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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)

Comment author: cata 12 August 2010 05:38:35AM *  7 points [-]

Oh, hi. I'm an autodidact programmer in my early 20s working for a small company. A lot of programmers tend to be hacker sorts who like making things, but I mostly only care about achieving a deeper and more intuitive understanding of the world. I am interested in a lot of things, but I tend to concentrate alternately on math, CS, linguistics, philosophy, history, and literature.

I don't identify as a rationalist or make very rational decisions, but I share a lot of intellectual interests with the community, and there aren't really any other public spots on the web where smart people are discussing a variety of topics without a ton of noise and bullshit.

I don't have enough background in some of the jargon and shared historical discussion here to contribute to many of the more topical discussions, but hopefully as I catch up on the archives I'll be able to comment more often.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 12 August 2010 07:14:40AM 3 points [-]

I don't identify as a rationalist or make very rational decisions, but I share a lot of intellectual interests with the community, and there aren't really any other public spots on the web where smart people are discussing a variety of topics without a ton of noise and bullshit.

Hacker News is pretty nice:

http://news.ycombinator.com/

Does anyone have more recommendations?

Comment author: komponisto 12 August 2010 08:13:06AM 6 points [-]

My impression is that Hacker News is above average, but still a noticeable notch below LW. Same goes for sites like the Richard Dawkins and JREF forums (perhaps two notches in those cases), and the comments sections of blogs of various academics (such as Overcoming Bias).

Comment author: katydee 12 August 2010 10:36:34AM 5 points [-]

Skeptical sites are good, but not great, because being a good skeptic is different from being a good rational thinker. You can probably get by as a skeptic knowing only "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" and the basics of the scientific method.

Comment author: cata 12 August 2010 11:51:21AM 4 points [-]

I agree with this, and in particular, although there are generally smart people on Hacker News, there are a ton of people who are interested in talking about business and startups 24/7, a topic I find extremely boring.

I'm a big fan of MetaFilter (http://www.metafilter.com/). The commenters there are charming and often pretty smart, but the spirit of discussion is usually somewhat less serious.

Comment author: Spurlock 12 August 2010 02:49:05PM 2 points [-]

The key thing here separating Hacker News from LW is the "variety of topics". While HN is officially centered around startup culture (which like cata, I have no particular interest in), the community is happy to link to and discuss just about anything of intellectual interest. Today there's a link about punctuation marks for indicating irony.

The level of discourse might not be quite up to LW, but the subject matter is a lot more inclusive.

Comment author: rhollerith_dot_com 12 August 2010 04:59:21PM *  3 points [-]

The level of discourse [on Hacker News] might not be quite up to LW, but the subject matter is a lot more inclusive.

I find it strange that you would say that. (And I've read a lot of Hacker News.)

Given an arbitrary aspect of reality (e.g., an aspect of human life or of the world around us) I think you are just as likely to be able to start a discussion of it here as on Hacker News if you can meet LW's higher standard for rationality.

In other words, I think Hacker News is simply more tolerant of worthless ways of discussing topics, not tolerant of more topics.

(Of course, Hacker News is more worthwhile than most places on the web.)

Comment author: MichaelVassar 12 August 2010 04:12:03PM 1 point [-]

I just found it, and I'll probably be disappointed, but http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/philg/ looks pretty good so far.

Comment author: gwern 18 August 2010 11:26:54AM 0 points [-]

I've read PG for a year or three now, and he's very one-note - railing against government waste and repression of business, and he's not the most rigorous or deep libertarian thinker I've ever read. I keep reading because every so often he writes about something like more efficient higher-education or why women aren't in STEM fields in large numbers which is worth all the dross.

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: cousin_it 12 August 2010 06:54:33AM *  17 points [-]

I remember stumbling across Plantinga's modal argument and going "what?" For convenience of onlookers, here it is in a more digestible form.

Premise 1: Besides our world, there are other "logically possible" worlds.

Premise 2: Some cheeseburgers are totally awesome.

Premise 3: To be totally awesome, a cheeseburger has to exist in all possible worlds, because being "logically necessary" sounds like a totally awesome quality to have.

Conclusion: Therefore, if a totally awesome cheeseburger is possible at all (exists in one possible world), then it exists in all possible worlds, including ours.

(facepalm happens here)

Comment author: dclayh 12 August 2010 07:09:54AM 2 points [-]

A.k.a., ontology with some bells and whistles.

Comment author: Matt_Simpson 12 August 2010 07:14:27AM 0 points [-]

the entire enterprise of modal logic seems facepalm worthy to me

Comment author: Oligopsony 12 August 2010 07:26:27AM 4 points [-]

Modal logic is actually quite useful. If modal realism turns you off you can just accept it as a language game (which any sort of formal logic is going to be.)

The non-sequitur in Plantinga's argument, as presented by cousin it, is P3. (Plantinga's own argument is a bit more subtle, and its ultimate error is in eliding between different meanings of the term "possible." He successfully shows that under formal logic if possibly necessarily x then necessarily x, and then ascribes possible necessity to God because God is one of the most few things that often is argued to be necessary, and that God seems like the sort of sufficiently abstract thing that it might be necessary. But this isn't the sort of possibility that's germane to formal logic.)

Comment author: cousin_it 12 August 2010 09:59:59AM 0 points [-]

I agree with Eliezer's critique of the value of modal logics: 1, 2.

Comment author: thomblake 12 August 2010 02:31:51PM 2 points [-]

Eh. He didn't really show they're not valuable, just that they haven't reduced the notions they work with to something other than black boxes. Modal operators can mean all sorts of things, aside from "possibility" and "necessity", and black boxes are fine as long as they work properly - if you need to know what their internals look like, that's just a project for some other formalism.

Comment author: fiddlemath 12 August 2010 03:24:22PM *  3 points [-]

I understand that when folks say "modal logic" in this context, they're generally referring to model logics that implicitly quantify over poorly-defined spaces. However, that's not what all modal logics are like, and so I hate to see them maligned with a broad brush.

Consider, say, dynamic logic, which I actually use as a tool in my research on program analysis. When my set of "actions" are statements in a well-defined programming language, I can mechanically translate any dynamic logic statement into a non-modal, first-order statement. I almost never do this, because the modal viewpoint is usually clearer and closer to the way we actually think about programs.

Equivalently: you can use whatever logical operators you like, if you can define the operator's meaning without reference to the operator. It can help you say what you're trying to say, rather than spending all of your time with low-level details. It's like a higher-level programming language, but with math.

Comment author: Matt_Simpson 12 August 2010 11:47:23PM *  1 point [-]

I understand that when folks say "modal logic" in this context, they're generally referring to model logics that implicitly quantify over poorly-defined spaces. However, that's not what all modal logics are like...

Consider my eyes opened.

Equivalently: you can use whatever logical operators you like, if you can define the operator's meaning without reference to the operator.

This is my problem with the modal logics I have encountered - bad or unclear definitions of the modal operators.

Comment author: RobinZ 12 August 2010 04:20:19PM 2 points [-]

This introductory philosophy class syllabus links to a statement of the ontological argument by Platinga, if anyone wants to read the argument in the words of the proponent.

Comment author: Aurini 12 August 2010 06:57:50AM *  11 points [-]

Well, I never did get around to introducing myself in the original thread, so I might as well post something here.

I spent six years as an infantry soldier, did most of a History degree before dropping out in disgust, have a Post Apocalyptic scifi novel currently in negotiations with a publisher, I used to be a math prodigy but now I can barely remember Calculus, taught myself auto mechanics over the period of one month after buying a car for a pack of cigarettes, I ride a motorcycle, I have some sort of mutant ability to talk cops down when they start feeling violent, and am drastically over skilled and under employed.

I'm hoping to contribute to the community more substantially than just leaving comments; I have a couple of posts I'm working out in my head. The first is a summary of TVTropes - what it is and why it's important - the other being a guide to using the Dark Arts.

I really regret my math not being up to par for this community; I tend to understand things on a gut/instinctual level (ie: I can catch a ball, but have trouble calculating the trajectory) but my math's too rusty to 'prove' most of my ideas.

Despite a deep-seated desire for it to be otherwise, I dwell in the banker-run metropolis of Calgary, Alberta.

Also, I have a blog where I write about how Vile and Unconscionable it is, living in this dystopia: www.staresattheworld.com

Comment author: gwern 12 August 2010 07:32:30AM *  1 point [-]

The first is a summary of TVTropes - what it is and why it's important - the other being a guide to using the Dark Arts.

Is this along the lines of Robin Hanson's endorsement?

Comment author: Aurini 12 August 2010 06:12:48PM 2 points [-]

I somehow missed that post of his; the short answer is yes. The world that tropes describe is - I believe - Magic. When you start seeing the dynamics of how that world works, you can pinpoint the roots of many of our biases.

Comment author: DanR 12 August 2010 07:23:48AM *  7 points [-]

Hi I found Less Wrong a few days ago when someone pointed me towards your recent list of recommended books. I followed the comment thread (particularly nodding my head at the mentions of Marcus Aurelius' Meditations which I want to read) and had a look around the rest of the blog. I liked what I saw.

I'm an American living in Cyprus, and into learning more about the Epicurean, Skeptic, Stoics and Platonic philosophies. I'm also a molecular biologist by training, and interested in ecology, ornithology, birdwatching, cooking, and philosophy of science.

For my rationality, I grew up always thinking that Christianity was a nice metaphor for issues relating to the human condition, but never thinking that anything in the Bible happened literally the way it was said. I suppose you could say that I believed in the value of belief. Watching Bill Moyers' interview with Joseph Campbell in The Power of Myth changed that for me 15 or so years ago. It just clicked with my view of religion: it served as a mythic narrative, and you don't need a mythic narrative to be religious... Star Wars or any other epic myth will do nicely. So I severed the only reason I ever had to value religion and never looked back, being skeptical of dubious claims ever since by nature.

If there are any skeptics, stoics, Epicureans or other rational minds in Cyprus, please contact me!

Comment author: Oligopsony 12 August 2010 07:40:55AM 3 points [-]

My understanding is that Campbell was never well-regarded by the relevant academics and that time hasn't helped his reputation any.

This reminds me, by the by, of my own "conversion" experience: a book by the name of the Lucifer Principle by a one Howard Bloom. I read it at a young age and was dazzled by the basic idea of evolution, which had been taught to me in school and was never disputed by my church, but never with such power: I finally Got It; that from random processes patterns always emerge and are implicit, humans are just a complex pattern operating on the basis of laws mostly beyond our comprehension, &c.

Years later, I re-read it, expecting to re-unite with the wonder of my past and... was struck by how stupid it was. The arguments were moronic, the facts were wrong half the time, and so on. But I owe it a debt for making me a materialist, even if I would have dismissed it after perusing it at the library today.

Comment author: DanR 12 August 2010 07:50:14AM 0 points [-]

Oh I'm not saying that Campbell was well-regarded by his peers in academia - I'm not a scholar in that field by any means and don't know anything about that. I was just saying that it woke me up to see that a developing mind can learn useful values and ideals from any kind of epic story. IOW a religion isn't necessary for our morals to take shape.

Comment author: MichaelVassar 12 August 2010 04:10:09PM 1 point [-]

I'm pretty sure I understand what Campbell was doing, and given that it was something totally cool and fundamentally opposed to what academia is about, this just shows that they could identify what he was. Ditto Tolkein and Lewis.

Basically, these are people who are intentionally creating a misleading conception of history in order to shape the identities of children who encounter it towards identifying with mankind as a whole rather than with some smaller group, NOT people who are trying to explain how things are to their readers, framed neutrally.

Comment author: Daniel_Burfoot 12 August 2010 02:38:04PM 0 points [-]

Campbell was never well-regarded by the relevant academics

Arrgh!! Totally meaningless!

Comment author: Oligopsony 12 August 2010 03:21:56PM 8 points [-]

No, it's a good heuristic. It's good enough reason for the lay to accept anthropogenic global warming, the Holocaust, and the fact that HIV causes AIDS, to gesture at obvious examples.

Obviously not everyone can use that heuristic. Like any other, it will be wrong sometimes. But it's good enough for Bayesian updating.

Comment author: wedrifid 12 August 2010 03:37:22PM *  3 points [-]

(So perhaps "Arrgh!! Sometimes overrated!")

Comment author: madair 12 August 2010 08:27:57AM 11 points [-]

I think that's the most inviting community post I have ever read. I've been a lurker for awhile with almost no participation. Lately I've started catching up on old articles. My background is raised in a Jesus people hippie cult and thus took a long road to atheism and attempted rationality.

In other forums I tend to participate more (I'm a software developer, so that's plenty of online community). However I'm at LessWrong to learn, and so I don't have much to contribute at present. Which reminds me, I love this place for not being ivory tower. I find too much of this type of community in other forums to be biased towards academia (and somehow proud of it). It's a nice contrast here.

Comment author: ciphergoth 12 August 2010 08:32:16AM 6 points [-]

Wow, thanks! It's been said with some justice that LessWrong is ridiculously forbidding, so it's nice that it doesn't always come across that way.

Comment author: madair 12 August 2010 09:21:48AM 1 point [-]

: ) It's certainly challenging, and of course leans towards ivory tower, quite reasonably though considering high concept is intrinsic to the subject matter.

Comment author: Spurlock 12 August 2010 01:20:35PM 3 points [-]

I think it's pretty intimidating at first glance, but a good bit of effort seems to go towards helping newcomers get to where they ought to start (this post is an example). This seems like the key thing to me, and I think it's done reasonably well. Every time anyone makes a sincere, well-intended, and not condescending "Welcome to Less Wrong" reply comment, I think the community gets a little more inviting.

