Alexey Guzey

Science, productivity, advice, and utilitarianism
Transcript

No transcript...

Timestamps

(00:00) Intro

(00:23) How accessible should a good research paper be?

(03:47) Good taste

(07:07) What does Russia get right?

(12:05) Favorite Dostoyevsky novel

(14:16) Utilitarianism

(16:42) High IQ v genius

(17:59) Tyler Cowen’s advice

(20:13) Bad science

(31:25) Productivity

(32:55) Updating beliefs

(35:18) Meditation

(37:53) Religion

(40:02) Starting a blog

(41:20) Video games

(42:48) Go outside

(45:19) David Goggins

(49:23) Advice

(51:04) True Detective

(56:05) Alpha in low status

Links

Transcript

[00:00:12] Dan Schulz: Okay. Today, I'm talking with Alexey Guzey. He leads a research nonprofit called New Science and blogs at guzey.com. Alexey, welcome.

[00:00:21] Alexey Guzey: Thanks for having me.

[00:00:23] Dan: First question, how accessible should a good scientific research paper be?

[00:00:28] Alexey: I'm not sure I have a take on this, or rather I'm not sure if accessibility per se should be the goal or lack of accessibility should be the goal. I guess scientific papers are very inaccessible, usually, but it's expected in any kind of specialized endeavor. I don't think it's particular to science. It's probably the same in-- Well, continental philosophy is famous for being inaccessible, for example.

Ideally, of course, we do want papers to be accessible, but there are trade-offs. There is a reason why jargon exists, and it's because you compress information. There is this trade-off between being dense in information and accessible in a way to other scientists. I think there are definitely benefits to using jargons. For example, you can just fit more meaning in fewer words, right? I think probably that helped to process information.

Again, the other thing is there's so much science popularization. I know. I watch a lot of science YouTube videos or scientific journals, like Quanta and stuff. Papers not being accessible, I'm not sure it should be treated as a problem or something per se, asides from when it's-- I was going to say aside from when it's deliberately abstruse, but I'm not sure if there's even a way to determine if it's deliberately abstruse or not or if it's just culture or something.

[00:02:23] Dan: I find your writing often incredibly accessible, and sometimes you take really complex topics. That's where the question came from.

[00:02:30] Alexey: Well, because I write for public, and scientists write for scientists. If I were writing for scientists, I would be writing very differently.

[00:02:41] Dan: I find it interesting, though, some scientists, I had Steve Hsu on the show, and he blogs a lot, but he also writes a lot of scientific papers. His papers come through to me as super, super easy to read relative to other people in genomics and machine learning. I get really lost in a lot of those. It seems like there's a connection there because he blogs so much that it almost translates over into his papers. It's interesting.

[00:03:07] Alexey: Yes. I wonder if it's something like, actually, "Why does Steve Hsu blog?" He blogs because he wants to express his ideas, and he wants to be known to the public. My guess would be that not that blogging translates back into papers, but there's something about Steve where he wants to do particular things leads him to prioritize papers or blog posts being very accessible, more accessible than for other scientists who are fine with papers only being understandable to experts in the field, right?

[00:03:47] Dan: Yes, that's a really good point. How do you cultivate such good intellectual taste? Your links and best of Twitter are some of the best out there.

[00:03:56] Alexey: I'm not sure I cultivate it. The framing of the question, I guess I'm tempted to say that I read a lot or something, and I consume a lot of content, and this helps. This does help, but is it the key to what you would consider good taste? I'm really not sure. I feel like, honestly, it's just something that maybe always has been present, and I'm not sure I have much control either way.

The thing I do is just share things that I find interesting or read things that I find interesting. Why do I find these things interesting? I guess if I try to unravel this, it's going to be something about learning. It's difficult for me to focus on things that are boring, and things that are boring to me are usually things that I'm reading and I'm not learning much. I think this being tuned to a significantly higher degree than I guess is typical is a significant part responsible for a wider surface area.

Then also, I guess here's the thing that if I read what I consider to be interesting and the things that I learn, then it's natural that other people are going to also learn that. In contrast, if you're not very interested in learning per se, then, well, you're going to be reading things that you don't learn, and then you're going to share things where you don't really learn. People do find things interesting, things that by consuming they learn something interesting.

Curiosity is a big part of this, but how do you cultivate this? I guess it's just always been there or something. I think it's very easy for me to be bored. I've been thinking also about this. Returning back to your question about accessibility of writing, people often tell me that my writing is unusually clear or something. I think the reason is because, well, first, I spend a lot of time editing but second, I edit until I myself find reading what I write interesting.

Because it's very easy for me to be bored, then I have to really struggle and spend a lot of time making things that I write interesting for myself. As a result, they also end up being interesting to other people and then I'm being clear to other people. I think it's a general heuristic, and it's a way to think about-- I'm not sure I think about it consciously all that much, but it's definitely a big factor in what I publish or write or share or tweet is whether I would subscribe to my blog.

