22. "The World" Doesn't Exist (with Rival Voices!)

How rationality alienated intellectuals from their motivations.

Issue 22.

Hello friends! We haven’t spoken for a while, though you’ve never been far from my thoughts.

Many of you know of my interest in insights on a particular axis of thought. This axis seeks synthesis; synthesis specifically of explicit and implicit, material and spiritual, ecstatic and mundane. Rarely ‘rationalistic’, but intended to be naturalistic. Often transcendental, aesthetic and religious, but never superstitious. I feel torn between these extremes, unwilling to let either go, and find I’m both relieved and healed when these tensions can be reconciled.

These tensions and reconciliations recur in my own work, from Improving Your God-Concept to my essay on experiential visions. And last week, I was able to touch base with Rival Voices on this axis.

I enjoyed the interview enough that I wanted to re-release it here, along with an updated and polished interview transcript.

Here’s the video - enjoy! Transcript follows.

- MC

“The World” Doesn’t Exist

Intro [00:00]

So this morning, I had a pretty wacky conversation with Rival Voices. 

For those of you who aren’t familiar with him, Rival Voices has been on my talk show before. He tweets a lot about psychology, he’s involved in a bunch of cool projects, and on all these topics, he tends to get into them in a particularly unique and weird way – but a cool way. 

In this particular conversation, we discuss ways that we use concepts against our best interests. That’s a little bit abstract, but we’re going to go through a bunch of examples. Overall I really had a fantastic time talking to Rival this morning, and I think you’ll enjoy this recording of that conversation as well. 

So without further ado, let’s jump into it. 

*Snazzy intro music plays*

‘The World’ [01:04]

Michael Curzi: Do you feel like the people that you want to be oriented on the future in the right way are oriented on the future in the right way? ‘Cause I feel like that shit's all over the place. Obviously this is a humongous question that spans the entire globe and every interesting person, but that said, you know, taking that massive scope into account...

Do you feel like we're going in the right direction?

Rival Voices: Yeah, I think I have an esoteric view on this, the same way I have an esoteric view on a lot of things. I think in the past few years, I've moved away from thinking globally or in terms of ‘the world.’ I think the concept ‘the world’ serves more as something that technically is a symbol and that presumably should dereference to the actual globe and people there and cultures and like whatever you care about, but that seems to be treated as if it has its own independent existence. So I think there's something funky going on there.

And then separately, I think people who are somewhat intellectual by default very quickly get thrown into thinking in global terms, and I just think I'm not smart enough to do that. It might be that it's possible in principle. It might be that I'm more self-aware of my limitations than other people, but I've started thinking and trying to diagnose Portugal in particular – and I'm interested in Portugal in particular – and there I have views about how people are oriented or not towards the future.

Michael Curzi: Okay, so the first thing I got from that is that the concept ‘the world’ is a trap, something like that.

Rival Voices: Yeah, I think so. Venkat had a thing at a time where he said that saving the world was not even wrong, unless there was like a fucking meteor coming or something. And like, you know, yes, maybe like UFAI is a meteor or death or whatever, but it just has a weird feeling. It just feels slightly like a fantasy and not like something that's actually related to your everyday material existence and relationship with the things and people around you.

So, yeah, I do think there's something weird going on about the world. I was talking to @qorprate on Twitter yesterday, and he was talking about Lacan’s big ‘Other.’ Basically the idea is people reify society into an entity, and then they feel judged by that entity. When in fact, you know, if you and I are talking and this wasn't going to be heard by anyone, it's literally just you and I talking, that makes a lot more actions possible than if it were you and I and somehow the watchful eye of society over us, right? 

There's also this idea where you can say that the average man is 5’2” or whatever, and then people get confused and they think that there is a man who is the average. No, it's just a symbolic abstraction. And in the same way, I do think that ‘the world’ both serves the purpose of a symbolic abstraction that's supposed to just dereference actual existing things, but then also takes this special place in people's minds and becomes a sort of attractor for all kinds of feelings about oneself and things that one should be doing or ought to be doing, and so on, that I think is funky and weird. 