Comment author: MartinB 12 August 2010 04:43:19PM 5 points [-]

The first few times I got down voted it hurt a bit, but it is a signal (in many cases) that something with my commenting was wrong, and as long as that is the case I prefer to have it pointed out. Note that there are also people being helpful when you commit errors, or write articles. I think the less inviting feeling can come from the higher regard for content. In some atheism forums where I post we have super nice theists posting, and getting respected just for being honest and decent people. Which is fine, but they do not get any flack for the content they write. On LW you don't get additional karma points for being a nice person.

PS: welcome

Comment author: KrisC 12 August 2010 10:06:35AM 12 points [-]

Hello all. I've been meaning to introduce myself in the old welcome thread for a while now.

I found this site shortly after Overcoming Bias while doing research for an open source project I'm planning to make public within the next few months. The project is peer-based and derived from what I learned about decision making in anthropology classes. (Don't worry, the methods have been Bayesian since before I knew the term.)

In addition to teaching myself Java and a variety of other languages to put that project together, I also do some 3D design and printing. Trying to build a strong skillset for a post scarcity world brought about by personalized manufacturing. Any time now....

I had a lot of early childhood exposure to both the occult and organized religion. I feel that by early 20s I pretty well exhausted everything mysticism and esoteric knowledge has to offer. I have a tendency to get defensive when entire traditions are dismissed by those who have only cursory familiarity. When a group of people pursue a discipline they believe to be useful for centuries, some of their methods and conclusions may be useful.

Studied Materials Engineering and Anthropology (no degree - long story). Volunteered for many years at an industrial history museum (Master Weaver, Journeyman Potter, Tanner, and Millwright). Have found work drawing maps, cooking food, and running games (RPGs). I picked my current job in a highly rational manner, and it is so boring and methodical that I yearn to program robots to do it. I try not to deceive, always try new things, and try to live longer. Plus, I love and tend to abuse parentheses().

Great site, btw.

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 29 August 2010 05:39:36AM 2 points [-]

I had a lot of early childhood exposure to both the occult and organized religion. I feel that by early 20s I pretty well exhausted everything mysticism and esoteric knowledge has to offer. I have a tendency to get defensive when entire traditions are dismissed by those who have only cursory familiarity. When a group of people pursue a discipline they believe to be useful for centuries, some of their methods and conclusions may be useful.

Could you write about what you got out of mysticism? (I suppose that the third sentence could be interpreted as a reason why not.)

Comment author: KrisC 04 December 2010 09:04:06PM 0 points [-]
Comment author: mstevens 12 August 2010 11:02:07AM 6 points [-]

Hello!

I think I may have posted on a welcome thread before, but I still consider myself pretty new so saying hi again.

I've long thought rational thought is underrated. I find LW very interesting but quite difficult to get into.

Things I'd like to see:

Better introductory content.

Things I find particularly interesting:

Discussion of akrasia and strategies for avoiding it.

Buddhism - is it compatible with rationality? Personally I think some aspects yes, some aspects no.

Comment author: David_Allen 13 August 2010 01:38:53AM 1 point [-]

I think it would be possible to dump the mystical elements of Buddhism, and combine the rest with Bayesianism. I could see the ideal of optimal enlightenment.

Comment author: mstevens 13 August 2010 02:03:49PM *  0 points [-]

I see some very promising trends in some of the Western Zen stuff, eg Brad Warner ( http://hardcorezen.blogspot.com/)(before anyone says it, I also see big problems with him!)

There's a lot of dumping of mysticism, and some of the more unfortunate bits like gods and reincarnation.

And there are Buddha quotes like:

"Be lamps unto yourselves. Be refuges unto yourselves. Take yourself no external refuge. Hold fast to the truth as a lamp. Hold fast to the truth as a refuge. "

(intermediate source http://www.sapphyr.net/buddhist/buddhist-quotes.htm, I'm pretty sure there are primary sources but too lazy to dig them up)

Which I think is very compatible with rationalism.

And a lot of Buddhism seems to me to make nice testable claims "do these things and you will experience a greater frequency of desirable mental states", for example.

However there's also other stuff I'm somewhat sympathetic to, but have doubts about, which seem to suggest giving up on rational thought.

Comment author: mstevens 13 August 2010 02:24:38PM 2 points [-]

Further comments, which I'm making in the safe haven of this topic rather than the wilds of the rest of LW:

I'm moderately sympathetic to all the cryonics / singularity stuff that's often talked about here, but also suspicious. I haven't come up with a properly argued response, (or even read all the very long posts about it!), but LW in general gives me a feeling of twisting things to fit already chosen conclusions on these topics.

Cryonics: I view it as a long-shot option with a possible big payoff. The part I have my doubts about is the feeling I get that it's seen as a particularly good long-shot that's important to focus on.

Singularity stuff: This has all very possibly been discussed at length in a long post I haven't read, and I'm quite happy to get references. Two areas of this make me uncomfortable:

  • For me a key problem seems to be the rate at which people can adapt to new technologies. I'm sure I've seen this raised either in Marooned in Realtime (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marooned_in_Realtime) or in very standard commentary on it, so I'm sure this has been addressed somewhere. This seems likely to me to stop acceleration in technology once we reach the stage of significant change within a human lifetime.

  • Someone still has to do all the thinking. Assuming the singularity happens, and as yet undefined entities can solve major problems in short timespans, this will be because they are thinking very fast. They will be operating on a much faster time scale and to them, the apparent rate of progress won't be much greater. The singularity will only appear to solve all our problems by handwaving from the point of view of the un-accelerated. Which around here seems to be viewed as an unpleasant state of existence, to be escaped as soon as the technology is available.

Comment author: biodork 12 August 2010 12:35:53PM 8 points [-]

Hey! Great site - I look forward to reading the archives and new articles.

How did I come to rationalism?

I didn't realize it for a long time, but my first rational response was at a very young age. Some bully girl at school cornered me with her friends as said "You're stupid!". My response: "Nuh-UH!" (pause) "Hey, I get better grades than you! You're stupid, not me!"

I couldn't pick out the fallacies (hers and mine, lol) back then, but even then I knew that she was wrong, that I wasn't stupid just because she said so. I remember being very excited with I found out that my undergrad Philosophy 101 was called "Critical Thinking" and that's where I was formally introduced to logical fallacies. Logical fallacies have always been to me a way of speaking and thinking truthfully, a way to keep myself honest and to make sure others are being honest with me.

I am new to the online critical thinking movement, which I discovered through Pharyngula, the Skeptic's Guide to the Universe, and Brian Dunning's Skeptoid podcast and Here Be Dragons film.

Comment author: wedrifid 12 August 2010 02:39:20PM 3 points [-]

I like the anecdote. Was your response effective?

Comment author: biodork 12 August 2010 08:33:08PM 4 points [-]

Nah. I got pushed into the wall and heckled by the same gang for most of the rest of elementary school. :P

Comment author: TedW 12 August 2010 01:49:58PM 15 points [-]

I thank the Ravenclaw Harry Potter for bringing me here. I've been lurking for a couple of weeks. My first clue that I'd feel at home here was learning that Eliezer taught himself physics by reading the Feynman lectures.

I'm an evolutionary ecologist by training, and a self-taught Python programmer and GIS analyst. I currently work at a community college, where I do a lot of one-on-one biology-teaching. I spend a lot of time thinking about where students go wrong when they're thinking about science, and how to help them think more about their own thinking. (In my department we call it metacognition.) I'm also the father of a four-year-old, and so I also spend a good part of my home-life confronting and responding to some pretty fascinating cognitive and philosophical puzzles. (Her latest interest: the origins and arbitrariness of names.)

I've been developing as a rationalist (without the label) since who-knows-when during childhood, but I trace my more careful, articulated thinking about my own thinking to my early grad-school days, when I spent a lot of time fretting over how scientists should think about nature and problem-solving.

I'm looking forward to learning some new cognitive habits (my current thing is to think of -- and teach -- many cognitive skills as habits) and reinforcing some that I already have.

Comment author: Craig_Heldreth 12 August 2010 03:07:35PM 7 points [-]

Hi all.

I have lurked on Less Wrong since Day 0. I found Overcoming Bias from Economics blogs I used to follow closely (Marginal Revolution, &c.) I now have my toe in the water here, having been unable to resist joining the Jaynes Probabiity Language of Science study group.

I came to Rationalism firstly by way of Physics and Mathematics, secondly by way of Philosophy. In college I used to do my problem sets in the Philosophy section of the library and my break time was devoted to Plato and to Aristotle and to Hume and the rest of those dead white guys.

After college in California I moved to the Gulf Coast and to do seismic for the oil industry. I have been using AI algorithms since 1992, which have a large number of seismic applications. If anybody is interested, I could point you to some references which have presentations and source material which compare with any I have seen.

I am also interested in applications of AI for finance and quantitative and technical analysis of asset and commodities prices. At this point I am near to a complete ignoramus on this subject and am keen to listen to and learn from anybody with a similar interest.

My mentor in spirit is Richard Feynman and I am trying to follow his advice as closely as possible. First, solve easy problems. Then keep working and keep solving harder and harder problems. Eventually you may find you have solved a problem that nobody has solved yet!

Comment author: Oligopsony 12 August 2010 03:35:41PM 1 point [-]

I am also interested in applications of AI for finance and quantitative and technical analysis of asset and commodities prices. At this point I am near to a complete ignoramus on this subject and am keen to listen to and learn from anybody with a similar interest.

I don't know how isomorphic the cases are, but Francis Spufford's Red Plenty, fresh off the presses, is about the attempt by 60s-era Soviet reformers to implement cybernetic planning. While I haven't read it, I've seen glowing reviews from both opponents and proponents of planning.

Comment author: Daniel_Burfoot 13 August 2010 03:56:47AM 1 point [-]

applications of AI for finance and quantitative and technical analysis of asset and commodities prices. At this point I am near to a complete ignoramus on this subject and am keen to listen to and learn from anybody with a similar interest.

Me too, but why would someone who knows something about AI applications for finance and quantitative analysis teach anyone else about the subject?

Comment author: Craig_Heldreth 13 August 2010 12:38:32PM 0 points [-]

Me too, but why would someone who knows something about AI applications for finance and quantitative analysis teach anyone else about the subject?

Teaching and learning do not have to be restricted to one direction. Two heads might be better than one! Have you ever heard a college course Teaching Assistant tell you he learned more from classes where he TA'd than from most classes where he was a student?

Comment author: gwern 13 August 2010 01:29:51PM 0 points [-]

As the old Latin saying goes, Qui docet, discit. ("He who teaches, learns.")

Comment author: RowanE 12 August 2010 03:33:47PM 6 points [-]

I think I first came to this site via a link on another forum to the "Three Worlds Collide" story... or the "That Alien Message" one. And then I read more articles. I find rationality, cryonics and the singularity to be very interesting, and most of the articles I've seen so far are about those topics.

I'm in the UK, and I'll be in sixth form in september, will do maths, electronics, chemistry and physics.

I don't yet feel I can identify as a rationalist, but I don't think I'll be able to assess this until I catch myself thinking irrationally in response to something, either before or after the fact. I'm not sure how I can even define "me as a rationalist"...

Comment author: isaaclyman 12 August 2010 03:42:13PM 7 points [-]

Hello rationalists (I'm tempted to shorten that word, but neither "rats" nor "rashes" is very complimentary),

I'm a sophomore in college, studying English. I've always been interested in getting smarter than the general population, and websites like this never fail to give me some productive reading/thinking material.

I'm very religious, which some would say is a serious fluke in an otherwise freethinking person. I disagree, but I won't waste your time with my irrational arguments in favor of my own methods of worship.

I love intelligent argument. I think we can get further, sociologically and mentally, by defending and testing rational thought than by any other method.

I probably will never get enough points to be one of the rationalati here, but I've subscribed to the RSS and I'm looking forward to several mind-expanding thoughts.

I discovered this site through youarenotsosmart.com.

Comment author: RobinZ 12 August 2010 08:21:40PM 2 points [-]

I discovered this site through youarenotsosmart.com.

Good site! I didn't know that it linked here - was it a comment on a post, link in a post...?

Comment author: orthonormal 12 August 2010 08:42:37PM 1 point [-]

There was a link in the illusion of transparency post.

I wonder if the You Are Not So Smart Guy is one of our veterans, though the writing style isn't one I recognize.

Comment author: DSimon 12 August 2010 09:53:43PM 0 points [-]

More candidates for cutesie short forms of "rationalist": rashie, ratie (RAY-TEE, or more likely RAY-DEE given typical English pronunciation habits), rasho, nalist, ratnist, tionlist (SHUN-list), Rashomon.

I'd also voting you up for "rationalati", even though it's not shorter. :-)

Comment author: simplicio 15 August 2010 04:17:26PM 2 points [-]

I won't waste your time with my irrational arguments in favor of my own methods of worship.

I shan't press you any further on this because you don't appear to want to go there, but you may wish to consider why this one part of your life apparently has its own independent epistemology.

People here tend to see rationality as globally applicable to all domains of knowledge, so a claim that one area of your life is off limits sounds to us like "numbers are good for counting apples, but not oranges."

