I run a small polling group on Facebook, where ~150 of my friends and followers give snap judgments on questions that interest me, or create their own questions for the group.
(If this sounds like fun, you’re welcome to join!)
Recently, I asked the group:
I’m part of the effective altruism (EA) movement. We’re people who share a few beliefs:
- Value the lives of all people equally, no matter what they look like or where they come from.
- When you do something for the sake of other people, try to do the most good you can.
- Use research and evidence to make decisions. Support causes and programs with a lot of good evidence behind them.
- When you have a choice, compare different options. Don’t just do something because it’s a good idea — make sure there’s no obvious better thing you could be doing instead.
In practice, we give a lot of money to charity. Usually charities that work in countries where people are very poor, like India, Ghana, or Kenya — not the United States or Britain or Japan. We think other people should also do this.
(I’ll skip the complications for now. I’ve been satisfied by the responses I’ve heard to my objections against EA, and I’ll assume that any reader of this piece is at least neutral toward the central ideas of the movement.)
This is a collection of ways to explain EA, or argue that EA is a good idea, in 60 seconds or less. Many are based on real conversations I’ve had. Ideally, you could use them at a party. I plan to, when I move out of Verona to a city with more parties.
Why do we disagree with each other?
This is a stupid question. But it’s not quite as stupid as it sounds. One winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics is famous for proving that people should never disagree with each other.
Okay, okay, it isn’t quite that easy. There are conditions we need to meet first.
The best informal description I’ve heard of Aumann’s Agreement Theorem:
Mutually respectful, honest and rational debaters cannot disagree on any factual matter once they know each other’s [beliefs]. They cannot “agree to disagree”, they can only agree to agree.
Sadly, when Robert Aumann says “rational”, he refers to a formal definition of rationality that applies to zero real humans.
But I think we can make his theory simpler: Instead of “both people are perfectly rational”, we can say that “both people have the same value system”.
“Hello. You’ve reached the disembodied voice of Aaron Gertler. Aaron’s body isn’t here right now, but if you leave a message, it will get back to you soon.”
It is not easy to make me angry, and it is harder still to make me angry enough that I feel the need to write about how angry I am. This is, I think, the first time I’ve written anything angry on this blog.
But GQ recently did a really good job of making me angry.
Not the entire magazine, but this story, which has inspired me to write my first post with a tag of “outrage”:
I annotated the story with the Genius Web Annotator, so you can see my notes in the original context, though the context doesn’t make the story any less terrible.
I think that the year’s most amazing invention is Genius.it.
Right now — right this moment — you can turn any web page into a cross between a Kindle book and a page of lyrics on Rap Genius. Other people can read your annotations alongside the article, and add their own comments.
I plan to use this invention a lot. It’s the best way to deal with the fact that someone is always wrong on the internet.
Below is the first article I’ve “annotated” in this way. Read, upvote, and comment!
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Ezra Klein and Phil Libin are both remarkably smart people. But I think that they make some mistakes in their depiction of how experts on artificial intelligence think about the risk posed by this powerful technology.
My friend Jack Newsham, a reporter on The Boston Globe, asked a good question on Facebook the other day:
Question for my non-journalist friends: why don’t you trust us? (“Us” being journalists in general. Because poll after poll shows that the overwhelming majority of you don’t.)
My answer turned out long enough for a blog post.
I trust journalists. That is, I trust most people, and I don’t see journalists as being very different from most people on average. I would trust a journalist to watch my laptop in a cafe while I used the bathroom or water my plants when I went on vacation.
Journalism isn’t a person. It is a product, produced by journalists. And as it is practiced, I only half-trust journalism.
The Yale Daily News Magazine just published my glowing review of The Yale Book of Quotations. I also profiled the book’s creator, Fred Shapiro. This is my last piece of original journalism for any Yale publication.
The article includes an interesting call to action. Fred needs help writing the next edition. If you’d like your favorite quote to end up in a book that sells tens of thousands of copies, read until the end, or just read the pitch right now.
Twenty-Four Quotations About the Yale Book of Quotations
“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.”
–Francis Bacon, Of Studies
“Dictionary, n. A malevolent literary device for cramping the growth of language and making it hard and inelastic. This dictionary, however, is a most useful work.”
–Ambrose Bierce, The Cynic’s Word Book
The Yale Book of Quotations (YBQ) is a magnificent beast of a tome, a rare creature found only in libraries and the homes of the most devoted litterateurs. Most books have one or two quotable lines. The YBQ has over twelve thousand. And though it is 1100 pages long, it remains, fundamentally, the project of a single man: Fred Shapiro, a librarian in the Yale Law School.
I’ve started a new series of blog posts on Applied Sentience: “Teach To The Future”.
Through these posts, I cover subjects like teaching people (especially kids) to write for an online audience:
Or teaching people to see through the eyes of other people, in a rigorous and practical way:
I care a lot about education, especially since I’ve just received 17 straight years of the stuff. But I think we spend too much time on some subjects and not enough on… well, the subjects I cover in these posts. I don’t know much about pedagogy, but I try to stick to skills I do know. As always, let me know if you have thoughts on how to develop these ideas further.
Bonus: If you teach children and want help figuring out a curriculum based on any of the subjects or lesson plans I describe, I’m happy to help!