The influential blogger Scott Alexander got married last week. In honor of his wedding, I’ve decided to write a short note on how he has influenced my life over the last few years.
I first heard about Scott Alexander’s blog slatestarcodex from friends in India who I’d only ever met on Facebook. I tried to go through the posts, and hardly understood anything. He wrote 15-page-long posts on the latest pharmacological research, detailed analyses on genetics, etc. I didn’t understand any of it. And I couldn’t understand why I should care about any of it.
After getting on and off his blog a few times over the years, I slowly became a regular reader. Some of his most memorable posts are the ones where he would introduce a famous book or researcher, summarize their thesis, write down very convincing arguments in support of that thesis whereby the reader would be convinced that the book or researcher made total sense, and then do a complete 180 degree flip and completely demolish the whole book/paper. I’ve often been made to feel stupid or inadequate in life. But reading slatestarcodex has been the only time when I’ve throughly enjoyed the process. Scott Alexander presents an upper limit to how intelligent many of us, or at least I, will ever be. Some of his most memorable posts are listed here.
When Scott went offline for about 6 months because he was being harassed by New York Times, I would go to his blog multiple times a day to see if he was back on. I remember spending a long weekend arguing with people on Twitter over whether Alexander’s identity should be revealed by New York Times. My recollection of that weekend is that I learned nothing, but just felt much angrier at the world. I sanely decided to get off Twitter, and my quality of life vastly improved.
I also started blogging about research papers outside of my field a couple of years back. I was of course trying to copy his style. Although I decided to put that on hold because I thought I should try and focus on my own research, I feel that that was an incorrect decision because I really enjoyed the process of reading a completely new research paper and opening tens of wikipedia pages to understand its contents. I will hopefully get back to it very soon.
When I was undergoing a serious mental health crisis last year, Scott Alexander decided to write a post on depression. He recommended an audiobook in this post, that I promptly downloaded and also suggested to my friends who were going through something similar. Each of my friends who has listened to the audiobook has benefited greatly, and of course so have I. I do one particular exercise from that book every morning, and it remarkably improves the quality of the rest of my day. I was so enthusiastic about proselytizing about that book that I also forwarded it to people I hadn’t talked to in years in the hope that there was a slim chance that it would make their lives better. This of course was overreach, but the book really is that great.
Of course I don’t agree with Scott on everything. For instance, I disagree with his review of the book “The Body Keeps the Score”. I also think that Yudkowsky’s brand of Rationality, which Alexander espouses on his blog, is fairly limited in its scope to improve human thinking, although to be fair Alexander makes the same point in a Less Wrong post. However, Scott Alexander has in no uncertain terms vastly improved the quality of my life over the last few years. I am thankful to him, and wish him well for his future endeavors.