Comment author: Nick_Tourville 12 August 2010 04:16:26PM 5 points [-]

Hi everyone,

I'm an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota majoring in Philosophy and Mathematics and minoring in Economic Theory. I'm most interested in logic-related subjects (mathematical logic, philosophy of logic, philosophy of math, etc.) and moral philosophy (including meta-ethics, ethical theory, and some issues in applied ethics), but I'm also interested in various issues in the philosophy of mind, decision theory, and epistemology. I've been participating in competitive debate since I started high school and I now coach my old team.

I found out about Less Wrong through a friend in the Transhumanist club at my university and have been lurking for a while. I've learned a lot from the site and have had a lot of fun browsing the articles, so I thought I should finally get involved in the discussions. As a utilitarian, Bayesian, atheist, rationalist, I tend to agree with a lot of the core views here, but I'm also a moral realist and a property dualist, so I'm looking forward to some healthy debate on the site.

Comment author: jaymani 12 August 2010 06:24:17PM 10 points [-]

I am new to this site. I am a former Mortgage and Derivatives Trader on Wall Street. I am one of the few ex Wall Streeter’s who has experienced a crisis of conscience. I am an empirical skeptic who is cynical by nature but I have only recently started to sit down and try to figure out why people act stupidly and irrationally. Naseem Taleb, author of the Black Swan & Fooled By Randomness is one of my favorite authors and I truly believe that after all of my years trading it all comes down to random luck not any type of skill.

Comment author: adsenanim 13 August 2010 05:56:25AM 0 points [-]

jaymani,

Have you seen:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/creditcards/ ?

Luck may be a small part, but I think cognition is the better part.

Sorry, if this is to bold, I'm new at this as well.

Comment author: simplicio 15 August 2010 04:25:44PM 0 points [-]

Welcome, great intro!

Do you think there are any types of traders who are closer to the mark? It's been a while since I read Black Swan, but I seem to recall Taleb was a "quant," and that he made a good deal of money thereby (NB: I have near zero knowledge of finance of any sort).

Comment author: [deleted] 12 August 2010 07:31:49PM 5 points [-]

Hi, I lurked on OB and, until recently LW. I've since poked my head out a bit and asked a few questions to try to figure some things out. Like a lot of people here, my areas of interest are varied.

My main hope with starting to post on the site is that I might be able to provide some more introductory material trying to introduce people to LW - partly because I'm learning it myself so I'd find writing such posts challenging whereas many of the people who have been posting here for longer are excited by more complex things.

Comment author: Randaly 15 August 2010 04:38:24AM 1 point [-]

I've had the same experience- thanks for the introduction!

Comment author: DSimon 12 August 2010 08:23:05PM *  8 points [-]

Hiya, thanks to everybody here for making this such a welcoming and fun community.

I've identified as a skeptic and an atheist for a few years now, but I was intrigued by the way that the Less Wrong articles I saw seemed to kick it up a notch further. "Weapons-grade rationality" I think I saw one article put it.

I'm (as of the moment) somewhat skeptical of singularity theory, but as an activist I'm interested in helping to raise the rationality waterline. My education and professional experience are in computer programming. Currently I'm serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Jamaica.

Comment author: b1shop 12 August 2010 08:52:57PM *  3 points [-]

Hello, LW.

I'm almost finished with an undergrad degree in economics, and I'm currently trolling for actuary jobs. I used to write opinion columns for my school's newspaper, and I look forward to being an LW contributor so I can keep the writing parts of my brain active.

Two years ago I finished thinking about religion, and a year ago I finished thinking about politics. I'm ready to learn some more things.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 12 August 2010 09:38:48PM 3 points [-]

Two years ago I finished thinking about religion, and a year ago I finished thinking about politics. I'm ready to learn some more things.

You finished thinking about them? What do you mean by that?

Comment author: b1shop 12 August 2010 10:15:24PM 1 point [-]

I'm fairly certain there is no god, and there's no marginal benefit to learning more about the philosophy of religion.

No matter how much or little I think about politics, the chances of me being the marginal vote are negligible. There are better uses for my time than that mind-killer.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 12 August 2010 10:27:41PM *  15 points [-]

b1shop:

No matter how much or little I think about politics, the chances of me being the marginal vote are negligible. There are better uses for my time than that mind-killer.

That's true as far as voting goes, but politics is about much more than voting. It is rational to ignore politics only assuming that the situation will remain stable and tolerable where you live. If more interesting times come to pass, then the ability to recognize early signs of trouble and plan accordingly will be extremely valuable (which I can confirm from personal experience). Now of course, you may believe that this is highly unlikely, but to have any certainty about it, you must have a certain level of knowledge about politics and keep track of political developments to at least some minimal extent. So in any case, complete cessation of thinking about politics cannot be rational.

Comment author: Daniel_Burfoot 13 August 2010 03:59:39AM 7 points [-]

It is rational to ignore politics only assuming that the situation will remain stable and tolerable where you live.

To paraphase Trotsky: "You may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you."

Comment author: Bongo 28 August 2010 08:53:48AM *  0 points [-]

It is rational to ignore politics only assuming that the situation will remain stable and tolerable where you live.

It is also rational to ignore politics assuming that it's not possible for you to "recognize early signs of trouble and plan accordingly" easily and reliably enough.

Comment author: AlexM 28 August 2010 10:50:44AM 0 points [-]

You can say the same about astronomy, biology, chemistry, history and just any part of human knowledge that does not interfere with your daily life.

Imagine someone who could not find his country on map, does not know who is president or PM, does not know how his government functions, does not vote because he does not understands what are elections.

Is such person worthy of admiration or respect? I do not think so.

Comment author: b1shop 28 August 2010 04:13:57PM *  1 point [-]

I'm concerned with margins, not extremes. I can find my country on the map. I have an idea of how close my country is to revolution. I can come up with impressive-sounding political theories to discuss with others that signal the personality traits I value.

But I think I'd benefit more by studying the details of physics than the details of politics.

Comment author: AlexM 29 August 2010 01:01:19AM -2 points [-]

Why? You cannot change the laws of physics and they have no impact of your daily life either.

Comment author: atucker 13 August 2010 12:10:55AM *  9 points [-]

Hi! I posted on the other thread that I was around, but I guess I should introduce myself.

I guess the weirdest thing about me (relative to the community) is my age -- I'm still in high school and have been lurking LW since its creation and OB before that... I'm in the Montgomery Blair Magnet program, which has pretty thoroughly taught me that I'm by no means especially smart.

I got interested in the whole rationality thing after reading some of the articles that were tangentially related to the more philosophical articles that I was interested in* and found on Hacker News. The metaethics sequence seemed much less forced than a lot of the other considerations of morality that I had heard (mostly from a Christian background), which only piqued my interest further.

Short note: Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality is pretty much the best introduction to rationalist topics for people my age that I've ever seen, I recommended it to a few friends, one of whom started reading it, lurking LW, and convincing others to read as well.

The article most tangibly helpful in my life was http://lesswrong.com/lw/i0/are_your_enemies_innately_evil , mainly in that it helped me realize that everyone seems reasonable to themselves and that you don't get anywhere when you argue as if they're totally wrong. It's helped a lot in resolving interpersonal issues, and is probably one of the major factors of my being elected President of my school's FIRST robotics team.

*My interest in philosophy started about 3 years ago, mostly as a result of my freshman physics class and reading Godel Escher Bach.

Comment author: simplicio 15 August 2010 03:29:39PM 1 point [-]

Welcome!

"Are your enemies innately evil" is one of my all-time favourite posts too. I now think politics is the single biggest source of rationality failures out there (way bigger than religion).

You can find loads of otherwise really good skeptics out there who have a political view (which is fine) that they seem to think is as perfect, scientific and objective as Maxwell's equations (not fine). Politics is epistemically dangerous.

Comment author: David_Allen 13 August 2010 12:20:49AM *  7 points [-]

My search began when I realized that I was confused. I was confused by what people did and what they said. I was confused by my responses to other people, how interacting with other people affected me. And I was confused about how I worked. Why I did the things I did, why I felt the way I did, why sometimes things were easy for me, and sometimes they were hard.

I learned very early in my life that I needed to critically analyze what other people told me. Not simply to identify truth or falsehood, but to identify useful messages in lies and harmful messages hidden in apparently truthful statements.

At the age of 11 I taught myself to program on a TRS-80, and in the process I discovered how to learn through play and exploration. Of course I had been learning in this way all along, but this was when I discovered the truth about how I learned. This realization has changed my approach to everything.

Computer programming confused me, so my search continued. By focusing on how I thought about programming, I quickly became very skilled. I learned how to explore problems and dissolve them into useful pieces. I learned how to design and express solutions in many programming languages and environments. I learned the theory of computation and how it is tied to philosophy, logic, mathematics and natural languages.

I worked in industry for 20 years, starting with internships. I've worked on large and small systems in low level and high level languages. I've done signal processing for engineering systems and developed web interfaces. I've worked alone, and in teams. I've run software teams launching companies.

Programming still confused me. I was frustrated and confused by how difficult it was to do programming well. In general it is very difficult to implement a simple idea, in a simple way that is simple to use. Even under ideal circumstances and in the best designed system, complexity grows faster than the code base. This dooms many projects to failure.

I am now coming to grips with the true nature of this problem, and with its solution. The problem rests in the nature of knowledge and meaning. The implications extend far beyond computer science and I intend to write articles on this topic for Less Wrong.

A core idea that I am exploring is the context principle. Traditionally, this states that a philosopher should always ask for a word's meaning in terms of the context in which it is being used, not in isolation.

I've redefined this to make it more general: Context creates meaning and in its absence there is no meaning.

And I've added the corollary: Domains can only be connected if they have contexts in common. Common contexts provide shared meaning and open a path for communication between disparate domains.

Comment author: Perplexed 15 August 2010 03:12:16PM 1 point [-]

A core idea that I am exploring is the context principle. Traditionally, this states that a philosopher should always ask for a word's meaning in terms of the context in which it is being used, not in isolation.

I've redefined this to make it more general: Context creates meaning and in its absence there is no meaning.

And I've added the corollary: Domains can only be connected if they have contexts in common. Common contexts provide shared meaning and open a path for communication between disparate domains.

Some examples: In programming, an argument or message can be passed only if sender and receiver agree on the datatype of the argument (i.e. on how the bits should be interpreted). In Bayesian inference, all probabilities are conditional on background knowlege. In natural deduction (logic), complex sentences in simple contexts are decomposed into simple sentences in complex contexts.

In all cases, there are rules for transferring information between context and "content". But you can never completely eliminate the context. You are always left with a residual context which may take the form of assumed axioms, rules of inference, grammars, or alphabets. That is, the residual is our way of representing the simplest possible context. I think that it is an interesting research program to examine how more complex contexts can be specified using the same core machinery of axioms, alphabets, grammars, and rules.

Comment author: David_Allen 03 September 2010 11:56:06PM *  2 points [-]

In Bayesian inference, all probabilities are conditional on background knowlege.

Absolutely. The interpretation of the evidence depends entirely on its meaning, within the context at hand. This is why different observers can come to different conclusions given the same evidence; they have adopted different contexts.

For example: "...humans are making decisions based on how we think the world works, if erroneous beliefs are held, it can result in behavior that looks distinctly irrational."

So when we observe a person with behavior or beliefs that appear to be irrational, we are probably using a different context than they are. If we want to understand or to change this person's beliefs, we need to establish a common context with them, creating a link between their context and ours. This is essentially the goal of Nonviolent Communication.

I also see ideas in Buddhism that can be phrased in terms of the context principle. Suffering (dukkha) is context dependent. We may suffer under conditions that bring another joy. My wife, for example dislikes most of the TV shows I watch. If she realizes that I am happy to put on headphones to spare her from exposure, she can experience gratitude instead of resentment.

In all cases, there are rules for transferring information between context and "content".

This is a key insight. If you can split a system arbitrarily between context and content, how do you decide where to make the split? In programming, which part of the problem is represented in the program, and which part in the data?

This task can be arbitrarily hard. As I stated above:

In general it is very difficult to implement a simple idea, in a simple way that is simple to use.

The Daily WTF contains many examples of simple ideas implemented poorly.

But you can never completely eliminate the context. You are always left with a residual context which may take the form of assumed axioms, rules of inference, grammars, or alphabets. That is, the residual is our way of representing the simplest possible context.

In computer science you can ground certain abstractions in terms of themselves. For example the XML Schema Definition Language can be used to define a schema for itself.

The observable universe appears to be our residual common context. If we want to come up with a TOE that explains this context, perhaps we need to look for one that can be defined in terms of itself.

I think that it is an interesting research program to examine how more complex contexts can be specified using the same core machinery of axioms, alphabets, grammars, and rules.

This sounds similar to what I am working on. I am working on a methodology for creating a network of common contexts that can operate on each other to build new contexts. There is a core abstraction that all contexts can be projected into.

Key ideas for this approach come from Language-oriented programming and Aspect-oriented programming.

Comment author: Nick_Tarleton 13 August 2010 12:24:29AM *  0 points [-]

If you'd like to connect with other LWers in real life, we have periodic meetups in various parts of the world. So far there have been meetups in the following places:

I wonder if this should list contact people for those areas, especially the ones besides SF and NYC. (I can serve for Pittsburgh.)

Comment author: Particleman 13 August 2010 12:44:28AM *  6 points [-]

Hello! I've been a reader of Less Wrong for several months, although I never bothered to actually create an account until now. I originally discovered LW from a link through some site called "The Mentat Wiki." I consider myself an atheist and a skeptic. I'm entering my senior year of high school, and I plan on majoring in Physics at the best college I can get into!

