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John_Maxwell_IV comments on A survey of the top posters on lesswrong - Less Wrong

12 Post author: Elo 11 June 2015 01:47AM

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Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 11 June 2015 12:21:52PM *  20 points [-]

People have some kind of tendency to believe that if a conversation happens on the internet, it isn't very important or worthwhile. Surely the only important and worthwhile words are written in high-status media like books and journal articles. And the only important and worthwhile conversations happen in the offices of tenured professors at prestigious universities, not in the open thread of some obscure group blog.

Never mind that many useful concepts introduced in LW-sphere blog posts ("ugh fields", "moloch", "pulling the rope sideways", "Pascal's mugging") have entered the broader lexicon of hundreds or thousands of 130+ IQ high-income do-gooders. Never mind that few people read academic papers, much academic writing is terrible, and many books have a high word-to-idea ratio. Never mind that even obscure blog comments can be read by a triple-digit number of people (bigger than a typical college class) or even paraphrased by Peter Singer in a published book marketed to a wide audience (he paraphrases blog comments in The Most Good You Can Do).

Just because you find it entertaining doesn't mean you are wasting your time. Less Wrong is as good as we all make it.

Comment author: Lumifer 11 June 2015 02:41:34PM 3 points [-]

People have some kind of tendency to believe that if a conversation happens on the internet, it isn't very important or worthwhile.

Not quite. An average conversation on the 'net isn't very important or worthwhile. However the tails are long and once you get far away from the mean, some very important and worthwhile conversations can be had.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 11 June 2015 02:56:06PM 1 point [-]

Sure. It doesn't seem like the median book/journal article is very special either though.

Comment author: Lumifer 11 June 2015 03:11:29PM 1 point [-]

No, but at least it probably had considerably more effort behind it :-)

I am not quite sure against whom (or what) are you arguing.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 11 June 2015 03:17:14PM *  1 point [-]

Against this statement:

The top posters don't think they or lesswrong is effective at changing the world; however this is a nice place to hang out. I don't know what an effective place would look like but it is almost certainly not this place.

Some Less Wrong posts clearly have a lot of effort put in to them. And some seem to me quite valuable, even to the point of potentially "changing the world" the way the best journal articles do.

The content is more important than the medium. I think high-quality content is a self-fulfilling prophecy to a certain degree.

Comment author: Lumifer 11 June 2015 03:33:36PM 0 points [-]

Ah, I see. The thing that strikes me here is the difference between "potentially could" and "will" -- having conversations is not quite the same thing as going out and actually doing stuff.

Seems to me you underestimate the difficulty of changing the world.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 11 June 2015 03:45:28PM *  3 points [-]

I just read Elon Musk's biography a few weeks ago and that put me in a pretty good mood :) It doesn't seem like there are many competent, determined people who are bold enough to think they can do something great. In our society, thinking you can do something awesome is considered naive, so people who want to appear sophisticated rarely think this. Which is its own self-fulfilling prophecy. People were derisive of Elon for years before he ended up proving himself right. "The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do" - cheesy but likely true.

Comment author: Lumifer 11 June 2015 04:11:07PM 2 points [-]

It doesn't seem like there are many competent, determined people who are bold enough to think they can do something great.

The "competent" part is the iffy one, but the startup world is chock-full of "determined people who are bold enough to think they can do something great". The great majority of them, of course, fail.

The problem with making high-stakes bets (e.g. on one's career path) is that the expected outcome of failing will be pretty painful.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 11 June 2015 06:16:19PM 1 point [-]

...yet the ones that succeed end up having a huge impact on the world economy. I'm willing to be a missile that misses its target.

Anyway, we are talking about blog posts here not careers :) The downsides of accidentally writing a lousy blog post are not large.

Comment author: pianoforte611 11 June 2015 04:23:44PM 0 points [-]

People have some kind of tendency to believe that if a conversation happens on the internet, it isn't very important or worthwhile. Surely the only important and worthwhile words are written in high-status media like books and journal articles. And the only important and worthwhile conversations happen in the offices of tenured professors at prestigious universities, not in the open thread of some obscure group blog.

Do you think the LW users in question are guilty of this?

Never mind that many useful concepts introduced in LW-sphere blog posts ("ugh fields", "moloch", "pulling the rope sideways", "Pascal's mugging") have entered the broader lexicon of hundreds or thousands of 130+ IQ high-income do-gooders.

This is compatible with the belief than most of the marginal benefit of spending time on LessWrong is entertainment.