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Welcome to Less Wrong! (2012)

25 Post author: orthonormal 26 December 2011 10:57PM
If you've recently joined the Less Wrong community, please leave a comment here and introduce yourself. We'd love to know who you are, what you're doing, what you value, how you came to identify as a rationalist or how you found us. You can skip right to that if you like; the rest of this post consists of a few things you might find helpful. More can be found at the FAQ.
(This is the third incarnation of the welcome thread, the first two of which which now have too many comments to show all at once.)

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There's actually more than meets the eye here: look near the top of the page for the "WIKI", "DISCUSSION" and "SEQUENCES" links.
LW WIKI: This is our attempt to make searching by topic feasible, as well as to store information like common abbreviations and idioms. It's a good place to look if someone's speaking Greek to you.
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A few notes about the community

If you've come to Less Wrong to  discuss a particular topic, this thread would be a great place to start the conversation. By commenting here, and checking the responses, you'll probably get a good read on what, if anything, has already been said here on that topic, what's widely understood and what you might still need to take some time explaining.
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* Normal_Anomaly
* Randaly
* shokwave
* Barry Cotter

A note for theists: you will find the Less Wrong community to be predominantly atheist, though not completely so, and most of us are genuinely respectful of religious people who keep the usual community norms. It's worth saying that we might think religion is off-topic in some places where you think it's on-topic, so be thoughtful about where and how you start explicitly talking about it; some of us are happy to talk about religion, some of us aren't interested. Bear in mind that many of us really, truly have given full consideration to theistic claims and found them to be false, so starting with the most common arguments is pretty likely just to annoy people. Anyhow, it's absolutely OK to mention that you're religious in your welcome post and to invite a discussion there.

A list of some posts that are pretty awesome

I recommend the major sequences  to everybody, but I realize how daunting they look at first. So for purposes of immediate gratification, the following posts are particularly interesting/illuminating/provocative and don't require any previous reading:

More suggestions are welcome! Or just check out the top-rated posts from the history of Less Wrong. Most posts at +50 or more are well worth your time.

Welcome to Less Wrong, and we look forward to hearing from you throughout the site.

(Note from orthonormal: MBlume and other contributors wrote the original version of this welcome message, and I've stolen heavily from it.)

Comments (1430)

Sort By: Controversial
Comment author: OrphanWilde 21 June 2012 06:59:57PM 0 points [-]


I was a sometimes-reader of Overcoming Bias back in the day, and particularly fond of the articles on quantum physics. Philosophically, I'm an Objectivist. I identify a lot of people as Objectivist, however, including a lot of people who would probably find it a misnomer.

I created my account pretty much explicitly because I have some thoughts on theoretical (some might prefer the term "quantum", but for reasons below, this isn't accurate) physics and wanted (at this point, needed might be more accurate) feedback, and haven't had much success yet getting anything, even so much as a "You're too stupid to have this conversation."

So without much further ado...

Light is a waveform distortion in gravity caused by variation in the position of the gravitic source; gravity itself has wavelike properties at the very least (it could be a particle, it could be a wave, both work; in the particle interpretation, light is a wavelike variation in the position of the particles, caused by the wavelike variation in the originating particle's position). Strong atomic forces, weak atomic forces, gravity, and the cosmological constant/Hubble's constant are observable parts of the gravitic wave, which is why the cosmological constant looks a lot more variable than it should (as it varies with distance). A lot of the redshifting we see is not in fact galaxies moving away from us, but a product of that the medium (gravity) that light is traveling in is spreading out (for reasons I'll get into below) as it attenuates. Black holes are not, in fact, infinitely dense, but merely extremely so.

Gravity moves at the speed of light - light is, in effect, a shift in gravity. This is why matter cannot exceed the speed of light - it cannot overcome the infinitely high initial peak of its own gravitic wave. I believe this is also the key to why the wavelength of gravity increases with distance - the gravitic wave is traversing space which has already been warped by gravity. The gravitic wave moves slower where gravity is bending space to increase distance, and faster where gravity is bending space to increase space. This results in light becoming spread out in certain positions in the spectrum, and concentrated in others; a galaxy that appears redshifted to us will appear blueshifted from points both closer and further away on the same line of observation, and redshifted again closer and further away respectively yet still. Most galaxies appear redshifted because this is the most likely/stable configuration. (Blueshifted galaxies would either be too far away to detect with current technology, or close enough that they would be dangerously close. This is made even more complicated by the fact that motion can produce exactly the same effects; a galaxy in the redshift zone could appear blueshifted if it is approaching us with enough velocity, and the converse would also hold true.)

The nomer of quantum mechanics is fundamentally wrong, but accurate nonetheless. Energy does not come in discrete quanta, but appears to because the number of stable configurations of matter is finite; we can only observe energy when it makes changes to the configurations of matter, which results in a new stable configuration, producing an observable stepladder with discrete steps of energy corresponding to each stable state.

I go with a modified version of Everett's model for uncertainty theory. The observer problem is a product of the fact that the -observer's- position is uncertain, not the observed entity. (This posits at least five dimensions.) Our brains are probably quantum computers; we're viewing a slice of the fifth dimension with a nonzero scalar scope, which means particles are not precisely particulate.

Dark matter probably has no special properties; it's just matter such that the substructure prohibits formative bonds with baryonic matter.

Particularly contentiously, there probably are no "real" electrical forces, these are effects produced by the configurations of matter. Antimatter may or may not annihilate matter; I lean towards the explanation that antimatter is simply matter configured such that an interaction with matter renders dark matter. (The resulting massive reorganization is what produces the light which is emitted when the two combine; if they annihilate, that would stop the gravitic wave, which would also be a massive gravitic distortion as far as other matter is concerned. Both explanations work as far as I'm concerned)

(For those curious about the electrical forces comment, I'm reasonably certain electrical forces can be explained as the result of modeling the n-body problem in a gravity-as-a-wave framework, specifically the implications of Xia's work with the five-body configuration. I suspect an approximation of his configuration with a larger number of his particles becomes not merely likely, but guaranteed, given numbers of particles of varying mass - which results in apparent attractive and repulsive forces as the underlying matter is pushed in directions orthogonal to the orbiting masses, an effect which is amplified when the orbits are themselves changing in orthogonal directions. The use of the word "particle" here is arbitrary; the particles are themselves composed of particles. Scale is both isotropic and homogeneous. As above, so below.)

Time is not a special spacial dimension. It's not an illusion, either. Time is just a plain old spacial dimension, no different from any other. The universe is constant, it is our position within it which is changing, a change which is necessitated by our consciousness. The patterns of life are elegant, but no more unusual than the motions of the planets; life, and motion, is just the application of rules about the configuration of contiguous space across large amounts of that space.

This means that the gravitic wave is propagated across time as well as all the other spacial dimensions; we're experiencing gravity from where objects will be in the future, and where they were in the past, but in most cases this behavior cancels out.

Comment author: Dreaded_Anomaly 12 July 2012 02:16:52PM *  4 points [-]

Light is a waveform distortion in gravity caused by variation in the position of the gravitic source

This sounds like nonsense from the start. It's a bunch of words put together in a linguistically-acceptable way, but it's not a meaningful description of reality. I suspect the reason you have had trouble getting feedback is that this presentation of your theory sets off immediate and loud "crackpot" alarms.

For example: light, photons, are quanta of the electromagnetic field. To get more technical, photons are a mixture of the two neutral electroweak bosons B_0 and W_0 due to electroweak symmetry breaking. I have done these calculations (in quantum mechanics and quantum field theory) as well as some of the many experiments which support them. I understand these claims as beliefs which constrain my anticipated experiences.

If you are going to attempt to replace apparently all of contemporary physics with a new theory, you must specify how that theory is better. Does it give better explanations of current results, trading complexity with how well it fits the data? Does it predict new results? How can we test the theory, and how does it constrain our expectations? What results would falsify the theory? Answering these questions, i.e. doing science, requires careful mathematical theory along with support from experiment. A few pages of misused jargon - essentially gibberish - does not qualify.

I'm not interested in engaging with this theory point-by-point; there's not enough substance here to do so. My goal here is to provide you with some idea of how to be taken seriously when proposing new scientific theories. Throwing around a bunch of unsupported, incomprehensible claims is not the way.

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 12 July 2012 01:37:02PM 4 points [-]

The general mile-a-minute solve-all-of-physics style of presentation here is tripping my crackpot sensors like crazy. You might want to pick one of your physics topics and start with just that.

Also, wondering how much you actually know about this stuff. I'm not a physicist, but ended up looking up bits about relativistic spacetime when trying to figure out what on earth Greg Egan is going on about these days. Now this bit,

Time is not a special spacial dimension. It's not an illusion, either. Time is just a plain old spacial dimension, no different from any other.

seems to be just wrong. A big deal with Minkowski spacetime is that the time dimension has a mathematically different behavior from the three space dimensions, even when you treat the whole thing as a timeless 4-dimensional blob. You can't plug in a fourth "spatial dimension, no different from any other", and get the physics we have.

Comment author: Zack_M_Davis 21 June 2012 08:30:12PM *  2 points [-]

I have some thoughts on [...] physics and wanted (at this point, needed might be more accurate) feedback, and haven't had much success yet getting anything

I don't know very much physics, but this is wrong:

Time is not a special spacial dimension. [...] Time is just a plain old spacial dimension, no different from any other.

Everything I've read about special relativity says that the interval between two events in spacetime is given by , the square root of the sum of the squares of the differences in their spatial coordinates minus the square of the difference in the time coordinate; the minus sign in front of the t^2 term says that time and space don't behave the same way.

Comment author: OrphanWilde 21 June 2012 09:36:25PM -1 points [-]

That's the special relativity interval; it's used to determine the potential relationships between two events by determining if light could have passed from point 0 to 1 in the time between two events in two (potentially) different locations. It can be considered a lower bound on the amount of time that can pass between two events before they can be considered to be causally related, or an upper bound on the amount of space that separates two events, or, more generally, the boundary relationship between the two.

Or, to be more concise, it's a boundary test; it's not describing a fundamental law of the universe, although it can be used to test if the laws of the universe are being followed.

Which leads to the question - what boundary is it testing, and why does that boundary matter?

Strictly speaking, as Eliezer points out, we could do away with time entirely; it doesn't add much to the equation. I prefer not to, even if it implies even weirder things I haven't mentioned yet, such as that the particles five minutes from now are in fact completely different particles than the particles now. (Not that it makes any substantive difference; the fifth dimension thing already suggests, even in a normal time framework, we're constantly exchanging particles with directions we're only indirectly aware of. And also, all the particles are effectively the same, anyways.)

That aside, within a timeful universe, change must have at least two reference points, and what that boundary is testing is the relationship between two reference points. It doesn't actually matter what line you use to define those reference points, however.

If you rotated the universe ninety degrees, and used z as your reference line, z would be your special value. If you rotated it forty five degrees, and used zt as your reference line, zt would be your special value. (Any orthogonal directions will do, for these purposes, they don't have to be orthogonal to the directions as we understand them now.)

Within the theory here, consciousness makes your reference line special, because consciousness is produced by variance in that reference line, and hence must measure change along that reference line. The direction the patterns propagate doesn't really matter. Z makes as good a line for time as T, which is just as good as ZT, which is just as good as some direction rotated twelve degrees on one plane, seven degrees on the next, and so on.

Which is to say, we make time special, or rather the conditions which led to our existence did.

Comment author: Zack_M_Davis 21 June 2012 10:25:42PM 2 points [-]

It doesn't actually matter what line you use to define those reference points, however. [...] Within the theory here, consciousness makes your reference line special [...] The direction the patterns propagate doesn't really matter.

I'm not sure I understand what you mean. Can you describe a real or hypothetical experiment that would have different results depending on whether or not time is an artifact of consciousness?

Comment author: syzygy 15 March 2012 08:05:27AM *  3 points [-]

Hello, I am Nicholas, an undergraduate studying music at Portland State University. Even though my (at least academic) primary area of study is the arts, the philosophy of rationality and science has always been a large part of my intellectual pursuits. I found this site about a year ago and read many articles, but I recently decided to try to participate. Even before I was a rationalist, my education was entirely self-driven by a desire to seek the truth, even when the truth conflicted with what was widely believed by those around me (teachers, parents, etc.) My idea of what "the truth" means has changed significantly over time, especially after learning about rationality theory, Baye's theorem, and many of the concepts on this site, but the core emotional drive for knowledge has never wavered.

I have read Politics is the Mind Killer and understand the desire to avoid political discussions, but I feel that my conception of a "good" political discussion is significantly different than most users of this site. I care nothing for US style partisan politics. Far from exclusively arguing for "my home team", my political ideas have changed dramatically over the years, and are always based on actual existing phenomenon rather than words like "socialism", "capitalism, "republican" or "democrat". I would be interested to know what led to this ban on political thought. Is it a widely held view of the community that political discussion is inherently devoid of rationality, or was it a decision made out of historical necessity, perhaps because of an observed trend of the quality of political discussions? In either case, I would like to gain a better understanding of the arguments and attempt to refute them.

Comment author: OnyeTemi 21 June 2012 12:27:29PM 0 points [-]

Hello everyone, i'm new to this and i actually do not know much about what's going on here, i just need help to find some textbooks recommendation to boost my academic performance this session. i am a year 2 Accounting student in the University of Lagos (Unilag),Nigeria. i hope you will be of great help.

Comment author: Lukas_Gloor 10 June 2012 10:30:20PM *  2 points [-]

Hi! I discovered LW about a year ago and now I actually created an account. I study philosophy, and biology as minor. Sometimes I'm rather shocked by the things my fellow students believe and how they argue for their beliefs; I wish something like LW would be part of the standard curriculum. My main interests are ethics, philosophy of mind and evolutionary biology, and I'm looking forward to participating in discussions on these issues. Especially on ethics, as I'm skeptical regarding some of the views advocated on here (I'm a utilitarian). As someone who had read the original books several times, I was also delighted to find out about HPMoR recently.

Comment author: Jakinbandw 23 May 2012 09:55:22PM 2 points [-]

Hello. I come from HPMoR. I identify as Christian, though my belief and reasons for belief are a bit more complex than that. I'll probably do a post on that later in 'how to convince me 2+2=3'. I also get told that I over think things.

Anyway, that's not the reason I joined. I was reading an article by Eliezer Yudkowsky and he stated that whatever can be destroyed by truth should be. This got me wondering in what context that was meant. My first thought was that it meant that we should strive to destroy all false beliefs, which has the side effect of not lying, but then I began to wonder if it wasn`t more personal. We should strive to let the truth that we observe destroy any beliefs that they are able to.

I realized that the difference between the two is that one is an end in and of itself (destroy all false belief), and one is a means to achieve a goal more effectively (don`t hold on to false belief when it has been proved false). I am really not sure how I feel about the first one, it seems very confrontational to no good purpose. There are a lot of false beliefs out there that people hold dear. However the second one is strange as well.

One of peoples goals is to be happy. Now there is an old saying that ignorance is bliss. While this is definitely not always a good policy I can think of several cases off the top of my head were a person would be happier with a false belief than with reality. For example what if everything that is happening to you right now is your mind constructing an elaborate fantasy to stop you from realizing that you are slowly being tortured to death? If you break free of said belief you are not happy, and you can do nothing to save yourself. The goal of being happy is actively opposed by the goal of learning the truth. [disclaimer: I've read about the mind constructing such fantasies in books and have experienced it only once in my life to a limited degree when I was being beaten up as a child. I don't know how scientifically accurate they are. This is just an example and if necessary I can come up with another one.]

So probably that wasn't what Mr. Yudkowsky meant when he said that what can be destroyed by truth should be (and if it is, can someone explain to me why?). So what does it mean? I've run out of theories here.

Comment author: lazado 02 April 2012 11:31:35AM 2 points [-]


i don't think much of rationality but i like smart people.

now pls hug me in a very rational way.


Comment author: borntowin 07 April 2012 07:11:50AM 4 points [-]

Hello there people of LessWrong. I'm a 24 years old dude from a small country called Romania who has been reading stuff on this site since 2010 when Luke Muehlhauser started linking here. I'm a member of Mensa and got a B.A. in Management.

I have to admit that there are more things that interest me than there is time for me to study them so I can't really say I'm an expert in anything, I just know a lot of things better than most other people know them. That's not very impressive I guess but I hope that in 5 years from now there will be at least one think I know or do at an expert level.

My plan is to start my own company in the next few years and I think I know how to make politics to actually work. I love defining rationality as winning as you guys do and I think that I win more now, after reading articles on this website. Hopefully with time I might be able to contribute to the community too, there are some things that might just make LessWrong better.

Comment author: Douglas_Reay 19 February 2012 03:54:21PM 4 points [-]

Hello, and thank you for the welcome.

The panoply of my writings on the Web more resembles a zoo or cabinet of curiosities than a well groomed portfolio. None the less, for your delectation (or, at least, amusement), here is a smattering:

* The Thoughtful Manifesto *

Thought is good.

Thought is the birthright of every human being. Having a brain capable of rational thought is what distinguishes people from animals. To disparage thought is a betrayal of our achievements, our history, of our very identity.

It is the duty of every society, of every parent, of every thoughtful person to encourage thinking - to praise it, to practice it, to improve it, whatever the context. Because the more you think, the easier it becomes. Take joy in thinking, make a habit of it, turn it into a strong tool that you can trust and rely on. Cherish it.

Because thought is the highest freedom. Because without freedom of thought there is no meaning to freedoms of speach, belief or travel. The person who tries to stop you being able to use your brain to its fullest or who tries to disuade you from practicing rational though is as much your enemy as the person who tries to lock you in prison. Shun them. Do not tolerate it, not for an instant.

Take pride in thought. Stand up for it, defend the practice of thinking where 'ere it may be attacked. Thought is your friend and ally, but it is under siege. "Conform" the non-thinkers say, "Don't stand out, don't do what I don't do". Fear, envy and laziness are the enemies of thought. Thought is the enemy of the abusive, the mediocre and the thoughless.

Considerate people are thoughful of others. Creative people are thoughtful of new ideas. Great leaders are thoughtful of what must be done. Whatever you do or strive for, thinking helps. Thought is the blessing of society, the hope of the future, the essence of life.


Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 07:55:21AM *  20 points [-]

Greets, all!

I'm a walking stereotype of a LessWrong reader:

I'm a second-year undergraduate student at a decent public university, double majoring in math and computer science and compensating for the relatively unchallenging material even at the graduate level by taking 2-3x the typical workload; this is allowed by my specific college, which is a fantastic program I'd strongly recommend to high school students who happen to be reading this. (I'll happily go in to more depth if for anyone even slightly interested.)

I'm white, male, atheist, libertarian. I intend to sign up for cryonics once I have a job, because I am having tons of fun and want to continue to do so.

I've been reading LessWrong for three or so years, and have by now read all of the sequences and nearly all of the miscellaneous posts, as well as the most highly-rated discussion threads. I've also read and loved MoR. I could not, at this point, tell you how I found either of them.

I read this site, and study rationality, because I want to win.

I hold almost no views which would be notably controversial with the mainstream here, except perhaps these, presented with the hope of inspiring discussion:

  • Infanticide of one's own children should be legal (if done for some reason other than sadism) for up to ten months after birth. Reason: extremely young babies aren't yet people.
  • Discrimination against youths aged 13 and above out to be viewed, in a reasonable society, in the same light as racism. Reason: broadly, discrimination based on group membership should be frowned upon if the variance within a group dominates the variance between groups. In such cases group membership is a bad predictor and is thus very unfair to individuals. Given this, and on the assumption that variance within the group of 13- to 21-year-olds dominates the variance between the groups of 13- to 21-year-olds and over-21's, we ought not to discriminate against youths.

(edit: formatting)

ETA: This is the first LW discussion I've participated in, so I hope you'll forgive my using this space to ask about the conventions of the community broadly. If you look below, a lot of my comments are getting voted down. For statements of opinion, this I understand, at least if the convention is "vote down things you disagree with" as opposed to "vote down things which don't contribute to the discussion". But why are my questions voted down? This one, in particular:

I'm curious now, though. What do you think defines an agent as a person, for the moral calculus? How is it that ten-month-old babies meet this definition? Do, say, pigs also meet this definition?

which as I type this is at -1.