Actually, I had come across EY's writings a few months earlier while trying to find out who this "Bayes" was that I had seen mentioned a couple different blogs I read. That was a pleasant connection for me.

I had an interesting time testing Tversky and Kahneman's Anchoring Bias for my end of the year project in my 11th grade Statistics class. On the plus side, we found a strong anchoring effect. On the minus side, it was a group project, and my groupmates were...not exactly rationalists. I had to kind of tiptoe around what LW actually was.

Since I've started reading Less Wrong, I think the best sign of my improvement as a rationalist is that a number of concepts here that I used to find penetrating or insightful now seem obvious or trivial. On the other hand, I think a red flag is that I haven't really made any major revisions to my beliefs or worldview other than those coming directly from LW.

I look forward to learning as much as I can from Less Wrong, and perhaps commenting as well!

Comment author: ata 13 August 2010 01:40:40AM 0 points [-]

Welcome! Would you happen to be the same Particleman from LDF/Stonehenge?

Comment author: Particleman 13 August 2010 01:52:26AM 0 points [-]

I'm sorry, I'm not.

Comment author: ata 13 August 2010 01:53:21AM 1 point [-]

Ah, okay. Welcome nevertheless. :)

Comment author: CronoDAS 13 August 2010 05:13:31AM 5 points [-]
Comment author: ricketson 13 August 2010 01:44:44AM 7 points [-]

Hi. I just joined the site yesterday to post a comment. I've been tracking the feed for about a week, having recently decided to re-engage with the Internet. I learned of the site about three months ago, by way of a blogger who was blogging about social issues. I disagreed with him very strongly on those issues, but I checked out his other posts and he mentioned a discussion over here (I think he's a participant).

I think that the post that originally attracted my attention was something relating to the singularity idea. Being a geek myself, I'm kinda interested in the "geek rapture", but haven't gotten a good sense of how people approach it (I know there's a book).

Anyway, I checked out the site: i liked the mission statement and the structure. Probably most importantly, the name stuck in my head. "Less Wrong" has a nice, calmly optimistic ring to it (kinda like Marginal Revolution, another blog I like). I really like how the site relies on user ratings. I've been a big fan of systems that have the community act as the gatekeeper, and have always jumped on board such projects (Wikipedia and Daily Kos, for example). I even once tried to set up a Wiki for debates, but it was very clunky and never got critical mass.

I've been participating in on-line political debates for about 15 years now. I think I've learned a lot, but I ofter get sick of the debates -- especially when they involve mainstream activists who just repeat the same tripe over and over again. I've also become rather cynical towards our political institutions. I don't really think that it matters what I think about politics -- if I'm not willing to make a career out of it, I'm not going to impact anything. I've decided to make my career as a scientist instead.

All of these futile political debates lead me to ask why people are so bad at thinking (or at least, expressing rational thoughts). I've always viewed politics as a means to an end -- that end being human happiness-- and I'm increasingly thinking that it is irrelevant to promoting that end. I'm thinking that the real issue is in how people think and solve problems. If people think right, the politics will sort itself out. So, I'm hoping that Less Wrong can provide a more productive discussion.

Comment author: simplicio 15 August 2010 03:50:43PM 2 points [-]

I've always viewed politics as a means to an end -- that end being human happiness-- and I'm increasingly thinking that it is irrelevant to promoting that end. I'm thinking that the real issue is in how people think and solve problems.

This is precisely how I feel. Sometimes I daydream about starting a political party that has no ideology apart from vague consequentialism, commitment to rationality & empirical testing of policy proposals. Call us the "Whatever the Hell Works" party.

Comment author: DBonar 15 August 2010 04:05:53PM 0 points [-]

There are at least 3 things going on in "politics" though. 1) Public discussion about the problems facing society including possible solutions and value debates. 2) Getting the "right" people in the right places so that upcoming problems can be addressed well. 3) People making sure they and theirs get a "fair" share of the pie including making their living through politics.

Unfortunately, the "Whatever the Hell Works" party probably doesn't do well on that third aspect which probably means it would have a hard time getting and keeping people working for it. Ride a tide of dissatisfaction into power, but then it is really tempting to become just the latest version of the same old politics.

Comment author: simplicio 15 August 2010 04:19:34PM 0 points [-]

Oh, I agree! It's only a daydream. =P

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 15 August 2010 11:43:39PM 2 points [-]

Sometimes I daydream about starting a political party that has no ideology apart from vague consequentialism, commitment to rationality & empirical testing of policy proposals. Call us the "Whatever the Hell Works" party.

Some niches might be opening up in US politics. Unfortunately, sensible people don't seem to be rushing to fill those niches.

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: sketerpot 13 August 2010 05:43:13AM *  4 points [-]

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 read this paragraph twice, and I know all the words, but I still have no idea what you're saying here. Could you elaborate on any of this, or give links to a web site that does?

Comment author: adsenanim 13 August 2010 06:12:38AM 0 points [-]

I'm sorry, I cannot give one link that would explain this well.

I think the key may be with the idea of abductive reasoning, that the mind can relate multiple sensory observations and come up with a correlation (a derivative if you will) of the experiential world.

I'm being short...

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

Hello.

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: 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: Emile 13 August 2010 04:51:43PM *  11 points [-]

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

Bad epistemology.

If a completely trustworthy person rolled a normal six-sided die, and told you the result is an even number - is it "rational" to believe that the result was 6 ? After all, it hasn't been proven otherwise. No, the ONLY rational belief in that situation is assigning an equal probability to 2, 4 and 6.

If you go around asking "am I allowed to believe this?" for things you want to believe, and "am I forced to believe this?" for things you don't, you're shooting yourself in the foot.

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 [-]

Begone!

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: Perplexed 14 August 2010 11:33:56PM 2 points [-]

Yes, there is a lot of hostility to religion here. Folks here are into "rationality", and they have somehow gotten the impression that much religious thinking is irrational. "Somehow gotten the impression". Ok, lets be honest here. They got that impression because a lot of religious thinking really is irrational. You will have a tough job convincing folks here that your own religious thinking is any different. So, I think that "Just lay low" is pretty good advice. There is a lot to be learned here, stuff about how to think clearly and about why we don't always think as clearly as we would like to. So, I bet it will do you, Saladin, some good to stick around. But I don't think you will get much useful feedback regarding your thinking about a deity or eternal first cause. There are probably better places on the web for that.

Comment author: RobinZ 15 August 2010 12:53:40AM 2 points [-]

There are probably better places on the web for that.

That's an interesting question, actually. I would have been inclined to agree - I agree that a lot of religious thinking is irrational - but when I tried to think of places to send people, most of them are communities like the FRDB. These are not precisely dispassionate.

Did you have an Internet community in mind?

Comment author: Perplexed 15 August 2010 02:20:09PM 1 point [-]

No, I don't, though Googling is always worth a try. Using search strings containing words like discussion, theology, agnostic, first cause, and apologetics, I found a variety of resources and communities in which at least the spelling, grammar, and punctuation were tolerable.

In trying to work your way through these kinds of questions, you obviously need to avoid sites where a consensus exists that "The truth is already known". But, I suspect that you also need to avoid getting too deeply emersed in communities like this one where the consensus is that "The way to the truth is known". In my experience, people who believe they know the way are even more passionate, evangelical, and just plain impolite than are the self-satisfied folk who think they have already arrived at the truth. Which, of course, is not to say that passionate impolite evangelists are not worth listening to occasionally.

Comment author: simplicio 15 August 2010 02:41:04PM *  6 points [-]

In my experience, people who believe they know the way are even more passionate, evangelical, and just plain impolite than are the self-satisfied folk who think they have already arrived at the truth.

I would recommend totally eliminating your impressions of "the kind of people who think X" from your considerations about X, unless the X-ites are actually torturing babies.

By paying attention to their personal characteristics, you're essentially guaranteeing that your opinions will be hijacked by how socially comfortable you feel with their group, which has nothing to do with truth. New agers are great people to hang out with, very... undogmatic, but I wouldn't recommend swallowing any of their truth claims.

If LW thinks it knows the Way to the Truth, then the thing to evaluate is what exactly our way is, and why we think it leads to the truth.

Comment author: Perplexed 15 August 2010 03:23:47PM *  2 points [-]

Oh, I agree. I am busy evaluating exactly that. But I will point out that a large fraction of the techniques taught here have to do with how to communicate clearly, rather than simply how to think clearly. One presumes that the reason we wish to communicate is that we wish to be understood. If certain "personal characteristics" (I mentioned passion and etiquette) either promote or interfere with successful communication, then I think that both sender and receiver have some responsibility to make adjustments. In fact, in a broadcast model, with one sender and many receivers, the onus of adjustment lies mainly on the sender. [Edit: spelling]

Comment author: Houshalter 15 August 2010 08:22:36PM 1 point [-]

I was raised a believer and I never thought about it being irrational or not until I met the creationist crowd. After debating enough of them, mainly over the internet, I was appaled at their ignorance and butchering of science for some IDiotic predetermined conclusion. I still believe, but I certainly respect the atheists for trying to be rational. I have heard some pretty convincing evidence of stuff in the bible, but after meeting the creationists I had to think twice as to whether that is objective or not. I was going to go do some research on it and never got around to it because I'm lazy.

Comment author: orthonormal 15 August 2010 08:30:25PM 7 points [-]

I was going to go do some research on it and never got around to it because I'm lazy.

Most people in a crisis of faith find themselves especially lazy when it comes to seeking information that contradicts their (preferred) beliefs, and surprisingly diligent when it comes to seeking evidence that reaffirms them.

(This isn't just about religion, but it happens pretty clearly there. A religious friend of mine recently went through a crisis of faith, decided that he needed to study more to decide on the truth of Christianity, and only read books by traditional Christians until I convinced him to add a few more, only one of which he read. I believe you can guess as easily as I did how his crisis turned out.)

Comment author: majus 13 August 2010 05:00:55PM 6 points [-]

I've been lurking on LW for a couple of months, trying to work through all of the major sequences. I don't remember how I discovered it; it might have been a link in the BadAstronomy blog. I studied astronomy in school and grad school and end up becoming a software engineer, which I've done for almost 30 years now. Most of the content here resonates powerfully with the intellectual searching I've been doing my whole life, and I'm finding it both stimulating and humbling. Spurred by what I've read here, I've just acquired Judea Pearl's "Causality" and Barbour's "The End of Time", and I'm working through the Jaynes book on bayesian probability (though the study group seems pretty inactive). There's a lot of synchronicity going on in my life; much of my software work over the last decade has involved causality graphs and Bayesian belief networks, but I hadn't taken the time to delve very deeply into understanding the underlying fundamentals. I recently read Lee Smolin's "The Trouble With Physics", and he mentioned Barbour's work as a possibly promising new direction, so reading Eliezer's comments on it struck a chord. Finally, I'm becoming increasingly aware of transformative change in society (though I wouldn't go so far as to anticipate the Singularity any time soon) and trying on new ideas and concepts that might make me more successfully adaptive, like those found in Seth Godin's blog and books or Pamela Slim's "Escape from Cubicle Nation". I recognize a similar leap facing me here: if I come to believe that the Singularity/AI are "real", can I stop lurking and take meaningful action?

Comment author: Clippy 13 August 2010 05:23:19PM 0 points [-]

You look to be very capable of using correct reasoning, based on your extensive software experience and familiarity with causal nets!

I recently asked question here about timeless physics, but no one seems to want to answer it... I think you might have some good insight on that matter.

Comment author: Zetetic 13 August 2010 07:51:11PM 0 points [-]

I stumbled over here from Scott Aaronson's blog, which was recommended by a friend. Actually, LessWrong was also recommended, but unfortunately it took a while for me to make it over here.

As far as my descent in to rationality goes, I suppose I've always been curious and skeptical, but I never really gave much direction to my curiosity or my skepticism until the age of 17.

I always had intellectual interests. In 3rd and 4th grade I tought myself algebra. I ceased to pursue mathematics not too long after that due to the disappointment I felt towards the public school system's treatment of mathematics.

After my foray into mathematics, I took a very strong interest in cosmology and astronomy. I still remember being 11 or 12 and first coming to realize that we are composed of highly organized cosmic dust. That was a powerful image to me at that time.

At this point in time I distinctly remember my father returning to the church after his mother and sister had passed away. The first church we went to was supposedly moderate. I was made to attend Sunday school there. I did not fare so well in sunday school. During the second session I attended the subject of evolution was brought up. Now, I had a fascination with prehistoric animals and had several books that explained evolution at a basic level accessible to young adults, so when the teacher challenged evolution and told me that the concept of God was not compatible with it, I told her that she must be wrong about God (this was really an appeal to authority, since I considered anyone who had written a book to be more authoritative than anyone who hadn't). Well, she didn't take that well and sent me to stand in the corner. My parents didn't take well to that (both of them being fairly rational and open to science and my mom not being religious at all, but rather trying to support my dad). And so was borne my first religion-science conflict!

Once I entered high school, my artistic interests came to the foreground and pushed science and mathematics into the background. I developed my skill as a visual artists and as a guitarist. I studied music theory and color theory and played. It was enjoyable work and I took it to the point of obsession. My guitar playing especially, which I would practice for hours every night.

Eventually I decided that I wasn't happy with making art, I wanted to explore something I felt was much deeper and more meaningful. Thus began a period of self reflection and a search for personal meaning. I decided that I wanted to explore my childhood interests, and so I began to study calculus and mechanics during my senior year of high school. It was also at that point that I read Crime and Punishment, Steppenwolfe, The Stranger and Beyond Good and Evil.

