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Welcome to Less Wrong! (2010-2011)

42 Post author: orthonormal 12 August 2010 01:08AM
This post has too many comments to show them all at once! Newcomers, please proceed in an orderly fashion to the newest welcome thread.

Comments (796)

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Comment author: thomblake 19 August 2010 07:15:10PM 1 point [-]

However, it can feel really irritating to get downvoted, especially if one doesn't know why. It happens to all of us sometimes, and it's perfectly acceptable to ask for an explanation.

A note: Some of us disagree about the degree of acceptability of asking for explanations for downvotes, so your requests for explanations might also get downvoted.

Comment author: Ron_Fern 26 November 2011 06:25:20AM *  1 point [-]

So what if anything is the standard lesswrong approach to Nelson Goodman's grue problem? If there is any paradox I could imagine someone posing against LW, I would imagine it would be the Grue problem.

(damn down voters edit): Not that I think it would pose any real threat. Just curious, I'm sure LW has a brilliant solution. And if not it can def be made by assembling the bits of other posts. I would really like to know why this got down voted.

Comment author: KPier 26 November 2011 06:49:07AM 2 points [-]

There's a fair bit of discussion here, but I wouldn't say it's the standard approach to the problem. If you haven't read Occam's Razor or some of the stuff on hypothesis complexity, reading that might help.

Comment author: EJakobi 29 September 2011 06:38:42AM -2 points [-]

Hello Sirs and Mademoiselles. One of my many pseudonyms is Elijah Jakobi, and I have been directed toward this system of beautiful postings through (I believe) one of its members, certainly one of its followers, and due to my surplus of spare time (no redundancy intended), I have decided to become a member and speak what I see to those who are interested in listening (including myself). I suppose you may be interested in who I am, and what I may write about. I apologize if I may come off as rather vague or incomprehensible, but every single action that I take is refined, so to speak, through me, and I have thus no intent of being incomprehensible, although my use of language may indeed be rather sketchy at times, so bare through with me. I really don't care if you want to know who I am. This site is not a networking site for social horseplay, not for fun and games and inattentiveness, so I deduce my actual person is not an issue. I prefer that you pay attention to what I mean rather than what I say, and with that quality, perhaps we can come off as more of friends rather than bickering debaters. It seems to me that being sensitive is far more important than seeking out through manual probing some sort of fault, because it is through manual effort that we are so biased. The method we use is different, not our energy. Am I becoming rather vague? Perhaps I said exactly what I should have, which is not, it seems to me, something that should be over-complicated with the hypothetical constructs. Do I sound like some sort of particular group? I may, but I have arrived where I am on my own, not through some external guide. I have not studied any theory, nor have I subscribed to any. I do not identify as a rationalist. I identify, if at all, as human, I suppose, and without any sort of governmentally official education in any pool of theories. I shall not yet give out much personal information, my age and gender included. I am, however, open to guesses at it, as long as they are serious and well executed, the term “well” being the quality of mind over which the execution took place. Not very many people live well, it seems. I am living in the Pacific North-West, at a lantern lit cherry wood desk covered in the scrawl of yellowed paper note-taking and many pages of rather healthily done calligraphy of the most Chinese variety. も

Comment author: Normal_Anomaly 08 October 2011 09:58:04PM 1 point [-]

Welcome to Less Wrong!
Is English not your first language? You are having some difficulties with it. Studying writing will help you make yourself understood.

Comment author: MarkusRamikin 29 September 2011 08:05:46AM 4 points [-]

Not to make you feel unwelcome, but paragraphs are your friends. A little thing to remember if you want people to read what you say.

Comment author: dbaupp 29 September 2011 07:55:29AM 2 points [-]

I prefer that you pay attention to what I mean rather than what I say

How can we know what you mean other than through what you say?

Comment author: Emile 29 September 2011 07:32:03AM 6 points [-]

Welcome to LessWrong!

If you don't want all your posts to be downvoted to oblivion, you may want to switch to a less self-centered, ornate and verbose writing style. As a rule of thumb, nobody on the internet cares about you (generic "you") until given a reason to.

Comment author: analyticsophy 15 June 2011 02:47:54AM 1 point [-]

Hello Less Wrong.

I am a philosopher that is apparently concerned with precisely your mission statement. To improve the art of human rationality, I am here to help an be helped towards that aim

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 15 June 2011 02:59:34AM 0 points [-]


Can you be more specific about what you'd like to be doing differently?

Comment author: Saladin 13 August 2010 03:32:19PM 3 points [-]


I've only been checking this site for a short while and after reading all these interesting thoughts I posted something myself.

I'm interested in objective, rational thoughts about the ultimate reality of our existence (and Existence itself) and coming from a religious family - I also try to rationalize the notions I have about God.

I see that modal realism and Plantingas ontological argument don't go down well in here and I concur - by themselves they are underwhelmingly weak.

But what if You combine these two views, based one assumption alone - that Existence (whatever exactly it entails) has to be past eternal.

It's not an irrational belief - it's even possible by some theories. I posted something in that line (shouldn't be hard to find - there aren't many posts about God here) and I would very much appreciate any valid comments.

It's a simple theory, but I would very much appreciate some feedback. I have no idea if I'm talking rubbish or if it does make for a coherent logic.

Thanks in advance.

Saladin from Slovenia.

Comment author: Houshalter 14 August 2010 10:20:58PM 1 point [-]

Don't bring up you're religious beliefs here or you will be voted to hell, like me. Just saying, as I am sure this comment will cost me a few more votes X(

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 13 August 2010 03:44:12PM 3 points [-]

Tentatively offered--- check out Spinoza. He came to the conclusions that God is completely identical with everything that exists, and that everything is determined.

To put it mildly, Spinoza's God isn't what most people are looking for when they want a God.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 13 August 2010 07:39:13PM 3 points [-]
Comment author: Clippy 13 August 2010 07:43:04PM -2 points [-]

You shouldn't fight fire with fire either, but humans seem to use the term anyway...

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 13 August 2010 07:47:25PM 2 points [-]


Comment author: cousin_it 13 August 2010 03:38:44PM *  8 points [-]

Yep, looks like rubbish. Sorry.

In general, looking to justify your existing beliefs doesn't work. Say this to yourself: "If God exists, I want to believe that God exists. If God doesn't exist, I want to believe that God doesn't exist."

Comment author: Saladin 13 August 2010 03:47:32PM 1 point [-]

Well, it's not that I believe in a Posthuman God - but I do believe in a past eternal universe (multiverse, Existence,..).

"Believing" just in that is IMO a rational belief (until proven otherwise, of course).

Past eternity neccesarily leads to a kind of modal realism - all possible worlds are (or have been) real worlds.

If there is a possible world that allows for a God (to evolve) - then it is neccesarily true.

So the only guestion left is "is there a possible universe where God (-like entity) can evolve"?

That's complicated - but I noted one oversimplified idea that "might" show such a possibility.

i'd like to discuss this in more detail.

Comment author: cousin_it 13 August 2010 03:50:48PM *  3 points [-]

but I do believe in a past eternal universe

I cannot imagine what evidence you could have for such a belief.

Comment author: adsenanim 13 August 2010 04:39:22AM 1 point [-]

Hi All,

I'm here for the most part because of my interest in the idea of singularity and the mechanical relation of creating consciousness in a non-traditionally-organic form. I can't list here all of the books I've read on the subject, though I might be able to add a few to the list before I'm done, such as Piers Anthony's Macroscope (haven’t checked the list yet).

I would not call myself an atheist, but a sub-proselytized human with autodidactic qualities. I do not deny religion off hand, because of the correlation with the development of science, but, one of my main arguments is that humans are born without religion and science may be instinctual. (Again, haven’t read everything), I think that the idea of "God" is just taking abductive reasoning to an extreme.

I see Less Wrong as a form of Peckham Experiment of which I am a participant and an observer.

That said, I can tend to be short in my posts, but I will work on that.

I hope that if I say anything extraordinary, or, seem like I am delivering a failing interpretation of another work, that I will be checked out for it. (I can hear the Yoda voice now, "You Will Be"...)

Comment author: TerminalAwareness 04 November 2011 06:52:27PM *  3 points [-]

LessWrong community, I say hello to you at last!

I'm a first year chemical engineering student in Canada. At some point in time I was linked to The AI-Box Experiment by Yudkowsky, probably 3-1/2 years ago. I'm not sure. The earliest record I have, of an old firefox history file, is Wed Jun 25 20:19:56 ADT 2008. I guess that's when I first encountered rationality, though it may have been back when I used IE (shudders). I read a lot of his site, and occasionally visited it and againstbias. I though it was pretty complicated, and that I'd see more of that guy in my life. Years later, here I am.

One concern I have is whether or not I belong here. Sure, I like to learn on my own and do a lot of rationality-related stuff, but to accurately express how badly I am at rationality, I will compare my own abilities to most republican's ability to understand science. I don't think I'm particularly smart, on top. I argued with teachers and got a ~93% average in High School, though I like to think I understand things more than most students. I have not taken any formal IQ test, but I consistently score a mere 120 on online tests.

My motivation tends to be highly whimsical, and though I'm attempting to track myself on various fronts I keep failing. If I ever get addicted to a drug, I will never escape it. I have horrible dietary habits, though miraculously I have stayed lean enough. I don't exercise and constantly fail to realize how most people around me could kick my ass.

I've read about half the sequences, and taken notes on maybe 15%. I think Gwern's writing is not top-notch but always a pleasure to read. Methods of Rationality is a mediocre story by an author who isn't. It's not even in my top 20 fanfictions. Someday I'll actually send him some feedback, but I think it would all be ignored because he's trying make fanfiction something it isn't. To his credit, it worked much more than I though it would. Three worlds collide demonstrates to me that most of you don't understand the lack of ethics in this world - you should all accept that assimilation is the optimal solution.

On the other hand, I'd fight to the death and beyond to avoid it. I'm not ready to leave everything I am behind. I'm also not ready to sign up for cryogenics, and I have definitely heard all the arguments for it. My pathetic refutations are that I don't want to ruin my life trying to survive forever, I'd rather live a good life now, and that I expect either existence is such a cold, cruel place that civilization will fall soon, or other life will preserve my existence anyway. Possibly with time travel. Or just through everything happening, like in Greg Egan's novel Permutation City.

I think that's about all I can write today. I hope I don't make too many enemies here. Hope to get to know you all!

Comment author: Nectanebo 05 November 2011 12:29:14AM 3 points [-]

Welcome to LessWrong!

I would say that if you're interested in rationality, you belong here. It doesn't matter if you're not that good at it yet, as long as you're interested and want to improve then I would say this is where you should be.

Be careful of the priming effects of calling yourself bad at rationality, questioning your place here, saying you'll never escape a drug addiction, etc. etc. The article on cached selves might be somewhat relevant.

Comment author: thomblake 04 November 2011 07:03:22PM 2 points [-]

Three worlds collide demonstrates to me that most of you don't understand the lack of ethics in this world - you should all accept that assimilation is the optimal solution.

On the other hand, I'd fight to the death and beyond to avoid it.

This suggests to me that you don't understand ethics.

While I'm occasionally convinced of the existence of akrasia, it would be an odd thing to note that one fighting to the death was caused by it.

Comment author: thomblake 05 November 2011 08:14:46PM 1 point [-]

I'd just like to point out that recently someone asked (doubtfully) whether anyone here still has strong feelings regarding three worlds collide. It seems indeed to have a prominent place in the popular consciousness.

Comment author: yissar 03 December 2011 11:56:38AM 2 points [-]


I am Yissar, living and working out of the UK. I assert that the human condition has many flaws due to biases: cognitive, cultural, emotional, biological, behaviour, ethical.

I think and believe that dealing with the biases is the only way to solve the human condition and create a mind fot for the future. It is time for guided evolution.

Comment author: Abbey 11 November 2011 10:01:26AM *  0 points [-]

I am 29 and i am working as self empoyed and I am single high school graduate but also in teaching business I am from Ethiopia, East Africa. Anyone interested to get me any legal job in Australia please do so!

Comment author: David_Gerard 27 October 2010 11:31:09AM *  4 points [-]

Lured in by ciphergoth, who successfully irritated me into looking. Finally irritated into creating a login to comment on a post that wasn't listing its sources.

I also write a lot on RationalWiki, with subjects of local interest being the cryonics and LessWrong articles. Please remember that we love you really, we're just annoying about it.

Having given it some thought, I don't label myself "rationalist". "Whatever-works-ist" is probably more accurate. LessWrong's ambit claim upon the word "rationalist" is very irritating.

LessWrong irritating me seems good for me. Or productive, anyway. This may not be the same thing.

Comment author: Tomthefolksinger 23 August 2010 11:56:40PM 0 points [-]

Tom the Folksinger. My basic theory is "Everything is true in context". I'm still sorting context. Myspace.com/tomloud

Comment author: Optimind 10 December 2011 02:25:10AM *  5 points [-]

Greetings fellow user & producer of thoughts!

My parents named me Jonathan, I'm 20 and born in Copenhagen. I'm honored to find such a high quantity, high concentration of high quality minds. My dad (not very generous with compliments) told me recently that I've always been wierd, much more conscious about everything since very young. I'm also about the fastest learner I know of. Two major weaknesses would be that I'm mortal and my English is very unpracticed in terms of output. I value: Consciousness, Intelligence, Practicality, Good decision making, Well thought out ideals and sticking to them, Self-control - including the ability to control what I value, what feelings I have linked to which ideas, control of my mindsets and the ability to switch freely between them.

I woke up this morning after 3 hours of sleep (and no, aside from power naps I don't practice polyphasic sleep, yet.), I didn't feel the slightest bit nervous about going to the math exam, that I had only 2 days earlier, by chance, when tidying up my inbox realized I was registered on. The fact that I still hadn't read half of the math book for the semester which just inferred I would have to learn while being examined made me focused, not nervous.

But I'm so super extremely fantastically pleased to learn of the existence of lesswrong.com, that just minutes ago I was nervous about writing this.

After my exam I had a talk with my friend about my recent progress and obstacles in context of my life purpose, which would be fitting to present now I reckon.

Three ways of of naming it would be: The way to Universal Genius/The journey to becoming a 3rd millennium polymath/Self-development with no reason or intentions of limits on proportions.

It's my first candidate to something I find fully valid as a meaningful purpose of my life. It both feels more right and enjoyable than anything, but I think that is because it is backed by my reasoning (or rational thought). I won't go in depth with that unless there is interest (also since I'm assuming LW actually might be a place where others could've come to the same conclusion as me), but I'll touch my reasoning shortly.

All of which I do, I want to do optimally, my brain is my tool for doing so. I do not know the limits of either mine nor the brain in general, and therefore see only disadvantages in setting them for myself. If (insert whatever), I'll do that better with a better brain, so I better train that brain.

So to not make this a book length comment; I told my friend that epistemology was my current main objective to worry about. That led to him to suggest me to learn about Bayes statistics and referred me to LW to start learning about it.

Let the learning commence!

Comment author: beoShaffer 10 December 2011 04:08:36AM 4 points [-]

Hi, Optimind. I'd suggest starting with either An Intuitive explanation of Bayes Theorem or An Intuitive Explanation of Eliezer Yudkowsky’s Intuitive Explanation of Bayes’ Theorem. After that all of the sequences(except maybe the quantum mechanics one) are worth reading.

Comment author: Optimind 13 December 2011 12:54:13AM 1 point [-]

Thanks! Bayes theorem seems very useful, though I haven't gotten through it all yet. I'm not a good reader yet.

Have you got any idea how far is my goal from everybody elses in here?

Comment author: Bugmaster 13 December 2011 01:55:00AM 1 point [-]

FWIW, my own intuitive explanation of Bayes' Theorem -- which may be inaccurate and wrong -- usually begins somewhat like this:

Let's say that, one morning, you walk outside your front door, and immediately slip in a puddle of water and twist your ankle. Did CIA agents put the puddle there just to hurt you ? Well, according to the theorem,

a). That's the wrong question to ask; a better question is, "how likely is it that CIA agents made that puddle ?"
b). To answer that question, you need to keep in mind that puddles can happen for all kinds of reasons (rain, sprinklers, etc.), not just due to the machinations of CIA agents.

Of course, no intuitive explanation is a substitute for math...

Comment author: gwern 12 August 2010 06:32:32AM 5 points [-]

A note for theists: you will find LW overtly atheist. We are happy to have you participating, but please be aware that other commenters are likely to treat religion as an open-and-shut case. This isn't groupthink; we really, truly have given full consideration to theistic claims and found them to be false. If you'd like to know how we came to this conclusion you may find these related posts a good starting point.

An objective standard might be good here. I'd suggest something like 'if your theist arguments aren't roughly as sophisticated and carefully reasoned as those of Alvin Plantinga, you probably shouldn't bring them up'.

Comment author: Xece 04 September 2011 12:02:35AM 6 points [-]

Hello there,

I am a 16-year-old high school student in Vancouver, Canada. I discovered Less Wrong several months ago through HP:MoR, which deeply captured my interest. After finishing the then released chapters, I knew I wanted to learn more. Upon reading the sequences, I felt enlightened. I discovered a new way of thinking, of making decisions that would benefit myself and others more. I delved through articles and eventually started to use Anki, learning fallacies and cognitive biases. As a result, I am more mentally organized, I am doing better in school (especially in being able to express and back up opinions), and generally feeling that life makes more sense.

Much of my thinking has already been affected by my father, a teacher of Philosophy and Western politics (he teaches in China). By that I mean I've been introduced to quite a few well known problems of morals and paradoxes alike (Trolley Problem, Zeno, etc). I feel after discovering Less Wrong I am able to have a better view of these problems.

What I am most interested in are the subjects of math, logic, and computer programming. One of my personal goals is to help others understand rationality as well. Despite this, I occasionally dabble in the Dark Arts, but only within class debates (where you are, of course, expected to choose a side).

From Less Wrong, I hope to further develop my thinking, making better choices for myself, others, and helping others make better choices as well. From that, live a better life in general.

Comment author: lessdazed 04 September 2011 12:19:40AM 1 point [-]


Upon reading the sequences, I felt enlightened.

Careful now.

I am doing better in school


(especially in being able to express and back up opinions)

Tangentially relevant. I think I used to overestimate the importance of this.

Comment author: a_mshri 17 September 2011 09:40:41PM *  7 points [-]


My name is Ali and I'm 24 year-old. I graduated in software engineering and currently, I'm in second year of Master of Science in Artificial Intelligence. Machine learning is my primary interest; however, I am extremely enthusiastic about other subfields of AI, cognitive science, psychology, physics and biology. I love to learn the assembly code fragments underlying high level processes in the universe and to see how complexities are decomposed into simple components by science.