If I saw the blog post that I'm going to publish, would I subscribe after reading the blog post? If The answer is no, I'm much less likely to publish the thing because it's probably not very interesting, right?

[00:07:07] Dan: Yes, makes sense. What does Russia get right that the US gets wrong?

[00:07:12] Alexey: Maybe the answer is something like Russia is a more cultural country. In a way, I think one thing that I've been pondering recently that's very relevant to this is "Why did communism only succeed in Russia?" I think the reason for this is that Russia has this uniquely idealistic culture in a way, where people do take ideas seriously, where the there's many communist parties, but I'm not sure communism could ever win in America because America is both more optimistic but also more realistic.

America is grounded in reality much more than Russia, and Russia is a very tragic country, and it's a very idealistic country, and people take ideas seriously there to convince the population of this large, poor, mostly agrarian country to support the communist regime and not only the communist regime because China also had communism. It's remarkable to me how China, as soon as Mao Zedong died, the very next chairman of Chinese Communist Party basically abandoned everything.

They were like, "Okay, that guy is dead. Let's go and do something reasonable. Let's keep building capitalism. Let's get rich." Now they have an extremely hyper-capitalistic society. This basically started as soon as the first leader of the party died. In Russia, they actually kept building socialism. Well, they were living in socialism, and they kept building communism very seriously for generations.

Lenin died, and Stalin really did believe in communism, and all the high party functionaries really believed in communism. Khrushchev after Stalin really believed in communism and I think even Brezhnev probably. When I talk to my dad, for example, he was born in '64. I think by '70s, '80s, people stopped believing in this, but for decades, the Soviet Union was trying to build communism by the year 1980. This is totally insane and impossible, the whole idea.

Socialism, in the way that the Soviet Union was building, just did not work and could not work. The communist vision that they were building also probably just could not really work, yet maybe not the entire country but the people who were running the country really did believe in this. This is, to me, really fascinating, I guess. Is it right? Is it something that Russia gets right and America gets wrong? Soviet Union was not something good that happened to the country. It was terrible in a myriad of ways, but I guess it's something that's really fascinating to me. Again, this idealism of the elites versus the realism of the elites, there is something very fascinating about this.

[00:10:30] Dan: That's really fascinating.

[00:10:32] Alexey: I'm also thinking about, here's something fun as well. Russia is famous for mathematics and for writers, right, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, the Russian culture, especially 19th-century culture. I think Russian literature is on a whole another level. Again, I think it's all from the same root of this idealism of the elites where, Europeans, they create great culture, but there is no-- I think it's either realistic or it's nihilistic. It's not like this. I'm not sure that Western Europe or the US could have ever produced the Dostoevsky, for example.

Again, going back to math, I think, again, it's the same route. It's like math is the thing where you totally retreat from the real world, and you're just in the world of ideas and imagination. I think it all stems-- it's all about this idealism of the elites, and it's something that seems to me to be very uniquely Russian, I guess, where it's this northern country where people live in these hard conditions and have to think to prepare for the winter and to think about how to survive and all the very difficult things.

At the same time, it's very authoritarian, and the power is very centralized. There is a lot of really smart people who don't really have much to do, and they produce really great art, and they think a lot about ideas, and they do great math. That seems something to be uniquely Russian.

[00:12:06] Dan: Yes, that is fascinating. What's your favorite Dostoevsky novel?

[00:12:11] Alexey: Brothers Karamazov.

[00:12:13] Dan: Brothers Karamazov. Okay. I just read Anna Karenina by Tolstoy a couple of weeks ago. I finished it, and I just started Demons, but I haven't read any other Dostoevsky. This is the first one.

[00:12:24] Alexey: Demons is also great. I'm personally less partial to Tolstoy than to Dostoevsky. I feel like Tolstoy doesn't accept reality as it is or something. He's idealistic but in a way that's almost not fully honest with himself or something. If you read Tolstoy's Confessions, for example, he wrote it, I think, two years after finishing Anna Karenina. He basically denounced all of his previous writings.

He was like, in Confessions, he wrote that "Well, I wrote this War and Peace, and I wrote Anna Karenina, and now I'm the greatest writer in the world. I wrote the best novels. Now I really don't know what to do with my life. I realized that I was only writing all of this stuff in order for people to like me because I wanted to be a great writer or something, and it really doesn't matter in the end." I feel like he did have this realization, and it's true, but he did not magically change. He still kept being Tolstoy.

He was 45, I think, when this happened to him. I don't know. I feel like it's really painful, and it's terribly, terribly difficult to write something that's really, really honest. It seems that Dostoevsky succeeded at this, maybe because he was literally almost executed when he was 25, right? He was like, "Well, I have nothing else to lose. I might as well just be honest." I feel like Tolstoy, even though he was at war, he never quite reached the stage of where he was able to just stop worrying about other writers at St. Petersburg balls liking him. He just always kept looking for that.

