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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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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)

Comment author: Lara 27 December 2011 12:20:42AM *  29 points [-]

Hello everyone!

Thank You for this site and for sharing your thoughts, for genuinely trying to find out what is true. What is less wrong. This has brightened my view of humanity. :)

My name is Lara, I’m from Eastern Europe, 18 years old, currently studying physics, reading a lot and painting in my free time. For about a year and a half now I’ve been atheist; before then- devout and sincere christian, religious nerd of the church. A lot of things in the doctrine bothered me as compltely illogical, unfair and just silly, and somehow I tried to reason it all out, I truly believed, that the real Truth will be with God and that he will help me understand it better. As it turned out, truth seeking and religiosity were incompatible.

Now I’m fairly ‘recovered’- getting used to the new way of thinking about the world, but still care about what is really true and important, worth devouting my life to(fundamentalist upbringing :)). As I still live with my family, it is hard to pretend all the time, knowing they will have no contact with me whatsoever, when I come out; it is really good to find places like this, where people are willing to dig as deep as possible, no matter what, to understand better.

So thanks and sorry for my english. I hope someday I’ll be able to add something useful here and learn much more.

Comment author: orthonormal 27 December 2011 01:14:08AM *  11 points [-]

Welcome! Your English is excellent, don't worry on that count.

...also, that's a really tough predicament (hiding your atheism from your fundamentalist family), and I don't have anything wise to say about it, except that it isn't the end of the world when they do find out, and that often people will break their religious commitments rather than really abandon their children (so long as they can think of a religiously acceptable excuse to do so). But I'm not really qualified to give that advice. Hang in there!

Comment author: Dustin 05 January 2012 03:42:48AM 7 points [-]

I sympathize with you as I'm an atheist with a fundamentalist family who would cut me out of their lives if they found out.

I also envy you, as you had your enlightenment happen at such an early age. I didn't have mine until I was pushing middle age and had created a family of my own...all whom were also fundamentalist. I still live "in the closet" so to speak...

Comment author: MichaelVassar 27 December 2011 09:57:10AM 7 points [-]

I'm sorry to hear that your family try to control you like this. Do you expect to physically live near them for long? If not, you may not need to tell them. Surely they have behaviors that they don't tell you about too, and don't honestly expect you to actually act as if you believed (just as they probably don't act that way themselves and expected you to grow out of the confused phase in your life when you were doing all that weird stuff that you did as a result of being a sincere and devout christian who expects things to be logical fair and non-silly once understood)

Comment author: Lara 27 December 2011 05:14:14PM *  8 points [-]

Thank you all for support, it is incredibly important.

Unfortunately it is a church norm to cut off everyone who leaves, and the doctrine is such that there is no way to be ‘inbetween’. The community is quite closed and one’s whole life is determined- from the way we dress(girls especially), to the way we make carriers (or stay at home and raise children). So in the beginning I decided not to tell anyone at all, knowing how painful it would be for everyone, but after some time I realised that I could not live like that my whole life; though egoistically, after I earn enough money to leave, I will.

Comment author: MichaelVassar 29 December 2011 10:28:48AM 7 points [-]

There are really a lot of possibilities for finding work if you need it, at least if you are a US citizen. I can help you with that if you want. If nothing else, http://lesswrong.com/lw/43m/optimal_employment/ is available. I bet that if a few LWers could get together to do this (possibly after absorbing some of our West Coast or NYC contingent culture first) and build an amazing community there. email me.

Comment author: thomblake 27 December 2011 05:34:05PM 5 points [-]

To expand on orthonormal's point, note impact bias. If you do end up having to be truthful with them, whatever consequences you're imagining now are probably far worse that what you will actually go through. People tend to carry on just fine.

And remember that the virtue of honesty does not require telling all truths, but rather not communicating falsely. If telling your parents you are an atheist will mean to them that you are an amoral person, maybe you should not say so unless that is also true.

Comment author: obfuscate 27 December 2011 05:05:09AM 26 points [-]

Hi; I'm a lurker of about one year, and recently decided to stop lurking and create an account.

I'm an undergraduate in Portland-area Oregon. I study mathematics and computer science at Pacific University. I've been interested in rationality for a very long time, but Less Wrong has really provided the formalism necessary to defend certain tactics and strategies of thought over others, which has been very...helpful. :)

Speaking of Portland, it seems that there are many Portland Less-Wrongians and yet there is no meetup. I would like to start a meetup, so I need a bit of Karma to get one started.

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: 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: gyokuro 26 December 2011 07:31:18PM 22 points [-]

Hi, I'm 15, so sadly cannot say much of my education yet, but at least I've read a fair deal. I find the ideas on this site somewhat unappreciated among my age group, but fascinating for me. I've lurked here for close to a year, but I'm irrationally shy of speaking over the internet. I hope to contribute if I find what I think interesting, regardless of my adverseness to commenting. Thank you for the welcome!

Comment author: KPier 26 December 2011 07:55:45PM 6 points [-]

There's an email list and occasional online meetups for LessWrong teenagers; you can join here. Welcome aboard!

Comment author: Kallio 27 December 2011 01:03:34AM 21 points [-]

Hi; I've been reading LessWrong for more than a year and a half, now, but I never quite got around to making an account until today.

So, introduction: I'm eighteen years old, female, transgender. I live in California, USA. I don't have a lot of formal education; I chose to be homeschooled as a little kid because my parents were awesome and school wasn't, and due to disability I've not yet entered college.

The road to rationalism was fairly smooth for me. I'm a weirdo in enough ways that I learned early on not to believe things just because everyone else believed them. It took a little bit longer for me to learn not to believe things just because I had always believed them.

I guess my major "Aha!" moment came when I was fourteen, after I finally admitted to myself that I was transgender. I had lied to myself, not to mention everyone else, for almost a decade and a half. I had shied away from the truth every time I'd had the opportunity to see it. And while I'd had pretty good reasons for doing so (Warning: Big-ass PDF), the truth felt better. Not only that, but knowing the truth was better, in measurable ways; it allowed me to begin to move my life in a direction I actually liked.

Avoiding the truth had hurt me enough that I began systematically examining every belief I could think of, and some I would rather not have thought about at all. And thus was a rationalist born.

I found LessWrong in spring of 2010, through Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. I haven't had the time to read all, or even most, of the sequences yet, but I've made a good start on them: so far I've read all of Map and Territory, Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions, Reductionism, and A Human's Guide to Words. I've also read large parts of How To Actually Change Your Mind, as well as bits and pieces of other sequences, and various independent articles. They've helped a lot, both with teaching me things about rationalism which I didn't already know, and making me more sure of the things I'd worked out for myself.

Since I'm interested in not only rationalism, but also in probability theory, transhumanism, and both human and machine intelligence, this has been pretty much my favorite site to read ever since I found it. Thanks for being awesome.

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: 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: 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: Emile 02 January 2012 12:25:53AM 6 points [-]

But there is no universal agreement on the "age of informed consent", it varies from country to country! And yes, the fact that the limit is arbitrary does undermine its strength; there are often scenarios of "reasonable" sex (in that most people don't consider it as wrong) that would be consider statutory rape or whatnot if the law was taken at the letter.

(Also, heck, 10 months is a pretty crappy limit, why not 8 months five days and 42 minutes? 12 months would be much cleaner)

Comment author: Bakkot 02 January 2012 01:43:56AM 4 points [-]

But isn't birth - or first menstruation, or what have you - a much cleaner line? Shouldn't we be going by those, instead? No? Of course we shouldn't; sometimes the obvious choices for where to draw a line are so off from what would be reasonable that we're forced to be arbitrary.

Isn't 20 years a much cleaner line than 17, for age of consent and drinking age? Why not go with those? You have to pick something.

Comment author: Alejandro1 02 January 2012 12:53:26AM 5 points [-]

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.

People disagree about obviousness of such things. For some people, a fetus is obviously a person too. For others, even a mentally deficient adult might not qualify as being obviously a person. Unlike you, I don't expect these disagreements to disappear anytime soon, and they are the reason that the law works better with bright Schelling point lines, if such exist.

This was the reason age was chosen, rather than neurological development.

Age is non-ambiguous, but not non-arbitrary.

Re your final objection, I agree that there are cases such as sexual consent where there are no clear Schelling points, and we need arbitrary lines. This does not mean that it is not best to use Schelling points whenever they exist. In the case of sexual consent, the arbitrariness of the line does have some unfortunate effects: for example, since the lines are drawn differently in different jurisdictions, people who move accross jurisdictions and are not epecially well informed might commit a felony without being aware. There are also problems with people not being aware of their partner's age, etc.

Such problems are not too big and in any case unavoidable, but consider the following counterfactual: if all teenagers underwent a significant and highly visible discrete biological event at exactly age 16, it would make sense (and be an improvement over current law) to have an universal law using this event as trigger for the age of consent, even if the event had no connection to sexual and mental development and these were continuous. The event would be a Schelling point, such as birth is for personhood.

Comment author: Bakkot 02 January 2012 02:08:03AM 9 points [-]

People disagree about obviousness of such things. For some people, a fetus is obviously a person too. For others, even a mentally deficient adult might not qualify as being obviously a person. Unlike you, I don't expect these disagreements to disappear anytime soon, and they are the reason that the law works better with bright Schelling point lines, if such exist.

I don't expect them to disappear any time soon, certainly. The point is taken, but I'm not entirely convinced that birth is sufficiently close to reasonable that we should use it.

As it happens, there is a discrete biological event that happens to women, which even pertains (in a way) to sex. Namely, first menstruation. It's not highly visible, but it's certainly a lot less arbitrary than just picking age 16, which how a lot of places do it. So why use age 16 instead of menstruation, at least for women? I'd argue that the reason is that this point is so far off from what's reasonable that we shouldn't be using it. (We could suppose, counterfactually, that menstruation happened to both men and women and was extremely visible for the rest of their lives, but still happened around age 12 or 13. This would still be an unreasonable point to use. This would also be unreasonable if it were too far in the other direction - age 22 or 23, say.)

And by a similar token, I'd argue that birth is so far off from what's reasonable for personhood that we shouldn't be using it either.

Comment author: Alejandro1 02 January 2012 02:50:38AM *  4 points [-]

This is a very good response, that allows us to make our disagreement more precise. I agree that choosing menstruation, or its hypothetical unisex counterpart, is unreasonable because it is too early. I disagree that birth is too early in the same way. Pretty much everyone in our society agrees that 12-year olds cannot meaningfully consent to sex (especially with adults), whereas many believe 6-month old children to be people -- in fact, many believe fetuses to be people! You might say that they are obviously wrong, but the "obviously" is suspicious when so many disagree with you, at the very least for Aumann reasons.

To put it in another way: What makes you so certain that birth is so far off from what is reasonable as a line for personhood, when you are willing to draw your line at 10 months? That is much closer to birth than 17 is to 12 years old.

Also, I think your analogy needs a bit of amending: the relevant question is, if there was a visible unisex menstruation happening at 17 years old, and an established tradition of taking that as the age of consent, why on earth would a society change the law to make it 16 years and 2 months instead?

Comment author: Bakkot 02 January 2012 03:00:34AM *  5 points [-]

You might say that they are obviously wrong, but the "obviously" is suspicious when so many disagree with you, at the very least for Aumann reasons.

While true, I suspect most or all of those people would have a hard time giving a good definition of "person" to an AI in such a way that the definition included babies, adults, and thinking aliens, but not pigs or bonobos. So yes, the claim I am implicitly making with this (or any other) controversial opinion is that I think almost everyone is wrong about this specific topic.

That is much closer to birth than 17 is to 12 years old

Only if you think development happens linearly. From my knowledge of biology - which is extremely suspect, so do correct me if I'm wrong - the changes between 0 months after birth and 10 months after birth are vastly larger than the changes between 12 years after birth and 17 years after birth.

if there was a visible unisex menstruation happening at 17 years old, and an established tradition of taking that as the age of consent, why on earth would a society change the law to make it 16 years and 2 months instead?

Of course our selection of analogies is reflective of our positions. From my point of view, the most relevant analogy would be a visible unisex menstruation happening at 30 years old*, and an established tradition of taking that as the age of consent, and I'm arguing that no, it should really be 16.

*(This is based on the assumption that you go through about as many developmental changes between ages 16 and 30 as you do between 0 months and 10 months, which - again from my extremely suspect recollection of biology - is roughly correct.)


Comment author: Alejandro1 02 January 2012 03:35:35AM 6 points [-]

While true, I suspect most or all of those people would have a hard time giving a good definition of "person" to an AI in such a way that the definition included babies, adults, and thinking aliens, but not pigs or bonobos. So yes, the claim I am implicitly making with this (or any other) controversial opinion is that I think almost everyone is wrong about this specific topic.

One rough effort at such definition would be: "any post-birth member of a species whose adult members are intelligent and conscious", where "birth" can be replaced by an analogous Schelling point in the development in an alien species, or by an arbitrary chosen line at a similar stage of development, if no such Schelling point exists.

You might say that this definition is an arbtrary kludge that does not "carve Nature at the joints". My reply would be that ethics is adapted for humans, and does not need to carve Nature at intrinsic joints but at the places that humans find relevant.

Your point about different rates of development is well taken, however. I am also not an expert in this topic, so we'll have to let it rest for the moment.

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: 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: drethelin 01 January 2012 08:32:58PM 8 points [-]

I broadly agree that babies aren't people, but I still think infanticide should be illegal, simply because killing begets insensitivity to killing. I know this has the sound of a slippery slope argument, but there is evidence that desire for sadism in most people is low, and increases as they commit sadistic acts, and that people feel similarly about murder.

From The Better Angels of Our Nature: "Serial killers too carry out their first murder with trepidation, distaste, and in its wake, disappointment: the experience had not been as arousing as it had been in their imaginations. But as time passes and their appetite is rewhetted, they find the next on easier and more gratifying, and then they escalate the cruelty to feed what turns into an addiction."

Similarly, cathartic violence against non-person objects (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catharsis#Therapeutic_uses) can lead to further aggression in personal interactions.

I don't think we want to encourage or allow killing of anything anywhere near as close to people as babies. The psychological effects on people who kill their own children and on a society that views the killing of babies as good are too potentially terrible. Without actual data, I can say I would never want to live in a society that valued people as little as Sparta did.

Comment author: Bakkot 01 January 2012 09:27:36PM 8 points [-]

This is definitely the strongest argument I've been able to come up with for making infanticide illegal.

Unfortunately, there's a second slippery slope to watch out for: outlawing things which have the potential to lead to things which are illegal is a dangerous position for a government to take. The children of single mothers are a lot more likely to grow up criminal - should it be illegal to raise a child in a family without two parent figures? Working in retail makes you much more likely to commit violent crimes against the people you work with - should it be illegal to work in a retail job?

Certainly I don't think so, and I doubt you or other reasonable people do either. These things are certainly much less likely to lead to future crimes than infanticide is, but it's a difference of quantity, not quality. The problem is that I don't trust the government enough to make "doing this increases the likelihood that you'll commit a crime in the future" a sufficiently good reason to make something illegal.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 January 2012 09:32:58AM *  4 points [-]

Can't this same be said of last trimester abortions?

In any case much like we find pictures or videos of abortion distasteful, I'm sure future baby-killing society would still find videos of baby killings distasteful. We could legislate infanticide needs to be done by professionals away from the eyes of parents and other onlookers to avoid psychological damage. Also forbid media depicting it except for educational purposes.

Comment author: FiftyTwo 02 January 2012 01:32:32AM *  4 points [-]

I don't think we want to encourage or allow killing of anything anywhere near as close to people as babies.

By what criterion do you consider babies sufficiently "close to people" that this is an issue, but not late term fetuses or adult animals? Specific example, an adult bonobo seems to share more of the morally relevant characteristics of adult humans than a newborn baby but are not afforded the same legal protection.

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: Solvent 02 January 2012 03:16:20AM 5 points [-]

What do you think of abortion?

Comment author: [deleted] 02 January 2012 09:53:43AM *  9 points [-]

Once we get artificial uteri I think it should be illegal except in cases of rape, but it should be legal to renounce all responsibility for it and put it up for adoption or let the other biological parent finance the babies coming to term. This has the neat and desirable effect of equalizing the position of the biological father and the biological mother.

