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Introduction Thread: May 2009

3 Post author: MBlume 05 May 2009 08:39PM

If you've just joined the Less Wrong community, here's a space for you to tell us a bit about yourself, and perhaps test the waters on any subjects you'd like to discuss with us. You might also want to check our welcome page.  Glad to have you with us =)

Comments (22)

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 27 May 2009 06:11:42PM 12 points [-]

I've been commenting for a little while, but it was requested that I post here, so, here I am.

I'm a 27 year old female programmer, currently working from home on complex Second Life projects. The company I work with is in the process of expanding into the OpenSim realm, so I'll be learning that soon as well. I'm mostly self-taught when it comes to programming, and did not go to college at all. I also recently left my 'day job' of working in the activity department of a nursing home; I held that job for four years, and had various retail jobs before that, mostly cashiering.

I'm deeply interested in brain function, mind function, neurology, and most related topics. One of my closest friends is a retired professor of neurology, so I do get to discuss those topics fairly regularly. I tend to be a bit aggressive about accepting unusual neurologies as natural variation, and have a distinct personal interest in that ideology, as I'm not neurotypical myself.

I was diagnosed as being ADD when I was five, but personal research has led me to the conclusion that I'm almost certainly autistic, with (now-)occasional attention issues depending on how much mental overload I'm dealing with at the moment. I am moderately faceblind, have several sensory sensitivities, intermittent sensory processing difficulties of various degrees of severity, occasional motor planning difficulties, poor episodic memory, and difficulties processing normal-style social signals. I also have an excellent semantic memory, excellent pattern-matching capability, perfect pitch, several other minor-to-moderate sensory advantages, and, apparently, a much better ability to 'see' what my own mind is doing than was previously thought possible. (I know the last one probably sounds unbelievable. From this perspective, I had a hard time believing that normal people couldn't perceive their brainbits activating to work on a problem, and probably wouldn't've believed it at all if I didn't know someone who's studied that specifically... and even then, I found it incredible enough of a limitation that I confirmed it for myself with a few carefully-placed questions to other friends.) I also have an unusual emotional system - I am not and would not try to be completely unemotional, but my emotions tend to be relatively 'quiet' and not distracting, which makes certain tasks, particularly rational ones, much easier.

I am currently starting a neurodiversity-related project called The Neuroversity. The web page is very much still under construction, but there's a description of the project, and the forum is open to anyone who's interested.

I have several different angles of interest in social signaling, most notably how and why normal people use it. I've also noticed that there are several different 'layers' of social signals, some of which I'm actually quite good at noticing and parsing, and I'd like to figure out why, but I don't have much to go on, there. Another angle of interest is non-human social signaling, which I am in some cases quite good at understanding, and which most people seem to underestimate the sophistication of.

I'm a member of Play as Being, an open-source meditation group. The group itself is not religious, but religion is often discussed there, so it may or may not be if interest to anyone here. That said, the meditation exercises can be very useful, and many of the discussions are very interesting.

I also tend to be very open about my life, and am certainly willing to answer questions. :)

Comment author: JoeShipley 27 May 2009 10:13:57PM 5 points [-]

You certainly prove your chops in your comments, which I always enjoy reading. I was curious: Do you think it is wholly rational to self-diagnose mental/social abnormalities, problems, or diversities?

It seems like it would be a difficult problem to tackle objectively, because:

1) The payoff, one way or another, is pretty intense: Either understanding a label that makes you unique and explains a lot about your life, fitting in a new piece to your identity, or learning of another thing that is wrong. These are intensely personal revelations either way.

2) If you suspect something is seriously different about your brain, you may suffer a confirmation bias in reviewing the data, quick to jump on different topics.

3) The existence of a supportive social groups like the neurodiversity community you listed allow a quick admission into a network of people that seem to understand your problems and eventually will likely respect you and your opinions, which is one of the basic requirements people have for happiness and something that is generally sought after i.e. Maslow's pyramid and all. This is another element of incentive, subconscious or conscious.