When I think of Portugal it's like, “Oh yeah, Portugal, that's the place where I am, where the people that are around me, you know… the language that's being spoken, you know… I understand the politics and I understand what’s going on.” I can actually constantly dereference it to something that's right in front of me.

Michael Curzi: Right. 

Rival Voices: If I think of ‘the world,’ it's like, fuck, what the fuck? The world includes Africa. What do I know about Africa? Literally nothing. What do I know about Asia? Literally nothing, right? It’s like I'm choosing to work with a map that’s mostly blank and that feels stupid.

Michael Curzi: Okay, so I've got like four directions I want to take this in. So, I will just list them and then I'll pick one. 

One, I think we can get to a state of being post- that problem you described. I used ‘we’ here in one of those ambiguous social ways, to refer to some extended category of people in an aspirational way. 

Rival Voices: Yeah.

Michael Curzi: You’re with me. That’s one thing I am interested in talking about.

Two, a quick thought I had when you were talking about Portugal being ‘a thought you could work with’ versus the concept of ‘the world’: that reminds me of city-states. You know, reading history, you hear about all the politics they're doing, and it's like, they're talking about Rome, right. How many people are actually involved in Rome? How many aristocrats are there, the people that are running Rome? We're almost like the center of the world, the next biggest thing is what, Persia? And it's really fucking far away, and you're not really… it’s the ‘Other,’ right? Modern Singapore, reading Lee Kwan Yew's autobiography, has some of this feeling. There's this weird feeling of civic engagement that's more graspable.

But the third thing is that you said the average person's 5’2”, and I don't think that that's true. <Laughs>

Rival Voices: <Laughing> I don't understand American numbers. You see, but that's my point, right? I don't understand the American numbers.

Etherealized Concepts [07:00]

Michael Curzi: Okay, okay, just wanted to check. 

Just to be totally honest - also to the listeners who are here spiritually - I feel like I know what you're talking about with this etherealized concept thing. I feel like that's just something we could drop into and talk about, because that is such a useful idea, but I do sort of feel like l personally already kind of know what you mean by that. But do you want to expound on it a little bit more, just so we can have it be that that was said?

Rival Voices: Yeah. We both have had some experience with the EA and rationalist communities, and I do think that the thing you saw in both of them was people that were miserable. People who were given a narrative about why they were miserable that was very abstract, that… I mean, ‘preys’ is a very strong word, but, you know… It was very motivating to their very intellectualized way of thinking, which makes it so that they are not especially self-reflective in a way that connects them to the actual social bonds around them. If they feel very bad, it must be that there's something very wrong with the outside or the world at large. Then you give them something which is, you know, that kids are dying of malaria or the AI is coming. 

I do think that then as people grow, you see a bunch of people dropping from that as they actually start working on the problems and figure out, “Oh, actually this isn't solving whatever the thing is that made me get here in the first place.” So there's a weird way in which I think that there is a tendency for externalizing your problem – making symbols out of things that shouldn't be symbols and then like giving them almost flesh and then using those as the cause of your problems. 

And I think this goes on at all levels, right? The reason that everything is bad is because of conservatives, with capital C, or racism, with capital R, or etcetera, etcetera, right? You create these entities out of symbols that should dereference something, but then don't dereference to anything except an excuse for you to not face your problems and your shortcomings. And then there's some institutions that spring up around that to extract as much labor and resources from you as they possibly can. And then you give them your life and then they spit you out after a while. So yeah, I do think that's happening at various levels.

Because I went through that process, I've developed some sort of immune system to thinking about the future or the world in ways that I don't feel are particularly grounded in my everyday experiential reality. Yeah. Which is why… fuck, that’s so annoying. I'm sorry that I went into a critique of the way you formulated your question, but I do think that's actually the way I think about it.

Michael Curzi: Yeah, I expected no less. 

So, yeah, I want to highlight one of the things you said, just to restate it for my own clarity ‘cause it was interesting. So first of all, I keep thinking of the etherealized concept. I think I got this word from Toynbee. There's the idea of the concrete - and then somehow the spirits ‘arise’ from the concrete stuff, and become this simple thing that is somehow graspable, even though it's barely real. I guess you could go into the whole egregore thing or whether it had some other kind of strange reality beyond concrete reality, but at least [we can say that] its relationship to reality is questionable. Piece number one is that concept, and then piece number two is there's sort of an exploitation cycle that you're talking about, societally. 