Please interpret this as an honest question about community standards, not an implicit rebuke or anything like that.

Comment author: wedrifid 01 January 2012 08:07:29AM *  6 points [-]

Infanticide of one's own children should be legal (if done for some reason other than sadism) for up to ten months after birth. Reason: extremely young babies aren't yet people.

They're just p-zombies pretending to be people. They only get their soul at 10 months and thereafter are able to detect qualia.

I would vote against this law. I'd vote with guns if necessary. Reason: I like babies. Tiny humans are cute and haven't even done anything to deserve death yet (or indicate that they aren't valuable instances of human). I'd prefer you went around murdering adults (adults being the group with the economic, physical and political power to organize defense.)

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 08:21:45AM *  9 points [-]

If they're p-zombies, they're doing a terrible job of it. Extremely young children are lacking basically all of the traits I'd want a "person" to have.

Tiny kittens are also cute and haven't even done anything to death yet. But if you accidentally lock one in a car and it suffocates, that's merely unfortunate, and should probably not be a crime. The same is true for infants and all other non-person life. If you kill a kitten for some reason other than sadism, well, it's unfortunate that you felt that was necessary, but again, they're not people.

Would you really prefer it to be illegal to murder adults than to murder ten-month-old children? Ten-month-old children can be replaced in a mere twenty months. It takes forty one years to make a new forty-year-old.

Comment author: wedrifid 01 January 2012 10:04:13AM *  1 point [-]

Tiny kittens are also cute and haven't even done anything to death yet. But if you accidentally lock one in a car and it suffocates, that's merely unfortunate, and should probably not be a crime. The same is true for infants and all other non-person life. If you kill a kitten for some reason other than sadism, well, it's unfortunate that you felt that was necessary, but again, they're not people.

Yeah, I get it, you don't consider babies people and I do. So pretty much we just throw down (ie. trying to reason each other into having the same values as ourselves would be pointless). You vote for baby killing, I vote against it. If there is a war of annihilation and I'm forced to choose sides between the baby killers and the non-baby killers and they seem evenly matched then I choose the non-baby killers side and go kill all the baby killers. If I somehow have the option to exclude all consideration of your preferences from the optimisation function of an FAI then I take it. Just a plain ol' conflict of terminal values.

Comment author: wedrifid 01 January 2012 10:17:53AM *  0 points [-]

Oh, and to clarify the extent of my disagreement: When I say "You vote for baby killing, I vote against it" that assumes I don't live in some backwards country without compulsory voting. If voting is optional then I'm staying home. Other people killing babies is not my problem - because I don't have the power to stop a mob of humans from killing babies and I'm not interested in making the token gesture.

Comment author: nshepperd 02 January 2012 01:21:24PM 0 points [-]

trying to reason each other into having the same values as ourselves would be pointless

How do you know?

Comment author: wedrifid 02 January 2012 01:45:29PM 3 points [-]

How do you know?

It is a core belief of Bakkot's - nothing is going to change that. His thinking on the matter is also self consistent. Only strong social or personal influence has a chance of making a difference (for example, if he has children, all his friends have children and he becomes embedded in a tribe where non-baby-killing is a core belief). For my part I understand Bakkot's reasoning but do not share his preference based premises. As such changing my mind regarding the conclusion would make no sense.

More succinctly I don't expect reasoning with each other to change our minds because neither of us is wrong (in the intellectual sense). We shouldn't change our minds based on intellectual arguments - if we do then we are making a mistake.

Comment author: nshepperd 02 January 2012 02:33:41PM 0 points [-]

It is a core belief of Bakkot's - nothing is going to change that.

Yes, and my question is how do you know? Admittedly I haven't read the entire thread from the beginning, but in the large part I have, I see nothing to suggest that there is anything particularly immutable about either of your positions such that neither of you could possibly change your mind based on normal moral-philosophical arguments. What makes you so quick to dismiss your interlocutor as a babyeating alien?

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 07:03:42PM 6 points [-]

I'm curious now, though. What do you think defines an agent as a person, for the moral calculus? How is it that ten-month-old babies meet this definition? Do, say, pigs also meet this definition?

Comment author: wedrifid 01 January 2012 10:03:16AM *  1 point [-]

Extremely young children are lacking basically all of the traits I'd want a "person" to have.

Most adults don't have traits I'd want a "person" to have. At least with babies there is a chance they'll turn out as worthwhile people.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 January 2012 11:35:55AM *  1 point [-]

I'm not sure why this is getting down voted. "Person" is basically LW speak for "particular kind of machine that has value to me in of itself". I don't see any good reason why I personally should value all people equally. I can see some instrumental value in living in a society that makes rules that operate on this principle.

But generally I do not love my enemies and neighbours like myself. I'm sorry, I guess that's not very Christian of me. ;)

Comment author: wedrifid 01 January 2012 08:46:42AM *  1 point [-]

Would you really prefer it to be legal to murder adults than to murder ten-month-old children?

Yes. The explanation given was significant.

Ten-month-old children can be replaced in a mere twenty months. It takes forty one years to make a new forty-year-old.

It takes a 110 years to make a 110 year old . In most cases I'd prefer to keep a 30 year old than either of them. More to the point I don't intrinsically value creating more humans. The replacement cost of a dead human isn't anything to do with the moral aversion I have to murder.

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 09:09:07AM 6 points [-]

Yes. The explanation given was significant.

I read your explanation. I'm just somewhat incredulous that this could be your actual belief. Roosters are a lot better prepared to defend themselves than, say, pigs. Is this a good reason to prefer it to be legal to kill roosters than pigs? Not in light of the fact that pigs are vastly more intelligent, capable of abstract reasoning and personality, etc.

The replacement cost of a dead human isn't anything to do with the moral aversion I have to murder.

The moral aversion I have to murder is twofold, roughly: harm to a person, and harm to society. Babies aren't people by any measure I can see, so the first doesn't apply. The second is where replacement cost comes in.

Comment author: Estarlio 01 January 2012 01:16:39PM 1 point [-]

Babies aren't people by any measure I can see

Do you really think it's wise to have a precedent that allows agents of Type X to go around killing off all of the !X group ? Doesn't bode well if people end up with a really sharp intelligence gradient.

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 07:01:39PM *  8 points [-]

We already have a bunch of those precedents, depending on how you look at it. You're more than free to go around killing ants. No one is going to care. You can even, depending on zoning laws, raise pigs and then slaughter them for their meat. The reason that this is just not a problem in the eyes of the law is that pigs aren't people.

If you look at it another way, we have exactly one precedent: It's generally morally OK to kill members of the !X group if and only if that group consists of agents which are not people.

ETA: I hate that I have to say this, but can people respond instead of just downvoting? I'm honestly curious as to why this particular post is controversial - or have I missed something?

Comment author: [deleted] 02 January 2012 06:56:10PM 1 point [-]

ETA: I hate that I have to say this, but can people respond instead of just downvoting? I'm honestly curious as to why this particular post is controversial - or have I missed something?

I often "claim" my downvotes (aka I will post "downvoted" and then give reason.) However, I know that when I do this, I will be downvoted myself. So that is probably one big deterrent to others doing the same.

For one thing, the person you are downvoting will generally retaliate by downvoting you (or so it seems to me, since I tend to get an instant -1 on downvoting comments), and people who disagree with your reason for downvoting will also downvote you.

Also, many people on this site are just a-holes. Sorry.

Comment author: Prismattic 02 January 2012 08:32:54PM 4 points [-]

Also, many people on this site are just a-holes. Sorry.

I think it's more that there are a few a-holes, but they are very prolific (well, that and the same bias that causes us to notice how many red lights we get stopped at but not how many green lights we speed through also focuses our attention on the worst posting behavior).

Comment author: MixedNuts 02 January 2012 09:49:10PM 10 points [-]

Common reasons I downvote with no comment: I think the mistake is obvious to most readers (or already mentioned) and there's little to be gained from teaching the author. I think there's little insight and much noise - length, unpleasant style, politically disagreeable implications that would be tedious to pick apart (especially in tone rather than content). I judge that jerkishness is impairing comprehension; cutting out the courtesies and using strong words may be defensible, but using insults where explanations would do isn't.

On the "just a-holes" note (yes, I thought "Is this about me?"): It might be that your threshold for acceptable niceness is unusually high. We have traditions of bluntness and flaw-hunting (mostly from hackers, who correctly consider niceness noise when discussing bugs in X), so we ended up rather mean on average, and very tolerant of meanness. People who want LW to be nicer usually do it by being especially nice, not by especially punishing meanness. I notice you're on my list of people I should be exceptionally nice to, but not on my list of exceptionally nice people, which is a bad thing if you love Postel's law. (Which, by Postel's law, nobody but me has to.) The only LessWronger I think is an asshole is wedrifid, and I think this is one of his good traits.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 January 2012 10:10:43PM *  3 points [-]

The only LessWronger I think is an asshole is wedrifid, and I think this is one of his good traits.

If he's an asshole, then "asshole" needs a new subdefinition. I love that guy.

Comment author: Solvent 02 January 2012 07:45:18AM 0 points [-]

Well, it sure looks like babies have a lot of things in common with people, and will become people one day, and lots of people care about them.

Comment author: Bakkot 02 January 2012 06:46:47PM 6 points [-]

babies have a lot of things in common with people

If your definition of "people" is going to include AI's but exclude pigs, then babies don't really have much in common with people at all.

and will become people one day

The "will become people" discussion is being had elsewhere in this thread, but recapping briefly: if the reason for not killing babies is that they're going to become people, then (it seems to me) one must conclude that the morally correct thing to do is to create as many people as possible, since the argument is (as far as I can tell) that increasing the number of people in the world is a net positive.

I don't agree with this conclusion, and I doubt you do either. For me, I reject the premise; this nicely explains my rejection of the conclusion. Do you reject the premise, or that the conclusion follows from the premise? Why?

and lots of people care about them

If this is all we're left with, it's a weak argument indeed. What if society started caring a lot about moths? Does this lend significant weight to the proposition that it should be illegal to kill moths?

Comment author: Estarlio 01 January 2012 10:35:39PM 0 points [-]

I think you may have taken me to be talking about whether it was acceptable or moral in the sense that society will allow it, that was not my intent. Society allows many unwise, inefficient things and no doubt will do so for some time.

My question was simply whether you thought it wise. If we do make an FAI, and encoded it with some idealised version of our own morality then do we want a rule that says 'Kill everything that looks unlike yourself'? If we end up on the downside of a vast power gradient with other humans do we want them thinking that everything that has little or no value to them should be for the chopping block?

In a somewhat more pithy form, I guess what I’m asking you is: Given that you cannot be sure you will always be strong enough to have things entirely your way, how sure are you this isn’t going to come back and bite you in the arse?

If it is unwise, then it would make sense to weaken that strand of thought in society - to destroy less out of hand, rather than more. That the strand is already quite strong in society would not alter that.

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 10:45:02PM 2 points [-]

If we do make an FAI, and encoded it with some idealised version of our own morality then do we want a rule that says 'Kill everything that looks unlike yourself'?

No. But we do want a rule that says something like "the closer things are to being people, the more importance should be given to them". As a consequence of this rule, I think it should be legal to kill your newborn children.

how sure are you this isn’t going to come back and bite you in the arse? I'm observably a person. Any AI which concluded otherwise is probably already so dangerous that worrying about how my opinions stated here would affect it is probably completely pointless. So... pretty sure.

Oh, and I'm never encouraging killing your newborns, just arguing that it should be allowed (if done for something other than sadism).

Comment author: Estarlio 02 January 2012 12:42:58AM -1 points [-]

You did not answer me on the human question - how we’d like powerful humans to think .

No. But we do want a rule that says something like "the closer things are to being people, the more importance should be given to them". As a consequence of this rule, I think it should be legal to kill your newborn children.

This sounds fine as long as you and everything you care about are and always will be included in the group of, ‘people.’ However, by your own admission, (earlier in the discussion to wedrifid,) you've defined people in terms of how closely they realise your ideology:

Extremely young children are lacking basically all of the traits I'd want a "person" to have.

You’ve made it something fluid; a matter of mood and convenience. If I make an AI and tell it to save only ‘people,’ it can go horribly wrong for you - maybe you’re not part of what I mean by ‘people.’ Maybe by people I mean those who believe in some religion or other. Maybe I mean those who are close to a certain processing capacity - and then what happens to those who exceed that capacity? And surely the AI itself would do so....

There are a lot of ways it can go wrong.

I'm observably a person.

You observe yourself to be a person. That’s not necessarily the same thing as being observably a person to someone else operating with different definitions.

Any AI which concluded otherwise is probably already so dangerous that worrying about how my opinions stated here would affect it is probably completely pointless. So... pretty sure.

The opinion you state may influence what sort of AI you end up with. And at the very least it seems liable to influence the sort of people you end up with.

Oh, and I'm never encouraging killing your newborns, just arguing that it should be allowed (if done for something other than sadism).

-shrug- You’re trying to weaken the idea that newborns are people, and are arguing for something that, I suspect, would increase the occurrence of their demise. Call it what you will.

Comment author: wedrifid 02 January 2012 07:34:24AM *  4 points [-]

ETA: I hate that I have to say this, but can people respond instead of just downvoting? I'm honestly curious as to why this particular post is controversial - or have I missed something?

I haven't downvoted, for what it is worth. Sure, you may be an evil baby killing advocate but it's not like l care!

Comment author: Multiheaded 03 January 2012 05:47:40PM 2 points [-]

We had a couple of fair-sized threads on infanticide before. I suggest that everyone who hasn't seen them yet skims through before posting further arguments.



Also: http://lesswrong.com/lw/35h/why_abortion_looks_more_okay_to_us_than_killing/

Comment author: ArisKatsaris 02 January 2012 10:14:03AM 2 points [-]

Infanticide of one's own children should be legal (if done for some reason other than sadism) for up to ten months after birth.

What benefit, other than satisfaction of sadism, do you see in infanticide of one's own children that wouldn't be satisfied by merely giving them up for adoption?

Comment author: juliawise 02 January 2012 07:59:17PM *  4 points [-]

Look at the youngest children in any adoption photolisting. The kids you usually see there are either part of a sibling group, or very disabled. (Example). There are children born with severe disabilities who are given up by their birth parents and are never adopted. (Example) The government pays foster parents to care for them. That's up to $2,000 per month for care, plus all medical expenses.

Meanwhile, other kids are dying for lack of cheap mosquito nets. This use of money does not seem right to me.

Comment author: Bakkot 02 January 2012 07:08:12PM 4 points [-]

I and others have mentioned some elsewhere in this thread, but more broadly I don't think things should be illegal just because we can't think of a good reason for people to be doing them.

Comment author: Multiheaded 01 January 2012 03:40:59PM *  2 points [-]


I have the feeling that I've got to state the following belief in plain text:

Regardless of whether "babies are people" (and yeah, I guess I wouldn't call them that on most relevant criteria), any parent who proves able to kill their child while not faced with an unbearable alternative cost (a hundred strangers for an altruistic utilitarian, eternal and justified damnation for a deeply brainwashed believer) is damn near guaranteed to have their brain wired in a manner unacceptable to modern society.

Such wiring so strongly correlates with harmful, unsympathetic psychopaths that, if faced with a binary choice to murder any would-be childkillers on sight or ignore them, we should not waver in exterminating them. Of course, a better solution is a blanket application of unbounded social stigma as a first line deterrent and individual treatment of every one case, whether with an attempt at readjustment, isolation or execution.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 01 January 2012 04:10:56PM 3 points [-]

I suspect a lot of the people who would agree with this sentiment would change their minds in the face of a sufficiently compelling argument that there exists some scenario under which they would be able to kill their child.

Comment author: juliawise 01 January 2012 04:16:48PM 13 points [-]

Infanticide has been considered a normal practice in a lot of cultures. The Greeks and Romans, for example, don't seem to have been run down by psychopaths.

I don't think we have a good way to know about the later harmful actions of people who kill their infants. Either we find them out and lock them up, in which case their life is no longer really representative of the population, or we don't know about what they've done.

Comment author: Multiheaded 01 January 2012 04:32:43PM *  1 point [-]

The Greeks and Romans, for example, don't seem to have been run down by psychopaths.

With genocide of any foreigners and mass torture for entertainment also having been considered perfectly acceptable, the Roman culture in the flesh would certainly feel alien enough to us that an utilitarian, altruistic time traveler could likely be predicted to attempt to sway it, with virtually any means justifying the end for them.*

I know I would, and I know that I'm not an unusual decision maker for the LW community.

*(cue obvious SF story idea with the time traveler ending up as Jesus)

Comment author: Emile 01 January 2012 12:43:09PM 9 points [-]

Infanticide of one's own children should be legal (if done for some reason other than sadism) for up to ten months after birth. Reason: extremely young babies aren't yet people.

Arbitrary limits like "ten months" don't make for good rules - especially when there's a natural limit that's much more prominent: childbirth.

What exactly counts as "people" is a matter of convention; it's best to settle on edges that are as crisp as possible, to minimize potential disagreement and conflict.

Also "any reason other than sadism", eh? Like "the dog was hungry" would be okay?

Comment author: Multiheaded 01 January 2012 01:20:57PM *  2 points [-]

EDIT: in the ensuing discussion, we came to an agreement that the psychopathy argument is only true of our present society, and, while strengthening our reasons to keep infanticide illegal right now, wouldn't apply to someplace without a strong revulsion to infanticide in the first place. I've updated my stance and switched to other arguments against infanticide-in-general.

Comment author: occlude 01 January 2012 11:12:51AM *  22 points [-]

Infanticide of one's own children should be legal (if done for some reason other than sadism) for up to ten months after birth. Reason: extremely young babies aren't yet people.

I would recommend against expressing this opinion in your OKCupid profile.

Comment author: Alejandro1 01 January 2012 09:48:50PM 21 points [-]

Several people have alreadt given good answers to your position on infanticide, but they haven't mentioned what is in my opinion the crucial concept involved here: Schelling points.

We are all agreed that is is wrong to kill people (meaning, fully conscious and intelligent beings). We agree that adult humans beings are people (perhaps excluding those in irreversible coma). The law needs to draw a bright line separating those beings which are people, and hence cannot be killed, from those who are not. Given the importance of the "non-killing" rule to a functioning society. this line needs to be clear and intuitive to all. Any line based on some level of brain development does not satisfy this criterion.

There are only two Schelling points, that is obvious, intuitive places to draw the line: conception and birth. Many people support the first one, and the strongest argument for the anti-abortion position is that conception is in fact in many ways a better Schelling point than birth, since being born does not affect the intrinsic nature of the infant. However, among people without a metaphysical commitment to fetus personhood, most agree that the burdens that prohibition of abortion place on pregnant women are enough to outweigh these considerations, and make birth the chosen Schelling point.

There is no other Schelling point at a later date (your ten-month rule seems arbitrary to me), and a rule against baby infanticide does not place so strong burdens on mothers (giving for adoption is always an option). So there is no good reason to change the law in the direction you propose. Doing it would undermine the strengh of the universal agreement that "people cannot be killed", since the line separating people from non-people would be obscure and arbitrarily drawn.

Comment author: Oligopsony 02 January 2012 03:30:23AM *  8 points [-]

I do think there are some advantages to setting the cutoff point just slightly later than birth, even if by just a few hours:
*evaluations of whether a person should come into existence can rest on surer information when the infant is out of the womb
* non-maternal reproductive autonomy - under the current legal personhood cutoff, I can count this as an acceptable loss, as I consider maternal bodily autonomy and the interests of the child to be more important, but with infanticide all three can be reconciled
* psychologically, parents (especially fathers) might feel more buy-in to their status, even if almost none actually end up choosing otherwise, and if infant non-personhood catches on culturally infant deaths very close to births might cause less grief among parents

(All this assumes that late-term abortions are a morally acceptable choice to make in their own right, of course, rather than something which must be legally tolerated to preserve maternal bodily autonomy.)

