Robin Hanson bleg

Soon I will be having a conversation with Robin Hanson — the Robin Hanson.  What should I ask him?  The jumping-off point will be his new book with Kevin Simler, but of course we won’t stop there.


How do we draw the line between not enough looking for hidden motives and too much. Do you think that Malthus will eventually catch up with us? Why don't other people hop between disciplines?

Ask him where he thinks he is on the autism scale.

What are conversations with your wife like? Does she call out your hidden motives?

It seems that his writing interests are loosely grouped around ideas of consciousness - its arbitrariness, stretchability, inchoateness, replicability, duplicability, etc. I would be curious to see his perspectives on the philosophical approaches to consciousness, e.g. phenomenology, and how neuroscience and philosophy might be able to offer each other some insights into what the future holds for consciousness - human and otherwise. Perhaps a question on collective/species-wide consciousness.

Being contrarian. Over rated or under rated?

skynet, disagreement, following professional sports, beer

Ask about the Robin Hanson production function - but also about the Tyler Cowen production function and what the elephants in your - Tyler's - brain are.

I’d like to hear about his involvement in / view on blockchain based prediction markets like Gnosis.

Which aspects of Robin's person or writings result in Tyler so significantly overvaluing Robin's intellectual contributions?

Does he subscribe to the Fermi's paradox solution that 'everyone' ('where is everyone?') goes virtual so we don't have any contact with aliens?

What would be a good test for futarchy? What could be tried at a smaller scale than even say a city's government that would tell us something important about its feasability? That could provide enough evidence to meaningfully change his view on its merits one direction or the other?

What would be a good test for futarchy? What could be tried at a smaller scale than even say a city's government that would tell us something important about its feasibility? That could provide enough evidence to meaningfully change his view on its merits one direction or the other?

What are his thoughts on the origins of morality and politics?

Is man basically a political animal, as Aristotle claimed? Are notions of right and wrong wired into human nature? I'd say this is the view of most conservatives and particularly religious conservatives.

Or is man merely an animal motivated by self preservation, and do moral and political ideas merely arise in an attempt to get along in this world. This would be the view of modern liberals like Hobbes and Locke (the "state of nature" theorists) and their intellectual descendants - which I guess includes practically all of today's liberals.

This isn't meant as criticism, but does Hanson focus on rather arcane and esoteric issues to avoid focusing on, you know, real world issues. I've even read that some economists do it to create a diversion and avoid controversy. Can anyone think of any economists who might be in that category? I've been thinking about this lately as some economists have been questioning the entire macro effort as, well, mostly a waste of time outside the Fed and monetary policy (because politicians, who determine fiscal policy, almost never follow what the consensus of economists recommend). Cowen might ask Hanson if macro is a waste of time.

What is 2+2?

Not that I'm worried he'll get it wrong, but just to make him think its a setup for something else, when it is not.

"Thank you for your fine and thoughtful contribution about what to ask a pretty interesting and iconoclastic thinker. We will get back to you." Not.

Ask him if the "rationality community" is growing too insular. They have such distinct virtue signalling that it seems unlikely an outsider (with a good idea!) could penetrate their dialogue.

What hidden motivations did he discover about himself about writing his book?

Ask him which ideas in our culture/society are most in need of their believers writing an apostasy (see here:

How different does he think he is from the average person? What would society look like if everyone's personality were a lot like his?

Is Prejudice an altogether bad thing in the rationality community's view?

Can't prejudices rooted in the lived historical experience of a people contain insights and truths that may elude the application of pure reason?

For Hanson, would they not just be the inertia of multiple generations hypocritically signalling to each other based off social cues from previous generations doing the same?

In an article in the New York Times magazine, Robin justified his interest in cryonics by saying that one should always choose life. Yet Robin does not think that it matters whether life is hosted in a brain or in some other substrate, such as a digital computer. So, if life to Robin is nothing but an algorithm processing data, why does he ascribe moral significance to it? Is that just the elephant in his brain seeking to justify what, in the absence of belief in God, might seem a pointless existence?

Some random ideas:

1. How academia could be improved?
2. What is the most underrated contrarian idea in the world?
3. What are the typical false beliefs of typical rational (eg. physics) academics?
4. What are his life lessons or life advice?
5. What would be the best way to improve rational thinking?
6. Should social scientists travel more? How do you think his thinking would be different had he been born elsewhere?