Being born in a religious country, my first steps in the way of rationalism began by questioning the religious beliefs in my adolescence. Since then, I learned to live with probabilities, evidences and explanations.

I found Less Wrong by searching about singularity. I'm sure there is a lot here for me to learn, but I hope someday I'll be able to contribute.

(English is not my first language, so I apologize for any error in my writing. :D)

Comment author: [deleted] 08 November 2011 08:44:27PM 8 points [-]

Hi All!

Generic Stats: 28 year-old Ohioan; Found LW through HPMoR, and lurked for a while, but finally created a profile after filling out the survey; BA in History. Was halfway through an MS in Human Factors Engineering when I got divorced and couldn't afford it any more. Don't plan on going back in the near future, but I did manage to get published during my time in grad school, which was pretty nifty.

I grew up with Easter-and-Christmas Roman Catholicism, though I also got a bit of Judaism from my dad (a Soviet emigrant). Got more heavily into Christianity in my teens, which lead to becoming an atheist when I was around 17.

I am sensitive to feminist concerns about what our culture teaches young girls, as I fell victim to it myself: I had a complete disregard for science and math, despite a very high aptitude for them. It wasn't until I self-studied my way back through math for my engineering requirements that I actually internalized the belief that I was good at this. The general "Not-Getting-It-ness" of many commenters in regards to gender issues tended to turn me away from LW at first, but there is a lot of good stuff here, besides.

About me personally: I enjoy Joss Whedon, TED talks, and Neil Gaiman. I am devoted to my dog, Gryffindor, and he has been with me for 11 years. I work primarily in child care and enjoy imparting nuggets of rationality to my kiddos in ways that don't conflict with the family's world views (I have a tendency to work for extremely conservative religious families ranging from Mormons to New Earthers). I am poly, and enjoyed seeing some of that represented here. I have had an insane amount of crazy hobbies ranging from medieval re-creation to bharatanatyam (Classical Indian dancing)

Comment author: J_Taylor 09 November 2011 12:08:46AM 4 points [-]

If it would not be inconvenient to you, could you unpack what you mean by "Not-Getting-It-ness"? That is, specific examples that you find problematic?

If you would prefer not do this, could you recommend a source that would assist in understanding the method you used to arrive at this result? That is, a source that would allow one to understand the cognitive-algorithm that produces the result "Not-Getting-It"?

Comment author: [deleted] 10 November 2011 12:51:56AM *  1 point [-]

could you recommend a source that would assist in understanding the method you used to arrive at this result?

Of course! I tend to agree with orthonormal - in writings by men, women are often talked about as the "Other" and not the audience.

EY has written a similar argument . But then in this piece, he makes multiple accusations that women tend to talk about men as "Other" without ever providing any sort of evidence to back it up. He just takes it as some obvious de facto truth that doesn't even need justification. I personally was put off at this.

Some more good ones to read include this argument which mentions that you shouldn't forget the historical context/ culture that people are coming into these discussions from, and this piece, which posits that the essence of the "Taking Offense" is a percieved lowering of social status.

I also recommend a quick perusal of the comments therein.

From my personal experience, one of the early things I did upon finding Less Wrong (after some explorations in the sequences) was to click on the tags of subjects I was interested in (gender, social, etc). Somehow, a vast majority of the articles' comment sections ended up devolving into repetitive arguments about PUA. Looking back, this was probably due to my navigating by clicking on links within the article I was already reading, which lead me to stay within a subject range that could devolve into PUA discussions, and not so much that PUA is in fact mentioned in the vast majority of posts. My opinions on this (although probably more positive than you would expect of an average female) are a whole different subject which I can expound upon if need be, but I assume that you could guess how a female would feel when she goes to a blog supposedly about rationality, and all the comments are about PUA.

Finally, I would like you to imagine yourself as the only male in a Women's Studies class. Even if the language always remains respectful and your classmates encourage your participation, I'm sure you can visualize many respectful debates where you would get frustrated that the other members of your class just don't "Get It"...LW is a similar situation, just with the genders reversed.

I would like to mention that I have in fact been the only female in engineering classes, and would like to point out that any time your race/gender/belief system is in the vast minority, there is bound to be additional pressure there. My views on that subject best summed up by these comics .

Finally, I would like to comment that in my introduction, I was operating in a social interaction mode (aka I was posting in a "Introduce Yourself" thread (social interaction), not a "Let's Have A Rational Discussion" thread (factual/debating interaction). Even a polite request (such as the one made) to rationalize my feelings would not be acceptable in most social spheres outside of LW. (unless the claim I made was completely outside reality, such as "I was driven away by the intense focus of the LW community on ice cream." In which case a "Say whaaat?" is a completely acceptable response, lol) Here it is de rigeur. I wouldn't be surprised if this also tended to draw away many women. (And I would like to clarify that I am not trying to attack you personally at all, I am just using your response as an example of the LW culture.)

Comment author: J_Taylor 04 December 2011 07:30:26AM *  1 point [-]

Sorry for not responding to this sooner. Thank you for explaining your view. I have only two statements to make.

  • Apologies for failing to abide by the relevant norms of conversation. (This is not sarcasm. Without body language, it is hard to demonstrate this. However, perhaps I can express myself better with this photograph of a chimpanzee.)


If I were to anthropomorphize, the chimp would be thinking the chimp equivalent of "D'oh."

  • After the recent romance thread (which was not qualitatively worse than the previous threads), stating that Lesswrong has a "Not-Getting-It-ness" with regards to gender is perhaps something of an understatement.


If I were to anthropomorphize this chimp, the chimp would be thinking the chimp equivalent of "Really, folks? Really?"

Comment author: Optimind 18 April 2013 04:00:27AM 1 point [-]

Even a polite request (such as the one made) to rationalize my feelings would not be acceptable in most social spheres outside of LW."

I realize this post is quite old, but there's clearly a norm of conversation I'm not understanding. I don't want to cross peoples boundaries, but I have a hard time understanding them.

Could you be so kind to explain to me why one would be offended by that?

Comment author: [deleted] 10 November 2011 12:54:23AM -1 points [-]

PS- I really which there were a "Preview" button, or a way to edit posts in Not-A-Tiny-Text-Box.

I'll be doing some editing now, but it will only be clarity, not content. :)

Comment author: Nornagest 10 November 2011 12:56:44AM 3 points [-]

Chrome lets you edit the size of its textboxes by dragging the lower right corner. Don't know if the same goes for any other browsers.

Comment author: [deleted] 10 November 2011 01:17:35AM 1 point [-]

Oh, wow! That's super-helpful! Thanks!

Comment author: Desrtopa 10 November 2011 12:58:40AM 1 point [-]

You can do it in Firefox, but I didn't realize this until you pointed it out just now.

Comment author: abamf 23 September 2011 04:17:34AM 9 points [-]

Hello all, I'm a 17 year old High School senior. I discovered Less Wrong through the author page at HP:MoR. I had considered myself a rational person for some time, but the Sequences here have really opened my eyes to the glaring errors I was making as a Traditional Rationalist. Consequently, this site has already changed my life for the better and I really just want to thank all the main contributors here. Thank You!

Also, I am looking to Major in Cognitive Science in college and any suggestions as to good schools to apply would be appreciated, along with any advice as to reading or preparation I should do before entering this field.

Comment author: moe 19 October 2011 10:14:57PM *  13 points [-]

Hello all,

I've been following discussions on LW for about 6 months now and have been urged by another member of the community to join in commenting. I've been hesitant to join, but now that I've moved to a state in which I don't know a soul, I'm finding myself reading discussions here more than usual.

I think participation in LW can help me do things better at my job (and in life generally). Discussion here seems a good resource for testing out and working through ideas in a non-combative, but rigorous setting.

My field is evolutionary biology and I recently have spent a lot of time thinking about:

1) Whether people "trained" in the sciences believe they are inherently more objective and clear thinking than those in other fields, and as a consequence do not work hard to make sure their thinking and communication IS clear and objective. I'm not sure that all people receiving a science education are actually well trained to think empirically (I include my own education here), but a degree in science gives them the impression that they are.

2) What are the obstacles to understanding evolutionary biology? I find that students, after having taken an evolutionary biology course, STILL fundamentally don't understand. This makes me despair of the general public ever accepting the evolutionary theory that provides them with medical treatment and forensic science.

I'd be interested in discussing the various obstacles to understanding evolution and thinking up streamlined solutions for helping public audiences, high school teachers and undergraduates in particular to overcome those obstacles. Some I've identified in undergraduate classes are:

  • Field specific language that means something totally different in everyday use. Fellow newcomer JesseGalef's post on overcoming the curse of knowledge is relevant.

  • Students don't have a working knowledge of probability, stochastic processes, distributions, and variance.

  • Students can't distinguish between characteristics/predictability of an individual and characteristics/predictability of a distribution.

-Students have trouble considering non-additive effects/interactions.

-Previous miseducation. People have had a cartoonish and inaccurate concept of evolution pounded into their brains by many media sources both friendly and unfriendly to science. Search "Evolution" under Google image and you'll see what I mean.

Anyway. If there's interest, I suppose I'll be around.

Comment author: KPier 30 May 2011 10:22:19PM 23 points [-]

Hello Less Wrong!

I'm 16, female, and a senior in high school. Before I started reading here, I was not particularly interested in math, science, or rationality (which I had never really heard of). I stumbled on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality in October, and fell in love immediately. I read through the whole story in one night, and finally made the leap to Less Wrong during Eliezer's hiatus.

I started on Less Wrong by reading Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions and within three posts I realized that, for the first time in my life, I was surrounded by people significantly smarter than me. Some people would probably have been excited about that; I was terrified. I promised myself that I wouldn't post - wouldn't even create an account, to avoid the temptation of posting - until I had read all the sequences and understood everything everyone said.

In retrospect, that may have been setting the bar a little too high for myself, especially since seven more sequences were added while I was reading. I eventually revised my standard to "I will not comment until I'm sure I actually have something to add to a discussion, and until I understand the things I have read well enough to explain them convincingly to 4 of my friends."

The fact that I had to set all of those hurdles for myself just to have the self-confidence to create an account probably tells you a little about myself - I'm not ordinarily insecure, but I was so excited to find something like this I was very worried about "messing it up". I've now read about 90% of the sequences and 98% of everything posted on Less Wrong in the last few months, and understood almost all of it (the quantum physics and decision theory sequences still confuse me). I'm not sure "read everything before you start to contribute" is generally a good guideline for new visitors, but for me it was perfect. I changed my mind about a lot of important things along the way - if there's enough interest, I may discuss this in a post about exposing more teenagers to rationality.

So, thank you all for this great site! I hope I'll be able to contribute.

Comment author: tomme 14 March 2012 08:14:10PM 5 points [-]

Hi there,

I am a high school senior who is interested in science, particularly in natural sciences. One day I hope to further our understanding of...well, anything you can think of!

My lifestyle, which I adopted after carefully analyzing my goals, is pretty spartan: I eat a strict diet, I exercise often, I only read certain things and so forth.

I discovered the transhumanist movement a few months ago. I have decided to join lesswrong.com because I think that I stand to learn a lot from this community and, maybe, even bring something to the table.

Comment author: Bugmaster 14 March 2012 08:21:02PM 1 point [-]

I only read certain things

What kinds of things, out of curiosity, and why do you read them and not other things ?

Comment author: tomme 14 March 2012 08:38:03PM *  2 points [-]

Nonfiction because: my faulty brain sometimes mistakes fiction for reality(e.g., I used to believe that Santa is real) and cognitive economy - there is a finite amount of knowledge I can store, so I would rather make sure it's accurate, truthful, useful knowledge.

Comment author: Bugmaster 14 March 2012 08:48:35PM 1 point [-]

Nonfiction because: my faulty brain sometimes mistakes fiction for reality...

In this case, how do you know what is fiction (and therefore you shouldn't read it) and what is not (and therefore you should read it) ?

and cognitive economy - there is a finite amount of knowledge I can store, so I must be sure that it is accurate knowledge.

Can you elaborate ? I'm curious about the topic because I've heard this statement from several of my friends, but I can't quite wrap my head around it.

In the interests of full disclosure, I personally do read fiction: primarily because I find it enjoyable, but also because it sometimes enables me to communicate (and receive) ideas much more effectively than nonfiction (f.ex., HPMoR).

Comment author: Incorrect 14 March 2012 08:53:48PM 2 points [-]

Can you elaborate ? I'm curious about the topic because I've heard this statement from several of my friends, but I can't quite wrap my head around it.


New memories can interfere with the recall of old ones if they are similar.

That doesn't necessarily mean fiction is likely to cause problems.

Comment author: Crouching_Badger 14 March 2012 01:05:27AM *  4 points [-]

Hello, my name is Brett, and I am an undergraduate student at the University of North Texas, currently studying in the Department of Anthropology. In this semester, my classmates and I have been tasked with conducting an ethnographic study on an online community. After reading a few posts and the subsequent comments, LessWrong seemed like a great community on which to conduct an ethnography. The purpose of this study is to identify the composition of an online community, analyze communication channels and modes of interaction, and to glean any other information about unique aspects of the LessWrong community.

For this study I will be employing two information gathering techniques. The first of which will be Participant Observation, where I will document my participation within the community in attempts to accurately describe the ecosystem that comprises LessWrong. The second technique will be two interviews held with members of the community, where we will have a conversation about communication techniques within the community, the impact the community has had on the interviewees, and any other relevant aspects that may help to create a more coherent picture of the community.

It is at this point that I would like to ask for volunteers who would like to participate in the interview portion of the study. The interview will take from forty-five minutes to an hour and a half, and will be recorded using one of several applicable methods, such as audio recording or textual logs, depending on the medium of the interview. If there are any North Texas area members who would like to participate, I would like to specifically invite you to a face-to-face interview, as it would be most temporally convenient, though I am also available to use Skype, one of any other voice-based, online communication systems or the telephone to communicate.

If you are interested in participating, please send me a PM expressing your interest. If there are any questions or comments about the nature of the study, my experience with Anthropology, or anything else, please feel free to reply and create discourse. Thank you for your time.

Comment author: UngnsCobra 10 March 2012 06:02:09PM 5 points [-]


I'm a 3rd year Economics Undergrad student at the University of Glasgow. I found LessWrong, by reading a Profile on Peter Thiel, my interest are: economics (obviously, used to be macro but now gearing towards more experimental area's.) philosophy, mostly stoic; not Seneca etc but Aurelius 'Meditations', history of maths and risk. Financial markets to an extent, but it's not something I'm pursuing religiously. I have always been interested in self-development but though that the literature would need to be seriously scrutinized, so I'm very happy that I found this place. Singularity, from a economic point of view. Transhumanism is something I find extremely interesting combined with Cognitive enhancement at the moment, I'm still mapping the territory of it.

Cheers / UngnsCobra

Comment author: Mass_Driver 10 March 2012 06:39:35PM 3 points [-]

Welcome to Less Wrong! Your interests sound interesting. What does it mean to look at the Singularity from an economic point of view?

Comment author: UngnsCobra 11 March 2012 02:15:42PM 2 points [-]

I'm fairly new to singularity etc. but from what I have read so far. Looking at singularity as a if scenario through Brain Emulation's (uploading). How would this affect the economy regarding, emplyment, growth etc. So far I have found papers looking at economics of singularity from Robin Hanson. I'm struggling finding other source's so I would be very grateful if someone would like to contribute.

Comment author: gwern 11 March 2012 06:20:46PM *  2 points [-]

I don't really know of any myself. It's hard to do economics about such divergent and unclear scenarios, and economists typically do them as jokes (eg. Paul Krugman's paper on investing in a relativistic time travel framework). And there seem to be penalties - that Hanson paper from 2008 still has not been published 4 years later, for example.

Comment author: UngnsCobra 11 March 2012 09:19:27PM 1 point [-]

(To gwern and Will_Newsome) Haha that's great, it's a somewhat juvenile undertone in Krugman's writing in this paper. that's exactly the kind of paper's i'm looking for - paper's that are something of a outlier in the field of economics, if any other paper's come's to mind in the same direction it would be appreciated.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 11 March 2012 06:49:46PM 5 points [-]

For those who are interested.

This paper, then, is a serious analysis of a ridiculous subject, which is of course the opposite of what is usual in economics.

Comment author: Balofsky 01 March 2012 01:57:42AM 2 points [-]


I'm Balofsky (keeping first name blank), and I am a 24 year old undergraduate student in St. Paul, Minnesota. Interests include anything liberal art-ish, Judaism, politics and memorizing random facts I'll probably never need in real life.

Comment author: beoShaffer 01 March 2012 02:27:58AM 1 point [-]

I'll probably never need in real life.

Have you tried Anki?

Comment author: dxCUDA 28 February 2012 11:49:38AM *  4 points [-]

Greetings, I'm Simon, 23, I study Bsc Computer Games Technologies, currently focusing on rendering pipelines and AI. My scientific interests include physics, computer science and, 3D rendering techniques(C++ is my weapon of choice).



Comment author: [deleted] 26 February 2012 05:37:24PM 5 points [-]

My name is not Stuart David. I use a pseudonym online as a means to completely sidestep the issue being branded with a view I don't necessarily hold but have simply argued for or posted about. I am also an extremely private person and wish to remain so.

I am in my mid 20s and I am still working on my B.S. in Physics. On and Off university for the past few years. I have been involved in the promotion of reason, science and skepticism via CFI (Center for Inquiry) and I have personally pursued rationality for the past 10 years or so. Preferred activities in my life are learning, debate, philosophical inquiry, science, history, politics and chess.

I am a consequentialist morally with the fundamental value of well being/human flourishing to be maximized. I am deeply committed to science and reason and strive to build my life around this. Needless to say I do not believe in supernatural things. I am also a determinist and I am skeptical of a persistent self.

My aim in joining this site is to tap into what seems to be a remarkably brilliant brain pool and post articles of my own so they can be destroyed if they can. I have read some of the sequences on this site but I had to put that on hold for different reasons I intend over time to become more and more familiar with this and eventually start a meet up group. I already have a weekly meet up group dedicate to philosophy, science, rationality and debate that has been going for over 5 years so It would just be a matter of incorporating more and more less wrong content into our activities.

Thank you and I look forward to interacting with you.

Comment author: pedanterrific 27 February 2012 05:31:41AM 2 points [-]

Wow, that must be some kind of record.