[00:14:16] Dan: Yes. No, that makes a ton of sense. That's a good analysis. Why do you think smart people are so easily seduced by utilitarianism?

[00:14:25] Alexey: I don't think it's about smart people. I think it's a very particular kind of smart people. Again, it's like our entire discussion is about idealism. I think utilitarianism is this particular source of idealism and in fact the kind that Dostoevsky was arguing very passionately against. The reason utilitarianism is seductive to smart, highly systematizing, largely depressed people is because it provides us very clear direction in life.

Especially if you're an atheist, then there is no purpose in life. There is no meaning in life.

Universe is just what it is, and everything is random. There is no meaning. Utilitarianism, if you have this very mathematical mind and you want everything to be clean and simple and beautiful and abstract and there to be systems and with a small number of moving parts than utilitarianism and you're in this situation where you're lost in life and there is no meaning, everything is random, and you want things to be simple and beautiful and abstract, then, of course, you're going to go to utilitarianism because there is one utility function.

It's very mathematical, very beautiful, expected whatever, pleasure minus suffering. It doesn't matter that you can't calculate it. It doesn't matter that you don't know what the future holds. All of these things fade away in the face of the beauty of the single function to optimize. It's a very meaningful function because also if you suffer a lot and you're depressed, then you're like, "Oh, yes, that's actually becoming happy, and making other people happy as well is a great thing to pursue in life."

I think that this combination of-- there is also something very scientific about utilitarianism because math is science. It's such a perfect replacement for whatever it is that people lose when they become atheists. That leads people to really cling to utilitarianism, I think.

[00:16:43] Dan: You called out that it's not smart people necessarily; it's a certain type of smart people. You also have a post talking about the difference between high IQ and genius. What do you think separates those two?

[00:16:54] Alexey: Well, high IQ is about the raw processing power, basically. It's easy to have very high raw processing power and at the same time to have the same perspective as everyone else. Genius is much more about having a different perspective, and it's much more about synthesizing different perspectives and looking at things in a way that people did not look at previously.

I think a lot about Michael Nielsen's analogy, where he distinguishes scientists who, I guess, work in existing fields and create new fields. I think in order to create a new field, you have to ask questions that people did not ask before. This is much less, I think, about raw processing power and being able to solve particular problems and much more about poking problems, so figuring out problems that other people have not already thought about. I guess this is what genius is about, much more so.

[00:17:59] Dan: You have one post that has puzzled me for a while, and I saw some people in the comments on marginal revolution puzzling over it a little bit, too, which is your advice for Tyler Cowen. You have one of them which says recursive self-improvement requires a closed system. What does that mean?

[00:18:17] Alexey: Well, my memory of what Tyler might have said or might not have said, maybe it's all a dream that as soon as you're-- Basically, it's about machine learning, right? People think about super intelligence. People think about fast takeoff and us building AI that is able to recursively self-improve. What I take this point to mean is that this is basically not really going to happen because AI is going to recursively self-improve but only as soon as it doesn't touch the real world.

Then the amount of data, the amount of patterns in the world that it can learn about is very limited. Well, maybe it will recursively self-improve math or something, but as soon as you want to touch the real world, as long as you want to predict the real world and discover the laws of the real world, you need the data from the real world as well. This is an open system and then you run into very, very different constraints because collecting data from the real world is slow.

It's orders of magnitude times slower than just being in your head or in an AI's head and just thinking. This recursive self-improvement basically stops working in a way that people imagine it to work. It basically works the way our civilization already works and I guess humanity already works where humans are in a way recursively self-improving. We've been living this recursively self-improving the regime for, what, 10,000 years now. I guess things again are working, and it's not just blowing up with triple exponentials. It's very nice and it's slow single exponentials. [laughs]

[00:20:15] Dan: Yes. I found this interesting. You had a 2019 post where it's called How Life Sciences Actually Work: Findings of a Year-Long Investigation, and you come out of it basically arguing that academia has a lot of problems, but it's less broken than it seems on the outside, which is pretty contrarian in a lot of groups to say that academia is doing a lot of things well, but then you call back and in 2021 you're like, "Well, actually no, I'm more pessimistic. This is why I started New Science, the nonprofit." Can you explain a little bit about what happened over those two years to make you change your mind?

[00:20:48] Alexey: I think the biggest thing that happened is just recalibration because I think especially if you can go out with tech people, then there is this picture of academia just not working, and people often write about the death of academia and science almost sliding back in time. I think this is not very different from what I thought when I first started to think about this. I was like, "Oh, everything is terrible. Everything is broken."