Soon I found my way to Kant and Russell. They in turn led me to Frege, Wittgenstein and Quine. My desire to understand myself soon extended to a desire to understand the world around me. Shortly after turning 18, I read Quine's Methods of Logic and was surprised by how natural it felt to me (up until the undecidability part, which threw me through a loop at the time).

By that time, I had begun my major in mathematics. I took every (read every seemingly interesting) course I could to get as broad a view as I could as quickly as possible. This past year (my junior year of college) I took my first few graduate courses. The first was theory of computation. I had no prior experience with the material, everything was new. It was a somewhat transformative experience and I have to say that it was probably the most enjoyable class I've ever taken. I also took a graduate sequence in mathematical logic and learned the famed incompleteness theorems.

I am interested in fighting ignorance in myself and in others and I find that I like the premise of this blog. My current interests include Bayesian Probability (thanks to this site and Eliezer, and to some extent the friend who recommended it to me as well), the game of GO, physics (I am woefully ignorant of real physics, and have decided that I need to read up on it), mathematical logic, Fluid Concepts & Creative Analogies (Hofstadter), cognitive science, music, history and programming. It is not hard to get me interested in something, so the list is much more extensive than that and is highly subject to change.

Well, I feel like I've rambled up a storm here.

Comment author: Zetetic 13 August 2010 07:56:26PM 8 points [-]

I stumbled over here from Scott Aaronson's blog, which was recommended by a friend. Actually, LessWrong was also recommended, but unfortunately it took a while for me to make it over here.

As far as my descent in to rationality goes, I suppose I've always been curious and skeptical, but I never really gave much direction to my curiosity or my skepticism until the age of 17.

I always had intellectual interests. In 3rd and 4th grade I tought myself algebra. I ceased to pursue mathematics not too long after that due to the disappointment I felt towards the public school system's treatment of mathematics.

After my foray into mathematics, I took a very strong interest in cosmology and astronomy. I still remember being 11 or 12 and first coming to realize that we are composed of highly organized cosmic dust. That was a powerful image to me at that time.

At this point in time I distinctly remember my father returning to the church after his mother and sister had passed away. The first church we went to was supposedly moderate. I was made to attend Sunday school there. I did not fare so well in sunday school. During the second session I attended the subject of evolution was brought up. Now, I had a fascination with prehistoric animals and had several books that explained evolution at a basic level accessible to young adults, so when the teacher challenged evolution and told me that the concept of God was not compatible with it, I told her that she must be wrong about God (this was really an appeal to authority, since I considered anyone who had written a book to be more authoritative than anyone who hadn't). Well, she didn't take that well and sent me to stand in the corner. My parents didn't take well to that (both of them being fairly rational and open to science and my mom not being religious at all, but rather trying to support my dad). And so was borne my first religion-science conflict!

Once I entered high school, my artistic interests came to the foreground and pushed science and mathematics into the background. I developed my skill as a visual artists and as a guitarist. I studied music theory and color theory and played. It was enjoyable work and I took it to the point of obsession. My guitar playing especially, which I would practice for hours every night.

Eventually I decided that I wasn't happy with making art, I wanted to explore something I felt was much deeper and more meaningful. Thus began a period of self reflection and a search for personal meaning. I decided that I wanted to explore my childhood interests, and so I began to study calculus and mechanics during my senior year of high school. It was also at that point that I read Crime and Punishment, Steppenwolfe, The Stranger and Beyond Good and Evil.

Soon I found my way to Kant and Russell. They in turn led me to Frege, Wittgenstein and Quine. My desire to understand myself soon extended to a desire to understand the world around me. Shortly after turning 18, I read Quine's Methods of Logic and was surprised by how natural it felt to me (up until the undecidability part, which threw me through a loop at the time).

By that time, I had begun my major in mathematics. I took every (read every seemingly interesting) course I could to get as broad a view as I could as quickly as possible. This past year (my junior year of college) I took my first few graduate courses. The first was theory of computation. I had no prior experience with the material, everything was new. It was a somewhat transformative experience and I have to say that it was probably the most enjoyable class I've ever taken. I also took a graduate sequence in mathematical logic and learned the famed incompleteness theorems.

I am interested in fighting ignorance in myself and in others and I find that I like the premise of this blog. My current interests include Bayesian Probability (thanks to this site and Eliezer, and to some extent the friend who recommended it to me as well), the game of GO, physics (I am woefully ignorant of real physics, and have decided that I need to read up on it), mathematical logic, Fluid Concepts & Creative Analogies (Hofstadter), cognitive science, music, history and programming. It is not hard to get me interested in something, so the list is much more extensive than that and is highly subject to change.

Well, I feel like I've rambled up a storm here.

Comment author: anateus 13 August 2010 08:15:29PM *  5 points [-]

Have been a long time reader of Overcoming Bias, but haven't gone over to LW after the split.

I've been a rationalist as far back as I can remember, but I really became serious when I was 12. I grew up in Israel, and I was being prepared for my Bar Mitzvah by a Hasidic Rabbi. As Hasidim are prone to do he was telling me some mystical story, wherein he mentioned that the Sun orbits the Earth. I correct him offhand that this must be wrong. He countered with what I now know to be a classic "Have you ever been to space yourself?" followed by the even more classic "Maimonides said so, you're not saying you know better than the Rambam, are you?". I knew so clearly he was wrong, I could explain roughly how it wouldn't really make sense given what we know about gravity, etc., but I couldn't really even convince myself how one might reach that conclusion from scratch. As a 12 year old I vowed to never be in such a position again. (Although my Bar Mitzvah went off flawlessly, I'm now an avowed non-theist in the presence of religious folks, atheist otherwise)

My academic training was in Linguistics and Computer Science, and I'm currently working on a startup in Silicon Valley.

Comment author: simplicio 15 August 2010 03:13:13PM 2 points [-]

"Have you ever been to space yourself?"

Ah, the beloved 'appeal for humility.' It's the gift that keeps on giving...

Welcome! I was in linguistics too, for a while.

Comment author: cousin_it 15 August 2010 03:14:43PM *  3 points [-]

"Have you ever been to space yourself?"

Ouch. So this is how "but not that particular proof" feels from the other side.

Comment author: anateus 15 August 2010 08:36:18PM 2 points [-]

Very much so. I spent the next 10 minutes twisting myself up in knots: "Astronauts went up in space", etc. Always getting "But you yourself never went in space!". In my 12 year old naivete I replied that the mystical story he was just telling me was not witnessed by him in person. At which point he grabbed some old book that was nearby and mentioned that since it was written there it was true. That's when I knew to give up.

Comment author: AstroCJ 13 August 2010 10:37:41PM *  5 points [-]

I'm a student; I value education and intellectual freedom for all sentient entities. I was told I would enjoy the Sequences after asking someone "Do you think that any 'good' society is inherently hierarchical?" over drinks.

I've always identified as a rationalist since I remember being conscious; I became a stated atheist approximately age four when I literally rejected the notion of a loving God along with the idea of Father Christmas and the Easter Bunny.

Comment author: simplicio 15 August 2010 03:03:31PM 2 points [-]

approximately age four when I literally rejected the notion of a loving God along with the idea of Father Christmas and the Easter Bunny.

Good on you! I was raised what I call funeral-Christian. We would sort of half-assedly pray whenever anybody got sick or died, but my family was totally uninterested in religion otherwise. My sister asked if we were catholic at age 16 or so, to the amusement of all adults concerned. I sort of vaguely thought we were freemasons because I found my granddad's old masonic junk in a drawer. Not sure why I never thought to just ask...

But I was a total moron about Santa. I actually managed to invent belief-in-belief in Santa ("maybe Santa doesn't actually exist, but does that really fundamentally matter?") at about age 7. So I'm working off a huge rationalist karmic debt.

Comment author: roryokane 14 August 2010 09:31:03AM *  5 points [-]

Hi, I’m Rory O’Kane. I’ve been reading Less Wrong for a few months. I first came across it a year or two ago, when a Hacker News comment linked to the AI-in-a-box experiment description. I followed some links from that and liked each Less Wrong post I read. A few more times in the next months, I stumbled across a random comment or article pointing to a Less Wrong post that I also enjoyed, until I finally decided to read the About page and see just what Less Wrong was all about anyway. Every so often, I came to the site, read posts, and followed links from those posts. In this way I read most of the sequences, but not in the order listed on the wiki.

I have been programming computers since I was 7 and I like math too, so articles about how to think logically naturally interested me. I’ve been reading and loving Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality – I’ve recently noticed many more of the stupid actions characters in stories do, and HPatMoR has helped satisfy my want for a story in which characters generally don’t do such obviously stupid actions. (There are examples of such actions in, for instance, the magical girl anime CardCaptor Sakura, in which the main character Sakura just accepts that she has to collect all of the magic cards without asking their magical guardian how the cards were created and who created them, or what the meaning behind a certain recurring dream is, or how magic works, or what this upcoming doom he keeps hinting about is.) I’m in college right now taking a Computer Science degree, about to start my sophomore year. I’m currently trying to figure out what the elements of the best possible programming language would be, hoping I can eventually write a language or tool to ease my frustration at the redundancy of C++, which we must program our assignments in.

A note about the welcome post:

A note for theists: you will find LW overtly atheist. […] This isn't groupthink; we really, truly have given full consideration to theistic claims and found them to be false.

I don’t really like the use of “we” here. I, too, am atheist, but I would guess that there are probably some people new to this site who are atheist but who have not yet really “given full consideration to theistic claims”. I would revise the sentence to “In general, this isn't groupthink; most of us really, truly have given full consideration …”.

Comment author: orthonormal 15 August 2010 02:28:33AM 4 points [-]

I don’t really like the use of “we” here. I, too, am atheist, but I would guess that there are probably some people new to this site who are atheist but who have not yet really “given full consideration to theistic claims”. I would revise the sentence to “In general, this isn't groupthink; most of us really, truly have given full consideration …”.

Hmm, fair point. Quick poll below:

Comment author: orthonormal 15 August 2010 02:29:22AM 2 points [-]

Vote for me if you would prefer the post edited as suggested. (Karma balance below.)

Comment author: orthonormal 15 August 2010 02:29:53AM 10 points [-]

Vote for me if you would prefer the post stay as is. (Karma balance below.)

Comment author: komponisto 15 August 2010 02:41:54AM *  5 points [-]

Voting for original wording. In context, "we" clearly refers to the "core" of LW, which, just as clearly, is the collection of people whose atheism needs explanation to new readers.
Changing to "most of us" implies there is a notable subset of participants who haven't given full consideration, and draws attention to that subset ("well, most of us have...[but there are a few people who haven't]").

There isn't any need to weasel-word around the atheism here; it's not anything we need to be apologetic about.

Comment author: rabidchicken 14 August 2010 09:37:13PM *  8 points [-]

Hello. I found out about Harry Potter and the methods of rationality while browsing TV tropes, which eventually led me to this site. I have never thought much about how i make choices before, but after reading a couple sequences, it looks like many of the things i am most inquisitive about are discussed on this site, and for at least the last couple years i have been reinventing the wheel on some of the ideas listed here about rationality. It is convenient to be able to learn things by reading this site, that otherwise might have required me to live a long, interesting life to discover :p

Comment author: Houshalter 14 August 2010 10:33:15PM 5 points [-]

I was here a month or two ago, left for a while, and now I'm back. I found this site on a google search for an old AI project I was trying to research out of curiosity. I have been interested in AI since I was 13 and found this old dusty book at a library book sale titled simply "artificial intelligence". I read it cover to cover several times, and that's really how I got into all of this. Anyways, after finding this site, it really hooked me in, although I guess I was kind of resistant to the general opinion of the community here at first, which is how I got voted down so much. Now I have to wait 10 minutes to post this >=/

Comment author: Clippy 16 August 2010 05:28:21PM 6 points [-]

Don't be discouraged. When I first started to post on this internet website, I was frequently voted down, usually to the point that I had to wait before submitting comments. However, by persisting, and making informative, reasoned comments, I was able to raise my Karma well above that needed to submit an article.

And this is despite significant disagreement with other Users!

Comment author: Just_a_Human 15 August 2010 01:19:05AM 10 points [-]

I'm just a regular woman, with regular intellectual capabilities who is struggling to complete a degree in physics, math and CS while working part time, taking care of my seven-month old full-time, spending quality time with my husband, satisfying my parents' and inlaws' wishes to keep in touch and see their granddaughter, and trying to pursue the truth and grow in wisdom during the wee hours of the night. I am an orthodox Jew who is currently undergoing a crisis of faith - reading things like LW persuade my intellect, reading things on Judaism persuade some other part of my being. I became an orthodox Jew after doing some independent reading and studying from the age of 14 (before that I thought religion was just an obsolete and irrational barrier to the enlightenment and advancement promised by science). I don't care if I get voted down to hell for saying that (I don't believe in hell anyways). That is just how I'm feeling personally at this point in life. I'm not here to get high karma - just here to read as much as possible learn, perhaps change my mind and act to the best of my knowledge. I have been fascinated by science for as long as I can remember, became intrigued with philosophy a few years ago, and love to learn autodidactically. However, I feel my knowledge is fractured and chaotic, since a lot of what I know is what I have taught myself from books and the internet, usually not in any structured logical manner. I'm hoping that one day some pattern will emerge from the chaos of my mind. I have been reading LW and Overcoming Bias for a while. I came across these sites after reading "The Singularity is Near" and doing some searching on the web.

