands here.
I think maybe it comes down to what we mean by "excellent" and you get into that in your post. It just feels wrong on a fundamental level to me to call the process by which these ideas are arrived at as "excellent"...but I guess that's what a dirty Assessor would say!
I wouldn't read too much into my choice of word there.
It's also important to point out that I was trying to have a model that assumed interestingness. The "disagreeables" I mention are the good ones, not the bad ones. The ones worth paying attention to I think are pretty decent here; really, that's the one thing they have to justify paying attention to them.