After a year of actually looking into this, in 2019, I was like, "Wait, actually, yes, lots of things are broken, but things are still working. There's lots of problems, but things are not just as absolutely horrible as people think." This update from me expecting things to be really horrible to then being like, "Oh, wait, actually there are good parts" caused me I guess to maybe over-update at least for my mood to change it, for me to be like, "Oh, wait, actually, things are not very bad."

Then after two more years, I was like, "Wait, things are actually really bad. The fact that there are good parts and the fact that it's possible to do things does not mean that things are not really broken." An analogy to SpaceX could be we were still able to launch rockets in the year 2000, and NASA was still operational. Hypothetically, in fact, without SpaceX, they could have landed another person to the moon probably in a few decades. All of this does not contradict the fact that things were still terrible in all kinds of ways.

If you came in with the expectation that we can't even get a rocket out in space, then I think learning that we actually can would make you pretty pessimistic on your plans of whatever alternative you are thinking about. At the end of the day, SpaceX still makes sense. I still think it makes a ton of sense to really basically rethink how academia should work and how we want to go about doing science. It does seem that the technology of science--

I feel like the primate of truth above everything else and the integrity that used to sustain science from the inside is really, really getting eroded where universities-- Well, I guess everyone knows. I'm best known by my debunking of this book by Matthew Walker, who is a professor at UC Berkeley, where this famous neuroscience professor wrote a pop science book. It is basically pseudoscience. He just makes things up endlessly.

He writes that sleep will kill you in all kinds of ways, will double your odds of getting cancer. Sleep is the best thing in the world. Lack of sleep is the worst thing in the world. I looked into the science and looked at his citations, and the reality is totally different from what he writes. It's really not clear what the relationship between sleep and health and cancer and all these things really is. Then I published this, and lots of the scientists read what they wrote, and they were like, "Yes, this makes sense."

Then it turns out that, at some point, he manipulated data actually to cut out part of the graph that was going against his argument, and then nothing happened to him. UC Berkeley actually apparently looked into this, and they decided that it's all totally fine, and he has been a good scientist, basically making data up, lying shamelessly to the public. I looked at his papers, and this is really funny because I actually sent a data request to one of the papers he published in a journal where authors have to send the data upon request.

Then they never replied to me and then they wrote to the editor. Then I think eventually, if I remember correctly, they sent the data two months later but then simultaneously published in a correction to the paper that was like, "Oh, by the way, we discovered a bunch of mistakes, and they don't change any of our major conclusions." It was like, "Come on, the one paper that I requested the data from, this happened."

The fact that UC Berkeley does nothing and the fact that there's many other scientists who were extremely credibly accused of not just lying to the public but of actual scientific fraud and universities largely just don't really seem to care, this really worries me. It seems that something really needs to be done about this. I am not sure if entirely new academia needs to be built or if it's possible to reform academia or what the right way to go about doing this is exactly. Well.

[00:25:51] Dan: What would you recommend that the general public do to fight back against this? Notably, you said you spent over 130 hours researching to write that Matthew Walker essay. The average person who's just shopping for a pop science book and wants to read about sleep isn't going to have that much time. Do you have any heuristics or recommended ways that the average person can get a gut check? Maybe another way to phrase this question is actually going back, for yourself, how did you first recognize that maybe there was something wrong here?

[00:26:21] Alexey: I think that was the first part. For an average person, the best thing to do is if you're starting to read a pop science book, check one citation at random and just see whether what the abstract of the paper says corresponds to what the book you are reading says. If they do not match, it's probably not a good sign. If you did this check with "Why We Sleep," then you would very quickly discover that something is not quite right.

In terms of how I realized that something is not right, well, I guess I did not do the same. I just started reading, and in the first paragraph, there was something that I thought sounded very suspicious. There was a claim, if I remember correctly, about lack of sleep doubling the odds of getting cancer. I was like, "First, this sounds really wild and just doesn't pass my vibe check, I guess." Then I tried to imagine, "Okay, how would you design the study that would result in such a discovery?"

I was like, "Well, there is no way in hell anyone could have run such a study." You would need a really giant RCT that makes some people sleep less, some people sleep more, and then track them over 10 or 20 years or something. Obviously, nobody has ever done anything like this, which means that at best, this claim in the very first paragraph of the book is based on some probably really low-quality correlational data where all kinds of a million different factors influence each other and then he found one correlation and then made a claim that "Oh, this causes this" when it's just this giant network of interrelationships.

Then I looked into the data and then there is just nothing. There is some occasional sleep and cancer correlation. There is nothing really systematic. I guess this is how I realized that something is not quite right. Then in the entire first chapter, I just kept reading things that it was like, "Okay, there's no way he could have gotten this evidence. This is obviously wrong. Something is not right here." Then wherever I would look at something like this, things just didn't check out.

[00:28:45] Dan: Do you know anything about how these-- Do these books go through checks before they get published? I guess in your view, how is it that books like these can get published and get so popular without a bunch of people noticing?

