Grace-Hanson Podcasts

Katja Grace and I just recorded two more podcasts, on:

We’ve recorded four podcasts before, on Signaling, Idealism, School, and Future.

Added 2June: I guess I wasn’t clear enough in the Saving The World podcast about the focus of my skepticism. I wasn’t saying that actually caring isn’t a part of the usual mix of charity motives, nor was I claiming that you can’t have reasonable evidence that your personal charity style is unusual. My skepticism was about too quickly assuming that a major source of your unusual style is that you just care more than most people about helping the world. This seems suspiciously self-serving, especially given all the other possible ways you could be weird.

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  • Guest

    I’m not a regular reader, I don’t mind downloading to check them out, but any description of these anywhere?

    • officer_fred

      Summary of the first podcast: Katja Grace learns that when you gaze too long into Hansonian cynicism, the cynicism gazes also into you.

      Listening to the second one now…

  • Rationalist

    Best sentence here from Hanson.  

    “I’m sure an ideal decision theory agent could set itself the problem of making a difference …  but we were talking about actual humans here”

  • Rationalist

    Robin’s stance throughout, paraphrased: 

    “If you think you are actually trying to save the world, even if you are using advanced techniques such as rationality training or probability theory and utility theory, you are just deluding yourself and your real motive is to make yourself look good”

    A potential problem with this is that, of the ways of making yourself look altruistic, searching carefully for a high-impact problem like existential risk and thinking rationally about it is a _really_, _really_ bad way to signal how altruistic and nice you are. 

    There are several reasons for this:

     1 – it goes over most people’s heads. To the extent that they understand it, the signal you send is “weird”.  

     2 – In any case people seem to reward brownie points based for altruism based upon effort rather than achievement. You would pick up far more brownie points for volunteering at a soup kitchen than by volunteering for Givewell or SIAI

    3 – if you did some “normal” charity like soup kitchen or a project to build a well in Africa, you would feel very good about yourself. Meanwhile, thinking about existential risk makes you feel very bad about yourself

    4 – finally, if you decide to start volunteering for a soup kitchen and then stop because you felt you wanted to allocate more time and money to yourself, no-one is going to blame you. But if you start thinking seriously about existential risks and then decide to stop because you want to spend your time, money and emotional energy on yourself, there seems to be some chance that people will come for you with a noose when they finally realize that the problem was real. 

    Is it really plausible that x-risk enthusiasts are playing the signalling game really badly rather than playing the actually-make-a-difference game very well?

    • My focus was mainly on whether you cared about helping lots more than other people, not on whether you cared at all. No doubt some people are weird in some ways, but the question is why believe this is the way you are weird.

  • Scott Leibrand

    In order to make this available as an actual podcast on my iPhone, I created a podcast feed for it at (and also converted the wma files to mp3s).  If anyone else hasn’t listened to these yet due to the lack of a podcast feed, feel free to use mine.  Robin, feel free to copy these over to your own server if you’d prefer.  And if anyone sees any errors with the podcast feed, please let me know.

  • Adam

    Good podcast, but you really need better recording device/environment. I can hardly hear Katja.

  • IVV

    I won’t have a chance to listen to the podcasts for another few hours, but could someone please say what “The Big Question” is?

    Because right now, I’m imagining Robin asking Katja to marry him.

    • Will our descendants adapt to their environment, or will they adapt their environment to themselves?

  • The links to these podcasts have never worked for me.

  • In “The Big Question” you mention control (by a world government) of reproduction. Leaving aside stasis regarding “human nature”, would you say generally that a top-down eugenics program would be problematic in the event of an encounter with aliens (as a stasis program may be)?

  • This might be the first time I’ve said this, but I think Hanson is being overly cynical in the “Saving the World” podcast. He seems to suggest that people who believe they have the opportunity to help save the world are engaged in signalling. But doesn’t signalling only happen because observers update on it, and observers only update on it because there is some genuine signal in the noise?

  • I don’t think the dichotomy between “wanting to help” and “wanting to seem or feel helpful” is so firm as it’s presented here.  I want both things, and while I think my first responsibility is to actually help, I also recognize that I’m more likely to do it consistently if I make it rewarding for myself in some way.  One way I do that is by socializing with other people who think effective giving is admirable.  There’s nothing wrong with that.

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