Comment author: gwern 02 January 2012 04:06:42AM 5 points [-]

I have to say, http://lesswrong.com/lw/47k/an_abortion_dialogue/ seems relevant to this entire comment tree.

Comment author: MileyCyrus 01 January 2012 08:32:00AM 5 points [-]

Why is sadism worse than indifference? Are we punishing people for their mental states?

Comment author: lisa 07 February 2012 10:17:24PM *  17 points [-]


I'm a 20 year old student at Georgia Tech, double majoring in Industrial Engineering and Psychology, and am spending the current semester studying abroad at the University of Leeds in the UK.

I read HPMOR this weekend on a bus trip to London and as soon as I returned I found this site and have been enthralled by the Sequences, which I am slowly working my way through.

All of my life I have loved to read and learn new things and think through them, but last year I came to the realization that my curiosity had started to die in my late high school years. I found myself caring about getting a good grade and then abruptly forgetting the information. Much of what I was "learning" I never truly understood and yet I was still getting praise from teachers for my good grades, so I saw no reason to invest more effort. Early last year, I realized that this was happening and attempt to rededicate myself to finding things that again made me passionate about learning. This was a major contribution to adding Psychology as a second major.

This semester of new classes in a new educational system combined with the past few days of reading the Sequences have sparked my interest in many subjects. I'm itching to go to the school library and start picking up anything that catches my interest now that the the thirst to learn has been reawakened. I'm especially interested in Evolutionary Psychology, Social Psychology, and Statistics. I have absolutely no idea what I would like to do as a future career, but have this reoccurring thought that I would love to do some sort of work which involved restructuring the education system. (Every person at my University that I have mentioned that thought to gives me a strange look and says either "Education? You???' or "But then you wouldn't make any money!')

Anyways, I am extremely glad to have found this site and community.

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: 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: 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: 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: dekelron 26 December 2011 05:25:48PM *  16 points [-]

Hi all,

I'm 25 from Israel. I worked in programming for 4 years, and have recently decided to move on to more interesting stuff (either math, biology, or neurology, don't know).

I'm new in LW, but have read OB from time to time over over the past 5 years. Several months ago I ran into LW, (re)read a lot of the site, and decided to stick around when I realized how awesome it is.

Nice to meet you all!


Comment author: Bruno_Coelho 26 December 2011 11:00:21PM 15 points [-]

Hi everybody,

I’m male, 24, philosophy student and live in Amazon, Brazil. I came across to LessWrong on the zombies sequence, because in the beginning, one of my intelectual interests was analytic philosophy. I saw that reductionism and rationality have the power to respond various questions, righting them to something factually tractable. My goals here is to contribute to the community in a useful form, learn as much as possible, become stronger and save the world reducing the risks of human extintion. I'm looking for some advice in these topics: bayesian epistemology, moral uncertain and the complexity of the wishes. If some of the participants in the forum can help me, I will be very grateful.

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: Malevola 24 January 2012 11:35:33PM 14 points [-]

Less Wrong,

After lurking for about a week, I decided to register today. I have read some of the Sequences and a good many posts and comments. I am a life long agnostic who recently began to identify as atheist. I am interested in rationality for many reasons, however, my primary reason is that I'd like to learn more about rationality to help me get over my fear of death. A fear that I feel is very irrational, yet I am unable to shake it. I am 39, female and a mother, I have lots of college under my belt but no degree. I guess I never really cared about that. I am also a schizophrenic and that makes rationality quite challenging for me. (Not that it's not challenging for many people.)
I am looking forward to reading more of the Sequences and hope to be able to comment or post in the near future. I am glad I found this site. Thanks for your time.

Comment author: [deleted] 25 January 2012 11:01:53PM 6 points [-]


I am also a schizophrenic and that makes rationality quite challenging for me. (Not that it's not challenging for many people.)

I agree that rationality is challenging for many people, but your perspective may be unique, at least on LW. Please feel free to add your experience to the pot.

Comment author: jwmares 27 December 2011 04:27:12AM 14 points [-]

I heard about LW from a startup co-founder. I'm 22, in Pittsburgh, graduating college in 4 months and on my 2nd startup. Raised hard-core Catholic, and still trying to pull together arguments from various sources as to the existence of God. The posts on LW have certainly helped, and I'd say I'm leaning towards atheism - though it's been a short journey of only 6 months or so since I've started to question my religion.

I'm very interested in the Singularity movement and how that will shape human philosophy and morality. I've also done some body hacking and started tracking my time, an interest which I think a lot of the LW community shares. Looking forward to becoming more active in the community!

Comment author: orthonormal 28 December 2011 01:23:47AM 8 points [-]


The best unsolicited advice I have to give is this: your philosophical leanings are immensely sensitive to psychology, and in particular to the sort of self you want to project to the people around you. So if you want to decide one way or another on a philosophical question that's tormenting you, the biggest key is to surround yourself (socially, in real life) with people who will be pleased if you decide that way. If you want to do your best to figure out what's true, though, the best way is to surround yourself with people who will respect you whatever you decide on that matter, or else to get away from everyone you know for a week or two while you think about it.

Good luck!

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: 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: RichardKennaway 18 April 2012 11:20:35AM 9 points [-]

The Identikit LessWrongian!

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 17 April 2012 10:31:50PM *  9 points [-]

"Minimalist" is implied by the sparsity of the rest of the comment, and so is ironically redundant.

Comment author: troll 17 April 2012 10:39:47PM 9 points [-]

There are a few other reasons I could be formatting my introduction that way, such as being bad at English or writing in general. I used "minimalist" both as a heads up for the format and to draw away from the other possible explanations.

Comment author: thomblake 18 April 2012 11:56:39PM 8 points [-]

I'm sure you're aware at this point, but with that description you blend into the wallpaper.

Thank you for creating a comment to link "stereotypical Less Wrong reader". If only you were a couple of years older.

Since you're 17, have you looked into the week-long summer camp?

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: MarkusRamikin 17 April 2012 09:08:52PM 4 points [-]

That handle bodes well.

Comment author: Multiheaded 17 April 2012 10:00:36PM 7 points [-]

On an elitist gaming forum I used to frequent (RPG Codex), we called such things "post-ironic" (meaning "post-modern as fuck online performance art").

Basically the joke is that everyone gets the joke, and that allows its author to act as if it was no joke, and self-consciously reference that fact - which is the joke.

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: Pesto 06 January 2012 03:10:19PM 13 points [-]

I'm a 22-year-old mathematics graduate student, moving to Boston next year.

I was recommended HPMoR by another Boston math grad student, followed the authors' notes to read most of the sequences, and then started following lesswrong, although I didn't create an account until recently.

I can't say how I came to actually be a rationalist, though---most of the sequences seemed true or even obvious in hindsight when I first read them, and I've always had a habit of remembering "x tells me y is true" instead of "y is true" when x tells me y is true.

I'm signed up for cryonics. (Current probability estimates 90% that it preserves enough information to be reversible, 95% that I'll die with enough notice to be preserved, 50% that humanity'll advance far enough to reverse it, and 70% that CI'll survive that long.)

I'm vegetarian for carbon efficiency and because the animals that produce most of our meat have negative utility from awful conditions. I don't think sentience is the right standard; is there a good past lesswrong discussion about that?

Comment author: windmil 27 December 2011 05:11:40AM 13 points [-]

Hello all.

I've been lurking around here and devouring the sequences for about two years now. I haven't said much because I rarely feel like I have much that's useful, or I don't feel knowledgeable about the subject. But I thought I might start commenting a bit more.

I'm 19, in Florida and studying engineering. I really want to do something that will bring the world forward in some way, and right now that has me pointed at trying to put my personal effort towards nanotechnology. For now though I'm just trying to win classes and learn as much as I can.

Not too much more than 'hi', but there it is.

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: cousin_it 27 December 2011 01:13:42PM *  11 points [-]

Because, in the end, there is no absolute truth, only facts and opinions.

Eliezer's essay The Simple Truth is a nice argument for the opposite. The technical name for his view is correspondence theory. A short summary is "truth is the correspondence between map and territory" or "the sentence 'snow is white' is true if and only if snow is white".

Comment author: KwHayes 27 December 2011 01:17:10AM *  13 points [-]

Hello! I'm male, 20-something, educator, living in Alberta, Canada. I came across LessWrong via some comments left on a Skepchick article.

My choice to become an educator is founded upon my passion for rational inquiry. I work in the younger grades, where teaching is less about presenting and organizing knowledge and more about the fundamental, formative development of the human brain. Because of this, I am interested in exploring the mental faculties that produce "curiosity behaviors" and the relationship between these behaviors and motivation.

I'm a constructivist at heart; I help guide my students to become masterful thinkers and doers by modifying environmental variables around them. Essentially, I trick them into achieving curriculum-mandated success by 'exploiting' their mental processes. In order to do this effectively, I need to understand as best I can the processes that guide human thoughts and behaviors. This is something I have been interested in since I was young - I am fortunate to have found a career that allows me to explore these interests and use my understanding to better my students'.

I've considered myself to be a rationalist since i was 16 or so, and it's hard to trace my motivations to anything declarative. I have always been a disassembler; As a child, I would take things apart and explore them, but I would rarely put anything back together. Instead, I would use my energy to create new things for myself. This probably alludes to something meaningful about my own brain, but I am so far unable to fully illuminate it.

My goal here is to explore the thoughts and ideas of others and construct enduring understandings for myself. It would be great if these understandings can be applied to education, but satisfying and reinforcing my own curiosity will suffice :). My background is weakly academic; I do not have formal experience with many of the theoretical frameworks that I've seen used here, but I feel that my knowledge and experience will allow me to add some value. I'm a debater, a discusser, and a collaborator, so I think I will fit in pretty well. I'm also excited at the prospect of meeting individuals with whom my interests overlap - so far, the chances seem pretty good!

In short: I am an educator, interested in the way that environment and media interact with the human faculties of inquiry and curiosity. My goal is to understand how these faculties influence motivation, and eventually learning. I am also concerned with the ways that we define all of the above words, and especially what teachers sometimes thoughtlessly call "intelligence." I hope to one day develop a more clear framework of learning as it relates to cognitive processes.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 27 December 2011 01:30:44AM 5 points [-]

Welcome! I hope you'll post about some of the specific methods you're used with your students.

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: 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: 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: Elithrion 02 April 2012 09:17:45PM 11 points [-]

Hello there!

I think I first saw LessWrong about three years ago, as it frequently came up in discussions on KW, the forum formerly linked to the Dresden Codak comic. This makes mine one of the longer lurking periods, but I've never really felt the urge to take discussion to the actual posts being discussed and talked about them elsewhere when I felt the need to comment. All this changed when Alicorn told me that when I was asked to make a post relevant to LessWrong that meant I actually had to post it on LessWrong (a revelation which I should have probably anticipated). So it has come to this.

The simplest place to start describing myself is by saying that I'm the type of person that skims through the 200 most recent comments to see which ones are well liked before writing anything.* In real life terms, I've finished up my bachelor's degree in December, after making various errors. Unfortunately, with it finished, I have discovered that I lack motivation to pursue a standard career, since just about the only things I find myself caring about are stories, knowing the future (in the general, not the personal, respect), and understanding things, particularly things related to people. (This is probably not normal for a human, but I can't say I mind it.) Fortunately, these things are fairly similar to the things LW is interested in, so it shouldn't be a problem!

These atypical weights in my utility function do, however, leave me with opinions that I think are largely a lot "darker" than the typical poster (and I don't just write that for sexy bad-boy appeal). For example:

  • I think utilitarianism is a terrible system to base anything on, and is basically what you adopt if you want to say "I think being nice is good" and want to make it sound like a well-reasoned ethical system. I'd like it better if you just said "I think being nice is good".
  • I think democracy and equality under the law merely look like good ideas because we don't yet have the computational power to implement actually good ideas of which these are at best extremely simplified approximations.
  • I think that seemingly obvious statements such as "we are all agreed that [it] is wrong to kill people (meaning, fully conscious and intelligent beings)", from a highly rated comment by Alejandro1 down the page, are not very obvious and require serious justification. I think there are cases in our world where it is completely acceptable to kill people (although admittedly he probably meant his comment to apply only to a very specific subset of killing people), and there are many possible worlds where such cases would be far more frequent.

Well, the first two of those don't even have much to do with my personal preferences. And yet, I'm not a scary person, I promise! While maybe my utility function makes it easier for me to accept these conclusions, the overwhelming majority of my beliefs actually arose from oodles of thinking about the topics, and they are just things that I think are true, regardless of whether I want them to be true or not. That said, when the enraged zealots come for us, I'm pretty sure I'm going to be one of the first to burn at the stake! I also wish that using smiley faces was more acceptable here, since I would not mind adding an equals sign-three one to the end of that sentence to convey the intended mood a little better.

Well, this has already gone on too long already, but I hope you were not too bored. I might as well mention that at the moment, I'm trying to write a realistic post-apocalyptic novel (where the recovery has set in enough that they're ahead of the previous all-time high), and applying for a Center for Modern Rationality helper position, since I think these things are interesting, and I'd like to explore them before moving on to uninteresting survival strategies if necessary.

Bye for now, and I hope we have illuminating conversations together!

*If you're curious what I found, here are the general conclusions (although some of these are fairly low confidence):

  • introductions that include the person's real name are a little bit better liked, but not significantly
  • there is no particular correlation between length and upvotes
  • most introductions reach a rating of 5 over time, even if they're relatively content-free
  • including something that praises LW or HPMoR or the community has a small positive correlation with upvotes
  • introductions which trigger responses of any sort are generally upvoted more (not surprising since they're more visible and overall upvotes per view seem almost universally positive)
  • introductions that describe something fairly unique get noticeably more upvotes
  • general good writing style helps (big surprise there)
  • posts that primarily promote something unrelated to introductions are rated lower
  • mentioning having a PhD or other real-world qualifications seems to be fairly karma-neutral
  • other minor things I have even less confidence in
Comment author: drnickbone 20 January 2012 07:21:46PM 11 points [-]

Hi, I'm Nick Bone ... Just joined the site.

I'm based in the UK and interested in a wide variety of topics in science and associated philosophy. In particular, the basics of rationality (deductive and inductive logic, Bayesian Theorem, decision theory), foundations of mathematics (logic and set theory). Plus some of the old staples (classical arguments for/against existence of God, first cause, design, evil and so on).

My background is in mathematics and computer science (PhD in maths) and I'm currently working in an area of applied game theory. Generally I found the site by Googling, and the quality of discussion seems rather higher than on other discussion boards. Hope I can contribute.

By the way, I started off by putting together some thoughts on the "Doomsday Argument" and Strong Self-Selection Assumption which I hadn't seen discussed before. Since I'm brand new, and have no karma points, I'm not sure where to post them. Any suggestions?

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: Baughn 05 January 2012 12:17:19PM 5 points [-]


Though for a starter, what in particular are you confused about?

You might want to start by skimming Making Beliefs Pay Rent and Belief in Belief, which lacking evidence to the contrary I believe are most likely to be helpful.

Comment author: [deleted] 30 December 2011 08:11:32PM *  11 points [-]

Hello LW community, my name is Karl, but please call me MHD for short; here's a lot of sentences beginning with "I..." :

I am a 19 year old, slightly gifted individual, male of gender and psyche, bi, hard to define my preferred relationship structure; honestly my gonads and sexual preference are mostly irrelevant here.

I came here by way of HPMoR and was pressed to do some serious reading by my good friend, known around here as Armok_GoB.

I have at time of writing read sequences MaT and MAtMQ along with some non-structured link-walking, looking to read Reductionism next. My attitude is so far positive, but I read it with a healthy dose of sceptic afterthought and note-taking to verify that it really does make sense. You see, my native language is not English, and I have read a study that one is more gullible when communicating in a non-native language.

My mind is built for logical thinking and I have a knack for mathematics, physics and language. I know approx. 12 turing complete programming languages (C likes, LISPs, ML family, SmallTalk-esque, Assembly) reasonably well. I am looking into Tensors, Bayesian probability, formal logic, type theory, quantum physics, relativity, human psychology, Lojban and some other stuff.