[00:29:00] Alexey: I think people do notice. They just don't care. A few neuroscientists actually wrote to me, professors and grad students and postdocs, after I published my piece and they were like, "Oh, yes. We knew that his science is not very good. The book is an embarrassment to the field, but he is the single most prominent researcher in the field. He runs a large sleep center, and he is really well-published. He has a lot of power and control, and also he brings a lot of money to the sleep research field."

The people who could notice this are in a position where they're either dependent on Walker himself, or they are afraid of repercussions. I was, at the time, basically nobody. I was unemployed for almost a year by that point. I didn't really have much to do, and I didn't have much to lose. I was like, "Well, it seems like there's some really wrong company in the world and I might as well as an unemployed 22-year-old just do something about this and other people, they're maybe a professor and they can't afford to first spend a month full-time writing this and then deal with the fallout of maybe their department getting less funding next year or them personally getting a negative review from reviewers too, and no longer getting published very well or all kinds of things like this."

I think that my friends often tell me to be more friendly on Twitter and to not call out bullshit. I care about my friends and I do try my best and often they make me not call out BS that I see, and then again if you're in academia and it's like this influence is 10 times stronger, 100 times stronger. I guess I'm personally not very surprised that nothing happens. It seems that this is just how things are, I guess. People in positions to notice that something is not quite right usually are also in positions where they don't want to do it.

[00:31:26] Dan: Yes, related question. If you didn't need to sleep yourself and you had a marginal seven hours, let's say, per day over everybody else in the world, where would you spend that time?

[00:31:37] Alexey: I have no clue. I'm a big believer in doing rather than talking and, whatever I might say, whether I would spend more time building things or coding or reading or writing or learning, I have no clue. Maybe yes, maybe I would spend seven hours today on YouTube. I think these hypotheticals are not something that we should take as seriously as we often want them to be. We all have goals, resolutions, decisions, and then more often than not, gyms get much less full in February than they were in January, and these extra seven hours without sleep, who knows what would happen.

[00:32:33] Dan: Yes, I saw a tweet one time that was basically like, everyone who was aspiring novelist but thought they just have the time learned during COVID that this is not true. [chuckles] It's like, oh, if I just had the time and it's like, okay, here you go. Not so many people used it.

[00:32:52] Alexey: I spent a lot of time playing Counter-Strike during COVID.

[laughter]

[00:33:01] Dan: Actually, this is maybe my favorite post of yours, but I thought it was really interesting because it's something that I try to do more often but I think is really hard. You go back and you evaluate some of your previously held beliefs. You're pretty vocal publicly about obviously, sleep not being as important as people say. Also on meditation, you thought that it was not near as useful as people had claimed.

Then you wrote a post later that came out and was like, well, actually, you weren't like a full, sleep maxer but you said sleeping is more important than I previously believed. Then the same thing on meditation. I'm curious, how did you come about this? I feel like for me if I hold a strong belief and I say it publicly, it can become very hard to change my mind. How did you go about reevaluating this?

[00:33:52] Alexey: I guess I just don't care. Rather, I think the answer is probably the same here as why am I working on improving how science works? Why did I write this piece about why we sleep? Why do I write these quotes, and tweets on Twitter where I see BS? I feel like I care about things being true or not, like a lot, just like unhealthily much where like, right, why we sleep made me really angry, it made me really emotionally angry. When I was like, wait, this is not right. It just evoked this emotional response to me.

When I realized that, I hold a belief and it is not actually right. I can become angry about this. I was like, no, I want to be correct. Truth is important. I guess this just matters more than looking stupid in public. Also, this post, I think people enjoyed reading it. I think it helps other people as well.

[00:35:18] Dan: How about specifically on meditation? Because that's something that I myself have never been able to get really into. I feel like it's something where if you think it's not useful and you never go and do it, you don't just magically get sucked into it one day, you have to actually wake up and believe that it might work and then go and practice it. How did you go about changing your mind on that one?

[00:35:40] Alexey: Oh, just a couple of people who I trusted and who held similar beliefs before told me that told me that meditation is good. I was like, okay, I'm going to try. Then I tried and I was like, wait, this actually seems useful because I think in the very-- I spent an hour just sitting on the yoga mat thinking, I was like, wait, shit, I haven't really thought just by myself in a very long time. I actually figured a bunch of things out and I resolved some problems.

Then what happened was I just decided to spend 100 days doing one hour of meditation a day, no matter what. Well, if I just made this decision, I don't know how it would have gone, but I also told about this to this friend very quickly. I was like, okay, this is great. I'm going to do 100 days of this. I put it on a Post-it note on my mirror in the bathroom. I was like, okay, here's 100 days. Here's like when I started, here's where it ends. Then that's how I got into this.