Exploitation Cycles and Self-Fulfilling Visions [11:28]

Rival Voices: Yeah, for sure. So, I keep using this expression, which is, in Portuguese: “Junta-se a fome à vontade de comer.” It means something like “hunger and the desire to eat go hand in hand.” So, I do think that whenever you see these patterns, you then see people that figure out how to exploit these patterns. I do think you just have cycles that basically are like this. To a large extent, the cult is just the cult leader, using its members and whatever their narrative is to extract resources and amass more resources. I do think that you could see various societal institutions as something like officially sanctioned cults. So that's one thing.

And then on the first thing that you said, yeah, so there's something there that I both don't understand and seems very powerful. It’s something like, concretes, especially concrete visions of the future, can act as a sort of Schelling point that then gets everyone to act in a way, because they believe that everyone else will act in a way, because they believe... etcetera, etcetera, right?

This goes for a few levels of meta and then it just makes it so that everyone organizes their behavior in a way that actually causes the thing whose imagination first organized their behavior to begin with. And then you get things to the interesting questions of intentionality of those kinds of processes or whatever, but I do find it's very interesting for sure that those things become real in their organizing of human behavior in a way that then causes them.

Michael Curzi: Yeah, I have a clip that I want to read really fast. Let me dig this out. The other day, @teddyraccovelt read out a longer quote and one part of it stuck out to me and I wanted to mention it here. I'll read it out loud because it seems relevant to what we're talking about, and we'll see if it actually is.

So this is from Chesterton, Everlasting Man, Chapter Seven, “The War of the Gods and Demons.” Here it is. So he's talking about sort of the economic view of life, the economic way of describing how the world works and the way it goes, versus one based on feeling.

“Turn the universe upside down in the mind and you turn all the political economists upside down with it. Suppose that a man wishes to die, and the professor of political economy becomes rather a bore with his elaborate explanations of how he is to live. And all the departures and decisions that make our human past into a story have this character of diverting the direct course of pure economics.

As the economist may be excused from calculating the future salary of a suicide, so he may be excused from providing an old age pension for a martyr. As he need not provide for the future of a martyr so he need not provide for the family of a monk. His plan is modified in lesser and varying degrees by a man being a soldier and dying for his own country, by a man being a peasant and specially loving his own land, by a man being more or less affected by any religion that forbids or allows him to do this or that.

But all these come back not to an economic calculation about livelihood but to an elemental outlook upon life. They all come back to what a man fundamentally feels, when he looks forth from those strange windows which we call the eyes, upon that strange vision that we call the world.”

So, this might not have been the exact perfect quote for me to lift from that. The thing that made me think of it is just the idea that there's the rational view of how the world works - in a 3D Cartesian field, with stuff moving around, and there's money and whatever. And we're sort of talking about a way that concepts take on a life of their own, even, and sometimes especially, in the minds of the hyper-rational–

Rival Voices: Yeah. 

Michael Curzi: –taking a life of their own beyond what is grounded there. And somehow, like you're saying with this cult idea, the concept can be this sort of coordination object, through which leaders of a certain type (or grifters or whatever) can move people around and get them to spend money and more.

Self-Fulfilling Theories and Thoughts [16:04]

Rival Voices: Yeah, I do think there's a lot here. Interestingly, puzzlingly, the relationship of thinkers to thoughts hasn't been looked into very much. I think this is because in general thinkers tend to kind of naturally, not necessarily consciously but with some self-interest, to overvalue thoughts and thinking. 

There's at least two interesting avenues there. One is something that I once called a Theory Engine, which is the phenomenon where a theory that originally meant to be descriptive of a phenomenon is adopted by sufficient people that they act in accordance with the theory as if it were normative.

One case where you have that is the Black-Sholes equation for valuing options, where they came up with this way that they think options should be valued, then all of the hedge funds adopted it. And then in fact that becomes that way, right? So the descriptive theory then started being the engine that actually caused itself in a way. So that's one example.

