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Applied Rationality Workshops: Jan 25-28 and March 1-4

20 AnnaSalamon 03 January 2013 01:00AM

The Center for Applied Rationality is running two more four-day workshops: Jan 25-28 and March 1-4 in the SF bay area.  Like the previous workshop, these sessions are targeted at ambitious, analytic people who have broad intellectual interests, and who care about making real-world projects work.  Less Wrong veterans and Less Wrong newcomers alike are welcome: as discussed below, we are intentionally bringing together folks with varied backgrounds and skill bases.

Workshop details:

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Rationality Quotes January 2013

6 katydee 02 January 2013 05:23PM

Happy New Year! Here's the latest and greatest installment of rationality quotes. Remember:

  • Please post all quotes separately, so that they can be voted up/down separately.  (If they are strongly related, reply to your own comments.  If strongly ordered, then go ahead and post them together.)
  • Do not quote yourself
  • Do not quote comments/posts on LessWrong or Overcoming Bias
  • No more than 5 quotes per person per monthly thread, please

Ritual 2012: A Moment of Darkness

35 Raemon 28 December 2012 09:09AM

This is the second post of the 2012 Ritual Sequence. The Introduction post is here.

This is... the extended version, I suppose, of a speech I gave at the Solstice.

The NYC Solstice Weekprior celebration begins bright and loud, and gradually becomes somber and poignant. Our opening songs are about the end of the world, but in a funny, boisterous manner that gets people excited and ready to sing. We gradually wind down, dimming lights, extinguishing flames. We turn to songs that aren’t sad but are more quiet and pretty.

And then things get grim. We read Beyond the Reach of God. We sing songs about a world where we are alone, where there is nothing protecting us, and where we somehow need to survive and thrive, even when it looks like the light is failing.

We extinguish all but a single candle, and read an abridged version of the Gift We Give to Tomorrow, which ends like this:

Once upon a time,
far away and long ago,
there were intelligent beings who were not themselves intelligently designed.

Once upon a time,
there were lovers, created by something that did not love.

Once upon a time,
when all of civilization was a single galaxy,

A single star.
A single planet.
A place called Earth.

Once upon a time.

And then we extinguish that candle, and sit for a moment in the darkness.

This year, I took that time to tell a story.

It’s included in the 2012 Ritual Book. I was going to post it at the end of the sequence. But I realized that it’s actually pretty important to the “What Exactly is the Point of Ritual?” discussion. So I’m writing a more fleshed out version now, both for easy reference and for people who don’t feel like hunting through a large pdf to find it.

It’s a bit longer, in this version - it’s what I might have said, if time wasn’t a constraint during the ceremony.


A year ago, I started planning for tonight. In particular, for this moment, after the last candle is snuffed out and we’re left alone in the dark with the knowledge that our world is unfair and that we have nobody to help us but each other.

I wanted to talk about death.

My grandmother died two years ago. The years leading up to her death were painful. She slowly lost her mobility, until all she could do was sit in her living room and hope her family would come by to visit and talk to her.

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2012 Survey Results

80 Yvain 07 December 2012 09:04PM

Thank you to everyone who took the 2012 Less Wrong Survey (the survey is now closed. Do not try to take it.) Below the cut, this post contains the basic survey results, a few more complicated analyses, and the data available for download so you can explore it further on your own. You may want to compare these to the results of the 2011 Less Wrong Survey.

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2012 Winter Fundraiser for the Singularity Institute

31 lukeprog 06 December 2012 10:41PM

Cross-posted here.

(The Singularity Institute maintains Less Wrong, with generous help from Trike Apps, and much of the core content is written by salaried SI staff members.)

Thanks to the generosity of several major donors, every donation to the Singularity Institute made now until January 20t (deadline extended from the 5th) will be matched dollar-for-dollar, up to a total of $115,000! So please, donate now!

Now is your chance to double your impact while helping us raise up to $230,000 to help fund our research program.

(If you're unfamiliar with our mission, please see our press kit and read our short research summary: Reducing Long-Term Catastrophic Risks from Artificial Intelligence.)

Now that Singularity University has acquired the Singularity Summit, and SI's interests in rationality training are being developed by the now-separate CFAR, the Singularity Institute is making a major transition.  Most of the money from the Summit acquisition is being placed in a separate fund for a Friendly AI team, and therefore does not support our daily operations or other programs.

For 12 years we've largely focused on movement-building — through the Singularity Summit, Less Wrong, and other programs. This work was needed to build up a community of support for our mission and a pool of potential researchers for our unique interdisciplinary work.

Now, the time has come to say "Mission Accomplished Well Enough to Pivot to Research." Our community of supporters is now large enough that qualified researchers are available for us to hire, if we can afford to hire them. Having published 30+ research papers and dozens more original research articles on Less Wrong, we certainly haven't neglected research. But in 2013 we plan to pivot so that a much larger share of the funds we raise is spent on research.

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Train Philosophers with Pearl and Kahneman, not Plato and Kant

66 lukeprog 06 December 2012 12:42AM

Part of the sequence: Rationality and Philosophy

Hitherto the people attracted to philosophy have been mostly those who loved the big generalizations, which were all wrong, so that few people with exact minds have taken up the subject.

Bertrand Russell


I've complained before that philosophy is a diseased discipline which spends far too much of its time debating definitions, ignoring relevant scientific results, and endlessly re-interpreting old dead guys who didn't know the slightest bit of 20th century science. Is that still the case?

You bet. There's some good philosophy out there, but much of it is bad enough to make CMU philosopher Clark Glymour suggest that on tight university budgets, philosophy departments could be defunded unless their work is useful to (cited by) scientists and engineers — just as his own work on causal Bayes nets is now widely used in artificial intelligence and other fields.