Actually, funnily enough, as soon as 100 days ended, I didn't really regain the ability to-- I stopped doing this one hour a day religiously, even though it was still very useful and still very helpful. I think it was this beauty and simplicity of this goal of 100 days and this being my biggest personal goal and me telling people that I would do this all contributed. Without this, I probably wouldn't be able to sustain it.

[00:37:23] Dan: Yes. Enough people saying like, no, trust me, you got to try it.

[00:37:28] Alexey: Enough people who I really trusted and who I saw-- What was important here was that I knew that these people believed the same things about meditation that I believed in the past. I was like, okay, they were where I am right now in the past. I think they're really smart and they changed their mind. There's probably a good chance that I'm just not seeing something that they're seeing and I might as well try.

[00:37:53] Dan: Do you think that scientists or researchers benefit from a belief in God?

[00:37:59] Alexey: What do we benefit here?

[00:38:01] Dan: Do you think it makes them a better scientist or researcher?

[00:38:04] Alexey: Yes. My impression is that it seems that there is this very deep need in people to believe in something beyond themselves. If they lose it, it's difficult for them to stay true to themselves and stay true to the world and to retain this idealism because everything becomes random. Science being the pursuit of truth and the loss of nature and reality. I think if you believe that ultimately everything is random and everything is without purpose, then I think you're not going to be doing science as well as you would if you thought that actually there is meaning and there is something beyond just the papers that we publish.

Just beyond these arbitrary rules or arbitrary phenomena that we discover that there is something beyond that. I don't know if it's true, but it's my suspicion that there is just something about this. It's very difficult for people to live without the belief in something beyond themselves. It really breaks them. Well, a lot of them end up with utilitarianism or communism or all these kinds of replacements. You just start making up data and try to get as famous as you can.

When people do take God really seriously and they do take these absolute moral rules seriously, they do not break them or they do their best not to break them. When they don't have this high authority when everything is random and arbitrary, then--

[00:40:03] Dan: You wrote a post in 2019 called Why You Should Start a Blog, and you're convincing people, "Hey, I started a blog, here's all the benefits that I got from it." Now blogs are much more saturated. You have Substack, there's many, many more than there were in 2019. It seems like just the number of blogs on an absolute basis is much, much greater. Perhaps the likelihood of being found or getting read goes down a little bit. My question to you is, do you think that in the world of today, you would give that advice as strongly as you would've back in 2019?

[00:40:41] Alexey: I'm not sure I know many great blogs, honestly. Yes, there are many blogs, but there is always been many blogs. There used to be a LiveJournal, and everyone had a LiveJournal, or people used to write on their Facebook walls a lot. I think that before there was what was called Blogger platform, if I remember correctly, I think. There have always been lots of blogs. There's always been a few really great ones. I don't think this really changed. I think the returns to creating a really great blog are as high, if not higher than they used to be honest.

[00:41:21] Dan: Got it. Question on video games. Do you think that they're net good or net bad for society?

[00:41:27] Alexey: I have no clue.

[00:41:28] Dan: No clue. Do you think you can learn from video games for some people?

[00:41:32] Alexey: Definitely can be net bad for some people, can definitely be net good for other people. For me, I don't know what the answer is to this question, honestly. I guess you're alluding to the fact that I spent many years being related to video games being really depressed and suicidal. Is it because of video games or was it because of the circumstances of my life and video games were just a thing that was available? Maybe without video games, I would've been doing hard drugs or something instead. I'm not sure.

Maybe I would've become an alcoholic if I didn't have video games. Thinking in counterfactuals again, this is exactly why utilitarianism I think is much more difficult than people think. It's very easy for me to just say that, "Oh, no, definitely video games are bad. Everyone wastes so much time. I spent years addicted to them. I spent COVID playing Counter-Strike instead of doing anything useful, but then who knows?

Maybe the only reason I'm not dead from drinking way too much alcohol or the only reason I'm not doing heroin right now is because I had video games that helped me to cope with what was surrounding me at the time. Honestly, I have very little idea whether video games are net good or net bad.

[00:42:49] Dan: That's interesting. Another post that actually I like to reference a lot is the one that you have called the importance of increasing morale. What's the most common thing you do to increase your morale? You give a list on the blog of like 100 things basically that you could do, but I'm curious if there's anyone when you wake up every day that you go to

[00:43:09] Alexey: Going outside.

[00:43:10] Dan: Going outside.

[00:43:11] Alexey: Yes. I think going outside is the easiest thing. The thing that's pretty much never fails, I think. Going outside. I don't want to otherwise, there's a few more, but just going outside always works very easy to do.

[00:43:30] Dan: I've lived in situations where I have a gym in my house or in an apartment building, or, I can go to a gym that's 5 to 10-minute walk away. On the surface, it seems nicer to have the gym in your building. I typically go in the mornings, but I have found that I actually like a lot better the walk in the morning. Just getting outside the first thing in the morning is incredibly helpful. I resonate with that quite a bit.