Armok tells me that I am very susceptible to basilisk material; I one-box (eff me! bad error to switch those around, sorry), and I tend to fall for the Planning Fallacy and the Transparency-thingey. I am probably genetically predisposed to mild mental illness and I know from personal experience how bad a Death Spiral can really get.

I am a devoted materialist, I hate not understanding things (or at least knowing how to learn how it works), but I tend not to go into too much depth with everything; I know a bit of many topics.

I am not a fan of cryonics because I know that freezing, regardless of method, is a very good way to destroy tissue; and I would like to see some more evidence towards what actually constitutes memory and other brain-related stuff, so as to make sure the freezing method doesn't wreck it, before I buy into it.

I do some creative writing and I like sci-fi. I lack time to read as well as a book budget, another point which Armok has called me out on.

I think that's about what's relevant. Happy New Year LW!

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 30 December 2011 10:55:55PM 19 points [-]

I am not a fan of cryonics because I know that freezing, regardless of method, is a very good way to destroy tissue

Cryonics uses vitrification, which protects from the tissue-destroying crystal formation.

Comment author: wedrifid 31 December 2011 12:11:39AM *  6 points [-]

I am not a fan of cryonics because I know that freezing, regardless of method, is a very good way to destroy tissue; and I would like to see some more evidence towards what actually constitutes memory and other brain-related stuff, so as to make sure the freezing method doesn't wreck it, before I buy into it.

Oh oh. That argument was just removed. Now what are you going to do? You can make up a new one to support your existing conclusion or you could make up a new conclusion based on what you know.

Welcome to lesswrong.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 31 December 2011 12:42:32AM 8 points [-]

This seems needlessly confrontational, especially as a comment to a newcomer.

Comment author: kerspoon 27 December 2011 10:02:50AM 11 points [-]


I'm a 26 year old guy from the UK. I've finished writing my Ph.D. thesis in "Quantification of risk in large scale wind power integration" and I'm now working as a phone-app framework developer. I spent the last year on a round the world travel where I have spent a lot of my time writing practical philosophy. After coming back I found this site and read the core sequences. I loved them, they echoed a lot of my previous thoughts then took them much further. I felt like they would be easier to understand if they were one article so I have been re-writing bits of them for my own benefit. I am in two minds whether to post them here but I would appreciate the feedback to see if I have understood what was written.

Comment author: WhiskyJack 06 April 2012 03:11:42PM 10 points [-]


tl;dr This seems like a place that I can use to shore up some of my cognitive shortcomings, eliminate some bias and expand my worldview. Maybe I can help someone else along the way.

I have been reading the material here for the last several days and have decided that this is a community that I would like to be a part of and hopefully contribute to. My greatest interests are improving my map of the territory(how great is that analogy?), using my constantly improving map to be a better husband and father, and exploring transhumanist ideas and conceits.

I came to be a rationalist when I started reading somewhat milquetoast skeptical literature. Having been raised religious and having served in the Marine Corps I have found that I have a tendency to allow arguments from authority too much credence. If I am not careful I can serve as quite the dutiful drone.

It became important over the last few months that I be able to do as much of my own philosophical and scientific legwork as possible. If an author or speaker that I enjoy espouses ideas I am inclined to agree with it is vital (in my estimation) that I either be able to verify the information presented myself or locate reliable independent verification. This is the type of thinking that I feel I owe my wife and son. LessWrong seems like it aligns well with that ideal. Bias and gullibility kill.

The religious arguments were fun at first, but have become boring. The issue is resolved to my satisfaction. I tend to approach things scientifically instead of philosophically. I struggle to grok philosophy. I think that means I need to redouble my efforts there. My maths could use work, but aren't as sorry as some folks. I get algebra and have survived a few classes in statistics. Keyword: survived.

I am slowly chewing my way through the sequences and learning a good bit. I'm not the fastest thinker, so I will have to read some of them a few times to get the ideas involved. Some of the quantum ideas seem wildly exotic, but that just means I am going to have to really brush up on my physics....of which I have none. I'm not about to make an argument from incredulity there. I don't know enough to HAVE an opinion yet.

I used to read Common Sense Atheism and I find myself now thinking, "Ah, this is what Luke was going on about.' There is some pretty cool stuff here and I look forward to contributing what I can.

Comment author: whiteswan21 15 March 2012 02:48:19AM 10 points [-]

Greetings, everyone. My name is Elizabeth, and I am a young adult female beginning to learn how to think for herself. I stumbled across this website right after reading Alicorn's fanfiction Luminosity in the summer of 2010. Due to some personal issues, life in general, and a dead hard drive, I stopped visiting Less Wrong up until a couple of weeks ago.

I found Less Wrong attractive because of its being a free resource on learning the art of rationality. Borderline Personality Disorder runs in my family, and so my hypothesis is that I personally am drawn to things like LW partly in order to "self-medicate" after years of chaos, unpredictability, and irrationality. Chances are likely that I will be very quiet on this website for several months at least: for one thing, that is my usual modis operandi when learning about and researching a topic; for another, it would seem that I need to thoroughly acquaint myself with the sequences and other such work in order to fully understand and be able to contribute to more recent posts/discussions.

Comment author: Hermione 23 February 2012 01:54:42PM 10 points [-]

Hi there. I'm Hermione (yes, really). I went to my first LW meetup recently and I'm now working on the Rationality Curriculum, so it feels like time to introduce myself and start getting involved in discussions.

There are a lot of things I'd be interested in talking about. I only found LW a couple of months ago so I'm trying to level up in rationality and work out how to teach others to do so at the same time. I'll probably be posting about this and asking for advice. Has anyone written about their experiences of reading the sequences for the first time? Should I try and absorb things really quickly, or is it better to take it slowly, and if so, what comes first? That kind of thing.

I've also been inspired by Alicorn's Luminosity sequence and have been piloting a beeper experiment, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi style. In order to understand myself and my moods better, I've been recording what I'm doing and how I feel at random times (3x/day). I'd like to improve the indicators I've been using. I struggle to get the right balance between quantitative (more analysable) and qualitative (more accurate). Any suggestions?

Finally, I'd really like to meet some more rationalists in person, so please PM me if you're in Brussels!

Comment author: Lleu 07 January 2012 05:25:44PM 10 points [-]

19 male, currently in Florida.

Used to be a hardcore Christian. Then I started looking for alternate explanations and wound up believing in magic because I wanted it to be real. Then I read HP:MoR and it changed my life. My head is on a lot straighter now.

At first I thought this was just something cool. Then I was talking to someone about investing a fairly large amount of money. As we were talking, I was conscious of myself changing my plans to agree with him simply because he was nice. Despite this, he still changed my mind even though I recognized that he did it by being nice instead of a good argument. Had to go home before I could think clearly again.

It scared me that I could be so easily swayed by the Dark Arts, as I've heard them referred to. This might be something worth taking seriously after all.

So now I'm about to use what I learned to buy a car. A year ago, I would've just gone down with an informed friend and pick up something functional. Now I'm going down with a friend and a journal, identifying several possible vehicles and taking notes, then spend a week doing research on price, making sure I'm not being swayed by the salesman being nice, etc. before I actually spend any money.

I look forward to becoming less wrong.

Comment author: Locke 27 December 2011 04:12:38PM 10 points [-]

So, am I a second-class citizen because I found this place via MoR?

Anyways, I've been Homeschooled for the majority of my education thus far, mostly due to my Creationist parents' concerns about government-run schools. Fortunately they didn't think to censor the internet, and here I am. My PSATs showed me in the 98th percentile, so I expect I'll be able to get into a decent university. Plan A has always been Engineering, but after going through a few of the more inspirational sequences I think I may readjust my plans and try to do some good for this planet. How does one get into the Singularity business?

Comment author: thomblake 27 December 2011 04:33:08PM *  6 points [-]

So, am I a second-class citizen because I found this place via MoR?

I'm pretty sure that accounts for most of our new readership over the last year or so.

ETA: To actually answer the question, no.

How does one get into the Singularity business?

I'm pretty sure the preferred method here currently is #1 below, but here are some options:

  1. Make lots of money doing something else and then give it to SIAI.
  2. The lukeprog method: Be insanely awesome at scholarship and get tens of thousands of Lw karma in a few months and be generally brilliant and become a visiting fellow and wow everyone at SIAI.
  3. Go start your own Singularity. With blackjack. And hookers.

Also, I'm generally of the opinion that having been suddenly inspired by something you read recently should be evidence against that thing being what you should do with your life (assuming your prior is based on your feelings about it). You should check out some of the material by Anna Salamon on how to take that kind of decision seriously (I don't have a useful link handy).

Comment author: blob 25 April 2012 02:57:10PM 9 points [-]


I'm a mathematician and working as a programmer in Berlin, Germany. I read HPMOR after following a recommendation in a talk on Cognitive Psychology For Hackers and proceeded to read most of the sequences.

Reading LW has had several practical consequences for me: Spaced repetition is awesome for memorizing things I value. Efficient charity has lead to me giving more and being more confident about it actually having positive effects. I read a book on small talk and try to practice. I stopped using cheap multivitamin supplements and currently only take vitamin D. My spare time is mostly used to care for my daughter these days - I got some modafinil and am experimenting with getting extra time this way.

I'm also part of a small Berlin LW meetup: spuckblase and me have met twice - and now we got contacted by two other Berlin based lurkers which prompted the creation of a wiki entry and a mailing list. We're now planning the first meetup that will actually get a meetup post and be announced in advance.

Comment author: coffeespoons 05 April 2012 12:26:11PM 9 points [-]


I've been occasionally reading for a while, and have decided to get a login. I suppose the reason I'm here is that it's become important in the last 2 years or so that my beliefs are as accurate as possible. I've slowly had to let go of some beliefs because the evidence didn't seem to support them, and while that's been painful it has been worthwhile.

I'm also a friend of ciphergoth's - we've discussed less wrong a lot! I don't feel like I know a great deal yet - I still need to read more of the sequences, so I'll stick to asking questions until I feel I know more :-).

I'm 28, female, and I live in Cambridge, UK. My academic background is in the philosophy/politics/economics area, and I work in accounts.


Comment author: Modig 30 January 2012 01:21:56AM *  9 points [-]

I'm very excited to have found this community. In a way, it's like meeting a future, more evolved version of myself. So many things that I've read about here I've considered before, but often in a more shallow and immature way. A big thanks to all of you for that!

To the topic of me, I'm 24, male, and Swedish. After studying some of PJ Eby's work, I identify strongly as a naturally struggling person. I've been trying to figure out why for all my life, I think I read Wayne Dyer at about the same age as Eliezer read Feynman. Since then I've read a lot more, and at this point it seems like I have very credible explanations for why things turned out as they did.

Still, even though I might think I ought to have the tools now to stake out a better future path for myself, I'm plagued by learned helplessness and surrounded by ugh-fields. But as I see it there is only one best way forward - to learn more and then attempt to do things better.

I'm a great admirer of the stoic philosopher Lucius Seneca. Here's a short segment from one of his letters that resonates with me:

It is clear to you, I know, Lucilius, that no one can lead a happy life, or even one that is bearable, without the pursuit of wisdom, and that the perfection of wisdom is what makes the happy life, although even the beginnings of wisdom makes life bearable.

And a few paragraphs down...:

Philosophy is not an occupation of a popular nature, nor is it pursued for the sake of self-advertisement. Its concern is not with words, but with facts. It is not carried on with the object of passing the day in an entertaining sort of way and taking the boredom out of leisure. It moulds and builds the personality, orders one's life, regulates one's conduct, shows one what one should do and what one should leave undone, sits at the helm and keeps one on the correct course as one is tossed about in perilous seas. Without it no one can lead a life free of fear or worry. Every hour of the day countless situations arise that call for advice, and for that advice we have to look to philosophy.

I believe that the topics being explored on this site are a natural extension of what Seneca and his contemporaries termed philosophy. To live more purposefully, to be happy and to contribute more to others, studying these topics isn't optional, it's essential. And that's why I'm so glad this community exists and that I've found it.

Comment author: SpaceFrank 25 January 2012 07:32:04PM 9 points [-]

Hello, Less Wrong.

Like some others, I eventually found this site after being directed by fellow nerds to HPMOR. I've been working haphazardly through the Sequences (getting neck-deep in cognitive science and philosophy before even getting past the preliminaries for quantum physics, and loving every bit of it).

I can't point to a clear "aha!" moment when I decided to pursue the LW definition of rationality. I always remember being highly intelligent and interested in Science, but it's hard for me to model how my brain actually processed information that long ago. Before high school (at the earliest), I was probably just as irrational as everyone else, only with bigger guns.

Sometime during college (B.S. in mechanical engineering), I can recall beginning an active effort to consider as many sides of an issue as possible. This was motivated less from a quest for scientific truth and more from a tendency to get into political discussions. Having been raised by parents who were fairly traditional American conservatives, I quickly found myself becoming some kind of libertarian. This seems to be a common occurrence, both in the welcome comments I've read here and elsewhere. I can't say at this point how much of this change was the result of rational deliberation and how much was from mere social pressure, but on later review it still seems like a good idea regardless.

The first time I can recall actually thinking "I need to improve the way I think" was fairly recent, in graduate school. The primary motivation was still political. I wanted to make sure my beliefs were reasonable, and the first step seemed to be making sure they were self-consistent. Unfortunately, I still didn't know the first thing about cognitive biases (aside from running head-on into confirmation bias on a regular basis without knowing the name). Concluding that the problem was intractable, I withdrew from all friendly political discussion except one in which my position seemed particularly well-supported and therefore easy to argue rationally. I never cared much for arguing in the first place, so if I'm going to do it I'd prefer to at least have the data on my side.

I've since lost even more interest in trying to figure out politics, and decided while reading this site that it would be more immediately important anyway to try figuring out myself. I've yet to identify that noble cause to fight for (although I have been interested in manned space exploration enough to get two engineering degrees), but I think a more rational me will be more effective at whatever that cause turns out to be.

Still reading and updating...

Comment author: Konradical 19 January 2012 09:06:21PM *  9 points [-]

Hello. My name is Konrad and I stumbled upon LessWrong a few weeks ago from Reddit. I've browsed some of the main pages since then, but until now haven't committed to reading much. I hope that after registering I'll be able to participate in the community and learn more. I'm 16 years of age and would describe myself as an agnostic theist. I'd also say that I'm curious about knowledge and the world so hopefully I'll learn a lot from this website.

Comment author: Ebelean 02 January 2012 07:00:37PM 9 points [-]

Hi y'all. I'm a senior in high school in the Silicon Valley who's been lurking for a couple of months. I've been working my way through the Sequences since then. I don't know how much I have to contribute to the discussion, since I'm a bit of a newcomer to rationalism, but I enjoy reading everyone else's discussions.

I was introduced to this site through my philosophy class- a research project on transhumanism led me to Eliezer Yudkowsky's site, which led me to here. I came here for the Sequences, stayed here for the intelligent discussion (just like almost everyone else on this page). I'm really interested in computer science and economics and how they intersect with rationality.

Comment author: madison 27 December 2011 12:59:26PM *  9 points [-]

Hi everyone. 23 year old south american software developer/musician here. I've been lurking around and reading for a couple of months now and I've found a lot of useful and interesting information here. It has actually triggered in me a lot of thinking about thinking, about reflexivity and the need for being aware of one's methods of thinking/learning/communicating etc.

I've been having some thoughts lately on the positive aspects of "rationality-motivated" socialization, mainly because of what I've learned of LW's weekly meetups and also because it has been, so far, pretty difficult to find someone who's interested about rationality. The first google searches took me nowhere, though I have still to look somewhere around philosophy/mathematics departments of local universities.

Anyway thanks for the information and the friendly welcome, and also for the big corpus of material you make available.

Comment author: bramflakes 26 December 2011 08:25:40PM 9 points [-]

Hello, I'm 16 years old and from the UK. I found this blog via MoR and I'vebeen lurking for a few months now (this is my first post I think), and I'm slowly but surely working my way through the sequences. I think I've gotten to the point where I can identify a lot of the biases and irrational thoughts as they form in my brain, but unfortunately I'm not well-versed enough in rationality to know how to tackle them properly yet.

