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Playing Video Games In Shuffle Mode

17 Post author: talisman 23 March 2009 11:59AM

One of the missions of OB/LW is to attract new learners, and it's clear that they are succeeding.  But the format feels like a very difficult one for those new to these ideas, with beginner-level ideas interspersed with advanced or unsettled theory and meta-level discussions.    You wouldn't play <insert cool-sounding, anime-ish video game here> with the levels on shuffle mode, but reading Less Wrong must feel like doing so for initiates.

How do we make the site better for learners?  Provide a "syllabus" that shows a series of OB and LW posts which should be read in order?  Have a separate beginner site or feed or header?  Put labels on posts that designate them with a level?

Comments (29)

Comment author: bentarm 23 March 2009 05:18:47PM 6 points [-]

One thing that might be helpful is if there were a list of tags somewhere (if this already exists, I can't find it), and if posters could agree on canonical forms of tags. e.g., Anna Salamon's post on "Cached Selves" is the only post with the tag "standard_biases", but it's certainly not the only standard biases post there has been on LW.

Comment author: Technologos 24 March 2009 04:05:48AM 2 points [-]

Or if there were tags reflecting the level of the post, based on the amount of background knowledge or vocabulary you need to know to understand it.

Comment author: Annoyance 23 March 2009 03:07:15PM 4 points [-]

The idea of a Rationality Wiki, I think, has considerable merit. Specific pages could be offered in a sequence as a learn-as-you-go method of teaching. A how-to, so to speak.

The major problem is that I don't think there's enough of a consensus for anything to be taught coherently, much less the correct models and methods involved.

Comment author: badger 24 March 2009 12:35:41AM 1 point [-]

At this point in time, I don't think a teaching wiki would be very productive. Wikis work well for topics that can be broken into small, independent chunks. I'm basing this judgment off broad comparisons between wikipedia vs wikibooks. More book-like and structured wikis require more devoted editors, and the strong contributors like Eliezer and Yvain are probably going to want to put their energy into this site for the time being.

The one variation I think does have a good chance of flourishing alongside OB and LW would be a rationalist dictionary. I mentioned this early on, but didn't get any comments then. If a beginner can have a reference for terminology, common phrases, and acronyms, most of the posts should be accessible. It could also be a standard place to post syllabi. OB and LW are the best sources to learn from right now, but they do need a reference guide.

Comment author: ciphergoth 23 March 2009 03:27:28PM 0 points [-]

A rationality wiki based on distributed source control, so we can all accept whichever changes we like? Saves a lot of fighting...

Comment author: steven0461 23 March 2009 03:29:50PM 1 point [-]

Isn't it enough to just accept a sort of NPOV convention? People can disagree that "you should practice lying" but they can hardly disagree that "some people have argued you should practice lying".

Comment author: Annoyance 23 March 2009 03:43:45PM 0 points [-]

That's not much good as a guide to action, then, is it?

When the issue being discussed is how we can justify claims, no actual assertion can be 'neutral' in the Wikipedia sense, because even the statement that some position has been taken falls under question.

Comment author: steven0461 23 March 2009 03:46:13PM 1 point [-]

When the issue being discussed is how we can justify claims, no actual assertion can be 'neutral' in the Wikipedia sense, because even the statement that some position has been taken falls under question.

I'd respond to this but I can't prove that you said it.

I suppose it depends on whether you want the wiki to function as a source of ideas or as an actual authority to defer to.

Comment author: Yvain 23 March 2009 04:13:02PM *  7 points [-]

From a poster's perspective: it is very hard to tell which ideas your audience considers beginner-level and which they consider advanced-level. Especially when the audience is as diverse and self-selected as at LW. I've posted a few times asking "Hey, does everyone here already know X or not?" and I've rarely gotten the answer I expected.

Responses to my post last night ranged from "this is obvious" to "this is wrong" to "this acronym could be useful" to "this was one of my favorite posts yet". I don't quite know what to do with that. Right now I am erring on the side of caution; I'd rather write something obvious to everyone than skip an inferential distance somewhere.

Upvoting ought to be the main feedback mechanism here, but right now I worry that a well-written true (but obvious) article will get voted up just because it's well-written and true, and everyone figures it will probably help someone else. Maybe make a rule that you should not upvote a post unless it teaches you something? Or maybe end a post whose difficulty level you're not sure of with "Please rate this as too obvious, okay, or too hard"?

