Clearer Thinking with Spencer Greenberg

By Spencer Greenberg

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Clearer Thinking is the brand-new podcast about ideas that truly matter. If you enjoy learning about powerful, practical concepts and frameworks, or wish you had more deep, intellectual conversations in your life, then we think you'll love this podcast!

Join Spencer Greenberg each week as he has fun, in-depth conversations with brilliant people, exploring useful ideas related to psychology, society, behavior change, philosophy, science, artificial intelligence, math, economics, self-help, mental health, and technology.

Because this is the podcast about "ideas that matter," we prioritize ideas that can be applied right now to make life better and that can help you better understand yourself and the world. In other words, we want to highlight the very best tools to enhance your learning, self-improvement efforts, and decision-making.

We take on important, thorny questions like:

What's the best way to help a friend or loved one going through a difficult time? How can we make our worldviews more accurate, and how can we hone the accuracy of our thinking? What are the advantages of using our "gut" to make decisions, and when should we expect careful, analytical reflection to be more effective? Why do societies sometimes collapse, and what can we do to reduce the chance that ours collapses? Why is the world today so much worse than it could be, and what can we do to make it better? What is good and what is bad about tradition, and are there more meaningful and ethical ways of carrying out important rituals, such as honoring the dead? How can we move beyond zero-sum, adversarial negotiations, and create more positive-sum interactions?

Episode Date
Education and Charity with Uri Bram

Are universities a cult? Do charitable interventions like de-worming work? How much should we trust the conclusion of well-respected charity evaluators like GiveWell?

Uri is the publisher of The Browser and The Listener, the world's favourite curation newsletters, and the author of Thinking Statistically and The Business of Big Data. Uri can be found at or

As we mention in the audio, this episode includes a critique of Givewell. Givewell were kind enough to listen to our recording and send us a reply. Here's their reply:

We're excited to see this level of detailed engagement with our research. As Uri and Spencer note, one of the key reasons we share the full analysis behind our recommendations is precisely this: inviting fresh perspectives and debate on the conclusions we reach.

We operate in an expected value framework when recommending top charities. We recommend deworming programs because of the possibility that deworming may have a large impact on long-term economic well-being. At less than $1 per treatment, we think it's a pretty good bet. We've discussed our views publicly over the years, such as in our blog post titled "Deworming might have huge impact, but might have close to zero impact."

The case for deworming's long-term benefits does rely on a relatively small number of studies. And the mechanisms by which it has long-term impact are unclear. But when we account for these uncertainties in our impact estimates, it still remains promising.

We've also supported research to better understand the impacts of deworming. We funded part of a study that measured the economic welfare of children who received deworming treatments 20 years later. This work was recently published, and at a high level, seems to support the story of deworming's long-term effects.

Thanks again for discussing this topic—it's an important and thorny one!

Givewell also mentioned some corrections to some of the claims made in the episode. They said:

[We] noticed some comments outside of the deworming conversation that didn't reflect our views and flagged a few of the more important ones below.

  • In addition to the groups you listed, our current list of top charities includes Malaria Consortium's seasonal malaria chemoprevention program and Helen Keller International's vitamin A supplementation program. The full list is here:
  • The two outcomes we recommend our current list of top charities for are averting deaths (not improving nutrition) and increasing incomes/consumption. We are open to considering additional outcomes in the future.
  • Uri said the following in regards to cash transfers: "I might be wrong but I think GiveWell doesn't count—if you took the money and spent it on a one-off way that didn't increase your long-term wealth or income—then GiveWell wouldn't count that." This is not accurate. We model short-term as well as longer-term benefits to cash transfers. This is reflected in our cost-effectiveness model and discussed in this blog post.
Oct 14, 2020
Negotiation and Psychological Immune Systems with Julie Kheyfets

How can we move beyond zero-sum, adversarial negotiations? What are some tools we can use to overcome physical and psychological pain? How can we develop psychological resilience and stability?

Julie is an executive at an A.I. company and winner of the 2019 USA Track & Field's Women's 100-Mile Trail Championship. You can find more about her on LinkedIn.

Oct 14, 2020
Life Experiments and Philosophical Thinking with Arden Koehler

What is 80,000 Hours? What sorts of people should become entrepreneurs? How can you run cheap experiments on yourself? What are some beneficial modes of philosophical thinking?

