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Draft of a Suggested Reading Order for Less Wrong

25 Post author: jimrandomh 08 July 2011 01:40AM

Less Wrong contains over four thousand posts. This is awesome. For newcomers, however, it's quite intimidating. Rather than leave newcomers to figure out which posts are worth reading themselves, we provide some guidance, in the form of suggested reading orders. Previously, this has mainly meant the sequences, which are a list of posts that fit neatly into topics, sorted by topic. Unfortunately, reading in topic-sorted order is less than ideal, and many of Less Wrong's best posts weren't part of any sequence. Therefore, I have put together a suggested reading order: the hundred best posts on Less Wrong, in my purely subjective and unofficial judgment, arranged in a sensible order. Thanks to Student_UK for pointing out the need to reconsider how Less Wrong's archived content is presented, to XiXiDu for creating a reading list and to Academian for another reading list; my reading list draws on (but is not a strict superset of) both these lists.

This is only a draft. Since the set of posts newcomers read has a significant impact on the community, I am soliciting feedback. After feedback has been collected, I will move (or clone) this list into the wiki, with feedback incorporated. Note that after my first pass, I had more than four hundred candidates for the top hundred; there were many excellent posts that I had to cut, and doubtless many more that I simply overlooked. I used karma as one consideration when deciding what to include, but this list is not karma based. Additional notes about what I did and didn't include at the bottom.

And with all that out of the way, the top five Less Wrong posts that everyone should read:

Top 5
What Do We Mean By "Rationality" by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
Scientific Self-Help: The State of Our Knowledge by lukeprog
Cached Selves by AnnaSalamon and Steve_Rayhawk
Efficient Charity: Do Unto Others... by Yvain
Making Beliefs Pay Rent (in Anticipated Experiences) by Eliezer_Yudkowsky

A good pace is one or two posts per day, so that you have time to digest and internalize them. If you enjoyed the top five, take a moment to bookmark this page before continuing to the rest of the top 25. If you have questions or thoughts on a post, leave a comment; readers who follow the recent comments page will see it and may reply.

Top 25
About Less Wrong by lukeprog
Hindsight Devalues Science by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
Tsuyoku Naritai! (I Want To Become Stronger) by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
Twelve Virtues of Rationality by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
An Intuitive Explanation of Bayes's Theorem by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
Diseased thinking: dissolving questions about disease by Yvain
Humans are not automatically strategic by AnnaSalamon
Ugh Fields by Roko
Probability is in the Mind by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
How An Algorithm Feels From Inside by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
Knowing About Biases Can Hurt People by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
A Fable of Science and Politics by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
Taboo Your Words by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
The Fallacy of Gray by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
Mind Projection Fallacy by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
Reductionism by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
Privileging the Hypothesis by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
Conservation of Expected Evidence by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
The Apologist and the Revolutionary by Yvain

Top 50
Your Strength as a Rationalist by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
Practical Advice Backed By Deep Theories by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
Scientific Evidence, Legal Evidence, Rational Evidence Eliezer_Yudkowsky
Guessing the Teacher's Password by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
The Sword of Good by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
Fake Explanations by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
The Proper Use of Humility by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
"What Is Wrong With Our Thoughts" by David Stove, and its Discussion on Less Wrong
Doing your good deed for the day by Yvain
Beware Trivial Inconveniences by Yvain
The Fable of the Dragon-Tyrant by Nick_Bostrom [external]
The Bias You Didn't Expect by Psychohistorian
Hold Off On Proposing Solutions by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
Hindsight bias by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
The Trouble With "Good" by Yvain
How to Not Lose an Argument by Yvain
You're Entitled to Arguments, But Not (That Particular) Proof by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
...What's a Bias, again? by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
Applause Lights by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
Explaining vs. Explaining Away by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
Talking Snakes: A Cautionary Tale by Yvain
Reversed Stupidity Is Not Intelligence by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
Cognitive Biases Potentially Affecting Judgment of Global Risks by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
Politics is the Mind-Killer by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
Newcomb's Problem and Regret of Rationality by Eliezer_Yudkowsky

