I dislike the vast majority of people, but I have a strange obsession with a certain subset of people. When someone seems interesting, I tend to stalk them online, read as much of what they’ve written as possible, write private biographies about them so I don’t forget details, make websites cataloging them, write timelines about them, rank them according to how smart/interesting/intense I think they are (that’s this page), classify them according to certain attributes, and so on. I (very occasionally) get paid for this obsession.
This page lists the people I have found over the years to be especially smart/interesting/intense. When listing people on this page, what I care about most are:
- ability to understand the world (a.k.a. worldview-building ability)
- ability to generate interesting ideas
- ability to reach the right conclusions (sanity, not intelligence, though intelligence definitely helps) in complicated and confusing debates
- intensity of personality: whether they seem to actually project a distinct personality, whether I can in good conscience call them a playable character
- ability to identify and not-generate bullshit
- general alignment/orientation toward the important things in life
If you happen to find me interesting or in any way trust my judgment, feel free to use this page to identify people you should look into.
Bolding indicates people I particularly recommend.
I don’t endorse everything these people say (in fact, I couldn’t, since these people often disagree with each other).
The people in this list are my guesses for the sanest/smartest people ever to exist.
- Eliezer Yudkowsky (focus on 2006–2013, plus Inadequate Equilibria): Eliezer is good at opining on many topics, so after you’ve made up your mind on something, look for what Eliezer has said about it. However be aware that like many people who become semi-famous, his followers/most vocal fans are substantially worse than he is, and many of the people who recommend the Sequences don’t “get it”.
- Wei Dai
- Carl Shulman: Carl often writes in a cryptic manner, so you might need to stare really hard at his writings to understand what he is saying.
Gary Drescher (Good and Real)
Good and Real
A surprisingly thoughtful book on decision theory and other paradoxes in physics and math that can be dissolved. Reading this book is 100% better than continuing to go through your life with a hazy understanding of how important things like free will, choice, and meaning actually work.
See also SIAI Core Reading.
Unfortunately Drescher seems to be one of those people who get mindhacked by contemporary politics and haven’t been able to escape (just check out his Facebook wall to see what I mean). He also doesn’t seem to have any output since 2006, aside from one paper about the meta-problem of consciousness.
Grognor (George Koleszarik). This guy saw the truth. Unfortunately he died before he could produce much (relevant tweet).
Jessica Taylor (focus on 2015–2017 stuff)
Vipul Naik (disclosure: I do a lot of contract work for Vipul)
Bryan Caplan: see my page on EconLog
- Note that I consider Caplan’s views on many philosophy topics to be wrong. Examples: dualism of the mind, intuitionist ethics, free will. I think his posts about applied ethics are good. TODO: link to eliezer saying people are better one meta level down in ethics. TODO: link to hanson and cowen on this.
Brian Tomasik (a lot of his philosophy writings are similar in content to those of Yudkowsky, Drescher, and Daniel Dennett, but Tomasik’s writings might be the clearest)
- Scott Alexander (focus on pre-SSC stuff) https://www.quora.com/What-are-the-best-essays-on-the-Internet-e-g-Paul-Grahams-blog-Slate-Star-Codex/answer/Issa-Rice
- Nick Bostrom
- Robin Hanson (I think The Elephant in the Brain is probably the best introduction to his type of thinking. I also like his old papers.)
- Katja Grace
- Anna Salamon
- Oliver Habryka
- Buck Shlegeris
- Andrew Critch
- Anatoly Karlin
- Devin Helton/Devin Finbarr
- Aaron Swartz
- Michael Huemer (mostly The Problem of Political Authority; I am significantly less enthusiastic about Huemer’s other output)
- Nick Beckstead; in particular, read his PhD thesis, “On the Overwhelming Importance of Shaping the Far Future”, which you can find here
- Terence Tao. I can’t appreciate his mathematical research, but I am a fan of his undergraduate-level course material (e.g., his real analysis books, linear algebra notes, and multiple-choice quizzes)
- Tim Gowers. Similar to Tao. I can’t appreciate his mathematical research, but I am a fan of his math education web pages (on his academic website) and his mathematical pedagogy blog posts (see e.g. the Cambridge teaching category on his blog).
- John Stillwell. I haven’t spent too much time looking into Stillwell, but he seems pretty unusual for writing so many books that combine multiple fields and the history of math.
- Michael Nielsen. My basic take: his worldviews are kinda “bluepill” (in a way that I won’t clearly define, but to contrast with someone like Eliezer/Hanson, who I claim are more “redpill”, and with Wei/Grognor, who I claim are “blackpill”). Nielsen nevertheless seems incredibly competent (regularly publishes non-bullshit work), and has a track record of being “ahead of the trend” in the sense of catching onto interesting things before many others do (open science; skillful use of spaced repetition; if I understand correctly, he introduced neural networks to Chris Olah; maybe Pearl’s causality). I’m not sure to what extent his “being ahead” is a result of his own initiative vs simply being plugged into the right networks of people.
The following is a list of people I pay attention to, for one of the following reasons:
- I think they say many interesting things, but I have some strong misgivings about parts of their worldviews or sanity.
- I don’t place much weight on their worldviews/they don’t have very definite worldviews that are publicly accessible, but I’m generally a fan of their work.
- I haven’t evaluated/vetted them in as much detail as I would like, possibly because they just don’t have enough online content for me to consume (“trial mode”).
I’ll be deliberately vague about the reasons for listing a person below. I have also left out many cookie cutter rationalists and effective altruists (they might be smarter than some of the people in this list, but they are too boring to list and I’m sure you can find them without my help).
- Paul Graham (mostly his earlier essays): his essays were important to me as a teenager, but lately I feel like I’ve moved on to better things
- Bret Victor; see essays like “Learnable Programming” and “Magic Ink”.
- Jeff Hays
- Zack M. Davis
- Piotr Wozniak
- David D. Friedman: I haven’t read too much by him, so I’m not sure how I would rank his general worldviews or reasoning ability, but I have seen enough interesting things by him that I think looking into him is a good idea (and hope to undertake this task myself soon!).
- Alex K. Chen
- Chris Olah
- Mark Lippmann. I do not meditate. This is the only meditation blog I enjoy reading.
- Robert Heaton
- Terry A. Davis
- Caspar Oesterheld
- Matthew Gentzel
- Michael Vassar
- Mencius Moldbug
- Nick Hay
- Satvik Beri
- Vladimir Nesov (I really need to read more things he has written)
- Ted Kaczynski
- Geoffrey Miller
- Steve Hsu
- Kevin Simler
- Matt vs. Japan
The following people I find interesting, although because they are so much older than the rest of the people on this page I find it difficult to compare them with the others (i.e. they grew up and lived in such a different world that they have glaring holes in them even though they did really well for their time).
- Richard Feynman
- Charles Darwin
- Bertrand Russell