I'm not that you're wrong-- from the things you've described, you're probably right. I'm just curious what you think: self-diagnosis of a brain-related, social-affecting, central-to-personal-identity disorder seems like an extremely tricky position to maneuver through even for absolutely exceptional minds.

Comment author: Alicorn 27 May 2009 10:36:47PM 5 points [-]

The trouble with disallowing self-diagnosis of high-functioning autism - especially in adults - is that it's possible to conceal outward signs of the atypical thought processes or avoid triggers entirely. I have a (not self-) diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome, but since I've moved away from home, I'm in almost complete control of my surroundings, associating with people of my choosing, and generally not subject to anything that would be likely to make me behave in any unusual way. I doubt I could get a diagnosis if I walked into a psychologist's office today, but this isn't because I no longer freak out in contact with certain offensive textures or because I have learned to read minds. It's because I have created an environment for myself that is free of those textures and have made friends who are able to explain themselves to me, whereas as a child, my parents were not-particularly-accommodating obstacles between me and environmental/social self-determination.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 27 May 2009 11:02:28PM 4 points [-]

Agreed, in an ideal world self-diagnosing would be simply foolish, for all the reasons you listed. Even in this one, it's not always a good idea.

In my personal case, I already have a diagnosis of being neurologically atypical, which was made when I was very young and specifically re-tested when I was in my late teens, so I'd be able to claim most if not all of the benefits of belonging to the neurodiverse community anyway. Questioning that the correct diagnosis was made is not the same as questioning that there was something diagnosis-worthy going on in the first place. This is a relatively common story, given that the 'high-functioning' variants of autism only became well known about 10 to 15 years ago, and before that time people who were only mild--to-moderately autistic got other labels instead.

In most 'true' self-diagnosis cases that I'm aware of, the person was already very aware that there was something unusual about themselves, and had looked at and rejected one or more other explanations before realizing that autism was the one that fit. Those people generally did seem to also be autistic (the similarities in processing style tend to be pretty obvious when you're interacting with someone in realtime, if you know what to look for) and the few of them that pursued official diagnoses got them easily.

I did run into a few people who did appear to be using the diagnosis for reasons like the ones you suggested; they stuck out like sore thumbs. My general observation about those people is that their general sanity waterline was very low, and that if they hadn't been able to use autism as their attention-getter, they would just have chosen another one. The self-diagnosis appeared to be a symptom, not a cause, of poor rationality in those cases.

By the way, if you're wondering why I haven't gone for a diagnosis myself, it's because a series of very bad experiences with psychiatrists and other mental health workers as a teenager left me with a bit of what appears to be PTSD. I could probably force myself to go into a situation like that, but the chance of my having a panic attack and getting myself into serious trouble would be significant, and the chance of me actually being able to interact with them well enough to get any benefit out of it would be negligible. (I don't consider the diagnosis itself to be a significant benefit, just a prerequisite if I wanted other assistance, which... not goona happen.) (This is, by the way, a good example of that 'quiet emotional system' thing... I'm having a very quiet anxiety attack in the back of my head, which isn't strong enough to interfere with my thinking much. If I were in the real situation mentioned, there would be enough of a feedback loop that the anxiety would go from being quiet to being overwhelming in about 5 to 10 minutes without extensive conscious management.)

Comment author: JoeShipley 27 May 2009 11:24:48PM 1 point [-]

I apologize if I caused you any stress, thanks for filling me in on the details. I would think some psychiatrists exist that are relatively fine with people having a panic attack during a session and escaping without 'getting them intro trouble' -- It seems there's a niche to be filled, since lots of people 'don't test well' (in a sense) while they might be otherwise fine in a normal conversation without the connotations. I think I understand your trepidation though, mental health professionals certainly have a world with a dark side in that if the employees don't care of irrationally decide things on too little evidence can wreak severe consequences on people's lives.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 27 May 2009 11:36:55PM 0 points [-]

Don't worry about it. It's very easy to avoid talking about that kind of thing if I want to, but I tend to go on the principle that avoiding it makes the anxiety worse, and talking about it is likely to be desensitizing. Also note that I specifically volunteered all the information in the last paragraph - you didn't ask for it. (The others were not stressful at all.)