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: 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: 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: [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: 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: Lykos 30 May 2012 08:00:47PM 8 points [-]

Hello, everyone. I'm Lykos, and it's a pleasure to finally be posting here. I'm a high school junior and I pretty much discovered the concept of rationality through HP:MoR. I'm not sure where I discovered THAT. I'm an aspiring author, and am always eager to learn more, and rationality, I've found, has helped me with my ideas, both for stories and in general. I've currently read the Map and Territory sequence, and am going through Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions. I doubt I'll be posting much- I'll probably be spending most of my time basking in the intelligence of the rest of you.

Either way, it is a pleasure to join the community. Thank you.

Comment author: Rada 02 April 2012 07:04:38PM *  8 points [-]

Hello to all! I'm a 17-year-old girl from Bulgaria, interested in Mathematics and Literature. Since I decided to "get real" and stop living in my comfortable fictional world, I've had a really tough year destroying the foundations of my belief system. Sure, there are scattered remains of old beliefs and habits in my psyche that I can't overcome. I have some major issues with reductionism and a love for Albert Camus ("tell me, doctor, can you quantify the reason why?" ).

In the last year I've come to know that it is very easy to start believing without doubt in something (the scientific view of the world included), perhaps too easy. That is why I never reject an alternative theory without some consideration, no matter how crazy it sounds. Sometimes I fail to find a rational explanation. Sometimes it's all too confusing. I'm here because I want to learn to think rationally but also because I want to ask questions.

Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres brought me here. To be honest, I hate this character with passion, I hate his calculating, manipulative attitude, and this is not what I believe rationality is about. I wonder how many of you see things as I do and how many would think me naive. Anyway, I'm looking forward to talking to you. I'm sure it's going to be a great experience.

Comment author: wallowinmaya 02 April 2012 10:51:06PM 4 points [-]

Hi Rada, welcome to Lesswrong!

I share your aversion for reductionism, at least from an emotional albeit not epistemical point of view. I'm afraid we have to deal with living in a reductionistic universe. But e.g. this post might persuade you that even a reductionistic universe can sometimes be quite charming, although by no means perfect.

Oh, and yay for Camus! (Although "Nausea" is obviously far superior to "The Stranger" :-) )

Comment author: Rejoyce 18 March 2012 09:18:07PM *  8 points [-]

Salutations and whatnot! My name is Joyce, I'm a high school sophomore. Probably on the younger side of the age spectrum here, but I don't mind starting young. The idea of rationality isn't new to me, I've always been more inclined to the "truth", even when it sometimes hurts. In my mind knowing more about the truth = better person, so that's my motivation for being here. I'm have better grades than the average, but for the past couple of years the thing I hated most about myself was the fact that I usually "coast" a class, get my A, and then promptly forget everything I've done in the class. My goal was "get an A", not "learn something new". I'd like to learn new things now, and actually retain it, instead of just coasting by. Knowledge is power. I want to be the best, like no one ever was.

Um. When I was younger, perhaps ten, while I was tinkering with Photoshop, my older cousin approached to me and tried to introduce to me the idea of fallacies. He's...nine years older than me, so he was a barely an adult. I forgot most of the conversation, but from what I DO remember, blaming a stomachache on the last thing you ate was falling prey to SOME fallacy because it takes a day to digest food and thus you should think about what you ate 24 hours before, not two. (by the way I think this is wrong, your body reacts to bad food quicker than that, and can anyone tell me what fallacy this is? If it exists?) He also said if I wanted to win a lot of arguments I should learn about more fallacies. I was kind of doubtful and sort of didn't really care about the whole thing, but it must have been significant if the hard drive that is my brain hadn't completely forgot about it already.

What brought me here was Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, and what brought me to HPMoR was the writer Aspen in the Sunlight who wrote the Harry Potter fanfiction series A Year Like None Other (I didn't capitalize that correctly), and what brought me there was dragcave.net and from there I'm not quite sure. It was nearly three years ago, after all.

Ah, what else should I say. I'm an INTP. Psychology is the loveliest subject ever, oh it's just the most fun subject ever. I'm sort of taking AP Psych next year. And by that I mean buying the textbook off ebay or something and self-studying it along with my friend from another school who actually has the course, because my school doesn't offer the class. sigh Milgram's experiment was interesting and a little shocking, it's almost become my conversation starter ("Did you know that two-thirds of people would administer 450-volts of electricity through a person because a guy in a white lab coat told them to?"). Not sure what I want to be when I grow up, though I'm very well versed in computer technology. If not that, then law.

Someyears in my life I want to teach for a few years, just to experiment and find out what the best teaching method actually is. Traditional methods are so boring, and since a significant amount of my peers don't actually respond well to the current learning environment there obviously needs to be some updating to do. Electronics are going to be so cheap in the future, I could probably make my potential students shell out some 30 dollars for a decent tablet, install some heavily modded operating system, (Android/Apple if advanced enough by that time, Linux if not) lock it so my students can't tinker, and integrate that heavily in the curriculum. Sync my own tablet with all of theirs, kill some poor school's wi-fi. Maybe actually make a points system. Now that I typed that out it's losing its effectiveness appeal, but gosh, it'd at least be interesting.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 18 March 2012 11:51:27PM 4 points [-]

He also said if I wanted to win a lot of arguments I should learn about more fallacies.

This is actually one danger of learning about fallacies: you become more able at defeating arguments, and this holds irrespective of their truth, so if you have a standard tendency to privilege arguments for the positions you already hold, that makes it harder for you to change your mind. See the post Knowing About Biases Can Hurt People.

Comment author: jacobt 15 January 2012 01:48:07AM *  8 points [-]

Hello. I'm a 19-year-old student at Stanford University majoring in Computer Science. I'm especially interested in artificial intelligence. I've been reading lesswrong for a couple months and I love it! There are lots of great articles and discussions about a lot of the things I think about a lot and things that I hadn't thought about but proceeded to think about after reading them.

I've considered myself a rationalist for as long as I can remember. I've always loved thinking about philosophy, reading philosophy articles, and discussing philosophy with other people. When I started reading lesswrong I realized that it aligned well with my approach to philosophy, probably because of my interest in AI. In the course of searching for a universal epistemology I discovered Solomonoff induction, which is an idea that I've been obsessed with for a couple years. I even wrote a paper about it. I've been trying to apply this concept to epistemology and cognitive science.

My current project is to make a practical framework for resource-bounded Solomonoff induction (Solomonoff induction where the programs are penalized for taking up too much time). Since resource-bounded induction is NP-complete, it can be verified in polynomial time. So I decided to create a framework for verifying generative models. Say we have a bunch of sample pieces of data, which are all generated by the same distribution. The distribution can be modeled as a program that randomly generates a sample (a generative model). The model can be scored by Bayes factor: P(model) * P(sample[0]|model) * P(sample[1]|model) * ... In practice it's easier to take the log of this quantity, so we have the total amount of information contained in the model + the amount of information the model needs to replicate the data. It's possible to prove lower bounds on P(sample[i]|model) by showing what random decisions the model can make in order to produce sample[i]. I've partially developed a proof framework that can be used to prove lower bounds on these probabilities. The model is also penalized for taking up too much time, so that it's actually practical to evaluate models. I've started implementing this system in Python.

Part of the reason why I created an account is because there are some deep philosophical issues that algorithmic generative models raise. Through studying these generative models scored by Bayes factor, I've come up with the generative explanation hypothesis (which I'll call the GEH): explanatory models are generative, and generative models are explanatory. A good generative model for English text will need to explain things like abstract ideas, just as a good explanatory model for English text does. The GEH asserts that any complete explanation of English text can be translated into a procedure for generating English text, and vice versa. If true, the GEH implies that explanatory ideas should be converted into generative models, both to make the models better and to understand the idea formally.

There are a few flaws I see so far with the GEH. The Bayes factor counts all information as equal, when some information is more important than other information, and a generative model that gets the important information (such as, say, an explanation for the way the objects in an image are arranged) right should be preferred to one that gets low-level information a little better (such as by slightly improving the noise prediction algorithm). Also if the model is penalized for taking too much time, it might use more time to optimize unimportant information. This seems to be a way that algorithmic generative models scored by Bayes factor are worse than human explanatory models.

Regardless of the GEH I think generative models will be very useful in AI. They can be used to imitate things (such as in the Turing test). They also can be used for biased search: if a program has a relatively high probability of generating the correct answer when given a problem, and this has been verified for previous problems, it is likely to also be good for future problems. The generative model scoring system can even be applied to induction methods: good induction methods have a high probability of generating good models on past problems, and will likely do well on future problems. We can prove that X induction method, when given problem P, has at least probability Q of generating (already known) model M with score S. So a system of generative models can be the basis of a self-improving AI.

In summary I'm interested in algorithmic generative models both from a practical perspective of creating good scoring methods for them, and from a philosophical perspective to see to what extent they can be used to model abstract ideas. There are a lot of aspects of the system I haven't fully explained but I'd like to elaborate if people are interested. Hopefully I'll be discussing these ideas as well as lots of others here!

Comment author: agravier 04 January 2012 11:53:10PM 8 points [-]

Hi Less Wrong, I'm a PhD researcher in Computational Neuroscience, with a background in AI and machine learning, and some past experience in the computing industry as software engineer. I live in Singapore, although I am French. Are there other members residing in Singapore?

Comment author: glennonymous 31 December 2011 12:33:35PM 8 points [-]

Hi all,

My name is Glenn Thomas Davis. I am a 48-year old male living in Warren, NJ with my wife and 5-year old daughter. I was born and raised in Ketchikan, Alaska. I am a creative director for a pharmaceutical marketing agency. I have been interested in science and skepticism since reading Godel, Escher, Bach in my 20's, but became a really serious skeptic and atheist after I started listening to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe podcast in 2005ish. I beacame a fan of Eliezer and the Singularity Institute after seeing him speak on Bloggingheads 3 years ago, and I recently subscribed to the Overcoming Bias NYC listserve.

Most of my online friends are from the San Francisco Bay Area where I lived for many years. Not exactly the world's most rational bunch, and they don't often appreciate my atheist rants. I have been delaying introducing myself here because I am resistant to putting in the effort and time to become a known presence from the ground up, or even to write a proper introductory post. However, it recently occurred to me I could just share pieces of writing I've already done for other, less like-minded groups. Here's one:


(In response to an otherwise rational person who trotted out the following canard in a post about religion)

None of this proves there is no soul (you can't prove a negative).

The statement "you can't prove a negative" is meaningless. Or you could say that it is true in a technical, superficial way, but useless.

This is because your statement applies equally well to ALL nonsensical claims. After all, I can't prove Santa Claus doesn't exist. True, we could fly to the North Pole right now and demonstrate there is no Santa Claus there, but you could always argue that his workshop is invisible. Or that Santa Claus is real, but his workshop is in an undisclosed chicken coop in Jamaica. Or... ?

Saying "you can't prove a negative" perpetuates a pernicious distortion, which is that science is about the black-and-white notion of proving and disproving things. As you know, that is NOT what science is about. Science is about reducing our level of uncertainty about how well our beliefs map onto reality. Looking at it this way gives us a useful way to address the question of whether Santa Claus exists.

To reduce our uncertainty about the existence of Santa Claus, we can try to find alternative explanations for the phenomena that are supposed to be explained by the existence of Santa Claus. Which of these claims is more likely to be true?

  1. There is a real Santa Claus who travels on a flying sled and delivers presents to children everywhere each Christmas Eve.

  2. Santa Claus is a fictional character. Children who receive Christmas presents usually receive them from their parents and relatives, who find it useful to lie to them sometimes about the existence of Santa Claus.

I can't completely prove or disprove either of these claims any more than I can prove or disprove the existence of any other supernatural character, but lines of evidence could be marshaled that would establish that 2 is more likely to be true than 1, beyond a reasonable doubt.

This applies equally well to the question of the existence of gods and ghosts:

  1. Human consciousness resides in a disembodied energy field, called a 'soul', that persists after death.

  2. Human consciousness resides in human brains, and perishes when a person's brain stops working, i.e. at death. The idea of a 'soul' is a myth left over from the days when humans lacked a detailed understanding of the way mental processes work.

The same thing I said WRT to the existence of Santa Claus applies to these two claims. I cannot prove or disprove either claim, but I can marshal a great deal of evidence for scenario 2, and little or no good evidence for scenario 1. Hence 2 is correct beyond a reasonable doubt, by which I mean beyond the doubt of a person who applies the same rules of evidence and logic to this question he applies to any question in which he has no investment in the outcome.

The existence of Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny is thus on EXACTLY the same footing as the existence of gods or ghosts of any variety. A person who takes action on the premise that there are invisible ghosts that will help or hinder them is in the same position as the person who doesn't buy any presents for their children, on the basis that their children have been good this year, surely Santa Claus will arrive to deliver presents under the tree on Christmas morning...

I respectfully urge you to therefore stop saying "you can't prove a negative," as if this somehow puts the existence of gods and ghosts in a special category where it isn't subject to the same rules of evidence to which we all subject all the other claims people make, every day.


Nice to meet you all --Glenn Thomas Davis

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: orthonormal 28 December 2011 01:47:11AM 8 points [-]

It sounds like the Straw Vulcan talk might be relevant to some of your thoughts on rationality and emotion...

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: thomblake 27 December 2011 05:26:48PM 5 points [-]

That's just about right. Humans are massively irrational; but we tend to regard that as a bug and work to fix it in ourselves.

Comment author: thomblake 27 December 2011 04:47:51PM 8 points [-]

It's been a while, so I just wanted to express approval of these welcome threads. A glance over the comments we've gotten over the years should reveal that they really do make people feel welcome and help people get into discussion on the site.

Comment author: xumx 27 December 2011 12:24:33PM 8 points [-]

I'm 22, Male, an undergraduate at Singapore Management University studying information systems. Interest in AI.

I want to live a "good" life, but different people/culture uses different value systems to view life... some focus on the 'Ending', some focus on the 'Journey', some sees no value at all... Therefore, I'm looking for a way to objectively measure the value of a person's life. (not sure if that is even possible)

Found LW while reading up on Singularity. Would love to make some LW friends. feel free to add me on facebook~ http://fb.me/mengxiang

Comment author: cousin_it 27 December 2011 01:25:09PM *  6 points [-]

some focus on the 'Ending', some focus on the 'Journey', some sees no value at all... Therefore, I'm looking for a way to objectively measure the value of a person's life. (not sure if that is even possible)

Try watching Daniel Kahneman's TED talk The riddle of experience vs memory, it's nice and seems relevant to your question.

Comment author: Vaniver 26 December 2011 10:39:49PM 8 points [-]

It happens to all of us sometimes, and it's perfectly acceptable to ask for an explanation.

I'd like to note that while acceptable to ask for an explanation, it is downright counterproductive to be petulant. Don't bother getting upset until you know why.

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: 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: 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: 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: [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: 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: 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: chloejune123 07 May 2012 08:28:24PM 7 points [-]

Hi! I found LW by HPMoR like so many other people, and I have found a lot of interesting articles on here. I'm only 12, so there are tons of articles that I don't understand, but I am determined to figure them out. My name is Chloe and I hope that we can be friends!

Comment author: Raiden 24 February 2012 05:40:19AM 7 points [-]

Hi, I am Raiden. For most of my life I have been an aspiring rationalist, even though I didn't call myself by that name. I was raised to think that I was some sort of super genius (it was a big shock in my later elementary school years to discover that I wasn't the smartest person in the world). This had the effect of causing me to associate some of my identity with intelligence. This led me to be a traditional rationalist; I had much admiration for the Spock stereotype, and I have been a atheist since childhood despite a fundamentalist religious family. In my freshmen year of high school, I was exposed to some self-help books that led me to seriously consider other virtues besides intelligence to be of value. This slowly revolutionized my view of the world.

Over the course of the next summer, I was exposed to the philosophy of Objectivism, and quickly became a strong adherent to it. I was from the beginning in agreement with the "Open Objectivist" group which said Objectivism is not a complete philosophy. I agree that objectivism descended into some sort of cult, and that Ayn Rand was one of history's greatest hypocrites. I also came to believe that this didn't disqualify the soundness of the philosophy itself. Over time though, the philosophy began to lose its grip on my mind. I still consider myself to be some sort of Neo-Objectivist however, as many of Rand's ideas shape my opinions.

