Hiring and judging character

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Something I find unfortunate is that most people require an overwhelming amount of evidence before recognizing someone’s greatness. The more time one has to think and the more one interacts with someone (or just reads their content), the easier it is to tell their greatness. But it seems like someone people have the skill/ability to recognize greatness given a very small amount of evidence. The rest of humanity requires such an overwhelming amount of evidence of greatness that it becomes impossible to ignore it (and such evidence often only becomes available once the person in question has died). (See Eliezer Yudkowsky’s posts about Solomonoff induction and the difference between science and rationality for related ideas. “I sometimes say that the goal of science is to amass such an enormous mountain of evidence that not even scientists can ignore it” (source).)

On false positives and false negatives: if people are very careful to only “approve” of people who are very similar to themselves or have concrete accomplishments, there will be lots of false negatives but few false positives. If people can be tricked by confidence/credentials/social status given to a person by others, then we can expect lots of false positives. I think many “great minds” are great in somewhat unique ways, which makes it pretty hard to detect their greatness (if one is using some sort of similarity metric to judge how great someone is). Here’s like a worst-case scenario in terms of judging someone: the person is great in a really important but difficult-to-detect way, they don’t like to accumulate credentials, they haven’t been detected by other people (so there’s no social status floating around), they don’t signal confidence, and they aren’t similar to other great people who have been discovered so far. The chance of a random person being like this is very low, but I do wonder how many people like this we miss out on because our judgment mechanisms aren’t good enough (i.e. have too many false negatives).

Eliezer once left a comment on one of Scott Sumner’s posts about how he (Eliezer) was able to identify Sumner as a “correct contrarian”, despite at first not having much subject knowledge. It was something about the rhythm of the debate and the kinds of rhetoric Sumner used.