Why Am I Weird?

It will not have escaped the notice of long-time readers that I have a number of unusual intellectual views and priorities. In fact, more such views than most intellectuals.

This doesn’t usually bother me, but it should. After all, different theories about my weirdness lead to very different rational responses to my opinions, by myself and by others. Consider some theories:

  1. An unusually sloppy thinker, I make more big mistakes in reasoning.
  2. Unusually insightful, I have many unusual insights.
  3. Especially good at making up reasons, I seek an excuse to show off my reasoning, and so take positions that others will ask me to justify.
  4. Feeling unfairly low status, I hope for a status reversal via bragging later that I held popular opinions when they were unpopular
  5. Being especially proud, I’m unwilling to just accept standard views, and insist on thinking through all interesting topics through for myself. This leads to many contrarian views, since it leads to many views.
  6. Being unusually risk-taking, I collect opinions with a small chance of leading me to great fame and glory.
  7. Being unusually desiring of attention, positive or negative, I say things that will make people pay attention to me.
  8. Being especially good at a particular unusual sort of reasoning, e.g., very abstract concepts, I draw conclusions that neglect other sorts.
  9. Being especially uninterested in the usual rewards given intellectuals, I pick acts more likely to gain other rewards.
  10. Having initially learned an unusual mix of skills and topics, I apply that mix to produce unusual conclusions.

I’m sure many of you can think of more such theories (which I’ll add as suggested). But, after all these years, why don’t I know? Why don’t I care more? And, those of you who are also weird, why don’t you know, or care, why?

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  • sartke

    Prob just asperger’s.

    • http://twitter.com/mordygoespop Mordy

      That seems a little flip, but I don’t think chemical brain explanations should necessarily be taken off the table. They would also explain why Dr. Hanson doesn’t care more. His state of being is normative from his experience – why question it just because it may not be chemically normative for others?

      • gwern0

         Hanson is pretty rare and unusual, even if you broaden his reference class to ‘all Singularitarians’, so it’s possible that his explanation is equally rare and unusual, yeah…

    • dEMOCRATIC_cENTRALIST

       The strongest counter-argument I can think of is that he classifies as an extrovert on the Myer Briggs. (ENTP, self-report somewhere on Robin’s web site).

      But from afar, he doesn’t look like no extravert to me. Could it be that Robin is self-deceived about his own temperament?

      • Ben

        Those Myers-Briggs tests don’t even give reproducible results with the same person.

  • Prof Tom W. Bell

    Good reasons, Robin, and ones I see at work in me, too.  Here’s another:  Having a nimble and restless mind, I enjoy new experiences.  Thinking unusual thoughts opens up untrod vistas of mentation.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=179500972 Brian Paul Coddington

    While I favor option (10),  as someone who has spent many years online, Dr. Hanson seems perfectly normal.

  • http://webtrough.wordpress.com/ DW

    Random variation. 

    We overestimate mental uniformity.

  • brendan

    Awhile back you said something like, “no one is truly independent everyone conforms, just to different standards”. We all have a vision of some ideal person we wanna be like and surround ourselves w/.

    It seems you’ve succeeded in surrounding yourself in-person and online with a community of highIQ/rationalist/nerds that admire you. If you wanna know what your monkey brain is trying to do, what you’ve achieved is a hint.

    I’m sure intellectual elitism has something to do w/ not caring about attention/approval from a wider audience. And I’d guess you are proud and feel underappreciated.

    But these seem like side effects. You admire nerdy anti-social geniuses and your monkey brain has helped you build a coalition of them.

    • VV

      The typical intellectual elite community is academia, and while Hanson belongs to it, his ideas are weird for an academic.

      The transhumanist/singularitarian/self-proclaimed rationalist community, on the other hand, is a completely different beast.
      I think that the core of such community is an essentially religious-like ideology. Once you accept a few basic tenants of faith (singularity, human-level AI, immortality through cryonics, etc.) you can build “theologies” out of them. Like the theologies of traditional religions, these singularitarian theologies tend to diverge, rather than converge.

    • roystgnr

      I guess “everyone conforms” is why Robin hesitates to suggest “I am especially nonconformist” as an option, but his “especially proud” option sounds awfully similar.  Whatever you call it, since “I make up my own beliefs instead of copying other popular beliefs” is both a necessary and a sufficient condition for ending up with weird beliefs, any other contributing factors are just icing on the cake.

