The following is inspired by Rob Wiblin, who compiled a list of “distinctive elements of [his] general world view, not always completely justified or justifiable”. While some of mine are a little tongue-in-cheek, and some also echo Rob’s quite directly, it’s still a good exercise in tracking ‘Things I Think I Put A Higher Credence In Than The Majority’:

  1. Cognition seems like it happens exclusively inside our skulls, but it’s much messier than that: when I stand at a whiteboard with a colleague, she and I are sharing a bit of working memory; exploratory programming is a kind of thinking-with-a-repl. This is why technology that lowers the costs of collaboration is so important, why journalling and self-quantification is (strangely) useful, why most knowledge-work companies still have offices, why seminar rooms are sometimes such productive places, why learning to use unix power tools is still a great investment of time/attention, and why the lowest-hanging fruits of cognitive enhancement are (currently, probably) not chemical but social.

  2. Most of the effects of most human actions are realised at a scale of centuries; most human brains perceive rewards/punishments at a scale of seconds. This is definitely a problem.

  3. AI safety and alignment is already a huge issue, and we’re already sucking at it, even though human level AI is probably nowhere close. We’re almost all already subject to complex/opaque machine learning models, and these models are probably incredibly biased. This bias/misalignment is an existential threat to humanity. Terminator isn’t.

  4. Human time and attention are scarce resources; the free market is taking this fact seriously even if most humans aren’t.

  5. Ethnographic thinking (broadly defined) is seriously underrated; book-length ethnographies (as a genre) are seriously overrated.

  6. (Speaking of,) Playing ‘underrated/overrated’ is a pretty good measure of romantic compatibility. Missing a connecting flight in a foreign country together is even more informative. Shared opinions on weird poetry and contemporary art is the best.

  7. Being honest about credence and calibration is one of the best things you can do for society. Finding ways to elicit estimates from others is probably also pretty high-impact.

  8. Getting a PhD is mostly a test of your ability to eat glass, not make a lens.

  9. The naturalistic fallacy is much more dangerous than it initially seems, and it seemed pretty dangerous the first time I learned about it.

  10. Instincts about personal-identity-over-time are probably wrong; past selves and future selves are usually better thought of as ‘friends’ rather than ‘me’.

  11. The powerful cognitive effects of exercise, sexual activity, and food should be taken as pretty conclusive evidence that mind/body dualism is bollocks.

  12. Almost everyone should be drinking more water.

  13. Current education systems are ineffective. Universities, in particular, are mostly optimised for privilege laundering and social signalling rather than education.

  14. Most books should be shorter; most shared meals should be longer.

  15. Playing cooperative games regularly with friends/colleagues fixes a lot of problems.

  16. Most human actions are the result of habit, reflex, circumstance, random noise, and base motivation; as a result, most explanations and narratives (even of your own actions) are post hoc bullshit.

  17. (Echoing Rob directly, here:) “Many signalling conventions around ‘being a mature adult’ are very costly to adults, similar in a sense to Chinese foot-binding norms.”

It’s interesting to realise (in writing this list) that I feel as if I was dragged, kicking and screaming, to many of these views.