[00:43:57] Alexey: I think people really underappreciate this one actually that the impact of DoorDash or any kind of delivery or any remote work or internet itself, or even us doing this interview. This interview would've been even more fun if it was in person. We're not doing it in person because we can do it over video and I'm not going outside, you're not going outside, we're both more depressed than we could've been otherwise.

Everyone else who could've gone outside and attended an event with this interview is not going outside, they will watch this in their home instead and they will probably order delivery to their home instead of going outside and going to a grocery store. It's amazing to me how many of our technological innovations are literally just making us less likely to do the one thing that's most likely to make us less depressed. Even vaping, [crosstalk]

[00:45:05] Dan: Yes, you have to go outside to smoke a cigarette.

[laughter]

That's actually a really good point. It's just maximum laziness. You could just do it on your couch and the house doesn't smell. What have you learned from David Goggins?

[00:45:25] Alexey: Honestly, the biggest thing I learned is that if you are doing something really physical and it doesn't require much brain power, then it's very easy to use this extra extra brain power to make yourself do whatever this physically labor you're doing better. If you're running a really long distance, then you don't have to think about anything really. You can talk to yourself and you can motivate yourself and you can imagine all kind of things. This doesn't really apply to mental work where you want 100% of your brain power doing already and you don't have this 80% of your brain spare that you can use to motivate yourself. Honestly, that may be the biggest one.

I'm a huge fan of David Goggins. I read his book way too many times. I think I read it three times over just-- I first read it and then I was like, "Wait, this is too good." I read it again immediately and immediately again, this never happened to me. The storytelling is incredible. The tricks and the strategies that he offers are incredible. His personal rise and fall and rise and fall, these are all incredible. In retrospect, I think they fit his lifestyle and the things that he does much better than the life of most of us probably.

The lessons unfortunately generalize quite a bit less. One thing that's I think is relevant, I'm not sure who I heard this from, maybe it was just a tweet, but it was something along the lines of, "Take advice from people who you want to be, or take advice from people who are in a position in life where you want to get to or something." I think at some point I realized, wait, David Goggins is an amazing person, but I am not personally really interested in breaking world records for running or doing pull-ups.

I don't think I'm going to be a motivational speaker or something like this. Whatever the lessons and strategies that he used to get where he's at, however amazing all of this is, is probably less useful to me than I would've hoped.

[00:48:13] Dan: I guess if you're just really struggling over VS Code, the stop being a bitch is not as good of advice as it is if you're running an ultra-marathon a little more useful.

[00:48:23] Alexey: Yes, or singing a song when you write. It's such an amazing strategy where I think they were carrying the boats and everyone was almost dying from tiredness and lack of sleep and just total muscle soreness. Then David was like, "Wait, why don't we sing a song from a war movie?" I don't remember that's really motivational, really up uplifting. They started singing and they were like, "Okay, we're going to make it." They made.

It's so amazing except you can't really do it when you're struggling debugging VS Code because it actually takes brain power that you are already using. You're going to be worse. It's very, very, very sad. Very unfortunate. I really really admire David Goggins. Well, if I decide to do a pull-up world record at some point, I'm going to go back and read all his stuff with double the passion.

[00:49:24] Dan: That brings up a good point too because you do have a post on advice. The Post basically says that giving advice is really difficult because all people are different and you just alluded to this, where it's like David Goggins is maybe achieving a different goal than you might be at a certain point in time. I'm curious, what single piece of advice has been most influential on you, and who did it come from?

[00:49:48] Alexey: I'm not sure I can identify one. Like Tyler Cohen, Sam Altman, Patrick Collison, Ned Friedman have been huge influences on me. Whether it's because of following advice or thinking about advice and decided not to follow it, and instead do something totally different. I am not sure which one is the bigger instance honestly.

[00:50:18] Dan: Yes. Totally fair.

[00:50:19] Alexey: I think the thing about advice is, again, at the end of the day, giving advice is not the same as living advice. Giving advice without living it in a way is almost like-- In economics, there's this concept of revealed preference where you people say things, and then people do things, and often the things they say and do are very different. Giving advice is this type of, saying things and not doing things, and then the way you do things, how you do them, what you do then matters much more as advice than just giving advice.

[00:51:05] Dan: I wanted to ask you about your post where you have your favorite media, so you've got movies, TV shows, books, podcasts. I noted that you saw or you list True Detective season 2 on there. I remember when True Detective season 2 came out, the critical reception was basically this was the greatest TV show of all time. Season 1 was revolutionary, and season 2 is, it bombed. People did not generally give good reviews. I thought this is a little bit contrarian that you liked it. I'm curious what is it about season 2 of True Detective that put it up on your list of favorites?

[00:51:43] Alexey: I feel like it's again, it's almost like season 1 is Tolstoy, season 2 is the TFQ for me.