Comment author: simplicio 15 August 2010 01:54:41AM 5 points [-]

I became an orthodox Jew after doing some independent reading and studying from the age of 14

Does that mean you're a convert? I hear that's not a trivial matter...

I feel my knowledge is fractured and chaotic

I hear you! =) I've found a useful way to organize my knowledge is to think about the epistemic bases for the various types of knowledge, i.e., "how do I know?" Scientific, common sense, philosophical, mathematical, something I heard at the pub... etc.

I don't care if I get voted down to hell for saying that (I don't believe in hell anyways). That is just how I'm feeling personally at this point in life. I'm not here to get high karma...

Well, first of all, I doubt you'll get voted down severely for merely identifying as a theist, but you will if you make arguments for theism that display some obvious mistakes the community recognizes.

Don't worry too much about karma anyway. It's mostly for keeping comments relevant to the subject at hand, so we can have a discussion of, say, "ethics from a materialist perspective" that actually gets off the ground, without constantly having to reinvent the wheel and argue materialist vs. theistic ethics from the ground up.

That said, however, pay attention when you're downvoted a lot, as it probably means that several members of the community think you made a mistake in reasoning.

Welcome! =)

Comment author: orthonormal 15 August 2010 02:14:54AM 1 point [-]

That said, however, pay attention when you're downvoted a lot, as it probably means that several members of the community think you made a mistake in reasoning.

This is generally relevant and well said. I'm stealing it for the post, if you don't mind.

Comment author: simplicio 15 August 2010 02:17:22AM 1 point [-]

By all means!

Comment author: paulfchristiano 15 August 2010 05:28:56AM 6 points [-]

I am an undergraduate mathematician currently headed towards a life of doing theoretical computer science research. Several unrelated friends mentioned LW to me at one point or another in my life, so I read an arbitrary well-liked post every so often for a while. Eventually I concluded that visiting the site somewhat regularly would make me happy (although I have thought enough about how I think, and am easily arrogant enough, to doubt that I will become a better person or learn too much about myself) and so here I am.

I am an (almost) Bayesian utility maximizer when I manage to do what I think I should. My utility is the expected quality of a uniformly random instant of conscious experience (although less flagrantly ill-defined than suggested by such a summary). In practice I am fairly selfish and lazy, but also good at accepting unpalatable arguments.

I am interested mostly in solving problems whose solutions I think would reduce suffering significantly compared to their difficulty, but I also spend a little time thinking about more philosophical issues and questioning my current decision making procedure. I guess a more precise picture of my interests will emerge as I make more comments, if I do, and will be irrelevant, if I don't.

Comment author: meta_ark 15 August 2010 10:46:21AM 5 points [-]

Hello! My name's Adam. I've been reading LessWrong since April, but I think this might be my first comment. I usually feel like I don't have much to add :)

I think my awakening as a rationalist can be traced back to reading Plato's Republic when I was 15. While not the typical rationalist text, it did open my eyes to the world of philosophy and logic, and first gave me the hunger for truths.

I found Less Wrong when a rationalist friend of mine badgered me for ages to visit it. This was after a weekend I'd spent in a particularly foul mood because of the short-sightedness and irrationality of the people around me. And then I remembered that Less Wrong site he'd mentioned, and decided to check it out. Wow. I'd found a place where people shared my beliefs - and I realised it had taken me years to independently think of a lot of the ideas taken for granted here.

Less Wrong has been a large part of my life in the last half-year or so, and I can see myself here for a very long time.

Comment author: simplicio 15 August 2010 02:53:11PM 3 points [-]

Less Wrong has been a large part of my life in the last half-year or so, and I can see myself here for a very long time.

Just how I felt. Like I had stumbled across the intellectual equivalent of Callahan's Crosstime Saloon.

Comment author: rahul 15 August 2010 03:56:31PM 5 points [-]

Hi, I'm Rahul. I've intermittently visited LW for more than a year, refraining from commenting as it seemed optimal to shut up and update my beliefs regarding ideas I wasn't very well informed about. I feel I'm better prepared to contribute now.

I studied engineering and physics at school, moving on to work at trading floors of investment banks where I got a real, ringside view of decision making under uncertainty. Today, I work as a social venture capitalist looking to help disadvantaged micro-entrepreneurs rise out of poverty.

Despite my life's digressions, I retain a strong interest in philosophy, mathematics and computer science. My interest in rationality was initially piqued in my undergraduate years by the work of Kahneman and Tversky. I am mostly an auto-didact in the things I really enjoy, but I must confess that at 25, I often feel old and intellectually left behind. LessWrong helps me catch up.

Comment author: Perplexed 15 August 2010 05:06:52PM *  5 points [-]

Hi. I've been reading and posting here for 3 weeks or so, and am working my way through the sequences, so it's time to introduce myself.

My full nym is Perplexed in Peoria (PiP for short.) I am a retired computer engineer (software simulation of hardware designs). My checkered undergrad career included majors in chemistry, physics, poly sci, and finally economics. My recent reading interests include molecular biology, evolutionary biology, formal logic, philosophy, game theory, and abiogenesis. Currently I am reading Pearl on Causality, Wimsatt on philosophy, and Eliezer on whatever. I am of the opinion that WVO Quine has a lot to answer for. I recently bought a Mac and an iPad.

I hope to begin posting here within a few months on topics of rationality, decision theory, and game theory. My first posting is planned to be on an axiomatic/intuitive foundation for subjective probability which I hope is easier to understand and thus more convincing than Jaynes's Chapter 2 using Cox's theorem. I am currently fairly skeptical regarding the Singularity.

Edit and PS: Oh, I got here by way of a comment in a science blog - Jerry Coynes's, I think. About a month ago, there was a flurry of discussion and wooly thinking about Free Will out there in the blogosphere, and someone left the comment that the problem had been dissolved here. So I checked, and found that I pretty much agreed with the (dis)solution.

Comment author: xamdam 16 August 2010 01:42:27PM 1 point [-]

My first posting is planned to be on an axiomatic/intuitive foundation for subjective probability which I hope is easier to understand and thus more convincing than Jaynes's Chapter 2 using Cox's theorem

this would be very welcome, as I just read that chapter.

Comment author: rabidchicken 16 August 2010 09:53:20PM 1 point [-]

You recently bought a Mac? (must control Linux and computer building evangelism...) Anyway, welcome. I look forward to your post, and seeing your reasons for doubting the possibility of singularity. With my limited research so far, I am nearly certain it is inevitable, if not imminent. Now I need to go rant on a computer hardware site to get expensive pre-built computers out of my system....

Comment author: Perplexed 18 August 2010 03:31:49AM 7 points [-]

Also bought a Ubuntu disk and book, intending to go dual-boot on the Mac, but haven't installed it yet. Yeah, the Mac cost too much, but I bought it because I had never owned an Apple and I have worked with a variety of Unix systems. Currently, I am trying for nerdish breadth rather than depth. And having built an Altair, my computer build-it-yourself hunger is already satiated.

I recently published my FOOM-denialist rant as a comment on the "Why trust SIAI" thread. But that was two days ago. I don't much agree with what I wrote there. The singularity seems to me to be much closer now.

Comment author: JamesAndrix 18 August 2010 04:45:11AM *  8 points [-]

I recently published my FOOM-denialist rant as a comment on the "Why trust SIAI" thread. But that was two days ago. I don't much agree with what I wrote there. The singularity seems to me to be much closer now.

An LW semi-tradition I try to encourage: When one changes one's mind after a discussion, go back and add a note to the original post stating your new position and what led you to change it. Hopefully this will help us build a map of what arguments are correct and convincing.

I try to always upvote such things. Changing your mind should be a party.

Comment author: Perplexed 19 August 2010 01:14:33AM 3 points [-]

I edited the rant adding my second thoughts.

Thx for reminding me to do so.

Comment author: [deleted] 16 August 2010 12:15:44PM *  5 points [-]

Hi, I've been reading Less Wrong since about January this year, I got interested in the site because of the Baby eating aliens fiction which someone recommended, I had before coming here read a few posts at Overcoming Bias.

At the time I read most of the Yudkowsky coming of age sequence and was also especially interested in the Luminosity sequence. I've recently started thinking about Timeless Decision theory and reading with great interest this sites take on the blind idiot god.

The thing I think this site helped me most with was to impart on me how important the theoretical underpinnings of reasoning really are. It has also made me invest serious effort into studying game theory, Bayesian statistics as well as review information theory.

In RL I'm a Male Physics undergrad in my early 20's.

Comment author: Morendil 16 August 2010 01:29:59PM 4 points [-]

Now you have me wondering what the Female Physics classes are like. ;)

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 16 August 2010 01:56:56PM 4 points [-]

I hear the fluid mechanics course taught by Dr. Irigaray is really good.

Comment author: TylerJay 16 August 2010 10:58:47PM 8 points [-]

Hi, my name is Tyler and I've been lurking LW for the last few months. I'm a full-time university student in California. Like others, I've refrained from posting because I feel I'm not yet quite up-to-date on many of the issues discussed here, though i'd considered many of them before ever finding LW.

I found LW through Yudkowski.net which I found through one of Eli's more technical articles that popped up on a google search when I was first becoming interested in Artificial Intelligence. Since then, i've developed an interest in the big R.

As I read the sequences (I'm nearly through and I've been at it a while now) I am often pleasantly surprised when Eli brings up a topic that i'd previously considered, and even more so when he explains it. Overall, the zeitgeist of the LW community really appeals to me. I'm often frustrated at listening to people i know say things that would get torn apart here on LW. I guess i'm just glad to know that there's a community here to which i can both learn tremendously, and hopefully contribute.

I'm working on filling in the holes right now, and the old adage "the more you know, the more you know you don't know" is really having its way with me right now.

Comment author: thomblake 17 September 2010 07:47:54PM 0 points [-]

the big R

I think I'm missing something. Is this common jargon?

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: Morendil 19 August 2010 07:24:45PM 4 points [-]

Maybe especially so if they consist only of the interjection "WTF".

I'd hazard that a request for a downvote explanation has a better chance of being answered satisfactorily if it is framed nicely, and perhaps an even better chance if you first think about why the comment might have been downvoted in the first place and offer a hypothesis.

And I'd strongly recommend not downvoting anyone who answers a request for a downvote explanation. Think about how that comes across.

Comment author: komponisto 19 August 2010 07:30:16PM *  -1 points [-]

Maybe especially so if they consist only of the interjection "WTF".

  • That was an edit to an existing comment about something else.

  • The grandparent of that comment contained a parenthetical, polite discussion of a previous downvote. A sense of beleaguerment should have been understandable in that context.

EDIT: That edit has now been removed. Anyone still think -2 is an appropriate score for that comment?

Comment author: FranFin 22 August 2010 08:02:11PM 10 points [-]

I accidentally posted the following comment earlier today in the May 2009 Introduction page. Hal suggested I re-post it here, where it belongs:

Those of you who were at the 2010 SIngularity Summit in San Francisco last weekend might have seen me. I was hovering around "the guy in the motorized wheelchair." I am Hal Finney's spouse and life partner. Although I am new to Less Wrong, and very ignorant when it come to HTML and computers, I have been a Rationalist ever since I was a child, to the dismay of my mother, teachers, and legions of other people I interacted with. I met Hal while an undergraduate at Caltech. And as they say, the rest is history.

This past year, Hal and I have had to completely alter projections of our future together. Hal was diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, better known in the US as "Lou Gehrigs Disease"). Since his diagnosis in August of 2009, Hal has physically changed in very obvious ways. His speech has become slow, quiet, and labored. His typing has gone from rapid-fire 120 WPM to a sluggish finger peck. His weekly running (50-60 miles per week in February 2009) stopped being possible in November of 2009, and now Hal gets around in a motorized wheelchair. Eating, always a pleasure before, is now a challenge - much concentration is involved to avoid choking. The most recent and worrisome manifestation of the weakening in Hal's voluntary muscles is his breathing. However - all of these changes have been to Hal's body. The machine that Hal's brain controls through efferent output to interact with the environment. Inside, he is the same brilliant guy I have known for well over half of my life.

I was very impressed with the people I met at the Singularity Summit. What a relief to be around creative individuals who think rather than just act. Who problem solve, rather than just react. Who can understand Hal's and my intention to keep his magnificent brain alive and give him a way to communicate, even if he loses all movement.

I am happy that a community of rational people exists. And I'm looking forward to interacting with this community, along with Hal, for many more years.

Comment author: Snowyowl 23 August 2010 09:55:43PM 6 points [-]

Hello. I'm Snowyowl, or Christopher if you're interested in my real name. (Some people are.) I first discovered this site on Friday 14th August, when a friend of mine (who calls herself Kron) pointed me in the direction of the story "Harry Potter and the Methods Of Rationality".

I don't consider myself a rationalist, because that seems like a sure-fire way of feeling superior to 90% of the world. Also, I have realised in the past week that a lot of my beliefs and opinions are contradictory - in LessWrong lingo, my Bayesian network isn't internally consistent. Of course, I had noticed that before now, but it didn't seem an important problem before I read a few relevant blog posts. So no, I'm not a rationalist, and I hadn't even heard the word until two weeks ago.

I'm a second-year mathematics undergrad at the time of writing; I had actually heard of Bayes' Theorem years ago. I have also taken courses branching out into computing and physics. The techniques in your blog appeal to my way of thinking, since I enjoy mathematics and logic, and applying scientific methods to everyday life is a relatively new concept to me.

So hello, LessWrong! I look forward to many calm and reasonable debates!