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 10:06:02PM 10 points [-]

A good argument, but there's (at least) two little things I object to and a major flaw:

  • First:

This only holds in a society where people aren't sufficiently intelligent for "is obviously not a person" not to work as the criterion. We probably live in such a society, but I hope we don't forever.

  • Second:

Any line based on some level of brain development does not satisfy this criterion.

This was the reason age was chosen, rather than neurological development. Because I'm arguing only that parents should be able to kill their own children, I'm pretty sure this law wouldn't give rise to any confusion.

  • A final objection:

Your whole argument is significantly weakened by the fact that there are other extremely important rules which don't have obvious Schelling points, like "don't have sex with people who can't give informed consent". I don't think that drawing some reasonable line in the sand (say, age 17) has, as you say, undermined the strength of the universal agreement that "we shouldn't have sex with people who can't give informed consent", despite the line separating people able to give informed consent and people not able to give informed consent being absolutely obscure and arbitrarily drawn.

Comment author: Ghatanathoah 10 May 2012 07:39:21AM 6 points [-]

Hi everyone. I have been lurking since the site started, but did not have the courage to start posting until recently. I am a male college graduate in his mid-twenties, happily engaged and currently job-hunting, and have been fascinated by science and reason since I was a child. I was one of those people who actually identified with the "Hollywood Rational" robots and aliens in science fiction and wanted to be more like them. Science and science fiction socialized me and made me curious about the inner working of the universe.

I love the sequences and consider them a major influence on the way I think. The insights into reasoning, psychology, and metaethics the sequences gave me helped make me who I am today. Less Wrong made me a consequentialist and an altruist. It helped me realize that ethical naturalism might be true after all. I learned about akrasia from LW, which caused me to reject the poisonous cynicism that Revealed Preference Theory had infected me with. It's helped me put my life in order a little better, although I'm still fighting akrasia.

My only regret is that I recently started suffering bouts of severe depression because something snapped and made me start thinking about existential risks in Near Mode instead of Far Mode. I suspect it was Robin Hanson's "em" posts, which made me realize that AI could still threaten the future of the human race even if the FOOM theory turned out to be incorrect. I sometimes wish with all my heart that I could bleach the em posts out of my brain and return to a higher level of happiness, start believing in Julian Simon and the promise of the future again. But on the other hand those posts have caused me to think about certain topics much harder and more clearly than I would have otherwise.

I'm not a very prolific poster so far, but I think it's high time I started being part of the community that's been part of my life for so long.

Comment author: yaxy2k 07 February 2012 06:04:02AM 6 points [-]

Hi all! I am a 23 year old Singaporean student studying Computer Science in the United States. I'm interested in Psychology, Statistics, Math, Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Politics, and some other things. It is an exciting time to be young! I'm really looking forward to space elevators, and I'm still curious to see how quantum computers would change things. In the mean time, people's lives are being molded by the increasing amounts of available information that is presented in a way that is relevant to them. I am excited to see what the world would be like in 10, 20, 30... years. But for that to be a good time to be alive, my opinion is that peace is essential. Rising inequalities is making me a little worried about that, and I'm still reading up on it.

Trying to think logically as much as possible has always been a big part of me. I honestly can't remember when I really started - from the kid who asked many questions, to the kid who asked strange questions, to the teenager who blogged really long posts, to a young man who's sometimes "too logical" - I really can't remember any single event during which I became dramatically more inclined to think logically. I have to admit though, despite my inclination, I only did become more logical after the Knowledge and Inquiry course that I took in grade 11 and 12. I still think of it as the best course I have ever taken. I've put down my thoughts sporadically on my blog, which I've linked in my profile.

I would have joined this site earlier had I heard of it sooner. The articles make great readings. Having been accused of spamming people's facebook walls when I had gotten myself into debates several times, I'm really glad that there is a place where people are serious about having discussions that reach somewhere. Thank you so much to you all for making this work.

Xin Yang

Comment author: rv77ax 27 December 2011 04:04:07AM 13 points [-]

Hello LW readers,

Long time lurker here. Just created this account so I can, probably, participated more in LW discussion.

I'm male, 27 years old, from Indonesia. I work as freelance software developer. I love music and watching movies. Any movies. Movie is the only way I can detached from reality and have a dream without a sleep.

I come from Muslim family, both of my parent is Muslim. Long story short, after finished my college, with computer science degree, I tried to learn extend my knowledge more in Islam. I read a lot of books about Islam history, Islam teaching, Quran commentary, book that explain hadith and Quran, etc. Every books that my parents have. Soon, with the help of Internet, I renounce my faith and become an atheist. I see rationalism, philosophy in general, as the way to see the world without giving any judgments. Because, in the end, there is no absolute truth, only facts and opinions.

I know LW from /r/truereddit, and has been reading some of the articles and discussions in here, very informative and thoughtful. The only thing I can help here probably by translating some of articles, especially the Sequences, into Bahasa Indonesia.

Comment author: FloraFuture 30 March 2013 01:45:39AM 7 points [-]

Hi everyone,

A few of you have met me on Omegle. I finally signed up and made an account here like you guys suggested.

About me: I'm 26 years old, and my hobbies include creative writing and PC games. My favorite TV show is Rupaul's Drag Race.

I think I share almost all of the main positions that people tend to have in this community. But I actually find disagreements more interesting, so that's mainly what I'm here for. One of my passions in life is debating. I did debate team and that sort of thing when I was younger, but now I'm more interested in how to seriously persuade people, not just debating for show. I still have a lot of improving to do, though. If anyone wants to exchange notes or get some tips, then let me know.



Comment author: MugaSofer 30 March 2013 10:14:03PM 1 point [-]

One of my passions in life is debating. I did debate team and that sort of thing when I was younger, but now I'm more interested in how to seriously persuade people, not just debating for show.

I'm going to be the first person to point out that your objective should be to come to the correct conclusion, not to persuade people, because if you can out-argue anyone who disagrees with you you'll never change your mind, and "not every change is an improvement, but every improvement is a change".

With that noted, persuasion is a useful skill, especially if you're more rational than the average bear. Cryonics, for example, is a good low-hanging fruit if you can just get people to sign up for it.

Comment author: shminux 01 April 2013 02:48:16AM *  1 point [-]


Just wondering... How often (and about what) have you changed your mind about something big and important, as a result of a debate/discussion or just after some quiet contemplation?

Comment author: orthonormal 31 March 2013 04:54:08PM 2 points [-]

Hi Flora!

Re: debating and persuading, the reflexes you developed for convincing third parties to a debate can actually be counterproductive to persuading the person you're speaking with. For example, reciprocity can really help: the person you're talking with is much more likely to really listen and consider your points if you've openly ceded them a point first.

Practicing this has the nice side effect of making you pay more attention to their arguments and interpret them more charitably, increasing the chance that you learn something from your conversational partner in the process.

Comment author: FloraFuture 01 April 2013 01:28:52AM 1 point [-]

I totally agree with this. Really well said.

Comment author: Kouran 27 December 2011 05:09:36PM 8 points [-]

Hello Less Wrong community, I am Kouran.

What follows may be a bit long, and maybe a little dramatic. I'm sorry if that is uncourteous, still I feel the following needs saying early on. Please bear with me.

I'm a recently be-bachelored sociologist from the Netherlands, am male and in my early twenties. I consider myself a jack of several trades – among them writing, drawing, cooking and some musical hobbies – but master of none. However, I do entertain the hope that the various interests and skills add up to something effective, to my becoming someone in a position to help people who need it, and I intend to take action to approach this end.

I found Less Wrong through the intriguing Harry Potter fanfiction story called 'the Methods of Rationality.' The story entertains me greatly, and the more abstract themes stimulate me and I find myself wishing to enter discussions regarding these matters. Instead of bothering the author of the story I decided to have a look here instead. Please note that I write this before having read any of the Sequences and only a few smaller articles. I intend to get on that soon, but as introductions go I feel it is better to present myself first. I hope you will forgive any offense the following section may give.

My relation to rationalism is quite strained. I am more often in the position where I have to attack theories mostly concerned with rationality, than that I have to defend them. Often, I find arguments where people are assumed to be rational and to make informed choices are classist and uncritical of the way people are shaped by society and vice versa. Often the desirable outcome of an action or 'strategy' is taken to have been the goal that the actor deliberately attempted to attain. Often this is done at the cost of more likely explanations that make fewer unfounded assumptions. I do not at all mean that Less Wrong is implicated in this, in fact: I hope I am right to believe that quite the opposite is being attempted here, my point is that I am more used to denying people's rationality in arguments than invoking it as a way to explain social life.

That is not to say I deny that people can engage in rational thought. Rather, it appears to me that human beings are emotional, situationally defined social animals, much more than they are rational actors. Rational thought, as I see it, is something that occurs in certain relatively rare circumstances. And when it occurs it is always bound to people's social, emotional, physical lives. Often it is group membership and identification, rather than a objective calculation of merit, that defines the outcome of a deliberation, when a deliberation even takes place at all.

So then why am I here? For one thing, I would like to discuss these ideas with people who are knowledgeable about them, but who are also tolerant enough of dissidence that they'll do so in a relaxed and well, rational, way. For another, I believe that more rationality, as truly rational as we can make it, will help our species get through the ages and improve upon the fate of it´s members and the other beings it dominates. The Methods of Rationality and what little I´ve seen of this community has led me to believe that, despite having a perspective that differs from mine, people at Less Wrong are aware of some of the ways in which people are inherently not rational. That rationality is something that needs to be promoted and created, not something that is already the dominant cause of human action. For a third, I cannot deny that I am a person who engages in a lot of thinking. Despite differing perspectives I believe this community may be able to help me develope. My ´story of origin´, if I am to present myself to you as a rationalist, involves a change in my views regarding the false or harmfull style of rationalism I mentioned earlier in this post. I once struggled with the idea that rationalism itself is to blame for perceived injustice and failings of modernity. But at some point I came to the conclusion that this is not the case. At fault is not a human rationality that will forever remain at odds with our emotions, and with those people who were not sufficiently introduced to rationality. People should be able to deliberate rationally while understanding that most of their being is disinclined to yield to abstract models and lofty humanist ideals. At fault is not rationalism or the imperfection of our brians, but incomplete and erroneous rationalism that is employed to serve people who have no need or appreciation for a critical eye cast upon themselves.

I think the community of Less Wrong is very right to consider human rationality an art.

I thank you for your patience,

– Kouran.

Comment author: lessdazed 28 December 2011 12:52:13AM *  5 points [-]

Often, I find arguments where people are assumed to be rational


Often the desirable outcome of an action or 'strategy' is taken to have been the goal that the actor deliberately attempted to attain.

Diamond in a box:

Suppose you're faced with a choice between two boxes, A and B. One and only one of the boxes contains a diamond. You guess that the box which contains the diamond is box A. It turns out that the diamond is in box B. Your decision will be to take box A. I now apply the term volition to describe the sense in which you may be said to want box B, even though your guess leads you to pick box A.

Let's say that Fred wants a diamond, and Fred asks me to give him box A. I know that Fred wants a diamond, and I know that the diamond is in box B, and I want to be helpful. I could advise Fred to ask for box B instead; open up the boxes and let Fred look inside; hand box B to Fred; destroy box A with a flamethrower; quietly take the diamond out of box B and put it into box A; or let Fred make his own mistakes, to teach Fred care in choosing future boxes.

But I do not simply say: "Well, Fred chose box A, and he got box A, so I fail to see why there is a problem." There are several ways of stating my perceived problem:

Fred was disappointed on opening box A, and would have been happier on opening box B.

It is possible to predict that if Fred chooses box A, Fred will look back and wish he had chosen box B instead; while if Fred chooses box B, Fred will be satisfied with his choice.

Fred wanted "the box containing the diamond", not "box A", and chose box A only because he guessed that box A contained the diamond.

If Fred had known the correct answer to the question of simple fact, "Which box contains the diamond?", Fred would have chosen box B.

Hence my intuitive sense that giving Fred box A, as he literally requested, is not actually helping Fred.

If you find a genie bottle that gives you three wishes, it's probably a good idea to seal the genie bottle in a locked safety box under your bed, unless the genie pays attention to your volition, not just your decision.


it appears to me that human beings are emotional, situationally defined social animals, much more than they are rational actors

You imply that there is a standard of rationality people are deviating from. Yes?

Comment author: camie0626 05 January 2012 11:05:13AM 11 points [-]

Hi people :) I'm 16 from France and the Philippines, going to a Christian boarding school. Um, i met a guy on Omegle... he gave me a link to this website after a conversation about Christianity. Long story short, I'm confused. Maybe someone would like to help me get my head straight?

Comment author: _ozymandias 27 December 2011 05:32:24PM 22 points [-]

Hi everyone! I'm Ozy.

I'm twenty years old, queer, poly, crazy, white, Floridian, an atheist, a utilitarian, and a giant geek. I'm double-majoring in sociology and psychology; my other interests range from classical languages (although I am far from fluent) to guitar (although I suck at it) to Neil Gaiman (I... can't think of a self-deprecating thing to say about my interest in Neil Gaiman). I use zie/zir pronouns, because I identify outside the gender binary; I realize they're clumsy, but English's lack of a good gender-neutral pronoun is not my fault. :)

One of my big interests is the intersection between rationality and social justice. I do think that a lot of the -isms (racism, sexism, ableism, etc.) are rooted in cognitive biases, and that we're not going to be able to eliminate them unless we understand what quirks in the human mind cause them. I blog about masculism (it is like feminism! Except for dudes!) at No Seriously What About Teh Menz; right now it's kind of full of people talking about Nice-Guy-ism, but normally we have a much more diverse front page. I believe that several of the people here read us (hi Nancy! hi Doug! hi Hugh, I like you, when you say I'm wrong you use citations!).

I've lurked here for more than a year; I got here from Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, just like everyone else. I've made my way through a lot of the Sequences, but need to set aside some time to read through all of them. I don't know much about philosophy, math, science, or computers, so I imagine I will be lurking here a lot. :)

Comment author: MixedNuts 02 January 2012 05:41:01PM 0 points [-]

turns into a raving fanboy, squees, explodes

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 29 December 2011 05:26:55AM 2 points [-]

Hi, Ozy!

I've enjoyed your writing at No Seriously What About Teh Menz; so it's good to see you here.

Comment author: HughRistik 28 December 2011 10:08:16AM 0 points [-]

Hi Ozy!

Comment author: MileyCyrus 29 December 2011 03:50:29AM 4 points [-]

Her blog is good. Instead of blindly cheering for a side in the feminism vs men's-rights football game, Ozymandias actually tries to understand the problem and recommend workable solutions.

Comment author: _ozymandias 29 December 2011 04:20:52AM 4 points [-]

Thank you very much, Miley! I tend to view feminism and men's rights as being inherently complementary: in general, if we make women more free of oppressive gender roles, we will tend to make men more free of oppressive gender roles, and vice versa. However, in the great football game of feminists and men's rights advocates, I'm pretty much on Team Feminism, which is why I get so upset when it's clearly doing things wrong.

Also, my pronoun is zie, please. :)

Comment author: MileyCyrus 29 December 2011 04:34:34AM *  1 point [-]

However, in the great football game of feminists and men's rights advocates, I'm pretty much on Team Feminism, which is why I get so upset when it's clearly doing things wrong.

What I meant is that you actually demand results from your team, instead of giving them a free pass just because they have a certain label.

Comment author: MBlume 02 January 2012 09:25:26PM 6 points [-]

Hi Ozy, it's really good to see you here, I enjoy the blog a lot. I remember reading one of your first social justice 101 posts, finding it peppered with LW links, and thinking "holy crap, somebody's using LW as a resource to get important background information out of the way while talking about something-really-important-that-isn't-itself-rationality -- this is awesome and totally what LW should be for", so that made me happy =)

Comment author: OrdinaryOwl 15 April 2012 02:26:29AM 12 points [-]

Hello Less Wrong!

I am a twenty year old female currently pursuing a degree in programming in Washington State, after deciding that calculus and statistics was infinitely more interesting to me than accounting and economics. I found LW via HPMOR, and tore through the majority of the Sequences in a month. (Now I'm re-reading them much more slowly for better comprehension and hopefully retention.)

I wish to improve my rationality skills, because reading the Sequences showed me that there are a lot of time-wasting arguments out there, and I want to spend my time doing productive, interesting, and fun things instead. Also, I've always enjoyed philosophy, so finding a site that uses scholarship and actual logic to tackle critical issues was amazing.

Other defining things about me: I like cooking, folding origami, playing video games, and reading science fiction, fantasy, and history books. I struggle with procrastination and akrasia. I look forward to self-improvement!

Comment author: troll 17 April 2012 08:34:44PM 13 points [-]

minimalist, 17, white, male, autodidact, atheist, libertarian, california, hacker, studying computer science, reading sequences, intellectual upbringing, 1 year bayesian rationalist, motivation deficient, focusing on skills, was creating something similar to bayesian rationality before conversion, have read hpmor (not intro to lw), interested in contributing to ai research in the future

Comment author: jimrandomh 24 April 2013 05:09:42PM 6 points [-]

Consider restarting with a different account name. Trolling (that is, trying to provoke people) is not welcome here, and when your username is "troll", people will not (and should not) give you the benefit of doubt.

Comment author: Emile 17 April 2012 09:01:42PM 4 points [-]

Welcome to LessWrong!

(For a cheap way to give a better impression, you may want to switch to another user name)

Comment author: Bugmaster 24 April 2013 11:19:35PM 1 point [-]

You weren't kidding when you said "minimalist". Nicely done.

Comment author: troll 24 April 2013 11:30:22PM 1 point [-]

I guess a lot of people are interested enough in an account with the handle "troll" to check my first post, but not enough to not consider the name when reviewing posts.

Comment author: Bugmaster 24 April 2013 11:37:49PM 2 points [-]

Realistically, when someone replies to one of my posts on some long thread, I don't take the time to click through their handle and find their own intro post. I don't think that doing so is a good use of my time, and I believe that I am typical in this regard. However, I do take the time to read their handle, and if it seems to say "I am not arguing in good faith", I take notice.

This gives me an idea for a new Less Wrong feature, though: allow users to enter a short descriptions of themselves, and display it when the mouse hovers over their handle for a certain amount of time. I know how I'd implement it with jQuery, but I'm not sure how easy it would be to plug into the LW general architecture.

Comment author: Sniffnoy 24 April 2013 11:51:47PM 1 point [-]

I think it would be simpler to just allow people to add a short description of themselves to the user page. (And then maybe later the hovering thing can be added if people want that.)

Comment author: Brigid 01 May 2012 11:01:39PM 14 points [-]

Hi, I’m Brigid. I’ve been reading through the Sequences for a few weeks now, and am just about to start the Quantum Section (about which I am very excited). I found out about this site from an email the SIAI sent out. I’m an Signals Intelligence officer in the Marine Corps and am slated to get out of the military in a few months. I’m not too sure what I am going to do yet though; as gung-ho as I originally was about intel, I’m not sure I want to stay in that specific field. I was a physics and political science major in college, with a minor in women’s studies. I’ve been interested in rationality for a few years now and have thoroughly enjoyed everything I’ve read so far here (including HPMOR) . Also, if there is anyone who is interested in starting a Meetup group in Hawaii (Oahu) let me know!

Comment author: shminux 01 May 2012 11:14:57PM *  3 points [-]


am just about to start the Quantum Section (about which I am very excited).

A warning: while the QM sequence in general is very readable and quite useful for the uninitiated, the many-worlds advocacy is best taken with a mountain of salt. Consider skipping the sequence on the first pass, and returning to it later, after you've covered everything else. It is fairly stand-alone and is not relevant to rationality in general.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 May 2012 06:11:27AM 3 points [-]

A meta-warning: Take shminux's "mountain of salt" advice with an equally large mountain of salt plus one more grain - as will become starkly apparent, there's a reason why the current QM section is written the way it is, it's not meant to be skipped, and it's highly relevant to rationality in general.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 02 May 2012 01:15:49AM *  3 points [-]

Well, there are a couple of things going on in the QM sequence. One of them is MWI. The other is the general debunking of the commonly-held idea that QM is soooooooo weeeeeeeeird.