  • Oligopsony

    Additional hypotheses:

    a) I have entered into a social environment where weirdness is relatively more highly rewarded.
    b) I have accepted one or two Big Weird Ideas and these lead to all other sorts of weird conclusions.
    c) I am relatively less concerned (for reasons that may be equivalent to other hypotheses) with presenting the weird ideas I do have.
    d) I am relatively less worried about presenting my ideas in a way that will come off as weird, or something else about the way I tend to present them biases them in that direction.

    • lemmycaution

      Once you start thinking that the conventional wisdom is wrong about one thing you tend to think it is wrong about other things too.

  • BDG1

    Everyone’s at least a little nuts, except for the normal people, who are totally nuts.

  • dEMOCRATIC_cENTRALIST

     Rather obviously, all of the above (except the sloppy thinker one you threw in for due diligence).

    Those reasons aren’t satisfying explanations: too many. There must be a more elegant explanation.

    The blog Libertardian proposes the elegant explanation that you (and your libertarian GMC colleagues) have Asperger’s Syndrome. ( http://libertardian.posterous.com/neurodiversity

  • J Lonsdale

    A few more ideas:

    1. You have some views that most other people don’t care about. EM economics falls into this category. Your unusual view here is that these issues are important in the first place, not your specific views about them. Having well defined ideas about specialized areas like this raises your status among a smaller tribe where it is easier to get close to the very top and become the most respected intellectual in the field.

    2. You think that one of your pet projects, policy analysis markets, have a lot of untapped potential. It’s usual for someone who has devoted an early part of their career to an idea will be more attached to it than others.

    3. Your focus on bias and the importance of social psychology has led you to think about how “politics is not about policy,” “medicine isn’t about health”  and other ideas in this area. These are strange views collectively but they seem to have a single cause – the fact that you are looking for hidden meanings in the first place. You shouldn’t expect intellectuals with narrow specialties in other areas to agree with you even if they are also very good with abstract concepts. 

    This is both because many people who have reached high status as an intellectual got there by not straying too far beyond their specialty and because people have learned that ignoring a person with many unusual ideas is usually the optimal strategy. The person who has many unusual ideas is probably working from different premises – in most cases this means the person with unusual ideas is generally delusional. But even if they engage you and find out that you are potentially correct you merely turn them into someone who others will also think is delusional at first. They don’t really have much to gain unless they share your value of holding unusual but correct ideas. 

    4. To expand on 10: At one point I met you over lunch at Clarium and you insisted that many of your ideas were not strange, they were just unknown to most economists because you found them in sociology and other places. Your willingness to draw ideas from multiple fields together will lead to some unique ideas or maybe just ideas that sound unique to those who haven’t been exposed to them before.

  • dmytryl

    Another one: you may be less aware of implicit assumptions you make. So you end up forming views where others wouldn’t form any due to dependence on unknowns.

    The most extreme example of such that I can think of is the role of sleep in EM economics (http://www.overcomingbias.com/2012/10/sleep-is-to-save-energy.html). Mostly anyone I know who’s intelligent enough to ponder something like that, would have to note assumption that cpu clocks are proportional to internal EM time rather than to number of neuron firings or, via lazy evaluation, number of neuron firings that lead to any long term changes, and would also note that chemical events of different duration can have same computational cost. This is enough unknowns to make further pondering pointless. May also be related to signalling; it may be that very high intelligence can be cheaply imitated by substituting speculation where very high intelligence would have unstated conclusions.

  • Faze

    Your ideas aren’t as remarkable for their weirdness as for their number. You have a lot of ideas. Most of them are interesting and make sense given certain premises. “Weird” suggests surreality and disregard for the syntax of common discourse. But you’re always understandable. No fur-covered ironing boards here. Just a wee bit of an obsession with EMs.

    • Drewfus

      An obsession with ems might be a bit weird, but is an example of a smart philosophy; consume the future now. The future is always more fun to read and think about than arrive at, so getting all we can out of the future in the present is the way to go. However, i would suppose that consumption is near and the future far, making the concept of consuming the future seem problematic.

