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XiXiDu comments on Math prerequisites for understanding LW stuff - Less Wrong

19 Post author: cousin_it 04 October 2010 11:30AM

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Comment author: XiXiDu 04 October 2010 12:28:42PM *  21 points [-]

A list capturing all background knowledge you might ever need for LW.

(Updated: 2010-10-08)

This list assumes a previous level of education above elementary schooling but less than secondary school. If you start with Khan Academy followed by BetterExplained then with the help of Google and Wikipedia you should be able to reach a level of education that allows you to start reading the LessWrong Sequences.

Nevertheless, before you start off you should read and memorize the Twelve Virtues of Rationality. Not only is scholarship just one virtue but you'll also be given a list of important fields of knowledge that anyone who takes LessWrong seriously should study:

It is especially important to eat math and science which impinges upon rationality: Evolutionary psychology, heuristics and biases, social psychology, probability theory, decision theory.




Game Theory



Programming knowledge is not mandatory for LessWrong but you should however be able to interpret the most basic pseudo code as you will come across various snippets of code in discussions and top-level posts outside of the main sequences.




Computer sciences (General Introduction):

One of the fundamental premises on LessWrong is that a universal computing device can simulate every physical process and that we therefore should be able to reverse engineer the human brain as it is fundamentally computable. That is, intelligence and consciousness are substrate independent.

Machine Learning:

Not essential but an valuable addition for anyone who's more than superficially interested in AI and machine learning.


Not essential but a good preliminary to reading LessWrong and in some cases mandatory to be able to make valuable contributions in the comments. Many of the concepts in the following works are often mentioned on LessWrong or the subject of frequent discussions.


Concepts and other fields of knowledge you should at least have a rough grasp of to be able to follow subsequent discussions in the comments on LessWrong.

The Quantum Physics Sequence

Complex Numbers:

Complex Numbers @ Khan Academy:

Note: This list is a work in progress. I will try to constantly update and refine it.

Comment author: satt 05 October 2010 12:20:57AM *  4 points [-]

A disclaimer on Wolfram's A New Kind of Science: quite a few of the scientists who reviewed it weren't particularly enthusiastic. See for example Cosma Shalizi's review (of special interest to Less Wrong readers, perhaps, for the side comment on Jaynes towards the end! Edit: or maybe not; Shalizi's linked arXiv paper is probably wrong as p4wnc6 explains below). This webpage collects a lot of other reviews of the book as well.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 May 2012 02:46:22AM 2 points [-]

It seems Shalizi's comments on Jaynes have been somewhat refuted. The paper claiming that subjective Bayes induces a backward arrow of time fails to account for the entropy generation inside the mind of the agent forming beliefs about the world. It requires energy to convert observations into states of belief, and hence increases entropy. Shalizi's argument does not account for this and (like many puffed-up "rebuttals" of Jaynes) fails for an essentially trivial reason. Shalizi is a great writer and thoughtful researcher, but just got things very very wrong on that occasion.