03 October 2016

The First Annual Austen Erickson Intellectual Audit

Dear Friends,

I occasionally reflect that my blog resembles the noble tardigrade. A small creature, surprisingly adorable yet still slightly horrifying, and which has the ability to revive itself after many months (or even years) of apparent death.

Left: Adorable tummy-rubby floof; Right: NIGHTMARE SURPRISE

In honor of its current resurrection from cryptoblogosis, I'd like to try something which I've tossed around in my head for a few years: an intellectual audit of my belief system carried out with the assistance of you all - my brilliant friends with whom I frequently disagree about a variety of topics.

This is still an experimental process, and I hope to refine it considerably in future years, but the basic idea is to spend some dedicated time challenging my strongly held beliefs, and exploring deeper into areas in which I still have weak beliefs and/or sparse knowledge. This will necessarily be an incomplete audit (like most people I believe many things about many things), but I hope that it moves my beliefs closer to True (or rather, appropriately increases or decreases my confidence in them).

Below is a (somewhat haphazard) list of broad belief systems I approximately subscribe to, specific beliefs I hold, and some unanswered questions I haven't been able to find a sufficiently convincing answer to.

I'm looking for encompassing refutations or alternate belief systems I should consider, specific challenges or counter-examples, and any evidence one way or another that I may not be aware of. (NB: published evidence > expert opinion > personal opinion, consequentialist arguments preferable but not required - anything is welcome)

Importantly - I am NOT trying to start a debate! This is a (purely selfish) exercise in updating my own beliefs (though I will make every effort to give you my own thoughts if you run the same exercise).

I look forward to your thoughtful responses, safe in the knowledge that no one is ever unreasonable on the internet.
  1. Libertarianism: What are some cases where more government might be better than less (or some better than none)?
  2. Transhumanism: I want to learn more about this topic and would love any good primers (laudatory or critical) that people could recommend.
  3. Many-Worlds: I admit that my belief is mostly based on the LW Quantum Physics Sequence, so I'd be eager to see similarly intuitive explanations of alternative interpretations of quantum mechanics.
  4. Intermittent Fasting: I incorporate occasional (up to 24-hour) fasts into my diet. At the very least this seems to reduce my total caloric intake - is it likely to have other health benefits/risks?
  5. Exchange-Traded Index Funds: Most of my long term saving goes into various low-fee ETFs. Can I realistically be doing better (given that I don't want to spend a lot of thought/energy on this)?
  6. Existential Risk vs. Efficient Charity: I would like some advice on how I should be splitting my charitable donations between efficient charities (i.e. Against Malaria Foundation) that have concrete effects now, and non-profits that focus on existential risk (e.g. MIRI)
  7. Nuclear Fission: Currently, its the safest, greenest, and most efficient form of electrical power generation that exists. Am I right?
  8. What supplements should I be taking? (Nootropics, and for physical health)
  9. What is the current state of cyronics in Australia? Is it worth signing up for with an international provider or best to wait until there is a local facility?
  10. If I wanted to start teaching myself more about architecture, what are the best introductory texts?

A FINAL NOTE: I encourage all of you to perform your own intellectual audit! Make sure you link back to this post to help feed my insatiable ego (and let me know so I can share some knowledge your way!)