Very Big If True, therefore probably wrong and/or crazy (part 1)

So you think you’ve had an extremely important insight which is widely underrated. In that case, a sensible early reaction is to pause, and to ask:

  1. Am I missing something?
  2. Am I crazy?

Often, (1) will turn out to be true. You may be able to work this out for yourself, or you may need to do it through research and conversation.

Less often, (2) will be your problem. That’s beyond the scope of this blog post.

Sometimes, though, you will actually be on to something—probably not exactly right, but at least on the right track.

One promising sign is that you have a good story to tell about:

  1. What edge”—or stroke of good fortune—might explain how I’ve had this insight, yet others haven’t? `` For example, if you are Leo Szilard, you’re unusually likely to have big if true” type insights about nuclear physics. You’re a trained physicist, and one of your peers just annoyed you.

If you think your insight is worth pursuing, your early steps should be taken in the spirit of testing”. You should make great effort to expose your insight to scrutiny, and only gradually scale up the bets you place on it. If you are misguided, you want someone to show you why, as soon as possible. It is critical to hold onto the why this is wrong?” attitude, rather than absorbing the idea into your identity [1].

Holden Karnofsky is an interesting example of someone doing this well, somewhat in public, right now.

Who else?

I haven’t finished this blog post. But I’m committed to publishing something every day, so here goes. Let’s call it part 1”.

[1] It’s also critical to ask: is this insight an information hazard? Most insights have mixed consequences when they become widely known—some may have very strongly negative consequences, on net. The example of Szilard comes to mind again.

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