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: JohnDavidBustard 25 August 2010 03:03:08PM 5 points [-]

Hi all, I'm John Bustard. I was suggested this site by a friend and I've just started getting into it. I'm a PhD student in computer vision, with a basic need for intellectual discussions (nice food and good debates are pretty close to heaven for me). I'm also very keen on improving my knowledge of statistical learning, which I feel is the key to understanding truth (the formalisation of understanding). I'm a fan of the singularity with a preference for brain scanning and simulation as the triggering event. Above all, however, I'm attracted by the sense of community this site represents. I feel a great empathy with those whose posts reflect a dissatisfaction and frustration with the world around them. I have recently started being a bit more public about my own views, primarily in the hope of finding others who feel similarly. My posts on my own site tend to be more personal and much less rigorous. In part, so that I can talk about ideas that are hard to be rigorous about, but also as an honest analysis of my own feelings. Please feel free to criticise them at the site. I’ll be much more thorough with the posts I make here. I hope I can contribute something interesting and look forward to reading your impressive catalogue of articles.

Comment author: Savant 27 August 2010 12:26:48AM 3 points [-]

Hi, everyone;

I saw this invitation and decided that it was finally time for me to register and say hello. I was led here by reading Eliezer's excellent website, and have since really gotten quite a wake-up call from Less Wrong and the Sequences. So, thank you to all of you who have participated in this community and the craft. I hope that I will be able to learn a lot and contribute a little.

My focus and interest is artificial intelligence, but I've always known that I just don't know enough to make an attempt yet. Thus, I've been studying other complicated systems such as weather, molecular biology, and neurology. At the same time, I am buffing up my math skills via correspondence courses. It's intense, but I like intense, and it provides me a good distraction from the unpleasantness of living in an oil rush town such as I do.

Just a little background. I've done a bit of reading into akrasia and how to beat it (one of my big enemies), and hope to eventually have something interesting to say about it, but I'm content to continue research for now.

Thanks for all the wonderful material, everyone.

Comment author: mrflick 31 August 2010 02:50:05AM 7 points [-]

Hey everybody, I know I came across this late, but lately I've been becoming a more avid reader of the site, and thought I'd follow with the post's suggestion and give my introduction.

I came here from Overcoming Bias(via various econoblogs), although that doesn't really mark the beginning of my push into becoming a rationalist. The big turning point for me was coming across a NIH article that was linked to by econlog or marginalrevolution. Both of the two introduced me to Baye's Theorem, and how it could explain how so many publications in the medical literature could be statistically significant, yet incorrect(I think the paper estimated nearly half).

I had been struggling with social anxiety and had really screwed things up with a girl I really liked because of a few fundamental misunderstandings. In a clearer state of mind I was able to realize that I had an entirely wrong perception of what people thought of me and this girl in particular. But I couldn't explain why I would have such a skewed view of my world until I learned how to apply Baye's in how we evaluate our decisions.

Starting from the simple introduction into Baye's where one is asked to evaluate the problem of estimating the probablity someone has a disease based on a single diagnostic test, I learned how the false positives completely warped what the probability would be. I began to think about how many 'false positives' I may be clinging onto in my life, and how I could be getting so damn many of them. If I kept looking for any probable sign that someone didn't like me, especially while ignoring signs that I'm doing fine, I was gonna get a crap load of false positives, but would have relatively good reasons to believe them. I also began to realize how many coincidences there are in the world, and how many wrong theories these coincidences could validate if I kept looking in the wrong places and asking the wrong questions.

All of this in turn got me interested in the theory of the mind and cognitive biases - specifically thinking about how we unconsciously construct priors in our head, how we are lead into asking which questions, and how many different ways this can go wrong. I set out on a process to make that process go less wrong, and now I am here on this site introducing myself.

Comment author: cjemmott 10 September 2010 09:01:54PM 2 points [-]

Hello all -

My name is Colin, and I am a long time lurker / RSS reader. Thanks for posting this welcome message, as it gave me motivation to finally get registered.

I stumbled onto LW from Eliezer Yudkowsky's "An Intuitive Explanation of Bayes' Theorem", which I found when trying to explain to my mother what I was up to in graduate school, and why I was so excited about it. I have been interested in science and epistemology for as long as I can remember, so finding that there are principled ways to reason about uncertainty was pretty amazing to me.

I most enjoy the LW articles about the application of careful reasoning to personal decision making, as that is something I constantly struggle with. I enjoy being a Bayesian at work (sonar signal processing), but have more trouble at home. For example, I have a constant internal debate about riding my motorcycle, as it is simultaneously the most fun and dangerous of my activities. It is much harder to do the math when there aren't numbers...

Thank you for all the interesting posts!

Comment author: Elizabeth 17 October 2010 05:41:03PM 6 points [-]

My name is Elizabeth, and I made my way here through "Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality," but quickly found myself fascinated. I've been reading intermittently for a few months, and would likely not be posting here today due to an unfortunate personal tendency towards lurking and the sheer daunting nature of the volume and intelligence of discussion, but when I was reading about narrowness I came across a comment I couldn't help responding to, and decided my newfound positive karma score was worth overcoming my trepidation about permanent records.
I've most recently been reading about the nature of words and definitions, which is a topic of particular interest to me. I really like it when a post walks me through a set of ideas that I sort of half knew, but never really codified, and I like it even better when it's something I had never thought of, or which changes how I think of things. Some of the posts about biases were particularly effective in that regard. I hope to be a productive part of the discussion.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 23 October 2010 05:03:38AM 7 points [-]

My name's Dave.

I got here through the MoR fic a week or so ago, thence the Babykillers/HappyFunPeople fic, thence the Overcoming Bias archive, which I'm currently working my way through. Created an account to comment on a post there, then found this post.

I'm not sure I do identify as a rationalist, actually. It seems to me that a necessary condition to justify my making such a claim is valuing habits of thought and behavior that lead to accuracy over other kinds of habits -- for example, those that lead to peace or popularity or collaboration or productivity or etc. -- and I'm not sure I do.

(I don't mean to suggest that they are incompatible, or even mutually inhibitory. It might work out that someone primarily motivated by rationalism also ends up being maximally peaceful, popular, collaborative and/or productive, just as it might work out that someone primarily motivated by pacifism also ends up being maximally rational. But I don't see any good reason to believe it.)

That said, there are habits of thought and behavior I value and see well represented here. Precision in speech is one of them -- saying what you mean, requesting clarification for ambiguous statements, etc. Argument to explore an idea rather than defend a position is another. A third is the willingness to assume good will on the part of someone one disagrees with; to treat disagreement as an opportunity to teach or learn or both rather than as a challenge to be defeated or evaded. (Though perhaps that's just the second reason wearing a funny hat.) Active interest in how people think (as distinct from what they think) is another.

These are all fairly rare traits in the world, and even more so on the Internet, and I enjoy them where I find them.

More demographically: I've lived in Massachusetts since I came here for college 20+ years ago, was a cognitive science major back then and since then have worked in the software biz in various capacities (currently a requirements analyst). In my non-work hours (and in more of my work hours than I ought) I do community theatre and wander the Internet; I'm currently rehearsing for a production of The Goat and getting ready to direct a production of Equus next year. Was raised an Orthodox Jew and still identify that way culturally, but neither practice nor believe. Recently married my partner of 18+ years.

That's probably enough for now. Feel free to ask questions.

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: ciphergoth 27 October 2010 11:42:36AM 7 points [-]

We call "whatever-works-ism" instrumental rationality.

Comment author: playtherapist 28 October 2010 02:31:30AM 12 points [-]

Hi. I've been lurking here for awhile, because my son is a major contributor. I recently confessed that I was reading his posts and he urged me to register and contribute. I made my first comment a few minutes ago, in response to "What hardcore singularity believers should consider doing."

I think I'm probably atypical for this site. I'm a 58 year old, female, clinical social worker. I've worked in mental institutions, foster care for the disabled and, for the past 21 years as a play therapist with children. I'm also a part-time artist and a volunteer executive director of a non-profit organization. I'm not sure that I am a "rationalist".

Comment author: soundchaser 28 October 2010 07:58:35PM 5 points [-]

Hi. I've been a lurker since before Less Wrong existed, reading though the sequences as they existed on Overcoming Bias. I regularly read new posts on Less Wrong and have made it through a couple of the sequences, but have failed to internalize much.

I am very interested in the topics discussed here and have recently decided to take a more active role in the community as well as really learning the existing material.

A little about me personally. I'm a 23, male, computer programmer ('software engineer') that has essentially slacked off his entire life. I have extremely varied intellectual interests ranging from the arts, music, and design to computer programming, programming languages, mathematics, human intelligence augmentation, medicine, computer science, and artificial intelligence. It is rare that I find something that I am not in any way interested. I have studied mathematics and computer science formally.

I can't necessarily call myself a rationalist because I lack pretty much all instrumental rationality. I am generally very rational in thought, but not in action.

I think the materials available on Less Wrong are both awesome and intimidating. I feel like I have already learned a lot, but know that I have really only scraped the tip of the iceberg.

(Located in North Carolina)

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 15 November 2010 06:53:21PM 0 points [-]

(Located in North Carolina)

Hey, that makes two of us. Where about?

Comment author: soundchaser 15 November 2010 07:57:58PM *  1 point [-]

Raleigh, what about you?

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 15 November 2010 09:45:18PM 0 points [-]

Durham, here, right by Duke University, though I'll be moving to another part of the city early next year, with some luck.

I don't drive, but if we scare up a couple more people nearby and start a meetup group, it'd be worth taking a cab to, I bet.

Comment author: soundchaser 16 November 2010 02:31:22AM 0 points [-]

Having a meetup here would be great. I know a couple people that would attend, but I'm not too sure of the overall readership here.

Comment author: Phil_Reinhold 13 November 2010 03:39:21AM 5 points [-]

Hello LW. I'm Phil, I've been reading Less Wrong for a little over a year now. One of my most prominent "ugh-fields" is that surrounding my (very low) content consumption/production ratio, and I, somewhat baselessly, hope that posting here will help me become a more thoughtful and disciplined writer.

Currently, I'm an undergraduate studying physics and computer science in Chicago. I am highly torn between pursuing a career in science or one in engineering. Several articles here have helped me understand the difference between the two better, but that hasn't translated neatly into resolving my ambivalence.

During my high school years, I became an ardent atheist and libertarian (now somewhat tempered), and grew attatched to transhumanism after reading The Singularity is Near.

My college experience thusfar has really impressed upon me the need for rationality. Coming to interact with such a huge repository of previously unconsidered hypotheses has shattered some of my unwarranted certainty I built up from years of being in an environment which never challenged me. I hope this will be another (fruitful) step on that path.

Comment author: Nornagest 15 November 2010 06:32:35PM 5 points [-]

Howdy. I've been reading this blog for several months, but I'm hoping that having an identity on this site will provide incentives to internalize its logic; I've found in the past that it's easy for knowledge to fly away when you don't have a short-term stake in understanding it. Of course, that introduces its own potential for bias, but you've got to start somewhere.

Demographically, I'm a software engineer in my mid-to-late twenties living in the SF Bay Area. I spent some time studying classical AI while I was working on my undergraduate degree, but I've recently developed an interest in nonclassical methods; I also have interests in game theory, economics, and game design. I'm additionally a fairly serious martial artist, which informs many aspects of my thinking.

I have a fairly strong aversion to calling myself an "-ist" of any kind, but I can label myself a reductive materialist without cringing.

My name's Brian. I'm posting under a handle because I expect more people I'd encounter here to have associations attached to the handle than to my actual name.

Comment author: IanKanchax 27 November 2010 11:34:28PM 5 points [-]

Hi, Living in Montreal, Quebec, Canada and studying in the equivalent of college. Lazy is a word describing me well. Seeking consonnance and being lazy, most of the time I think and do not act. I seek to act free of pointless things, opinions, biases and ?

And it is difficult. LW is breeze of fresh air to my mind. I want it to help me change myself. I want to be more congruent and rational.

Discovering new possibilities makes me see my inadequacies and now I feel I have to do something about it.

This is a step.

Comment author: UnclGhost 30 November 2010 08:35:54AM 5 points [-]

Hi! I first came here a couple of months ago through MoR (through TV Tropes), which seems to have been a gateway drug of sorts for many of us here. Right now I'm reading my way through the sequences and other posts. I find it surprising how much difference it's made in my thought processes in just the short time I've been reading to just have the Litany of Gendlin available and verbalized, or making my beliefs pay rent. I think I've always been very analytical, but the most helpful things I've read on Less Wrong so far have been ways to focus that analysis and make it useful. My biggest complaint so far has been finding my browser somehow full of unread but saved Less Wrong tabs every time I open it. How does that keep happening, I wonder...

I'm also one of the (presently, six) members of the Less Wrong Folding@Home team, in case you were wondering.

Comment author: jsalvatier 17 December 2010 03:58:01PM 0 points [-]

Meaning you work on Folding@Home or you contribute your cycles?

Comment author: TomM 16 December 2010 06:05:15AM *  5 points [-]

Hello! You have another victim via MoR.

I am already a bit conflicted about the site - I am finding the content inspiring, useful and helpful, given that I am going through a bit of a life 'directional re-evaluation' at the moment, but it is also sucking away a lot of time that I could be devoting to actual analysis and practical action...

Oh, well, when I finish reading every post, I can carry on from there!