Very recently I have discovered Less Wrong and was expose to its version of rationality, which I came to wholeheartedly adore. I have so far I have at least skimmed the Sequences, and I believe I have a basic understanding of rationality. My goal right now is to scan and absorb all the Sequences and then read some rationality-related textbooks. With a fundamental understand of rationality down, I will then re-examine all of my important beliefs from philosophy to politics to religion. After I come to a better understanding of rationality and the world, I will decide on goals and values and systematically work for them. I also plan to contribute to Less Wrong.

I am at the age of sixteen, so please don't discriminate against me based on that. I consider myself to be far more mature than most people my age, and far more mature than I was even a few months ago. I am currently recovering from what may only be called an existential crisis, but in my outward behavior I am perfectly stable and sociable. Deep down inside I have a burning desire to know the truth. In my opinion, that is one of the greatest measures of one's character.

Comment author: Spectral_Dragon 15 January 2012 03:31:59AM *  7 points [-]

Hello! I came here researching free will for a school project. I'm currently 18, studying science at a fairly basic level in a small town in Sweden. I've so far read a few articles and the sheer amount of interesting thoughts in the articles made me want to stay. When I read what Lesswrong stands for, I knew I wanted to be a part of it, to try to become a better, hopefully wiser person.

I've liked philosophy for a long time, and don't usually like "because" as an answer for anything. I want to find out reasons behind everything. I'm so far not as good as I wish, due to limited time and wanting to read a lot of the articles, but not having enough time. However, I find it difficult to abandon half-read articles, even though they can be a bit of a long read compared to what I'm used to, excluding books.

Since I'm easily influenced by new ideas, too, as long as they make sense, I'm expecting myself to switch a lot. Lesswrong seems interesting, anyway, and I want to know more. I want more perspectives and thoughts. So far Lesswrong seems wonderful, and I think I'll like it. Hoping the community can oversee shortcomings when needed, but I'm expecting you all to be a nice bunch.

For science, and a greater understanding. Hopefully I'll be able to learn from you. But it's late now, and I'll be going now. Just thought I'd say hi.

Comment author: mbrubeck 02 January 2012 10:26:33AM 7 points [-]

I'm a long-time occasional reader/lurker, since the Overcoming Bias days. I was introduced to this community years ago by Patri Friedman whom I know socially from college. (As long as I'm name-dropping, I also shared a suite with Steve Rayhawk at the same school...) In the past year I read and loved MoR, and took Stanford's online AI class, both of which prompted me to finally go back and read all of the main sequences and related back-material.

My degree is in math and computer science. I currently work as a programmer for the Mozilla project, and I'm trying to work on projects to use technology to solve important problems for humanity. I'm also a parent of a preschooler, which I find creates many new challenges in rationality (even in possibly trivial situations, like teaching children about Santa Claus). And although I am an atheist, I attend a Quaker meeting. Similar to Buddhism, I find (some varieties of) Quaker practice both compatible with and conducive to rational thought. I might find something useful to say about this in discussions here about meditation, religion, and community.

Comment author: Gob_Bluth 27 December 2011 05:57:37PM 7 points [-]

Hello, I'm a high school senior who discovered this site somewhere on reddit and deeply enjoyed this article (http://yudkowsky.net/rational/the-simple-truth) and decided to check out more posts. I'm planning on studying engineering in college but I try to have a well-rounded knowledge on a myriad of subjects apart from math and science. The content here is very enticing and intellectually stimulating, and I will probably frequent this site in the future.

Comment author: JohnW 27 December 2011 04:40:33PM 7 points [-]

Hi everyone. I am an engineering graduate student in the SF Bay area, and will be working at a tech company in the south bay starting in the summer.

I have been lurking on this forum for about a year and a half, but this post convinced me to register for an account. I serendipitously found Less Wrong through an interesting post about the Amanda Knox murder trial. I have read a few of the sequences and all of MoR. I hope to get more involved in the future!

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: 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: CWG 25 May 2012 09:23:20AM *  6 points [-]

Greetings! I joined under my usual username a little while ago, that I use everywhere on the web. Then I realized - this is very public, and I'd rather not worry about potential clients or employers drawing conclusions from what I write about my akrasia, poor planning, depression or anything like that. So here's the version of me that's slightly less connected to my real life identity.

Very briefly:

  • I feel pretty much at home here.
  • Rationality is awesome.
  • HP:MOR is not only awesome, it's also my favorite Harry Potter book by a long way.
  • Rationality has not always helped me in having happy relationships. But sometimes it has.
  • I'm a former Christian, and though it had many benefits, the useful part of what I learned in 9 years could be compressed into a part-time course of a few months, without the superstitious stuff.
  • I struggle with planning and focus - I often have no sense of time.
  • I could probably be described with terms like akrasia, ADD and executive dysfunction, and maybe even Aspergers, aka high-functioning autistic. I'm not throwing the terms around lightly - a counselor suggested I had ADD (and it makes sense) and a number of people in my family (grandfather, brother, nephew) show many of the signs of high-functioning autism.
  • I work with a non-profit that I'm passionate about, but I want to be much more effective.
  • I have a discussion question I want to post about project management tools, but I don't have the points. I'd just passed the 20 points needed on my old account, but I'm back to zero as "CWG". Upvotes will make me smile :-).
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: LordSnow 09 May 2012 05:24:03PM 6 points [-]

Hi everyone! I am still a high school student but very interested in what I read here on LessWrong! I decided to register to contribute to discussions. Until now, I have been lurking but hopefully I will be able to join the conversation in a useful way.

Comment author: rejuvyesh 16 April 2012 10:43:43AM 6 points [-]

Hello everyone!

I am Jayesh Kumar Gupta. I am from Jodhpur, India. I have been interested in rationality for some years now. I came across this site via HPMOR. I had been reading posts on the site for some years now, while trying to wade my way through the gigantic Sequences, but was not confident enough to join this group, (people here seem to know so much). Right now I am an undergraduate student at IIT Kanpur. Hopefully I too will contribute something to the site in the future.


Comment author: farsan 16 April 2012 06:56:12AM 6 points [-]

Greetings, everyone.

My name is Francisco, and I am from Malaga, Spain. I am a dabbling rationalist, and a programmer/troubleshooter.

I started walking the path of rationality when I started keeping track of good luck/normal luck/bad luck events in order to check if Murphy's law was actually true, and then wondering why people actually believed in it. Later, I started reading about fallacies, and I finally arrived at LW via HMPOR, like many people.

I am currently reading my way through the Sequences, but my current project is to make Bayes' theorem more accessible to people without math backgrounds. I have a couple of ideas that I'd like to refine and share at this community, even if English is my second language.

Comment author: larsyencken 08 April 2012 10:20:34AM 6 points [-]

Hi all,

My name's Lars. I'm from Melbourne, Australia, and have a background in software/mathematics/languages. I've also tutored classes in logic and artificial intelligence. Like a lot of folks commenting here, I've been reading articles on LessWrong for a while, but now I'm keen to understand the community around it a bit more.

I've been interested in rationality for some years. One of my favourite posts so far is "Intellectual Hipsters and Meta-contrarianism". It helped me notice signalling in arguments, and reduce greatly the amount I do it myself.

I think people struggle to keep track of all the different aspects of big societal issues, so I'm very interested in tools to help people share their arguments, evidence and understanding better. I notice when we talk about issues, our short term memory severely limits the depth of what we can discuss. Writing is definitely better, but I wonder, is it the endpoint? Has anyone had much success with argument mapping tools, or other alternative ways of expressing reasoning and evidence?

Comment author: Mutasir 06 April 2012 08:39:46AM *  6 points [-]

Hello everyone! I'm 19 years old BA student of Finance & Accounting from Poland. For some time I have been interested in rationalism, yet in my country internet community oriented with it is rather fledgling and mostly just non-theist in nature. I was brought here by HPMOR. I know Bayes' Theorem from my statistics classes, but it wasn't until recently that I began to understood how it could influence my way of thinking.

Please forgive me if I make small language errors in my posts, while I understand mostly everything written here (barring things that I would not initially comprehend even if I were a native speaker of course ;) ), it has been a long time since I have written anything in English myself and my skills need a little polish.

Now I'm somewhere midway through Core Sequences but hope to participate in the discussions in the future. I am very happy to join you here :)


Comment author: thespymachine 03 April 2012 06:10:39PM 6 points [-]

Hello to the LessWrong universe.

I'm 23 years old. A lover of music (Last.fm): Ravel, Mozart, Radiohead, Sigur Rós, Animal Collective. And driven to learn.

My goal right now is to become a philosophy professor, and participate in radical, reason oriented movements to influence social change.

I value the intellect, the body, life, and the universe. I value learning - to improve the lives of others and myself, and to live most accordingly with 'nature.' I value those who direct themselves in a rational manner.

My rationality quest began when I was a child, always using legos to build new things and drawing. Eventually video games came into my life and problem solving drove me. However, due to immaturity and the social life of a middle/high schooler, I never really progress intellectually despite my love for science and 'deep' conversations with friends.
It wasn't until I was 20, and ended my relationship with a girl that philosophical thought dawned upon me. It was sparked by the breakup, because her family was religious and I molded myself to that lifestyle, but when it was over there was nothing there. I suppose, after losing who I thought was the love of my life, I began to search for 'purpose.' A few philosophy courses and a dive into Stoicism pushed me to realms of thought I had never began to contemplate.
Since then I've been progressing my learning on my own through literature, philosophical writings, conversation, and free online references. And I found myself here because my StumbleUpon lead me to a blog from a philosophy professor who linked to this site.

I really want to become a value member of this community, to help myself and others.

Comment author: [deleted] 30 March 2012 04:04:10PM 6 points [-]

Hi, my name is Alexey, and although I've been around the website for a while and have been an active LessWrongian in real life meetups, I haven't actually introduced myself on the website yet. So here it goes.

I am an undergraduate student at the University of Cambridge, specialising in synthetic biology and aiming to go on to do research in that field. I am interested in raising x-risk awareness within the SynBio community and advancing a safe approach to research in this area.

I was introduced to LW by a friend, and soon realised that there is actually a community of rational people interested in much the same things as I am. I have enjoyed reading the Sequences and have definitely learned a lot.

Since finding the LW website and community has been such a great experience for me, I introduced many of my friends to it, have participated in setting up the Cambridge meetup group; and more recently organised the first meetup in Budapest. I find it very rewarding to be able to talk to and make friends with fellow rationalists!

As for my interests within the scope of LW, I find that I am interested in self-improvement in terms of identifying and overcoming biases, building and expanding rationalist communities and working on x-risk reduction in synthetic biology. In fact, I find that biologists are underrepresented within the LW community and hope that my knowledge of the subject can translate into useful contributions to the discussions here on the LW website, and in real life LW meetups!

Comment author: [deleted] 26 March 2012 11:53:29AM 6 points [-]

I'm male, early 40s who grew up in the midwestern US but have lived in the UK for the past 10 years. I had a very strong evangelical/fundamentalist upbringing, but at the same time an obsessively "rational" attitude which developed in large part from my covert reading of period sf (the sort in which rebellious yet rational engineers outsmarted their rigid hierarchically-minded superiors and their extremely technologically advanced antagonists at the same time). No surprise therefore that my religious beliefs began to dissolve as soon as I went to university, finally coming out of the closet as a de-convert in 1999.

I'm a postdoctoral researcher in cognitive science - with secondary interests in philosophy of science, especially the manner of scientific inference and the different extents to which Bayesian inference has taken hold in different scientific domains at the present time. I've been lurking here for a few years after seeing posts or comments in various places elsewhere by people like ciphergoth and David Gerard (neither of whom I know in person).

I also tend to make way too many parenthetical statements when I write; even though I am completely aware I am overdoing it I just can't avoid it.

Comment author: Crouching_Badger 26 March 2012 04:07:09AM 6 points [-]

I'm reposting this here because there was a thread swap and I didn't get any takers in the former thread. Please let me interview you! It will be fun and wont take up too much time!

Hello, my name is Brett, and I am an undergraduate student at the University of North Texas, currently studying in the Department of Anthropology. In this semester, my classmates and I have been tasked with conducting an ethnographic study on an online community. After reading a few posts and the subsequent comments, LessWrong seemed like a great community on which to conduct an ethnography. The purpose of this study is to identify the composition of an online community, analyze communication channels and modes of interaction, and to glean any other information about unique aspects of the LessWrong community.

For this study I will be employing two information gathering techniques. The first of which will be Participant Observation, where I will document my participation within the community in attempts to accurately describe the ecosystem that comprises LessWrong. The second technique will be two interviews held with members of the community, where we will have a conversation about communication techniques within the community, the impact the community has had on the interviewees, and any other relevant aspects that may help to create a more coherent picture of the community.

It is at this point that I would like to ask for volunteers who would like to participate in the interview portion of the study. The interview will take from forty-five minutes to an hour and a half, and will be recorded using one of several applicable methods, such as audio recording or textual logs, depending on the medium of the interview. If there are any North Texas area members who would like to participate, I would like to specifically invite you to a face-to-face interview, as it would be most temporally convenient, though I am also available to use Skype, one of any other voice-based, online communication systems or the telephone to communicate.

If you are interested in participating, please send me a PM expressing your interest. If there are any questions or comments about the nature of the study, my experience with Anthropology, or anything else, please feel free to reply and create discourse. Thank you for your time.

Comment author: pleeppleep 27 February 2012 12:08:01AM *  6 points [-]

Hi, I'm Josh. I found this site by way of HPMOR more than half a year ago, but just now got around to making an account. I hadn't seen any reason to until I actually had something to add to a conversation. After registering and leaving a few comments here and there, i figured i may as well introduce myself.

Im 17 years old and trying to narrow down what to do with my life. My long term goal, much like most patrons to this site, is to do as much as i can to aid the development of FAI. Im smarter than the vast majority of people, but i doubt that im anywhere near intelligent enough to add directly to the project, so the issue becomes finding a career that pays enough to allow large donations while also satisfying short term needs and pressures, (most of which are related to serving my ego which is of an astronomical size).

Im generally a slacker due to akrasia, with a C average for my first two years of high school, despite almost straight A's on exams ( ive raised it to a B average after finding Less Wrong, but im still putting off doing my homework even at this moment).

I spend a good deal of time trying to figure ways to introduce rationality to my friends and relatives, but without much luck. any advice on the issue would be helpful, but i think that question would be more appropriate for an open thread or discussion.

I'm motivated on the most basic level by the fact that something is horribly wrong with the world when it doesn't have to be. If i could sum up my life in any one purpose it would be ensuring that death is banished from the world never to touch mankind again. This is the same sentiment that led to the creation of this community and i will try to offer as much as i can.

Comment author: Swimmer963 27 February 2012 12:38:33AM 4 points [-]

Welcome, Josh! It sounds like you're in a similar place to my brother right now, with similar interests. He goes by zephyrianr on LW, maybe you could send him a message if you're interesting in talking about these issues. Especially when I read your phrase: "If i could sum up my life in any one purpose it would be ensuring that death is banished from the world never to touch mankind again," I think you two would get along well.

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: mesilliac 22 January 2012 10:44:11AM 6 points [-]

Hello Less Wrong.

I've been lurking for a while and just decided to register. I have occasionally wanted to comment, but felt i should have an intuitive understanding of the community and its values before doing so.

I consider myself to have been trained in rationality from a very young age. My father was a philosophy professor, and at many points in my life i have found myself referring back to conversations with him in which he attempted to demostrate how to think correctly. I also consider my mother to be a strong rationalist, and thus consider myself quite fortunate in my upbringing.

I came across this site after reading and enjoying Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality by Eliezer Yudkowsky (up to ch. 77). I could say many good things about the work, but please let "thank you for the entertainment" suffice. I await any upcoming installments with mildly pleasant expectation.

I admire the basic premise of this site - that of being less wrong - and wish all others who follow the same path the best in life. I doubt i will become a prolific community member, but hope that i can contribute in some small way.