[00:51:49] Dan: Okay. This is good.

[00:51:50] Alexey: Season 2 is honest in a way that season 1 is not. Season 1 is almost like-- I feel like it's something about maybe the creator of the show, needed to prove himself and he exaggerated everything. He made this main character, made him a connoisseur, this nihilistic to this just absurd caricature, I think. In general, it's almost proving to the people that you can create this amazing TV show, I feel like with these caricatures of thoughts and ideas and characters. Season 2 for me, it just felt much more honest than season 1.

[00:52:41] Dan: Got it. What was honest about it? Have you seen it recently enough to recall specifics?

[00:52:47] Alexey: Yes. It's more difficult for me to talk about season 1 because I only watched it once. Then it was like, well, this wasn't all that good and then season 2 was just incredible. Let me try to think. I guess it's something about complexity. Again, I feel like we're talking about many different things, but in a way we're still talking about the same thing, this simplicity and beauty versus complexity and ugliness in a way.

The real world is, we really want it to be beautiful and simple and unfortunately, it's very complicated and ugly and difficult in all kinds of ways. Season 2 I think just shows this much more like things are complicated. Everything up until the end of the show, every character, there is something good about them in a way, something bad about them. They have reasons for doing things.

Sometimes they do things without reasons. Sometimes it's because they want to be loved, because they want to be rich, because they want to be powerful, because they are trying to escape something, and and this complexity, again and I think there is this beauty in complexity and the ugliness and lack of clear cut goodness and badness of characters. Yes, it just seemed that like season 2 was just very unique to me as a TV show for being able to show all of this.

Again, to be honest about the difficulties of everything, and the complexities of everything. If I remember correctly, up until the last episode maybe or last two episodes, we don't even know if-- geez, I don't remember any of the names of characters, but there is this mafiosi leader presumably who gave the corrupt cop the wrong person as the person who attacked the cop's wife. I think until then you don't know anything. You don't really know. Is this true what he himself confused, was it deliberate, why did she do it?

Is he a bad person, is he a good person, we don't know. I think that's how the world works. You just don't really know and it's difficult and complicated. Maybe that's precisely why critics don't like it. As a critic you want to be able to pronounce a clear judgment or something because if you don't, people won't read you and they won't enjoy your reviews. Then you present them with a really difficult work that you can't really form a really clean judgment and say things that are very simple. Maybe it's not unexpected that critics don't like this kind of art too very much.

[00:56:06] Dan: One thing I wanted to ask you about is a question on one of your blog posts and says that there's alpha and low status. Why do you think that is?

[00:56:15] Alexey: I think it's something about status being a reward, high-status profession, like banking, consulting, software engineering. Well, I guess in some circles, it's high status. In other circles, it's low status. High status, in a way, is a reward for not deviating from the past and doing what is expected and, just continuing to do what whatever you were doing and starting to make a lot of money and starting to be respected, raising up the ranks. As you rise up the ranks, you gain status.

I think what usually happens if you do this too religiously is you just keep doing the same thing. Now, the things that we start doing when we're 18 or 20, I didn't have any clue what I was doing when I was 18 or 20, or honestly, I don't know if I have any clue what I'm doing today still, but I definitely have more clue than I had when I was 18. If you keep rising in status, continuously as you progress through life, I think there is a very good chance that you're basically raising up in status in the wrong direction way.

It's very difficult to stop doing this. It's very difficult to just be unemployed and think about life for a year. It's very depressing and it's terrifying in a way and I think very few people do this but it's kind of a way to figure out the right direction I think to go in. It's a very low-status thing to do. All of your friends will probably think that you're a loser now. You're unemployed. You spent three months playing video games and not doing anything, and you're depressed. Then you're running out of your savings, and then, it's now difficult to get a job because you have a year gap in your resume, and it's just really difficult to do.

[00:58:31] Dan: If someone told you they were going on sabbatical, how would you recommend? They're going to do a year sabbatical, what would be your recommendation for that period of time?

[00:58:39] Alexey: I would recommend solo travel. Not sure what the right amount is, but I think the reason for this is, if you want to get unstuck from your existing patterns and expectations and all that stuff, you want to get out of the physical space where you are and I ideally, you want to spend time by yourself and think about things and figure things out for yourself, solo travel is the thing that combines everything. You don't have to do it, I think but, it's like going outside. Just go outside, but somewhere very far.

Probably don't spend all of your time by yourself. Because if you spend a year being by yourself and don't talk to people, you might kill yourself, but it's coming along.

[00:59:38] Dan: What's next for the Guzey blog? Do you plan to continue posting? Do you have any intentions to stop?

[00:59:43] Alexey: We'll see. Let's make this a mystery.

[00:59:48] Dan: Well, Alexey, that's a great one to end on. Thank you so much for your time today. It was great talking with you.

[00:59:53] Alexey: Thanks for taking the time as well.

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