Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

Meetup : West LA: Wait a minute... just what is bias?

0 abramdemski 29 May 2015 10:18PM

Discussion article for the meetup : West LA: Wait a minute... just what is bias?

WHEN: 03 June 2015 07:00:00PM (-0700)

WHERE: 11066 santa monica blvd, la, ca

How to Find Us: Go into this Del Taco. We will be in the back room if possible.

Parking is free in the lot out front or on the street nearby.

Discussion: The definition of bias in statistics is significantly different from the definition used on LessWrong. Why is this? What are the differences? It turns out that the scientific literature on biases uses multiple notions of bias. This muddies the research. Applying different statistical tools, psychologists can use the same dataset to "prove" that people are both overconfident and underconfident. This statistical phenomenon is closely related to why the tails come apart.

Recommended Reading:

No prior exposure to Less Wrong is required; this will be generally accessible.

Discussion article for the meetup : West LA: Wait a minute... just what is bias?

Weekly LW Meetups

1 FrankAdamek 29 May 2015 03:34PM

Irregularly scheduled Less Wrong meetups are taking place in:

The remaining meetups take place in cities with regular scheduling, but involve a change in time or location, special meeting content, or simply a helpful reminder about the meetup:

Locations with regularly scheduled meetups: Austin, Berkeley, Berlin, Boston, Brussels, Buffalo, Cambridge UK, Canberra, Columbus, London, Madison WI, Melbourne, Moscow, Mountain View, New York, Philadelphia, Research Triangle NC, Seattle, Sydney, Tel Aviv, Toronto, Vienna, Washington DC, and West Los Angeles. There's also a 24/7 online study hall for coworking LWers.

continue reading »

Meetup : Moscow: epistemology, framing, new project announcement

0 berekuk 29 May 2015 11:58AM

Discussion article for the meetup : Moscow: epistemology, framing, new project announcement

WHEN: 31 May 2015 02:00:00PM (+0300)

WHERE: Russia, Moscow, L'va Tolstogo 16

We're meeting at Yandex, at 7.Nebo (Extropolis is taken this time).

Please fill this form if you're planning to visit.

Planned activities:

  1. Talk by marchdown on epistemology, Frege and Quine.
  2. Report on a small framing research by Pion.
  3. Proposal for a new online project (common database of volunteers for scientific experiments) by berekuk.

Afterparty activities:

  • Fallacymania game, organized by Alexander230.
  • Brainstorm on how to improve Fallacymania, facilitated by Yury.

Hackpad: https://lesswrong-ru.hackpad.com/-31-2015-417xPxFa6Jv

Location details and info for the newcomers:

We meet outside of the Yandex office, near the archway and bike parking place. Here is a guide how to get to Yandex: http://company.yandex.ru/contacts/redrose/.

Security wants me to meet each member personally, so if you're late, please call me (Slava) at +7(926)313-96-42. Though I'll appreciate it if you're not late.

Expected duration of the meetup is 4-6 hours, depending on whether you'd like to stand for the afterparty activities. If you're not the member of our Moscow community yet, you might want to check out https://lesswrong-ru.hackpad.com/ , there's a lot of content about what's been going on for the last two years.

Also, please subscribe to our mailing list: https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/rationality-in-moscow

Discussion article for the meetup : Moscow: epistemology, framing, new project announcement

Meetup : Oslo Meetup at Bitraf.

0 FourFire 29 May 2015 07:04AM

Discussion article for the meetup : Oslo Meetup at Bitraf.

WHEN: 29 May 2015 05:30:00PM (+0200)

WHERE: Youngstorget 6, Oslo

Welcome to the second Lesswrong meetup, this time at a hackerspace.

The entrance is a bit quirky: a big green double door With "NILZ" in yellow writing over it, just ring the doorbell marked "bitraf" and say anything.

As with last meetup there will be several topics up for discussion, but I won't list them here.

I hope some of those who couldn't make it last week will turn up then :)

Discussion article for the meetup : Oslo Meetup at Bitraf.