I have studied Mathematics and Physics to at least a BSc level, and also consider myself a competent programmer with interests in AI and reality modeling. I have many other interests, but prefer to keep them secret until called upon.

Thanks for reading :) Tommy / mesilliac

Comment author: [deleted] 17 January 2012 12:55:56AM 6 points [-]

Hey everyone,

I'm a 20 year old student of Serbian literature (from Serbia). I found this site while browsing through some math blogs and it seems very nice.

About me: Currently my main interest is writing short stories. I view them as arranging words so they appeal to my own emotions, intuition, subconscious, what not. I also like mathematics and I like to explore relations and find out new rules between numbers, lines, etc., although it sometimes bores me because my imagination has to be strictly inside the boundaries of logic there, while with literature I can do anything that pleases my taste, personal desires. Both are manifestations of human imagination (just like music, or drawing), but literature could be called 'dirty' because it is not stripped from our colorful humanness. I've been introduced to rationality when I was 15 as I started programming. Before that I liked to play alone and construct giant slides for marbles, I like to draw maps. My mother thought me to personify objects when I was a kid - "Do not tear the flowers, it hurts them!" - that lead me to think that such things, as well as houses, etc. have human properties. A house would have an intention, a toy would be sad if we leave it on the floor, cars would be happy or angry, etc. I know that such a worldview is not very helpful or practical, but it is sure fun to see things like this sometimes! What triggers it usually is when I enjoy purely sensual activities where meaning and logic are excluded (sex, e.g.). Walking out into the dark with such an attitude to reality can also be scary sometimes - everything is vibrant, full of life, emotion, humanness - I get oversensitive, I guess, like an unknowing little animal.

Although I have tried pushing myself in more practical directions, looks like that I turn back naturally to my art. So I decided to hope for writing some stories/books that will influence people in some peculiar way, depending on how they react to such ideas. I have felt some guilt because of my artistic attitudes before - "You should be a programmer, a physicist, a mathematician!" I thought to myself, because I thought that picking a job where pure rational thought is needed is what every man should strive for, while unnecessary things such as artistic tendencies (with all its quirks) should be left behind as some illness that people overcome when they realize how reality really works. But I act on behalf of my instincts - and if I try not to, I feel sad. So I listen to them, mostly.

One question I have been turning around in my mind recently - are there limitations of mathematical explorations? Or will things keep growing, branching and getting more complex year after year? Is a mathematician someone who is happy if he can grab a bucketful of water out of the ocean? The world seems amazingly broad to me and my work compared to it as just a pile of symbols which might trigger thoughts another system has learnt to associate with them. However, no matter how big and cold things are, I think there is no reason to be scared. Usually, sadness would come from denying the obvious truth. To live is a miracle indeed (sorry if I got cheesy by the end ;).

Comment author: harshhpareek 16 January 2012 11:08:48AM 6 points [-]

Hi, I've been lurking on LessWrong for quite a while now - around a year -, but saw this post and decided to comment. I hope this is useful as feedback to the admins.

I'm a 22 year old student at UT Austin. As of last Fall, I'm pursuing a PhD in Computer Science. My specialization is Machine Learning. And I'm committed to doing everything in my power to hasten the Singularity :P. I have a BTech in CS from IIT Bombay, India.

I've considered myself a rationalist for as long as I can remember. I found less wrong through Overcoming Bias and from Elizier's posts about Bayes' Theorem and Decision Theory related posts which are linked around the internet. I stuck around because of the Rationality quotes threads and the relation to the Singularity Institute. I didn't think of it as a community so much as a multiple-author blog back then. Then I came to Austin, and I started attending the weekly meetups here. We have a small group, but it's great to find a set of like-minded people, and it's an important part of my week. I've been following Less Wrong a lot more closely since then. The group also rekindled my interest in SciFi. I bought a kindle, and I've been reading a fair bit now, along with a healthy dose of Non-Fiction. I haven't been writing in the comment threads, primarily out of laziness, but I'm trying to force myself out of it. I'm currently rereading Methods of Rationality ( I stopped somewhere in the middle last time), and I'm reading the sequences on my Kindle now (so thanks to whoever converted them to MOBI!)

I am a vegetarian being born into a pious Hindu family. Religion wore off as I became an atheist in my early teens. But I continue to be a vegetarian for moral and environmental reasons.

Comment author: regis 11 January 2012 02:24:15PM 6 points [-]

Hello, I'd like to keep this short; hopefully that's ok. I am 22. I live in the SF bay area and have been living here for the last 5 years. I am a self-taught computer scientist, with a bachelor's degree in a more 'creative' field. Currently I am most interested in computer vision as well as various social aspects of technology. I've been making my way through the sequences in the past couple weeks, but I've been reading the LW discussions for about a year now.

Comment author: macronencer 11 January 2012 12:50:47PM 6 points [-]

Greetings from Southampton, UK.

Male, 46, Maths graduate, software developer, career in transitional state (moving into music composition - slowly!).

Until about the age of 30 I didn't really make an effort to identify my own biases and irrational beliefs, and I had a lot of unsupported beliefs in my mind. I've been gradually correcting this through online reading and thinking, but I feel that until recently I lacked one of the essential elements of wisdom: clarity of focus. I'm hoping to learn that now.

Since I was divorced in 2004, I've increasingly become someone who would self-identify as a Transhumanist, and I used to hang out with a H+ group in London for a while (UKTA).

I found LW very recently, when I was researching an online probability puzzle and I needed to refresh my memory on the Bayesian approach. I now regard this as a very happy accident and I look forward to a pleasant few months of digging deeply into LW and teaching myself to become as rational as possible.

I gobbled up HP:MoR in just a few days, losing significant sleep while doing so: it's extremely addictive :) I've not read the sequences yet but they look interesting, and it strikes me that the "titles, then summaries, then contents" approach to library conquest mentioned in the fanfic would be a good idea in this context.

Happy to be here!

Comment author: faul_sname 02 January 2012 08:21:16AM 6 points [-]


I've been reading LessWrong for a year or so, and made an account about two months ago to comment on the survey. Seeing as I have continued to comment, I suppose that I should introduce myself.

I am an 18 year old college student, majoring in neuroscience. I don't affiliate politically, though I do have opinions on specific policy issues. In particular, I think that we should allow more experimental policies if the potential risks are not too high, perhaps testing them locally.

I don't remember exactly how I came to start reading LessWrong, but I have suspicion that it may have been through the xkcd forums. I was drawn here by the sequences, and I stay because of the high quality of discussions on this site.

Comment author: Andrew-Psyches 31 December 2011 12:18:17AM 6 points [-]


I'm Andrew, a 41 year old actuary, living in Chicago (and Sao Paulo in the summers). I came to rationality under the influence of Ayn Rand and the writing of Richard Dawkins but actually found the site after being sent a link by my sister. I am not a computer programmer at all, but read extensively on subjects like behavioral psychology, physics, genetics, evolution, and anything interesting related to real science. I am trying to apply the lessons from behavioral psychology and many other fields (including game theory, space design, use of incentives and others) to the problem of getting people healthy. In that sense, I describe myself as a wellness actuary.

I'm an atheist and I'm looking forward to learning more by reading the posts on this blog and getting to know the interesting minds that seem to populate this community.


Comment author: Laur 28 December 2011 12:30:28AM 6 points [-]

Hi, I'm Laur, I'm in my mid-thirties (wow, when did that happen?), a software developer from Romania, currently living in the Netherlands. I found this site, as many others, via MoR, and I've been lurking for a while now - I'm subscribed to the RSS feed and slowly working my way through the sequences.

When young (and arguably foolish), I've made a few "follow your heart' kind of decisions that resulted in significant damage to my personal life, finances and career. For the past seven years I've been working my way out of that hole mainly by analysing and double-checking my personal choices in a rational way and it has paid off in a big way. I learned that the heart does not think, and the first instinct is good for keeping you out of the reach of lions, but worthless when contemplating a complicated problem with far-reaching consequences.

I personally believe in a humanist approach to rationality, where people are taught, helped and guided along this path. I'd rather live in a world where most people are rational most of the time than in one where some people are rational all of the time. Working towards that end, I've recommended LW (and MoR) to most people I know.

Comment author: sabre51 27 December 2011 08:16:27PM 6 points [-]

I've posted a few rationality quotes, so it sounds like time to introduce myself. I'm a 22 year old software project manager from Wisconsin, been reading LW since June or so when MOR was really going strong.

I've been a very rational thinker for my whole life, in terms of explicitly looking for evidence/feedback and updating behaviors and beliefs, but only began thinking about it formally recently. I was raised Christian, and I consider my current state the result of a slow process of resolving dissonance based on contradictions or insufficient/contrary evidence. I'm most interested in theory of government and achieving best results given the rather unreliable ability of voters to predict or understand outcomes of different policies.

I also think, though, that ethics is just as important as rationality- choosing the correct goals is just as necessary as succeeding towards those goals. I've seen appreciation of this within LW that, for me, really sets it apart, so I hope I can make a larger contribution. As someone once said, the choice between Good and Evil is not about saying one or the other, but about deciding which is which.

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: 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: 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: 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: GESBoulder 14 June 2012 12:31:06AM *  5 points [-]

Hello to the LW Community. My name is Glenn, 49, from Boulder, Colorado. After completing my Master's degree in Economics, I began a career in investment management, with a diversion into elected politics (a city council, a regional council of governments, then the Colorado state legislature, along with corporate on non-profit boards). My academic work focused on decision theory and risk analysis and my vocation on their practical application. Presently, I manage several billion dollars' worth of fixed-income portfolios on behalf of local governments and non-profits across the United States. I've also worked with the U.S. government doing training for centrist, pro-democracy parties in the emerging world.

My path to you was through a Youtube interview of Steve Omohundro. My path to him was general background research on AI, space exploration, energy, computer science and nanotech in my sometimes seemingly vain attempt to keep pace with the accelerating change in the world.

My beliefs on what is left of my religion, albeit starting off half way gone as a Presbyterian, after subjecting it to astrophysics (my original undergrad major), evolution, Jung, critical analysis of the Bible, skepticism, Lucifer (as in the light baring meme for the enlightenment and American Revolution), objectivism, experience, rationalism, is well outside of orthodoxy, say, Christian humanism. I remain very skeptical of the genius of anyone or any group to plan or scheme or act as a virtuous vanguard. I believe that power is best defused.

I bring to the table experience and knowledge of economics, finance, politics and public policy formation. I'll do a lot of deferring on other subjects. I think the work here on rationalism and at SI is of critical importance. You all have my highest regard. I too look forward to your influences on me becoming less wrong.

Comment author: Paul_G 08 June 2012 02:19:27AM 5 points [-]

Hi! My name is Paul, and I've been an aspiring rationalist for years. A long time ago, I realized implicitly that reality exists, and that there is only one. I think "rationality" is the only reasonable next thing to do. I pretty much started "training" on TvTropes, reading fallacies and the like there, as well as seeing ways to analyze things in fiction. The rules there apply to real life fairly well.

From there, I discovered Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, and from there, this site. Been reading quite a bit on and off over the past little while, and decided to become a bit more active.

Just visited a meetup group in Ottawa (which is about a 2 hour drive), and I no longer feel like the only sane man in the world. Meeting a group of Bayesian rationalists was incredibly enlightening. I still have a lot to learn.

Comment author: prashantsohani 01 June 2012 05:20:49PM 5 points [-]

Hello, everyone! I'm 21, soon to graduate from IIT Bombay, India. I guess the first time I knowingly encountered rationality, was at 12, when I discovered the axiomatic development of Euclidean geometry, as opposed to the typical school-progression of teaching mathematics. This initial interest in problem-solving through logic was fueled further, through my later (and ongoing) association with the Mathematics Olympiads and related activities.

Of late, I find my thoughts turning ever more to understanding the working and inefficiencies of our macro-economy, and how it connects with basically human thought and behavior. I very recently came to know of Red Plenty, which seems generally in line with the evolutionary alternative described in the foreword to Bucky Fuller's Grunch of Giants.. and that is what made me feel the need to come here, actively study and discuss these and related ideas with a larger community.

Having just started with the Core Sequences, looking forward to an enriching experience here!

Comment author: e_c 14 May 2012 03:44:23PM 5 points [-]

Hello folks! I'm a student of computer science, found Less Wrong a few years ago, read some articles, found myself nodding along, but didn't really change my mind about anything significant. That is, until recently I came across something that completely shattered my worldview and, having trouble coping with that, I found myself coming back here, seeking either something that would invalidate this new insight or help me accept it if it is indeed true. Over the past few days, I have probably been thinking harder than ever before in my life, and I hope to contribute to discussions here in the future.

Comment author: Kindly 12 May 2012 10:30:24PM 5 points [-]


I'm a graduate student in mathematics and came across Less Wrong by, uh, Googling "Bayes' Theorem". I've been putting off creating an account for the past month or so, because I've had absolutely no free time on my hands. Now that the semester's winding down, I've decided to try it out, although I may end up disappearing once things get going again in the fall.

Out of the posts I've read on LW so far, I'm the most impressed by the happiness and self-awareness material -- but also intrigued by the posts on math, especially probability, and will hopefully have something to contribute to those (because, well, probability is what I do). And then there's HPMOR.

We'll see what I end up doing now that I have the power to insert permanent impressions of my thoughts into the content of this website.

Comment author: Alerus 07 May 2012 03:48:56PM 5 points [-]

Hi! So I've actually already made a few comments on this site, but had neglected to introduce myself so I thought I'd do so now. I'm a PhD candidate in computer science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. My research interests are in AI and Machine Learning. Specifically, my dissertation topic is on generalization in reinforcement learning (policy transfer and function approximation).

Given this, AI is obviously my biggest interest, but as a result, my study of AI has led me to applying the same concepts to human life and reasoning. Lately, I've also been thinking more about systems of morality and how an agent should reach rational moral conclusions. My knowledge of existing working in ethics is not profound, but my impression is that most systems seem to be at too high a level to make concrete (my metric is whether we could implement it in an AI; if we cannot, then it's probably too high-level for us to reason strongly with it ourselves). Even desirism, which I've examined at least somewhat, seems to be a bit too high-level, but is perhaps closer to the mark than others (to be fair, I may just not know enough about it). In response to these observations, I've been developing my own system of morality that I'd like to share here in the near future to receive input.

Comment author: olalonde 24 April 2012 10:54:20PM *  5 points [-]

Hi all! I have been lurking LW for a few months (years?). I believe I was first introduced to LW through some posts on Hacker News (http://news.ycombinator.com/user?id=olalonde). I've always considered myself pretty good at rationality (is there a difference with being a rationalist?) and I've always been an atheist/reductionist. I recently (4 years ago?) converted to libertarianism (blame Milton Friedman). I was raised by 2 atheist doctors (as in PhD). I'm a software engineer and I'm mostly interested in the technical aspect of achieving AGI. Since I was a kid, I've always dreamed of seeing an AGI within my lifetime. I'd be curious to know if there are some people here working on actually building an AGI. I was born in Canada, have lived in Switzerland and am now living in China. I'm 23 years old IIRC. I believe I'm quite far from the stereotypical LWer on the personality side but I guess diversity doesn't hurt.

Nice to meet you all!

Comment author: Helloses 03 April 2012 11:29:33PM *  5 points [-]

Hi, I'm a long-time reader of Eliezer's various scribblings and I'm interested in getting a meetup group going in Minneapolis after we've had a few false starts. This is the post I'm trying to gather the karma to enable:

Meetup: Twin Cities, MN (for real this time)

THE TIME: 15 April 2012 01:00:00PM (-0600) THE PLACE: Purple Onion Coffeeshop, 1301 University Avenue Southeast, Minneapolis, MN

Hi. Let's make this work.

Suggested discussion topics would be:

  • What do we want this group to do? Rationality practice? Skill sharing? Mastermind group?
  • Acquiring guinea pigs for the furtherance of mad science (testing Center for Modern Rationality material)
  • Fun - what it is and how to have almost more of it than you can handle

If you'd like to suggest a location closer to you or a different time, please comment to that effect. If you know a good coffeeshop with ample seating in Uptown or South Minneapolis, we could meet there instead. Also comment if you'd like to carpool.

