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I just donated to the SIAI.

13 Post author: Pavitra 15 July 2011 09:24AM

My purpose in writing this is twofold.


First (chronologically: I thought of this earlier than the other), I want to discuss some of the pragmatic points in how I got myself to do it.

The most important thing is that I didn't try to force the decision through with willpower. Instead, I slipped it through with doublethink. I knew perfectly well - and have known for months - that giving money to SIAI was the right thing to do. But I didn't do it. I spent money on things like Minecraft instead.

But somehow I found myself at the donation page, and I didn't think about it. Or, rather, I didn't let myself think about the fact that I was thinking about it. I made a series of expected-value guesstimates aimed at working around my own cognitive limitations.

I chose monthly donation over one-time because $20 monthly sounds like about the same amount of money as $20; past experience with recurring donations suggests that I tend to leave automatic recurring donations in place for about a year or two, so that probably gained me about a factor of 20. Similarly, I chose $20 as the largest amount that wouldn't put me in serious risk of chickening out and not donating anything.

In order to pull this off, I had to avoid thinking certain true thoughts. Numbers like "$240 per year" only drifted through my consciousness just long enough to make the expected-value judgment, and were then discarded quickly so as to avoid setting off my rotten-meat hypervisor.

This was not the first time I decided that I should give money to SIAI. It was the first time I actually did give them money. (Except for that one time with the $1 charity-a-day thing, which actually might have helped with dissolving psychological barriers to the general idea.)

I think this is important.


The second fold of my purpose is to reinforce the behavior using the glowy feeling that comes from having other people know what an awesome person I am.1 Anyone else who's done anything worthwhile should feel free to post in this thread too.


1. It's true. Statistically speaking, I probably saved like a jillion people's lives per dollar. And more-than-doubled quality of life for a zillion more. Let me also note that you can get in on this action.

I know that sounds advertisementy, but... well, that's kind of the point. Practice Dark Arts on yourself for fun and profit.

Comments (15)

Comment author: Rain 19 July 2011 06:45:50PM *  7 points [-]

Anyone know if SingInst is going to do a matching donation drive this year?

Edit: What is the optimal time to donate to the SingInst?

Comment author: Rain 23 July 2011 04:16:23PM *  2 points [-]

And only 3 days later, SingInst starts a matching donation drive.

Comment author: Rain 15 July 2011 02:56:25PM *  6 points [-]

As you hint at the end, this strategy is more often used for evil instead of good.

For example, I did the same thing to buy a nice $650 briefcase the other day. It took a lot of effort to avoid thinking about SingInst, existential risk, and the future of mankind when using money for a personal luxury.

Comment author: MixedNuts 15 July 2011 03:11:06PM 5 points [-]

I worry you might be too generous. OTOH, any altruistic utilitarian should have their eyes pop out like corks at the idea of "too generous". On the gripping hand, this naive altruist is dead because they sold their vital organs for charity.

I say you've been awesome enough last time around and you can buy all the briefcases in the world as long as you keep it up. If your inner Bentham complains that you're spending nearly a dead kid on briefcases, tell it MixedNuts said you could.

On a completely unrelated note, what makes a briefcase worth that much?

Comment author: Rain 15 July 2011 04:30:15PM *  4 points [-]

Quality leather, solid brass hardware, RiRi zippers, no glue, no visible logo, hand stitched in the US, lifetime warranty. It's fairly low end for a proper briefcase, according to my research.

Comment author: Multiheaded 15 July 2011 08:31:01PM 9 points [-]

Whoa. I glanced at that, then looked again, and again, without really thinking and not having read the comment above. My automatic conclusion? "Damn Chinese adbots, they're everywhere!" Then I moused over the link and my mind snapped back into place.

Comment author: Larks 15 July 2011 07:00:23PM 8 points [-]

Upvoted for donating, not for article.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 17 July 2011 01:01:10AM *  7 points [-]

that giving money to SIAI was the right thing to do.

Warning alarms ringing in my head. Phrasing it instead as "one potentially good thing to do" might be less psychologically appealing but it's also a shit ton more accurate, and I totally follow Eliezer in emphasizing that our comparative advantage is in relentlessly seeking the truth, not in being "clever" with our self-deception. See Rain's comment in this thread. Donating to SingInst is probably a better call than buying shiny new boots, but the rabbit hole is ever deep and full of surprises.

Comment author: Pavitra 17 July 2011 01:45:43AM 3 points [-]

That may be true for you, or even for most people on LW. In my case, though, explicit conscious reasoning about how to maximize utility (1) underperformed taking advice from people smarter than myself, and (2) failed to result in useful action.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 17 July 2011 02:13:15AM *  1 point [-]

I know, but I feel like maybe we're missing a third option. Like, if we further bootstrapped our explicit conscious reasoning then we wouldn't have to rely on cheap tricks. It is impossible to go too meta.

Comment author: Pavitra 17 July 2011 02:15:58AM 2 points [-]

Let me know if you figure out how to do that. In the meantime, I'm going to continue using the least bad known option.

Comment author: MixedNuts 15 July 2011 11:59:22AM 4 points [-]

Praise! Have a karma point. You can treat yourself to one cookie or similar indulgence. Gain status and feel a warm glow.

However, it'd be better to have a thread (maybe the altruism coordination station?) to boast about giving, rather than a bunch of posts.

Comment author: Pavitra 15 July 2011 07:14:23PM 2 points [-]


However, it'd be better to have a thread (maybe the altruism coordination station?) to boast about giving, rather than a bunch of posts.

That's why I suggested that other awesome people reply in this thread.

Comment author: Armok_GoB 15 July 2011 11:17:56AM 1 point [-]

The showing of how awesome you are thing might not work as well as you expect. Although you are indeed awesome and good for doing this and for posting it, and I am not ashamed of my initial reaction, the first split-second gut reaction to reading the title was not the admiration you deserve but instead a primitive envy-like feeling associated with the concept of bragging later followed by more specific association of a hunter in a hunter gatherer not being allowed to take credit for an impressive kill.

... I think making that introspection dump broke my grammar somehow.

Comment author: peter_hurford 05 August 2011 08:40:00PM 1 point [-]

I'm worried by the amount of psychological trickery you have to do in order to make a donation. If you thought that making a large donation to SIAI was the right thing to do, why do you need to trick yourself?

Maybe it's a sign of my very weak understanding of human psychology and introspection (the kind of things I came to Less Wrong to learn), but this still is intuitively raising alarm bells to me.

But still, I'm glad you made a donation, even if you didn't donate with the mindset that I like. You still deserve some glowy feelings ...even if I don't think charity normatively should be about glowy feelings. I'm reminded of "Purchase Fuzzies and Uitlons Separately" here.