After graduating with a B.A. in statistics from Columbia University in 2005, I spent several years doing research with social science professors at Columbia, Harvard and MIT, including a year writing case studies on international economics for Harvard Business School. I began a PhD in economics, but soon decided I didn’t want to be in academia after all, left grad school, and moved back to New York to be a freelance journalist.
I wrote for a wide range of publications and blogs (like Slate, Scientific American, Metropolis, The Architect’s Newspaper, Rationally Speaking, and 3 Quarks Daily), and in 2010 I launched the Rationally Speaking Podcast with philosopher of science Massimo Pigliucci.
I became especially interested in what you might call “mental technologies” — concepts, or ways of thinking, that help humanity improve our world. Going back to early civilizations you can see simple but powerful examples, like the Golden Rule, or the idea of trade. As our societies have progressed, we’ve developed more complex mental technologies — utilitarianism and other ethical frameworks, various iterations of the scientific method, the concept of randomized controlled trials, and so on.
And it increasingly seemed to me that developing better mental technologies was crucial to our future. In particular, now that we have a clearer picture of human irrationality, we should be asking ourselves how our biases are affecting our judgment about critical problems like how to reduce suffering and how to estimate catastrophic risks. And we should be developing mental technologies to overcome those biases.
I wasn’t the only one thinking this way. In late 2011 I heard through the grapevine that several friends-of-friends of mine in Berkeley, CA, had secured funding to start a non-profit organization to figure out how to improve human rationality. After meeting with them a few times, they invited me to move out to Berkeley to co-found the organization with them, and the Center for Applied Rationality (CFAR) was born in early 2012. Since then I’ve been working full time at CFAR — read more about us on my Projects page.
Julia Galef homepage