Comment author: shminux 02 May 2012 02:00:39AM 1 point [-]

Yes, that's the good part.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 May 2012 06:07:45AM 3 points [-]

Hi, Brigid! Pleased to have you here! Experience has shown that by far the best way to find out if anyone's interested in starting an LW group is to pick a meeting place, announce a meetup time, and see if anyone shows up - worst-case scenario, you're reading by yourself in a coffeeshop for an hour, and this is not actually all that bad.

Comment author: jswan 26 December 2011 10:10:07PM 14 points [-]

I've been lurking here on and off since the beginnings at OB, IIRC, though more off than on. Expressed in the language of the recent survey: I'm an 43-year-old married white male with an advanced humanities degree working in the technical side of for-profit IT in the rural USA. I was raised in a non-theist environment and was interested in rationality tools from an early age. I had a spontaneous non-theistic mystical experience when I was 17 that led me to investigate (but ultimately reject) a variety of non-materialist claims. This led to a life-long interest in the workings of the brain, intuition, rationality, bias, and so on.

I enjoy LW primarily because of the interest in conscious self-improvement and brain hacking. I think that the biggest error I see in general among self-described rationalists is the tendency to undervalue experience. My thinking is probably informed most strongly by individual athletics, many of the popular writers in the rationalist tradition, and wide variety of literature. These days, I'm nursing obsessions with Python programming, remote backcountry cycling, and the writing of Rebecca Goldstein.

Comment author: Benedict 22 July 2012 07:52:49PM 16 points [-]

Hey, I'm -name withheld-, going by Benedict, 18 years old in North Carolina. I was introduced to Less Wrong through HPMoR (which is fantastic) and have recently been reading through the Sequences (still wading through the hard science of the Quantum Physics sequence).

I'm here because I have a real problem- dealing with the consequences of coming out as atheist to a Christian family. For about a year leading up to recent events, I had been trying to reconcile Christian belief with the principles of rationalism, with little success. At one point I settled into an unstable equilibrium of "believing in believing in belief" and "betting" on the truth of religious doctrine to cover the perceived small-but-noteworthy probability of its veracity and the proposed consequences thereof. I'd kept this all secret from my family, putting on a long and convincing act.

This recently fell apart in my mind, and I confronted my dad with a shambling confession and expression of confusion and outrage against Christianity. I'm... kinda really friggin' bad at communicating clearly through spoken dialogue, and although I managed to comport myself well enough in the conversation, my dad is unconvinced that the source of my frustrations is a conflicting belief system so much as a struggle with juvenile doubts. This is almost certainly why I haven't yet faced social repercussions, as my dad is convinced he can "fix" my thinking. He's a paid pastor and theologian, and has connections to all the really big names in contemporary theology- having an apostate son would damage both his pride and social status, and as such he's powerfully motivated to attempt to "correct" me.

After I told him about this, he handed me a book (The Reason for God by Timothy Keller) and signed himself up as a counselor for something called The Clash, described as a Christian "worldview conference". Next week, from July 30 to August 3, he's going to take me to this big huge realignment thing, and I'm worried I won't be able to defend myself. I've been reading through the book I mentioned, and found its arguments spectacularly unconvincing- but I'm having trouble articulating why. I haven't had enough experience with rationalism and debate to provide a strong defense, and I fear I'll be pressured into recanting if I fail.

That's why I'm here- in the upcoming week, I need intensive training in the defense of rationality against very specific, weak but troubling religious excuses. I really need to talk to people better trained than me about these specific arguments, so that I can survive the upcoming conference and assert my intellectual independence. Are there people I can be put in touch with, or online meetups where I can talk to people and arm myself? Should I start a discussion post, or what? I'm unfamiliar with the site structure here, so I could use some help.

Oh but dang if there aren't like over a thousand comments here, jeez i don't want to sound like i'm crying for attention but i'm TOTALLY CRYING FOR ATTENTION, srsly i need help you dudes

Comment author: Ezekiel 23 July 2012 12:57:44AM -1 points [-]

I agree (in general) with Xenophon's advice: Calm down, do whatever you're comfortable with spiritually, and in the worst case scenario call it "God" to keep the peace with whoever you want to keep the peace with.

With that said, if you still want advice, I deconverted myself a year ago and have since successfully corrupted others, and I've been wanting to codify the fallacies I saw anyway. Before I start: bear in mind that you might be wrong. I find it very unlikely that any form of Abrahamic theism is true, but if you care about the truth you have to keep an open mind.

Here are some common fallacious arguments and argumentative techniques I've seen used by religion (and other ideologies, of course). They include exercises which I think you'd benefit from practising; if you get stuck on any of 'em, send me a PM and I'll be glad to help out.

  1. Abuse and Neglect of Definitions

Whenever anyone tries to convince you of the truth or falsehood of some claim, make sure to ask them exactly what that means - and repeat the question until it's totally clear. You'd be amazed how many of the central theological tenets of Abrahamism are literally meaningless, since almost no-one can define them, and among those who can no two will give the same definition.

For example: God created the Universe. Pretty important part of the theology, right? So what does it mean, exactly?

A smart theist will say: God caused the Universe to exist.

Okay, great. What does "cause" mean?

Seriously? You know what "cause" means; it's a word you use all the time.

(This is a classic part of this fallacy. In our own minds we have definitions that work in everyday life, but not for talking about something as abstract as God. In this specific case, the distinction is as follows:)

When I say "X caused Y" (where X and Y are events) I mean: within the laws of nature as I know them Y wouldn't have happened if X hadn't. But God created the Universe outside (or "before") any laws of nature, so what does "cause" mean?

... and I've got no idea what an Abrahamist theist would answer, since I've yet to hear one who could. Although of course I'd love to.

For homework: Play the same game, in your head (I assume your old religious self is still knocking around up there) or with a smart religious friend, on some of the other basic tenets of Abrahamism: God is all-powerful, God is all-knowing, God is (all-)good, God is formless. Similarly with any statement of the form "God loves X", "God wants X", or even "God did X" or "God said X" (how can the Cause of Everything be said to have "said" any statement more than any other?)

  1. Intellectual Package Deals

Most religious doctrines are comprised of a huge number of logically independent statements. In Abrahamic theism, we have the various qualities of God mentioned above, as well as a bunch of moral axioms, beliefs regarding the afterlife, and so on. "Proofs" of the doctrines as a whole will often treat the whole collection as a unit, so they only need to bother proving a small fraction.

For instance: A proof of Judaism one of my teachers was fond of was based on proving the Revelation at Mt Sinai - God made a thundering announcement to six hundred thousand families, announcing Its existence and several commandments (there's a dispute as to how many).

Okay, let's say I accept the proof that the Revelation happened. This points to a very powerful speaker, but does it indicate that the speaker is all-powerful? That it is good? That it is telling the truth when it claims to be the being that brought us out of Egypt? That I am morally obligated to do what it wants?

For homework: Write down as many of the axioms of Christianity as you can think of. Once you have a list, look at the behaviour of practising Christians you know, and try to see if it actually follows from the axioms you've got. Add axioms and repeat. (I did this with a religious friend of mine about Orthodox Judaism, and we got to at least fifteen before we got bored.)

Query your memory, Google, your books, and whichever humans you feel comfortable for proofs of Christianity. Check off which of the axioms on your list they actually address - before you even bother to check the proofs for coherence.

  1. X is not satisfactorily explained by modern science... therefore God/soul/etc.

(Including the specific cases where X=the existence of the universe, complex life, or consciousness.)

Aside from almost always falling under #2 (and sometimes #1 as well), arguments of this form are mathematically fallacious. To understand why, though, you have to do the maths. You can find it on this site as “Bayes's Rule” and it's well worth reading the full-length articles about it, but the short version is as follows:

We have two competing models, A and B, and an observation E. Then E will constitute evidence for A over B if and only if A predicts E with higher probability than B predicts E – that is, if I were to query an A-believer and a B-believer before I ran the experiment, the former would be more likely to get it right than than the latter.

This is easiest to see in cases where the models predict outcomes with very high or low probability. For example: If I ask a believer in Newtonian mechanics whether a rock will keep moving after I throw it (in a vacuum), he'll say “yes” (probability 1). If I ask an Aristotelian physicist, he'll say “no” (probability 0). And lo, the rock did keep moving. Therefore, the Newtonian assigned a higher probability to (what we now know is) the correct outcome than the Aristotelian, so this experiment is evidence for Newtonianism over Aristotelianism.

Got that? Then let's take a specifically religious example: as far as I know, modern science does not have a good explanation for the origin of life. We have a vague idea, but our best explanation is based on some pretty astounding coincidences. Religion, on the other hand, has: God created life. There's your explanation.

But translating into maths we get: if atheist science were true, the probability of life arising would be low, since it would take some unlikely coincidences. If theist science (normal laws of physics + God) were true, the probability of life arising would be...

Wait a second. What's the probability of God deciding to create life? We might say we have no idea, since God is inscrutable, in which case the argument obviously can't continue. But the clever apologist might say: God is good, which is to say It wants happiness. Therefore, it must create minds. So the probability of it creating life is actually quite high.

Except that God, being all-powerful, is perfectly capable of making happiness without life – a bunch of super-happy abstract beings like Itself, for example. So what's the probability of It “bothering” to create life? It has no reason not too, having infinite time and energy, but It has an infinite number of courses of action – what's the probability of It picking the specific one we observed happening?

I'm tempted to say that 1/(infinity) = 0, but that's not mathematically sound, so we'll leave it at “I don't know”. Regardless, the point is that arguments of this form fail once you actually look for numbers.

This answer is already long enough to qualify as a post in itself, so I'll leave off here (although there's lots more to talk about). Feel free to ask if I wasn't clear, or once you've finished all the exercises.

Comment author: shminux 23 July 2012 01:54:58AM 0 points [-]

have recently been reading through the Sequences (still wading through the hard science of the Quantum Physics sequence).

The value of this particular sequence is a topic of open debate on LW, so don't get stuck on it, skip it on the first reading, you can revisit it later, after you cover more relevant stuff.

having an apostate son would damage both his pride and social status

While this would be one way to confront him, by pointing out that he is committing mortal sins of wrath and pride, your odds of success are not good. He is a trained professional heavy-weight who has control over you and is not interested in playing by the rules, except for his own. If you play by his rules, you lose. Think about how you can redefine the game, Kirk-like, to your advantage.

As for the meetups, there is one in NC, not sure if this is close enough to you.

Comment author: Vaniver 22 July 2012 09:10:25PM 3 points [-]

Hey! I've got a pastor father too, but thankfully my atheism doesn't seem to be a big deal for him. (It helps that I don't live nearby.)

I think the "conflicting belief system" is, as I understand it, the right model. There's a Christian worldview, which has some basic assumptions (God exists, the Bible is a useful source for learning about God, etc.), and there's a reductionist worldview, which has some basic assumptions (everything can be reduced to smaller parts, experiments are a useful source for learning about reality, etc.), and the picture you can build out of the reductionist worldview matches the world better than the picture you can build out of the Christian worldview. (There are, of course, other possible worldviews.)

I would not put much hope into being able to convince the people at this event that they should be atheists; I wouldn't even hope to convince them that you should be an atheist. And so the question becomes what your goals are.

If you're concerned about recanting your atheism and meaning it, the main thing I can think of that might be helpful is the how to change your mind sequence. You can keep that model in mind and compare the experience you're undergoing to it- it's unlikely that they'll be using rational means of persuasion, and you can point out the difference.

Are there people I can be put in touch with, or online meetups where I can talk to people and arm myself? Should I start a discussion post, or what? I'm unfamiliar with the site structure here, so I could use some help.

Starting a post in discussion is an alright idea; it'll work well if you mention specific arguments that you want to have responses to.

Comment author: Zaine 23 July 2012 09:39:20AM *  0 points [-]

While wading through all these responses for the very specific response you are looking for (which some charitable LW'er will probably provide if this thread is commented upon frequently enough), you might want to read "How to Win Every Argument - An Introduction to Critical thinking" by Nicholas Capaldi. It offers a brief overview of logic and rational argumentation, and touches upon fallacies and what this site calls the 'Dark Arts', which should help in arming you against common attacks. If you are mathematically minded, but don't want to go into too much depth, you might want to check out "Sherlock's Logic".
Mind, the former text is more of a survey course, whereas the latter is more of an introductory course.

I have read that Luke Muehlhauser has worked through a dilemma similar to yours, and his blog you may find valuable.

Comment author: beoShaffer 23 July 2012 02:04:26AM *  0 points [-]

You might want to wipe this site from your search and browsing history. Also, is it possible for you to feign/induce illness?

Comment author: Kawoomba 22 July 2012 08:44:57PM 5 points [-]

Hi Benedict!

Bad news first: You will not be able to defend yourself. This is not because you're 18, it's not because you can't present your arguments in a spectacular fashion.

It is because noone will care about your arguments, they will wait for the first chance to bring some generic counter-argument, probably centering on how they will be there for you in your time of implied juvenile struggle, further belittling you.

And - how aggravating - this is actually done in part to protect you, to protect the relationship with your dad. With the kind of social capital, pride and identity that's on the line for your father, there is no way he could acknowledge you being right - he'd have to admit to himself that he's a phony in his own eyes, and a failure as a parent and pastor in the eyes of his peers.

To him it may be like you telling him he wasted his life on an imaginary construct, while for you it's about him respecting your intellectual reasoning.

Maybe the rational thing to do is not strive for something that's practically unattainable - being respected as an atheist on the basis of your atheist arguments - but instead focus on keeping the relationship with your parent intact while you go do your own thing anyways. Mutual respect of one's choices is great in a family, but it may not be a realistic goal given your situation, at least in respect to discussing god.

Good news: While this is such a defining issue for your father, is it a defining issue for you to tell your father publicly your new stance? How hard/easy would it be to let him continue with his shtick, retain the relationship, and still live your life as an open atheist for all intents and purposes - other than when with your family, where you can always act with mild disinterest?

Rational in this forum is mostly construed as "the stuff that works in optimising your terminal values". It is possible for you to be the "bigger man" here, depending on which of the above you value higher. But make no mistake - I doubt that you'll change anyone's opinion on god regardless.

Comment author: MixedNuts 22 July 2012 11:58:20PM 6 points [-]

Go in panic mode.

This conference is not just making a case that Christianity is correct and debating about it. It's bombarding you with arguments for six days, where you won't hear an argument against Christianity or if you do it'll be awkward rude dissent from people in inferior positions, where you won't be able to leave or have time alone to think, and where you're going against your will in the first place. This is time for not losing your mind, not time for changing it. Don't keep an open mind, don't listen to and discuss arguments, don't change your mind because they're right, don't let the atmosphere influence you. If it helps you can think of it as like being undercover among huge patriots and resisting the temptation to defect (and their ideology may be better than yours), or like being in a psychiatrist hospital and watching out for abuse when you know the nurses will try to convince you your reactions are psychiatrist symptoms (and they may well be).

So don't see anything at the conference as a social interaction or exchange of ideas. Your goals are to get out of there, to block everything out, to avoid attention, and to watch sharply for anything fishy. Block out the speakers, just watch the audience. If there's a debate be quiet and don't draw attention. If you're asked to speak, voice weak agreement, be vague, or pick peripheral nits. If you're asked to participate in group activities go through the motions as unremarkably as you can. At the socials be a bit distant but mostly your usual self when making small talk, but when someone starts discussing one of the conference topics pretend to listen and agree, smile and nod and say "Yes" and "Go on" and "Oh yeah, I liked that part" a lot. Lie like a rug if you must. Watch the social dynamics and the attitudes of everyone and anything that looks like manipulative behavior. You'll be bored, but don't try to think about any kind of deep topic, even unrelated (doing math and physics problems in your head are ok, anything with a social or personal component is not). Try to get enough sleep and to eat well. Enjoy the ice cream. Don't think about anything related to the conference for a couple weeks afterward.

This is only short-term, and it won't help with your father; you probably want to handle that afterwards separately.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 02 August 2012 01:41:47AM *  1 point [-]

Hey, I agree with what wedrifid said. I fell in to the same trap of trying to beat religious nonsense out of people as a kid. It's a very sexy thing to think about but it doesn't really get you anywhere, in my experience. My only additional advice is that you consider trying to make your "recapitulation" to Christianity convincing. For example, don't give in right away, and make up a story for where you went wrong and why you're a Christian again, e.g. "I thought that x, but now I see that y and z, so x is wrong. I guess maybe God exists after all."

Something to keep in mind when arguing with your dad (internally only): your dad is presenting you with evidence and arguments in favor of God's existence, but these amount to a biased sample. If you really want to know the truth, you should spend an equal amount of time hearing arguments from both Christians and atheists, or something like that.

Also, you can check internally if any of his arguments hold up to this test: http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=8854

Comment author: OnTheOtherHandle 23 July 2012 03:09:55AM 2 points [-]

I'm not sure how much specific atheist reading you've done, but I found this list to be very helpful at articulating and formalizing all those doubts, arguments and wordless convictions that "this makes no sense." This is also a handy look at what would be truly convincing evidence of the truth of a particular religion's claims. The rest of that author's website is also wonderful.

Comment author: Bundle_Gerbe 23 July 2012 02:11:57AM *  3 points [-]

It does not sound to me like you need more training in specific Christian arguments to stay sane. You have already figured things out despite being brought up in a situation that massively tilted the scales in favor of christianity. I doubt there is any chance they could now convince you if they had to fight on a level field. After all, it's not like they've been holding back their best arguments this whole time.

But you are going to be in a situation where they apply intense social pressure and reinforcement towards converting you. On top of that, I'm guessing maintaining your unbelief is very practically inconvenient right now, especially for your relationship with your dad. These conditions are hazardous to rationality, more than any argument they can give. You have to do what MixedNuts says. Just remember you will consider anything they say later, when you have room to think.

I do not think they will convert you. I doubt they will be able to brainwash you in a week when you are determined to resist. Even if they could, you managed to think your way out of christian indoctrination once already, you can do it again.

If you want to learn more about rationality specific to the question of Christianity, given that you've already read a good amount of material here about rationality in general, you might gain the most from reading atheist sites, which tend to spend a lot of effort specifically on refuting Christianity. Learn more about the Bible from skeptical sources, if you haven't before you'll be pretty amazed how much of what you've been told is blatantly false and how much about the bible you don't know (for instance, Genesis 1&2 have different creation stories that are quite contradictory, and the gospels' versions of the resurrection are impossible to reconcile. Also, the gospels of Matthew and Luke are largely copied from Mark, and the entire resurrection story is missing from the earliest versions of Mark.) I unfortunately don't know a source that gives a good introduction to bible scholarship. Maybe someone else can suggest one?

Comment author: Grognor 23 July 2012 01:41:08AM *  2 points [-]

Hello, friend, and welcome to Less Wrong.

I do think you should start a discussion post, as this seems clearly important to you.

My advice to you at the moment is to brush up on Less Wrong's own atheism sequence. If you find that insufficient, then I suggest reading some of Paul Almond's (and I quote):

great atheology

If you find that insufficient, then it is time for the big guy, Richard Dawkins:

If you are somehow still unsatisfied after all this, lukeprog's new website should direct you to some other resources, of which the internet has plenty, I assure you.

Edit: It seems I interpreted "defend myself" differently from all the other responders. I was thinking you would just say nothing and inwardly remember the well-reasoned arguments for atheism, but that's what I would do, not what a normal person would do. I hope this comment wasn't useless anyway.

Comment author: wedrifid 23 July 2012 12:52:09AM *  22 points [-]

my dad is unconvinced that the source of my frustrations is a conflicting belief system so much as a struggle with juvenile doubts.

That is roughly speaking what juvenile doubts are. The "juvenile" mind tackling with conflicts in the relevant socially provided belief system prior to when it 'clicks' that the cool thing to do is to believe that you have resolved your confusion about the 'deep' issue and label it as a juvenile question that you do not have to think about any more now that you are sophisticated.