  • Doug

    9) Seems like it explains most of it to me.

    Most academics are interested in “impact,” or having some sort of effect on the outcome of official policy. Creating impact is the surest route for an academic or public thinker to also gain money, fame and prestige.

    Academia is good for those pre-disposed to making and following fashion, a sort of high-brow popularity contest, somewhat tied in with sucking at the tit of power.

    The type of thinker who’s more interested in being right rather than being perceived as right usually goes into industry, where the free market judges ideas on their actual outcomes. I suspect there’s a lot of people with your highly intelligent, logical and heterodox approach to problems, but the vast majority are either in Silicon Valley or on Wall Street.

    • rrb

      “The type of thinker who’s more interested in being right rather than being perceived as right usually goes into industry, where the free market judges ideas on their actual outcomes.”
      Is that something you’ve actually observed? That’s interesting, since I’d like to work with those kinds of people. But it’s also the kind of thing that a libertarian would assume based on theory. I want to know if I should trust you to the extent that I accept libertarian economic theories, or to the extent that I trust your observations.

      • Doug

        I’ve worked in the hedge fund industry, specifically quant finance for the past 5 years. It’s a unique intersection where you get a lot of people with more heavy academic backgrounds and other people with more industry heavy backgrounds. In addition in the field you generally keep up with academic publications as well as ideas floating around the industry.

        The general trend is that the academics are much more concerned about appearing smart and sophisticated. They tend to prefer models and strategies that are needlessly complex and demonstrate mastery of various technical skills. Even if empirical research argues that simpler models perform better.

        Academics also tend to be less interested in models that consistently work but don’t use currently popular established frameworks. This leads to feedback loops in the publications where ideas become popular virally solely because that’s what everyone else is talking about. Even if the actual evidence is dubious. People in the industry generally accept that 90% or more of publications in the field are crap.

      • rrb

         Thanks.

    • dmytryl

      “where the free market judges ideas on their actual outcomes”

      Does it? Just watch the Bible sell. 

  • Ryan Carey

    I think it’s because you find reward in actual thinking and evaluation of argument. i.e. among other answers, it’s 9.

  • Don Geddis

    The puzzle is not how you came up with your ideas. This is not Einstein, where others are jealous of your results, and want to study you, in order to learn how they could achieve the kinds of things that you achieved.

    No, the only real puzzle, is why you don’t mind being perceived as weird. Plenty of other researchers were capable of discovering the same things. But most are unwilling to put up with the social stigma of being weird. You don’t mind, and that is what has allowed you to explore what others do not.

    “Why don’t you mind?” Is the question you should focus on.

  • Danijel Kecman

    That’s good question.

  • Robert Koslover

    Not to be too contrary, but I think you are actually rather normal.  Sure, you are unusually fast-thinking, fascinated by (and very good at) many kinds of puzzles, have a very broad range of interests, and do a lot of mental work. On the other hand, you also appear to be a married heterosexual, have a full-time job, and have a family of ordinary size.  And I bet you even own one or two cars, have a bank account, go shopping at ordinary stores, eat regular meals that are (more or less) nutritionally balanced, wear rather unexceptional clothing, generally don’t commit felonies or risk your life just for the fun of it, get relatively ordinary haircuts on a regular basis, are neither covered by tattoos nor multiple piercings, do not pound nails into your hands while declaring yourself divine, don’t seriously expect the world to end on Dec. 21, 2012, etc.  Now,  maybe you’d like to think you are “weird,” since it probably bothers you somewhat to think of yourself as just like everyone else (aka, “ordinary”).  Well, too bad, that’s life.  Most people, including you, are (to speak metaphorically) sheep.  And those rare few among us who are not sheep, are actually still sheep most of the time!  You’re a part of the flock like the rest of us.  But don’t feel too bad about it.  You are no doubt a truly exceptional sheep, when all things are considered, right?

  • Hdouglas Knight

    This needs more organization.

    Do you hold more weird ideas (1,2,8,10), or do you hold a normal portfolio but admit them more (3-7,9)?Are you biased towards contrarianism? (3,4,6,7)
    Do you actually disagree with other people when you assign p=.05 to an idea, or is it that most people round that down to zero, but you say that it’s a small chance of a big deal? (6)

  • chepin

    You are trying to save the world , desperately as Eliezer, but you dont want to look as pasionate as him.

