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Celestia comments on Welcome to Less Wrong! (2010-2011) - Less Wrong

42 Post author: orthonormal 12 August 2010 01:08AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comment author: Celestia 04 November 2011 01:00:05PM 0 points [-]

Because I'm strongly interested in both subjects, could very well pursue a career in one of them (or related fields), and there are excellent resources for both in the university system, especially for physics (research opportunities, labs, etc.).

Comment author: Wei_Dai 05 November 2011 02:53:56AM 5 points [-]

I think the consensus around here is that too many high IQ people go into physics compared to what is socially optimal. Unfortunately my Google-fu is failing me and I can't find the posts/discussions I have in mind. (Anyone want to help me out?) The closest I could find is Paul Christiano's The Value of Theoretical Research.

Comment author: komponisto 06 November 2011 12:00:56AM 3 points [-]

There's also the comment of Peter Thiel at the 2009 Singularity Summit, referenced here.

But in any case note that studying physics in college does not necessarily commit one to "going into" physics. Indeed, Robin Hanson now studies economics professionally but started out studying physics!

Comment author: Wei_Dai 07 November 2011 01:18:14AM 3 points [-]

Thanks, I think between you and gwern you've probably covered what I had in mind. From your linked comment:

Shortly thereafter, Peter Thiel expressed a wish that all the people currently working on string theory would shift their attention to AI or aging; no disagreement was heard from anyone present.

It might be hard to argue that everyone currently working on string theory should shift their attention, but much easier to argue that at the margins, we need more highly capable people working on creating a positive Singularity, or reducing existential risk, or aging, and fewer doing theoretical research. It's unlikely we can make all string theorists shift their attention anyway, but I feel like we'd be doing some good if we could change a few people's minds (like Celestia's for example). Do you disagree?

But in any case note that studying physics in college does not necessarily commit one to "going into" physics.

Sure, but if one doesn't intend to pursue a career in physics, why not study something more generally useful, like computer science?

Comment author: Vaniver 07 November 2011 03:42:21AM 0 points [-]

Sure, but if one doesn't intend to pursue a career in physics, why not study something more generally useful, like computer science?

You can do both. Some of the value of adding physics is that it's a credible signal and your classmates are a cut above most other departments (and you do pick up some problem-solving techniques).

Comment author: gwern 05 November 2011 04:20:14AM 1 point [-]

Well, you might be thinking of http://lesswrong.com/lw/1hh/rationality_quotes_november_2009/1ac4 - either de Grey or the mathematician story would do.

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


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

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

((Also, *brohoof* :3))

Comment author: kilobug 02 November 2011 04:25:56PM 0 points [-]

Welcome here !