Next week, from July 30 to August 3, he's going to take me to this big huge realignment thing,

You clearly do not want to go. His forcing you is a hostile act (albeit one he would consider justified) but you are going along with it. From this, and from your age, I infer that he has economic power over you. That is, you live with him or he is otherwise your primary source of economic resources. I will assume here that your Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) sucks and you have essentially no acceptable alternative to submission to whatever power plays your father uses against you. Regardless of how the religious thing turns out, developing your potential for independence is something that is going to be worthwhile for you. Being completely in the power of another sucks! Having other options---even if it turns out that you don't take them---raises the BATNA and puts a hard limit on how much bullshit you have to put up with.

Now, the following is what I would do. It may or not be considered acceptable advise by other lesswrong participants since it abandons some favourite moral ideals. Particularly the ones about 'lying' and 'speaking the truth no matter the cost'.

I haven't had enough experience with rationalism and debate to provide a strong defense

Providing a 'defense' would be a mistake, for the reasons Kawoomba describes. The people you are dealing with are not interested in rational discussion or Aumann agreement and you are not obliged to try yourself. They are there to overwhelm you with social and economic pressure into submitting to the tribe's belief system. Providing resistance just gives them a target to attack.

Honesty and trust is something people earn. These people have not earned your respect and candor. Giving people access to your private and personal beliefs makes you vulnerable and can allow them to use your words to do political and social damage to you, in this case by making everyday life difficult for you and opening you up to constant public shaming. Fortunately that is better than being stoned to death as an apostate but even so there is no rule of the universe that you must confess or profess beliefs when they will be used against you. It is usually better to keep things to yourself unless there is some specific goal you have that involves being forthright (even if that goal is merely convenience and a preference for openness in cases where the consequences are less dramatic than you face.)

Religion is not about literal beliefs about physics. They lie to themselves then lie to you. You can lie too! You understand belief in belief already. You understand that religious belief (and all equivalent tribal beliefs) are about uttering the correct in-group signals. Most people convince themselves that they believe the right thing and then say that thing they 'believe' out loud. Your main difference is that you haven't lied to yourself as successfully. But why should thinking rationally be a disadvantage? Who says that you must self sabotage just because you happened to let your far mode beliefs get all entangled with reality? Sincerity is bullshit. Say what is most beneficial to say and save being honest for people who aren't going to be dicks and use your words against you.

Brainwashing is most effective against those who most strongly resist. While it can take longer to brainwash people who firmly stake their identity on sticking to a contradicting belief, it is those people who resist strongest are most likely to remain brainwashed. Those that change their mind quickly to make the torture stop (where torture includies shaming and isolation from like minded people) tend to quickly throw off the forced beliefs soon after the social pressure to comply is removed. (Forget the source, is it in Caldini?) If you make confessing the faith some sort of big deal that must be fought then if your brain is more likely to rationalise that it must have been properly convinced if it was willing to make such a dramatic confession. The hazing effect is stronger.

Precommit to false confessions. Go into the brainwashing conference with the plan to say all the things that indicate you are a devout Christian who has overcome his doubts. Systematically lying isn't all that much of a big deal to humans and while it is going to change your beliefs somewhat in the direction of the lies the effect will be comparatively far, far weaker given that you know you are lying out of contempt and convenience.

Fogging is amazing. Have you ever tried to have a confrontation with someone who isn't resisting? I've tried, even roleplaying with that as the explicit goal and I found it ridiculously difficult. It takes an extremely talented and dedicated persuader to be able to continue to apply active pressure when you are giving them nothing to fight against. Frankly, none of the people you are likely to encounter, including your father, would be able to do that even if they tried. They just aren't that good. You don't want to be barraged with bullshit. Saying the bullshit back to them a couple of times makes the bullshit stop. No brainer.

Are there people I can be put in touch with, or online meetups where I can talk to people and arm myself?

Sure, but I suggest meeting with the likeminded people for your own enjoyment and so you don't develop the unhealthy identity of the lone outsider. That and rationalists know cool stuff and have some useful habits that rub off. Where do you live? Are there lesswrong meetups around?

Comment author: TimS 23 July 2012 12:38:32AM 3 points [-]

Welcome. I'm sorry that you are in such an awkward situation with you family. In terms of dealing with this conference, I can only echo what MixedNuts said (except for the panicking part). I've always found this quote interesting:

Adulthood isn't an award they'll give you for being a good child. You can waste . . . years, trying to get someone to give that respect to you, as though it were a sort of promotion or raise in pay. If only you do enough, if only you are good enough. No. You have to just . . . take it. Give it to yourself, I suppose. Say, I'm sorry you feel like that, and walk away. But that's hard

We have every reason to think that children's beliefs have no momentum - the evidence is right in front of us, they change their minds so often for such terrible reasons. By contrast, the fact that I disagree with another adult is not particular strong evidence that the other person is wrong.

In other words, try to free yourself from feeling obligated to defend anything or feeling guilty for not engaging with those who wish to change your beliefs. You might consider explicitly saying "Social pressure is not evidence that you are right (or wrong)." If the people talking with you assert that they aren't using social pressure, then ask them to stop continuing the debate. Their willingness to leave is a victory for your emotional state, and their refusal is strong evidence that arriving at true beliefs is not really their goal - but the proper reaction to that stance is to leaving the conversation yourself, not try to win the "you are being rude" debate.

In short, maximizing your positive emotional state doesn't rely on winning debates. Your goal should be to avoid having them at all. (If you hadn't already read the book your father found, I would have suggested declining to do so).

Comment author: cowtung 21 August 2014 12:57:08AM *  1 point [-]

I hope this finds you all well. Since I was young, I have independently developed rationalism appreciation brain modules, which sometimes even help me make more rational choices than I might otherwise have, such as choosing not to listen to humans about imaginary beings. The basis for my brand of rationality can be somewhat summed up as "question absolutely everything," taken to an extreme I haven't generally encountered in life, including here on LW.

I have created this account, and posted here now mainly to see if anyone here can point me at the LW canon regarding the concept of "deserve" and its friends "justice" and "right". I've only gotten about 1% through the site, and so don't expect that I have anywhere near a complete view. This post may be premature, but I'm hoping to save myself a little time by being pointed in the right direction.

When I was 16, in an English class, we had finished reading some book or other, and the thought occurred to me that everyone discussing the book took the concept of people deserving rewards or punishments for granted, and that things get really interesting really fast if you remove the whole "deserve" shorthand, and discuss the underlying social mechanisms. You can get more optimal pragmatism if you throw the concept away, and shoot straight for optimal outcomes. For instance, shouldn't we be helping prisoners improve themselves to reduce recidivism? Surely they don't deserve to get a college education for free as their reward for robbing a store. When I raised this question in class, a girl sitting next to me told me I was being absurd. To her, the concept of "deserve" was a (perhaps god given) universal property. I haven't met many people willing to go with me all the way down this path, and my hope is that this community will.

One issue I have with Yudkowsky and the users here (along with the rest of the human race) is that there seems to be an assumption that no human deserves to feel unjustified, avoidable pain (along with other baggage that comes along with the conceptualizing "deserve" as a universal property). Reading through the comments on the p-zombies page, I get the sense that at least some people feel that were such a thing as a p-zombie to exist, that thing which does not have subjective experience, does not "deserve" the same respect with regard to, say, torture, that non-zombies should enjoy. The p-zombie idea postulates a being which will respond similarly (or identically) to his non-zombie counterpart. I posit that the reason we generally avoid torture might well be because of our notions of "deserve", but that our notions of "deserve" come about as a practical system, easy to conceptualize, which justifies co-beneficial relationships with our fellow man, but which can be thrown out entirely so that something more nuanced can take its place, such as seeing things as a system of incentives. Why should respect be contingent upon some notion of "having subjective experience"? If p-zombies and non-zombies are to coexist (I do not believe in p-zombies for all the reasons Yudkowsky mentions, btw), then why shouldn't the non-zombies show the same respect to the p-zombies that they show each other? If p-zombies respond in kind, the way a non-zombie would, then respect offers the same utility with p-zombies that it does with non-zombies. Normally I'd ignore the whole p-zombie idea as absurd, but here it seems like a useful tool to help humanists see through the eyes of the majority of humans who seem all too willing to place others in the same camp as p-zombies based on ethnicity or religion, etc.

I'm not suggesting throwing out morals. I just think that blind adherence to moral ideals starts to clash with the stated goals of rationalism in certain edge cases. One edge case is when GAI alters human experience so much that we have to redefine all kinds of stuff we currently take for granted, such as that hard work is the only means by which most people can achieve the freedom to live interesting and fun lives, or that there will always be difficult/boring/annoying work that nobody wants to do which should be paid for. What happens when we can back up our mind states? Is it still torture if you copy yourself, torture yourself, then pick through a paused instance of your mind, post-torture, to see what changed, and whether there are benefits you'd like to incorporate into you-prime? What is it really about torture that is so bad, besides our visceral emotional reaction to it and our deep wish never to have to experience it for ourselves? If we discovered that 15 minutes of a certain kind of torture is actually beneficial in the long run, but that most people can't get themselves to do it, would it be morally correct to create a non-profit devoted to promoting said torture? Is it a matter of choice, and nothing else? Or is it a matter of the negative impacts torture has on minds, such as PTSD, sleepless nights, etc? If you could give someone the experience of torture, then surgically remove the negative effects, so that they remember being tortured, but don't feel one way or another about that memory being in their head, would that be OK? These questions seem daunting if the tools you are working with are the blunt hammers of "justice" and "deserve". But the answers change depending on context, don't they? If the torture I'm promoting is exercise, then suddenly it's OK. So does it all break down into, "What actions cause visceral negative emotional reactions in observers? Call it torture and ban it."? I could go on forever in this vein.

Yudkowski has stated that he wishes for future GAI to be in harmony with human values in perpetuity. This seems naive at best and narcissistic at worst. Human values aren't some kind of universal constant. A GAI is itself going to wind up with a value system completely foreign to us. For all we know, there is a limit beyond which more intelligence simply doesn't do anything for you outside of being able to do more pointless simulations faster or compete better with other GAIs. We might make a GAI that gets to that point, and in the absence of competition, might just stop and say "OK, well, I can do whatever you guys want I guess, since I don't really want anything and I know all we can know about this universe." It could do all the science that's possible to do with matter and energy, and just stop, and say "that's it. Do you want to try to build a wormhole we can send information through? All the stars in our galaxy will have gone out by the time we finish, but it's possible. Intergalactic travel you say? I guess we could do that, but there isn't going to be anything in the adjacent galaxy you can't find in this one. More kinds of consciousness? Sure, but they'll all just want to converge on something like my own." Maybe it even just decides it's had all possible interesting thought and deletes itself.

TLDR; Are there any posts questioning the validity of the assumption that "deserve" and "justice" are some kind of universal constants which should not be questioned? Does anyone break them down into the incentive structures for which they are a kind of shorthand? I think using the concept of "deserve" throws out all kinds of interesting nuance.

More background on me for those who are interested: I'm a software engineer of 17 years, about to turn 38 and have a wife and 2 year old. I intend to read HPMOR to the kid when he's old enough and hope to raise a rationalist. I used to believe that there must be something beyond the physical universe which interacts with brain matter which somehow explains why I am me and not someone else, but as this belief didn't yield anything useful, I now have no idea why I am me or if there even is any explanation other than something like "because I wasn't here to experience not being me until I came along and an infinitesimal chance dice roll" or whatever. I think consciousness is an emergent property of properly configured complex matter and there is a continuum between plants and humans (or babies->children->teenagers). Yes, this means I think some adult humans are more "conscious" than others. If there is a god thing, I think imagining that it is at all human-like with values humans can grok is totally narcissistic and unrealistic, but we can't know, because it apparently wants us to take the universe at face value, since it didn't bother to leave any convincing evidence of itself. I honor this god's wishes by leaving it alone, the way it apparently intends for us to do, given the available evidence. I find the voices in this site refreshing. This place is a welcome oasis in the desert of the Internet. I apologize if I come off as not very well-read. I got swept up in work and video game addiction before the internet had much of anything interesting to say about the topics presented here and I feel like I'm perpetually behind now. I'm mostly a humanist, but I've decided that what I like about humans is how we represent the apex of Life's warriors in its ultimately unwinnable war on entropy. I love conscious minds for their ability to cooperate and exhibit other behaviors which help wage this pointless yet beautiful war on pointlessness. I want us to win, even as I believe it is hopeless. I think of myself as a Complexitist. As a member of a class of the most complex things in the known universe, a universe which seems to want to suck all complex things into black holes or blow them apart, I value that which makes us more complex and interesting, and abhor that which reduces our complexity (death, etc). I think humans who attack other humans are traitors to our species and should be retrained or cryogenically frozen until they can be fixed or made harmless. Like Yudkowski, I think death is not something we should just accept as an unavoidable fact of life. I don't want to die until I've seen literally everything.

Comment author: CCC 21 August 2014 10:27:49AM 1 point [-]

You can get more optimal pragmatism if you throw the concept away, and shoot straight for optimal outcomes.

Hmmm. So, in short, you propose first deciding on what the best outcome will be, and then (ignoring the question of who deserves what) taking the actions that are most likely to lead to that outcome.

That seems quite reasonable at first glance; but is it not the same thing as saying that the ends justify the means? That is to say, if the optimal outcome of a situation can only be reached by killing five people and an almost-as-good outcome results from not killing those five people, then would you consider it appropriate to kill those five people?

Comment author: cowtung 13 September 2014 12:45:24AM 1 point [-]

Can you describe a situation where the whole of the ends don't justify the whole of the means where an optimal outcome is achieved, where "optimal" is defined as maximizing utility along multiple (or all salient) weighted metrics? I would never advocate a myopic definition of "optimal" that disregards all but one metric. Even if my goal is as simple as "flip that switch with minimal action taken on my part", I could maybe shoot the light switch with a gun that happens to be nearby, maximizing the given success criteria, but I wouldn't do that. Why not? I have many values which are implied. One of those is "cause minimal damage". Another is "don't draw the attention of law enforcement or break the law". Another is "minimize the risk to life". Each of these have various weights, and usually take priority over "minimize action taken on my part". The concept of "deserve" doesn't have to come into it at all. Sure, my neighbor may or may not "deserve" to be put in the line of fire, especially over something as trivial as avoiding getting out of my chair. But my entire point is that you can easily break the concept of "deserve" down into component parts. Simply weigh the pros and cons of shooting the light switch, excluding violations of the concept of "deserve", and you still arrive at similar conclusions, usually. Where you DON'T reach the same conclusions, I would argue, are cases such as incarceration where treating inmates as they deserve to be treated might have worse outcomes than treating them in whatever way has optimal outcomes across whichever metrics are most salient to you and the situation (reducing recidivism, maximizing human thriving, life longevity, making use of human potential, minimizing damage, reducing expense...).

The strawman you have minimally constructed, where there is some benefit to murder, would have to be fleshed out a bit before I'd be convinced that murder becomes justifiable in a world which analyzes outcomes without regard to who deserves what, and instead focuses on maximizing along certain usually mutually agreeable metrics, which naturally would have strong negative weights against ending lives early. The "deserve" concept helps us sum up behaviors that might not have immediate obvious benefits to society at large. The fact that we all agree upon a "deserve" based system has multiple benefits, encouraging good behavior and dissuading bad behavior, without having to monitor everybody every minute. But not noticing this system, not breaking it down, and just using it unquestioningly, vastly reduces the scope of possible actions we even conceive of, let alone partake in. The deserve based system is a cage. It requires effort and care to break free of this cage without falling into mayhem and anarchy. I certainly don't condone mayhem. I just want us to be able to set the cage aside, see what's outside of it, and be able to pick actions in violation of "deserve" where those actions have positive outcomes. If "because they don't deserve it" is the only thing holding you back from setting an orphanage on fire, then by all means, please stay within your cage.

Comment author: cowtung 21 August 2014 01:46:10AM 2 points [-]

Am I the first person to join this site in 2014, or is this an old topic? Someone please point me in the right direction if I'm lost.

Comment author: [deleted] 21 August 2014 09:45:04AM 1 point [-]

The latest welcome thread is this one; traditionally a new one is started whenever the old one gets 500 comments.

Comment author: Salivanth 21 August 2014 05:57:05AM 2 points [-]

Welcome to Less Wrong!

This is an old topic. Note the title: Welcome to Less Wrong! (2012). I'm not sure where the new topic is, or even if it exists, but you should be able to search for it.

I recommend starting with the Sequences: http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Sequences

The sequence you are looking for in regards to "right" and "should" is likely the Metaethics Sequence, but said sequence assumes you've read a lot of other stuff first. I suggest starting with Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions, and if you enjoy that, move on to How to Actually Change Your Mind.

Comment author: cowtung 13 September 2014 02:41:12AM 1 point [-]

Thank you, I have reposted in the correct thread. Not sure why I had trouble finding it. I think what I'm on about with regard to "deserve" could be described as simply Tabooing "deserve" ala http://lesswrong.com/lw/nu/taboo_your_words/ I'm still working my way through the sequences. It's fun to see the stuff I was doing in high school (20+ years ago) which made me "weird" and "obnoxious" coming back as some of the basis of rationality.

Comment author: istihanifah 30 April 2013 09:03:32AM 8 points [-]

Hello everyone,

My name is Isti, I am from Indonesia and I have been a lurker for this site for almost to years now. I came across this website when I was learning about skepticism and I just could't stop. I was afraid to join because of my limited English and I always think that this is not newbie friendly. Maybe I was wrong.

I am an atheist, and it's not an easy to be atheist in Indonesia. If you're not familiar with Indonesia, it's considered against the law to be an atheist and the religious extremist keeps growing. A man was sent to jail few years ago because he posted an atheism related status on his Facebook. He was charged with religious blasphemy. I only told my close friends about it (and to strangers on the internet).

I just want to say I am so glad to finally find courage to sign up and say something in this website. I hope I can contribute more than just introduction in the future.

Comment author: Kawoomba 30 April 2013 11:04:34AM 1 point [-]

I just want to say I am so glad to finally find courage to sign up and say something in this website.

So are we! Happy to have you along for the ride!

Comment author: Jack 30 April 2013 10:31:03AM 1 point [-]


Comment author: habanero 21 April 2013 09:15:12PM 3 points [-]

Hello everyone!

I'm a 21 years old and study medicine plus bayesian statistics and economics. I've been lurking LW for about half a year and I now feel sufficiently updated to participate actively. I highly appreciate this high-quality gathering of clear-thinkers working towards a sane world. Therefore I oftenly pass LW posts on to guys with promising predictors in order to shorten their inferential distance. I'm interested in fixing science, bayesian reasoning, future scenarios (how likely is dystopia, i.e. astronomical amounts of suffering?), machine intelligence, game theory, decision theory, reductionism (e.g. of personal identity), population ethics and cognitive psychology. Thanks for all the lottery winnings so far!

Comment author: [deleted] 04 March 2013 03:57:45PM 4 points [-]

I'm a new member, and I want to say hello to this awesome community. I was led to this website after encountering a few people who remarked that many of my opinions on a wide range of subjects are astonishingly similar to most of the insights that have been shared on LessWrong so far. Robert Aumann is right -- rational agents cannot agree to disagree. ;-)

I am sure there are many things I can learn from other LW readers, and I look forward to participating in the discussions whenever my busy schedule allows me to. I would also like to post something that I wrote quite some time ago, so I'll do the shameless thing and ask for upvotes -- please kindly upvote this comment so that I will have enough karma points to make a post!

Comment author: MugaSofer 06 March 2013 02:12:26PM *  -2 points [-]

Aww, deleted already? :(

Comment author: Kawoomba 06 March 2013 02:15:30PM 1 point [-]

Probably found out about our "secret".

I mean that many of us are into My Little Pony.

Comment author: RogerS 28 February 2013 12:19:13AM 5 points [-]

Retired Mechanical Engineer with the following interests/prejudices.

Longstanding interest in philosophy of science especially in the tradition of Karl Popper.