Arden Koehler is a researcher and writer at 80,000 Hours, a nonprofit whose mission is to help people use their careers to help solve the world's most pressing problems, and an active member of the effective altruism community. Arden has a PhD in philosophy from New York University, with a specialisation in ethics and attitudes toward time, and a B.A. in philosophy from University of California, Berkeley. You can check out her work at 80,000 Hours, and you can email her at

Oct 14, 2020
Death and Story-Telling with A.J. Jacobs

Are there more meaningful and ethical ways of honoring the dead than our traditional rituals? Why is it useful to adopt probabilistic thinking in our everyday lives? What sorts of things do we value intrinsically (i.e., that we would value even if they had no other positive benefits)? What do stories do well and not so well?

A.J. Jacobs is an author, lecturer, and human guinea pig. He has written four New York Times bestsellers, including The Year of Living Biblically and Drop Dead Healthy. He is a contributor to NPR, Esquire, and the New York Times, among others. His most recent book is Thanks a Thousand, which chronicled his quest to thank a thousand people who had even the smallest role in his morning cup of coffee. You can find A.J. on Facebook and Twitter, or you can email him at

Oct 14, 2020
Spencer Greenberg @ THINKERS Workshop

Why is it important to learn about cognitive biases? What are the various modes of nuanced thinking? What kind of mindset do people have to have in order to change their minds? When should we make "gut", intuitive decisions? When should we make careful, measured, reflective decisions?

This episode was originally recorded on the THINKERS Workshop show. Watch the original recording here, or visit THINKERS Workshop or THINKERS Notebook to learn more.

Oct 14, 2020
Lines of Retreat and Incomplete Maps with Anna Salamon

What does it mean to leave lines of retreat in social contexts? How can we make sense of the current state of the world? What happens when we run out of map? How does the book Elephant in the Brain apply to the above questions?

Anna Salamon does work with the Center for Applied Rationality and the Machine Intelligence Research Institute. She studied math and great books in undergrad, and philosophy of science for a small bit of grad school before leaving to work on AI-related existential risk. Fav. books include: R:AZ; HPMOR; “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” and “The Closing of the American Mind” (as an intro to the practice of reading books from other places and times, not to evaluate the books, but to gain alternate hypotheses about ourselves by asking how the authors might perceive us). She blogs a bit at

Oct 14, 2020
Forgiveness and E-Prime with Josh Castle

What is the goal of this podcast? How does a person become a polymath? What are the conceptual difficulties surrounding forgiveness? How can E-Prime help to highlight logical fallacies? How can we improve educational media?

Find Josh at

Oct 14, 2020
Meditation and Enlightenment with Jeremy Stevenson

What's a good definition of meditation that cuts through all the dogma and differing methodology? What are the techniques, skills, and insights associated with meditation? How does meditation connect to religion and spirituality, and is meditation valuable without those components? And what is enlightenment?

Jeremy hails from Adelaide, Australia, and has a PhD in clinical psychology with a dissertation focused on the effects of self-compassion on social anxiety. During his PhD he became intensely interested in meditation, sitting several shorter retreats which eventually culminated in sitting longer retreats, including a 3-month retreat in Nepal. He is now working as a clinical psychology registrar as well as doing research work for both Flinders University and Spark Wave. His current meditation interest is the perplexing skill of nondual mindfulness. Find more about Jeremy at

Oct 14, 2020
Aesthetics and Polyamory with Sam Rosen

How can we improve art museums? Does aesthetics need something equivalent to the effective altruism movement? What is steel-aliening? What are the most important social skills to learn, and how can we learn them? Can anybody become polyamorous? What does it take to succeed in a polyamorous relationships? Why do societies decay over time?

Sam Rosen is a rationalist who has studied philosophy and has done psychology research. He writes a lot on his Facebook page. His artblog is called Opulent Joy. And his two favorite blog posts he's written are here and here. If you want to get in touch with Sam, message him on Facebook or email him at

Oct 14, 2020
Learning and Goal-Setting with Michael Simmons

How much time should we set aside for learning? What are the most effective ways of portraying and communicating ideas? Should we set long-term goals for ourselves, or allow our goals to emerge over time? What are the pros and cons of being a celebrity in a field (or in general)?

Oct 14, 2020