Top 75
Semantic Stopsigns by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
Dissolving the Question by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
Learned Blankness by AnnaSalamon
Reason as memetic immune disorder by PhilGoetz
Making your explicit reasoning trustworthy by AnnaSalamon
Confidence levels inside and outside an argument by Yvain
Truly Part Of You by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
The 5-Second Level by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
Ureshiku Naritai by Alicorn
Guilt: Another Gift Nobody Wants by Yvain
How to Beat Procrastination by lukeprog
Evaporative Cooling of Group Beliefs by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
Occam's Razor by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
Anchoring and Adjustment by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
The Least Convenient Possible World by Yvain
Scarcity by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
The Neglected Virtue of Scholarship by lukeprog
Scholarship: How to Do It Efficiently by lukeprog
Excluding the Supernatural by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
Joy in the Merely Real by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
Affective Death Spirals by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
The Lens That Sees Its Flaws by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
The Virtue of Narrowness by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
Generalizing From One Example by Yvain
Belief in Belief by Eliezer_Yudkowsky

Top 100
Beyond the Reach of God by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
Experiential Pica by Alicorn
Money: The Unit of Caring by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
The Importance of Goodhart's Law by blogospheroid
Policy Debates Should Not Appear One-Sided by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
The mathematical universe: the map that is the territory by ata
Beware of Other-Optimizing by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
A Much Better Life? by Psychohistorian
Less Wrong Rationality and Mainstream Philosophy by lukeprog
Philosophy: A Diseased Discipline by lukeprog
Eight Short Studies On Excuses by Yvain
Fake Causality by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
Chaotic Inversion by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
Measuring aversion and habit strength by Academian
Intellectual Hipsters and Meta-Contrarianism by Yvain
Too busy to think about life by Academian
37 Ways That Words Can Be Wrong by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
How to Be Happy by lukeprog
Righting a Wrong Question by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
Self-fulfilling correlations by PhilGoetz
Why truth? And... by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
You Only Live Twice by Eliezer_Yudkowsky (followup to We Agree: Get Froze by Robin Hanson on Overcoming Bias)
Less Wrong NYC: Case Study of a Successful Rationalist Chapter by Cosmos
Outside the Laboratory by Eliezer_Yudkowsky
Raising the Sanity Waterline by Eliezer_Yudkowsky

And that's it for the top 100! If you've read up to this point, now is a good time to pause, reflect, and start incorporating the better parts into your life and your thinking.

 

And now, some notes about this list. I've tried to include a balanced mix of epistemic rationality, instrumental rationality, and motivations to learn about rationality, spread out through the list, except that the motivations are front-loaded. I have omitted some topics entirely; now that I'm done with the top 100, I will be starting on an "overflow list", containing all the posts that deserved to be here but which didn't fit in the top 100. This will include the Quantum Physics, Luminosity, Zombies, and Metaethics sequences, plus skipped portions of the main sequences and probably at least a hundred other miscellaneous posts.

I am looking for three types of feedback. First: point out if any posts are using concepts without sufficient introduction, so I can change the order to put the introduction in the right place. Second: if there are any posts in this list aren't pulling their weight, that might be profitably replaced with the best of the overflow list, point them out. (Note that a post can meet this criterion and still be excellent.) And third: point out any posts that should be here but aren't, especially posts that introduce concepts or jargon that occur frequently in comments.

Comments (10)

Comment author: Dr_Manhattan 08 July 2011 12:21:19PM *  5 points [-]

This assumes not reading things in sequence order, which I disadvise (from experience of doing that myself at the start). Sure, top 10 posts would be a useful enticer for people to check out more of the site, but if someone is reading 100 posts they would be better off slogging through the Sequences. The problem of going through the sequences is better served via Luke's summarization project IMO.

Comment author: Zed 08 July 2011 11:56:08AM *  13 points [-]

You list a number of great posts but the trouble with the sequences and most of LW is Death By Dependency. Nothing makes sense until everything else makes sense after which everything makes sense.

For that reason alone I think every post that links to related material every second sentence should be disqualified from the suggested reading list. People who tend to read in a depth-first manner (I think most people do?) will open the #1 post "What do we mean with Rationality" only to immediately start reading about "Your map and the territory" and will keep circling until they've read over 2 million words.

The core of the problem is that every post is entangled with every other post and this cannot be solved by creating a new post that itself refers to a 100 other posts. You cannot first explain that Curiosity is a virtue to people who are already curious by nature and then casually link to Newcombike problems (as is the case in reading list post #1) and not expect them to get stuck on Newcomb's problem and TDT for the next week of their life.

