I am trying to stay anonymous on this account in order to encourage myself to post more. If you think you can deduce my identity based on what I have posted, I would really appreciate it if you let me know so that I can scale back revealing details.
Summary: this post is mostly for self reflection. I my first impressions (likes/dislikes) after using Roam, a note-taking app with good "linking" features. I also use this post to think about some Roam-related decisions (should I look into competitor apps, should I upgrade to Roam's lump sum "Believer" plan). I'm trying out Roam and liking it so far. I started using it when I started working on a research project in order to reap the full benefits.
Before I list pros and cons, I should clarify that I am a novice at Roam. I know I am not using Roam close to optimally, and probably some of the disadvantages I've listed are due to my lack of knowledge rather than problems with Roam. (Feel free to tell me where I am Being Wrong on the Internet because then I will learn more about Roam!)
Advantages of roam:
Disadvantages of roam:
Something I am uncertain about is whether I should switch to a cheaper competitor app. I have money but not that much money. $15/month is worth it to me since Roam seems to be increasing my productivity, but also maybe a free competitor app with Roam's linking capabilities would also increase my productivity by the same amount.
Something else I am uncertain about is how to make the decision of whether to stay on the monthly plan ($15/month) or switch to the Believer plan ($500 for the next 5 years). In order to make this decision I feel like I need to both quantify how much Roam will actually improve my productivity and whether cheaper competitor apps will improve my productivity by the same amount. It's worth mentioning that the Believer plan comes with extra features (including "offline mode")—but it's hard to know how much I will like this without actually purchasing the Believer plan.
I feel like in order to compare which of two apps is better I need to spend a long time (say 6 months) getting fairly good at each app. Otherwise, I will just be comparing how shallow the learning curve is for beginners.
So, my current plan is to go all in on Roam for the next 6 months and give it a fair shot. Then after that I will explore/exploit competitor apps, spending an amount of time on them proportional to how likely I think they are to beat Roam.
This is an interesting way to think about it. For me, I'm not sure whether it's as much of a pressure differential as much as it is a pressure threshold. The latter meaning, if I exceed a certain level of excitement about a topic, then I feel a compulsion to communicate (and it feels effortless). By contrast, if I have not hit that level, it becomes much harder to write or think about that topic. I wonder whether developing more motivation based on the "sink" would in turn make me a more effective communicator...
Yes, that's exactly what I was thinking of!
This might be helpful advice. Some of the more required writing I've been putting off is probably too niche for the "Being Wrong On The Internet" aspect but I could probably more proactively find people willing to let me explain things to them. Come to think of it this has often been a good way to motivate me to learn / write things...
Uh oh..."everybody knows" was poor wording here then. I guess it would have been more precise to say "I've heard this from multiple different non-overlapping groups so it seems like widely applicable advice".
Or maybe you write for a living because you are naturally good at selecting the right time to write / have a wider window for when you are capable of writing well?
(this is just a rant, not insightful) Everybody knows how important it is to choose the right time to write something. The optimal time is when you're really invested in the topic, learning rapidly but know enough to start the writing process. Then, ideally, during the writing process everything will crystalize. If you wait much longer than this the topic will no longer be exciting and you will not want to write about it.
Everybody gives this advice, both within and outside of academia. I've heard it from professors, LW-y blog posts (maybe even on LW?), and everywhere in between.
SO WHY DO I CONSTANTLY IGNORE THIS ADVICE?? :(
Ah, I googled those and the results mostly mentioned "Thinking Fast and Slow". The book has been on my list for a while but it sounds like I should give it higher priority. Thanks for the pointer!
I've thought through an explanation as to why there exist people who are not effective altruists. I think it's important to understand these viewpoints if EAs want to convert more people to their side.
As an added bonus, I think this explanation generalizes to many cases where a person's actions contradict their knowledge—thinking through this helped me better understand why I think I take actions which contradict my knowledge.
Summary: people's gut feel (which actually governs most decision-making) takes time, thought and effort to catch up to their systematic reasoning (which is capable of absorbing new information much quicker). This explains phenomena such as "why not everyone who has heard of EA is an EA" and "why not everyone who has heard of factory farming is a vegan".
Outcome / why this was useful for me to think about: This framework of "systematic reasoning" vs "gut feel" is useful for me when thinking about what I know, how well I know it, and whether I act on this knowledge. This helps distinguish between two possible types of "this person is acting contrary to knowledge they have": 1) the person's actions disagree with their gut feel and systematic reasoning (= lack of control) or 2) the person's actions agree with their systematic reasoning but not gut feel (= still processing the knowledge).
Full explanation: People's views on career choices, moral principles, and most generally the moral value of particular actions are quite rarely influenced by systematic reasoning. Instead, people automatically develop priors on these things by interacting with society and make most decisions according to gut feel.