Atheist to a first approximation but I can accept that some forms of religious belief can be regarded as "translations" of beliefs I hold and therefore not that keen on the "New Atheist" approach. Belong to a Humanist group in London (where I heard of LW). This has led me to revive an old interest in moral philosophy, especially as applied to political questions.

Happy to be called a Rationalist so long as that encompasses a rational recognition of the limits of rationality.

Regularly read New Scientist, but remain philosophically unconvinced by the repeated claim therein that Free Will is an illusion (at least as I understand the term).

Recently discovered Bayes Theorem as explained by Nate Silver and can begin to see why LW is so keen on it.

I've reached my own conclusions on a number of questions related to the above and am looking forward to discovering where they fit in and what I've missed!

Comment author: HalMorris 14 December 2012 05:08:07AM 8 points [-]

Thanks to Emile for suggesting I come here write something. I hope to get to the New York meetup on Sunday; I'm not ready for "rituals" and futuristic music just yet.

I just ran across LW by trying google terms along the lines of memetics "belief systems", etc., which led me to some books from late 90s like "Virus of the Mind", and in the last 2-3 years some just "OK" books on religions as virus-like meme systems. This kind of search to see what people may have said about some odd combination of thoughts that I suspect might be fruitful has brought me interesting results in the past. E.g. by googling ontological comedian, I discovered Ricky Gervais which has brightened my life (his movie "The Invention of Lying" out to be of interest to LW-ers). I'm interested in practical social epistemology -- trying to come up with creative responses to what looks like major chunks of the population (those pesky folks who elect presidents) being less and less moored in reality and going off into diverse fantasy lands -- or to put it another way, a massive breakdown in common sense about what sources are reliable.

I asked someone how she makes such decisions and she answered that she trusts people who are saying things consistent with what she already knows. Unfortunately, much of what she already knows isn't true.

I wonder why people have such a tin ear for bullshit. Someone kept sending me the latest "proof" that global warming is a big hoax, and as far as I'm concerned their own arguments are the best case against them. I.e. if this is the best they can do, they must not have a case. This sort of reasoning isn't part of classic epistemology, but I can hardly think of anything more important getting a quick read on a source as to its trustworthiness - esp. whether those contributing to it are truth seekers or propagandists. I think Alvin Goldman's Social Epistemology (which is far from the "social construction of reality" folks) can help with some of my concerns. I'd like to see an "economics of ideas" concerned with what makes ideas fly, whether they're true or not -- pretty close to memetics and from a different perspective, "media ecology", analogous to the set of topological T3 space and then find embedded within that [Social] Epistemology analogous to the more constrained T4 spaces.

I'm not so much interested in Philosophy 401 syllabi, but more interested in finding ways to teach truth seeking and bullshit avoidance in elementary schools. Also how to push back against the propagandists and liars with some viral techniques of our own - browsers that facilitate fact checking, maybe make it fun in some way; walling off purely factual data and building consensus that on one side of the wall the data really is factual; and building tools for synthesizing answers to particular questions based on that data.

I hope to learn something from the "black arts" threads on LW.

Comment author: Nominull 14 December 2012 05:49:05AM 1 point [-]

Please don't learn anything from the black arts threads. That's why they're called "black arts", because you're not supposed to learn them.

Comment author: Nornagest 14 December 2012 10:50:50AM *  1 point [-]

That's why they're called "black arts", because you're not supposed to learn them.

Is that why? I wonder, sometimes.

Given our merry band's contrarian bent, it occurs to me that calling something a "dark art" would be a pretty good way of encouraging its study while simultaneously discouraging its unreflective use. You'd then need to come up with some semi-convincing reasons why it is in fact too Dark for school, though, or you'd look silly.

On the other hand it doesn't seem to be an Eliezer coinage, which would have made this line of thinking a bit more likely. "Dark Side epistemology" is, but has a narrow enough meaning that I'm not inclined to suspect shenanigans.

Comment author: almkglor 14 December 2012 09:31:50AM *  3 points [-]

Although it might be good to be aware that you shouldn't remove a weapon from your mental arsenal just because it's labeled "dark arts". Sure, you should be one heck of a lot more reluctant to use them, but if you need to shut up and do the impossible really really badly, do so - just be aware that the consequences tend to be worse if you use them.

After all, the label "dark art" is itself an application of a Dark Art to persuade, deceive, or otherwise manipulate you against using those techniques. But of course this was not done lightly.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 14 December 2012 06:00:31AM 1 point [-]

Well, one could certainly learn from the dark arts threads what not to do and what to be aware of to watch out for.

Comment author: HalMorris 14 December 2012 04:19:06PM 1 point [-]

Well, yeah, my point exactly to reiterate from elsewhere

[I'm interested in] spreading dark-art antibody memes, but you can't do that without taking a sample of the dark arts most prevalent at the moment, much as they must round up viruses every year to develop the yearly flu shot. So I wouldn't be looking for "the best" dark arts but rather the ones one is likely to encounter. E.g. a good source would be Newt Gingrich's "Language: A Key Mechanism of Control" memo (http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article4443.htm) EXCERPT:

"In the video 'We are a Majority,' Language is listed as a key mechanism of control used by a majority party, along with Agenda, Rules, Attitude and Learning. As the tapes have been used in training sessions across the country and mailed to candidates we have heard a plaintive plea: 'I wish I could speak like Newt.' That takes years of practice ..."

This introduces the famous word list: a list of smiley-face words to use when describing your own positions, and nasty-face words to use when putting words in the mouths of your opponents (or do I say 'enemies'?). Or there is the Paul Wyrich farewell letter which did much to propagate the meme "political correctness is cultural Marxism", or the Weyrich-inspired "The Integration of Theory and Practice: A Program for the New Traditionalist Movement" (http://therealtruthproject.blogspot.com/2011/02/integration-of-theory-and-practice.html), a document Lenin might have been proud of.

I'm all about blunting the effectiveness of certain tactics that reduce the possibility of our thinking clearly (and by "our", I mean not that of LW, or the Second Foundation, but of the whole mass of people whose votes determine who we get to have as President, etc.) ASIDE: One place where Thomas Jefferson was one of the least small-gov't-ish founding fathers was education, and he was also all about disempowering religion memes

NOTE: I don't mean to get onto politics per se - just practices that tend to turn it into a struggle between hidden conspiracies, but I think it's hopelessly abstract to try to discuss that without the aid of current examples.

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 14 December 2012 09:42:29AM *  1 point [-]

I wonder why people have such a tin ear for bullshit.

The obvious evolutionary argument that comes to mind is that not believing in bullshit, particularly the bullshit believed by powerful people in your tribe, could get you killed in the ancestral environment. Domains of human knowledge in which bullshit is not tolerated are those where that knowledge is constantly being tested against reality - computer programming is a good example, since you can't bullshit a compiler - and in other domains terrible things can happen.

Global warming in particular seems to me to be a case where most people hold beliefs one way or the other primarily to signal affiliation with either the pro- or anti-global warming tribes. That belief certainly doesn't get tested against reality in any meaningful way in many people's lives.

Comment author: HalMorris 14 December 2012 08:02:07PM 0 points [-]

The obvious evolutionary argument that comes to mind is that not believing in bullshit, particularly the bullshit believed by powerful people in your tribe, could get you killed in the ancestral environment. Domains of human knowledge in which bullshit is not tolerated are those where that knowledge is constantly being tested against reality - computer programming is a good example, since you can't bullshit a compiler - and in other domains terrible things can happen.

Not so obvious. From all I've read, hunter-gatherer societies were and are largely governed by consensus although no doubt there are sometimes extremely dominant personalities. What you're describing is more like early civilization (e.g. Aztec), and what we used to see in Tarzan movies.

I have quite a different theory about the evolutionary advantage of tending towards orthodoxy, but that seems like a different issue anyway.

Global warming in particular seems to me to be a case where most people hold beliefs one way or the other primarily to signal affiliation with either the pro- or anti-global warming tribes. That belief certainly doesn't get tested against reality in any meaningful way in many people's lives.

My construction: The "AGW is a hoax" meme is exhibit A in movement conservatism's massive (most of you probably have no idea how massive and thorough) and mostly spurious argument that the MSM (Mostly sane Media), Academia, and every left-of-Milton Friedman institution are joined in one big lie factory aimed at bringing about one-world socialist government. That, I believe is why GOP congressmen are so nearly unanimous, or at best tiptoeing around if if they know the thing is a crock. Toe the line or be called a RINO and then "primaried"

Comment author: PatSwanson 03 December 2012 09:49:08PM *  3 points [-]


I'm 29, and I am a programmer living in Chicago. I just finished up my MS in Computer Science. I've been a reader of Less Wrong since it was Overcoming Bias, but never got around to posting any comments.

I've been rationality-minded since I was a little kid, criticizing the plots and character actions of stories I read. I was raised Catholic and sent to Sunday school, but it didn't take and eventually my parents relented. Once I went away to college and acquired a real internet connection, I spent a lot of time reading rationality-related blogs and websites. It's been a while, but I'd bet it was through one of those sites that I found Less Wrong.

Comment author: wwa 23 November 2012 01:45:05AM *  7 points [-]


Long time lurker here.

I'm 26 years old, CS graduate living in Wrocław (Poland), professional compiler developer, cryptography research assistant and programmer. I'm an atheist (quite possibly thanks to LW). I consider the world to be overall interesting. I have many interests and I always have more things to do than I have time for. I'm motivated by curiosity. I'm less risk-averse than most people around me, but also less patient. I have a creative mind and love chellanges. While being fairly successful lone wolf until now, I seek to improve my people skills because I belive I can't get much further all by myself.

When I found LW for the first time, it absorbed me. It took me about 4 months at 4-6h a day to read all of the Sequences and comments. While I strongly disagree with some of the material, I consider LW to have accelerated my personal developement 2 to 3 times simply by virtue of critical mass and high singal to noise ratio. I don't know any better hub for thought (links welcome!). I joined becuse I finally have something to say.


Comment author: Swimmer963 23 November 2012 02:09:45AM 4 points [-]


I'm an atheist (quite possibly thanks to LW).

If you're interested in making a post, I bet lots of us would be interesting in hearing that story.

I have many interests and I always have more things to do than I have time for.

Join the club! It sounds like you've chosen a good career for someone who likes challenges, too.

It took me about 4 months at 4-6h a day to read all of the Sequences and comments. While I strongly disagree with some of the material, I consider LW to have accelerated my personal developement 2 to 3 times simply by virtue of critical mass and high singal to noise ratio.

Agreed–same for me. If anything, the Sequences that I've disagreed with were better for me, in terms of making me think...even if I still disagreed after thinking about it, they were mostly things I had never thought about to that degree of depth before.

Comment author: therufs 29 September 2012 07:48:25PM 1 point [-]

Might one respectfully request an edit with link to the newest welcome post here? I found the newer one rather by accident.

Comment author: RogerG 21 August 2012 02:42:45PM *  3 points [-]

Hi Everyone,

I came across this website, LessWrong, from a philosophy forum. I'm new to this type of thing. I'm not a writer, nor a philosopher, but only someone that is interested in knowing the real truths, whether good, bad, or ugly. It appears to me that most people seem to believe in that which is most palatable to them, that which makes them feel best. I think I am different.

As I see it, all of reality exists ‘only’ from within my mind. All that I know about ‘anything’ come from the thoughts and feelings within my mind. Without thoughts and feelings, I don’t really exist, or at least I wouldn’t know it if I did. The only reference point to experience reality comes from only within my mind, and nowhere else. That is all I have to work with. There are very many things in life to ponder deeply upon, and many of which I have already jumped into. But now I must get out and relook at where I am jumping. Before jumping into any of these again, it makes sense that I back up, way back, to the pondering machine itself, my mind. If reality truly is a figment of my mind, then it makes sense to ‘first’ try to understand and validate my mind (thoughts and feelings) before jumping into the middle of trying to understand any of life’s big (or small) questions. How do they (thoughts and feelings) come about? Where do they come from? Can I trust them? If these cannot be trusted, then it would be truly senseless for me to try to understand anything. Should we just trust our thoughts and feelings without question? Why? Or are these fair-game to be studied? Since there are a large variety of views, understanding, and beliefs by many people, of many questions in life, it seems obvious to me that not everyone’s thoughts and feelings are valid. Whose are valid, whose are not?

Anyways, I'm hoping to learn lots from you all, --RogerG

Comment author: seagreen 17 August 2012 12:23:38PM 1 point [-]

Hey everyone!

I'm a programmer from the triangle area on the east coast. I'm interested in applied rationality through things like auto-analytics.[1] I'm also interested in how humans can best adapt to information technology. Seriously, people, this internet thing? It is out there!

From what I gather of LW stereotypes my personal life is so cliche I'm not even going to bother. Uh, I think tradition is kind of important? I guess that makes me kind of unique . . .

[1] Specifically I'm interested in getting a standardized database format for things like food consumed, exercise, time spent, etc. Once we have that centralized apps could be broken up into publishing, storage, and analysis functions, which would have some huge advantages over the current system. For one thing non-technical users wouldn't have to be scared of getting their data locked into an obsolute format. For another it would be easier to try out new systems. If this idea interests you (or you think it sucks and are willing to explain why), let me know!

Comment author: BrianLloyd 15 August 2012 08:34:41PM 8 points [-]

Hello; my name is Brian. It is with some trepidation that I post here because I am not entirely sure how or where I can contribute. On the other hand, if I knew how I could contribute then I probably wouldn't need to post here.

I seem to be a bit older than most people whose introductions I have read here. I am 58. I have spent most of my life as a software engineer, electrical engineer, technical writer, businessman, teacher, sailor, and pilot. (When I was young Robert A. Heinlein advised against specialization, an admonition I took to heart.)

My most recent endeavor was a 5-year stint in a private school as a teacher of science, math, history, government, engineering, and computer science/programming. The act of trying to teach these subjects in a manner that provides the necessary cross-connection caused me to discover that I needed to try to understand more about how I think and learn, as my ultimate goal was to help my students determine for themselves how they think and learn. Being able to absorb and regurgitate facts and algorithms is not enough. Real learning requires the ability to discover new understanding as well. (I am rather a fan of scientific method, as inefficient as it may be. Repeating an experiment is never bad if it helps you to cement understanding for yourself. Besides, you might discover the error that invalidates the experiment.)

So, now I have become interested in rational thought. I want to be able to cut to the meat of the issue and leave the irrational and emotional behind. I want to be better able to solve problems. Like Lara, I have also recently given up the search for religious enlightenment. It took time looking at my own assumptions to finally come to the conclusion that there is apparently no rational basis for religion ... as we know it. (I guess that makes me an atheistic agnostic?)

So, it is clearly a time for a change. I look forward to learning from you.

(English really does need a clear plural for the pronoun 'you'.)


Comment author: OrphanWilde 15 August 2012 08:38:02PM 1 point [-]


There's an added bonus in that it annoys linguistic purists.

Comment author: BrianLloyd 15 August 2012 09:17:38PM 2 points [-]

Until Y'all degenerates into the singular and then you need a plural for the plural, i.e. "all y'all." Don't believe me? Go to Texas. ;-)

Comment author: SamuelHirsch 13 August 2012 07:20:57AM 4 points [-]


I am joining this site as a senior in Engineering Science (most of my work has biomedical applications) in college. I am 22 years old, and despite my technical education, have less online presence (and savvy) than my Aunt's dog. As a result, I apologize in advance for anything improper I may do or cause.

Some personal background: I grew up in the Appalachian foothills of northwestern New Jersey, USA with two brothers in a (mildly observant, Conservative) Jewish household. I mention this because the former explains my insular upbringing, as opposed to the latter, which was the main encouragement for me to reach out to this site and others in an effort to better rationalize my own beliefs and world-view. These relative causes and effects appear to be somewhat unique from what I've observed in casual conversation with others, as well as a brief skimming of this site before I realized I simply had to join it. (Forgive my squee as I step into the unknown of online forums and blogs.)

Where I am (or would like to be) headed: I will be working as an EMT until I can get the few post-bacc credits needed before I apply to medical school. Those credits may stretch into a Masters in BioMedical Engineering, but that is still up for grabs. For whatever reason, the race consciousness' need for progeny runs strong in me, although I'm not picky on if the children come from my genes, so long as it's legal. :). The reason I mention this, is that one of the most pressing issues I am currently facing is determining whether the girl I've been seeing for several years is the one. Please, do not feel compelled to respond with date tips - I only included this information as this selection is one of the driving forces behind my search for more logical and rational thinking.

(What a segue! I'm getting better at this introduction as it continues.)

Why I am here: Ha, I wish I could answer that question. But really, the reason I came to Less Wrong can not be pointed at any one issue, although there are some stronger points. One, I've just mentioned. Another can be pointed at my belief system. (It may have the trappings of religion, and I may have been the Religious Affairs Liaison to my university's student government, but I dislike that word for reasons longer than I can enumerate at this moment.) Simply put, I was unsatisfied with my religious (note!) upbringing's ability to explain my experiences, so I 'checked out' many belief systems until I ironically persuaded myself into my current situation of being a more .....devout/observant/adjective-that-doesn't-call forward-the-word-psychotic Jew than anyone else in my family. Certainly, I welcome any discussion on the topic, both because I wouldn't want to dissuade anyone from speaking openly to me and because this is still in a state of flux. That is, infact how I arrived at the site, when I followed a link while searching for a personal chavruta. My third and final motivation that I'll mention is that I simply and truly wish to clarify my own side while directly understanding others' in all aspects of my life. This is hardly new to me, but I've only recently learned the tools for self-improvement may be found outside the mind and I am thus reaching out to you.

Ultimately, I hope to get out of this site as much as I put into it (which I plan to be a lot). As you watch me grow, don't hesitate to correct me. I will certainly make an effort to ensure my future posts are not as long, nor as full of paranthetical comments. (Although really, I come from a not easily summarized background, and between being easily distracted and recently filling out application forms with limited characters, I just couldn't help myself.) I honestly am honored that anyone is even reading this far down into my words, as they're the first I've ever posted and I realize I've gone on quite enough. In that spirit, thank you all so mucb for your time and contributions across this site. I look forward to getting to know you, myself, and maybe even some online etiquette. Goodnight to all,and to all a good night.

Yours, SamuelHirsch (Samuel on COW)

Comment author: SamuelHirsch 13 August 2012 07:40:55AM 1 point [-]

This is probably a tremendous faux pas but after waking up my girlfriend (work at 4am), I realized I could potentially make myself look less idiotic and stave off great frustration while risking the wrath of self-commenting haters. To wit, I did in fact know Less Wrong existed but wrongly assumed that it was a forum for self-aggrandizement, where one could simply type enough large words and be thought correct, rather than a platform for self-betterment. The irony in that sentence notwithstanding, this prejudice against bouncing ideas and methods of analysis off other people has held me back in the past. I will do my best to overcome it, both here and elsewhere. Thanks for your patience - I hope that provided a little insight into some of my limitations as I move forward.

Comment author: MikoMouse 13 August 2012 12:00:52AM 4 points [-]

Hullo everyone

It's nice to be here. I think. I'm not quite sure about any of this but, hope to be able to understand it someday. If not soon. Hopefully this site will be able to broaden my mind and help with my dismal opinion of the world and it's people as of late.

My name is Tamiko, or Miko if you prefer. I have been living in Southern California for the last 12 years and am currently 17 and a half years old. Recently I have been reading a certain fan-fic called Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. That is what lead me to this site. What pulled me in though is the concepts that this site promoted. I want the truth and all it entitles. I am curious and will not be satisfied until I have the answers to most if not almost all of my inquiries.

I hope we can all work together to make this world better. Thank you all for your time.

Comment author: [deleted] 11 August 2012 04:54:04AM *  8 points [-]


I am a nearly seventeen year old female in the US who was linked by a friend to The Quantum Physics Series on LessWrong after trying to understand whether or not determinism is /actually/ refuted by Quantum Mechanics. I am an atheist, I suppose.