I very much concur regarding the state of the mental health profession - that's pretty much what I was referring to with my comment about this not being an ideal world. I just can't talk directly about that yet without really stressing myself out.

Amusingly, part of the reason I'm so interested in brain- and mind-function is that I'm considering filling that niche myself, as a side job. It seems like I have an ...interesting... path to travel if I want to get any kind of certification, though.

Comment author: lessdazed 26 July 2011 05:10:10AM 1 point [-]

I took a tedious multi-day test for this sort of thing, among others. I wasn't really able to use the results, as I had by then already figured out which things I was three and a half standard deviations below my general intelligence at. I didn't fit the pattern for autism or anything else.

It would have saved me a lot of anguish if I had taken it when I was thirteen or so, so there's a limit to how much I would indict the knowledge in the field.

Comment author: Kevin 26 January 2010 07:04:21AM *  2 points [-]

I'm sure you already know this, but I think that rather than saying you are almost certainly autistic, you can say that you are on the autistic spectrum. I think psychiatry puts too much emphasis on diagnoses when it's widely understood that many if not most issues with mental health exist on a continuous spectrum.

More interestingly, can you discuss your brainbits in much greater deal? I think it would make a great top-level post.

You're probably one of few people in the world capable of discussing such a topic with the linguistic precision demanded on Less Wrong. I assume by brainbits that you don't mean individual neurons, but some collection of neurons or generalized electrical patterns bouncing around in your brain?

Can you make a step-through description of brainbit activation for some basic brain tasks? Can you only perceive conscious actions/problem solving?

How confident are you that your brainbit awareness corresponds with specific neurological actions? Do you think that your awareness forms a model of reality that could be useful for describing brains other than your own?

I have a lot more questions I could ask but I'll stop there because there's a good chance I am asking the wrong questions, until I get clarification from you. Feel free to answer the questions I didn't ask rather than the questions that I did ask.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 26 January 2010 08:36:13AM 0 points [-]

I'm sure you already know this, but I think that rather than saying you are almost certainly autistic, you can say that you are on the autistic spectrum. I think psychiatry puts too much emphasis on diagnoses when it's widely understood that many if not most issues with mental health exist on a continuous spectrum.

They're both accurate descriptions, but I think the former is clearer: The latter would likely be taken to imply that I'm nearly NT, which isn't the case at all.

More interestingly, can you discuss your brainbits in much greater deal? I think it would make a great top-level post.

I'll think about it. I expect that the hardest part of that will be figuring out which aspects of it are most interesting to other people.

You're probably one of few people in the world capable of discussing such a topic with the linguistic precision demanded on Less Wrong. I assume by brainbits that you don't mean individual neurons, but some collection of neurons or generalized electrical patterns bouncing around in your brain?

Much of what I can perceive correlates well with identified brain structures. (But not 1:1 - in some cases I have slightly more information, and in some cases I have much less, about a given system or subsystem.) I can also perceive a few things that I believe are specific electrical patterns - extremely minor seizures (rare for me; more common in the population than you might think) and specific kinds of overload - and more general states, like specific kinds of mental fatigue.

Can you make a step-through description of brainbit activation for some basic brain tasks?

With effort, I could. Did you have a particular task in mind?

Can you only perceive conscious actions/problem solving?

This question almost doesn't make sense, but I think the proper answer is no: I can perceive and influence things about how I'm processing information that, according to my neuroscientist friend, are not normally consciously perceivable, and I can also observe the workings of various brainbits that I don't have any direct way of consciously influencing, to various degrees.

How confident are you that your brainbit awareness corresponds with specific neurological actions?

