The Most Interesting People I Know

9 - Spencer Greenberg on Life-Changing Questions, Effective Altruism, and Burning Man

July 23, 2019

Spencer Greenberg is a mathematician, social scientist, and entrepreneur. He received his PhD in applied math from NYU and is the founder of SparkWave, a social venture foundry. As we discuss, SparkWave has created a number of apps tackling problems like depression, anxiety, and finding participants for academic studies. Spencer also created the site www.clearerthinking.org, which offers free online tools and training programs to help users avoid bias and make better decisions. This site has a lot of fun and thought-provoking exercises. My favorites that we didn’t dig into: common misconceptions, political bias test, and leaving your mark on the world. Spencer has spoken at Effective Altruism Global and been published in the New York Times.

We cover: life changing questions you can ask yourself, intrinsic values, some hard problems for utilitarianism, Sparkwave’s apps for anxiety and depression, how to ensure social ventures don't become evil, Effective Altruism, the profound challenge of doing good in the world, the connection between our happiness and the news, gaming Facebook for your happiness, the best legal approach to prostitution, Spencer's thoughts on fiction and nonfiction, why memorizing is underrated, and the best description of Burning Man I've heard. 

When I conceived this show, Spencer was one of the first people that came to mind. As you’ll soon see, he has informed and well-developed thoughts on a huge range of topics. He’s changed my mind quite a few times, and I appreciate his approach to thinking through the hardest problems we face as a species. 

Spencer’s referenced work:

Life-Changing Questions

Intrinsic Values Test

Spencer’s presentation at Effective Altruism Global on “Value traps, and how to avoid them”

Mind Ease for anxiety

UpLift for depression

Facebook post on humor

Facebook post on 10 policies Spencer supports

Other links:

The 36 Questions That Lead to Love

The Repugnant Conclusion

Current Affairs article on Wikipedia

Is it fair to say that most social programmes don’t work?

Peter Singer’s essay Famine, Affluence and Morality

What it’s like to go to Burning Man for the first time