Comment author: Gunrunnermusic 20 February 2012 11:55:10PM 5 points [-]

Hi my name is Krish Sharma. I am a recording record producer and recording engineer, with several small music-related businesses. I have degrees in economics and computer science, but as far as music I am self-taught. I feel a strong connection to the idea of the pursuit of human rationality, but many times feel I lack the processing power to really make sense of our environment on my own. In my ad-hock voyage through the information biosphere I have felt at times very discouraged by the general "triumph of irrationality". For the most part my internal solution has been to point out inconsistencies in data or logic where I see them and also, especially in business dealings, pay special attention to avarice-connected misrepresentations. Going forward, however, I hope to move on from this reactionary approach and develop my own set of paradigms and worldviews. Instead of merely understanding what I don't believe, I want to understand what I do believe. I am hoping to achieve not only a clearer and more nuanced picture of the environment in which I live, but also a greater connection to it.

I hope to be a constructive addition to any discussions I participate in here.

Comment author: [deleted] 17 February 2012 12:03:21AM 2 points [-]

Hello. I'm Michael. I'm an English major, still in undergrad, but my passion is library science. I'm not as big on research as I am on systems of research and information exchange. I prefer work to thought but I don't like mindless labor either, so I've tried to squeeze into the narrows of academic librarianship, hoping for a happy medium where I can do something that helps people learn and keeps me from growing unread and "set in my ways."

I'm only stopping here because it's the next interesting, "honest" place I've come across and I want to extract what I can from it and enjoy the community for a while. I used to be a southern Christian who did not really respond to reality in anyway. I knew that one was suppose to "believe" in this truth or that truth, but the idea of belief corresponding to some reality never occurred to me until I ran afoul of a Kent Hovind seminar and was forced to reconcile beliefs to reality.

I've lurked and read here and there on Less Wrong and Overcoming Bias. I know already it's a community of extreme intensity which I like. I've no predictions so I'm just going to enjoy it while I can.

Comment author: Deanushka 05 February 2012 11:36:05PM 2 points [-]

Hi, I am Dean

I am a software developer with many years experience in web based design and development. I think of myself as a ideas person and am deeply interested in AGI. My only real experience is that of research such as reading and youtube so I am something of an armchair AI investigator. I have a few ideas of my own and hope to contribute one day.

Look forward to interacting with you all in a positive way.

Regards, Dean

Comment author: rlp10 02 February 2012 08:01:29PM 5 points [-]

Hi, I'm Richard. I'm a lawyer, practising in Norwich, England. I've been 'lurking' on lesswrong, and working my way through the sequences, for some time.

I have an interest in technology, and particularly open source projects. For example, I'm writing this right now in Emacs.

I hope I will be able to contribute positively to this community, which has certainly already helped me a great deal.

Comment author: LaisteBreen 01 February 2012 06:30:22PM 2 points [-]

Hi, I'm Laiste. I have been on a inner search to find myself, my meaning, my life..my happiness. I have found so many people speak in ways that make no sense to me - overly positive, self deceptive and the list goes on and on. In my search for understanding, I happened along this site, and for the first time, what I am reading, I GET. I do not hold any degrees or formal education, but my mind is my greatest asset. I am very much interested in many of the articles as it all relates to lifes journeys, but what brought me here was "The Science of Winning at Life"

Comment author: purplerabbits 19 January 2012 06:04:20PM 17 points [-]

Hi, I'm Alison - I used to be a professional tarot reader and astrologer in spite of having a (fairly average) science degree. I recovered from that over 15 years ago and feel it would be valuable for more people to understand how I came to do it and how I changed my mind. I am also a 45 year old woman, which makes me feel in a tiny minority on LW.

I've been reading large chunks of the sequences for the last year, as well as books like Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear and a bunch of rationalist blogs (and been thoroughly sucked into HPMOR).

Topics I'm particularly interested in include day to day rationality, tackling global warming, rationality from the perspective of people with mental health issues and tackling irrationality while maintaining polite and less arrogant discourse.

Comment author: [deleted] 03 February 2012 03:04:22PM 5 points [-]

Hi Alison! Welcome to LessWrong! I'm always happy to see people who are interested in maintaining politeness on here.

I have a friend who is a professional psychic/ magician/ tarot reader, and he is extremely rational (uses cold reading and builds technology stuff for tricks.). I don't think you necessarily have to give the profession up if it's something you enjoy. So long as you don't fall prey to the trap of believing your own schtick.

I would love to hear your story of how you came to change your mind!

Glad to have you here!

Comment author: juliawise 02 February 2012 09:07:03PM 2 points [-]

tackling irrationality while maintaining polite and less arrogant discourse

I'm with you! There's quite a culture divide between "win the argument" and "get along", and since I spend more time in the latter camp, Less Wrong was unpalatable for me at first.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 03 February 2012 04:14:23PM 2 points [-]

There's also "point out errors", which is different from "win the argument".

Comment author: rlp10 02 February 2012 08:08:26PM 3 points [-]

I used to be a professional tarot reader and astrologer

May I ask, at that time did you thoroughly believe that you were actually able to predict the future?

Also, with the benefit of hindsight, do you consider yourself to have used the dark arts?

Comment author: tylercurtain 28 December 2011 04:12:36PM 7 points [-]

Hi, all. My name is Tyler Curtain. I am a theorist with the Department of English and Comparative Literature at UNC Chapel Hill. My training is in computer science (undergrad and grad) and English (grad). I teach graduate and undergraduate courses in theory, as well as courses in science fiction and fantasy. My research interests include philosophy of biology, evolutionary theories of language, linguistics, philosophy of language, and theoretical computer science.

It ain't your professor's humanities any more. The world has shifted.

Comment author: kmdouglass 26 December 2011 03:45:01AM 5 points [-]

Hello everyone, I'm a 27 year old graduate student pursuing a degree in optics from the University of Central Florida. I perform experimental research in optical sensing of biological and random materials. Though I enjoy my research, I'm more interested in the philosophy of science. By philosophy of science I mean the framework of logical structures that scientists use to identify problems and arrive at solutions. Most of my colleagues, myself included, received no formal education of this type; rather, our educations were limited to the theory and application of the hard sciences while it was assumed that we would develop a framework for rational thought as a consequence. However, I see many working scientists fail to employ rational thought, especially in the lab, and I believe the inclusion of this topic in engineering and science curricula would better prepare students for graduate and industrial work.

I feel that a brief history of how I came to understand rationality would help describe who I am. I first became attuned, so to speak, to rationalism when I read Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals in college. I was raised protestant but throughout my life had felt no affinity for the Christian world view. However, growing up in rural Ohio afforded me no other mode of thinking. GoM's criticism of ascetics, along with increasingly frequent encounters with liberal thought in college, led me to embrace my skepticism for the first time.

I read Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance my first year in graduate school. I've since read it twice more and, while I still can't claim to fully understand Pirsig's message, mark it as a major influence on my thinking, especially on practical problem solving.

The most recent event in my maturation as a rationalist is the discovery of both this blog and Julia and Jesse Galef's Measure of Doubt. Though it seems a bit silly now, I honestly didn't realize that other people thought the same way I did. It's quite refreshing to learn that whole communities of like-minded people exist when one has been more-or-less secluded from them their entire life.

Aside from my interests in philosophy and science, I find environmentalism fascinating and feel morally obligated to make environmentally conscious decisions. I like to travel, rock climb, bicycle, cook, and brew beer. I'm happy to share more and am looking forward to learning from others on this blog.

Comment author: [deleted] 26 December 2011 03:56:08AM 1 point [-]

Do you do any photoacoustic tomography, or is your work purely optical? I'm a math grad student in that area.

I'm also from Ohio, the Cincinnati area. Hi!

Comment author: kmdouglass 26 December 2011 01:12:30PM 1 point [-]

No, I do not do any work in that area, though I am vaguely familiar with it, having attended a few talks on the subject. However, the mathematics of solving the associated inverse problem is extremely relevant to the type of work that I do.

It's great to meet another Ohioan. I was just driving through Cincinnati a few days ago.

Cheers, -kmd

Comment author: Sush 24 December 2011 04:28:31PM *  5 points [-]

Hi everyone, I've been following this site for a long time and I really feel like it's had a huge impact on me, if not just because I've discovered a huge community of people who seem to have the answers to the questions I've always been asking myself (or at least the cognitive apparatus for reaching them!)


I'm a 20 year old male from the UK and have been working for two years in a private hospital with the aged, terminally ill and cancer sufferers. The job requires me to work 12-14 hours a day with little human contact other than with patients and nursing staff which gives me an enormous amount of time to just think about things and debate things through rationally by myself. I'm almost obsessive in my fascination over the mechanics of thought and why I think the way I think, or like the things I like, and am constantly asking myself whether I'm decieving myself or whether I really believe what I think I believe. Finding so many people in this community who have constructed various models for analysing that way of thinking and expressed them so eloquently has given me such confidence and really renewed my enthusiasm for "staying in the desert" of thought that can sometimes turn into a very scary place.

Where'd I find this place?

You know I can not remember at all where I found LessWrong, I can only guess that an article I read somewhere on the internet mentioned in briefly and that in the following moment the idea that my curiosity will always reward me proved itself true.

If I could add anything else it would be to say that I'm keen to learn from everyone here and hopefully one day meet your standards for living up to the virtues that I hold dear.

Anyway I hope my introduction didn't make me sound too weird or anything...

Comment author: Stabilizer 14 December 2011 05:31:15AM *  23 points [-]

Hey everbody,

I'm a PhD Student in Physics. I came across Lesswrong when I read Eliezer's interview with John Baez. I was very intrigued by his answers: especially with his idea that the world needs to understand rationality. I identify with rationalism and especially with Lesswrong, because it just clicked. There were so many things in the world which people accepted and which I knew were just plain wrong. And before I found Lesswrong, I was a frustrated mess. And when I found Lesswrong it was a breath of fresh air.

For example: I was a pretty good debater in college. So in order to be a better debater, I started reading more about logical fallacies, which are common in argument and debate, such as ad hominem, slippery slope, appeal to authority etc . And the more I learnt about these, the more I saw that these were exactly the techniques common in debate. I was forced to conclude that debating was not about reaching the truth, but about proving the other person wrong. The people in debating circles were very intelligent; but very intelligent in a useless (and maybe harmful) way. They were scarcely interested in the truth. They could take any argument, twist it, contort it, appeal to emotions and use every fallacy listed in a beautiful way to win. And moreover, that was the exactly the kind of person I was becoming. In retrospect, it's clear to me that I got into debating only out of desire for status and not for any actual interest in the truth. But as soon as I saw what I was becoming, I walked away. I guess, the kernel of honesty left in me from being a student of physics rescued me in the end.

Second example: One of the first articles that really brought me into reading major portions of Lesswrong was the article on Doublethink by Eliezer. So when I was going through a phase of depression, I thought that religion held the key. Now, I did not believe in any kind of spiritual god or any spiritual structure whatsoever. But my family is extremely religious and I saw the happiness they got from religion. So I tried. I tried to convince myself that religion has a very important social function and saves people from anomie and depression. I tried to convince myself that one could be religious and yet not believe in god. I tried to go through all the motions of my religion. Result? Massive burnout. My brain was going to explode in a mass of self-contradiction. That post by Eliezer really helped me. There's a line in there:

The happiness of stupidity is closed to you. You will never have it short of actual brain damage, and maybe not even then... You cannot unsee what you see.

As I read these lines, I literally felt a huge wave of relief sweep over me. I wasn't going to be happy with religion. Period. I wasn't going to be happy with self-deception. Period. And I knew I had finally found people who 'got it'.

So that was a glimpse of how and why I got interested in Lesswrong. I'm reading the Sequences and looking around these days. I hope to start posting soon. And also attend LW meetups in my city.

I'm deeply interested in ideas from evolutionary psychology, neuroscience, computer science and of course physics! I work broadly on quantum information theory.



Comment author: Swimmer963 12 January 2012 04:27:24PM *  4 points [-]

Welcome, Stabilizer!

So I tried. I tried to convince myself that religion has a very important social function and saves people from anomie and depression. I tried to convince myself that one could be religious and yet not believe in god. I tried to go through all the motions of my religion. Result? Massive burnout. My brain was going to explode in a mass of self-contradiction.

Interesting that you say this...I haven't had the same experience at all. I was raised basically agnostic/atheist, by parents who weren't so much disapproving of religion as indifferent. I started going to church basically because I made friends with a girl who I had incredibly fun times hanging out with and who was also a passionate born-again Christian. I knew that most of the concepts expressed in her evangelical Christian sect were fallacious, but I met a lot of people whose belief had allowed them to overcome difficult situations and live much happier lives. Even if true belief wasn't an option for me, I could see the positive effect that my friend's church had, in general, in the community it served. And I was a happier, more positive, and more generous person while I attended the group. There was a price to pay: either I would profess my belief to the others and feel like I was lying to a part of myself, or I wouldn't, and feel like ever-so-slightly an outsider. But maybe because of my particular brain architecture, the pain of cognitive dissonance was far outweighed by the pleasure of having a ready-made community of kind, generous (if not scientific-minded) people eager to show me how welcoming and generous they could be. I have yet to find something that is as good for my mental health and emotional stability as attending church.

That being said, a year of not attending church and reading LessWrong regularly has honed my thinking to the point that I don't think I could sit back and enjoy those church services anymore. So that avenue is closed to me now, too.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 12 January 2012 05:28:04PM 3 points [-]

For what it's worth, it depends a lot on the church service: I know quite a few very sharp thinkers whose church membership is an important and valuable part of their lives in the way you describe. But they are uniformly members of churches that don't demand that members profess beliefs.

One gentleman in particular gave a lay sermon to his church on Darwin's birthday one year about how much more worthy of admiration a God who arranges the fundamental rules of the universe in such a way that intelligent life can emerge naturally out of their interaction, than is a God who instead must clumsily go in and manually construct intelligent life, and consequently how much more truly worshipful a view of life is the evolutionary biologist's than the creationist's, which was received reasonably positively.

So you might find that you can get what you want by just adding constraints to the kind of church service you're looking for.

Comment author: Swimmer963 15 January 2012 02:37:59PM 4 points [-]

I know quite a few very sharp thinkers whose church membership is an important and valuable part of their lives in the way you describe. But they are uniformly members of churches that don't demand that members profess beliefs.

Sounds like the Unitarian church that my parents took us to for a few years...I'm not sure why they took us, but I think it might have had more to do with "not depriving the children of a still-pretty-typical childhood experience like going to Sunday school" than with a wish to have church an important part of their lives.

I would probably enjoy the Unitarian community if I joined for long enough to really get to know them... I'm sure the adults were all very kind, welcoming people. Still, the two churches that I've attended the most are High Anglican and Pentecostal. The Anglican cathedral is where I sang in the choir for more than five years, and the music is what really drew me; although the Anglican church is very involved in community projects and volunteering, almost the whole congregation is above the age of fifty, and the young people who do attend are often cautious, conservative, and not especially curious about the world, which reduces the amount of fun I can have with them.

Surprisingly enough, in the Pentecostal church where the actual beliefs professed are much more extreme, most of the congregation are young and passionate about life and even intellectually curious. They are fun to hang out with...in fact, I frequently had more fun spending a Friday night at a Pentecostal event than at a party. They took their beliefs seriously and really lived according to how they saw the Bible, even though I have no doubt their actions would have been considered weird in a lot of contexts and by many of their friends. I think a lot of the apparent mental health benefit of this church came from the community's decision to stop caring about social stigmas and just live. This is, I think, what I most respected about them...but for a lot of the same reasons, I now find their ideas and beliefs a lot more jarring than those of the Anglican church.

I have no doubt that there are churches on all sides of the continuum: "traditional" communities, like the Anglican church, which are socially liberal and also composed of fun young people...and also fundamentalist evangelical churches which have ossified into organizations with strict rules and a lot more old people than young people. Maybe somewhere out there is a church that has all the aspects I like (singing, rituals, fun young people who do outrageous things together and bond over it) and is also bearable non-evangelical, non-fundamentalist, and socially liberal, but I haven't found it yet.

Comment author: thomblake 11 January 2012 06:24:04PM 3 points [-]



Please do not sign your posts. That information is conveyed by the username listed at the top of the post.

Comment author: Peacewise 11 January 2012 03:45:58PM 1 point [-]

I was forced to conclude that debating was not about reaching the truth, but about proving the other person wrong. G'day -Stablizer,

Welcome to lesswrong, I'm quite new here too. I read your intro and think you would probably thoroughly devour Edward De Bono's "I am right, you are wrong". I agree with you regarding debating (and criticism) and so does De Bono, he writes about it quite elegantly.

Cheers, peacewise.

Comment author: earthwormchuck163 11 December 2011 01:57:33AM *  13 points [-]

I'm bad at this.

Oh well here goes.

Hi there! I'm Erik. I'm 20 years old.

I am a pure math major at the University of Waterloo. I am half way through my third year here.

That being said, I am largely an autodidact, which I gather is pretty common around these parts. Up until age 13 or so I was primarily interested in physics. In the course of trying to learn physics, I inevitably had to learn some math. So I did, and I never looked back. I can actually pinpoint the exact moment, all those years ago, when I became sure that I would spend the rest of my life doing math. But I won't bore you with such an excessively personal story.

My mathematical interests are fairly broad. My single greatest fear is that I will probably have to specialize at some point, to learn truly focus on one subject area; To think that I could ever actively decide not to want to learn all the things. I plan to delay this for as long as possible.

I tend to lean towards what I consider to be a pragmatic form of ultrafinitism. Other mathematicians tend to punch me when I talk about that though. A favourite pet problem of mine is to try to work how to recover things like eg real analysis without having to talk about infinity. That's a pretty tame example, but try doing this for all the math you know and it gets pretty interesting!

I also have a few interests outside of math and physics.

I like anime; A few of my recent favourites include Redline, Mahou Shojou Madoka Magica and Nichijou, all from this past year.

I like video games. My usual approach here is to play a few games very deeply. My all time favourite game is Super Smash Bros Melee, which still has an amazing competitive scene today. I am also a big fan of, and occasional participant in, TASing. I used to speedrun Super Metroid a lot, and I started working on TASing it back in 07 for a while. That proved to be too tedious for me though, so I mostly just watch the runs these days.

I listen to a pretty broad range of music as well. I've tried learning to play both piano and guitar, but never got past the "embarrassingly bad" stage.

In terms of rationalist origin story... Uhh not much interesting really to say here. My parents aren't religious, so I never had that influence. And I've been surrounded by and versed in physics and the sciences more generally for literally as long as I can remember. I have an old habit of periodically taking a piece of knowledge that I catch myself taking for granted and forcing myself work out exactly why I know that thing. An easy example: How do you know how far away the sun is? Or a little trickier: How do you know that everything is made out of atoms, and how do you know how small they are? I think I formed this habit because it saved me from having to ever remember very much; I figured out pretty early on that keeping my belief web as connected as possible would save me a lot of effort. I think this is also related to my fear of specialization.