The most important meta-skill

6 Nanashi 27 May 2015 03:51PM

Note: This article underwent a significant revision on 5/28/2015. Thank you to estimator for all your feedback.

The most important meta-skill that anyone can learn is how to learn skills. With practice, you learn how to pick up new skills as they are needed, which is infinitely (quite literally) more efficient than trying to learn each skill individually in advance.

There are two basic premises that this method relies on:

  1. A skill can be eventually be broken down into a series of trivial sub-skills.

  2. The skill and its sub-skills follows a Pareto distribution.

The Pareto principle states that typically, 80% of a system's effects can be linked to 20% of their causes. Or in this case, learning 20% of the trivial sub-skills will make you 80% proficient at the overall skill. Empirically, many systems, both artificial and natural have been proven to follow this distribution, and skills are no exception. This guide is intended to teach you how to identify that 20%.

What lies below this is almost 1,000 words to describe something that's ultimately about condensing things and taking shortcuts. So, to be true to this attitude, I'll start with the "20% version", and those so inclined can continue to read the other 80%.



  1. Break the skill you want to learn into several sub-skills.

  2. For each sub-skill, ask "Is this trivial?" If so, add that to your "trivial list". If not, repeat steps 1-2 for each sub-skill. Continue to iterate until all you have left is a list of trivial sub-skills.

  3. For each trivial sub-skill, ask, "How can this go wrong, and what can I do if it does?" Add this to your list of back-up plans, unless it is redundant.

  4. Sort your list of sub-skills by how easy they will be to learn, then start learning and practicing them. Any time something goes wrong or you encounter a situation you did not account for, use one of your back-up plans.

  5. Repeat steps 1-4 for any sub-skills you encounter that you did not account for.  


So, that was the short version. If you find you need more context, here goes. Note that the first premise uses the word "trivial", which then begs the question: "What makes a sub-skill trivial?" A convenient answer to that is: "If you personally feel sufficiently confident that you can do it." Or, in other words, "Can you look up how to do it on the internet?" Which means, if the problem itself is trivial, you don't need to bother with this. Just look up a guide online.

Most skills are too complicated for someone to sit down and analyze every possible sub-skill needed to accomplish it. Fortunately, you don't have to. Your goal isn't to learn all the sub-skills, its to learn the important 20%. The overall efficiency of a sub-skill is a function of two things: how how integral it is to the overall skill, and how easy it is to learn. You're going to let System 1 do most of the heavy lifting here.

Fortunately, our brains are pretty good at pattern-matching. Goals are high-level concepts whose meanings are derived from the combination of several patterns and archetypes that you've got stored away somewhere. When you say, "I want to learn a foreign language", your brain immediately starts filling in the patterns of what exactly that means. It starts identifying the things that are integral to your idea of the concept.  Then it combines them into one coherent concept, and that's what you're left with. The trouble is, most people don't preserve these individual patterns before combining them, and thus they're left with something that's purely conceptual, rather than actionable. "I want to learn a foreign language" or "I want to learn to code" or "I want to learn social skills".


So just let your brain go to work doing what it already does, but pay attention during the process and identify the key components before they get mushed into a concept. Make System 1 tell you "You want to be able to converse, interact, and function in a society that speaks a different language," instead of just, "You want to learn a foreign language." Remember that you don't need to identify all the components. Just the ones that are important enough for System 1 to dredge up on a moment's notice. Most likely, these will be the 20% that you're looking for. Of course, chances are the initial output is going to be a high level concept unto itself. There's no "to-do list" for "being able to converse in a society that speaks a different language". So you put System 1 to work again. What exactly do I mean by that? "Oh, what you mean is: you want to be able to ask and understand both questions and answers, and be able to express your thoughts."

Eventually you'll reach the point of triviality. You'll have a sizable list of trivial tasks such as "You want to be able to say the following twenty basic sentences: XYZ", and "You want to know the following 100 basic vocabulary words: ABC." and "You want to be able to identify the most common articles, prepositions and conjunctions." Here's where System 2 goes to work: you look at this big list and ask yourself, which of these would be easiest for me to accomplish? And then you sort the list accordingly.