How did philosophy get this way? Russell's hypothesis is not too shabby. Check the syllabi of the undergraduate "intro to philosophy" classes at the world's top 5 U.S. philosophy departmentsNYU, Rutgers, Princeton, Michigan Ann Arbor, and Harvard — and you'll find that they spend a lot of time with (1) old dead guys who were wrong about almost everything because they knew nothing of modern logic, probability theory, or science, and with (2) 20th century philosophers who were way too enamored with cogsci-ignorant armchair philosophy. (I say more about the reasons for philosophy's degenerate state here.)

As the CEO of a philosophy/math/compsci research institute, I think many philosophical problems are important. But the field of philosophy doesn't seem to be very good at answering them. What can we do?

Why, come up with better philosophical methods, of course!

Scientific methods have improved over time, and so can philosophical methods. Here is the first of my recommendations...

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LessWrong podcasts

38 Louie 03 December 2012 08:44AM

Today we're announcing a partnership with Castify to bring you Less Wrong content in audio form. Castify gets blog content read by professional readers and delivers it to their subscribers as a podcast so that you can listen to Less Wrong on the go. The founders of Castify are big fans of Less Wrong so they're rolling out their beta with some of our content.

 Note: The embedded player (above) isn't live as of this posting, but should be deployed soon.

To see how many people will use this, we're having the entire Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions core sequence read and recorded. We thought listening to it would be a great way for new readers to get caught up and for others to check out the quality of Castify's work. We will be adding more Less Wrong content based on community feedback, so let us know which content you'd like to see more of in the comments.

For instance: Which other sequences would you like to listen to? Would there be interest in an ongoing podcast channel for the promoted posts?


Rationality Quotes December 2012

4 Thomas 03 December 2012 02:33AM

Once again, here's the new thread for posting quotes, with the usual rules:

Please post all quotes separately, so that they can be voted up/down separately.  (If they are strongly related, reply to your own comments.  If strongly ordered, then go ahead and post them together.)

  • Do not quote yourself
  • Do not quote comments/posts on LW/OB
  • No more than 5 quotes per person per monthly thread, please.

Causal Universes

60 Eliezer_Yudkowsky 29 November 2012 04:08AM

Followup to: Stuff that Makes Stuff Happen

Previous meditation: Does the idea that everything is made of causes and effects meaningfully constrain experience? Can you coherently say how reality might look, if our universe did not have the kind of structure that appears in a causal model?

I can describe to you at least one famous universe that didn't look like it had causal structure, namely the universe of J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter.

You might think that J. K. Rowling's universe doesn't have causal structure because it contains magic - that wizards wave their wands and cast spells, which doesn't make any sense and goes against all science, so J. K. Rowling's universe isn't 'causal'.

In this you would be completely mistaken. The domain of "causality" is just "stuff that makes stuff happen and happens because of other stuff". If Dumbledore waves his wand and therefore a rock floats into the air, that's causality. You don't even have to use words like 'therefore', let alone big fancy phrases like 'causal process', to put something into the lofty-sounding domain of causality. There's causality anywhere there's a noun, a verb, and a subject: 'Dumbledore's wand lifted the rock.' So far as I could tell, there wasn't anything in Lord of the Rings that violated causality.

You might worry that J. K. Rowling had made a continuity error, describing a spell working one way in one book, and a different way in a different book. But we could just suppose that the spell had changed over time. If we actually found ourselves in that apparent universe, and saw a spell have two different effects on two different occasions, we would not conclude that our universe was uncomputable, or that it couldn't be made of causes and effects.

No, the only part of J. K. Rowling's universe that violates 'cause and effect' is...

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Thoughts on designing policies for oneself

74 John_Maxwell_IV 28 November 2012 01:27AM

Note: This was originally written in relation to this rather scary comment of lukeprog's on value drift.  I'm now less certain that operant conditioning is a significant cause of value drift (leaning towards near/far type explanations), but I decided to share my thoughts on the topic of policy design anyway.

Several years ago, I had a reddit problem.  I'd check reddit instead of working on important stuff.  The more I browsed the site, the shorter my attention span got.  The shorter my attention span got, the harder it was for me to find things that were enjoyable to read.  Instead of being rejuvenating, I found reddit to be addictive, unsatisfying, and frustrating.  Every time I thought to myself that I really should stop, there was always just one more thing to click on.

So I installed LeechBlock and blocked reddit at all hours.  That worked really well... for a while.

Occasionally I wanted to dig up something I remembered seeing on reddit.  (This wasn't always bad--in some cases I was looking up something related to stuff I was working on.)  I tried a few different policies for dealing with this.  All of them basically amounted to inconveniencing myself in some way or another whenever I wanted to dig something up.

After a few weeks, I no longer felt the urge to check reddit compulsively.  And after a few months, I hardly even remembered what it was like to be an addict.

However, my inconvenience barriers were still present, and they were, well, inconvenient.  It really was pretty annoying to make an entry in my notebook describing what I was visiting for and start up a different browser just to check something.  I figured I could always turn LeechBlock on again if necessary, so I removed my self-imposed barriers.  And slid back in to addiction.

After a while, I got sick of being addicted again and decided to do something about it (again).  Interestingly, I forgot my earlier thought that I could just turn LeechBlock on again easily.  Instead, thinking about LeechBlock made me feel hopeless because it seemed like it ultimately hadn't worked.  But I did try it again, and the entire cycle then finished repeating itself: I got un-addicted, I removed LeechBlock, I got re-addicted.

This may seem like a surprising lack of self-awareness.  All I can say is: Every second my brain gathers tons of sensory data and discards the vast majority of it.  Narratives like the one you're reading right now don't get constructed on the fly automatically.  Maybe if I had been following orthonormal's advice of keeping and monitoring a record of life changes attempted, I would've thought to try something different.

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