I had a brief period when I was very vocal about atheism. I got tired of that pretty quickly though. For the most part the community just seemed pretty boring: Yep. We still don't believe in God. GO TEAM.

LW stands out as something special though. It's not just a lot of people who also don't believe in silly nonsense. It's not just about bring everyone up to some baseline of sanity. It's about striving for an as-of-yet unimagined level of rationality. That's just awesome and I want to be a part of it.

Comment author: wedrifid 11 December 2011 02:04:42PM *  1 point [-]

I'm bad at this.

First thing you can do to become better at this: Don't start by telling people you are bad at it. If it was really important that we know that you are bad at it we could probably figure it out for ourselves!

Comment author: cousin_it 11 December 2011 02:16:42PM 10 points [-]

An easy example: How do you know how far away the sun is?

Terry Tao has a really cool presentation on that topic: The Cosmic Distance Ladder.

Comment author: Nornagest 11 December 2011 11:45:15PM 2 points [-]

Parallax effects are a surprisingly good reason to reject heliocentrism. Wrong, of course, but it does seem to fail the sniff test -- and about all the Greeks had to work with were sniff tests of varying sophistication.

Although now I kind of wonder how Aristarchus' critics explained his observations.

Comment author: gwern 11 December 2011 11:21:12PM 1 point [-]

That was long, but very good. People underestimate the ancient Greeks - it's awesome to see the whole set of calculations laid out. (This reminds me guiltily of a post I keep meaning to write doing something similar for Atomism.)

Comment author: JQuinton 08 December 2011 06:25:48PM 5 points [-]

Hey everyone. I found out about Less Wrong via Common Sense Atheism a couple of months ago and I've been reading up on the Sequences and trying to learn more about Bayes' Theorem so that I can think more like a Bayesian in everyday life. It was only recently that I decided to actually make an account and contribute a bit.

I'm a software engineer for the Army. I'm not uniformed military (I used to be, for the Air Force) but a government civilian. My hobbies include swing dancing, playing guitar (mostly metal), learning about religion and studying Koine Greek (I might try to get an MA and possibly even a PhD in religious studies eventually), working out, and of course studying rationalism.

Comment author: gwern 08 December 2011 07:49:23PM 2 points [-]

learning about religion and studying Koine Greek (I might try to get an MA and possibly even a PhD in religious studies eventually), working out, and of course studying rationalism.

Interesting combination. Coming via CSA, I'm guessing you're the 'understand the enemy to defeat it' or 'how could such a strange thing as religion work' kind of atheist?

Comment author: JQuinton 08 December 2011 10:10:25PM 1 point [-]

Yeah, I think it's probably a combination of both. Maybe somewhere down the road I'll be sneaking in rationalism while talking or teaching about religion? That's the goal, anyway.

Comment author: imbatman 08 December 2011 05:20:23AM 6 points [-]

Hello All. I came across Less Wrong via Common Sense Atheism a few weeks ago. I have enjoyed it so far, but I have yet to put in the time to get up to speed on the sequences. Plan to, though.

I'm a Financial Accountant in Birmingham, AL. I'm not sure I would (yet) identify myself as a rationalist, but as for what I value, I value truth above all. And if I'm not mistaken, valuing truth seems a big step toward becoming a rationalist. I also value life, liberty, happiness, fun, music, pizza, and many other things.

Here's a little more about me:

Height: 6'0" Shoe Size: 12 Favorite Sport: Basketball Favorite Philosophers: Calvin & Hobbes Greatest Weakness: Distinguishing between reality and fantasy Greatest Strength: I'm Batman

Comment author: [deleted] 07 December 2011 07:56:00PM *  10 points [-]

I am a (shy) NEET who has been stalking the blog for some months now but only recently made an account.

Unfortunately, I cannot really remember how I came across Less Wrong but it quickly started affecting me in the same way TV Tropes does (I have about 10 LW tabs open at the moment).

I find the site really interesting and helpful, yet don't expect to comment that often. I feel as if my English and general knowledge are still not on the average level here so I'll read and read until that improves.

I enjoy anime, computer games, looking at images of cute things, Lolita Fashion and reading, among other things.

I dislike sports, don't -usually- find television or movies interesting and mostly dislike social interaction in person (its fine if I do it through the internet).

I tried studying psychology at a local university but all of the classes were full of nonsense (picture a statistics teacher who said his class was not about math but about arithmetic...) and the hall just outside was full of smokers at all times. I have sensitive lungs and can't tolerate smoke.

I hope to learn a lot here~


Comment author: fsopho 07 December 2011 06:29:50PM 5 points [-]

Good afternoon, morning or night! I'm a graduate student in Epistemology. My research is about epistemic rationality, logic and AI. I'm actually investigating about the general pattern of epistemic norms and about their nature - if these norms must be actually accessed by the cognitive agent to do their job or not; if these norms in fact optimize the epistemic goal of having true beliefs and avoiding false ones, or rather if these norms just appear to do so; and still other questions. I was navigating through the web and looking for web-based softwares to calculate probabilites, so that I found LW, and guess what! I started to read it and couldn't stop - each link sounds exciting and interesting (bias, probability, belief, bayesianism...). So, I happily made an account, and I'm eager to discuss with you guys! Hope I can contribute to LW some way. We (me and my research partners) have a blog (https://fsopho.wordpress.com) on epistemology and reasoning. We're all together in the search for knowledge, fighting bias and requiring evidence! see ya =]

Comment author: rwmcr29 06 December 2011 12:30:50AM 7 points [-]

Hello, I am a British psychology student (studying out of country, presently). I stumbled upon this website after doing a little research following Eliezer's recent Skepticon talk on Youtube. I have greatly enjoyed learning about rationality within psychology; heuristics, biases, and Bayes rule are central to the course.

I am at that stage where I am beginning to narrow down which areas of research I would like to enter into, and this area is becoming increasingly interesting to me and may one day guide my decision; but while I personally define as a skeptic and have done for some time now, I feel I am new to many areas of rationality, i.e. the "higher level" topics. There is always something more to learn. I apologise if I am I shy contributor at first, I can find such environments of discussion a little daunting when I myself feel inexperienced. I am going to spend some time in the near future exploring here a little more, and familiarizing myself with the articles/sequences on LW; I look forward to achieving a little more knowledge, and hopefully contributing to the community here.

About me personally; I enjoy archery, chocolate, debating and reading. Rebecca

Comment author: BT_Uytya 04 December 2011 04:51:39PM *  7 points [-]

Hello, good time of day.

My name is Victor, I'm 19. I'm a student of computer science from Russia (so my English is far from perfect, and probably there will be lack of articles; please excuse me).

There wasn't any bright line between rationalist!Victor and ordinary!Victor. If I remember correctly, five years ago I was interested in paranormal phenomena like UFO, parallel worlds or the Bermuda Triangle (I'm not sure I truly believed in it, probably I just had fun thinking about it: but I might have confessed the cached thought about scientists not knowing important things about the world) and liked reading the pop-science books at the same time. Then I realized that there is a beauty, honesty and courage in the scientific worldview and shortly thereafter, I became a person from the Light Side: not because science was true, but because it was fun.

But at least I rejected the Bermuda Triangle. I was too honest to leave inconsistencies in my pool of beliefs; so long, pseudoscience!

Maybe at the same time I discovered the concept of the utility function and blog of a psychologist arguing that there is nothing wrong with an egoism. Something clicked in my mind; the explanation of human behaviour was beautiful in it's simplicity, and there were some interesting implications of this explanation. Then Dawkins and realization that evolution is just a natural continuation of the laws governing non-organic matter. Evolution was fun, and also it was true. I became an Guardian Of The Evolution, and I was fighting superstitions. It was point of no return: it was impossible to defend telepathy again (why there aren't any telepathic wolves?).

There was moment of marvel, when I realized that there wasn't any reason to expect any intellectual feats from a naked ape living in town; our brain wasn't adapted to the current environment, but it is still working, and it is working much better than you should reasonably expect. Intelligence is fragile, and humanity is the underdog I should root for. At that time, I had already known about cognitive biases, but my feelings towards this topic became different after this insight.

I don't remember when I started reading LW. I might have learned about utility functions here, but I'm not sure. LW was changing me gradually. In the course of two or three years I have been noticing some small changes: I started admiring the scientific method, I understood the power of the intelligence, sometimes I withdrew from an argument because there wasn't any disagreement about anticipated experience there, et cetera.

I don't know where to draw a line between "non-rational age" and "rational age". But I sure as hell I'm with you guys now.

Comment author: J_Taylor 04 December 2011 08:46:31PM 1 point [-]

Welcome, Victor.

Perhaps you'll find this funny:


Comment author: BT_Uytya 04 December 2011 10:30:12PM 3 points [-]

It remembered me the elementary particles of monarchy (the "kingons" ) of Terry Pratchett.

Since each kingdom can have one and only one king, in the case of death of king his heir becomes a new king instantly. So, if you carefully torture a king, you can use those particles to send a message faster than the speed of light.

Comment author: Apteris 02 December 2011 12:07:41PM *  2 points [-]

Hello LessWrong,

I've been reading the website for at least the past two years. I like the site, I admire the community, and I figured I should start commenting.

I like to think of myself as a rationalist. LW, along with other sources (Bertrand Russell, Richard Dawkins) has contributed heavily (and positively) to my mental models. Still, I have a lot of work to do.

I like to learn. I like to discuss. I used to like to engage in heated debates, but this seems to have lost some of its appeal recently--either someone is wrong or isn't, and I prefer to figure out which it is (and how much), point out the error in either my or his thoughts, and move on.

Procrastination is a major problem for me. Risk-aversion too. I've lost many dollars to them. I'm working on it, although not as hard as I should (read: desperately hard). I've been having a lot of fun, in fact, ever since I realised that just because you're aware of your biases doesn't mean you're no longer subject to them. :-|

There are a few areas where, after I do my due diligence, I will ask the LW community for help. How to properly learn (spaced repetition and (memorising better) [http://lesswrong.com/lw/52x/i_want_a_better_memory/] are of particular interest to me) and how to convince others of your perspective are two topics of particular concern.

In closing, I'd like to say I was very glad there was a Zurich LW meetup recently (even though I couldn't attend) and there should be more Europe meet-ups. Preferably on the mainland because trains are moar better than planes.


Comment author: jknapka 01 December 2011 06:25:48AM 8 points [-]

Hello, all. I'm Joe. I'm 43, currently a graduate student in computational biology (in which I am discovering that a lot of inference techniques in biology are based on Bayes's Theorem). I'm also a professional software developer, and have been writing software for most of my life (since about age 10). In the early 1990's I was a graduate student at the AI lab at the University of Georgia, and though I didn't finish that degree, I learned a lot of stuff that was of great utility in my career in software development -- among other things, I learned about a number of different heuristics and their failure modes.

I remember a moment early in my professional career when I was trying to convince someone that some bug wasn't my fault, but was a bug in a third-party library. I very suddenly realized that, in fact, the problem was overwhelmingly more likely to be in my code than in the libraries and other tools we used, tools which were exercised daily by hundreds of thousands of developers. In that instant, I become much more skeptical of my own ability to do things Right. I think that moment was the start of my journey as a rationalist. I haven't thought about that process in a systematic way, though, until recently.

I've known of LW for quite a while, but really got interested when lukeprog of http://commonsenseatheism.com started reading Eliezer's posts sequentially. I'm now reading the sequences somewhat chaotically; I've read around 30% of the sequence posts.

My fear is, no matter how far I progress as a rationalist, I'll still be doing it Wrong. Or I'll still fear that I'm doing it wrong. I think I suffer greatly from under-confidence http://lesswrong.com/lw/c3/the_sin_of_underconfidence/ , and I'm very risk-averse. A property which I've just lately begun to view as a liability.

I am coming to view formal probabilistic reasoning as of fundamental importance to understanding reality, and I'd like to learn all I can about it.

If I overcome my reluctance to be judged by this community, I might write about my experiences with education in the US, which I believe ill-serves many of its clients. I have a 14-year-old daughter who is "unschooled". The topics of raising children as rationalists, and rational parenting, could engender some valuable discussions.

I might write about how, as an atheist, I've found it practically useful to belong to a religious community (a Unitarian Universalist church). "Believing in" religion is obviously irrational, but being connected with a religious community can in some circumstances be a rational, and non-cynical, move.

I might also write about software debugging as a rational activity. Though that's kind of obvious, I guess. OTOH debugging is IMO a severely under-valued skill in the field of software development. Most of my work is in soft real-time systems, which requires a whole different approach to debugging than interactive/GUI/web application development.

I might write about my own brief bout with mental illness, and about the process of dealing with a severely mentally-ill close relative, from a rationalist perspective.

My favorite sentence on LW so far: "Rationalists should WIN."

Comment author: Filipe 30 November 2011 11:00:25PM *  8 points [-]

Hi, everyone! I'm Filipe, 21, from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I've dropped out of Chemical Engineering in the 4th semester, and restarted College after one year off with Mathematics, from scratch. I thought redoing the basic subjects, if I worked hard through them, would be a good idea. It probably would, but so far I've studied those subjects with the same sloppiness of before, heheh. Now I'm one semester off College, due to depression, obsessive thoughts and some suicidal tendecies. Some of this is related to a deconversion from Christianity at age of 18: I was really devout and lived for the religion. My father is a pastor and my whole family continues to be serious about Christianity and it's pretty obvious that I'm the greatest source of suffering in my parents' lives, as they believe I'm going to end up suffering eternally if I don't return to my former beliefs. It also relates to having been a sort of a child prodigy (many family members, even those who don't like me a lot, testify that I could read at age of 2) and now not being able to excel academically, because of those problems and because of akrasia. Speaking of which, I have never read the sequences even though I've being reading this site for some months. I guess this may change when I convince my parents to buy me an e-reader. Sorry for the babbling and the sloppy English.

Comment author: shokwave 01 December 2011 04:29:18AM 4 points [-]

Sorry for the ... sloppy English.

In this post, your command of English is indistinguishable from a native speaker's. If you have an estimate of how fluent in typing English you are, I suggest you strengthen it :)

Comment author: lessdazed 30 November 2011 11:33:01PM 2 points [-]

suffering in my parents' lives

How can an effect like that have only one cause?

Comment author: Burrzz 29 November 2011 10:39:43PM 5 points [-]

Hi Less Wrong, I’m Burr a retired commutations consultant and Entrepreneur. I’m just watching and listening. I’m taking the online AI course from Stanford.

Comment author: jcolvin 28 November 2011 08:33:46AM 5 points [-]

Hi Less Wrong! My name is Jonathan, I'm 43, from Vancouver Canada, background in physics and philosophy (no longer professional), with interests in the Anthropic Principle, philoscience, Tegmarkian metaphysics, mutliverse theories, observer selection and assorted Bostromian subjects, and much else besides. I've been a proponent (shill) of the multiverse for many a year and am now gratified that it's reaching mainstream acceptance.

Comment author: Gust 26 November 2011 01:01:23PM *  6 points [-]

Hello. My name is Gustavo Bicalho, I'm from Brazil, I'm 20 years old today. I intended to introduce myself here after I finished the sequences (I'm half way through the Fun Theory Sequence) but I thought I should give me this as a birthday gift. Heh.

I have some background in computer programming, having done a technical course of three years during high school. Although I don't know much of computer science (I know just a little about algorithm analysis and that was self-thaught from wikipedia), I think programming has helped me reshape my way of thinking, made it more structured and precise. I try to improve it however I can, and this is one of the reasons I'm joining LessWrong.

For several reasons, though, I left the computers field (not completely) and I'm now a Law student. I don't know if you get many of those around here. Anyway, reasoning in this field seems, to me, specially biased. Of course, any reasoning about law involves thinking about ethics and politics, but that isn't a license for fallacies lack of rigor in arguments. I think this is a problem, and rationality can help me to fight against this.

Also, I'm very interested in moral philosophy, as the foundation of Law. Yudkowsky's metaethics still isn't completely clear to me, but I've seen some discussion about moral philosophy around here and I guess it's probably worth reading (I have yet to read lukeprog's No-Nonsense Metaethics). Specially, if there's any discussion about justice, or fairness, I would like very much to read.

Besides that, I like to learn almost anything. Physics is interesting, math is very interesting. After reading the first sequences, cognitive science, evolutive psychology and decision thory got into the list, too. If I can learn at least the basics of these fields, I think I'll be a better thinker and a better person. I think LessWrong is a good starting point for that, too.

I think that's it.

Oh, if there's some post/discussion around here about Law already, I would be very glad if someone pointed it out.

See you around!


PS: Wow, this took me three hours to write o.o Trying to make a good first impression is kinda hard. PPS: Three persons in the same day! Is that usual?

Comment author: Morendil 26 November 2011 01:50:12PM 2 points [-]

Three persons in the same day! Is that usual?

Most recent previous instance I could find: ten days ago. You could say it's not unusual. :)

Comment author: MixedNuts 26 November 2011 01:30:43PM 3 points [-]

Happy birthday!

Comment author: Ron_Fern 26 November 2011 03:30:39AM 6 points [-]

Hello I am a philosophy student in north Jersey. I'm 20 years old, and am very familiar with LW and the sequences. I've been reading LW now for about a year, and it has completely changed my life. I am very grateful to Eliezer and all of you for letting me have my Bayesian enlightenment at 20. When I first read the twelve virtues my life changed forever. I am definitely one of those that considers the sequences to be one of the most important works i have read, at least as far as having a personal influence.

I want to work on the hard questions of philosophy, grue and induction, cognition and consciousness, nominalism v.s. realism, Bayesian epistemology, philosophy of probability and mathematics in general, and even meta-physics, though I would like to positivize the field a bit. What I want to do as a philosopher is find problems/paradoxes/questions which fascinate me, and use rationality to solve them. "Solve" being the key word there. I think LW has done a lot to pursue many those goals, which seem strictly like philosophical goals. It seems to me, that LW should go full force and treat itself as a philosophical movement, conveniently primarily concerned with systematically becoming less wrong. Yes, there are mathematicians, and AI designers, and physicists, and psychologists among us, but that is how it should be in any modern philosophical movement.

I have given myself some primer time to become familiar with your terminology, content, and techniques. I now want to use these techniques to solve problems on paper and share the solutions with you. I am doing this because I expect that this will let me know how I am doing so far, and where I need to improve.