How much health insurance should one buy?

Jordan Peterson
"Authentic" social media posts

Why did your team lose the IARPA prediction contest? What have you learned from that?

Robin proposed the Great Filter framing for the Fermi Paradox in 1998

Nick Bostrom published a watered down copy of that paper in 2008

Bostrom's paper had a footnote "I borrow this term from Robin Hanson’s “The Great Filter—Are We Almost Past It?” (, a paper which presents an argument similar to the one
expounded here." Note: Bostrom concedes borrowing "the term". Not stealing the entire argument and writing it up worse than the original.

I've seen Bostrom cited as often as Hanson. Does Robin expect his elephant in the brain book to get the same treatment? That is, will the arguments in the book go mainstream mostly through being copied by other higher status people? Has that already happened? [note: Hanson says it has happened in the book and on a recent blog post, but cites no specifics, so I'm hoping this example might help in illuminating how high status copying of ideas works, and what should we think about it. Or maybe pick a better example if you have one.]

Robin Hanson is not about Robin Hanson. Robin Hanson is about status.

Ask him his 12 rules for life.

What is the most important or profound insight he's gotten through non-rational means?

What is the lowest hanging fruit for improving the US healthcare system?

If he could start his career over again what, if anything, would he do differently?

Who have been his biggest influences? Favorite books?

Over/underrated: effective altruism; nudges; sex

Please ask him about why he switched from the hard sciences (physics, if I remember correctly) to economics. How are they different/similar? Is he happy with the switch?

How he manages to consistently think so differently? Does he construct mental models to evaluate topics? If so, what are they?

So we know that school is not about education. It is about football (meant as a synechdoche, but the literal meaning is true enough). By the same token, football is not about football. Football is about making direct social interaction (gemeinschaft) a metaphor for impersonal, indirect social interaction (geselschaft). Ok. So, is that what it's about, and if not, what is that about?

Why are there so few women in the "rationality community" (or whatever intellectual camp Hanson considers himself to inhabit, or might plausibly be considered to inhabit)? What does this disproportion tell us about women? (Or about the rationality community, but that is a much less interesting question.)

Roko's Basilisk

Why he thinks you, Tyler, should be cryogenically frozen

What is the meaning of life and if there are universal sources of happiness.

Given the fact that a civilization at tech levels near ours could create berserker probes and wipe out all (to them) alien life, shouldn't we be devoting more resources to make sure we do so first?

Has he ever played Age of Empires?

Most academic articles are written by multiple authors but most books are written by a single author. Did robin learn why this may be after co-authoring his latest book? Would he co-author a book again in the future?

Why does Robin think of himself as a poor persuader of others? I recall his comments on his inability to interest corporations in betting markets, and also his remarks on being unable to convince his wife on the merits of cryonics (for him, not her). He is obviously intelligent, is persuasion a skill then that is innate but not learned?

Also on cryonics, similar to the questioner above, given there are billions of near copies of him likely to exist after he lives (other humans with similar traits and intelligence as him) and given that we change so much throughout our lives, does he accept that this actually a non-rational bias to look for after natural death survival. Is there a respectable moral argument for cryonics?

Related to the above, is Robin a moralist? In other words he ascribes truth to a certain moral philosophy? Which one and why?

What common topics do you (Robin) do you feel that you have your least considered positions on?

Can you give an example of something significant that you've recently changed your opinion on and why?

+1 for Roko’s Basilisk.

If a perfect functional copy of a human brain was created, wouldn't society likely grant that brain the same rights as humans?

If so, wouldn't that be a strong incentive against creating a perfect functional copy of a human brain? For example, if perfect copies of human brains were required by law to earn the minimum wage, why would anyone create a perfect functional copy of a human brain if something that was not a perfect functional copy wouldn't need to be paid at all?

Another question:

If an absolutely perfect functional copy of the human brain was created, why wouldn't a better-than-human brain be created immediately thereafter?

1. If you had a principle or observation named after you (like Murphy's Law or Occam's Razor) what would it be?

2. Do you use a particular set of questions to analyze things, like finding root causes or testing implications, or is your thought process more unstructured?

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