If you're even slightly interested in this, please join up or at least comment.

Folks, let's hang out and take it from there.

I'm a concert pianist and freelance computer guy for small businesses. My hobbies include indie art games and reverse-trolling A.T.Murray/Mentifex on AGI-list. Cheers.

Comment author: StephenCole 01 April 2012 06:02:00AM 5 points [-]

Hello, all.

I'm an agnostic artist and general proponent of thinking (although I hope to become a more specific proponent of thinking now that I'm here) who enjoys working behind the scenes.

I'm the new executive assistant for the Center of Modern Rationality, and look forward to doing what I can to help get the Center running as smoothly as possible. If I'm doing my job right, you shouldn't even know I'm here.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 April 2012 01:49:54AM 5 points [-]

Hello, I am a very likable, shy young person who lives in Austria and loves you guys.

Comment author: HungryTurtle 01 March 2012 03:40:47PM 5 points [-]


I have been coming to this site for about a month now. I would prefer to be known as HungryTurtle if that is okay.

I have a friend who I like to play with who recommended this site to me. Honestly, I was coming to this site hoping to find some fun people to play with. When I say "play" I do not mean it in a condescending way. My concept of play is similar to the idea of The Beginner's Mind in Buddhism. Anyway, being here a month, I have realized that the ideas on this blog have great meaning to its members, and that to not address them in this way would be crude. So for now I guess I am just trying to interact as humbly as I can. I would classify myself as a moderate rationalist, meaning that while rationalism is important to me it is not as important as moderation. I do think there is such a thing as rational irrationality. If I ever get 20 karma points I would love to write a post about it, even though it will probably bankrupt my karma. I am currently working for an American Non-profit called Teach For America. I am not sure what I will do after that. If there is anything else anyone would like to know feel free to ask.

Comment author: krey 09 February 2012 01:02:09PM 5 points [-]

Hello, I am Kris,

I study Mathematics and Computer Science at Oxford, I am interested in learning about Bayesian statistics/machine learning and its principles (Cox's theorem, Principle of MaxEnt) and tend to do things (overly) rigorously.

From my very limited experience, it appears that lesswrong applies these principles to real life, which is interesting as well, but at the moment I am more focused on Jaynes' "robot model".

I really like Jaynes' book, however it has come to my attention that some parts are outdated/unrigorous and I'm hoping that this forum will tell me what the state of the art is.

Looking forward to becoming part of the community :)

Comment author: Chriswaterguy 08 January 2012 10:14:21AM *  5 points [-]

I'm 41, working on a wiki project for sustainability and development, which I love (and part-time on a related project which I like and actually get paid for). I use the same username everywhere, so if you're curious, you won't have trouble finding the wiki project.

I'm a one-time evangelical Christian. I think it was emotional damage from my upbringing that made me frightened to let go of that, and I stayed a believer for 9 years, starting in my late teens. I took it extremely seriously, and there were good things about that. But with hindsight, I would direct people to other places for their personal growth than becoming a believer. Later, just a few years ago, I did the Landmark Forum, which was very powerful and mostly very positive, though I wouldn't recommend that as a first step in working on personal development, unless you're already pretty successful and mature. I'm also a big fan of Nonviolent Communication, and I'd recommend that to anyone.

I learned about Less Wrong a year ago (from someone else on the wiki project) and loved it. I've been meaning to join, but the thing that prompted me now is that I need help, in the form of accountability, and this seems like a good place.

I do a lot of work, but I find myself distracted from the work I most need to do. The persistence of the problem leads me to carry out a "lifestyle experiment" for the next 3 weeks. I'm calling it my "3 week Serious Focus experiment", and the key ingredients are:

  • Being sensible: doing stuff that I need to do, that will have a big positive effect on my life, before doing other stuff, no matter how good or enticing
  • Being accountable: I'm posting here, and will do so on Facebook and G+, and will tell friends In Real Life.
  • Regarding it as an experiment: I'm only committing myself to 10-30 Jan 2012, so I can play at being hardline with myself, like it's a bootcamp. I can extend or make new decisions at the end, but the time limit means it doesn't feel like a trap that I'm desperate to escape from.
  • A focus on (a) livelihood - the stuff I'm already getting paid for, and (b) taking the wiki project to the next level, i.e. strategic work before maintenance or putting out fires.

The rules for the Serious Focus experiment are:

  • Plan each night before bed - up to 6 items to work on the following day
  • 3 hours solid work on the one or two top items (livelihood and strategy) before looking at email (except perhaps work related - I have email filters for that) or at work-related social media, or at messages I get on the wiki site. (Only exception is if it's so urgent that a colleague on the wiki project calls or IMs me - which is very rare.)
  • Any work I'm tempted to do on secondary things (not among the 6 items, and taking more than 5 min) to be written down and put aside until the 3 solid hours are done.
  • After the 3 hours are done, I loosen up a bit, but still focus on getting those items done.
  • All items must be done before checking personal social media at all. (I'm allowed to post any time, but not look at replies or other people's statuses.) If I don't get all 6 items finished, that's ok - going without Facebook will do me good, even if I don't get a chance to check it for the whole 3 weeks!

I'm going to start now, but I'm making my official start date 2 days away, so there's time for feedback on the plan and to adjust it if needed, before I launch the experiment.

Glad to join you all at Less Wrong!

Comment author: matheist 08 January 2012 02:08:07AM 5 points [-]

I discovered this community through HP:MoR; I joined the discussion because there was a comment about the work which I wished to make. I've started reading the articles as well and am enjoying doing so.

Looking forward to all the shiny ideas!

Comment author: hesperidia 07 January 2012 10:45:02PM 5 points [-]


I recently found myself making a rather impassioned defense of how living logically does not preclude living morally. As I have found monitoring my actions to be more reliable than introspection, this was a much better confirmation of "I think this is the right thing to do" than my saying to myself that I think this is the right thing to do.

Other proximate causes include TVTropes via Methods of Rationality (obviously), one of my acquaintances linking several articles in succession from this site, and the fact that I find myself extremely prone to hero-worshipping anyone who happens to be more intelligent than I am.

I have historically had some hang-ups around the concept of "right" and "true" and am currently attempting to disentangle my rather weird upbringing (and its non-religious but nevertheless absurd repurposing of the concept of "not being wrong") from the practice of matching map to territory.

Meanwhile I am an 18-year-old psychology/biology major in college who enjoys actually reading from scientific journals on subjects that include evolutionary psychology and theories of autism spectrum disorders.

Personally, I have some unusual experiences involving actually caring about large numbers of people, the topic of which I am not sure I want to broach immediately. (That, however, is why I'm excited about transhumanism. If my mind is augmented then I can coherently think about large numbers of people without either compressing or ignoring them. And my day won't be ruined if I happen to accidentally read yet another news story about hundreds of thousands of people dying. Suffice it to say, screw the 24-hour news cycle, I have to remain ignorant of most news in general for my own sanity - if you guys have anything for that, please let me know.)

Comment author: geebee2 05 January 2012 11:56:20PM *  5 points [-]

Hi, I'm 53 years old, from Gloucester, UK.

I work from home over the internet running IT systems.

I studied Maths for 2 years at Cambridge, then Computer Science in my 3rd year.

I came across this site after becoming interested in the trial of Amanda Knox and Raffaele Sollecito ( just subsequent to their acquittal in October 2011 ).

I made an analysis of the Massei report ( http://massei-report-analysis.wikispaces.com/ ) and concluded that the defence case was much more probable than the prosecution case.

I'm interested in a rational basis for assessing guilt in criminal cases. My idea ( as above ) is to compare the relative likelihood of each part of the defence and prosecution case, but this was perhaps not a good example, as I found that there was no credible, objective evidence against the defendants after looking closely at the evidence.

Maybe we could look at the recent conviction of Gary Dobson and David Norris. I would start from the position that they are probably guilty, but this is before examining in any detail the evidence against them, so this is based mainly on a general belief that UK courts do a fairly good job. The questions to be raised there would be whether we can really trust the forensic evidence, given that the police have powerful incentives to convict. And how do we eliminate prejudice against these unpleasant people ( both were clearly vile racists whether or not they committed the murder ).

Comment author: Freetrader 03 January 2012 10:37:19PM *  5 points [-]

Hi everyone,

I am Freetrader, 31, from Barcelona. I am an engineer and I worked in the industry for some years, especially in the fields of operations management and quality, since I enjoy analyzing stuff and creating systems.

I have a very eclectic nature and I'm a bit of a hack, jumping from one thing to another (which is a trait I don't like very much of myself), anyway this led me to often change jobs from one company to another (luckily it seems I am good at getting new jobs, for some reason), until I finally realized that I was not good at getting the paycheck at the end of the month and what I really wanted is to be my own boss.

So, long story short, I also failed at entrepreneurship, however by the end I found out about day trading, and I good hooked by it. I've been studying and practicing day trading on the currency markets for almost a year now, and I'm finally starting to see some (small, weak) success.

(By the way, I'd like to mention my nickname Freetrader doesn't come from being a trader -I was using it long before-, but from the RPG Traveller, where the Free Traders are the small ragtag cargo ships that go from planet to planet taking the odd jobs no one else would and living adventures - think Firefly or Han Solo. I always wanted to be like that, and to a point I realize I managed my business like that, which didn't work so well, but was fun.)

Just recently I found Less Wrong in my RSS aggregator, however I can't remember how it got there (I kind of recall I found the link while doing some research on planned cities and I thought to myself: "this could be important, save it for later", then forgot about it). Anyway when I started reading it, it hit a cord inside myself and for the last weeks I've been reading articles and some sequences with great interest and delight. So I'll stick around. Maybe contribute a little, but I'm shy.

Finally I'd like to take the chance to ask if someone else here are fellow traders. I noticed many of the articles mention trading in examples, however I have not found any article specifically about it, or from the perspective of a trader. Indeed day trading seems like an excellent path for a rationalist with good bayescraft and who doesn't mind staring at a computer screen all day if it makes them good money. There's lots of irrationality in that field, especially within the world of what I call "pop traders", self-taught traders who trade their own money from home (like myself, so it's the world I know). Still many cowboy traders have hacked a way into making a pretty decent living from it, so a good rationalist will be able to get much more.

In summary, I'd really like to meet a rationalist trader and compare experiences. Or well, anyone interested by the topic in general. Or any nice people, so feel free to say hi!

Comment author: Rukiedor 31 December 2011 06:30:38AM 5 points [-]

Hello, I've been lurking around Less Wrong for several months, mostly reading through the sequences. I especially enjoyed the ones on free will and happiness theory.

I finally created an account a week or so ago so that I could express interest in a Salt Lake City meetup. And now here I am introducing myself.

I’m a thirty year old white male living in Salt Lake City. I write point of sale software by day, and video games by night.

I think my primary motivation into rationality was my upbringing. I was raised in a very religious, and rather unhealthy home. That coupled with the facts that the LDS culture isn’t particularly friendly to nerds, and that I seemed to believe in a different God than most of my fellow churchgoers led to me being told all the time that I was wrong. So, the only way to ever be right was to painstakingly trace my beliefs back to original assumptions that anyone would agree with.

Less Wrong is actually the first source I’ve found on rational thinking, so my self taught methods seem a bit sloppy next to the elegance of the thinking that goes on here.

My big interest, the thing that drives me, is art. You know the feeling you get when you hear an amazing piece of music? Or see a fantastic movie? Or play an incredible game? I want to understand that, I want to know what it does to your brain, and how I could reproduce it.

Anyway, I look forward to being a part of the community. I probably won’t comment much unfortunately, still have some biases that tend to get in the way of that, but I’ll be here lurking, and watching.

Comment author: FeatherlessBiped 31 December 2011 12:55:49AM 5 points [-]

(Reposted from the wrong thread, per Kutta's suggestion)

If by "rationalist", the LW community means someone who believes it is possible and desirable to make at least the most important judgements solely by the use of reason operating on empirically demonstrable facts, then I am an ex-rationalist. My "intellectual stew" had simmered into it several forms of formal logic, applied math, and seasoned with a BS in Computer Science at age 23.

By age 28 or so, I concluded that most of the really important things in life were not amenable to this approach, and that the type of thinking I had learned was useful for earning a living, but was woefully inadequate for other purposes.

At age 50, I am still refining the way I think. I come to LW to lurk, learn, and (occasionally) quibble.

Comment author: orthonormal 04 January 2012 01:15:45AM 5 points [-]


If by "rationalist", the LW community means someone who believes it is possible and desirable to make at least the most important judgements solely by the use of reason operating on empirically demonstrable facts

You'll be relieved to know that's not quite the Less Wrong dogma; if you observe that your conscious deliberations make worse decisions in a certain sphere than your instincts, then (at least until you find a better conscious deliberation) you should rely on your instincts in that domain.

LWers are generally optimistic about applying conscious deliberation/empirical evidence/mathematical models in most cases besides immediate social decisions, though.

Comment author: coltw 29 December 2011 06:38:03AM 5 points [-]

Hey, okay, so, I'm Colt. 20, white, male, pansexual, poly, Oklahoma. What a mix, right? I'm a sophomore in college majoring in Computer Engineering and minoring in Cognitive Science, both of which are very interesting to me. I grew up with computers and read a lot of sci-fi when I was younger (and still do) which I attribute to making me who I am today. A lot of Cory Doctorow's work, along with Time Enough for Love by Heinlein and Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep are some of my favorites. I found HPMoR a while back and eventually found my way here, maybe last summer or so. I've been reading the sequences voraciously, and really need to start applying some of it to my life. :P

Like I said, I like computers, and I'm really interested in the mind and technology and programming. I'd like to work with new challenges and maybe on some AI (with enough mathematical rigor, of course) when I get out of college, but time will tell.

Comment author: DasAllFolks 28 December 2011 02:23:08AM 5 points [-]

Hi all,

I'm a 23 year old male living just outside of Philadelphia, PA, and this is my first post to LessWrong after having discovered the site through HPMoR the Summer of 2010. I have been reading through the Sequences independently for the past year and a half.

To make a long story short, I came to consider myself an aspiring rationalist after I used rational methods to successfully diagnose myself with Tourette Syndrome this past May (confirmed by a neurologist) after my symptoms, which I had exhibited since age three and a half, had been missed or misdiagnosed by my family and medical professionals alike for 20 years. Successfully hacking such an insidious threat within my own mind inspired me to investigate how else rationality might enable me to optimize both my own life and the world, hence my increasing participation on this site.

I am presently doing some independent consulting work while I await audition results from graduate programs in Opera; if I do not gain acceptance to any program which I consider to be worth the time and money, I plan to return to school in the Fall to retrain in Physics (my original major was in Electrical & Computer Engineering and I worked as a software engineer for roughly a year, but my study of rational methods allowed me to realize, upon careful reflection, that my path to this field was quite haphazard and largely influenced by sunk costs. Armed with a better-trained brain, I intend to do better than this going forward).

LessWrong-related topics which interest me heavily (although I still consider myself a fledgling learner in nearly all of these) include Transhumanism and indefinite life extension, mind/body hacking for optimal health and self-improvement, methods for achieving optimal happiness, seasteading, and, as my experience with Tourette Syndrome might suggest, evolutionary psychology and using rational methods to overcome severe genetic and learned biases. I would be particular eager to write an article analyzing the wide prevalence of neurological disorders such as Tourette Syndrome, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and ADHD in the general population through the lens of evolutionary psychology once my experience with the Sequences is somewhat more comprehensive.

Other personal interests include music (Classical voice, trumpet, piano, and conducting to varying degrees, with an eye to learning composition), entertainment technology/theme parks, theatre, physics, reading, writing, film, computer science (though not to the level of depth of many on this site), economics, travel, entrepreneurship, and a slew of other topics.

I would be particularly eager to create a regularly scheduled LessWrong meetup in Philadelphia or the Philadelphia suburbs, as it appears that the Philadelphia chapter has lain dormant for more than a year now. Please feel free to comment on this post if you are in the Philadelphia area and would be interested in doing this; I will happily take care of the scheduling logistics if it helps this group become a regular fixture!

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: 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: 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: 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: 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: [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.