EDIT: It's also hard to remember if something has already been covered on Overcoming Bias (see: source confusion). There's not any nice list of Robin or the other writers' posts like there is of Eliezer's, is there?

Comment author: NQbass7 23 March 2009 08:04:48PM 5 points [-]

Right now I am erring on the side of caution; I'd rather write something obvious to everyone than skip an inferential distance somewhere.

That seems like the best policy to me, especially for a site like LW. Perhaps on OB that could be a concern, but here where it's so easy to avoid the posts you don't want to read or which aren't upvoted much, having redundant information doesn't seem like it would be too much of a problem.

Comment author: Demosthenes 23 March 2009 10:20:25PM *  3 points [-]

Yes! something like a table of contents?

The Tag Cloud is a good way to start, but once you generate 10 posts a day for too long, the tag cloud is no longer a useful navigation tool

Something like this maybe: <http://drupal.org/project/hypergraph>

Drupal can also automatically generate "related content" based on whatever criteria you define as important or manually entered links. Adding more and more blocks to the page might not be good for efficiency, but providing more diverse paths to explore the content on these sites would be great.

In the long run, the more crosslinking there is, the easier it will be to visualize the stronger nodes and the easier it will become to find highly cited posts. At this point, good posts get even more citation. Good navigation is the critical first step.

I spend a lot of time these days fishing through older posts on Overcoming Bias, looking for something to read, but it is definitely not set up as a repository of knowledge.

Comment author: talisman 23 March 2009 11:42:55PM 2 points [-]

That link doesn't work due to the angle brackets.

Comment author: CronoDAS 23 March 2009 08:49:12PM 3 points [-]

I think that stating the obvious is frequently useful. There's frequently more to the obvious than is obvious at first glance.

As a wise guy once said:

No, I even suspect that you know the explicit wisdoms, the ones hidden in plain view, which practically no one looks for.

Comment author: jimmy 23 March 2009 06:42:09PM 3 points [-]

One problem is that it's not always easy to tell which ones you learn from.

It seems that my impression of most of EY's (and your) posts was that they were "well-written and true (but obvious)", but that doesn't mean I didn't learn anything. Once I started thinking about it, I started catching myself mistakes that I normally wouldn't have caught.

It's not that I read about mind projection fallacy and thought "Oh! I guess it doesn't actually work like that after all". If you asked me, I would have always told you that mind projection was a common fallacy. It was more like "Oh, wow. I screw up in that way occasionally too."

The other point is that it is very useful to have a library of posts that are well written and true, as long as it's not obvious to everyone. When you're talking to someone and they screw up, having read well written posts on the subject can make it easier to put your objection into words. If that fails you can just say "check your email when you get home- you have a reading assignment".

Comment deleted 23 March 2009 12:31:17PM [-]
Comment author: NQbass7 23 March 2009 01:45:25PM 6 points [-]

I would agree that heavy linking to background material is extremely helpful, but perhaps it would also be good to have a "Welcome to Rationality" page with a basic primer not just on what the site is for, but where you should start post-wise. Directing to the Most Frequently Useful Things and the Most Important Thing would be a good start, I would think.

Comment author: StanR 24 March 2009 07:52:34AM 2 points [-]

Absolutely, linking really improves the resource.

A link for each major claim or background topic would be much appreciated. Sometimes I wonder if there shouldn't be an original post layer, also containing the comments, and a wiki-ish layer, that could provide more links and notations. That way, an entrant could dig deeper, and regulars could participate in bridging those gaps, but could also continue in the original post layer without the wiki-ish clutter.

Learning through participation is a problem when a post generates 30+ comments, some of which are asking for "beginner" clarifications of known-by-regulars concepts. I think it's better to include the beginners in grappling with the concepts and attempting to build the course for themselves and others. Isn't it a bit odd that so many learn by following their interest, filling-in gaps as needed, and yet later on those very same people will attempt to teach others using a more linear method?

Looking back on something I know, I see the map of knowledge, and think "Ah, I might have been better off had I learned these foundational basics first." The click-and-pursue nature of the web seems stacked against that method, and really, would have I been better off? Maybe I wouldn't have pursued as much as I did if I couldn't choose my own path.

If a wiki-ish layer is too crazy, maybe fundamental concepts should be more present in the tags, or be a separate little part? Related links and fundamental concepts relating to the post could be voted up or down. I could vote up a "hindsight bias" tag while downvoting a smartass "jedi" tag, and propose or vote up a link to another post that explored something (say, hindsight bias) in more detail.

