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ChrisHallquist comments on The curse of identity - Less Wrong

125 Post author: Kaj_Sotala 17 November 2011 07:28PM

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Comment author: ChrisHallquist 18 November 2011 01:06:53AM 8 points [-]

This is an excellent post.

I'll toss in another example: volunteering vs. donating to charity. People like the idea of volunteering, even when they could do more good by working longer hours and donating the money to charity.

When I first entered college, I had the idea that I'd go to med school and then join Doctors Without Borders. Do a lot of good in the world, right? The problem was that, while I'm good at a lot of things, biology is not my strong suit, so I found that part of the pre-med requirements frustrating. I ended up giving up and going to grad school in philosophy.

To maximize my do-gooding, I would have been better off majoring in Computer Science or Engineering (I'm really, really good at math), and committing to giving some percentage of my future earnings at a high-paying tech job to charity. Alas...

Now whenever I meet someone who tells me they want to go into a do-gooding career, I tell them they'd be better off becoming lawyers so they can donate lots of money to charity. They never like this advice.

Comment author: homunq 18 November 2011 05:30:17AM 5 points [-]

Becoming a lawyer is an extremely bad recipe for becoming rich these days.

Comment author: ChrisHallquist 18 November 2011 06:21:11AM 2 points [-]

Yeah. What are the MD specialties that make all the money? Radiology, Oncology...

Comment author: mwengler 23 November 2011 07:48:19PM 1 point [-]

Now whenever I meet someone who tells me they want to go into a do-gooding career, I tell them they'd be better off becoming lawyers so they can donate lots of money to charity. They never like this advice.

This is what Warren Buffett has done. And he quite explicitly over the years said he wasn't going to donate while getting richer because his ability to compound his wealth was above average and so he would do more net good giving it away when he was done. (As it turns out, he gave away stock in his company, which has a very low effect on "shrinking the pie" that he is working with.)

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 22 November 2011 07:22:15AM 1 point [-]

That's pretty interesting how you self described as being really good at math but went into a career that wasn't math oriented. In myself, I've observed a trend of regarding things that I'm already good at as things that aren't especially interesting or important. Additionally, part of me likes the idea of being able to signal having a high aptitude at something that I don't bother to exploit. I wonder how many great scientists and creative types humanity has lost out on as a result of people ignoring the things they're good at because they seem too easy.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 22 November 2011 08:49:07AM 1 point [-]

I seem to recall hearing somewhere an anecdote about a scientist who decided to dabble in some particular field. He immediately got a lot of attention and cites for his early papers, and then decided that if he could excel in the field this easily, the field wasn't worth his time.

Comment author: wedrifid 22 November 2011 09:54:49AM *  4 points [-]

I seem to recall hearing somewhere an anecdote about a scientist who decided to dabble in some particular field. He immediately got a lot of attention and cites for his early papers, and then decided that if he could excel in the field this easily, the field wasn't worth his time.

Which is basically a terrible idea (on his part not yourself obviously). If he goes back to a field where it is hard to contribute it is likely that either the field is further into diminishing returns or already saturated with scientists. If the field where he can excel in easily is worthwhile as a science in general and gives a satisfactory level of prestige then staying in it is best for himself and for science in general. If he needs a challenge then he can just find the hardest, most critical part of the field and take that to the next level. If the whole field is not yet a fully generally solved problem then there is plenty of challenge remaining.