Comment author: Nighteyes5678 08 June 2012 08:03:57PM 4 points [-]

Hey all. i figured that after a few long months of lurking, I might as well introduce myself (that way when I post elsewhere, someone doesn't feel obligated to smack my nose politely with a rolled-up newspaper and send me here), even though I can never figure out what to say.

I've now finished all the Sequences and I've successfully resisted the urge to argue with comments that are years old, and I think I've learned a lot. One of the high moments was that I had just finished reading the Zombie sequence when I met a friend of a friend, who started to postulate the Zombie world and concept. Thanks to my reading here, I'd already done some thinking about the matter and could engage with him intelligently. How awesome is that?

One of my biggest struggles is coming up with how some of the stuff on Lesswrong is applicable to normal life. I'm not a IA researcher, I get confused with computers, and I'm a fairly normal person. I'm into the outdoors, writing (dream job, right there), teaching, history, and board games. A lot of times, then, I wish the Sequences had parts after each post that suggested ways that the principles impacted normal life. Trying to figure out how to connect the Bayes way to more normal decisions is challenging. Perhaps this is already been addressed - Lesswrong is also a labyrinth for newbies. ^_^

As far as posting go, I'm still finding the right line between investigating and defensive/aggressive. Generally, I'm impossible to offend and I don't take things personally. I'll try and live that creed as well as just say it, but now it's on record. I also believe strongly in giving someone the benefit of the doubt, or taking their statement in the best possible light.

I'm not sure what else to say, but if there's one thing I've learned here, it's that people are always happy to point out areas that are lacking in both information and depth. Hope to see y'all around and I'm looking forward to exploring various things with awesome folk.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 June 2012 07:58:29PM 4 points [-]

Hey guys. My name is Michael and I'm a business student living in Little Rock, Arkansas. I've recently become fascinated by the work of SI and I'm interested in participating any way I can. I've long considered myself a rationalist after I abandoned religion in my teens. However lately I realized I need to interact with other rationalists in order to further my development. I'm considering trying to attract more LessWrong members from where I live. If anybody has any advice concerning that I'd be happy to hear it.

Comment author: witzvo 27 May 2012 12:17:50AM 4 points [-]

You can call me Witzvo. My determination of whether I'm a "rationalist" is waiting on data to be supplied by your responses. I found HPMOR hilarious and insightful (I was hooked from the first chapter which so beautifully juxtaposed a rationalist child with all-too-realistic adults), and lurked some for a while. I have one previous post which I doubt ever got read. To be critical, my general impression of the discussions here is that they are self-congratulatory, smarter than they are wise, and sometimes obsessed with philosophically meaningful but not terribly urgent debates. However, I do value the criteria by which karma is obtained. And I saw some evidence of responses being actually based on the merits of an argument presented, which is commendable. Also, Eliezer should be commended for sticking his neck out so far and so often.

I was born into a sect of Christianity that is heretical in various ways, but notably in that they believe that God is operating all for the (eventual) good of mankind, and that we will all be saved (e.g. no eternal Hell). I remain agnostic. Talk about non-falsifiability and Occam's razor all you like, but a Bayesian doesn't abandon the possibilities to which he assigns prior mass without evidence, and even then the posterior mass generally just drops towards 0, not all the way. Still, my life is basically secular; I don't think there's an important observable difference in how I live my life from how an atheist lives, and that's pretty much the end of the matter for me. Oh, perhaps I have times of weakness, but who doesn't?

I have formal training in statistics. I am very sympathetic to the Savage / de Finetti schools of subjective Bayesianism, but if I had to name my philosophy of science I'd call it Boxian, after George Box (c.f. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2982063; I highly recommend this paper AND the discussion. Sorry about the pay walls).

I find the Solomonoff/Kolmogorov/AIXI ideas fascinating and inspiring. I aspire to compute for example, (a computationally bounded approximation to) the normal forms of (a finite subsequence of) a countable sequence of de Bruijn lambda terms and go from there. I do not see any lurking existential crisis in doing so.

In fact, maybe I've missed something, but I have not yet identified an actionable issue regarding one of the much-discussed existential crises. I do not participate much in the political system of my country or even see how that would help particularly except and unless through actual rational discussion and other action.

I find far more profit in exploring ideas, such as say, Inventing on Principle (http://vimeo.com/36579366), or Incremental Learning in Inductive Programming (http://www.cogsys.wiai.uni-bamberg.de/aaip09/aaip09_submissions/incremental.pdf), either of which I would be happy to discuss.

I am also intellectually lonely.

That's probably more than enough. Go on and tell me something less wrong.

Comment author: blackhole 25 May 2012 10:00:38PM 4 points [-]

Hello everyone. I’ve joined this site because I have a goal of being a very rational person. Intelligence and logic are very important to me. Actually I have spent many years seeking truth and reality. Probably the same as everyone else spending time here. I’m not here to prove anything but rather to learn and have my own ideas tested and checked. I’m hoping to remember the rules and etiquette so that I don’t come across the wrong way ( very easy to do when not face to face ) or waste any ones time. I’m a family man who is concerned about my children’s future because of the swift pace of technological change and its resultant social effects. For example, the smartphone phenomena and the increased socialization this allows. Entranced texters on an unrelenting zombie like invasion makes one ask, what the hell is going on here? To me, it’s an emotional issue that is detracting from intellectual growth and the evolution of intelligence. Is it the fall of Rome? Can a few brilliant minds come up with the tools (A.I ?) that will change the masses from heading blindly down a path leading to destruction ? Help required !

Comment author: GoldenWolf 13 May 2012 04:31:08PM 4 points [-]

Found HPMOR, changed my life, etc. Been reading for a couple years, and I figure it's finally time to start actually doing something. Not an academic at all. I'm in the Army and spend my free time with creative writing, but I understand most of the material, and I am capable of applying it.

I have a question that's not in the FAQ. I recently read The Social Coprocessor Model. I want to reread it again in the future without keeping a tab permanently open. There is a save button near the bottom, and I clicked it. How exactly does this work? I can't figure out how to access the post from the main page. I suppose I could always keep a document with my favorite links or clutter up my browser's favorites, but it seems stupid if there's already a system in place here.

Comment author: Schwarmerei 08 May 2012 06:12:39PM 4 points [-]


I am the first in a family of budding rationalists to jump in to the LessWrong waters. I got my start as a Rationalist when I was born and was influenced very heavily through my childhood by my parents' endless boxes of hard sci-fi and old school fantasy. Special mention goes to The World of Null-A (and its sequel) in introducing the notions of a worldview being 'false to facts', and a technique the main character uses (the "cortical-thalamic pause") which is very similar to "I notice that I am confused." I read everything avidly and have a mountain of books on my shelves dealing with neuroscience and cognitive biases.

The fam: I'm first in a family of six kids who have always been confused by the illogic and muddled thinking of our peers. We've all grown up strongly under the sway of the aforementioned sci-fi/fantasy collection and like nothing better than to debate topics and point out each other's fallacies or gaps in logic. We are all slightly obsessed with HPMoR (I being the only one to have read Overcoming Bias / LW before the story's inception) and I personally find that Harry's thinking often mirrors my own to an eerie degree of similarity.

Several of us are also very interested in reforming education and are forming a tech company to that end (I'm a programmer / comp jack of all trades, and my almost-twin bro is a graphic designer*). I plan on diving into the sequences more rigorously in the upcoming months, as I'd like to integrate rationalist principles into the basic fiber of the products we produce (self guided, community assisted learning software).

(* While not all actively involved in the company, all six of us – including the girls and the 13 year old – can program.)

Comment author: Drewsmithyman 03 May 2012 06:34:31PM *  4 points [-]

Hello community. My name is Drew Smithyman and I am an executive assistant at CFAR. I have not been with them long, nor have I been reading the sequences very long, but I intend to continue doing both.

I need to post a discussion thread about some interviews we need to do - could people please do me the favor of upvoting this comment twice so that I may start one as soon as possible?

Thank you.

Comment author: VKS 08 April 2012 12:08:05PM *  4 points [-]


I should have read this post before I started posting.

I'm here because figuring out how thinking works is something I am interested in doing. I'm a freshman student in mathematics somewhere on planet Earth, but I know an unpredictable amount of mathematics beyond what I am supposed to. Particularly category theory. <3 Cat. Terrible at it for now though.

I hope I can say things which are mostly interesting and mostly not wrong, but my posting record already contains a certain number of errors in reasoning...

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: blashimov 13 March 2012 03:06:33AM 4 points [-]

Hello Everyone,

I heard about this site during my time at Yale as an undergrad, I am now a PhD student at Rice University in Environmental Engineering. I noticed the meetup for Houston seems to have died in May, if that turns out to be true I would like to start one. I am enjoying HPMOR immensely. I am very interested in raising the sanity waterline, and I am something of a policy wonk. I tend to follow separation of church and state issues, as well as science policy/creationism in the classrooms especially. I did read the intro on partisanship in the forums.

Comment author: Plubbingworth 03 March 2012 05:19:48AM 4 points [-]

Hello there. I am Plubbingworth. I am twenty, and I first caught wind of the delicious stench of Rationality all the way from where I was before, but only after I began to seek it. HILARIOUS COINCIDENCE: I read about the Less Wrong Community and read HPMOR completely separately without realizing the connection, how funny is that?!

Anyway. I was reading and absorbing and learning as much as I could from every facet of this wonderful website, when I realized, to my dismay, that there was not much of a concentration in the use of Rationality in this fine state of Tennessee. Which is a real shame. Maybe something should be done about that!

I can't say what I plan to learn from this. Time and effort will tell. But a sense of community is always nice. Also, I felt like a creeper.

Comment author: anotherblackhat 01 March 2012 03:05:36PM *  4 points [-]

So much interesting stuff.

I've been reading through the sequences, and one peeked my desire to post, so I created an account. There are actually many things being discussed here that interest me. I'm not sure I'm a rationalist though, as I believe there are some lies that should be maintained rather than destroyed.

I'm interested in personal identity, not "Quantum Mechanics and Personal Identity", but where does "me" end.
The sound bite is "Am I my hat?" or to be more verbose, is my hat an extension of myself, and thus a part of me. Some would say "of course not". If you're thinking that, then imagine I started beating you with my hat.
Would you ask my hat to stop, or would you ask me?
Where do we stop being "us" and start being "them." Is our hair part of us? What about when it's cut? What if we weave it into a hat, and does it matter if we cut it first? Let me be clear, I don't really care how a particular definition of "me" would resolve hair clippings, I'm interested in what definitions people actually use.

Comment author: iDante 01 March 2012 05:31:09AM 4 points [-]

Hello everybody! My name is Fish and I'm almost 20. I'm at a decent enough university studying physics, mathematics, and computer science. My GPA in math and science courses is 4.0 so I applied to a better college a few months ago. Hopefully I'll get in :D. I'm currently interested in quantum computing as a career, but obviously that's not final.

Having two molecular biologists as parents, I grew up understanding evolution, the scientific method, and other such Important Things. I was never religious, despite the fact that my neighbors dragged me to church twice a week for 5 years or so.

I got introduced to rationality while discussing free will with my religious friend and it all just made sense. I've taken a lot of psychology courses so I have a pretty good grip on that sort of thing, and obviously quantum physics isn't a problem for me. Bayesian reasoning was new but I think I understand it now, at least in principle if not in practice.

That's all I have to say about me.

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: fluchess 02 February 2012 11:05:42AM 4 points [-]

Hi everyone, I am a 19 year old undergraduate science student majoring in statistics living in Australia. For fun I play chess and flute which I am quite mediocre at but find them both stimulating and challenging. I am always trying to improve myself in one way or another, whether it be learning or practicing skills.

I have an academic interest in maths, statistics and biology and would eventually want to be a biostatistician. I was originally seen as academically gifted, however after years of not working hard, I am trying to regain my academic vigor and educate myself, which I have neglected for a number of years. I am working to educate myself in quantum physics, cryonics, philosophy and AI as I think these are all important issues that I don't know a lot about.

I value truth, as I think it always for the best in the long run. I believe "That which can be destroyed by truth should" is valid and I try to follow the 12 virtues of Rationality. I'm sure I value a lot of other things but haven't thought about them much.

My journey as a rationalist has been an interesting one. I have always affiliated with being a rationalist since when I can remember. However, I have found that being rational hasn't gone well with my more emotionally-inclined friends. I have found that being logical is off-putting to them and that they don't like being shown when they are wrong. This made me question whether rationality is a good thing in my life and whether it was beneficial to my life. This prompted to me to reassess rationality and read more on Less Wrong. This reaffirmed my opinion that rationality a good thing and I should work on not offending people.

That is all I feel like writing for the moment as that took me a few hours. Hopefully that is enough of an introduction. If there is anything you think that I should read, please link me. I always want to learn new things. I look forward to engaging in discussion with many of you. Kind Regards,


Comment author: naturelover7 25 January 2012 04:30:25PM 4 points [-]

I just discovered this page today after goggling "believe in beliefs." I was searching for discussions much like what found here. You see, I am nether theist nor atheist. I am what I refer to as "naturalist". I also identify myself as libertarian, hippie, free thinker. There maybe another name for this belief system of I mine but I have yet to have found it. I identify the "God" of the Bible and Koran as what science refers to as our "Universe". I believe they are one in the same after studying the context of the literature realizing the primitive knowledge of science during those ancient times. As far as my education, I have BS in geography and history. I believe religion can be very beautiful. I also appreciate any positive, good will thoughts directed my way and find it very disturbing when others refuse to see it that way, which is part of why I am here now. I believe in universal love, hope, and peace. I admire aspects of all religions. What I do not understand is when an atheist bashes a particular religious group with the same disrespect as they accuse that same religious group. I do realize that is a reflection on an individual's experiences and education, etc. But this is something that I cannot seem to escape, despite my own beliefs. I must find a way to understand what I find to be hateful and silly behavior. I do not believe bashing others to be so wise. It just keeps the hate moving full circle. As far as the passion of the secular folk, I understand it. It is how they believe. Only death will change it. Those with spiritual beliefs have existed far longer than any of us studying the discoveries found in modern science that answers the age old questions that mans' religion sought to answer. I do have other concerns in rationality but its way too soon to determine if this is an appropriate place to discuss them since they are of a taboo nature.

Comment author: scmbradley 03 January 2012 07:11:38PM 4 points [-]

Hi. I'll mostly be making snarky comments on decision theory related posts.

Comment author: ericyu3 31 December 2011 02:59:04AM *  4 points [-]

Hi! I'm Eric, a freshman at UC Berkeley. I've been lurking on Overcoming Bias/Less Wrong for a long time.

I had been reading OB before LW existed; I don't even remember when I started reading OB (maybe even before high school!). It's too long ago for me to remember clearly, but I think I found OB while I was reading about transhumanism, which I was very interested in. I still agree with the ideas of transhumanism, and I guess I would still identify myself as a transhumanist, but I don't actively read about it much anymore. I read LW less than I used to, but I'm starting to read it more now; LW and OB are basically the only transhumanist-related blogs that I still read.

I guess I like this site because I like things that are interesting and make me think; there are a lot of good and interesting ideas floating around here, and the quality of the posts and comments is excellent. I don't think I've encountered a single other site with such good comments. I like to say that I'm too curious and have too many interests; I spend a lot of time reading about things that interest me and I don't know what I want to do.

Why am I introducing myself and no longer lurking after all these years? I used to be really bad at expressing myself in writing: I wrote slowly and badly, and reading my old blog comments makes me cringe. I was good at reading, and at producing grammatically correct sentences, but I was terrible at actually using written language to get my ideas across. For example, just two years ago (in 11th grade), I scored 80/80 on the Writing Multiple Choice section of the SAT, but only 7/12 on the essay! Now, though, I find that I can write just fine (and I have no idea why this suddenly happened). So I'm finally introducing myself because I can finally write decent posts and comments :)

A quick question for more experienced LW commenters: I posted a comment (http://lesswrong.com/lw/8nr/intuitive_explanation_of_solomonoff_induction/5k5b) on an old, non-promoted post, and it didn't show up in the recent comments section. As a result, no one seems to have even seen it, and I don't know whether my addition was useful or not. How can I make these kinds of contributions visible in the future?