Making gut feel decisions instead of using systematic reasoning is generally a good move. At any moment, we are deciding not to do an insanely high number of technically feasible actions. Evaluating all of these is computationally intractable. (for arguments like these see "Algorithms to Live By")
When people are introduced to EA, they will usually not object to premises such as "we should make choices to do more good at the margin" and "some charities are 10-100x more effective than others". However just because they agree with this doesn't mean they're going to immediately become an EA. In other words, anybody can quickly understand EA concepts through their systematic reasoning, but that doesn't mean it has also reached their gut feel reasoning (= becoming an EA).
A person's gut feel on EA topics is all of their priors on charitable giving, global problems, career advice, and doing good in general. Even the most well-worded argument isn't immediately going to sway a person's priors so much that they immediately become an EA. But over time, a person's priors can be updated via repeated exposure and internal reflection. So maybe you explain EA to someone and they're initially skeptical, but they continue carefully considering EA ideas and become more and more of an EA.
This framework is actually quite general. Here's another example: consider a person who is aware that factory farming is cruel but regularly eats meat. This is because their gut feel on whether meat is OK hasn't caught up to systematic reasoning about factory farming being unethical.
Just like the EA example explained above, there is often no perfect explanation which can instantly turn somebody into a gut feel vegan. Rather, they have to put in the work to reflect on pro-vegan evidence presented to them.
(n.b: the terms "systematic reasoning" and "gut feel" are not as thoughtfully chosen as they could be—I'd appreciate references to better or more standard terms!)
I used to struggle to pay attention to audiobooks and podcasts. No matter how fascinating I found the topic, whenever I tried to tune in I would quickly zone out and lose the thread. However I think I am figuring out how to get myself to focus on these audio-only information sources more consistently.
I've tried listening to these audio information sources in three different environments:
My intuition would have been that my attention would be best with (1), then (2), then (3). In fact the opposite seems to be true. I focus best while playing minecraft, then while walking, then doing nothing else.
I think the explanation for this is fairly self-evident if you turn it around the other way. The reason why I am not able to focus on podcasts while doing nothing else is usually because my mind goes off on tangents, tunes out the audio, and loses the thread. To a lesser extent, this happens on walks. It seems like menial tasks in minecraft take up just enough mental energy for me not to additionally think up tangents, but not so much mental energy that I can no longer follow the discussion. In summary: "Being focused" on a fast-paced one-way stream of information requires not going off on tangents, which my brain can only do if it is sufficiently idle.
Something I am aware of but haven't tested is that it could be that minecraft is too taxing and I am not absorbing as much as I would be if I were going on a walk. However, I would argue that it is better to consistently absorb 80% of a podcast than it is to absorb 100% of a podcast's content 80% of the time and be completely zoned out for the other 20% (as is perhaps the case when I am walking). Pausing and rewinding is inefficient and annoying. This is also an argument for listening to podcasts at a faster speed (perhaps at the cost of absorption rate).
Moreover, I am listening to podcasts with the goal of gaining high-level understanding of the topics covered. So, "everything but slightly fuzzy on the details" is better than "the details of 80% of everything" for my purposes. Perhaps if I was listening with a different goal (for example, a podcast discussing a paper I wanted to deeply understand), more of my focus would be required and it would be better for me to walk (or even sit still) than play minecraft.
Initially, I thought I was bad at focusing on podcasts since I lacked the brainpower to follow a fast-paced audio. Having experienced decreased distractability while listening to a podcast and playing minecraft, I have now updated my model of how I focus. I think focus might follow a sort of Laffer curve (upside down U) shape, where the x axis is # external stimuli and the y axis is # content absorbed.
More precisely (a picture really would do better here but I don't know how to put one in a shortform): Call the most # content absorbed y0 and the corresponding # external stimuli x0. I used to think podcasts were more than x0 stimulus for me, meaning that I could never absorb a near-optimal amount of content. However the minecraft+podcast experiment showed me that podcasts take less than x0 stimulus for me, and minecraft just enoug boosted the amount of stimuli to get me to the optimal (x0, y0) focus situation.
Going forward I definitely want to experiment with different combinations of stimuli (media, physical activity, environment) and see how I can optimize my focus. Some thoughts which seem like other people have them / do them:
Outcome: I will try to think about this more deliberately when planning which activities I do when, and in particular how I pair activities which can be done simultaneously. Who knows—maybe I will finally be able to get through some of those 3+ hour long episodes of the 80,000 Hours podcast! :)
This post (and the discussion in its comments) were interesting reads, thanks.
I noticed a small typo you might want to correct. The "will not agree" is missing from
Urban blue tribers because containment in cities is much harder anyway.