Week 1: Introductions

Overview

This week will focus on outlining how the Fellowship will work, answering any questions you have, and setting intentions for the Fellowship.

 

We’ll start by having short icebreaker 1-1s to get to know the other fellows. There’s a diversity of ages and disciplines among the fellows, and we hope that these discussions are an opportunity to appreciate this diversity and recognise that we all have a unique perspective to contribute to the discussions.

 

We will also work on developing discussion norms within each cohort. This will include things such as how to disagree with each other in a productive way, how to avoid talking over each other on Zoom, emphasizing that expressing confusion is important and valuable for the whole group, and tips on ensuring we understand each other’s points.

 

We think having productive discussions is important so have presented what we think are some helpful ways to approach the Fellowship below. Finally, we’ll do an exercise which will help us find our questions and uncertainties about improving the world. We’ll investigate these questions during the Fellowship.

Ways to approach the Fellowship

Taking ideas seriously. Typically, conversations about ideas are like recreational diversions: we enjoy batting around interesting thoughts and saying smart things, and then we go back to doing whatever we were already doing in our lives. This is a fine thing to do — but at least sometimes, we think we should be asking ourselves questions like: “How could I tell if this idea were true? If it is true, what does that imply I should be doing differently in my life? What else does it imply I’m wrong about?” And, zooming out: “Where are my blind spots? Which important questions should I be thinking about that I’m not? Which people should I be talking to?” Taking ideas seriously means treating our worldview as something that affects outcomes in the world we care about — and therefore, wanting to make our worldview as full and accurate as possible.

Disagreements are interesting. When thoughtful people with access to the same information reach very different conclusions from each other, we should be curious about why. Often we tend to be incurious about this simply because it’s so common that we’re used to it. But if, for example, a medical community is divided on whether Treatment A or B does a better job of curing some disease, they should want to get to the bottom of that disagreement, because the right answer matters — lives are at stake.

Strong opinions, weakly held. Often people abstain from trying to have opinions about things because they think things like “I’m not an expert” or “It’s hard to know for sure.” Instead, during this Fellowship, we invite you to be bold enough to venture guesses, expressed clearly enough such that it’s easy for someone else, or evidence about the world, to prove you wrong. This doesn’t need to mean that you are confident, it is useful to express beliefs you’re only 25% sure of (and to say that you’re unsure), but it is easier to clear up uncertainty if you can talk about your uncertain guess as easily as you can talk about something you’re sure of.

We want this fellowship to be useful to you, particularly for deciding how you might do good in the future. If you think a conversation is too abstract then it’s probably worth saying so: perhaps others will disagree, but many times you might find that others have been finding the conversation overly abstract too, or perhaps you might get a better sense of why others think the conversation is important - so we want you to have a low bar for bringing this up. If you think the core assumptions of an argument aren’t relevant to you then it’s worth saying so: discussions in this fellowship aren’t there to just be philosophically interesting, but to be practical, personal, and decision-relevant.

Exercise

Cause prioritisation questions

If you're not sure about the answer to any of the questions - that’s completely fine! Just write down a few of your current best guesses, and why you're uncertain. We’ll come back to your answers in later exercises during the fellowship.

  • What do you think are the most pressing problems for altruistic people to work on over the next 50 years?

  • If you were directing £100 million to be donated anywhere, where would you direct it?

  • What problems are you considering working on during your career?

Reasons, cruxes and key uncertainties

For each of your answers above answer the three that most interest you:

  • What are your reasons for prioritising those causes? How settled do you feel in this view?

  • What don't you feel you understand?

  • If you assumed this answer was true, what would the implications be?

  • What would you want to do, or learn about? If you assumed this answer was false, what would the implications be? What would you want to do, or learn about?

  • Do your answers rely on any cruxes? What are they? What could you learn that would make you change your mind?

Shortlist

Look at your reasons, cruxes, and key uncertainties. Write a shortlist of possible things to look into during the fellowship. Perhaps one decision you’re currently making depends a lot on an assumption you’d like to look into. Perhaps you feel like you haven’t thought enough about a particular topic and would like to learn more. Try to roughly prioritise so that the topics which are most important and easiest to learn about are near the top and those which seem least important and most opaque are at the bottom. You can bring these to the session this week.