A second example I think is very interesting is the rationalists with the heuristics and biases program in rationality. It's supposed to be an abstraction of how a perfectly rational economic agent, which is not the same as a human, would behave. Then they take it as a normative ideal and value their behavior insofar as it approaches that ideal or falls short of approaching it. Then they call the latter a bias, right? At some point you get really, really interesting, I didn't want to say macabre, but you know… at least manipulative stuff where the negative utilitarians spring up the term ‘life bias,’ wherein people–

Michael Curzi: Life bias. I never heard that before.

Rival Voices: Yeah. So they came up with it, so you can see how this goes, right. You're already within the mindset where you think that ideally you should be a perfectly rational agent and insofar as you're not, you're bad. And then someone enters your narrative and is like, “Oh yeah, but as a human, you know, you have a life bias and that's the only reason that you prefer life to death. And if you didn't, obviously you would be a negative utilitarian like us.” This kind of argument will actually work with people, which I think is hilarious. So that's one avenue that you could go.

And then another avenue that you could go that I think is very interesting is that I think people frequently confuse the modality of their intentionality. By which I mean, I think people frequently confuse thoughts for reality and imagination for reality. One obvious example is dreaming, right? So it's not the case that, by default, as you dream, you're aware that you're dreaming. As you dream, often you think you're experiencing reality, right? On a rare occasion you realize that you're dreaming, and it pops you out somewhat into lucidity. There's all of this Buddhist stuff about how all of this that we experience is Maya, is delusion, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, is actually mostly thinking.

This doesn't accord with our naive intuition, where we believe that we're just experiencing reality by default. Even getting to the point where you have the concept of social reality is like a huge jump. It accords with our latest theories of neuroscience where you have predictive coding that says that most of what we experience is our own model of the world being fed back to us at the conscious level. 

There's a very tricky thing where when you think about something, you're not engaged in that something. You're not doing, you're not becoming one with the action, right? So like when you're driving, if the car approaches, you curl up because somehow your body has extended to become the car. But if you're thinking about your driving, then in a sense you're not there. And that thinking is painful and is suffering. And so in general, I think that people who think a lot suffer a lot, but then they try to think their way out of their suffering, but they can't because it's a performative contradiction.

You're trying to not suffer by not thinking and you're trying to think your way into not thinking, which obviously you cannot do. You just need to drop it, but how do you gain the move of dropping it? It's by recognizing that you have been confused about the intentionality or the modality of your intentionality.

All of that to say that all of this, I think, would be like a whole-ass area of like fucking... I don't know… science or philosophy or whatever. Where you study directly thoughts and thinkers’ relationships to thoughts and all of this sort of circular causality relationships that happened there. But no one is looking at this, I think in part because you need to be kind of insane and do this for a few years to even start realizing that this is happening.

Rival Voices’ as a Thinker, Doing Good, and Loving ‘Humanity’ vs. humanity  [21:02]

Michael Curzi: So then let me ask you, how do you think of yourself in this context? You're a thinker. We're here to talk about ideas, right? We're not actually just vibing. We're not just sitting here and like feeling how we feel this morning or evening for you or whatever. We could just be having coffee and just sitting.

Rival Voices: Well, yeah. Rocking out with our dicks out. Yeah, sure.

Michael Curzi: Totally, yeah. So how do you fit into that? Are you participating in the error of creating thought in the world, creating ideas? You know what I'm saying?

Rival Voices: Yeah. Yes. So definitely naively yes. I think that what happens is, when you're young, something happens where you stop trusting your implicit reactions to stuff. Because you do, you then need external models to evaluate how you should react to situations. Then that like turns into a lifelong obsession with thoughts and thinking in theories and frameworks, and, you know, what whomever says about whatever. I definitely participated in that and have been participating in that.

If there were a button where I could just touch it and not have to do that, I think I wouldn't. Because I think I'm insane in a very particular way, which is that I don't want to get myself out of the hole, but I also want to get everyone else out of the hole that wants to be out of the hole. 

Michael Curzi: Bodhisattva motherfucker over here.

