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chaosmage comments on Project Hufflepuff: Planting the Flag - Less Wrong

41 Post author: Raemon 03 April 2017 06:37PM

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Comment author: chaosmage 03 April 2017 02:18:01PM 8 points [-]

One of the skills to talk about would be the skill of actively proselytizing and getting people into rationality. I don't mean onboarding people who are already interested, I mean actually going up to people who you wish were rationalists and trying to make them.

Successful communities do this, although the specifics vary widely. EA does it, which I think is why EA is growing while LW isn't. We've been largely coasting on Eliezer's wave.

Thus is difficult because LW rationality arose in the tech culture of California, I.e. an unusually individualistic culture within an unusually individualistic part of the most individualistic country ever. Only in California could one be called a "cult" for seeking a consensus philosophy. Any active proselytizing would definitely encounter the "cult" charge again.

But proselytizing works. It keeps a movement young - we're already noticably older on average than we were ten years ago and we're starting to look like a cohort of tech nerds who were in their impressionable college age when Eliezer wrote the sequences. And it keeps a movement dynamic - if new people are coming in all the time, you don't have to suffer the ossification that it takes to retain people as they get older. LW rationality has no less need of this than other movements.

And there are definitely people who are much better at it than others, so a systematic study of what works is eminently doable. I think this fits squarely into Project Hufflepuff.

Comment author: JenniferRM 07 April 2017 05:49:35PM *  8 points [-]

Personally, I think cohorts happen automatically, and LW is "yet another cohort" and if we want to be part of a movement with inter-generational significance then maybe we should pause to consider why we think we should be "the first generation" in a movement that lasts forever...

In this vein, I appreciate previous places and groups like:

If I was going to name the entire thing, I think I might call it "Outsider Science" (taking a cue from "Outsider Art" and contrasting it with "Vannevarian Science").

So if you wanted to be so Hufflepuff that you sacrificed the whole group on the altar of being social (rather than just sacrificing yourself for the group) I'd argue that it would be a natural progression to work on reconnecting, resuscitating, archiving, and generally paying attention to these older places and communities, and putting yourself in service to their long term goals.

The hard thing here is that the diagnostic criteria looking backwards seems to be having a certain mindset towards physical reality and being a kind of a cultural orphan at the same time. The standoffishness and founding a tiny little institutes is part of what this movement seems to do by default?

Thus, projecting forward, you would predict that new instances of "the outsider science movement" would form on their own, start their own thing, and reject the notion of intellectual parentage, as much as we (the hypothetical intellectual parents) try to bring them into the loose confederation of previous attempts at self organized scientific research aiming at eternal intellectual challenges.

A lot of the future people you'd be trying to bring into the fold might very well prefer to struggle on alone.

Arguably, Vanevarian Science (with government credentialed universities doing government funded research) is already doing what you would evolve into anyway, and has succeeded so far and so thoroughly that its "highest mid level hierarchs" have become members of the deep government of the world? So maybe the right thing to do is just let all the various orphans struggle on by themselves, and just go try to get a job at NSF while retaining fond feelings for the strugglers?

So my guess is that Bacon's Effecting Of All Things Possible has run for a long while now, and maybe "the orphans" who might have belonged to the high church version (but somehow never connected with the central culture) were never really noticed until the internet came along and then could start to find each other and form little clumps and clusters.

So maybe the most Hufflepuff thing possible would be to somehow be encourage a larger internet culture that finds and welcomes these autonomous orphan clusters, while also extending an olive branch to the high church "Heirs of Bacon" who exist in the deep government, and see if there is some way to establish a state of communion between the main tree and all the little saplings :-)

Comment author: Viliam 10 April 2017 09:38:24AM 2 points [-]

I agree that "cohorts happen automatically", and the organisations that prevent this usually care explicitly about the next generations, whether we are talking about the Scout movement, religious groups, or academia. Ignoring this would be detrimental to the rationalist movement in long term.

Understandably, most of us have negative connotations associated with "spreading the word". It is yet another "motte and bailey" situation, where on some level it's true that increasing the number of people who e.g. read Less Wrong is not our terminal value, that gaining followers is almost orthogonal to being 'less wrong', and that trying to be attractive for too many people could dilute the message; but on the other hand, it can easily become reversed stupidity, something like people refusing to eat food just because Hitler did that.

There are two basic ways how can rationality movement could disappear from the world. One is gradual shrinking: people individually deciding that e.g. Pascal's wager actually makes sense, or that making their political faction win is more important than getting statistics and logic right, or otherwise trade rationality for something more appealing. The other is gradually becoming a group of old farts, whose debates are gradually reduced to talking over and over again about the things that happened decades ago. -- Where do we see ourselves, as a group, 50 years from now? (Conditional on Singularity not happening, humanity not going extinct, etc., or course.)

Of course, if we are not willing to enter a "loose confederation" with the previous generations, we should not expect a different approach from the next generations. Telling them to "read the Sequences" would be like telling us to "read Science and Sanity"; maybe one in a hundred would do, but nothing would change as a result, anyway.

Seems like two things need to be done, probably in this order:

1) Agree on a larger definition of "confederation of reason", "scions of Bacon", or whatever we decide to call it. Yes, this will be difficult, it goes against our nitpicking instinct, and it is going to rub many people the wrong way.

2) Make a strategic effort to recruit people, a lot of them (not just a few mathematical prodigies), into the "confederation of reason". This could mean joining what other organisations are already doing, instead of reinventing the wheel. This again goes against our instincts.

I expect that many rationalists will be not able to overcome their insticts on these matters, so we should not expect a wide consensus here. Instead, a few people who like this idea should just create a team, and do it. Which is how generally things get done.

Comment author: Raemon 03 April 2017 02:55:45PM *  7 points [-]

I actually think it's important for a given project to have a fairly narrow focus in order to make progress, and I see Project Hufflepuff as related to outreach, but not directly about outreach. (I also don't think proselytizing is the right word - we don't have Good News to share - we have a bunch of ideas and models we're in the process of figuring out.)

Right now, the community has something of a backlog of people who want to get more involved, but aren't sure how, and people who are hanging out on the periphery and have value to contribute, but various things about the culture make them not want to. As well as people in the community who aren't succeeding/thriving at the things they want to.

Project Hufflepuff is about making internal community infrastructure better. This will hopefully remove bottlenecks that make outreach harder, but isn't the same thing.