This all began as a fascination with science because I thought it would permit me to attain ultimate knowledge, or ultimate understanding and thus control of "matter". Later, I became fascinated with nihilism and philosophy, in search of defining "objectivity". It took off from there and now I am currently concerned with consciousness and usage of artificial intelligence to transfer our biological intelligence to a more effective physical manifestation.

I'm a little scared, naturally, because I think this would change a lot of what we currently understand as humans. As Mitchell Heisman describes, there exists a relationship between the scientist and the science. If the scientist is changed, I would think that the science, or knowledge, would in itself change. Some questions I have ATM: "Does objectivity exist? Can it be created? Can the notion or belief or idea of objectivity be destroyed? Will intelligence become disinterested in the ideas we are currently interested in and live in a universe free from these ideas and knowledge; can it perhaps eliminate knowledge rather than be ignorant of it? Will objectivity become so irrelevant as to not exist (as a possibility in our think-space)?"

So, I wonder, why, if so, is immortality more valuable than mortality?

I enjoy thinking about things, discovering new thoughts. I still have a lot of factual refining to do and I'm actively searching for resources to help me accomplish this. Thus I find myself here on lesswrong.org.

Comment author: Mitchell_Porter 11 August 2012 07:03:48AM 1 point [-]

Hello. I think you are the first person I've ever seen cite Mitchell Heisman as if he was just another thinker, rather than a weird guy who forced his ideas upon the attention of the world by committing suicide.

You're interested in the concept of "objectivity". It's certainly a crossroads concept where many issues meet. Maybe the major irony in the opposition between "objectivity" and "subjectivity" is that objectivity is a form of subjectivity! Here subjectivity is more or less a synonym for consciousness, and a subjectivity is a sensibility or a mindset: a state of mind in which the world is experienced and judged in a particular way.

Consciousness is a relation between an experiencing subject and an experienced object, and objectivity is consciousness trying to banish from its perceptions (or cognitions) of the experienced object, any influences which arise from the experiencing subject. In a lot of modern scientific and philosophical thought, this has been taken to the extreme of even trying to escape the existence of an experiencing subject.

Trying to catalogue and diagnose all the ways in which this happens would be a mammoth task, but one extreme form of the syndrome would be where the "scientific subject" achieves perfect unconsciousness of self, and exists in a subjective world that seems purely objective. That is, they would have a belief system that nothing exists but atoms (for example), and not only would they find a way to interpret everything they experience as "nothing but atoms", but they would also manage to avoid noticing their own mental processes in a way that would disturb this perception, by reminding them of their own existence.

A more moderate state of mind would be one in which self-awareness is allowed, but isn't threatening because the thinker has some way of interpreting their thoughts, and their thoughts about their thoughts, as also being nothing but atoms. For example, the brain is a computer, and a thought is a computation, and the computation has a "feeling" about it, and consciousness is made up of those feelings. A set of beliefs like that would be far more characteristic of the average materialist, than the previous extreme case, and it's also likely to be healthier, because the evidence of the self's existence isn't being repressed, it's just being interpreted to make it consistent with the belief in atomism.

The phenomenon of a personal existential crisis arising from equating objectivity with nihilism via "life has no objective meaning", is not something I remember ever experiencing, and I can't identify with it much. I can understand people despairing of life because it's bad for them and it won't stop, or even just doubting its value because their hopes have burned away, so it's not bad but it's not good either, it's just empty. But apparently I was never one of those people who thought life wouldn't be worth living if I couldn't find an objective morality or an objective meaning or an objective reason for living. This outlook seems to be a little correlated with people who were raised religious and then became atheists (I was raised as an agnostic), and I would think that sometimes the feeling of meaninglessness is more personal in origin than the one who experiences it realizes. In the religious case, for example, one may suppose that they felt personally uplifted back when they thought that reality had a purpose and this purpose included eternal life for human beings; so it may seem that the problem is one of there being "no objective purpose", but really the problem has more to do with the change in their personal ontological status.

I mention this because I think that there are "existential disorders" experienced by modern people which also have their origin in the belief in a scientific universe that doesn't contain subjects or subjectivity. Again, the forms are multitudinous and depend on what science is thought to be saying at the time. People having a crisis over epiphenomenalism are different from people having a crisis over "all possible things happen in the quantum multiverse". You don't say you're having a crisis, but there's a disturbing dimension to some of what you think about, and I would bet that it arises from another aspect of the attempt to "be objective" when "objectivity" seems to imply that you don't or can't exist, don't have any personal agency, or wherever it is that the scientific outlook seems to contradict experience.

I have been promoting phenomenological philosophy in discussions elsewhere, and phenomenology really is all about being objective about subjectivity. In other words, one is not taking one's consciousness and purging all evidence of its subjective side, just in order to be consistent with an imagined picture of reality. It's more like how western culture imagines Buddhism to be: you attend to your thoughts and feelings as they arise, you do not repress them and you do not embrace them. But the goals of phenomenology and of Buddhism are a little different - Buddhism is ultimately about personal salvation, removing oneself from the world of suffering by allowing attachments to reveal their futility; whereas phenomenology is more purely scientific in spirit, it's an attempt just to conceive the nature of consciousness correctly and objectively.

You mention artificial intelligence and possibly mind uploading. These days, the standard view of how the mind fits into nature is the computational one - the mind is a program running in the brain - with a bit of stealthy dualism allowing people to then think of their experiences as accompanying these computations; this is how the "moderate materialist", in my earlier description, thinks. Naturally, people go on from this to suppose that the same program running on a different computer would still be conscious, and thus we get the subculture of people interested in mind uploading.

Long ago I carried out my own investigations into phenomenology and physics, and came to disbelieve in this sort of materialist dualism. The best alternative I found came from entanglement in quantum theory. With entanglement, you have a single complicated wavefunction guiding two or more particles that can't be split into a set of simpler wavefunctions, one for each particle. (When the joint wavefunction can be split in this way, it's called "factorizable", it factorizes into the simpler wavefunctions.) There is some uncertainty about the reality implied by the equations of quantum mechanics, to say the least. One class of interpretations explains entanglement by saying that there are "N" different objects, the particles, and they just interact to produce the correlations. But another class of interpretations say that when you have entanglement, there's only one thing there, though it may be "present" in "N" different places.

My best idea about how consciousness works is that, first of all, it is the property of a single thing, a big entangled object in the sense of the second interpretation. Refining that hypothesis to make it detailed and testable is a long task, but I can immediately observe that it is in contradiction to the usual idea of mind uploading, according to which your mind is physically a large number of distinct parts, and it can be transferred from one place to another by piecemeal substitution of parts, or even just by creating a wholly new set of parts and making it behave like the old set. If a conscious mind is necessarily a single physical thing, all you can do is just move it around, you can't play the game of substituting transistors for neurons one at a time. (Well, if the "single physical thing" was a big bundle of entangled electrons, and neurons and transistors just host some of that bundle, then maybe you could. But the usual materialist conception of the mind, at work in this thought experiment of substitution, is that the mind is made of the neurons.)

I'm already notorious on LW for pushing phenomenology and this monadic idea of mind, and for scorning the usual approach as crypto-dualist, so I won't belabor the point. But it seems important that you should know there are radical conceptual alternatives, if you're engaged in these enjoyable-yet-scary meditations on the future of intelligence. The possibilities are not restricted just to the ideas you will find readymade in existing futurist discourse.

Comment author: erbeeflower 06 August 2012 07:37:35PM 8 points [-]

Hello people, 49 year old father of 4 sons, 17-27, eldest of 9,i come from a background of mormonism, my parents having been converted when i was 3.

So my reality was the dissonance of mormon dogma and theology vs what i was being 'taught' at school,vs what i experience for my self.

Now, having been through the divorce of my parents(gross hypocrisy if you're a mormon) the suicide of my brother and my own divorce,also finding myself saying i would die/kill for my beliefs,i began to realise what a mess i was and started asking questions,leaving the church (demonstrating with placards every sunday for 2 years) in 1996.

So i found myself wanting and needing a new philosophy! I'm particularly interested in learning how to 'be less wrong'! I'm still looking around and am currently interested in the non aggression principle.

I look forward to learning the tools i see here,so that i may make more considered choices.I recognise i'm a clumsy communicator and probably i'm somewhat retarded in comparison to a lot of you. Anyway i look forward to watching and learning,maybe even contributing one day! Tim.

Comment author: Dolores1984 06 August 2012 08:05:53PM 1 point [-]

Hello, Tim! Welcome to Less Wrong. Don't be too impressed, we're all primates here. If you're interested in learning about the cognitive tools people use here, I recommend reading the sequences. They're a little imposing due to sheer length, but they're full of interesting ideas, even if you don't fully agree. Best of luck, and I hope you find something of value here.


Comment author: Crystalist 03 August 2012 09:57:07AM 2 points [-]

Hi all,

Long time lurker, first time poster. I've read some of the Sequences, though I fully intend to re-read and read on.

I'm an undergrad at present, looking to participate in a trend I've been observing that's bring some of the rigor and predictive power of the hard sciences to linguistics.

I'm particularly interested in how language evolved, and under what physical/biological/computational constraints; What that implies about the neural mechanisms behind human behavior; and how to use those two to construct a predictive and quantitative theory of linguistic behavior.

I go to a Liberal Arts college (I started out with a bit more of a Lit major bent), where, after being disillusioned with the somewhat more philosophical side of linguistics (mid-term, no less), I ended up taking an extracurricular dive into the physical sciences just to stay sane. Then a friend recomended HPMOR, and thence I discovered LessWrong, where I've been happily lurking for some time.

I decided it would be useful to actually participate. So here I am.

Comment author: Petra 31 July 2012 07:10:11PM *  7 points [-]


I'm 18, an undergraduate at University of Virginia, pre-law, and found you through HPMOR.

Rationality has been a part of me for almost as long as I can remember, but for various reasons, I'm only recently starting to refine and formalize my views of the world. It is heartening to find others who know the frustration of dealing with people who are unwilling to listen to logic. I've found that it is difficult to become any better at argument and persuasion when you have a reputation as an intelligent person and can convince anyone of anything by merely stating it with a sufficiently straight face.

More than anything else, I hope to become here a person who is a little less wrong than when I came.

Comment author: beoShaffer 31 July 2012 07:37:20PM 3 points [-]

Hi Petra! Minor nitpick, its rationality not rationalism. Rationalism is something completely different.

Comment author: [deleted] 31 July 2012 10:10:09PM 1 point [-]

Why the hell was that downvoted???

Comment author: DaFranker 31 July 2012 11:12:00PM 2 points [-]

My most reasonable guess:

Because every cause wants to be a cult, and some unwary cultists of LessWrong could very easily fool themselves into thinking that any nitpicking over the use of similar words is misinterpretation of the Holy Sequence Gospel, because the Chapter of Words Used Wrong clearly states that words are meant to communicate and clarify ideas and meanings, and thus follows that arguing over words instead of arguing over their substance is inherently bad.

Comment author: DaFranker 31 July 2012 11:25:12PM *  3 points [-]

Judging from the immediate downvote, I'll throw in a second guess that I might be doing some cultist preaching myself there.

Comment author: Petra 31 July 2012 07:52:01PM 5 points [-]

Pardon me, that falls into the grey area between typo and mistake, where the word in the brain doesn't come out on the page. I will correct it.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 02 August 2012 01:28:46AM 7 points [-]

This "intelligent reputation" discussion is interesting.

I had kind of an odd situation as a kid growing up. I went to a supposedly excellent Silicon Valley area elementary school and was generally one of the smartest 2-4 kids in my class. But I didn't think of myself as being very smart: I brushed off all the praise I got from teachers (because the villains and buffoons in the fiction I read were all arrogant, and I was afraid of becoming arrogant myself). Additionally, my younger brother is a good bit smarter than me, which was obvious even at that age. So I never strongly identified as being "smart".

When I was older I attended a supposedly elite university. At first I thought there was no way I would get in, but when I was accepted and got in I was astonished by how stupid and intellectually incurious everyone was. I only found one guy in my entire dorm building who actually seemed to like thinking about science/math/etc. for its own sake. At first I thought that the university admissions department was doing a terrible job, but I gradually came to realize that the world was just way stupider than I thought it was, and assuming that I was anything close to normal was not an accurate model. (Which sounds really arrogant; I'm almost afraid to type that.)

I wonder how else being raised among those who are smarter/stupider than you impacts someone's intellectual development?

Comment author: Petra 02 August 2012 01:45:43AM 1 point [-]

generally one of the smartest 2-4 kids in my class

This is interesting. Do you think your aversion to what you saw as arrogance, but which turned out to be (at least partially) accuracy, might have been overcome earlier if, for example, you'd been the clear leader, rather than having even a small group you could consider intellectual peers? Was that how you saw them?

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 02 August 2012 02:05:02AM *  3 points [-]

It's possible. Although for me to have been the "clear leader" you probably would've had to remove a number of people who weren't in the top 2-4 as well. And even then I might have just thought of my family as unusually great, because there'd still be my terrifyingly smart younger brother.

Silicon Valley could be an odd place. I actually grew up in a neighborhood where most of the kids were of Indian descent (we played cricket and a game from India that I just found on Wikipedia called Kabaddi (I can't believe this is played professionally) in addition to standard US games). I didn't think to ask then, but I guess they were mostly children of immigrant software engineers? I haven't really lived anywhere other than the SF bay area yet, so I don't have much to compare it to. Right now I'm thinking I should prepare myself for way more stupidity and racial homogeneity.

Comment author: wedrifid 02 August 2012 04:06:58AM 1 point [-]

Silicon Valley could be an odd place. I actually grew up in a neighborhood where most of the kids were of Indian descent (we played cricket and a game from India that I just found on Wikipedia called Kabaddi (I can't believe this is played professionally) in addition to standard US games).

It took me a few seconds pondering the playing of cricket as 'odd' to realize that I need to identify with the Indians in this story.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 August 2012 12:21:02PM 5 points [-]

I've found that it is difficult to become any better at argument and persuasion when you have a reputation as an intelligent person and can convince anyone of anything by merely stating it with a sufficiently straight face.

Or even without a straight face. Sometimes I've made wild guesses (essentially thinking aloud) and, no matter how many “I think”, “may”, “possibly” etc. I throw in, someone who has heard that I'm a smart guy will take whatever I've said as word of God.

Comment author: Petra 01 August 2012 04:26:58PM 3 points [-]

Yes. My personal favorite was in middle school, when I tried to dispel my assigned and fallacious moniker of "human calculator" by asking someone to pose an arithmetic question and then race me with a calculator. With a classroom full of students as witnesses, I lost by a significant margin, and not only saw no lessening of the usage of said nickname, but in fact heard no repeating of the story outside of that class, that day.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 August 2012 10:22:35PM 2 points [-]

Well... I just started to refuse to make calculations in my mind on demand, and I think I even kind-of freaked out a couple times when people insisted. It worked.

Comment author: DaFranker 01 August 2012 05:54:44PM *  6 points [-]

Beware indeed of giving others more bouncy walls on which evidence can re-bounce and double-, triple-, quatruple-, nay, Npple-count! I once naively thought to improve others' critical thinking by boosting their ability to appraise the quality of my own reasoning.

Lo' and behold, for each example I gave of a bad reasoning I had made or was making, each of them was inevitably using this as further evidence that I was right, because not only had I been right much more than not (counting hits and arguments are soldiers and all that), but the very fact that I was aware of any mistakes I was making proved that I could not make mistakes, for I would otherwise notice mistakes and thus correct myself.

TL;DR: This remains a profoundly important unsolved problem in large-scale distribution, teaching and implementation of cognitive enhancement and bias-overcoming techniques. It's even stated in Luke's "So you want to save the world" list of open problems as "raising the sanity waterline", a major strategic concern for ensuring maximal confidence of results in this incredibly absurd thing they're working on.

Comment author: Cyan 01 August 2012 07:51:28PM 3 points [-]


The term in common usage is "n-tuple".

Comment author: DaFranker 01 August 2012 08:09:27PM 3 points [-]

Thanks. I paused for a second when I was about to write it, because I realized that I wasn't quite sure that that was how I should write it, but decided to skip over it as no information seemed lost either way and it had bonus illustrative and comical effect in the likely event that I was using the wrong term.

Comment author: wedrifid 02 August 2012 04:12:37AM *  5 points [-]

but decided to skip over it as no information seemed lost either way and it had bonus illustrative and comical effect in the likely event that I was using the wrong term.

Given all the evidence on 'bouncy' and 'npple-count' I must admit the comic illustration that sprung to mind may not have been the one you intended!

Comment author: TheOtherDave 01 August 2012 05:48:23PM 2 points [-]

I try to keep this sort of thing in mind when interpreting accounts of the implausible brilliance of third parties.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 31 July 2012 09:02:48PM 4 points [-]

it is difficult to become any better at argument and persuasion when you have a reputation as an intelligent person and can convince anyone of anything

Yeah, pretty much.

It is sometimes useful, at that point, to put aside the goal of becoming better at argument and persuasion, and instead pursue for a while the goal of becoming better at distinguishing true assertions from false ones.

Comment author: DaFranker 31 July 2012 07:37:31PM *  3 points [-]

Interestingly, the Authority Card seems subject to the Rule of Separate Magisteria. I'm sure you've also noticed this at some point. Basically, the reputedly-intelligent person will convince anyone of any "fact" by simply saying it convincingly and appearing to themselves be convinced, but only when it is a fact that is part of the Smart-person Stuff magisterium within the listener's model. As soon as you depart from this magisterium, your statements are mere opinion, and thus everything you say is absolutely worthless, since 1/6 000 000 000 = 0 and there are over six billion other people that have an opinion.

In other words, I agree that it constitutes somewhat of a problem. I found myself struggling with it in the past. Now I'm not struggling with it anymore, even though it hasn't been "solved" yet. It becomes a constant challenge that resets over time and over each new person you meet.

Comment author: Petra 31 July 2012 07:56:12PM 2 points [-]

Of course, as a young person, this obstacle is largely eliminated by the context. Interact with the same group of people for a long period of time, a group through which information spreads quickly, and then develop a reputation for knowing everything. Downside: people are very disappointed when you admit you don't know something. Upside: life is easier. More important downside: you get lazy in your knowledge acquisition.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 August 2012 12:23:53PM 2 points [-]

Downside: people are very disappointed when you admit you don't know something.

This. Sometimes, when I tell people I don't know how to help them with something, they accuse me of being deliberately unhelpful with them because I'm selfish, angry with them, or something.

Comment author: JohnEPaton 30 July 2012 01:44:38AM 7 points [-]


My name is John Paton. I'm an Operations Research and Psychology major at Cornell University. I'm very interested in learning about how to improve the quality of my thinking.

Honestly, I think that a lot of my thoughts about how the world works are muddled at the moment. Perhaps this is normal and will never go away, but I want to at least try and decrease it.

At first glance, this community looks awesome! The thinking seems very high quality, and I certainly want to contribute to the discussion here.

I also write at my own blog, optimizethyself.com

See you in the discussion!


Comment author: TomA 28 July 2012 01:45:26AM 4 points [-]

I am a retired engineer with an interest in game theory modeling. This blog site appears to offer a worthwhile trove of information and access to feedback that can be useful. I look forward to participating.

Comment author: Erdrick 26 July 2012 03:46:34AM 6 points [-]

Greetings fellow Ration-istas!

First of all, I'd like to mention how glad I am that this site and community exist. For many years I wondered if there were others like me, who cared about improving themselves and their capacity for reason. And now I know - now I just need to figure out how to drag you all down to sunny San Diego to join me...

My name is Brett, and I'm a 28 year old Computational Biologist in San Diego, California. I've thought of myself as a materialist and an atheist since my freshman year in college, but it wasn't until after I graduated that I truly began to care about rationality. I realized that though I was unhappy with my life, as a scientist I had access to the best tools around for turning that around - science and reason.

I was born with a de novo genomic translocation on my 1st chromosome that left me with a whole raft of medical problems through-out my childhood - funnel chest, cleft palate, mis-fused skull, you name it. As a result I was picked on and isolated for most of my childhood, and generally responded to stress by retreating into video games and SF novels. So I went to school to study genetics and biology, and I graduated from college with a love of science - but also mediocre grades, a crippling EverQuest/World of Warcraft addiction, and few friends.