Rival Voices: No but truly, because I was thinking, okay, like, I think I'm close enough. I could probably just do it. I could probably go to a few retreats and then just drop off. Why didn't I do that? I think that if you notice, like a lot of what I tweet is like, you know, X is the same as whatever else is the same as whatever else is the same as whatever else. I'm trying to give people... If they already have a reference point, I'm trying to give them a translation key such that they can get all of the other reference points. Because I don't know, I fucking want to save everyone.

Michael Curzi: And so we arrive, back at our original topic, which is, you know, the world, right. Everyone. 

Rival Voices: <Laughing> Right, but... Yes, but I have a dereferenced intuition of the people. I mean, there are people that come to mind that I see on Twitter that are obviously suffering in part because of how much they think. And I'm like, “Yes, you, I want to fucking get the tools, pull you out, if you want. If not, it's fine.” But yeah, I want that... at least to be able to, I don't know… I don't know.

Portugal is a very Catholic country. I was raised in a very Catholic country. Some things stick to your personality.

Michael Curzi: Let's see, yeah. So I feel like that's a good… I mean, if I were to draw the theme, I think that, I don't know... maybe we make this into...  the current version of Broke/Woke/Bespoke or the expanding brain or the next, I don't even know what iteration we're on. But if you want to do good, maybe... even doing good is a hairy term. But it sounds like doing it from a place where you have concrete understanding… Though I guess if someone heard that they might think that what I mean is go work in a soup kitchen where you can see people face to face, rather than do philosophy on the internet.

Rival Voices: Okay, here's the thing. There's a messianic flavor to the EA stuff and so on, where it's like, “You are the one individual from SF or Oxford or whomever who has amassed a lot of resources and now very charitably decides to distribute those resources to the people so that you can save them.” Which I think is very different from the flavor that I feel, which is I'm fucking trying to build the tools for myself, that I can then distribute freely and people can use them themselves to save themselves.

And then on the galaxy brain thing that you were saying, I do think that makes sense. I do think it's like, you know, originally the mountains were mountains and the rivers were rivers. Then the mountain stopped being mountains and the rivers stopped being rivers and then again, the mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers.

The thing is for the people that I'm talking about, the mountains already aren't mountains and the rivers aren't rivers and they're trying to get back, but they can't. And they must push forward by which, I mean, they are already broken somehow. And so they need to become aware of what the system is that makes mountains, mountains, and rivers, rivers. Which would have been transparent for you if it hadn't broken, but because it did break, it isn't transparent anymore. And so you can't go back, but you can go forward. So you can rebuild it with the understanding of how it broke and why it broke and how it is built. Moment to moment.

And that's kind of where I'm trying to get. And where I'm trying to pull people to. So, you know, not as messianic, I hope.

Michael Curzi: So, yeah, it's sort of like The World with a capital W versus the world with a lowercase w.

Rival Voices: Yeah. Yeah, yeah, exactly. It's like, are you motivated by your relationship to a symbol that doesn't exist and it's just a place for you to project your desire, or can you actually name the people that you're concerned with?

But this is old right. There's a thing about the man that loves humanity, but hates his neighbor. The ideal of humanity is really easy to love. And there we got back to the thing we were talking about, right. Because the idea of humanity, what is that? That's an idea and ideas are really nice. You can spend days thinking about them, they never bite back, they never hurt you, like, they're so sweet. You can do whatever you want with them. If you don't like parts of them, you can just imagine them to be something else.

Michael Curzi: Right.

Rival Voices: –but like a physical other person and another being... I remember fucking seeing this girl, I think she was from Sweden, and there were some refugees there and she goes and she gives them food and obviously they're all starving so they basically attack her to take the food from her. Right. Which I am a hundred percent sure is not how she thought that interaction was going to go. But like, but that's the thing. That’s harder to love than your idea of what they are and how they would be, where they just stand there so thankful for you being such a great charitable person.

And if you can get beyond the hatred that that reaction, that action initially generates in you, and then actually generate maybe even more feelings than you had for the idea because they're actually people. And so you can love them more completely than the idea. Then I think that's the direction we should go.

Do you know, do you know, Ronnie Coleman's “Everybody wants to be a bodybuilder, nobody wants to lift that heavy-ass weight”? 

