You observed in a previous post insights rarely signal high status since insight without execution signals lack of power or connections.

Mark Zuckerberg didn't invent the social network (GeoCities, Myspace, Friendster came before) but he sorted it.

Bill James of baseball statistics "sabermetrics" fame is a shower. He'd show a statistic like on base percentage and runs scored were important, but he left the heavy research and refinement to his subscribers and followers. His work was largely ignored until a general manager in Oakland used it, and that general manager is typically given equal credit for the evolution of baseball statistics.

Expand full comment

Excellent classification Robin! This actually matches my fundamental 3-fold ontological 'joint carving' of reality.

Identity Condition: Show (Defining the idea itself).Scalar Transform: Sort (Scalar rating signals attached to idea)Representation: Shill (Effective representation for communication)

'Shill' seems to be equivalent to 'far' mode, 'Sort' is the near mode. 'Show' should perhaps be labelled 'very near'?

Readers note that in logic, the same 3-fold ontological division appears to be present:

Identity Condition: Axioms (Defines subject) and deductions (implicate)Scalar transform: Probabilities and Bayes (mental 'force' of evidence) Representation: Categorization (deals with logical uncertainty).

I feel the LW/OB crowd has failed to grasp the significance of the third ontological joint, 'far' mode is not understood!... for example in logic, categorization is the solution to the problem of logical uncertainty!!

Distrust of 'far' mode may cause you to underrate the significance of 'Shill' - Shill has its place, effective representation for communication purposes is important, there's nothing wrong with propaganda .. Of what use is an idea if no one is moved by it? Surely, more Shill is precisely what you want to alleviate your concerns?

Expand full comment

I can't edit or delete previous posts? Perhaps those luxuries have reinforced my sloppiness. I wanted to replace the above with the following:"I agree, the sorting was small (but non-zero). I get from your tone that length signals perceived worth of a post, so you may have assumed I was attempting to signal as much, or under the illusion that I thought I did more sorting than I actually did, when in fact I simply need to work on editing skills. I will be more concise next time I have a comment to make - but go easy on me, it was my first comment on OB!"

Expand full comment

Robin, the solution seems obvious to me. You need to continue blogging in obscurity, die in obscurity, and then wait some unspecified period of time for some academic with a high desire to seek status to "discover" your writings and make them famous. Then you'll go down as an unrecognized genius who had it all figured out, if only someone had listened to his great ideas, and still get at least one or two ideas into the main stream through your yet unborn academic parasite.

But, ha ha, only serious.

Expand full comment

I suffer from excessive verbosity, 2am impaired reasoning and possibly misunderstanding of what you were getting at.

I read "I'm afraid that my blogged ideas may not get the sorting/shilling I want them to, and want to evaluate whether or not to spend more effort sorting them myself."

My response was "worrying about not getting enough sorting/shilling could be either about audience maintenance, or actual idea development. Here is how blogs maintain themselves (in your framework, sorting the idea of showing, sorting and shilling). Conclusion: This probably isn't your concern. Then if total sorting is your concern, here are the factors to consider, and an approach to minimize effort for sorting. Also, how publishing fits into the framework. Perhaps I did unnecessary sorting, and certainly in too many words, but my comments were not void of sorting unless I misunderstood something.

Expand full comment

I suspect you have gotten more ideas "out there" thru the blog than your academic publications. A throwaway comment of mine a year or 2 back was the catalyst for a NY Times article:


My sage wisdom:1) continue blogging, but maybe cut back the volume2) ready some of your stronger/repeated ideas (near/far applications, dreamtime) for journals3) Caplan's popular book

Expand full comment

Wei, only a small class of ideas can be easily "looked up". A much larger class of ideas can be described in so many possible ways as to make them very hard to find.

Expand full comment

Granted, but I think that might be because if I don't sort, then nobody else will either, so there is simply no credit to go around. What's needed to get rid of my concern is the inverse: "If you do sort (even for someone else's idea), then you will get credit."

Imagine if Darwin, after seeing Alfred Wallace's letter, wasn't able to prove that he came up with evolution independently of Wallace, so he publishes his book claiming only to shore up Wallace's idea. Would he still be as famous today?

Expand full comment

Whenever I write up some seemingly new idea, I always google to see if it has been published before, in order to avoid the potential embarrassment of someone showing up and saying I stole their idea (which has happened to me before). I could be wrong, but I imagine that most people do this.

Expand full comment

If these activities directly make an idea better, easier to understand, or to find, then I'd call that showing. If they instead make people more willing to attend to them, I'd call them sorting or shilling.

Expand full comment

Seems like an overly narrow range of communication considerations. There are also attempts to sharpen ideas, to define and delimit them, to analogize and apply them, to compare and contrast, to counter and counter counter, to spot and spinoff, to encircle and extend, all of which seem more important than sorting and shilling.

Expand full comment

As Dan Sperber points out, the purpose of communication is to manipulate the internal states of others. Writing is a higher status form of communication.

Let's not deceive ourselves.

Expand full comment

My great anxiety about blogging is my fear that merely-blogged ideas will not get the attention or belief they deserve, if they do not get the usual quality signals, and that if I don’t give my ideas such quality signals, no one will.

Then you don't need to worry. There aren't that many original ideas around - and while most cannot come up with an original idea, many can recognize one. So no, your ideas won't vanish languish if you don't disseminate them "properly". People are not that stupid. The only thing reason to worry then is others not giving you a credit for the ideas. This may or my not bother you/someone.

Expand full comment

In practice, if you don't sort you won't get credit.

Expand full comment


I'm listening to your podcast with colin marshall in which you discuss the (excess) returns to specialization rather than a more omnivorous intellectual appetite.

I think your answer, if Robin Hanson were asked this question by someone else, would be "how relevant do you want to be in the greater intellectual discourse?" the answer to THAT is the degree of specialization you'll need to undertake.

A comment to your update: some people probably want another to do the sorting for them. Shilling, though? Probably not that useful to society.

Sorry, I don't think that's the answer you wanted.

Expand full comment

Rob and Wei, unless an idea is very distinctive or famous, most readers are plenty capable of forgetting where they heard it and then imagining they thought of it anew later, if that is in their interest.

Nick, I don't see blog comments as doing that much idea sorting.

Expand full comment