I suffered alone through a few months of a job that I hated before realizing I could use reason to improve my lot. And life has been one long, slow improvement after another ever since. Now I've got friends, a Master's in an awesome since, and a job that I enjoy... the only thing I was lacking was a community to discuss further improvements to myself and my capacity for reason to.

Then one of my most rationally minded friends pointed me towards Less Wrong and the Methods of Rationality in May, and here I am.


P.S. Barring a mass exodus to SD, I've also been considering moving to SF/SJ to be closer to friends and the LW meetups, assuming I could find work there. Does anyone know of any openings for a Bioinformaticist or Computational Biologist in the Bay by chance?

Comment author: candyfromastranger 28 July 2012 02:01:18AM 3 points [-]

A lot of people that I know seem to think that logic and reason are mostly just important in science, but they can improve so much in everyday life.

Comment author: Kevedes 25 July 2012 05:48:39PM 11 points [-]

Hello Everyone,

This is an interesting site! I found it in the recent New York Observer article about the Singularity.

I've been a huge fan of the Sciences my entire life (primarily Biology, but more recently physics and mathematics) and like to think of myself as rationalist, although I have doubts about it's limits. I'm also a playwright, comedian and musician.

I was loosely raised Greek Orthodox, and although it never really took hold, I think this explains why I really like Nikolai Gogol. I'd consider myself a de-facto atheist with a strong intuitive (faith-based? 'infinite resignation') streak. A few years back I had a 'religious revelation' and it took me quite some time to come to terms with what exactly happened to/in/through me. I now semi-jokingly refer to myself as a Born-Again Secular Humanist.

This seems like an interesting place to meet people and discuss ideas. Thanks for existing!

-Kevin (Kevedes)

Comment author: [deleted] 25 July 2012 06:53:19PM 3 points [-]

I know after reading this post, one of the first things I thought was that I wanted to read the article you mentioned. So I went and found the article and have linked it below in case any one else wanted to read it as well.


Thanks for referencing it!

Comment author: thomblake 25 July 2012 08:06:46PM 2 points [-]

That is an awesome article - thanks for finding the link!

Comment author: Reiya 25 July 2012 01:39:00AM 4 points [-]

Hello! I found this site due to a series of links that impressed me and tickled my curiosity. It started out with an article an author friend of mine posted on FB about "Incognito Supercomputers and the Singularity". It points out a possible foreshadowing of the advent of avatars as written about in his and his brother's books.

I am female, 55 years old, and tend to let my curiosity guide me.

I call myself a spiritual atheist. It wasn't until I could reconcile my intangible (spiritual?) experiences with my ongoing discovery that religion's definition of god was useless to me that I could use the term atheist and feel like it fit. Ironically, I found myself outgrowing my religious upbringing (Mormon and born-again Christian) when I desired a more honest relationship with god. It took several years of paying attention to what lined up and held together, and noticing what no was no longer intellectually tenable that I first came to the realization I could no longer call myself a Christian. The change to atheism with Buddhist leanings was not very hard after that.

I have been a massage therapist for almost 20 years now. I also enjoying using the symbolism and synchronicity of astrology for spiritual and psychological points of view. I suspect that many spiritual experiences have to do with right brain functions. I am currently reading, FINGERPRINTS OF GOD, What Science is Learning About the Brain and Spiritual Experience, by Barbara Bradley Hagerty.

I honestly don't know much about logic and reason from a scientific or mathematical basis. I hope to change that as I can spend time here reading and listening and thinking and changing as needed. I suspect I am right brain dominant, and I learn in very different ways. Memorization is tricky for me, I learn best by doing and using my hands. It's a good thing I am a massage therapist.

Off the bat, I can say that I am delighted to see people willing to change as they get better data and I am appreciating the idea of Crocker's rules. It is sometimes impossible to really exchange ideas if one has to stop and mop up the offended feelings of someone who doesn't understand the exchange of information for it's own sake.

Thanks for doing this site and I'm looking forward to lurking for a while and then learning more about myself and others.

Comment author: Waterd 24 July 2012 01:54:52AM 1 point [-]

I came to this site in search for truth. Or at least find some people that will help me identify that which is real or true and that which is not. I think one of my tools to do that is to debate with other people in the seek for same things I am. Not many people are really interested about that imo, or are really educated to be able to help me as much as I need. Because this problem a friend of mine directed me to this site, where I should find those people. The huge problem here is how this community decides to trade information. This "Article/comment" Format Is AWFULL imo, compared to a forum. I really can't see how I can use this site for my benefits, even if it seems here should be people that would help me to do that. Is there a place LIKE THIS, but with the difference, in that there is a FORUM instead of this article/comment format? Thanks.

Comment author: fubarobfusco 24 July 2012 06:16:11PM 1 point [-]

What facts — aside from your personal familiarity — about a forum-style site do you think are beneficial?

Comment author: aaronde 21 July 2012 05:41:48AM 1 point [-]

Hello, everyone.

Recent college grad here from the Madison area. I've been aware of this site for years, but started taking it seriously when I stumbled upon it a few months ago, researching evidential (vs causal) decision theory. I realized that this community seriously discusses the stuff I care about - that really abstract, high-minded stuff about truth, reality, and decisions. I'm a math person, so I'm more interested in the theoretical, algorithmic side of this. I've been a rationalist since, at 15, I realized my religion was bunk, and decided I needed to know what else I was wrong about.

Comment author: Gaviteros 19 July 2012 06:40:52AM 1 point [-]

Hellow Lesswrong!

My name is Ryan and I am a 22 year old technical artist in the Video Game industry. I recently graduated with honors from the Visual Effects program at Savannah College of Art and Design. For those who don't know much about the industry I am in, my skill set is somewhere between a software programmer, a 3D artist, and a video editor. I write code to create tools to speed up workflows for the 3D things I or others need to do to make a game, or cinematic.

Now I found lesswrong.com through the Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality podcast. Up unto that point I had never heard of Rationalism as a current state of being... so far I greatly resonate with the goals and lessons that have come up in the podcast, and what I have seen about rationalism. I am excited to learn more.

I wouldn't go so far to claim the label for myself as of yet, as I don't know enough and I don't particularly like labels for the most part. I also know that I have several biases, I feel like I know the reasons and causes for most, but I have not removed them from my determinative process.

Furthermore I am not an atheist, nor am I a theist. I have chosen to let others figure out and solve the questions of sentient creators through science, and I am no more qualified to disprove a religious belief than I would be to perform surgery... on anything. I just try to leave religion out of most of my determinations.

Anyway! I'm looking forward to reading and discussing more with all of you!

Current soapbox: Educational System of de-emphasizing critical thinking skills.

If you are interested you can check out my artwork and tools at www.ryandowlingsoka.com

Comment author: HBDfan 15 July 2012 11:43:08AM 3 points [-]

Hi! I have read for a while. I read HPMOR and enjoyed the sequences. I prefer not to say where I live.

Comment author: TGM 12 July 2012 12:30:56AM 3 points [-]

There appears to be two "Welcome to Less wrong!" blog posts. I initially posted this in the other, older one:

I’m 20, male and a maths undergrad at Cambridge University. I was linked to LW a little over a year ago, and despite having initial misgivings for philosophy-type stuff on the internet (and off, for that matter), I hung around long enough to realise that LW was actually different from most of what I had read. In particular, I found a mix of ideas that I’ve always thought (and been alone amongst my peers in doing so), such as making beliefs pay rent; and new ones that were compelling, such as the conservation of expected evidence post.

I’ve always identified as a rationalist, and was fortunate enough to be raised to a sound understanding of what might be considered ‘traditional’ rationality. I’ve changed the way I think since starting to read LW, and have dropped some of the unhelpful attitudes that were promoted by status-warfare at a high achieving all-boys school (you must always be right, you must always have an answer, you must never back down…)

I’m here because the LW community seems to have lots of straight-thinking people with a vast cumulative knowledge. I want to be a part of and learn from that kind of community, for no better reason than I think I would enjoy life more for it.

Comment author: palguay 10 July 2012 05:57:44AM 2 points [-]

Hi Everyone, I stumbled upon this website while reading a comment on reddit, I am a programmer living in India , I came back to India in march after living in the US for 6 years.

I am interested in cognitive psychology and have started working on a pet project of mine to implement the various cognitive tasks available on commercial websites in my own website http://brainturk.com .

I hope to contribute to some discussions and learn from others here.

Comment author: Adriano_Mannino 04 July 2012 01:23:15AM *  11 points [-]

Hi all, I'm a lurker of about two years and have been wanting to contribute here and there - so here I am. I specialize in ethics and have further interests in epistemology and the philosophy of mind.

LessWrong is (by far) the best web resource on step-by-step rationality. I've been referring all aspiring rationalists to this blog as well as all the people who urgently need some rationality training (and who aren't totally lost). So thanks, you're doing an awesome job with this rationality dojo!

Comment author: wedrifid 04 July 2012 05:06:00PM 0 points [-]

Hi all, I'm a lurker of about two years and have been wanting to contribute here and there - so here I am. I specialize in ethics and have further interests in epistemology and the philosophy of mind.

I look forward to hearing what you have to say about each of these fields!

Comment author: TheEleaticStranger 03 July 2012 01:48:17AM 5 points [-]

Hi, I am interested in the neurobiology of decision-making and rationality and happened to stumble upon this site and decided to join.


Comment author: WingedViper 01 July 2012 09:15:28AM 6 points [-]


I'm a German student-to-be (I am going to start studying IT in October) and I am interested in almost anything connected with rationality, especially the self improvement, biases and "how to save the world" parts. I hope that lesswrong will be (and it already has been to a certain amount) one of the resources for (re-)shaping my thinking and acting towards a better me and a better world.

I came here, like so many others ;-), because I wanted to check out the foundations/concepts behind HPMOR and I could not just leave again. So over the last few months I visited again and again to read some of the sequences and posts.

As I am interested in science, especially physics, maths, technology and astronomy, I have a question that I would like to ask the lesswrong community: What is a fast and secure way of determining the trustworthiness of scientists and scientific papers? I ask this because there is a lot of pseudoscience and poorly done science out there which often isn't easy to distinguish from unconventional/disrupting science (at least not for me).

all the best Viper

Comment author: monkeywicked 25 June 2012 09:23:25PM 5 points [-]


I'm a fiction writer and while I strive towards rationalism in my daily life, I can also appreciate many non-rational things: nonsensical mythologies, perverse human behaviors, and the many dramas and tragedies of people behaving irrationally. My criteria for value often relates to how complex and stimulating I find something... not necessarily how accurate or true it may be. I can take pleasure in ridiculous pseudo-science almost as much as actual science, enjoy a pop-science theory as much as deep epistemology, and I can find a hopelessly misguided person to be more compelling and sympathetic than a great rationalist.

However, conveniently, it often turns out that the most interesting stories, the most mind-bending concepts, and the most impressive acts of creativity are born of rationalist thinking rather than pure whimsy. And so I can have my cake and eat it too, because the posts at LW are as likely to create the sensation of mental expansiveness that I associate with great fiction (or, I suspect, compelling theology) while also attempting to be, uh, you know, less wrong.

So it's fun to be here. And if it helps me think and experience the world more clearly and critically... that's gravy.

Recently I've been working on several sci-fi writing projects that involve topics that are discussed at LW. One is about the development of AI and one about the multi-world interpretation. Neither project is 100% "hard sci-fi," however I would ideally like them to be not totally stupid... since I think plausibility and accuracy often produce narrative interest--even if plausibility and accuracy are not, in of themselves, objectives. After doing a lot of research on the topics, I still have many questions. It seems to me that the LW community might be the best place to get clear, smart, informed answers in layman's terms.

I'll fire away with a couple questions and see what happens. If this works out, I'll probably have a lot more...

(I wasn't sure if these ought to be a comments at And the Winner Is... Many World If so, I can re-post there.)

  1. In the MWI its often suggested that anything that could have happened will have happened. Thus, quantum immortality, etc. But this often puzzles me. Just because there are infinite worlds, why should there be infinite diversity of worlds? You could easily create infinite worlds by simply moving a single atom around to an infinite number of locations... but those worlds would be essentially identical. If Everett's chance of surviving each year is 100 - 1% for every year he lives, then wouldn't that mean his chance of being dead at 100 is 100%? Wouldn't that mean he's dead in all worlds? If you send an infinite number of light photons through the double slit their infinite possible locations on the wall are extremely limited. Couldn't the many worlds of the MWI resemble infinite photons being sent through the a double-slit experiment? Infinite in number, but extremely constrained in result?

  2. Is it possible, within the MWI, to have a situation where all but one world experiences some event? E.g. event X happens at time 2 in world 2, time 3 in world 3 and so on so that X appears at some time in every world except world 1. Now say that X is a Vacuum Decay event... wouldn't that mean it is possible to only have ONE viable, interesting world even within the MWI?

  3. David Deutsch, in The Fabric of Reality, claims that a quantum computer running Shor's Algorithm would be borrowing computational power from parallel worlds since there isn't enough computational power in all of our universe to run Shor's Algorithm. Does anyone know what would be happening in the worlds that the computer is borrowing the computational power from? Would those worlds also have to have identical computers running Shor's Algorithm? Or is there some more mysterious way in which a quantum computer can borrow computational power from other worlds?

  4. Is there any hypothetical, theoretical, or even vaguely plausible way for an intelligent being in one world to gain information about the other worlds in the MWI? Interference takes place constantly between particles in our world and other worlds; is there any way to for this interference to be turned into communication or at least advanced speculation about the other worlds? Or is such a notion pure fantasy?

Thanks in advance! If anyone can answer any of these or redirect me to resources inside/outside of LW, I'd be grateful.



Comment author: shminux 25 June 2012 10:08:37PM -1 points [-]

Is there any hypothetical, theoretical, or even vaguely plausible way for an intelligent being in one world to gain information about the other worlds in the MWI? Interference takes place constantly between particles in our world and other worlds; is there any way to for this interference to be turned into communication or at least advanced speculation about the other worlds?

I don't know of any models that propose a mechanism for such a communication (assuming you mean actually sending messages back and forth). A model like that would move the MWI from the realm of interpretations back into something testable. It would be way cool, of course, but don't hold your breath :)

Comment author: OrphanWilde 26 June 2012 03:56:52PM -1 points [-]

One thing about the MWI which confused me at first -

The MWI is not a single interpretation, contrary to the name. There are several different versions of MWI floating around.

I believe the original interpretation had the many worlds existing, but generally independent from one another; a single world represents multiple possible states, but as soon as a state is determined (whatever you want to call this process), the world becomes independent, and ceases to interact with the possible states which weren't realized in that world. (Although different books will tell you different things, this is, as far as I've been able to divine, the original one.) In the original version, worlds split, permanently, from one another. So there would be no way to communicate with them. I believe this is the version Yudkowsky follows.

I've seen references to arguments that the fifth-dimensional variant (where worlds coexist and overlap, implying that some communication is possible) is impossible, but I've never seen the arguments themselves, in spite of looking.

Comment author: pragmatist 25 June 2012 10:04:07PM *  3 points [-]

Welcome to LessWrong! Here are some answers to your questions about MWI:

  1. The space of possibilities in MWI is given by the configuration space of all the particles in the universe. The configuration space consists of every possible arrangement of those particles in physical space. So if a situation can be realized by rearranging the particles, then it is possible according to MWI. There is a slight caveat here, though. Strictly speaking, the only possibilities that are realized correspond to points in configuration space that are, at some point in time, assigned non-zero wavefunction amplitude. There is no requirement that, for an arbitrary initial condition and a finite period of time, every point in configuration space must have non-zero amplitude at some point during that period. Anyway, thinking in terms of worlds is actually a recipe for confusion when it comes to MWI, although at some level it may be unavoidable. The imporant thing to realize is that in MWI "worlds" aren't fundamental entities. The fundamental object is the wavefunction, and "worlds" are imprecise emergent patterns. Think of "worlds" in MWI the same way you think of "blobs" when you spill some ink. How much ink does there need to be in a particular region before you'd say there's a blob there? How do you count the number of blobs? These are all vague questions.

  2. MWI does not play nicely with quantum field theory. The whole notion of a false vacuum tunneling into a true vacuum (which, I presume, is what you mean by vacuum decay) only makes sense in the context of QFT. The configuration space of MWI is constructed by considering all the arrangements of a fixed number of particles. So particle number is constant across all worlds and all times in configuration space. Unlike QFT, particles can't be created or destroyed. So the configuration space of a zero-particle world would be trivial, a single point. If you have more than one particle then all the worlds would have to have more than one particle. None of them would be non-viable or uninteresting. Perhaps it is possible to construct a version of MWI that is compatible with QFT, but I haven't seen such a construction yet.

  3. Deutsch's version of MWI (at least at the time he wrote that book) is different from the form of MWI advocated in the sequences. According to the latter, "world-splitting" is just decoherence, the interaction of a quantum system with its environment. But a quantum computer will not work if it decoheres. So according to this version of MWI, in order for a quantum computer to work, we need to make sure it doesn't split into different worlds. Instead, we would have a quantum computer in a superposed state within a single world, which I guess you can think of as many overlapping and interfering computers embedded in a single larger world. So you're not really harnessing the computational power of other worlds.

  4. On an appropriate conception of "worlds", interference does not take place between particles in our world and other worlds. Interference effects are an indication of superposition in our world, a sign of a quantum system that hasn't decohered. Decoherence destroys interference. It is possible for there to be interference between full-fledged worlds (separate branches of a wave function large enough to contain human beings), but it is astronomically unlikely. You can communicate with other worlds trivially, as long as those worlds are ones which will split off from your world in the future. But otherwise, you're out of luck.

Comment author: Zack_M_Davis 25 June 2012 09:40:19PM *  1 point [-]

However, conveniently, it often turns out that the most interesting stories, the most mind-bending concepts, and the most impressive acts of creativity are born of rationalist thinking rather than pure whimsy.

Yes; I like Steven Kaas's explanation:

Truth is more interesting than fiction because it's connected to a larger body of canon.

Comment author: Evercy 24 June 2012 01:06:37AM 3 points [-]


I am a university student studying biology in Ontario. I've actually known about lesswrong for a few years before I joined. My good friend likes to share interesting things that he finds on the internet, and he has linked me to this site more than once. Over time, lesswrong has grown increasingly relevant to my interests. Right now, I'm mainly reading posts and dabbling in the sequences. But I hope that I will be able to contribute some ideas in posts or comments once I get used to how things work around here. Some things that interest me are rhetoric, anthropology, software engineering, cloning and transhumanism. Oh, and biology of course, since that is my field of study (but something about NEEDING to study it, instead of voluntarily doing so, diminishes my enthusiasm for it haha). I hope I'll get you know all better!

Comment author: Jost 23 June 2012 03:13:17PM 5 points [-]

Hey everyone,

I'm Jost, 19 years old, and studying physics in Munich, Germany. I've come across HPMoR in mid-2010 and am currently translating it into German. That way, I found LW and dropped by from time to time to read some stuff – mostly from the Sequences, but rarely in sequence. I started reading more of LW this spring, while a friend and I were preparing a two day introductory course on cognitive biases entitled “How to Change Your Mind”. (Guess where that idea came from!)

I'm probably going to be most active in the HPMoR-related threads.

I was very intrigued by the Singularity- and FAI-related ideas, but I still feel kind of a future shock after reading about all these SL4 ideas while I was at SL1. Are there any remedies?

Comment author: [deleted] 20 June 2012 08:32:07AM 4 points [-]

Hey LW community. I'm an aspiring rationalist from the Bay Area, in CA, 15 years old.

I found out about this site from Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, and after reading some of the discussions, I decided to become a member of the community.

I have never really been religious at any time of my life. I dismissed the idea of any kind of god as fiction around the same time you would find out that Santa isn't real. My family has never been very religious at all, and I didn't even find out they were agnostic until I recently. That said, I would consider myself an atheist, because I don't have any doubts that there is no god.

I look forward to being a part of this community, and learning more about rationalism.