  • Leafy

    I think that you just have too much time on yours hands …

  • Nancy Lebovitz

    I have no idea why sometimes some parts of social conditioning take hold, and sometimes they don’t. I’m not sure that anyone else does, either. Would you care to write an article about the question?

  • dEMOCRATIC_cENTRALIST

    Those Myers-Briggs tests don’t even give reproducible results with the same person.

    The question is what determines when it does and doesn’t. I think the accuracy of such self-report tests depends on the test-taker’s degree of self-awareness.

    Robin thinks he’s an entp, but I’m pretty confident he’s “really” an istp. This is an unusual type for social-science intellectuals; it is common among engineers, especially software engineers, which is why Robin integrates so well with “transhumanists” and such.

    You can see how Robin’s real love isn’t abstract ideas about hypocrisy or even ems and prediction markets. What he really loves is the down-to-earth nitty gritty of working out the tiny details of how prediction markets could function and answering objections thereto. The Jungian (Myers-Briggs) Sensing type (the “s” in istp) gives this type a concrete orientation. Robin is basically a near-mode thinker, who because of the extremeness of his near-mode orientation (due to Aspergerish traits) has hypertrophied his ultra-far mode in compensation. (Alfred Adler provides the best accoun of this kind ofcompensatory process.) This hypertrophied far-mode in a basically near-modish, aspergerish thinker is what makes him weird. Abstract intellectuals in the social sciences are almost always N (intuitive) in Jungian Myers-Brigss terms. Robin is a near-mode thinker who has hyper-developed his “third function” (after thinking and sensation): intuition. (The 4th function, Feeling, remains deeply underground.)

    • Drewfus

      Is it scientific to psychoanalyse someone from far-distance, or is this just psychobabble?

    • dmytryl

      Except the transhumanists he’s integrating well with aren’t engineers, they’re philosophers and they would very much rather be engineers for purpose of asserting credibility.

  • Joe

    You know why.

  • dEMOCRATIC_cENTRALIST

    Number 9 is “Being especially uninterested in the usual rewards given intellectuals, I pick acts more likely to gain other rewards.”

    But distinct from number 9 is “Believing unattainable the usual rewards given intellectuals…”

    Having signed up with an institution having some of the characteristics of a rightwing think tank–the Fox news of universities–you may have closed off the usual status opportunities. At the same time, with tenure you have little to lose. Nothing to lose and nothing to gain creates idiosyncrasy: look at the eccentricity of the old aristocracies.

    • dEMOCRATIC_cENTRALIST

      Nothing to lose and nothing to gain creates idiosyncrasy.

      On reflection, this one is paramount. R.H. knows how and is motivated to pursue status “rationally”: he obtained a doctorate because he perceived a status requirement. He isn’t unconventional in his intellectual aspirations; his interest-combinations are aspergishly narrow, diverse, and unusual, but many aspergerish people pursue conventional paths intellectually. Maybe even hyperconventional.

      I don’t think this has adverse implications for R.H.’s work. Not a risk-taking person himself, he has the boldness to present daring far-mode speculations that enrich humanity’s intellectual life more than almost any other blog. His work, at least in my opinion, has far greater externalities for humanity than a conventional academic career would have (in the vast majority of instances).

      The irony is that R.H.’s productivity comes from the absence of status or material incentive, whereas his economic philosophy loves the market for beneficially directing human activity. Robin can flower precisely because he is free of market pressure, positive or negative. He does what he would be doing in a communist society.

  • mjgeddes

    I put your odd views down to Libertarian ideology myself, they are just Libertarian premises carried through to their logical conclusions.  Other than that, you aren’t that weird.

    For someone truly weird, Yudkowsky and his odd obsession with national lottery tickets and paper-clips is out there.
    Then there is me and my obsession with number 27 ;)

  • Peter

    I don’t think this falls under any of the listed explanations, but it seems like a good one to me: You enjoy a particular kind of thinking, and get so much enjoyment out of the activity that it overwhelms the negative effects of being considered weird. 

