Robin Hanson on Distant Futures and Aliens

Episode link:
Youtube link:

Why did I do this show?

Social science is brutally hard to do well. I got one of my guests to admit there has been no progress on it ever and another one to say that moral progress is literally impossible. I think there’s a deeper link to morality and social science than most so this is depressing stuff for me. This episode was part of an effort of mine to get back to first principles. But, uh.. what ARE the first principles of social science? Enter Robin!

What did I learn?

Competition, competition and more competition. That’s the most central concept that Robin uses when reasoning about what might be. Indeed, you may or may not like some cultural feature or another but to predict how successful it will be requires a mechanism for it to be outcompeted in the cultural marketplace. No small feat!

What was my favorite part?

Straightaway we got into a disagreement about generality vs immutability. That was fun. He didn’t convince me I was off base. There was another spot where I disagreed with Robin on speculation about the state of past social science. Again he didn’t convince me! I read somewhere that Robin is ‘not the kind of person you sorta agree with on everything’. It’s such a treat to talk to as creative and deep and original a thinker as Robin.

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