Lastly, I would like to ask, how does less wrong see itself? I mean what is the general LW opinion of what LW is? Is it a blog? An open source research institute? A philosophical movement? A non-philosophical movement? A self-help movement? I am curious.

Comment author: komponisto 26 November 2011 03:52:00AM 3 points [-]

An open source research institute?

I would like to see it become this. And not just for AI ethics/decision theory either. I'd like to see an entire "LW science" movement, where we tackle things like quantum gravity.

Yes, I know it's a dream. For now.

</frank honesty>

Comment author: [deleted] 26 November 2011 03:55:10AM 1 point [-]

That would be fun.

Comment author: wedrifid 26 November 2011 06:41:22AM 2 points [-]

Lastly, I would like to ask, how does less wrong see itself?

A kinda nifty blog.

Comment author: [deleted] 26 November 2011 03:43:58AM *  2 points [-]


I want to work on the hard questions of philosophy, grue and induction, cognition and consciousness, nominalism v.s. realism, Bayesian epistemology, philosophy of probability and mathematics in general, and even meta-physics, though I would like to positivize the field a bit.

That's a huge amount of philosophy to look at. Might I suggest narrowing your interests down a bit, at least at first? It's very easy to read a little bit of everything, but much harder to contribute something non-trivial to every field.

Lastly, I would like to ask, how does less wrong see itself? I mean what is the general LW opinion of what LW is? Is it a blog? An open source research institute? A philosophical movement? A non-philosophical movement? A self-help movement? I am curious.

It seems to be a little bit of all of those things. Some people here are rabidly anti-philosophy, and so if LW overtly called itself a philosophical movement, those people would probably end up evaporating off. On the other hand, some people would very much like to see the self-help aspects of LW become secondary to the more philosophical or technical aspects. Like everything else, it's a bit hard to pin down to a distinct category.

Comment author: Ron_Fern 26 November 2011 04:36:28AM *  1 point [-]

Being anti-philosophy is something philosophy needs. Not in a boring, the field is dead Rorty sense. In a, these are scientific questions with definite right and wrong answers, kind of way.

I don't think anyone is ever really anti-philosophy; perhaps my imagination is so daft that I can't imagine someone with different tastes. I think philosophy has really frustrated a lot of truth seekers because it was being done poorly. Even in analytic philosophy, only ever so rarely does a tool from analytic philosophy come about that could not be compared to using a stick to break apart and probe matter.

Lesswrong needs to solve philosophical problems to do its job, whether to build AI, or systematically cause rationality. It needs to solve scientific problems too, but lesswrong's practice seems to consist primarily in long winded, immersive, and concentrated discussion, using previously established technical terminology and calculi, with the aim of settling the truth value of some claim. The method of argument is the method of philosophy. This mixed with the philosophical nature of much of the content here on LW, are enough for me to think of LW as a philosophical movement. But a philosophical movement separated from the long western tradition stretching back to plato.

I like to think of LW as a philosophical movement, analogously to that famous internet meme about that statistician which goes something like this:

Derp was late to his probability class, and quickly jotted down the HW for that week's class. He worked on it for quite a while. When he got there next week, he told his professor that he found the HW harder than usual. Derp's professor informed him that what he had jotted down was not the HW, it was three unsolved conjectures. Derp then presented those proofs with the help of his professor as his dissertation.

LW solves some seemingly unsolvable philosophical dilemmas in a similar fashion; and if the average LW user is somehow helped in solving open and VERY DIFFICULT philosophical problems in the manner of insanely competent philosophers, by not thinking of him/herself as a philosopher, or by just treating philosophical problems as trivial HW, then who gives a damn? "Philosophy" is a pretty lame word anyway, "Lesswrongianism" however, that's a badass word. If you guys want us to be called "LWers" instead of "philosophers" I don't care, as long as we still solve the open philosophical problems of the previous and new century.

Comment author: steven0461 26 November 2011 05:02:50AM 2 points [-]

"Lesswrongianism" however, that's a badass word.

It would be badderass in a dead language. "Minorifalsianism" or something.

Comment author: Ezekiel 26 November 2011 12:58:04AM 6 points [-]

Hi, everyone.

I'm currently finishing a first degree in CS, and I've been reading LW for a few months now (since June). I've read through most of the Sequences and check the front page of the site for anything that looks interesting whenever I want to put off doing something, which is usually several times a day. I also need to get round to finishing Godel, Escher, Bach some time (I'm kinda slow).

I am, at the moment, a terrible rationalist - my goals aren't even clearly defined, let alone acted on, and I have a strong background in tournament debating, which allows me to argue myself into believing whatever I feel like believing at any given moment. I think I'm getting better at that, but of course my own opinion is almost worthless as evidence on the subject.

On the other hand, reading this site (especially Yudkowsky's stuff) at least made me stop being religious. I like to think I'd have got there in the end anyway, but seeing as I really didn't enjoy it, I thank everyone here for pulling me out sooner rather than later.

Quick question: Does anyone know of a formal from-first-principles justification for Occam's Razor (assigning prior probabilities in inverse proportion to the length of the model in universal description language)? Because I can't find one, and frankly, if you can't prove something, it's probably not true. I'd rather not base my entire thought process on things that probably aren't true.

Hoping to be able to contribute, Ezekiel

PS Good grief, there's an average of one introducing-yourself post every couple of days! Why the heck are all the front-page articles written by the same handful of people?

Comment author: PhilosophyTutor 26 November 2011 05:42:14AM *  0 points [-]

Quick question: Does anyone know of a formal from-first-principles justification for Occam's Razor (assigning prior probabilities in inverse proportion to the length of the model in universal description language)? Because I can't find one, and frankly, if you can't prove something, it's probably not true. I'd rather not base my entire thought process on things that probably aren't true.

I suspect you will never find one. To get the scientific process off the ground you have to start with the linked assumptions "the universe is lawful" and "simpler explanations are preferable to more complex ones". Those are more like mathematical axioms than positions based on evidence.

The reason being, you can explain absolutely any observation with an unboundedly large set of theories if you are allowed to assume that the laws of the universe change or that complex explanations are kosher. The only way to squeeze the search space down to a manageable size is to check the simplest theories first.

Fortunately it turns out we live in a universe where this is a very fruitful strategy.

ETA: I'm relatively new here: Whoever downvoted this could you perhaps explain your thinking?

Comment author: [deleted] 26 November 2011 05:47:10AM 2 points [-]

Fortunately it turns out we live in a universe where this is a very fruitful strategy.

As I understand it, that is the justification.

Comment author: cousin_it 04 December 2011 06:29:47PM *  1 point [-]

Does anyone know of a formal from-first-principles justification for Occam's Razor (assigning prior probabilities in inverse proportion to the length of the model in universal description language)?

Maybe Kevin T. Kelly's work will fit your bill? Also see the discussion on LW.

Comment author: beoShaffer 26 November 2011 01:14:13AM *  1 point [-]

Quick question: Does anyone know of a formal from-first-principles justification for Occam's Razor (assigning prior probabilities in inverse proportion to the length of the model in universal description language)?

http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Occam's_razor Not sure if thats in depth enough, but I think it does a pretty good job. -edit the apostrophe seems to break the link, but the url is right.

Comment author: Chalybs_Levitas 19 November 2011 06:44:58AM 2 points [-]

Hello, I am Alexander, and also a number of variations on Chalybs Levitas (depending on the screenname parameters of the site I'm signing up to).

I don't consider myself a rationalist, yet. I still have a lot to learn, but I've started working my way through the Sequences, and I've started my walk through the other articles, by opening a new tab at each new link.

I value language, and I am practicing my craft as a writer (I'm terrible) as well as studying Japanese (also terrible there).

I chose Japanese as the foreign language to study first in part because I want to move to Japan, and I've signed up to the site because one of the things I've learned through reading the articles and Mr. Yudowsky's fiction is that people are not pessimistic enough in preparing their plans. I tried to apply pessimism to my current plan to live in Japan, and I don't think I got it right. I'm hoping to learn more, and to work out answers I would not have found on my own, by talking with the community here.


Nice meeting you all, ~Alexander

Comment author: alex_zag_al 17 November 2011 06:36:27AM *  4 points [-]

Hi, I'm Alex. I study biochemistry at Rutgers University. I think I was linked to Three Worlds Collide through a TVTropes page. In the past few days I have been curious about

Kolmogorov complexity,

how to derive the formula “y = 1/x” by slicing a cone with a plane,

and when it's appropriate to generalize laboratory results in psychology to human interactions outside the laboratory. Like, the original result on Hold Off On Proposing Solutions was probably done with groups of strangers; is it still true of groups of friends or coworkers? I think so.

Comment author: [deleted] 17 November 2011 08:20:03AM 1 point [-]

Hi Alex! Welcome to Less Wrong. I'm pretty new here also, so if you want someone to work through Sequences with, let me know.

Three Worlds Collide is great! I also recommend Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, which was also written by Yudkowsky.

Comment author: niokin 16 November 2011 06:42:22PM *  5 points [-]

Hi all.

I'm a 21 year old junior at Bryant University, and I am currently majoring in marketing and minoring in legal studies. I discovered lesswrong through Lukeprog's CSA website; however I have been spending more time as of late reading lesswrong than CSA.

First and foremost, I am hoping that lesswrong helps me become a more instrumentally rational person. I currently struggle with a number of issues including akrasia, effectively controlling my emotions, and goal setting. I don't think lesswrong has had a noticeable positive or negative effect on my life yet, but I'm hoping that if I continue to read lesswrong and put in an effort to implement the techniques described, I will begin to see the benefits.

As far as my personal goals, I will freely admit that I have no idea at all what I want to do with my life, despite the fact that I have probably spent more time thinking about it than a good deal of the population. I think that I may need to research and read more as well as try out different kinds of lifestyles in order to sort out my goals and desires. The only major goals which I'm fairly certain won't change in the near future are: to be happy and to be more knowledgeable about world religions, such as Christianity. Although my current estimate of the Christian God's existence is pretty low, it would still suck to spend an eternity in hell. Hence, I have a strong desire to read about religion.

The rest of my life goals are hazy at best, which I hope to change. I'm currently doing fairly well at a business school, but I really have no idea at all what I want to do for a career after I graduate. In fact, I'm not even sure if I want a job at all after I graduate. Although I feel that I should care about alleviating some of the suffering in the world, I really don't have such a desire at the moment. I am actually contemplating living away from society for a few months (though I'm not sure exactly when) to see if I would be happier without the constant cycle of fulfilling desires. My desire to live away from society is definitely not set in stone though. I plan to read more about Buddhism, and the lives of people like Thoreau before I make such a major decision. I am curious - has anyone that posts on lesswrong lived away from society for a period of time? If so, I would appreciate being directed to a post describing their experience.

I think that is everything important that I wanted to say about myself. I apologize if my distinction between goals and desires doesn't match the professional literature and I hope to talk to members from the community in the future.

Comment author: Irgy 16 November 2011 06:41:30AM 5 points [-]

Hi all.

I'm 30, live in Sydney and work on image processing. I also have a wife and two beautiful daughters, currently nine months and two and a half years old.

I have a strong background in pure maths and an ongoing interest in philosophy. I've been a rationalist since before I even knew what one was. Discovering ET Jaynes' "Probability Theory" was the closest thing I'll probably ever have to a religious revelation.

I finally wrote down a large explanation of some quite fundamental philosophy I'd had in my head for quite a while and sent it to a couple of friends to get their opinion on it. This prompted one of them to point me here. Since then I've read quite a bit, although far from everything, and am enjoying almost every bit of it. I look forward to posting those very thoughts here some time soon, as they appear to still be both novel and consistent with the views here.

I thoroughly enjoy a good forum debate, and have a fairly high opinion (and at least some evidence to back it up) of my ability to think logically and write a well structured (if sometimes overly wordy) argument. Which of course doesn't mean I'm always right, and, as a good rationalist should, there's nothing I like more than having my argument torn to shreds by a superior one. I look forward to it happening in the near future.

Comment author: [deleted] 16 November 2011 05:39:00AM *  7 points [-]

I'm 22 years old, and currently a fourth-year college student, studying Philosophy and minoring in Computer Science at a very small, Christian school. I found a link to LW while searching for open, online scholarship combining analytic philosophy with algorithmic analysis. After glancing over the resources here, I am extremely excited about the prospect of participating. Philosophical logic, formal epistemology, and functional programming are my passions, and I am thrilled whenever I see interdisciplinary progress being made in cognitive science research. Everything I love is aptly characterized as being abstractly directed at the investigation of human reasoning. So, I definitely feel that I will be able to learn quite a lot from all of you.

Until two years ago, I was a committed and highly conservative Christian. That's how I was raised, and overcoming my own internal resistance to changes in religious perspective was quite a slow and painful process. I frantically searched for philosophical justifications of the rationality of theistic belief (e.g., Plantinga, van Inwagen). Eventually, however, my own philosophical reflections forced me to conclude that I indeed had no good reasons for believing many of the things I had previously believed. I now identify as a rationalist and an agnostic.

My present task is a paper analyzing potential problems arising from the account of evidential probability conjucted with E=K in Timothy Williamson's "Knowledge and Its Limits". I find this rather enjoyable. In my spare time, I've been reading books and articles on epistemic logic, Bayesian epistemology, and the Philosophy of Science. In future, I'd really like to be a philosopher, a programmer of some variety, or a mathematics teacher. As far as hobbies are concerned, I'm an avid Go player, Haskell coder, and open-source software advocate.

The one thing I value most is education. I'd like to work to make information, knowledge, and genuine wisdom accessible to more people. High quality intellectual and moral instruction seems to contribute so much to the quality of one's life, that I feel a strong desire to do anything in my power to provide that to more people. In light of this, I am very curious about how people learn and understand, but I also feel a sort of obligation to better my own understanding of what sound judgments, rational decisions, and solid arguments look like.

I'll end this here, to keep it brief. I anticipate stimulating and constructive exchanges with many of you.

Comment author: jrichardliston 15 November 2011 05:10:01PM 10 points [-]

Hello all!

I was pointed to LW by a friend who makes a lot of sense a lot of the time. He suggested the LW community would take some interest in an education project I've been working on for over two years, The Sphere College Project. Before introducing myself I spent a few weeks perusing LW sequences. This could go on for quite some time, so I'll go ahead and jump in.

I'm 50 years old, born and raised in the US in a series of towns throughout South Carolina. I had aptitude for mathematics and music. I pursued music and became a formidable trombonist living in NYC and playing classical and jazz music. I could sight-read anything. In 1982 my girlfriend's father worked for IBM, so I got to play around with his IBM PC. I was hooked (particularly loved "Adventure", but could only fit math/computers into my scant spare time. I did read "Godel, Escher, Bach" while studying trombone at the Eastman School of Music. Later, while doing my DMA in music I observed that most of the musicians I encountered in their 50s, 60s and 70s didn't appear to be loving the life anymore, so I decided I would leave music entirely, and began taking courses in math/physics/computer science at Columbia. I discovered that I had greater aptitude than I had previously thought, and I truly enjoyed these subjects. After a Master's in CS at Wake Forest University (thesis in graph theory--love it!) I worked at Data General with some exceptional software engineers. It was there that I learned more about optimizing my own processes. Later, I pursued a PhD in CS at Georgia Tech, researching Computer Networking. I was fascinated with global communication systems.

I had done work in the arts and the sciences, but knew that my facility in the humanities paled in comparison, so I chose to seek a position at a small liberal arts college in the northeast, which would allow me to interact closely with professors in many disciplines. I accepted a position at Ursinus College. The great advantage of Ursinus for me was that all (meaning "most") professors were required to teach the freshman seminar course---primarily a humanities course. What better way to learn the humanities than to be thrust in front of sixteen 17 and 18 year olds? It was transformative for me, helping me identify what I truly wanted to do with my life: help people learn what they want to learn. So I didn't get tenure (3 years ago) and found myself on the market. I started looking at positions at wasn't excited about my options, now that I had some experience in what we like to call higher education.

So like a good software engineer, I identified my primary requirement: have as much impact on the world as possible. How? By providing education for the huge population of adults who do not fit the traditional model of higher education; by teaching people in the way they learn by providing the environment that fits them best; by making it financially accessible to anyone who wishes to engage in their education; by making the program proceed at their schedule, not a "hard-coded" two- or four-year schedule; by allowing them to first identify what they are passionate about and wish to accomplish with their lives, then helping them gain the directly related interdisciplinary skills they need, then gaining practical experience in their field; and by making it all fun for them.

All this made perfect sense to me. I couldn't find an institution that had all the required elements, so I decided to found The Sphere College Project. It's been a monumental struggle (typical businesspeople don't grok the model at all), but even in our resource-limited state it's been working well for some of the students, including one who had no concept of negative numbers when she began. I'm currently working to scale up our model. I'm convinced it's going to happen, because it must. Meanwhile, I'm doing everything I can to connect with people who agree that a new model of education is of critical importance to creating a functional society.

I'm pleased to join you here, and look forward to reading more.

Richard Liston

Comment author: Morendil 15 November 2011 05:18:13PM 3 points [-]

Welcome to Less Wrong!

I observed that most of the musicians I encountered in their 50s, 60s and 70s didn't appear to be loving the life anymore, so I decided I would leave music entirely

That's kind of impressive, an application of the "outside view" in just the way recommended by Daniel Gilbert's "Stumbling on Happiness".

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 15 November 2011 06:46:54PM 4 points [-]

I know someone who compared lifespans of poets vs. prose writers, and went into prose as a result.

Comment author: False_Solace 14 November 2011 03:20:37PM *  7 points [-]

I once thought that the Future was indestructible.

When I was growing up my childhood friends would sometimes say, "I wish I'd been born five hundred years ago" or "It would have been so interesting to live during medieval times". To me this was insanity. In fact it still sounds insane. Who in their right mind would exchange airplanes, democracy and antibiotics for illiteracy, agricultural drudgework and smallpox? I suppose my friends were doing the same thing people do when they imagine their pop culture "past lives": so everyone gets to be Cleopatra, and nobody is ever a peasant or slave. And the Connecticut Yankees who travel back in time to pre-invent industry are men, because a woman traveling alone in those days just invited trouble.

No, I never wanted to live in the past. I wanted to live in the future.

Mostly because I had a keen desire find out what happens next. I mean, just think of the amazing things in store -- space travel, AI, personal immortality. What a fool I was.

I no longer trust the future will be a glorious place. (It was a little painful to give up that belief.) I once studied history and the history of technology so I could write about imaginary civilizations with some versimilitude. And I learned that everything ends, even Rome. Even us.