  • Eric Hammer

    I think you don’t care that you are weird because you grew up your entire life being weird. As your own mind was your only real point of reference, this led to you being fairly convinced there was something wrong with everyone else. Then, as you aged, there were two possible outcomes: relative success and relative failure. Since you experienced general success (presumably you did much better in all academic fields than the average) you subconsciously decided that there wasn’t anything wrong with you, but with other people. Perhaps you experienced a lack of success in some spheres such as athletic or social, and in those you either didn’t care, or decided there was something wrong with you instead, and leaned away from them and towards what you were good at. 
    On the other hand, if you were weird and failed across the board, we might expect you to take up drinking heavily. Fortunately that was not the case! We would all be worse off then. 

    In short, you don’t care because you think people should be more like you in many respects, more than you wish to be more like them. (Said entirely using myself as a reference, so I might be perfectly incorrect.)

    • dEMOCRATIC_cENTRALIST

       Which is to say there’s a narcissistic strand in R.H.’s personality, as is evidenced by this very topic.

      • Eric Hammer

        Not at all. Not wanting to more like other people is not narcissistic in and of itself. Thinking people should be more like you in the ways that make you successful is not either. And neither is reflection upon yourself and your habits narcissistic, perhaps even the opposite.

      • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ srdiamond

        It requires a fair store of narcissism to make yourself personally the center of attention in a blog post. It’s weird (in a narcissistic sort of way) to ask strangers why you’re weird. 

      • dmytryl

        I’d say over-reflectiveness is narcissistic, in oddly classical sense. The tale of narcissus – he got attracted by repeats of his own voice by the Echo, and he came to the pond, and stared into it, and liked this so much he just sat there reflecting. I dunno if Hansen is over reflective though.

  • VV

    My two cents:

    It seems to me that you tend to fixate on a few core ideas and try to interpret anything in their light, without paying to much consideration on the validity or limits of applicability of these core ideas.

    For instance, you tend to interpret all human behaviour according to signalling, near-far dichotomy, forager-farmer dichotomy. These might be perhaps useful explanatory models for certain phenomena, but you try to shoehorn into them.

    Similarly, you seem to think that prediction markets are the solution to all prediction problems, without paying much consideration to whether the assumptions that underlay prediction markets work on the problems at hand.

    The economic growth acceleration and brain uploads economy may be also a case of implicit assumptions, although a religious-like element is also present, IMHO.

    • dEMOCRATIC_cENTRALIST

      For instance, you tend to interpret all human behaviour according to signalling, near-far dichotomy, forager-farmer dichotomy. These might be perhaps useful explanatory models for certain phenomena, but you try to shoehorn into them.

      I think this is also because R.H. doesn’t read books (in the social sciences) as much as most intellectuals. This helps produce a kind of intellectual narrowness, which can seem like breadth because he has several (very narrow) interests.

  • Philo

    I care why I’m weird, but I don’t think much about it, out of pessimism about the likelihood of my getting the right answer:  it is so very hard to get perspective on oneself, and to avoid self-deception.

    • dEMOCRATIC_cENTRALIST

      it is so very hard to get perspective on oneself, and to avoid self-deception.

       This is the purpose of psychoanalysis, but it seems a dying art.

      • Philo

        How alive was it ever; i.e., how well did it ever achieve its purpose?

  • http://invariant.org/ Peter Gerdes

    You probably underestimate the importance of learned behavior in this analysis.

    I’m weird in a similar way because of several factors.  When I was young my parents encouraged (or didn’t discourage) unconventional thoughts, e.g., was praised rather than upbraided for asking difficult questions about god.  I was smarter than most of those around me during my youth so I could take unconventional positions without the same level of risk they have for most people (who would be unable to select defensible views or defend those views from the attacks their unconventionality draws).  Furthermore, I craved recognition and attention while young and I was unable to get that recognition through social popularity, athletic ability or the like so standing out in class was more appealing by comparison.  One of the easiest ways to get teachers to think you are bright (esp if you want to look smart not merely diligent or like a suck up) is to competently challenge the conventional views they present.

    So ask yourself if you were rewarded for this behavior in the past and if so why was this behavior rewarding.

  • Felix Benner

    I think you missed the obvious: You do not like most people due to the random makeup of your personality, and therefore try to signal a non-standard group affiliation.