It’s something like everybody wants to save the world, but no one wants to talk to the people that are actually around them. Because saving the world doesn't bite back. You can spend your whole life trying to do that. At no point do you have to question yourself as a person, because you are already good just by the fact that your intentions are good and all of your actions get a sort of moral licensing. If you actually have to interact with the people around you, maybe they're like, “Yo, you're kind of a domineering asshole.” That's a moment for self-reflection.

Michael Curzi: Though also it sounds like in the case of, for example, the rationalists and the EAs, you believe that that ‘state’ did bite back, but maybe not in the way that was expected. It sort of bit back by people becoming alienated from their motivation systems and stuff like that.

Rival Voices: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So in a way that's, much more surreptitious and it’s hard to understand that it's caused by your plan or your intention. It's like, “Oh, you know, it's not that you're living a false life. It's just like, you're depressed. Or it's that you can't control your System 1. Or it's that you can't align your motivational system.” And it's like, no, you're living a false life. 

Michael Curzi: You have life bias.

Rival Voices: Yeah, you have life bias. That's your problem. Your problem is fucking life bias. <Laughing>

Michael Curzi: What a fucked up idea. It's just incredible.


Use-Mention Distinction, Manipulation, the Rationalist Canon [29:52]

Rival Voices: Yeah, I think there's a lot of ideas like that. People don't see ideas as ideas and that means that that's a really, really easy way for you to enter their systems. I think I've said this before, but like microaggressions, I think it's just fake. Like, they're not aggressions. That's why you need to put the word aggression on top of it, such that you have the thought, “Oh, but how could microaggressions not be aggressions if they're called aggressions?” Right? So there's this use-mention distinction, where you can say what a thing is, and you can like label it, and put the name on it, and putting the name doesn't make it that thing. But people aren't tracking this in normal fucking day-to-day existence, because in general, you try to name things in a way that makes sense. You're not prepared for the fact that people are actively naming things in a way that will make certain thoughts easier for you and certain thoughts harder for you.

And then again, when you go back to the study of how people relate to their thoughts and so on, it's precisely because there is no study of this that there is no available common knowledge that this kind of move works. And it's a super, you know, precise, subtle, insidious, evil move. You know, but it works.

Michael Curzi: Sweet. I think I have more than enough content. So is there any final recap thought you want to give us? I initially came at you with this “how can people orient better on the world” idea. 

Rival Voices: I would say, “Fuck bitches, get money.” Do you know that? I would reform that and say, “Fuck ‘the World’ with the capital W, get reference.”

Michael Curzi: <Laughing> We might have to workshop that a little bit. 

Rival Voices: I mean, I like it. The thing is, you need to understand that the words and the concepts need to match to something that you can like physically interact with somehow, or they're just empty signifiers that someone is using to manipulate your attention and to drive your thoughts down particular paths.

Like all that is nothing else.

Michael Curzi: It’s interesting, because when you said that just now, “make sure that there's a referent,” there's a way in which that does exist in the canon of thinkers, that a lot of for example, like rationalist types, maybe not literally just LessWrong-ian rationalists but like normal academic philosopher types... – it's in that canon. Or atheists.

So, you know, Karl Popper, right? All this stuff about, you know, if ‘God’ doesn't have a reference in the world as a term, then maybe it's just not a thing and you sort of limit the space of language. I think it's probably in Feynman. It's probably in, I don't know, is it in Carl Sagan? I don't know. I never read any Carl Sagan.

But there's sort of an Emerson, “But wise men pierce this rotten diction and fix words again to visible things.” Emerson's not a rationalist type, he's a transcendental philosopher, but anyway, that's the idea.

So, what do you make of that? The fact that that idea you just said does seem like it is kind of in the canon.

Rival Voices: Yeah, yeah, so yes, I do think it is. Orwell wrote about Politics and the English Language

Michael Curzi: I love that essay.