So I started studying economics and politics to try to figure out how we got here, and how we might possibly get someplace else. It seems unlikely that the same irrational brains that got us into this mess will be able to get us out. I mean, people are literally not sane. Myself included. The best, the only tool we have is dangerously flawed. (OMFG!!) Which led me here....

Hope for the future? Hope isn't necessary.

As far as RL goes, I have two X chromosomes and live in Minnesota.

Comment author: Alaeriia 13 November 2011 07:52:18PM 13 points [-]


I am a 22-year-old middle-class male from the Boston area. I was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome at a young age, and have lived most of my life on medication, primarily Concerta. I found this site after reading all of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality in one sleepless night and wanting to read more about rationality. I consider myself to be a rationalist-in-training; while I am capable of actually changing my mind (I believe), I am a procrastinator and let my emotions get the better of me at times. I am pleased to find a community of rationalists, as I can learn from them and better my own skills as a rationalist. I will likely not post very much, but the posts I do write will hopefully be of high quality. (I find that negative incentives, e.g. karma downvotes, have a powerful effect on me; also, I am a perfectionist and want anything I do to be done right the first time according to objective criteria, such as using proper grammar and such.) I can type approximately 50 words per minute (hunt-and-peck) and am obsessed with roller coasters. I hope that I will be accepted into the Less Wrong community.



Comment author: thescoundrel 11 November 2011 04:51:38PM *  7 points [-]


I am 32 year old middle class male from the Kansas City area. I grew up on a farm in south-central Kansas, in an evangelical christian family. From an early age I was identified as having above average intelligence. I also have ADD, although it went undiagnosed though my elementary and middle-school years, as I was easily able to complete my work in a short enough time frame that I was not distracted. During this time, I was also heavily indoctrinated in the church. During my high school years, it became apparent to me that there was something wrong- I wanted to complete assignments, but would find myself unable to concentrate on them long enough to finish them- once I understood the concepts, I lost all interest in mindless repetition of the material, even though I knew there were benefits to completing it correctly. Noticing I fit all the signs of ADD, I persuaded my parents to talk to my GP about medication: the GP stated that while he agreed I fit the signs, he did not want to place on me the stigma of being labled add.This began a downward spiral, culminating in my first semester of college- I signed up for several honors classes, but not having acquired the skills needed to complete a truly challenging project, I failed them all miserably. Defeated, I returned to my small town, and began taking classes, first at a local community college, then at a local christian university. In 2000, I became a father, got married, dropped out of school, and proceeded to hide with my family in low income housing.

These were dark days for me- I knew I was failing in every possible sense. I didn't know how to solve it. I didn't know how to figure out how to solve it. I did know we needed money. I took any job I could find. I hated most of them. This continued for 6 years.

At some point, I realized that in order to improve my situation, I had to formulate a plan. I went back to college while working full time building wooden pallets, and received my AS in computer science. I found a GP that would treat my ADD, and saw immediate improvements in my ability to focus. I went on to start my BS in compsci, and was picked up by a startup company, doing both tech support and Linux IT work. During this time, I finally began to look at my beliefs critically. Many, many times I had faced ideas that indicted the existence of god, and each time I had carefully ignored them. However, part of deciding that I needed a plan in order to improve my life was a recognition of determinism: if actions did not have logical, consistent consequences, than there was no ability to plan at all. However, for that to be true, it meant there could be no such thing as a supernatural event, which I viewed as an uncaused action. The death of my faith was a war of attrition, each step painful. I wanted to believe I would see my family after death, that those I loved would be available to me after this short time on earth. I wanted to believe that my consciousness would never end. I eventually let each of them go: I had decided I wanted to know truth more than fantasy.

I moved to Kansas City in 2008, lost my job with the start-up, took another one, and then another in the tech industry, learning more at each position. In august this year, reddit.com had a link to HPatMoR, and I devoured it. This led me here, and I have read all of the main sequences, and am reading everything else I can, as quickly as I can. I feel behind: here, I have found not only the process for finding truth, but also the process for solving problems ion general, and doing it effectively.

I feel that I am in the midst of rewriting my own code: most of my life, my natural ability has been hindered by bad software, and I am starting to patch out some of the bugs. I have four children now: teaching them how to actually learn, how to accomplish their goals, and how to set goals worth having has become my top priority, especially with my older two: I missed a window where some of this could have been taught intuitively over time, and now I have to help them unlearn bad habits formed under my care. I am in process of finding cryonic options that fit my entire family on my budget- tricky, but not impossible. I am trying to improve my math skills; I made it through calc 2, and was fortunate to have college professor who not only understood what he was teaching, but was passionate about it, and willing to spend extra time helping me understand it at an intuitive level- however, I have let it sit for several years, and am having to dust it off.

I am joining the community now, because I feel I have a grasp on the concepts well enough now that in order to grow, I need to start discussing them. I know I still have a ways to go, but I believe with time and effort, I can make strong contributions to the community.

Comment author: kilobug 11 November 2011 06:36:50PM 4 points [-]

Welcome to Less Wrong, and good luck in your quest for bettering yourself !

Or hum... how do you wish "good luck" in a rational way ? ;)

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 11 November 2011 11:00:46PM 3 points [-]

Say something surportive but actually meaningful, like "I'm impressed by your achievement." or "Keep going awesome person!" or even just "I hope you do well."

Comment author: thomblake 11 November 2011 07:17:14PM 7 points [-]

Or hum... how do you wish "good luck" in a rational way ? ;)

A: Don't worry about it too much and get on with something more important.

Comment author: Curiouskid 10 November 2011 02:00:56AM 2 points [-]

Anyone care to be my chavruta? I think this thread is a good place for finding people of similar ability levels (considering how recently we've found this site, not our education levels).


Comment author: [deleted] 10 November 2011 09:26:45PM 4 points [-]

Why don't you write a bit more about yourself? This is an introduction thread, after all! :)

I might be interested in exploring and discussing this site. I often feel like I missed the boat on being able to engage in the discussions of the sequences. I generally just don't bother commenting on them, even when I have something to say, since it seems like the discussions on them are pretty much dead. I am doing the sequence re-read threads, but they only post about 1-2 a day. I wouldn't mind someone to go through them faster with, and actually have discussions about!

Either way, welcome to Less Wrong!

Comment author: Curiouskid 10 November 2011 10:39:13PM 2 points [-]

I have introduced myself already.

Sounds like a plan! I'm going to have to catch up with where they are in the sequence reruns, but I can start in medias res.

Comment author: Karmakaiser 08 November 2011 09:26:05PM 10 points [-]

Hello Less Wrong,

I am a 22 year old, caucasian lower class community college student interested in becoming more rational in order to achieve the goal of being useful to the human species. I am a student whose education is taking far too long for financial reasons but I am pursuing a BS in Computer Science and a minor in Cognitive Science because I want to understand human rationality at a deeper level. From there I will decide from my performance in classes if I am smart enough to tackle grad school. I often feel outclassed when reading the discussions here but I plan to learn enough to be useful in conversation just as quick as I can. I intend to become as rational as I am able with my meat brain. I became an atheist in High School, likely about at age 16, but have always deeply suspected there was no god since some brain worm burrowed into my head when I was 6 and said "If something is moral, then it is moral for its own reasons, not because God said so." Though the exact thought that I mulled over in my Sunday School class was "God has to play by the rules." That lead me to always be the devil's advocate in theological discussions (I was raised in a private christian school) so my deconversion was expected and those more liberal theists who were friends with me beforehand have not changed their opinion of me to a great degree. I've been an aspiring rationalist as long as I can remember, even when I was a Christian I thought faith was a stupid idea, but I didn't know about Probability Theory and Biases until now. I value being right. I want my beliefs to be correct ones. Wanting to be right is the most perfect goal, because from it flows all others. Not perfect in the sense of goodness, but perfect in the sense that nothing can be added or taken away. If you want to cure polio then you must have correct beliefs about Penicillin. If you want to take over the world you must have correct beliefs about the current political system so that you can manipulate it. If you want to program in python it helps to have correct beliefs about it's syntax.

Thank you for making me progressively more sane.

Comment author: kilobug 11 November 2011 11:01:33AM 2 points [-]

Welcome to Less Wrong !

Comment author: listo 07 November 2011 06:13:34PM 7 points [-]

Hello Less Wrong!

First things first: I beg your pardon for my crappy English, this is not my first language.

I'm from Barcelona (no LW community, here, I'm afraid) and I studied telecom engineery, but I work as a teacher and I draw cartoons (you can check http://listocomics.com but they are in Spanish). I'm also a rationalist wanabe. I mean I haven't even read the whole of your major sequences but I have always tried to move myself the rational way. I love Dawkins books and I was amazed the first time I read about logical fallacies at the Wikipedia. I have always been quite interested in phsicology, too, but most of the popular psychology books I've read set my bullshit alarm on, cause most of their content seemed to come from the mind of the author after thinking about it strong while sitting in the sofa, without further research. I'm glad of having found a site that talks aboute the human mind and human behavour in an easy to understand way and with references. It seems like a good place to learn stuff.

Actually, I'm curious about what you, as rationalists, may think about NLP. Is it the right place to ask? NLP: Bullshit or not?

And I would also love to hear some rationalist opinions about yoga. I've been trying it for a couple of months and I'm still confused. The stretching part is good for the muscles, that's quite sure, but there also seem to be a lot of new age paraphernalia. Do you think there are serious researches proving that yoga is better than just stretching?

And, more in general, de rationalists recomend any specifical sport? Some way to get the maximum health with the minimum effort and time?

(I'm not sure if this was the right place to ask about those things, just tell me if I should post somewhere els or if those subjects are already discussed in some other thread)

Thanks for everything, and congrats for the page, I'm already recommending it to friends!

Comment author: Curiouskid 08 November 2011 03:07:38AM 1 point [-]

Welcome to LW!

I love your comics. I'm going to use them so that I don't forget my spanish. I'm currently doing a little research (for myself) on NLP-type stuff. If you want a comprehensive source, then this is what I'm going to be purchasing shortly.


I'm not expert on yoga (but I've done a bit). I find that pure meditation is better for the mind than yoga (there is a lot of secular research that shows that meditation is good in a lot of ways for the mind). And I find that pure exercise is better for the body than yoga. some people like to mix the two. I don't.

Most people have a misconception about meditation where they think you have to be sitting with really straight posture in order to meditate. This just isn't true. I run and meditate all the time. Running is very good for exercise and is very conducive for meditation (especially if you just go in a straight line or on a treadmill).

I know that there is quite a bit of research on exercise and the mind. But most of it has to do with cardiovascular and not with weight training. I do both, I personally think running is better for the mind (and doesn't require a lot of technical detail on proper form).

Dawkins's "Selfish Gene" was one of my first "rationalist" books.

Comment author: Curiouskid 06 November 2011 06:31:56PM *  5 points [-]

WARNING: long post. I detail my entire intellectual development and how I came to be interested in LW. More posts on LW should have short summaries like this one (IMO).

Hello! I'm a 17 year old high school student. I was raised a lukewarm christian (I went to church maybe 5 times a year). Around 3rd grade I deduced Santa Clause could not exist. Around 9th grade I first HEARD the word atheism (and shortly thereafter agreed). I've always wanted to have some big impact on the planet. When I was younger (5th-8th grade), I thought I would try to become a professional basketball player (this is embarrassing to write).

I decided in 9th grade that intellectuals have far more impact on the world than basketball players and have been reading as much as possible ever since. Brave New World had a profound impact on me was largely responsible for my turn away from basketball and more towards Utopian thinking. I know "Politics is the Mind Killer", but I feel that watching the zeitgeist films had an important impact on my early readings. It showed me how stupid everything that I'd been told before I could think critically was. I still want to create Utopias (Utilitarianism is the only ethical code that makes any sense). However, I think that after reading David Pearce's "Hedonistic Imperative" I've focused less on things like the zeitgeist movement and occupy wallstreet and focused more on finding happiness independently of one's external circumstances (Milton said that "the mind can make a heaven of hell and a hell of heaven).

This first led me to Buddhism. However, the lack of philosophical rigor coupled with the hypocrisy of swami's who have been accused of sexual harassment has led me to turn away from Buddhism as a perfect formula for happiness and Utopia (I still meditate though. As Sam Harris has said (paraphrasing), Buddhists don't have a monopoly on meditation). My researching Buddhism also coincided with me becoming depressed. I’ve certainly improved drastically since then,but I still will suffer brief bouts of negative emotion (rest. Exercise. Nootropics. And a weekend of productivity reliably quell these feelings). During this period of reading about Buddhism, I read a bit about parapsychology and the statistical evidence for it.

But recently, I've decided that the evidence for and against parapsychology is relatively unimportant (wireheading is more conducive to Utopia than levitating). But, I am not satisfactorily convinced of the truth or falsity of parapsychology (keeping an open mind). I’m not quite sure when I plan to conclude whether it’s true or not. I’ve decided that I’m just going to keep up my meditation practice because if it were true, I’d want to be able to do it and the first step is to be able to meditate better regardless of whether I regard it as true or false. Also, the notion of enlightenment doesn’t really seem consistent (people mean a lot of different things when they say it, just like when they say god). Furthermore, I think “enlightenment” is something that is purely neurological (no reincarnation) (Wiki:God Helmet).

So, based on all the previous information, I’ve concluded that I want to see neuroscience advance to the point that we can create a neurological utopia like the one proposed in David Pearce’s abolitionist project. However, after doing a lot of research on nootropics, I’m concerned that our current state of understanding of the brain is very limited and that there is a lack of funding for the type of research that we need (nootropics for normal individuals and whole brain emulation). Thus, I’m torn between deciding to major in neuroscience and majoring in something that would be conducive to the restructuring of society so that more neuroscience relevant neuroscience research can be done. I would try to restructure society by improving our educational system and creating seasteads (I was very excited to see that Patri Friedman is a member of this forum). Also, I came up with the idea behind debategraphs.org before I discovered that the site already existed. Either way, I realize that the contributions of any one individual are minimal (Somebody else came up with the theory of evolution at the same time Darwin did).

So that’s my intellectual development thus far. I’m currently reading Bostrom’s “Roadmap to WBE” in order to gain a better idea of the neuroscience and feasibility of WBE and this should help me make a more informed decision on what to major in. Also, I’m going to read the “Fun Theory” sequence as soon as I get enough time. I’m also reading about hypnosis and the placebo effect in order to get an idea of how much control the mind can have over itself (this fits in with my earlier Buddhism research).

After reading around here for a little while, I feel that I have finally found a home. I am the only person I know personally who is interested in all of the topics I’ve listed above. I have a few friends with a minor interest in philosophy and seasteading, but they aren’t nearly as serious about learning as I am. I really love it that this community exists. I’m not used to feeling dumb (and I don’t plan on feeling that way for much longer). I want to go to the rationality boot camp and meet some of you in person. I'm still puzzling out why I want to create a Utopia and have a big impact on the planet. I don’t really know what I’d do without this goal in mind. It seems relatively silly given my view on the historical impact of any one individual. Yet, I don’t know what belief I would replace it with (and I may not be willing to give it up).

I need to read Bostrom’s “Roadmap to WBE” and figure out how I think the Fermi paradox most likely plays out. It may very well be that if WBE is not possible that I will return to taking a parapsychological and meditative approach to creating Utopia (though I think that I’d create seasteads, education reform, and do a lot of reading on LW about WBE before I made such a conclusion.). I realize it's a little sad that I can sum up most of my intellectual development in one post. Random stuff: I’m very physically fit. I eat the healthiest diet possible and workout regularly. I enjoy a wide variety of music. I learned to read by playing pokemon on the gameboy color.

Comment author: lessdazed 06 November 2011 07:19:56PM 6 points [-]

When I was younger (5th-8th grade), I thought I would try to become a professional basketball player (this is embarrassing to write).

When I was younger (three years old), I thought I would try to become a helicopter.

Comment author: Sophivorus 05 November 2011 11:21:24PM *  5 points [-]

Hi everyone!

My name is Felipe, from Argentina. I've been studying philosophy for the last five years or so, especially logic and philosophy of science, but this last year I also started learning web programming, and before that I was a very active editor in the spanish Wikipedia.

I learned about Less Wrong because I had just finished an experimental website, and I posted it on the imageboard of science and mathematics /sci/ (which some of you probably know), and there someone mentioned that people on Less Wrong would probably like it. So I came here, and I must say that after browsing for a while, I will definitely join the community! I also read above that "If you've come to Less Wrong to discuss a particular topic, this thread would be a great place to start the conversation.", so I guess it wouldn't be out of place to share my site here. Here goes:

http://formalforum.com/ is the address of FormalForum, a website designed to structure debates in a rational way. There are two basic types of posts you can submit (for now): propositions and objections. Propositions are things that may be true or false (like "There is no retroactive causation"), while objections are defined as a special kind of argument: an argument which concludes either that a certain proposition is false, or that a certain objection is invalid. For each type of post, there is only one rule governing its behavior:

  1. Every proposition will be considered true, unless there is a sound objection to it.
  2. Every objection will be considered valid, unless there is a sound objection to it.

A sound objection is a valid objection with true premises. As every premise is considered a separate proposition, the rule 1 aplies to each of them. Thus, an objection will be considered sound exactly when there are no sound objections to its validity, nor to any of its premises. Some consequences of these rules are:

  1. New propositions will be considered true by default, as they start with no sound objections (indeed, with no objections at all).
  2. New objections will be considered valid by default, as they start with no sound objections (indeed, with no objections at all).
  3. Not every new objection will be considered sound by default, as it may have among its premises one or more old propositions that are currently considered false.
  4. As the site grows, some propositions will tend to get re-used more than others, which will rise their importance, for the soundness of more and more objections will depend on them being true. Eventually, some propositions will come to light as of key importance, while many others will sink into oblivion.

The system draws from the ideas of Austro-British philosopher Karl Popper (and others), who in his work The Logic of Scientific Discovery, argued that our acceptance of propositions such as "that crow is black", although "inspired" by experience, ultimately depend on a convention: the convention of accepting as true those propositions which nobody cares to doubt. When someone does doubt a proposition, then s/he will have to extract one or more consequences from it that can be tested empircally, and if any of those consequences does not occur (that is, if nobody doubts that one or more of those consequences does not occur), then the proposition is falsified, and must be considered false. Else, the proposition remains true.

The website is new, and has many flaws and shortcomings, but the essence is there. I hope you find it interesting. In any case, I find Less Wrong very related to my interests, so formalforum or not, you will definitely see me around.