  • RobS

    Thanks for your talk in London yesterday Robin. I hope it won’t be taken critically if I say it shed some light for me on the question of why you are so ‘weird’. It seemed to me that, with your strand of thinking on ems, you are essentially writing speculative science fiction and enjoying, as many others have before you, the act of world building. The difference is you are presenting your fiction in an academic context. This perhaps makes you and some of your audience feel you are doing something more respectable and of greater intellectual importance than playing a sophisticated sci fi roleplaying game, say. But personally, listening to you talk about ems with 2mm tall nanotech bodies, I was just thinking ‘I don’t know whether he believes this stuff but it sure seems like he would enjoy believing it’. I also thought, wouldn’t it be more honest to just write a sci fi (or econ-fi) novel? But two reasons why that might not be what you want to do:

    1. Maybe you want to keep your thinking abstract and not be tied down by having to describe scenes moment by moment, or having to come up with characters?
    2. Maybe admitting that you’re driven by the pleasure of fantasy as much as the spirit of inquiry would affect your enjoyment?

    I don’t mean this to be rude – I know I am reaching in my diagnosis and you might think I’m way off. Moreover I actually think what you’re doing on ems is very interesting. But to me it’s interesting not because of its predictive value but because of its unusual position on the intersection of academia and fantasy.

    Perhaps with your critical posts on the human need for stories (eg how they lead us to expect more interconnections and moral comeuppance than reality provides), you are starting to acknowledge that you are indeed doing fiction with the storytelling bits which you object to taken out. But I for one would feel less thrown off balance by you and more confident that we shared a reality if you came out and admitted that.

    • http://overcomingbias.com RobinHanson

      I’m happy to admit that I enjoy world-building, but I don’t see why this should make me admit I’m not achieving predictive value. Stories usually build worlds for other purposes, true, but why must I think I must be pursuing such fictional purposes if I offer similar levels of detail? Academic social science often offers lots of details about the social worlds it studies. Why can’t they think they are primarily trying to see what a world is or would be like?

      • dmytryl

        Actually his note makes a lot of sense combined with mine. There’s too many assumptions that have to be made, and a choice of assumptions can lead to anything. But for the purposes of fiction, that does not matter, you can just assume something simple, then proceed logically from there. It’s the difference between weather prediction, and generating some clouds CGI that looks reasonably good (I used to work on that).

      • RobS

        There are so many assumptions in play in your predictions that it would take a hundred years to untangle them, by which point we’ll already be in the future and can see for ourselves what it’s like.

        I do believe there is value to the picture you are painting of an em future: it provides a fixed point for those thinking about the long term future. A vision we can aim to realise or stop from happening. A provocation that can kickstart conversations about what we want and what we really value. 

        Personally though I don’t think the ground is firm enough for scientific prediction to be viable.

      • http://overcomingbias.com RobinHanson

        The only concrete prediction you objected to is a 2mm height. That prediction is conditional on running a certain factor faster than humans and wanting natural body control. The linear relation between speed and body size is simple, general, and based on very basic physics. How is that remotely “so many assumptions in play in your predictions that it would take a hundred years to untangle them”?

      • RobS

        There’s also the assumption that bosses will need to express their will by bodily means. Couldn’t they just stay disembodied and send squillions of sternly worded emails, for instance? (Come to think of it, that would explain a lot about many workplaces.)

        Another assumption is that it will be the bosses who need to work fast in a bodily way as opposed to the serfs who might have to do a zillion routine mechanical tasks per minute. 

        Another assumption is that it will always be more practical and more efficient to make a smaller faster body rather than to make a normal-sized body faster.

        Another assumption is that a boss’s tininess won’t adversely affect his/her status, making it difficult for them to maintain command.

        Another is that a new mode of organisation won’t come along which does not require bosses at all. You touched on some of these things but all are potential debates.Then of course there are the background assumptions that you make explicit.Such as the assumption that there won’t be regulation preventing this future from happening.Or the assumption that we will figure out how to make tiny nanotech bodies *before* we figure out how to modify intelligence and break down its functions. (By the time we get to 2mm bodies who’s to say we won’t also have reverse engineered armies of bots that combine intelligence with a complete lack of recognisable human identity?)