Week 1: Introductions


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

We’ll start by having short icebreaker 1-on-1 conversations to get to know the other fellows. There’s a large diversity of ages, educational backgrounds, 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, 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 program below.

Before the session, 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 program.

Ways to Approach the Program

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 in this program we expect the ideas to affect our actions as altruists. We think we should take a curious action-guided mindset by 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?”
  • In other words, 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 useful.

  • 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 program, 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).
  • However, 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 program to be useful to you, particularly for deciding how you might do good in the future. If you think a conversation is too abstract, it’s probably worth saying so. After all, 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. Therefore, 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 program aren’t there to just be philosophically interesting but to be practical, personal, and decision-relevant.

Exercise (30 mins)

What do you want to get from the program?

We hope that you will use the program to learn more about things that will help you improve the world. This exercise aims to help you identify what kinds of things you want to learn about.

Cause Prioritisation (10 mins)

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.

  • What do you think are the best projects for altruistic people to work on over the next 50 years?
  • What problems do you think we might solve in the next decade that would be most valuable for the following century?
  • If you were directing $100 million dollars to be donated anywhere, where would you direct it?
  • What problems are you considering working on during your career?

Reasons, cruxes, and key uncertainties (10 mins)

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 you have any cruxes for prioritising these areas? What are they?
  • What could you learn that would make you change your mind?

Shortlist (10 mins)

Look at your reasons, cruxes, and key uncertainties. Write a shortlist of possible things to look into during the program. Perhaps one decision you’re currently making depends a lot on an assumption you’d like to look into. Perhaps you often 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. You can also use these priorities to help pick the topics which most interest you from the options available in weeks 4, 5, 6, and 7 of the program.