Comment author: pragmatist 04 November 2011 08:09:00AM 2 points [-]

I've been posting here for a couple of months and haven't introduced myself yet. Unconscionably rude. Anyway, I'm 29 years old and hoping to get my Ph. D. in a few months. I started out studying physics, then realized I was interested in more foundational questions than I'd be encouraged/allowed to work on as a young physicist, so I switched to philosophy. I guess I would characterize myself as a naturalistic metaphysician; I tackle traditional philosophical problems using modern physics (as opposed to the 17th-century physics still used to by all too many metaphysicians). I'm also very interested in political theory, but I'll refrain from elaborating on that. My username does not lie; I identify as a pragmatist in the tradition of Wittgenstein, Quine, Putnam and Rorty (gasp!).

I've been defending a broadly Jaynesian account of statistical physics for a while. A few years ago I was extolling the virtues of Jaynes and someone asked me if I read Overcoming Bias. I hadn't heard of the site at the time, so I checked it out and liked what I saw. I've been checking back sporadically since then. I began spending more time on the site starting a few months ago, about the time I needed to start really focusing on finishing my dissertation (sigh).

Comment author: [deleted] 04 November 2011 07:34:01AM *  9 points [-]

Hello, LessWrong.

I am an 18 year old senior in high school interested in evolutionary psychology and cognitive science. I've actually been lurking around this site for over four months before I finally got brave enough to introduce myself. I always considered myself to be rational, but after looking through the core sequences, it slowly dawned on me how horribly wrong I was, and what a ways I have to go to "upgrade" my rationality and hopefully maintain a meaningful conversation with anyone here.

I was raised in a non-religious home where I was encouraged to seek out many different belief systems and see which one fit me the most. I ended up rejecting every mainstream religion I came across, which I suspect is what my parents were hoping for. I officially became an atheist at around age twelve, and I suffered somewhat of an existential breakdown shortly after that as I was desperately searching for a meaning or purpose to the universe and not being able to find one. I didn't like the idea of living in a meaningless universe and I suffered from extreme depression for many years, which worried my friends and family. I was sent to a therapist because my schoolwork and social life were suffering due to my sense of hopelesness.

I then came across the idea of transhumanism at age fifeen after hearing the word and typing it in on Google out of curiosity, and that day my entire life changed for the better. All of a sudden I was being introduced to concepts like indefinite life extension, recursively self-improving artificial intelligence, mind uploading, apotheosis, and the like. My mind was blown. For the first time in many years, I was feeling a sense of real hope and purpose. I decided that working for the transhumanist project and a positive singularity was what I wanted to do with my life.

This site is pretty damn awesome. I'm busy reading the core sequences and Methods of Rationality, and I'm about 70% through with both. I'm loving them. Being introduced to cognitive heuristics and biases has really helped me grow as a person and as a budding rationalist, and I am now extremely humbled since discovering that I'm not nearly as rational or logical as I thought I was. Discussions here are always very high-quality, engaging, and enlightening, which is something you don't find very often on the Internet (or, really, anywhere), and I'm a bit nervous at the prospect of engaging in serious discussions with a bunch of people who are several intellectual levels above me. I've always been bright, but not spectacularly so, so I hope I won't get downvoted into oblivion by getting into discussions that are way over my head. (I tend to do that.)

So thank you LessWrong, and I look foward to interacting with everyone here!

Comment author: kilobug 04 November 2011 08:47:43AM 1 point [-]

Welcome !

Comment author: orbenn 04 November 2011 01:45:46AM *  6 points [-]

Hi LessWrongians, I've actually been reading this for a few months since I discovered it through HPMOR, but I just found this thread. I've been a traditional rationalist for a long time, but it's great to find that there is a community devoted to uncovering and eliminating all the human biases that aren't obvious when you're inside them.

I'm 27 with a BS in Business Information Systems and working as an analyst, though I consider this career a stopgap until I figure out something more entrepreneurial to do. I've been slowly reading through the sequences, but my brain can only handle so much at a time.

Mostly I just want to say thanks to everyone who writes/reads/comments on LessWrong. This site is awesome. It's the only place I've found on the internet that consistently makes me stop and think instead of just rolling my eyes.

Comment author: Slackson 03 November 2011 09:39:16PM 7 points [-]

Hi, LessWrong.

There isn't too much to say about me. I'm a Kiwi 16 year old high school student who's been interested in a lot of the topics discussed here for a long time. I stumbled across HPMoR a few months ago. After reading through that, I came here and now I've read through pretty much all of the sequences. I'm definitely getting better at decision making and evaluating information, but I don't think I'm at the same level as most of you just yet.

I'm going to be busy for the next couple of months with exams, and then a trip to Ecuador, but hopefully when I get back I'll be able to take part in the community properly. I have a bad habit of being unnecessarily shy, even online, with people I have respect for. I'm going to try to change that this time. It should be easier than it has been in the past, because I have a lot of questions to ask, and sometimes even ideas to add to the conversation.


Comment author: Celestia 02 November 2011 04:02:34PM *  11 points [-]

Hello Less Wrongians! I'm a 17 year old American student who found Less Wrong through Common Sense Atheism, and has lurked here for several months. Only today did I decide that this was a community I wanted to take the next step with; actually join.

I've always had a rationalist "pull." Though for most of my life it manifested itself in a Traditional Rationalist way, I have a profound drive to find out what is the case. I was raised as a Roman Catholic, though not a particularly strict one, but abandoned this very quickly (fifth grade), helped along by a love of science and a penchant for philosophical questioning which had begun in childhood. My education has been tumultuous. I've always been a bright kid, but for much of my school career felt that I was being held back, so I did most of my learning from books and the internet on my own time; after I'd finished a test early, or at lunch, or after school. This wasn't helped by a massive bout of anxiety I encountered in middle school surrounding rather vicious bullying I suffered for my perceived sexuality (though those harassing me were technically correct - I'm gay). Still, I managed to maintain my As so that I could go to a private high school, and I only had to do two years of middle school as my parents had finally agreed to skip me ahead a grade.

Through high school I studied a lot of philosophy and science, which clarified my thinking and solidifed my orientation as a Traditional Rationalist, but I still faced many seemingly insurmountable philosophical puzzles. It was by stumbling on fields that Less Wrong is known for - decision theory, cognitive science, etc.- that I started to dissolve questions that seemed impossible to answer. My voracious hunger for truth was actually being met, and real progress could be made. A perfect storm of intense autodidactism and general online reading led me to stumble upon Less Wrong, which further clarified and informed my general philosophy, which I'm confident I can refer to as "rationalist."

To wrap up, because I skipped a year of school I graduated high school this June at age 17, and am taking a year off before I head off to college in fall 2012. During this period I'm ratcheting up my already intense autodidactism in a wide variety of fields (using Less Wrong, Khan Academy, and other such resources as well as textbooks) and am studying physics as the private protege of a professor at a nearby university. I intend to study physics or economics in college, as while I love philosophy, most of it is worthless and it is much easier to teach oneself/study on the side than the former two fields.

Comment author: Vaniver 07 November 2011 03:54:59AM 1 point [-]


I got a physics / econ double degree, and I recommend against studying econ in college, unless there are some really good professors at the college you go to. What you suspect about philosophy is true, and even more true for econ. I learned ~2 things in the econ classes I took that I hadn't learned in my personal reading on the subject (whereas I learned quite a bit of physics in classes), and so feel like those classes were wasted opportunities. I strongly recommend a field like computer science instead, if you have the least bit of aptitude for programming. If not, psychology seems like it could be super useful, but the cognitive science is few and far between, or electrical engineering fits with physics pretty well.

(I do recommend reading Adam Smith's On The Wealth of Nations at some point if you haven't already. It's easy enough to get through, and it's a remarkably good foundation for the field.)

((Also, *brohoof* :3))

Comment author: Wei_Dai 04 November 2011 09:20:30AM 3 points [-]

Why do you intend to study physics or economics in college?

Comment author: Suryc11 01 November 2011 09:13:35PM 6 points [-]


I'm 18 years old, American, and a sophomore in college.

I discovered this site through HPMoR in December of last year, but did not seriously start reading the Sequences and other posts until the past half year or so. This site played an instrumental role in de-converting me; I had grown up in the Midwest in a very fundamentalist Christian household. After becoming firm in my atheism (untheism + antitheism), I sadly stopped lurking on here, until I became interested in philosophy and the rationality as espoused on LW.

I have always been considered "smart" in school, or to put it more specifically, I was well-optimized for succeeding in the United States' public educational system. Similar to probably a non-trivial number of posters on here, the U.S.'s approach to (public) education almost completely failed me - not necessarily saying the system is broken, but it is/was broken for me individually. My high school taught to the lower denominator, and even after both skipping a grade and deciding to graduate a year early, I was never challenged in school. I never discovered my academic interests, never was intellectually stimulated, and in fact, was socially pressured into downplaying my intelligence whenever possible. This is not to say that I was blameless. I have always fallen prey to akrasia, and this combined with low standards in school contributed to me not exploring my intellectual boundaries and accepting the worldview I was brought up in.

Thankfully, because of a life-changing event (in summary: went halfway across the country to a top 15-ranked private college, accepted an Army ROTC full scholarship, partied too hard, realized I abhorred the military, decided not to contract with the Army, realized after almost failing first semester that my work ethic from high school was not enough, and transferred to my state's flagship college for the second semester) I was forced to re-evaluate my worldview, confront any hidden assumptions, make my personal philosophy as coherent as possible, and really discover what I wanted to do with my time on this pale blue dot.

Currently I'm at my third educational institution (small, private liberal arts college) in two years and finally feeling simultaneously happy and intellectually stimulated. I'm looking forward to reading more insights on this blog and applying them to my life whenever possible. Perhaps I may even chime in if I'm feeling particularly courageous, but I'm a lurker by nature.

Just wanted to finally introduce myself and say thanks to all of you here for helping me turn my life around for the better!

Comment author: kilobug 02 November 2011 04:25:50PM 1 point [-]

Welcome here !

Comment author: Phocion 01 November 2011 03:49:07AM 2 points [-]

I'm a relative novice to rationality studies, but have become fascinated with this site. I'd like to take a part in the discussions here to explore my own views and open my mind to what others have discovered. I have many friends who have read Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, but I haven't looked at it yet. Maybe I will, after seeing how many people here found this site through it. My academic background is mathematics, with a focus on logic and set theory, so rationality seems a logical next step in my personal growth. I look forward to interacting with all of you!

Comment author: naritai 01 November 2011 06:32:51PM 1 point [-]

welcome to lesswrong!

Comment author: buybuydandavis 31 October 2011 05:24:51AM 4 points [-]

I found this list after finding and loving EY's Harry Potter series.

I have a background in statistical pattern recognition, and quickly found that most of the writers I found real value in during graduate school were canon here - Jaynes, Pearl, Wolpert, Korzybski, to name a few. I'm hoping to pick up more, like Kahneman.,

Way back in early 90s, I was on the extropians list as well, and think I've seen a familiar name or two. Quality discussion groups are hard to find, and I'm very happy to have found this place.

Comment author: Cthulhoo 26 October 2011 11:05:11AM 7 points [-]

Hi to everyone!

I first arrived to this site several months ago, and I've been a voracious reader since then. So, after this period of "mad and desperate studying" ("studio matto e disperatissmo" as Leopardi would say) I think I am probably ready to stop lurking and start to actively participate. Despite having a scientific background (I have a Ph.D. in theoretical physics, even though I'm doing a completely different job at the moment) I never encountered before the concept of rationality as it's explicitely stated here. In fact, I used to think I was a very "rational" person, in the more generic use of the word, before reading the Sequences and discovering that... well, I wasn't. It's still a long way before I reach the level of many notable members of this community, but I would say that LW helped me make a big step in the right direction. I want to emphasize this concept: there are a lot of good places where you can obtain knowledge, very few that can teach you how you should handle it. It's though to do it on your own, so thanks LW!

Finally, I'm from Italy, and would love to know if there are other fellow LWers that would like to start an italian chapter of the conspiracy. Also, I think it would be great if we could manage to translate some of the Sequences: I managed to raise interest in some of the topics among my friends, but many of them can't read English well enough (or at all). Let me know what you think about it

Comment author: komponisto 26 October 2011 12:11:44PM 4 points [-]

Finally, I'm from Italy, and would love to know if there are other fellow LWers that would like to start an italian chapter of the conspiracy. Also, I think it would be great if we could manage to translate some of the Sequences: I managed to raise interest in some of the topics among my friends, but many of them can't read English well enough (or at all). Let me know what you think about it

Italian translation project.

See here.

Also, welcome!

Comment author: DoubleReed 23 October 2011 10:14:58PM 7 points [-]

Hello everyone!

I am a unwitting victim of HP: MoR, and of course it led me here. I'm still reading up on the sequences, which have plenty of intriguing content. My background is in Mathematics (specifically cryptography, not much probability theory) and Music (specifically bassoon and composition). Right now I work for the US government. I grew up as a secular Jew, so I didn't really have that much of a crisis of faith or anything. I must say I found Eliezer's description of Modern Judaism ("you are expected to doubt but not successfully doubt") as surprisingly accurate and amusing.

Though, after reading through things, I don't really think I can call myself a rationalist quite yet. I need more practice, honestly. Maybe I just need to successfully update :D

Perhaps I just need to look around more, but hopefully I can contribute to the more artistic ideas of the site. Reading through what is on the site, it makes me wonder how to apply rationalist methodology to the arts.

Comment author: komponisto 23 October 2011 10:49:20PM 1 point [-]

A most sincere welcome, from someone of a very similar background!

(And you've walked right in to a discussion you're likely to find interesting...)

Comment author: Peacewise 23 October 2011 03:46:30PM 4 points [-]

G'day friends,

who you are - that's a question far too involved for a first post. My name is not who I am, nor my job, nor my place of birth, nor what I do for leisure, nor what I find interesting, if you could see me, you might consider that my body is who I am, and I'd agree with that... online I am Peacewise, and that's a name I'm proud and respectful of, so you can expect that I'll maintain the dignity of those who interact with me.

What you're doing - I'm operating a business and studying a teaching degree. Along the way I'm being consistent with my belief that empowering people to see their lens is useful.

what you value - I value knowledge, I value sport and education, I value people and other living creatures.

how you came to identify as a rationalist - I'm not completely familiar with the word "rationalism" as it's used on this site, but my inclination to answer that question is ...by asking questions, by challenging assumptions and preconceptions, by noticing my own lens, by trying on answers and being willing to risk being wrong.

how you found us, a Quora user had a link on his profile page. I appreciate what Alex K Chen had to say in several Quora answers so I followed my intuition and ended up here.

I'm hungry for better thinking, I've spent enough time arguing with those who don't know what they don't know - yet claim they know it! I've had some success in opening a few minds along the way, but I'm tired, so weary of the overwhelming lack of decent thinking and indeed weary of the lack of motivation for decent thinking from too many.

I'd just like a place to be, where I don't have to lead the horse to water and then watch it die from thirst as it drinks sand. That's a flip of a saying my dad uses. "You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink." Quite true, but having led that horse to the water, having invested the time, to watch it then not drink the water, instead drinking sand and consequently die, well that's hard... and I'm over it.

Comment author: recumbent 20 October 2011 02:40:19AM 7 points [-]

I got a PhD in engineering, but I am interested in many fields, and I will post about my definition of super liberal arts education and ultra liberal arts education. I have an energy, environmental and global poverty background, but I am continuously searching for the most important areas to do research on and to give charity to. I now think this is existential risks, so I am developing a framework for quantifying this. I am an atheist, but I appreciate the community and intellectual discussion of the religion Unitarian Universalism, where many people are atheists. I'm not sure when I identified myself as a rationalist, but I have had many discussions and given many presentations that have provoked much disagreement from the emotional theists and environmentalists. I have been interested in trans-humanism since reading The Age of Spiritual Machines. I came to felicifia and this site through Alan Dawrst when I was researching cost-effectiveness of reducing animal suffering.

Comment author: JesseGalef 18 October 2011 04:02:09AM 14 points [-]

Hi everyone, my name is Jesse. I was introduced to LessWrong by my sister, Julia, a couple years ago and I've found the posts here fantastic.

Since college, I've been a professional atheist. I've done communications/PR work for three secular nonprofit organizations, helping to put a friendly face on nontheistic people and promoting a secular worldview/philosophy. It doesn't exactly pay well, but I like knowing that I'm part of making the world a more rational place.

I'm fascinated by a lot of the same things you are - psychology, rationality, language. But as a communications director, I have a particular passion for effective communication and persuasion. The "A Human's Guide to Words" sequence was invaluable in shaping my understanding and practice.

The question currently on my mind (among others) is: "Does it make sense to call a particular persuasion technique unethical? Or does it entirely depend on how it's used?"

Let me know what you think, and I look forward to being a part of this community!

  • Jesse
Comment author: shminux 18 October 2011 08:58:25PM 2 points [-]

Since college, I've been a professional atheist.

First I thought "Oh great, another believer in n gods for n=0", but after looking through your site I realized that it is much more about rationality and a secular approach to life, not just telling people that faith is a bad thing.

As for the morality of a particular persuasion technique, "do unto others..." is still a golden rule, despite its inherent biases and religious connotations.

Comment author: kilobug 18 October 2011 12:13:10PM 1 point [-]

I would say that any persuasion technique that requires plain lies is unethical. Lies are contagious and break trust, while trust is required for any constructive communication.

Now, it may be a lesser evil in some situations. But a lesser evil is still evil, and should be avoided every time it can be. So yes, to me, you can call a technique itself unethical. Some exceptional situations may force you to do something unethical, because the alternatives are much worse, but that can be said to anything (you can always construct an hypothetical situation in which a given ethical rule will have to be broken), so if we want to keep that "ethical" word, we can apply it to something like openly lying.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 18 October 2011 04:58:43AM *  20 points [-]

Some questions to ask:

  • Am I making people stronger, or weaker?
  • What would they think if they knew exactly what I was doing?
  • If lots of people used this technique, would the world be better off or worse off? Is that already happening and am I just keeping pace? Am I being substantially less evil than average?
  • Is this the sort of Dark Art that corrupts anything it touches (like telling people to have faith) or is it more neutral toward the content conveyed (like using colorful illustrations or having a handsome presenter speak a talk)?

(I've recently joked that SIAI should change its motto from "Don't be jerks" to "Be less evil than Google".)

Comment author: kilobug 18 October 2011 12:08:20PM 4 points [-]

"Am I making people stronger, or weaker?" That's a very important question, and sometimes hard to get right.

Consider a theist for whom the belief in god is a fundamental aspect of his life, whose faith makes him strong because it gives him something to protect. Breaking (or weakening) his belief in god before he built himself a line of retreat can do much more harm than good.