Rival Voices: –that language gets manipulated to make you. Basically on framing effects. Eliezer wrote, I think, “27 ways that words can be wrong,” which is actually about ways that you can get confused in thinking using words. The use-mention distinction that I say I read from Hofstadter, I don't think it's originally from him, but he wrote Gödel Escher Bach (which the rationalists were very excited about at some very old point)... So I do think the idea is in the water. I don't think it's given, anywhere near due importance. I do think everyone kind of slept on Eliezer's ‘ways that words can be wrong’.

There was a, NRx guy called me-am-draku, something like that, who had amazing analyses of this kind of thing. The thing is, this actually takes work. Like, this is an activity. It's not just an idea. It's not, you know, Roko's Basilisk or whatever, which you don't think about and okay, that’s that. Or you do think about it, and that’s that. But actually dereferencing things is an ongoing activity of realizing that you thought you were thinking about something concrete, but in fact, again, you were confused and it's not pleasant. It's not nice. It makes your thinking clearer and it makes your will clear. But it doesn't feel nice the way that insight porn feels nice. And so I think he didn't sadly gain much traction. 

Michael Curzi: It's really interesting because I'm definitely not hardcore trying to stan the rationalists here… But it is interesting, because if you do look at Eliezer's writing, he has these bits where he did the whole Rationality dojo fiction, where he would have Bayes-jitsu or whatever, and you'd have this sort of image of this future world where people would like train at these powers and there were different schools of them and they'd do all this cool shit. It's interesting, because you call it the use-mention distinction. My take on it is, the idea is in the water, but if you receive it in the way that you receive ‘ideas’, then you don't get it. We sort of need to move basically into spirituality territory. The test of your reception of the truth is action. It's living it. And I think someone like Eliezer himself, a lot of things you can say about him, but I think he probably does get this idea– 

Rival Voices: For sure, for sure, for sure.

Michael Curzi: –himself. And then part of the work of, you know… I think that we need a variety of types of intellectual and spiritual revival, and to sort of drum up my own project, part of why I want to have conversations like this is that I think you need to process out the concepts and sort of distribute these like micro insights and pass them on to someone else and they do it with something else.

So part of the issue is with gurus; because Eliezer was a guru - and I don't mean that in a dismissive way, but it does connote some of this stuff–

Rival Voices: Sure.

Michael Curzi: –which is that, the followers always get a leaky version of the thing.

Rival Voices: Yeah.

Michael Curzi: There's a way in which Eliezer kind of retreated to his mountain to do fan fiction and stuff. And then a whole lot of people got left with this leaky version of this ideology and they sort of got good stuff and they sort of had to work for themselves. I really shouldn't say this, but it's a little bit like the despair of Jesus leaving the world.

Rival Voices: Right.

Michael Curzi: It's like now, here we are. Where has our Savior gone? What now?

Rival Voices: Yeah, yeah. With the difference that there was no Peter to build the Church, right. It was just left to die.

As to your first point, I do think that there is a circularity here, where for you to actually get to use-mention distinction, you can't get it just as a mention. You need to actually get it by doing it, by getting it right. And so there's a hard bootstrapping process there.

Secondly, for all his faults, Eliezer got infinite funding for his thing and infinite fans and infinite followers, and you know, probably a harem, and then decided that he didn't want to be the CEO of whatever and just wanted to do his research and found someone else. So clearly the man is winning at life. Insofar as rationality is measured by that, I think he's killing it. I do think he's not a prototype or a prototype example of the rationality community. I think most aren't in that position. 

I think the last Sequence that he wrote was on something like ‘the art and the community’, which was, you know, “now go forth and actually do something about this.” And then when he wrote his Inadequate Equilibria book, in the preface or the foreword he wrote, with 10 years in retrospect, ‘I should have had more emphasis on actually doing things’. And it's like, yes. Who would have thought that the community of thinkers and talkers would think and talk about doing stuff instead of actually doing stuff? Right?

Michael Curzi: Right.

Rival Voices: Which again brings us to this thing about the relationships between thought and action. So yeah, I do think that's a hard problem, and I'm excited that you're getting these going.

Michael Curzi: Taking a crack at all this stuff, you know. We'll see how it goes.

Thank you, Rival Voices, for this brief chat, and let's do more of these. This is awesome.

Rival Voices: You're very welcome, Michael Curzi. 

*Snazzy outro music plays*