Comment author: talisman 23 March 2009 01:54:52PM 2 points [-]

Rereading some of those old posts it's fascinating to see how much Eliezer's writing has sharpened from then to now!

Comment author: AndrewKemendo 23 March 2009 09:51:32PM *  3 points [-]

Just over a year ago I started running into OB articles and found them overwhelming so I read very little and moved on. Every once in a while however I would stumble into an article which had some good in text citations linking to more basic ideas. That is what helped me the most and quickest because it was very much train of thought and contextual.

As I am trying to get friends involved, I send them posts which I think are more along the lines of basic level ideas which have significant in text citations and they seem receptive.

The idea of a "start here" post makes sense - however I often find similar introductory articles or pages on other websites to be overburdened with too much background and end up being more of a reference than a true introduction.

One of the hardest things I have found is turning very complicated ideas into easy to swallow lessons for newcomers to a field. If someone can figure out a way to do that such as with a video or similar, which shows the concepts behind the basics without all the detail and as an extension illustrates the positive effects that are expected, that may help a bit.

Comment author: nazgulnarsil 23 March 2009 08:58:59PM 3 points [-]

I feel like this should be one of the prime goals of this site. creating some sort of rationalist corpus that can take you from "you are a hominid living on planet three" to interacting with modern society.

if ideologies can have these why can't the simple truth? where is the rationalist manifesto?

Comment author: pjeby 23 March 2009 09:58:57PM *  1 point [-]

if ideologies can have these why can't the simple truth?

Because evolution doesn't give a damn about rationality, happiness, or fulfillment... and so did not equip our hardware to supply us with any of them in abundance.

(EDIT: ...which means that rationality isn't simple, for humans. Adding this because I'm guessing the downvotes are due to people not getting why what I said is a genuine answer to the question.)

Comment author: nyu2 23 March 2009 08:35:31PM 2 points [-]

Why not let people vote it as 'too advanced' for themselves? That way, not only would the articles get ordered in ascending difficulty, but we would be able to see what level of understanding the readers have. Just add a new 'sort by: Ascending Difficulty'.

Comment author: talisman 23 March 2009 11:44:53PM 4 points [-]

That assumes beginners know what they know, which strikes me as a poor assumption.

Comment author: MichaelHoward 23 March 2009 09:07:46PM 2 points [-]

Ordering by average perceived difficulty won't solve the problem as different new readers will have very different backgrounds - one might find mathy post A easy and psychology post B impenetrable, while the next guy votes the opposite.

Maybe posters could be encouraged to watch out for illusion of transparency and clearly signpost to the next step back on the inferential distance tree, and commenters to suggest such links where the posters forget. I could always figure out what OB posts were about by following these links (whether to other OB posts or not) as far down as needed until I could understand the top post.

Comment author: taw 23 March 2009 01:42:32PM 0 points [-]

Is there even a useful distinction between beginner and advanced material? Perhaps if something required heavy math background. But in this interpretation examples like Newcomb problems are actually anti-advanced because they collapse into triviality or nonsense when you try to apply any mathematics to them.

And we can crosslink as much as Eliezer did on OB. I like this about his style.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 23 March 2009 05:37:46PM 2 points [-]

But in this interpretation examples like Newcomb problems are actually anti-advanced because they collapse into triviality or nonsense when you try to apply any mathematics to them.

You believe that only because you don't understand how to do the math, the problem itself is not inherently mysterious.

Comment author: talisman 23 March 2009 12:00:38PM 1 point [-]

I can't get the html links to work; can someone help?

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 23 March 2009 12:29:35PM 2 points [-]

The editor for posts is not the same as the editor for comments; it's a WYSIWYG editor and the key is those little buttons at the top.

Fixed it for you, anyway, although the "beginner" and "advanced" links seem to reference the same post.

Comment deleted 23 March 2009 03:14:03PM [-]
Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 23 March 2009 05:57:09PM *  0 points [-]

There is some merit to it, because HTML is more expressive. On the other hand, usability of editor and drafts is terrible, and lack of standardization in content markup is bad for the content's health. I write posts in Latex and convert them to HTML with a regexp script...

Comment author: talisman 23 March 2009 01:26:03PM 0 points [-]

fixed

Comment deleted 23 March 2009 12:23:46PM *  [-]