What should be done is first building the line of retreat, showing him that even without a god, his life does not become pointless, his ethics won't crumble to dust, and the thing he wants to protect is still worth protecting. And then, but only then, showing to him that his belief in god is not only unnecessary, but also making him weaker.

Comment author: JesseGalef 18 October 2011 05:27:22AM 3 points [-]

Great questions!

Regarding the second one, "What would [people] think if they knew exactly what I was doing?" - I absolutely agree that it's important as a pragmatic issue. If someone will get upset by a technique - justified or not - we need to factor that into the decision to use it.

But do you think their discomfort is a sign that the technique is unethical in any meaningful sense, or merely socially frowned upon? Society tends to form its conventions for a reason, but those reasons aren't necessarily tied to a consistent conception of morality.

That said, I agree that if people get upset by a practice, it's a good warning sign that the practice could be unethical and merits careful thought. ...Which could be exactly what you meant by asking the question.

By the way, I'm looking forward to meeting you at Skepticon next month - I'll be moderating a panel you'll be on!

Comment author: lessdazed 19 October 2011 01:16:30AM 2 points [-]

a pragmatic issue. If someone will get upset by a technique - justified or not - we need to factor that into the decision to use it...discomfort is a sign that the technique is unethical in any meaningful sense

If people get upset by a technique, that is a harm, but if their suffering that harm has good consequences, upsetting them was, all else equal, a good thing to do. So upsetting people is always related to ethics as more than just a sign.

discomfort is a sign that the technique is unethical in any meaningful sense, or merely socially frowned upon?

Unethical things are frowned upon to the extent people feel (at some level) frowning impacts that sort of action; regarding blame:

But determinists don't just ignore the very important differences between brain tumors and poor taste in music. Some biological phenomena, like poor taste in music, are encoded in such a way that they are extremely vulnerable to what we can call social influences: praise, condemnation, introspection, and the like. Other biological phenomena, like brain tumors, are completely immune to such influences. This allows us to develop a more useful model of blame.

The consequentialist model of blame is very different from the deontological model. Because all actions are biologically determined, none are more or less metaphysically blameworthy than others, and none can mark anyone with the metaphysical status of "bad person" and make them "deserve" bad treatment. Consequentialists don't on a primary level want anyone to be treated badly, full stop; thus is it written: "Saddam Hussein doesn't deserve so much as a stubbed toe." But if consequentialists don't believe in punishment for its own sake, they do believe in punishment for the sake of, well, consequences. Hurting bank robbers may not be a good in and of itself, but it will prevent banks from being robbed in the future. And, one might infer, although alcoholics may not deserve condemnation, societal condemnation of alcoholics makes alcoholism a less attractive option.

So here, at last, is a rule for which diseases we offer sympathy, and which we offer condemnation: if giving condemnation instead of sympathy decreases the incidence of the disease enough to be worth the hurt feelings, condemn; otherwise, sympathize. Though the rule is based on philosophy that the majority of the human race would disavow, it leads to intuitively correct consequences. Yelling at a cancer patient, shouting "How dare you allow your cells to divide in an uncontrolled manner like this; is that the way your mother raised you??!" will probably make the patient feel pretty awful, but it's not going to cure the cancer. Telling a lazy person "Get up and do some work, you worthless bum," very well might cure the laziness. The cancer is a biological condition immune to social influences; the laziness is a biological condition susceptible to social influences, so we try to socially influence the laziness and not the cancer.

Society often has good reasons behind its moral classifications.

Use your gut.

Comment author: arundelo 18 October 2011 07:20:15AM 2 points [-]

I just checked out the Skepticon list of speakers. Laughter was induced by the picture of David Silverman.

Comment author: ciphergoth 20 October 2011 02:23:25PM 3 points [-]

Didn't know the story behind that one, so thank you Know Your Meme. That's the face he made when Bill O'Reilly said "You can’t explain why the tide goes in."

Comment author: pedanterrific 18 October 2011 04:29:24AM *  2 points [-]

Bienvenidos, Jesse!

"Does it make sense to call a particular persuasion technique unethical? Or does it entirely depend on how it's used?"

You may or may not be aware, but this has been discussed at some length around these parts; Dark Arts is an okay summary. (Edit: A particularly good post on the subject is NTLing.) If you've already read it and think the topic could stand more elaboration, though, I'm with you.

Oh, and "professional atheist"? Totally awesome.

Comment author: eggman 13 October 2011 06:43:37PM *  6 points [-]

This seems rather unnecessary, but I'm posting here so that other people have a reference to my intro to rationality, if they're so inclined to read about it.

At the time of this posting I'm a 19 year-old male college student of middle class origins living in Vancouver, Canada, if that makes a difference. I was raised in a nonreligious home by politically centrist and humanist parents.

Having friends who were a bit nerdy and considered themselves rational in an irrational world, sane in an insane world, etc. they were very interested in a film called "Zeitgeist: Addendum" which confirmed their worldview at the time. I too watched the film and we were in awe of the Venus Project. http://www.thevenusproject.com http://zeitgeistmovie.com/

The Venus Project sees a bulk of humanity's problems as the result of faulty human psychology being propogated by social stratification in a money economy. The creators of the Venus Project believe that by creating material abundance through the application of technology that the Law of Supply and Demand can be superceded and hence money no longer needs to exist. In a global society with no social stratification, a culture based upon values derived through use of the Scientific Method could then be propogated to prevent all future global-scale conflicts. I would describe it as post-scarcity technocratic marxism/anarcho-communism.

We got involved in an online community built around the Venus Project, with aims to participate in an intentional community of some sort. . Originally we thought the Zeitgeist Movement would be about reaching conclusion about how civilizations could reduce existential risk, and then using some form of mass media to get this message out. Ultimately, we found that the organizaiton was too focused on inert political activism, as well as the regional group being very autocratic. Around the same time, a friend of mine interested in Singulatariansim and transhumanism discovered LessWrong and got the rest of us interested. We no longer participate in any formal or public organizations, seeing them as mostly ineffective, instead just being a group of friends interested in the problematic lack of rationality in societies.

In other words, we found organizations that had a sound epistemic rationality, but without instrumental rationality, they became stagnant. To figure out how to effectively communicate rationality to others is as important a goal as learning about it myself.

We have switched to a more individualist and modest focus: just trying to understand the world and improve our own lives, moving onto something bigger in the long-run. We are doing this with much inspiration and influence from LessWrong.

In the near future I will read HP:MoR and the sequences and move on from there.

Comment author: lessdazed 13 October 2011 09:04:43PM *  4 points [-]


I'm posting here so that other people have a reference to my intro to rationality

Of all the people other than you that there are, this reference will be most important to eggman_2013.

Comment author: Sam_Jaques 13 October 2011 02:06:37AM 5 points [-]


I was introduced to Less Wrong by a friend about a year ago. My first impression was of thoughts and opinions that I already had, or had half-thought, but expressed much more clearly. How could I not love it? I eventually read all of the sequences, finding novel but brilliant ideas. I now recommend them to almost everyone I meet. Coincidentally, after I'd started reading the sequences, I found HP:MOR, and had my mind blown when I found out most of them were written by the same person. Currently, I'm trying to read E.T. Jaynes', "Probability Theory: The Logic of Science", but I'm having some trouble, especially since I can't seem to solve any of the examples. If anyone has a solutions guide, or some small hints, I'd greatly appreciate it.

Comment author: asparisi 10 October 2011 01:22:00AM 4 points [-]

Hello all,

I've put off coming here for as long as I have been able (not due to not wanting to join the community, but due to the fact that my obligations make it so that I often have to drop communities, which I feel regret about) but I think I finally have time to be a quasi-active participant in the community here, so we'll see what happens.

I first saw this site, following it from Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality about a year or two ago, and followed that up with reading the sequences. (Which were instrumental in helping me push away a whole host of cached thoughts and poor patterns that I had developed over my life, although it took some time to do so, and I doubt I got them all.) At around the time I was reading through them, I was contacted by Adelene Dawner through a friend's livejournal, who invited me to join the community. I think I finally might have some time to devote to being quasi-active, or at least following things and commenting occasionally.

Comment author: occlude 10 October 2011 01:20:27AM *  6 points [-]

Hello everyone, it's so great to be here. I was introduced to LessWrong by a post left by C. Russo on Freedomainradio.com back in late July, which dumped me right into How to Actually Change Your Mind. Since then, I have found myself spending progressively more of my free time here, reading both old and new content.

Over the last several years, I've made a habit of spending my evenings online, blown by the winds of curiosity. While this has led me to the vague sense that I needed to make some adjustments to my map, I didn't have a good sense of the tools I needed to edit it.

I grew up in a religious (Mormon) family (was even a white-shirt-wearing, door-knocking, Book-of-Mormon thumping missionary for two years), but gave up my belief in my mid-twenties after searching for -- and failing to find -- a convincing argument for my belief. I had been taught to identify a specific and powerful feeling with "The Holy Ghost," but when I reflected on my experiences, I realized that I had felt that feeling on many occasions that seemed inconsistent with the idea that God was giving me information in those moments. I have, furthermore, felt that feeling many times since my apostasy, which seems (to quote Cyan), like icing on the coffin of that false belief. A few days ago, I read a comment on A Rationalist's Tale by summerstay which gave my feeling a name (frisson), and a scientific explanation.

I manage a small group of analysts at a large corporation, and have of late been on the lookout for ways to infuse LW concepts into our group discussions. On a related note, I read Raising the Sanity Waterline today, and wondered whether anyone has thought about or attempted to actually create a Youtube series corresponding to Eliezer's four-credit undergraduate course with no prerequisites, designed to secretly make people more rational.

Sorry for the ramble; again, it's a pleasure.

Comment author: cadac 08 October 2011 09:36:56PM 5 points [-]

Hi everybody! More than half a year ago, I came across LessWrong via Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, and have since read around half of the sequences. I'm so glad I found this site. I had a sense that more is possible, but I didn't even know the word "philantrophy" existed before I got here, although that might be because that word is less common in German (which is my first language). At the few meetups I've been to, I've met some very awesome folks – I can't remeber feeling so comparatively uninteresting ever before. I hope my experience with this site continues to be this eye-opening.

Comment author: Prismattic 09 October 2011 02:13:58AM 4 points [-]

... I didn't even know the word "philantrophy" existed before I got here...

It's "philanthropy", but "philantrophy" would be an awesome neologism for the chaos that results from well-intentioned but ill-conceived humanitarian aid.

Comment author: pedanterrific 09 October 2011 03:13:11AM *  4 points [-]

Philentropy: (noun) measure of the decrease of the utility/dollar ratio as a function of distance to recipient.

Edit: Here I thought I just made this up whole cloth, and what does google tell me but that it's the name of an album older than I am. Nothing new under the sun, etc and so on. Relevant.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 October 2011 11:14:30PM *  8 points [-]

Hey, I'm a 20 year old medical student, I've always had almost compulsive need to know the "truth". In retrospective I have been moving towards LW for a long time, first off I came in contact with Aubrey De Grey's campaign against aging, and decided as a 17-year-old that I wanted to dedicate my life to that cause (hopefully the problem gets solved before I die so I don't have to spend whole my life battling aging). Then from that I moved on to other transhuman ideas but got a bit skeptical about Ray Kurzweil's senario, began thinking about brain-uploading meant + morality + meaning of life + free will --> got depressed, read Dennett -> got a lot better, saw a few videos of Eliezer Yudkowsky and "thought he seems like a super-sane person, wonder if he stands on solid ground" found Less Wrong, prioritized becoming a more rational person.

Still a bit skeptical about plausibility the singularity happening any time soon(<50 years), so I right now I'm doing stem cell (hES, IPS) research, when my studies allow. But really enjoying LW (as well as finding it really useful).

Cheers! (And sorry about the "my life story")

Comment author: Normal_Anomaly 08 October 2011 09:47:06PM 2 points [-]

Welcome to Less Wrong, Wix! Kudos to you for working in anti-aging research.

Comment author: Alerik 07 October 2011 10:44:00PM 5 points [-]

Hello all.
My name is Alerik. I'm a 29 year old Civil Engineering student and father of one (so far). I'm hoping to graduate within the next year. I've been in school forever, changing schools several times, and majors from naval architecture to physics to applied math and computer science to civil engineering. I've been a terrible student much of the time, and a poor organizer of my time much of the time. I was raised very religious, broke away from my church when my grandfather's death revealed the enormous corruption within the church, and broke with theism and religion in general in my mid twenties after a lot of reading, especially at stardestroyer.net. I came to be introduced to Less Wrong through several links from stardestroyer.net on topics about artificial intelligence and epistemology.

After my deconversion I found I was able to make my way out of a decade of suicidal depression and constant internal rationalization processes trying to harmonize dogma and science. I was able to engage in functional adult relationships and move forward with reduced fear. Nevertheless, I am still riddled with irrational and self defeating behaviors that I was unable to consistently overcome even when I detected them in operation. Only recently have I been able to make much significant progress, and have only taken beginning steps. I have found the Litany of Gendlin to be of immense help. I have also joined a local freethinker group, but it has not yet become well organized, and the focus is still on the influences of religion and not on how to improve rationality in general. I Wish to Become Stronger; therefore I am here. I must cleanse myself of the cloudy emotions and habits that prevent me from seeing what I need to see or deciding what I wish to decide. I must move forward with choosing the best life possible for myself and my family. And I expect, and even hope, though I admit to occasional fear, that the resulting optimal path in life results in a world very different from what I have come to expect.

Comment author: Velorien 07 October 2011 12:49:51PM 6 points [-]

Greetings, all. I've spent most of my life (being 24 now) longing for the sort of clarity provided by rationalist thought, but only discovered a few months ago that there was such a thing as empirically verifiable truth accessible to me, and that it was possible to build a belief system with solid foundations. I'm still going through the resulting lengthy process of reassessing my beliefs in light of actual evidence.

My partner recently introduced me to this site, and I dived right in - only to hit a concrete wall. My mathematical skills, unused since school, have completely atrophied, to the point that I can't even follow An Intuitive Explanation of Bayesian Reasoning (my work computer's refusal to load applets not helping). Since a significant proportion of the Sequences seem to rely on at least a basic understanding of probability theory, I am rather stuck. With this in mind, I'd like to ask for recommendations of material which will help me grasp the essentials necessary to fully understand Less Wrong.

I realise that asking for things I might theoretically find through sufficient Googling sounds lazy, but on the other hand the fine people here might know the best-written and most effective ways of covering the necessary ground.

So: what areas of mathematics and probability theory do I need to cover in order to be able to follow the material on Less Wrong, and do you know of any good sources for learning them, assuming I'm starting from zero?

Comment author: kilobug 07 October 2011 03:28:31PM 1 point [-]

Welcome !

The "Intuitive Explanation" is very interesting, but not always the easiest to grasp. The most important thing to understand the Sequences is the beginning, understanding how to compute (even if you do it manually, by "counting" women of each possible cases) the chance of having cancer knowing you have a positive mammography.

For the rest, I would advise you to start reading the Sequences, and stopping when you find something that you don't understand, and then trying to learn that part of maths. You're free to ask for pointers or hints when you find such a "blocker".

What you'll need is base of probability theory, a tiny bit of vector algebra (or anything that can help you grasp the concept of n-dimensional space, with a huge n) for the quantum mechanics sequence, and the understanding of what a "function" is in maths. The rest should go easily.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 October 2011 02:38:55PM *  5 points [-]

Don't worry, you're definitely not the only one who found the Intuitive Explanation difficult. Have you seen Visualizing Bayes' Theorem? If that doesn't help, there are some other explanations on this LessWrongWiki page.

As far as the sequences are concerned, you'll probably be fine as long as you have a basic understanding of what probability is and how to use Bayes' Theorem; fortunately, there isn't too much math in the Core Sequences.

Comment author: Mirai 07 October 2011 01:37:38AM 9 points [-]

Hello, I'm a government and economics double major in an all-women's liberal arts college in Massachusetts. I discovered Less Wrong through an economics professor who gave a lecture on why it is important to be a rationalist. As an ex-lit. major, the sequence on "A Human's Guide to Words" caught my eye, and I'm currently working my way through it. I look forward to learning more.

Comment author: tog 04 October 2011 01:14:34PM *  5 points [-]

Hi all, I've just started reading Less Wrong, having long seen links to it on utilitarian communities online and through philosopher friends in Oxford. If you want to know more about me you could read the 'about me' page on my http://www.philosofiles.com/ website, though I won't bore you with the details here! I'm always more than happy to discuss my beliefs though, so I look forward to eventually engaging with the discussions here :)

Comment author: uzalud 30 September 2011 12:18:31PM 5 points [-]

Hello everyone.

I live in Croatia, currently working as an IT consultant after working some years at the University. Along with software development I was always interested in psychology, particularly evolutionary psychology, social psychology and human rationality.

I guess I've been a rationalist for as long as I can remember. My interest in science and (oddly) my exposure to catechism at an early age - in a then socialist country - made me question people's approach to knowledge and reasoning.

I hope to find ways to effectively communicate facts and ideas about human rationality to people, especially young people in my region of Europe. However, I'm still struggling to understand the laws and mechanisms of human reasoning, so I'm hoping my participation here will go a long way in helping me with that.

Comment author: Yossarian 29 September 2011 03:10:02AM *  9 points [-]

Hello, I found Less Wrong after a friend recommended Methods of Rationality, which I devoured in short order. That was almost a year ago and I've been lurking LW off and on ever since. In June I attended a meetup and had some of the best conversation I've had in a long time. Since then, I've been attacking the sequences more systematically and making solid progress.

I'm in my late 20's, live in Los Angeles, and work in the entertainment industry (after failing miserably as an engineering student). It's my ambition to produce stories and science fiction that raise the sanity waterline of our society. Film and television science fiction has never come close to approaching the depth and breadth of imagination and thoughtfulness of literary science fiction and I'd like to be a part of the effort to close that gap, however slightly.

I have a hypothesis that the sociological function of stories is to communicate lessons about desirable or undesirable human behavior and translate them from an intellectual idea that can't be grasped by us on an intuitive level to an emotional idea that can, in the process making it more likely we'll remember them and apply the lesson to our own behavior. Almost like a mnemonic device.

For example, I could give a three hour lecture on the importance of reputation and credibility in group dynamics. Or I could tell the story of the boy who cried wolf in under three minutes and communicate the same idea in a way that is intuitively graspable on an emotional level and is therefore much more likely to be retained.

Anyway, my grasp on this idea is far from complete and I hope this community can help me get a better handle on it, ultimately resulting in propagating ideas that contribute to the optimization of humanity.