Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Inadequate Equilibria: Where and How Civilizations Get Stuck” as Want to Read:
Inadequate Equilibria: Where and How Civilizations Get Stuck
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Inadequate Equilibria: Where and How Civilizations Get Stuck

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  1,017 ratings  ·  103 reviews
When should you think that you may be able to do something unusually well?

Whether you’re trying to outperform in science, or in business, or just in finding good deals shopping on eBay, it’s important that you have a sober understanding of your relative competencies. The story only ends there, however, if you’re fortunate enough to live in an adequate civilization.

ebook, 167 pages
Published November 16th 2017 by Machine Intelligence Research institute (first published 2017)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Inadequate Equilibria, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Inadequate Equilibria

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.11  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,017 ratings  ·  103 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Inadequate Equilibria: Where and How Civilizations Get Stuck
Mar 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
I ended up liking this book a lot, and more than I was expecting at first.

The first three chapters didn't really say anything I don't already believe and hadn't already thought about a reasonable amount, but they were a clear and entertaining presentation of the material. The last four chapters were basically a thoughtful examination of why people hate Eliezer and why he thinks that those people are wrong. I'm not sure if I agree with everything in them--I think that I think it's harder to choos
Ben Pace
Nov 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book has noticeably changed my thinking when considering new projects. Really great epistemic advice, as well as damn fun and easy to read.

Some of the useful things inside:
- Microeconomic tools for judging the epistemic incentives of groups of experts
- Concise and useful explanations for how major insitutions (academia, medicine, politics, venture capitalism) break
- Case studies in how to successful use Aumman's agreement theorem in real life

The most valuable part of this book by far is cha
Jan 09, 2018 rated it liked it
A quick, useful read. The concept of "inadequacy" that Eliezer introduces here is new (to me, anyway) and potentially valuable. It made me think about certain economic problems in a way that I hadn't before. The second half of the book is mostly a defense of the inside view, but I'm a member of the part of his audience that's more prone overconfidence than under, so for my own good I will take his advice and ignore most of what I read there.

Five Things I Want to Remember About This Book:
(view sp
Jun 24, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: economics
I was disappointed by this book. I had much higher expectations. It is somewhat lengthy, and too anecdotal for my taste. The best parts (which I had hoped to see more of) are about explaining possible mechanisms for bad equilibriums to form and be sustained, and strategies for exploiting or fixing them. All in all, I recommend this book for anyone who does not have an intuitive understanding of Nash equilibria.
PS: I think someone should take the time to write an abridged, less Lesswrong-centric
Aysja Johnson
Aug 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In the conclusion of this book, Yudkowsky mentions that the intended audience of Inadequate Equilibira are people with a so-called ‘modest epistemology’. I happen to be one of these people so this book was especially useful to me.

What Yudkowsky means by modest epistemology is something close to the view that, “You can’t expect to be able to do X that isn’t usually done, since you could just be deluding yourself into thinking you’re better than other people.”

There is a lot more that this book d
Nick Klagge
May 31, 2020 rated it liked it
Only Eliezer Yudkowsky could write an entire book about how great he is for buying some lightbulbs for his girlfriend. Just kidding...sort of.

Seriously, I think this book has a really interesting premise, but isn't executed well. Yudkowsky starts from a generalization of the efficient markets principle: to paraphrase, if something can be done that is valuable and cost-effective, someone else will have already figured out how to do it. Taken to the extreme, however, this idea would result in the
Aug 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
VISITOR: Maybe it’s naive of me... but I can’t help but think... that surely there must be some breaking point in this system you describe, of voting for the less bad of two awful people, where the candidates just get worse and worse over time. At some point, shouldn’t this be trumped by the “voters” just getting completely fed up? A spontaneous equilibrium-breaking, where they just didn’t vote for either of the standard lizards no matter what?

CECIE: Perhaps so! But my own cynicism can’t help b
Nov 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Some very important lessons here that I want many people to read, however it's not always easy to parse unless you have a lot of experience with Eliezer's ways of thinking and use of vocabulary already. ...more
Gianluca Truda
Jun 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Gianluca by: Jared
It's no secret that I'm a fan of Yudkowsky's writing and singular style of critical thinking. This book gave me no reason to change that.

In the words of the author himself: "This is a book about two incompatible views on the age-old question: When should I think that I may be able to do something unusually well?" Those two views are epistemological modesty and inadequacy analysis, and the book opens by contrasting them through various examples.