Pretty confident. What I perceive squares well with neuroscience, and on top of that, I do actually make use of my awareness. I've picked up a few tricks that way that work reliably enough to convince me even if the correlation with neuroscience wasn't so strong. The most convincing one is that I can consciously stop a brief memory from forming, if I have warning beforehand - that particular one is rarely useful, but since I can remember having done it, and what general type of information I did it to, without remembering the actual information despite much curiosity, it makes a good proof. (A more useful, but slightly less provable, one, is 'next time I see X, remember Y'. That one is also usefully reliable and has been known to trigger over a year after having been set, but there's an anthropic bias inherent in it: If it fails, I'm unlikely to realize that it has, in many situations.)

Do you think that your awareness forms a model of reality that could be useful for describing brains other than your own?

I suspect so. The correlation with neuroscience implies that my neurodifference is a difference in degree more than a difference in type, and my interactions with other people since I've figured out how to compensate for that have generally supported that theory.

I have a lot more questions I could ask but I'll stop there because there's a good chance I am asking the wrong questions, until I get clarification from you. Feel free to answer the questions I didn't ask rather than the questions that I did ask.

You seem to be on the right track. What else are you curious about?

Comment author: thomblake 27 May 2009 07:49:27PM 1 point [-]

I was diagnosed as being ADD when I was five, but personal research has led me to the conclusion that I'm almost certainly autistic,

Currently a common story. I've been suspecting the same thing about myself for some time.

currently working from home on complex Second Life projects.

Sounds like you're living the dream. How do I get in touch with your agent?

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 27 May 2009 07:59:29PM *  0 points [-]

I was diagnosed as being ADD when I was five, but personal research has led me to the conclusion that I'm almost certainly autistic,

Currently a common story. I've been suspecting the same thing about myself for some time.

I recommend Amanda Baggs' blog as a resource for figuring that out - she's not posting regularly any more, but there's a lot of older posts describing how she experiences various things that are common in autistics. It makes a lot more sense than the 'list of traits' type things that are common - an outsider's view isn't very useful if you're not looking from the outside.

currently working from home on complex Second Life projects.

Sounds like you're living the dream. How do I get in touch with your agent?

Yeah, it's pretty amazing. I can't tell you much about how to break into the industry, as it was almost entirely luck, for me, but getting into SL, getting used to the system, and doing a few projects can't hurt. I was 'discovered' when I did a build for a disability support group that was starting up, that happened to be being sponsored by the owner of the company I now work for.

Comment author: HughRistik 27 May 2009 09:24:58PM 0 points [-]

I recommend Amanda Baggs' blog as a resource for figuring that out - she's not posting regularly any more, but there's a lot of older posts describing how she experiences various things that are common in autistics.

Are there any particular ones you recommend? I skimmed some of the archives and found some interesting stuff, but I'm not sure I found the posts you are referring to.

Comment author: AdeleneDawner 27 May 2009 09:31:10PM 0 points [-]

That's too general of a question to bring any answers to mind. However, as part of my neuroversity project, I'll be going through her blog and at least making a categorized list of links, or hopefully transferring her work to my wiki if I can get her permission, so you can check there from time to time.

A more specific question might actually get an answer now, though, too. :)

Comment author: HughRistik 27 May 2009 10:19:13PM 0 points [-]

I was just wondering if there were specific posts on the blog you had in mind where Ballastexistenz describes common autistic experiences. There no need to rush to dig some up if you weren't thinking of specific ones; I'll check your project in the future for categorized links to her work.

Comment author: FranFin 22 August 2010 03:27:57PM *  11 points [-]

Those of you who were at the 2010 SIngularity Summit in San Francisco last weekend might have seen me. I was hovering around "the guy in the motorized wheelchair." I am Hal Finney's spouse and life partner. Although I am new to Less Wrong, and very ignorant when it come to HTML and computers, I have been a Rationalist ever since I was a child, to the dismay of my mother, teachers, and legions of other people I interacted with. I met Hal while an undergraduate at Caltech. And as they say, the rest is history.