Voila. There's your roadmap.

Now, all of this is fine and good, but at some point you will encounter a situation that doesn't fall under this convenient little roadmap you've followed. So you want to make a backup plan. System 2 needs to look over your roadmap and ask: "How can this go wrong, and what can I do if it does?" If you do this for each item on your list, chances are there will be a lot of duplicates and redundancies, which you can pare down. When all is said and done, you'll have a few plans of action in case things go wrong.

So, you have a roadmap to guide you through the 20%, and a generalized plan for the other 80%. What now?

Well, there's always room for improvement. If you do things right, you'll be pretty well immersed in the nitty-gritty of whatever skill you are trying to learn, which means you will be getting loads of first-hand experience as to all the different ways things can go wrong which you probably never could have anticipated. And you'll run in to scenarios that make you say, "I can't believe I didn't think about that."

Fortunately you don't need to get things perfect on the first try. If you encounter a situation you didn't account for it, then account for it. Ask yourself what happened, and let System 1 go to work on breaking it down. If something goes wrong in a way you hadn't thought about, come up with a separate plan for that. Eventually your model will become more and more robust as you start to learn many of the fundamentals that you probably skipped over when you made your roadmap.

There seem to be two different types of learning styles, the "academic" way of starting with the fundamentals and building from the ground up, and the "immersion" method of just throwing someone into the deep end of the pool and working from the top-down. This method combines both: you learn the fundamentals of the things that are necessary to immerse yourself. Instead of being "top-down" or "bottom-up", this is more like, "start at the bottom, skip to the top, then work your way back down through the middle."

Meetup : Canberra: More Zendo!

0 DanielFilan 27 May 2015 01:13PM

Discussion article for the meetup : Canberra: More Zendo!

WHEN: 13 June 2015 06:00:00PM (+1000)

WHERE: 108 North Road, Acton, ACT

I really enjoyed Zendo last time we played it, so we're doing it again, but this time with things other than playing cards. The rules will be explained at the event, but in summary, one person is the 'Master', who has a secret rule in mind, and their 'Students' must guess the Master's rule in order to win. Further explanation is at the Wikipedia page (although note that we will be using simpler rules). As always, vegan snacks will be provided.

Note that after this, I will be in the USA until late July, and therefore unable to run meetups. However, other people are more than welcome to do so in my absence.

General meetup info:

  • If you use Facebook, please join our group.
  • Structured meetups are (usually) held on the second Saturday and fourth Friday of each month from 6 pm until late in the CSIT building, room N101.

Discussion article for the meetup : Canberra: More Zendo!

Meetup : Washington, D.C.: Wise Sayings

0 RobinZ 27 May 2015 12:59PM

Discussion article for the meetup : Washington, D.C.: Wise Sayings

WHEN: 31 May 2015 03:00:00PM (-0400)

WHERE: National Portrait Gallery

We'll be congregating at the courtyard of the National Portrait Gallery from 3:00 - 3:30 until closing.

The Person who was going to do the MIRI Q&A will be unavailable, so instead we'll be meeting ostensibly to share and talk about wise sayings, but also to hang out and talk about whatever.

Upcoming meetups:

  • Jun. 7: Fun & Games
  • Jun. 14: Visit Museums
  • Jun. 21: Create and Complete
  • Jun. 28: Fun & Games

Discussion article for the meetup : Washington, D.C.: Wise Sayings

Meetup : Rationality meetup in Prague #3

0 kotrfa 27 May 2015 09:24AM

Discussion article for the meetup : Rationality meetup in Prague #3

WHEN: 30 June 2015 06:30:00PM (+0200)

WHERE: Václavské náměstí 778/14, Praha 110 00


this is third long-term planed meetup in Prague.

We are currently a group of five people regularly meeting every week or so. Our sessions are sometimes just talk about our life or we hold some presentations (technology, morality, ethics, transhumanism...). More about it here http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Less_Wrong_meetup_groups#Prague.2C_Czech_Republic.

We all are open meeting new interesting people and even if you just want to hang out with us, don't hesitate to come!