Yudkowsky examines the topic of civilisational inad
Emil O. W. Kirkegaard
Jun 14, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
Short book yet too long. A lot of metatalk to fundamentally just to tell people to try more weird things and not be so concerned about making mistakes.
Balint Erdi
Aug 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
A fantastic book, Inadequate Equilibria, is about how to think about certain things that affect your own life (in other words, what model to use) and thus how to improve your decision making (and your life with it).

The author points out, through concrete examples, how certain systems are badly broken, stuck in an inadequate equilibrium, sometimes with dire consequences (like in the case of feeding a bad source of protein to babies in the US that still causes several thousand deaths) and explains
Jul 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I first picked this up many months ago, and at the time I found Eliezer's writing a little difficult to parse, but in the intervening months I've spent a lot of time in close proximity to rationalist friends + reading thematically related books, so when I picked this up again I found that I actually had the vocabulary and mental framework for most of this to be coherent and useful. I have longer book notes somewhere else, but the essence of the book is: how do you know when you can do better tha ...more
Mar 21, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019, non-fiction
I'm just going to get it out there - Yudkowsky, along with Scott Alexander (and SSC, LessWrong-ers, rationalists, etc), irritates me on a personal level. Is my review biased based on this? Yeah, probably, so you can consider it with that in mind. That being said, there are at least snippets of wisdom in this book.

"...Usually, when things suck, it's because they suck in a way that's a Nash equilibrium."

"So far, every time I've asked you why someone is acting insane, you've claimed that it's secr
Antti Värtö
Like many others, I enjoyed the first four chapters quite a lot and found the analysis of "inadequacy" to be useful. After that the book gets much worse. I wouldn't really recommend the second half of the book. ...more
Lorenzo Barberis Canonico
Sep 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: faves-and-goats
the founder of LessWrong delves deeply into the role sub-optimal Nash Equilibria play in society and progress. He also frequently digresses into comments about decision theory, statistics, and cognitive science, which I appreciated as a fan of his blog and organization. It’s a fantastic framework to identify violations of the efficient market hypothesis, both in finance as well as in society at large.
Jun 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"If you want to outperform—if you want to do anything not usually done—then you’ll need to conceptually divide our civilization into areas of lower and greater competency. My view is that this is best done from a framework of incentives and the equilibria of those incentives […]"

Eliezer Yudkowsky has a talent for teaching rationality, economics and decision theory concepts in an accessible manner and usually his writing helps transform unformed thoughts into proper labels and names, thus enablin
Robert S
Feb 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book changed my opinion of Yudkowsky from slightly negative to positive. It was more focused and better presented than some of his sequences that I’ve read, and his writing has improved since he wrote his Harry Potter fanfic. I have a better understanding of why people dislike him, and in the future I’ll give him more of the benefit of the doubt when he says something that I think is crazy.

I’m still not going to finish his Potter fanfic though
Hamish Seamus
Having already read HPMOR and about half of The Sequences, I still hadn't made up my mind about whether EY had anything genuinely useful to say. Certainly his writing is interesting, and there are lots of interesting facts in it. But it's another question altogether as to whether the whole package of his writing is worthwhile. He is not at all shy about prescribing certain ways of thinking, and simply knowing lots of interesting trivia about the evolutionary psychology and the history of science ...more
Vlad Ardelean
I will probably never read Yudkowski again

The good:
There are a lot of interesting gems in this book. The author also goes into details of how systems like the US medical system, academic research, the bank of Japan and startups have such motivational structures in place, that changing the systems can be harder than it looks. He also provides context to understands that in a lot of system "everyone acting insane, is just a rational reaction to everyone else acting insane". He then puts this in a
Alex Telfar
Nov 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
I found the first half of the book interesting. A bunch of interesting case studies and facts, I learnt about economics and gained a better intuition about what a market is for. I liked the free energy metaphor for efficient markets: we are following gradients of exploitability (this reminds me of Schmidhuber's theory of fun/creativity: following gradients of compression).

The second half of the book is closer to self help/a rant about what Elizer thinks it means to be rational and the pitfalls
Sep 25, 2018 rated it liked it
Basically two different books. The first is about the typical failure modes of a society that struggles to create common knowledge and solve coordination problems. The second offers guidance about when to trust experts and when to set aside that "modest epistemology" in favour of your own intuitions.

I preferred the first book to the second- I enjoyed the author's righteous anger about civilizational inadequacy. One example stuck with me: hundreds of babies die each year simply from getting an in
Several good ideas here:

Good definition of when it's good to take an intentionally modest approach: have you ever accomplished anything in the area you are talking about? No. OK. Modesty, please. When to not take such a modest approach: is it cheap to find out if you are actually better than you think? Then take the test. If you fail, then be modest.