This past year, Hal and I have had to completely alter projections of our future together. Hal was diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, better known in the US as "Lou Gehrigs Disease"). Since his diagnosis in August of 2009, Hal has physically changed in very obvious ways. His speech has become slow, quiet, and labored. His typing has gone from rapid-fire 120 WPM to a sluggish finger peck. His weekly running (50-60 miles per week in February 2009) stopped being possible in November of 2009, and now Hal gets around in a motorized wheelchair. Eating, always a pleasure before, is now a challenge - much concentration is involved to avoid choking. The most recent and worrisome manifestation of the weakening in Hal's voluntary muscles is his breathing. However - all of these changes have been to Hal's body. The machine that Hal's brain controls through efferent output to interact with the environment. Inside, he is the same brilliant guy I have known for well over half of my life.

I was very impressed with the people I met at the Singularity Summit. What a relief to be around creative individuals who think rather than just act. Who problem solve, rather than just react. Who can understand Hal's and my intention to keep his magnificent brain alive and give him a way to communicate, even if he loses all movement.

I am happy that a community of rational people exists. And I'm looking forward to interacting with this community, along with Hal, for many more years.

Comment author: Duk3 26 July 2011 04:44:24AM 6 points [-]

My name is Peter Scheyer. I am a professional entrepreneur. I have attended the 2011 Minicamp and Boot Camp as a sometime instructor and all-time participant in business theory and practice. I will be writing on many topics, including defense against/ how to use the Dark Arts, Granularization, Rational Task Completion, and topics related to my new startup based around building software which uses rationality concepts to make being addictive productive.

Comment author: fiddlemath 26 July 2011 05:33:45AM 1 point [-]

make being addictive productive.

Will you also make being productive addictive? :)

Comment author: orthonormal 07 May 2009 06:58:10PM 3 points [-]

Seconding Lightwave's comment, but taking it farther: imagine you're new to Less Wrong. For the first couple of weeks, you don't see an introduction thread even if you've figured out to check "New" as well as "Promoted".

There should be a link to a monthly introduction thread visible from the front page (or from the About Less Wrong page).

Comment author: conchis 07 May 2009 07:27:06PM 1 point [-]

I would also suggest a link to the welcome page be visible from either the front or about pages.

Comment author: phane 06 May 2009 11:11:40AM 2 points [-]

Hi everybody. I'm a student who keeps changing fields. I have background in philosophy, psychology, cognitive science, and statistics. I grew up with a passion for knowledge, and independently rejected religion for naturalism at an early age, so I guess being a rationalist just came naturally. I'm a transhumanist; to be more precise, I think we'll have smarter-than-human cyborgs/bioborgs/uploads by about 2070, and I'd like to become one. I'm also optimistic about nanotechnology and the continued advancement of computing machinery.

I found Overcomingbias months ago after coming across Robin Hanson's talk about intelligent machines and the economy. The more I read of his work, the more it struck me that Robin is a very smart and admirable person, so I stuck around. Of course, this meant I read a lot of Eliezer's stuff as well, which I found I wrestled with a lot more (not to say I disagree with him all the time, just that his perspective is often quite different).

I'm interested in most of the topics that get thrown around in this community, although I profess to feeling that I don't have much to add in many cases. I'll see if I can't maintain a bit of activity, though. Nice meeting you all.

Comment author: Emily 06 May 2009 08:55:25AM 2 points [-]

I finally signed up for an account recently, although I've been reading Overcoming Bias since the end of 2006. I already considered myself the atheist/skeptic type (found my way here from ScienceBlogs, which leans heavily in that direction) and was vaguely interested in AI, so I was hooked pretty quickly and have enjoyed the ongoing process of generalising my atheism/skepticism to rationalism in general.

I'm now a first-year undergrad at Cambridge University, studying Spanish and Russian (planning to switch to linguistics after one more year). I don't expect I'll be saying very much around these parts -- I'm fairly out of my depth on most topics discussed and am mostly here to learn, as I certainly have been doing from OB for many months. Thank you to all the contributors there and here on LW!

Comment author: Lightwave 07 May 2009 06:31:57PM 1 point [-]

What do you think about promoting these posts every month and then demoting them at the end of the month? This way new people that read the front page only get to see them too.