A bit of astrophysics and a bit of altruism.
Welcome to this space which I’ve called “Altruphysics”. In this episode, I’ll explain where the name comes from, and why I created this channel.
But before that, allow me to introduce myself.
Who am I?
My name is Pablo Rosado. I studied physics, did a Master’s degree in nuclear physics, and a PhD in astrophysics, at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics. I also worked as a postdoc in Germany and Australia, on topics related to gravitational waves and pulsar radio astronomy. I’ve published articles on black holes, neutron stars… and other space thingies. I’ve toured the world at conferences and I’ve worked in international collaborations, with people from the best research centers in the world, including Nobel Prize laureates.
But at a certain point, I slammed shut the academic door and started working in industry. Thanks to the experience I gained working with data during my years of research, I went from astrophysics to data science. I have worked in Spain and the UK in applied artificial intelligence and data science in banking, energy, and intellectual property, among other sectors. I currently work at Our World in Data, one of the most popular websites in the world for data visualization on COVID, CO2 emissions, energy, agriculture, and much more.
If you’re interested in the topic of how to change from academia to industry, especially data science, I have another blog called “Academia vs Industry“, where I talk about that professional transition, which was one of the most transcendental changes of my life.
And speaking of transcendental changes, another one of them happened a few years earlier, on the 25th of October, 2014. That day, something “clicked” in my mind, and overnight (or more accurately, from the morning to the afternoon), I drastically changed my lifestyle. But I’ll talk about that in another episode, in which I’ll explain what happened on the day I first became interested in altruism.
Altruism broadly consists of doing good for others. When talking about altruism, one usually refers to things like helping those in need, making donations, doing volunteer work… But altruism can be much more than that. Ask yourself the following question: How can you have the greatest positive impact on the world, given the resources at your disposal?
This seemingly innocuous question is tremendously complicated. We intuitively agree that the more lives we save, the greater our impact. So where are there more lives to save? You may think “in the poorest neighbourhoods of Andalusia”, or “in India”, or “in a country at war”. All of these answers are acceptable, but, actually, where there are more lives to save is in the future.
Imagine that a new pandemic is coming, much worse than COVID19, capable of ending all of humanity. If we manage to stop it in time, we will not only be saving the almost 8 billion humans on the planet today. But we would be saving all those lives, plus those of the next generation, and the next, and all the lives that will come after.
And, if you’re not only concerned with the human species, but also with other animals, the reasoning is similar. The consumption of animal products in the world does not stop growing, and it is expected to increase in the coming decades. If you managed to do something today to change that trend, you would be helping to save the lives of billions of animals in the future.
So, back to the question: How can you have the greatest impact, given your resources? On the one hand, we could invest all our resources in reducing current poverty, but what if in 10 years humanity suffers from a horrible pandemic and all the people we managed to save from poverty die? On the other hand, if we invest all our resources in mitigating long-term catastrophic risks, we would be preventing billions of people from lifting themselves out of poverty today.
As you can see, the question gets more and more complicated. That is why there’s a whole movement of people around the world actively debating these issues called Effective Altruism, which I will talk about often.
In short, to try to find an effective way to improve the world, you have to delve into a lot of topics. On moral philosophy, economics, politics, environmental sciences… And astrophysics?
Astrophysics is a topic that everyone loves, but that no one understands. People often have some notion of the planets in the Solar System and know that there are many other stars and galaxies. But they often don’t have an accurate picture of the scale, origin, content, and fate of the Universe.
Understanding how brief and tiny our existence in space and time is, helps us to be more humble, to put everyday problems in perspective, and to open our minds to other problems. Problems that go beyond our own life, our family, our society or our species, and far beyond the present time.
Astrophysics, like many other areas of science, relies heavily on data analysis. Furthermore, while other areas are mostly based on experimentation, astrophysicists can’t touch what they study, but can only observe and analyze it from a distance. And observation is always affected by biases that must be corrected. For example, if you want to estimate how many stars there are in a certain region of space, you have to count the bright stars you can see, but you also have to estimate how many other stars there may be in the same region, but are so dim that you can’t see them. Often, it’s necessary to observe an object with different telescopes in order to get a complete image.
In this sense, altruism is similar. We need to observe and analyze a problem, whilst being aware of our own biases, to decide on the most appropriate solution. And we also need to look at the problem from different perspectives, in order to understand it in its whole context, and with all its nuances. However, while astrophysics cannot alter the fate of the stars, altruism is capable of changing the fate of humanity.
We live in a sea of digital noise, in which those who “scream” the most are those who dominate the conversation. And I think there are many important issues related to altruism that aren’t talked about enough, much less in Spanish (and even less with a timid Andalusian accent). On the other hand, astrophysics is simply a fascinating subject, one that I could talk about a lot. So why not mix themes of altruism with some questions about the universe, neutron stars, or dark matter?
My intention is to speak without irony or trends, but with data. Still, it’s likely that I’m wrong on some issues. But talking about these issues in public will be an effective way to learn from my mistakes. So I invite you to participate in the conversation, because I haven’t come here only to teach, but also to learn.
If you want, you can give the video a “like”, leave a comment and subscribe, to make the channel more visible. Or you can also write me a message. But if you don’t feel like doing any of these things, that’s okay. I have no intention of reaching the masses or making a profit from this content. The most viral I aspire to is for my second cousins to read me (hi Juan!).
What excites me is to genuinely connect with a few people. I’m not talking about Elon Musk, Jeff Goldblum or Dani Rovira. I’m talking about a person that arrives at Altruphysics, and after an episode, suddenly feels that something clicks in their mind, and decides, just as I did in October 2014, to make some changes in their life to try to improve the world a little bit. If you are that person, I’m very happy to connect with you: between you and I we will have double the impact. And if you’re not that person, then no worries, thank you very much for stopping by anyway, and I look forward to seeing you in the next episode of Altruphysics.