Also, I liked the simple definition of minimally viable product (MVP): the simplest thing that is the best in the world for at doing at least one th
Rory O’Kane
Dec 08, 2017 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: anyone in the rationalist community
Recommended to Rory by: Zvi Mowshowitz
This book taught me some very interesting things about people and economics in the first three chapters, and was well worth the read overall.

The later chapters had harder-to-follow explanations and some weird examples with slightly problematic reasoning. Still, those problems don’t hurt the central argument much because those chapters are about side topics.

The book seems less like a standalone book than I hoped and more like a continuation of the author’s series of blog posts on Less Wrong. This
Zachary Rudolph
Dec 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
“In my experience, people who don’t viscerally understand ... the ubiquitously broken Nash equilibria of real life and how group insanity can arise from intelligent individuals responding to their own incentives tend to unconsciously translate all assertions about relative system competence into assertions about relative status. ... All good and bad output is just driven by good and bad individual people.”

Nov 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a motivational self-help book that describes how many babies are killed each year due to not getting enough fish oil.

If you've read Yudkowsky's previous work, I would recommend starting there, but if you have built up sufficient context it is an enjoyable read.
Daniel Frank
Some good ideas and important concepts, but Eliezer is one of the last people who should ever write about epistemic modesty. Eliezer doesn't know how much he doesn't know, and unfortunately, thinks reading blogs by professors at George Mason provides a sufficient education.

Dec 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic Read!
Feb 11, 2021 rated it really liked it
A remarkably high standard of quality, but not quite at the level of the original sequences included in Rationality A-Z, on my view. To be fair, I read this one significantly more quickly than I did the others, so I might come back to it later, if it seems like I need to think about this topic more. Especially useful insights include a basic taxonomy of the properties of optimizer markets, and some criteria for when they might have or not have those various properties. I do disagree with Yudkows ...more
Peter McCluskey
Dec 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book (actually halfway between a book and a series of blog posts) attacks the goal of epistemic modesty, which I'll loosely summarize as reluctance to believe that one knows better than the average person.


The book starts by focusing on the base rate for high-status institutions having harmful incentive structures, charting a middle ground between the excessive respect for those institutions that we see in mainstream sources, and the cynicism of most outsiders.

There's a weak sense in whi
Robert Martin
Mar 17, 2021 rated it really liked it
It has become somewhat fashionable among "educated" people to proudly proclaim "I don't know" to most questions, in order to avoid Dunning-Kruger overconfidence. Yudkowsky calls this the "modest epistemology" – the philosophy that in most situations you shouldn't believe that you know better than consensus. Inadequate Equilibria is a book that aims to explore whether this has been taken too far. When should we feel comfortable claiming that we know better than consensus?

This is a deep topic. It
« previous 1 3 4 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity
  • The Elephant in the Brain: Hidden Motives in Everyday Life
  • Superforecasting: The Art and Science of Prediction
  • Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals
  • Unsong
  • A Bluer Shade of White
  • The Case Against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money
  • Human Compatible: Artificial Intelligence and the Problem of Control
  • Doing Good Better: How Effective Altruism Can Help You Make a Difference
  • The Revolt of the Public and the Crisis of Authority
  • Radical Markets: Uprooting Capitalism and Democracy for a Just Society
  • How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of "Intangibles" in Business
  • Scale: The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Life in Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies
  • The Metropolitan Man
  • Mother of Learning
  • The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect
  • There Is No Antimemetics Division
  • Intelligence: All That Matters
See similar books…
See top shelves…
From Wikipedia:

Eliezer Shlomo Yudkowsky is an American artificial intelligence researcher concerned with the singularity and an advocate of friendly artificial intelligence, living in Redwood City, California.

Yudkowsky did not attend high school and is an autodidact with no formal education in artificial intelligence. He co-founded the nonprofit Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence (

Related Articles

Juneteenth, observed on June 19th each year, is an American holiday commemorating the day in 1865 when the last enslaved people in Galveston,...
138 likes · 19 comments
“Usually, when things suck, it’s because they suck in a way that’s a Nash equilibrium.” 1 likes
“Every possible dysfunction is competing against every other possible dysfunction to explain the observed data. Sloppy cynicism will usually be wrong, just like your Facebook acquaintances who attribute civilizational dysfunctions to giant malevolent conspiracies.” 0 likes
More quotes…