I currently have a piece in the pipeline that follows up on my previous post. In it, I offer a vision of what higher education could be like. I describe what I have been doing since dropping out of college, and I announce a project that would put my ideas into practice. However, the coronavirus situation has put my plans on hold for now. So you will probably get to read that piece once the circumstances are more auspicious to a project that involves getting people physically together.

Though I might still reconsider, and post it before any of my ideas can feasably, or advisably, be put into practice. If there is anyone out there who is particularly curious about what I’ve been up to, or what I’m planning, you can DM me on Twitter, and I’ll share my draft with you.

In the meantime, I hope to make the most of the quarantine. In the coming weeks and months, I want to work on a post that examines the role that educational institutions should play, from a societal and civilizational perspective. Some of the key ideas that motivate this line of inquiry are contained in a 1995 book by Neil Postman, The End of Education, and in a piece in The Atlantic by Patrick Collison and Tyler Cowen from last year, We Need a New Science of Progress.

Postman’s key insight is that the purpose of education is in fact just as, if not more important than the method (more on this here). This rings very true to me, since in my own learning, progress seems to have been greatest when I intrisically valued my learning and found it meaningful. In my experience, the financial cost of the education seems to have no effect on the speed or quality of learning. In a world in which student debt in the US stands at more than $1.6 Trillion, this is quite a striking observation.

So while I have a good idea of how education should work, I now want to answer the question of why. To help me with this, I have created a reading list of books, papers and blog posts that I plan to go through in the coming weeks and months. Here it is:


Tyler Cowen, The Great Stagnation

Tyler Cowen, Average Is Over

Tyler Cowen, The Complacent Class

William Deresiewicz, Excellent Sheep

Francis Fukuyama, The Origins of Political Order

Francis Fukuyama, Political Order and Political Decay

Mancur Olson, The Rise and Decline of Nations

Jared Diamond, Collapse

Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, Why Nations Fail

Eliezer Yudkowsky, Inadequate Equilibria

Robert J. Gordon, The Rise and Fall of American Growth

Jon Gertner, The Idea Factory

I might also revisit these two:

David Deutsch, The Beginning of Infinity

Joseph Henrich, The Secret of Our Success

Papers/Blog posts/Other

Nicholas Bloom et al, Are Ideas Getting Harder to Find?

Pierre Azoulay et al, Incentives and Creativity: Evidence from the Academic Life Sciences

Jay Bhattacharya et al, Stagnation and Scientific Incentives

Dominic Cummings, Some thoughts on education and political priorities

Dominic Cummings, The unrecognised simplicities of effective action

LessWrong, How to fix academia?

LessWrong, Academia as a career option, its social value, and alternatives

LessWrong, Why Academic Papers Are A Terrible Discussion Forum

LessWrong, Intellectual Progress Inside and Outside Academia

Eli Dourado, How do we move the needle on progress?

Nintil, About the ‘Progress’ in Progress Studies

Francis Jervis, A Progress Studies Manifesto

Archbridge Institute, Reflections on Studying Human Flourishing and Progress: Shared Challenges and Shared Potential

James Fallows, How the World Works

Richard Hamming, You and Your Research

Many of these are taken from Patrick Collison’s site, here, here and here.

I might also end up drawing on these two lists, also found through Collison’s site:

Matt Clancy, Economics of Innovation: Detailed Reading List

Jasmine Wang, [Normative] Progress Studies