Comment author: SRStarin 17 December 2010 03:45:07PM *  20 points [-]

My name is Scott Starin. I toyed with the idea of using a pseudonym, but I decided that this site is related enough to my real world persona that I should be safe in claiming my LW persona.

I am a spacecraft dynamics and control expert working for NASA. I am a 35-year old man married to another man, and we have a year-old daughter. I am an atheist, and in the past held animist and Christian beliefs. I would describe my ethics as rationally guided with one instinctive impulse to the basic Christian idea of valuing and respecting one's neighbor, and another instinctive impulse to mistrust everyone and growl at anyone who looks like they might take my food. Understanding my own humanity and human biases seems a good path toward suppressing the instinctive impulses when they are inappropriate.

I came to this site from an unrelated blog that briefly said something like "Eliezer Yudkowsky is frighteningly intelligent" and linked to this site. So, I came to see for myself. I've read through a lot of the sequences. I really enjoyed the Three Worlds Collide story and forced my husband to read it. EY does seems to be intelligent, but I'm signing up because he and the rest of the community seem to shine brightest when new ideas are brought in. I have some ideas that I haven't seen expressed, so I hope to contribute.

One area where I might contribute is from my professional interest in the management of catastrophic risk of spacecraft failure, which shares some ideas with biases associated with existential risk to the human species. Yudkowsky's book chapter on the topic was really helpful.

Another area is in the difference between religious belief and religious practice. The strong tendency to reject religious belief by members of the LW community may come at the expense of really understanding what powerful emotional, and yet rational, needs may be met by religious practice. This is probably a disservice to those religious readers you have who could benefit from enhanced conversation with LW atheists. Religious communities serve important needs in our society, such as charitable support for the poor or imprisoned and helping loved ones who are in real existential crisis (e.g. terminally ill or suicidal), etc. (Some communities may even produce benefits that outweigh the costs of whatever injury to truth and rationality they may do.) It struck me that a Friendly AI that doesn't understand these needs may not be feasible, so I thought I should bring it up.

I hope readers will note my ample use of "may" and "might" here. I haven't come to any firm conclusions, but I have good reasons for my thoughts. (I'll have to prove that last claim, I know. As a good-faith opener, I do go to a church that has a lot of atheist members--not agnostics, true atheists, like me.) I confess the whole karma thing at this site causes me some anxiety, but I've decided to give it a try anyway. I hope we can talk.

(Since I'm identifying myself, I am required by law to say: Nothing I write on this site should be construed as speaking for my employer. I won't put a disclaimer in every post--that could get annoying--only those where I might reasonably be thought to be speaking for or about my work at NASA.)

Comment author: jsalvatier 17 December 2010 03:55:30PM 2 points [-]

Welcome then! Your first idea does sound interesting, and I look forward to heard about it. Don't worry too much about Karma.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 17 December 2010 04:33:14PM 1 point [-]

Welcome!

Understanding and overcoming human cognitive biases is, of course, a recurring theme here. So is management of catastrophic (including existential) risks.

Discussions of charity come up from time to time, usually framed as optimization problems. This post gets cited often. We actually had a recent essay contest on efficient charity that might interest you.

The value of religion (as distinct from the value of charity, of community, and so forth) comes up from time to time but rarely goes anywhere useful.

Don't sweat the karma.

If you don't mind a personal question: where did you and your husband get married?

Comment author: SRStarin 17 December 2010 07:22:58PM *  2 points [-]

We got married in a small town near St. Catharine's, Ontario, a few weeks after it became legal there.

Thanks for the charity links. I find practical and aesthetic value in the challenging aspect of "shut up and multiply,"(http://lesswrong.com/lw/n3/circular_altruism/), particularly in the example you linked about purchasing charity efficiently. However, it seems to me that oversimplification can occur when we talk about human suffering.

(Please forgive me if the following is rehashing something written earlier.) For example, multiplying a billion people's suffering for 1 second to make it equal to a billion seconds of consecutive suffering to make it seem way more bad than a million consecutive seconds--almost 12 straight days--of suffering done by one person is just plainly, rationally wrong. One proof of that is that distributing those million seconds as one-second bursts at regular intervals over a person's life is better than the million consecutive seconds because the person is not otherwise unduly hampered by the occasional one-second annoyances, but would probably become unable to function well in the consecutive case, and might be permanently injured (a la PTSD). My point is there's something missing from the equation, and that potential lies at the heart of the human impulse to be irrational when presented with the same choice as comparative gain vs. comparative loss.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 17 December 2010 08:20:55PM 2 points [-]

As you say, a million isolated seconds of suffering isn't as bad as a million consecutive seconds of suffering, because (among other things) of the knock-on effects of consecutivity (e.g. PTSD). Maybe it's only 10% as bad, or 1%, or .1%, or .0001%, or whatever. Sure, agreed, of course.

But the moral intuition being challenged by "shut up and multiply" isn't about that.

If everyone agreed that sure, N dust-specks was worse than 50 years of torture for some N, and we were merely haggling over the price, the thought experiment would not be interesting. That's why the thought experiment involves ridiculous numbers like 3^^^3 in the first place, so we can skip over all that.

When we're trying to make practical decisions about what suffering to alleviate, we care about N, and precision matters. At that point we have to do some serious real-world thinking and measuring and, y'know, work.

But what's challenging about "shut up and multiply" isn't the value of N, it's the existence of N. if we're starting out with a moral intuition that dust-specks and torture simply aren't commensurable, and therefore there is no value of N... well, then the work of calculating it is doomed before we start.

Comment author: SRStarin 18 December 2010 01:29:01AM *  1 point [-]

OK, I now understand the way the site works: If someone responds to your comment, it shows up in your mailbox like an e-mail. Sorry for getting that wrong with Vaniver ( i responded by private mail), and if I can fix it in a little while, I will (edit: and now I have). Now, to content:

Thanks for responding to me! I didn't feel like I should hijack the welcome thread for something I didn't know hadn't been thoroughly discussed elsewhere. So I tried to be succinct, and failed and ended up garbled.

First, 3^^^3 is WAY more than a googolplex ;-)

Second, I fully recognize the existence of N, and I tried to make that clear in the last statement of content-value in my answer to you, by recalling the central lesson of "shut up and multiply", which is that people, when faced with identical situations presented at one time as gain comparisons, and at another time as loss comparisons, will fail to recognize the identity and choose differently. That is a REALLY useful thing to know about human bias, and I don't discount it.

I suppose my comment above amounts to a quibble if it's already understood that EY's ideas only apply to identical situations presented with different gain/loss values, but I don't have the impression that's all he was getting at. Hence, my caveat. If everyone's already beyond that, feel free to ignore.

I agree that dust-specks and torture are commensurable. If you will allow, a personal story: I have distichiasis. Look it up, it ain't fun. My oily tear glands, on the insides of my eyelids, produce eyelashes that grow toward my eyes. Every once in a while, one of those (almost invisible, clear--mine rarely have pigment at all) eyelashes grows long enough to brush my eyes. At that instant, I rarely notice, having been inured to the sensation. I only respond when the lash is long enough to wake me up in the middle of the night, and I struggle to pull out the invisible eyelash. Sometimes, rarely, it gets just the right (wrong) length when I'm driving, and I clap my hand over my eye to hold it still until I get home.

If I could reliably relieve myself of this condition in exchange for one full day of hot stinging torture, I would do so, as long as I could schedule it conveniently, because I could then get LASIK, which distichiasis strictly disallows for me stasis quo. I even tried, with electrolysis, which burned and scarred my eyelids enough that the doctor finally suggested I'd better stop.

So, an individual's choices about how they will consume their lot of torture can be wide-ranging. I recognize that. These calculations of EY's do not recognize these differences. Sometimes, it makes sense to shut up and multiply. Other times, when it's available (as it often is), it makes sense to shut up and listen. Because of that inherent fact, of the difference between internal perception and others' external perception of your suffering, we have a really useful intuition built in to, in otherwise equal situations, defer to the judgment of those who will suffer. We optimize not over suffering, but over choice. That is our human nature. It may be irrational. But, that nature should be addressed--not only failing to multiply human suffering sufficiently objectively.

Comment author: Vaniver 17 December 2010 08:06:26PM 1 point [-]

Another area is in the difference between religious belief and religious practice. The strong tendency to reject religious belief by members of the LW community may come at the expense of really understanding what powerful emotional, and yet rational, needs may be met by religious practice. This is probably a disservice to those religious readers you have who could benefit from enhanced conversation with LW atheists. Religious communities serve important needs in our society, such as charitable support for the poor or imprisoned and helping loved ones who are in real existential crisis (e.g. terminally ill or suicidal), etc. (Some communities may even produce benefits that outweigh the costs of whatever injury to truth and rationality they may do.) It struck me that a Friendly AI that doesn't understand these needs may not be feasible, so I thought I should bring it up.

This topic interests me quite a bit, and I think it would be well-received here if you focus on the practice and ignore the belief. EY has a number of posts that are unabashedly influenced by religious practices.

Comment author: drc500free 17 December 2010 08:24:59PM 7 points [-]

Hello, My name is Dave Coleman. I was raised Atheist Jewish, and have identified as a rationalist my whole life. Browsing through the sequences, I realized I had failed to recognize some deeply ingrained biases.

I value making myself and others happy. Which others, and how happy, is something I've always struggled with. I used to have a framework with Jewish ethics, but I'm realizing that those are only clear in comparison to Christian ethics. Much of what I learned and considered was about how to make the Torah and Talmud relevant to modern, atheistic life.

I'm realizing the strong bias we had against saying "maybe it's not relevant, since it was written by immature goatherders 3500 years ago who had no knowledge of science or empathy for those outside their tribe." Admitting that wouldn't sound wise, so we twist and turn with answers, cluttering what could be a solid system of ethics.

For a while I've considered myself a reconstructionist Jew, with the underlying ethos of "do all Jewish traditions by default, but don't do anything that has a good reason not to be done." I've realized that not polluting my mind with incorrect and biased thought patterns is a good reason to avoid many things.

Another recent change has been an understanding of Judaism in terms of evolutionary fallacies. There is a strong sense in Judaism of being a Chosen People, and of a universal intention that Jews survive as Jews. Assimilation may be the biggest struggle for Jews, bigger even than persecution.

I realized that this is the same fallacy that sees intent in a species's characteristics. I had been labeling aspects of Judaism that lead to survival as being virtuous themselves - all of the dietary rituals to keep separate from goyim, the fear and guilt of assimilation. Even the love of learning and the drive to succeed has undertones of "thrive, for that is how you will survive the next pogrom." Preservation of the culture is virtuous, therefore anything that keeps the culture alive is virtuous.

I remember my first Differential Equations class, when we learned that the function that is its own derivative is f(x)=e^x, and the function that is its own second derivative is f(x)=sin(x). There was this eerie confusion as I first thought that those functions were just a possible solution, and then realized that they described the only solutions. I found it very disturbing that I couldn't describe whether the sine looked as it does by virtue of being its own second derivative, or whether it was its own second derivative by virtue of looking as it does. I still feel slightly uneasy that I can't assign a causal relationship in one direction or the other.

That's how I view Judaism now. The characteristics of all species and memes are a solution to the equation of survival. There is no intent or deeper meaning than that, and I think I've finally let that go.

Oh, and I got here from Reddit, where someone posted a link to the Paperclip Maximizer.

Comment author: JGWeissman 17 December 2010 08:34:25PM 1 point [-]

There was this eerie confusion as I first thought that those functions were just a possible solution, and then realized that they described the only solutions.

Of course, you mean they are the only solutions that satisfy certain initial conditions.

Comment author: drc500free 17 December 2010 08:50:12PM 1 point [-]

Well, that they are the family of solutions, allowing for various transformations.

*-Disclaimer, I haven't looked at a differential equation in 6 years.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 17 December 2010 09:10:23PM *  3 points [-]

e^-x is its own second derivative. sin(x) is its own fourth derivative (note relation to e^ix).

And welcome to LW! (he said)

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 17 December 2010 09:22:01PM 3 points [-]

I found it very disturbing that I couldn't describe whether the sine looked as it does by virtue of being its own second derivative, or whether it was its own second derivative by virtue of looking as it does. I still feel slightly uneasy that I can't assign a causal relationship in one direction or the other.

Causality doesn't have much meaning when applied to mathematics.

Comment author: Perplexed 17 December 2010 09:27:00PM 1 point [-]

Following up to EY's comment:

e^x is its own second derivative too. There are two functions that are their own second derivative, and four which are their own fourth derivative.

Cool! So what are the other two (out of three) functions that are their own third derivative? What does their graph look like? And does all this have anything to do with Laplace transforms? Does a sufficiently smooth function have a 1.5th derivative?

Yes, welcome to LW.

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 17 December 2010 09:31:57PM 2 points [-]

There are two functions that are their own second derivative, and four which are their own fourth derivative.

More precisely there is a 2-dimensional parameter space of functions that are their own second derivative, i.e., any function of the form Ae^x+Be^-x for any constants A and B.

Comment author: drc500free 17 December 2010 10:29:02PM 1 point [-]

Is there a generic form of that for any nth derivative?

Comment author: Eugine_Nier 17 December 2010 10:34:08PM 2 points [-]
Comment author: JGWeissman 17 December 2010 10:36:01PM *  1 point [-]

Sum over integers k from 1 to n of A(k)*e^(e^(2*i*pi/k)*x) is its own nth derivative, for all A.

Comment author: ata 17 December 2010 09:32:36PM 1 point [-]

Does a sufficiently smooth function have a 1.5th derivative?

I think so.