Wikipedia has pages in English and pages in Simple English. Example: average and average simple. I think this is the approach we need to take. A separate Introduction to LessWrong sequence that can be read linearly and covers the subjects in a direct and accessible manner.

Feedback on the reading list itself:

"Absence of Evidence Is Evidence of Absence" is probably one of the strongest posts in the MATMQ sequence and I think it should replace or at least precede Conservation of Expected Evidence (that post simply doesn't make sense even to people who are familiar with basic statistics).

A link to Luke's Reading Yudkowsky series would probably also be a good addition.

Edit: I do think the list as it is now is tremendously valuable because it's very easy to miss a few of the great posts even if you think you've read about everything.

Comment author: tetsuo55 09 July 2011 05:00:45PM 1 point [-]

I could not agree more.

That has to be the biggest problem: The lack of teaching stuff on a concept by concept basis, and lack of building a pyramid of concepts from the ground up.

khanacademy is on the right track in this regards, they try to teach everything in the smallest concepts possible.

Comment author: Metus 12 July 2011 06:12:57PM 0 points [-]

Khanacademy is excellent since it has a tree diagramm of subjects on which you can see how far you have come and what material you need to learn in order to understand the topics. The big problem with LessWrong's sequences is that they are highly entangled in contrast to the highly hierarchic way people usually learn. The other problem is that the useful or better articles came later in the sequences so that one has to read older, less interesting ones in order to understand the vocabulary of the newer articles. Maybe the sequences should be rewritten with this in mind?

Comment author: lukeprog 08 July 2011 05:45:47AM 3 points [-]

This is a great project. A few notes:

The new 'About Less Wrong' you link to was written by me, not Eliezer.

I think 'How an Algorithm Feels from the Inside', 'Reductionism' and 'Taboo Your Words' need to be higher.

Comment author: jimrandomh 12 July 2011 10:06:10PM 0 points [-]

Thanks for the feedback!

The new 'About Less Wrong' you link to was written by me, not Eliezer.

Fixed, sorry about that. (I scraped the authorship information from the Recent Posts feed, which also has it wrong, and didn't notice.)

I think 'How an Algorithm Feels from the Inside', 'Reductionism' and 'Taboo Your Words' need to be higher.

I've moved these up to the top 25, pushing down The Fallacy of Gray, Practical Advice Backed by Deep Theories, and Mind Projection Fallacy.

Comment author: Manfred 08 July 2011 04:46:24AM *  1 point [-]

I would advise against simply pointing people to the Quantum Physics sequence. The first, most quantum-ey part is largely good. The other stuff is much less so.

AAanyhow, I like the list. It's a good thing to point people to if they just want to explore.

EDIT: I shall start a Notable Standalone Posts (or something like that) sequence (Part 1) on the wiki soonish - seeing all these has made me realize that it's tough to not lose good solo posts.

Comment author: fburnaby 08 July 2011 01:48:27AM 1 point [-]

Thanks so much for doing this, jimrandomh.

I've read some unknown portion of the sequences (~40 of them?), and many random articles on here (~100?) but I've never even tried to do it in some meaningful order. It looks like I've been missing out because of this; even one of your top 5 (Cached Selves) is new to me.

Comment author: skepsci 24 June 2013 02:40:54PM *  0 points [-]

After the top 5 or 10 or so, rather than just presenting a list of articles, it may make more sense to split things up by topic. Being presented with a list of 100 articles is kind of intimidating. Being presented with five lists of twenty articles each on five different topics is less so, as it's easier to divide and conquer. Readers may be interested in some topics but not others (at least at first), or may decide to read a few articles on each topic.

Some natural subdivisions might be:

  • Human psychology and biases.
  • Bayesian inference.
  • The scientific method.
  • Quantum mechanics.

Also, others have mentioned sequences. Rather than just ignoring that sequences exist, it would be useful to new readers both to point out the sequences (which would happen more naturally if you broke things up by subject), and to provide the reader with some idea of how important it is to read a given sequence in order.

Comment author: Armok_GoB 08 July 2011 06:11:14PM 0 points [-]

Excellent resource, I'll be linking this a lot!