You can recognize us by having paper with "LW" on it on our table. Meet up is going to be in Dobrá Čajovna s.r.o. (tea-room).

Looking forward to see you there! :)

Discussion article for the meetup : Rationality meetup in Prague #3

Rationality is about pattern recognition, not reasoning

18 JonahSinick 26 May 2015 07:23PM

Short version (courtesy of Nanashi)

Our brains' pattern recognition capabilities are far stronger than our ability to reason explicitly. Most people can recognize cats across contexts with little mental exertion. By way of contrast, explicitly constructing a formal algorithm that can consistently cats across contexts requires great scientific ability and cognitive exertion.

Very high level epistemic rationality is about retraining one's brain to be able to see patterns in the evidence in the same way that we can see patterns when we observe the world with our eyes. Reasoning plays a role, but a relatively small one. Sufficiently high quality mathematicians don't make their discoveries through reasoning. The mathematical proof is the very last step: you do it to check that your eyes weren't deceiving you, but you know ahead of time that it's your eyes probably weren't deceiving you.

I have a lot of evidence that this way of thinking is how the most effective people think about the world. I would like to share what I learned. I think that what I've learned is something that lots of people are capable of learning, and that learning it would greatly improve people's effectiveness. But communicating the information is very difficult.

It took me 10,000+ hours to learn how to "see" patterns in evidence in the way that I can now. Right now, I don't know how to communicate how to do it succinctly. In order to succeed, I need collaborators who are open to spend a lot of time thinking carefully about the material, to get to the point of being able to teach others. I'd welcome any suggestions for how to find collaborators.

continue reading »

Meetup : June Rationality Dojo: Logical fallacies & dojo structure discussion

0 MelbourneLW 26 May 2015 12:55PM

Discussion article for the meetup : June Rationality Dojo: Logical fallacies & dojo structure discussion

WHEN: 07 June 2015 03:30:00PM (+0800)

WHERE: Jenny Florence Room, Level 3, Ross House, 247 Flinders Lane, Melbourne

[3:30pm start / arrival / preparation – formal dojo activities will commence at 4:00pm.]

The Less Wrong Sunday Rationality Dojos are self-improvement sessions for those committed to the Art of Rationality and personal growth, on the first Sunday of each month.

1) James Fodor will run a session on logical fallacies: Sloppy thinking, logical fallacies, and invalid reasoning are everywhere in life, and relatively few people have the ability to rigorously and critically examine arguments. We'll begin with a quick review of some key concepts in logic, such as the difference between validity and soundness, and also review some of the major types of logical fallacies and failure modes in reasoning. We'll then practise analysing real arguments, identifying where they go wrong, why they are problematic, and how they might be improved. (James is president of the University of Melbourne Secular Society, runs the group "Dealing With Disagreement", and is interested in epistemology, inter-faith dialogue, effective altruism, and applied rationality.)

2) A few of us recently met to discuss restructuring the Less Wrong Dojos. Patrick will report on our ideas, and we'll discuss.

3) As always, we will review the personal goals we committed to at the previous Dojo (I will have done X by the next Dojo). Goals are recorded via Google Forms here -https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1MCHH4MpbW0SI_2JyMSDlKnnGP4A0qxojQEZoMZIdopk/viewform, and Melbourne Less Wrong organisers have access to the form results if you wish to review the goals you set last month.

4) Lightning talks: Learnt something cool? Gained an insight from one of the Less Wrong sequences? Share it with Melbourne LW! Speakers are limited to 5 minutes including questions. If you have something you would like to present a lightning talk on, please let one of the organisers know, either beforehand or on the day.

The Dojo is likely to run until about 6:30pm, after which some people will get dinner together.

If you have any trouble finding the venue or getting in, text or call Richard on 0421231789 or Chris on 0439471632

If you would like to present at a future Dojo or suggest a topic, please fill it in on the Rationality Dojo Roster: http://is.gd/dojoroster

To organise similar events, please send an email to melbournelw@gmail.com

Discussion article for the meetup : June Rationality Dojo: Logical fallacies & dojo structure discussion

View more: Next