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The Rationalistsphere and the Less Wrong wiki

13 Post author: Deku-shrub 12 June 2017 11:29PM

Hi everyone!

For people not acquainted with me, I'm Deku-shrub, often known online for my cybercrime research, as well as fairly heavy involvement in the global transhumanist movement with projects like the UK Transhumanist Party and the H+Pedia wiki.

For almost 2 years year now on and off I have been trying to grok what Less Wrong is about, but I've shirked reading all the sequences end to end, instead focused on the most popular ideas transmitted by Internet cultural osmosis. I'm an amateur sociologist and understanding Less Wrong falls within my wider project of understanding the different trends within the contemporary and historical transhumanist movement.

I'm very keen to pin down today's shape of the rationalistsphere and its critics, and the best place I have found do this is on the wiki. Utilising Cunningham's Law at times, I've been building some key navigational and primer articles on the wiki. However with the very lowest hanging fruit now addressed I ask - what next for the wiki?

Distillation of Less Wrong

There was a historical attempt to summerise all major Less Wrong posts, an interesting but incomplete project. It was also approach without a usefully normalised approach. Ideally, every article would have its own page which could be heavily tagged up with metadata such a themes, importance, length, quality, author and such. Is this the goal of the wiki?

Outreach and communications

Another major project is to fully index the Diaspora across Twitter, Blogs, Tumblr, Reddit, Facebook etc and improve the flow of information between the relevant sub communities.

You'll probably want to join one of the chat platforms if you're interested in getting involved. Hell, there are even a few memes and probably more to collect.

Rationalist research

I'll admit I'm ignorant of the goal of Arbital, but I do love me a wiki for research. Cross referencing and citing ideas, merging, splitting, identifying and fully capturing truly interesting and useful ideas from fanciful and fleeting ones is how I've become an expert in a number fields, just by being the first to assemble All The Things.

Certain ideas like the Paper clip maximizer have some popularity beyond just Less Wrong, but Murder Gandhi doesn't - yet. Polishing these ideas with existing and external references (and maybe blogging about them?) is a great way for the community discussion of yore to make its way into the publications of lazy journalists for dissemination. Hell, RationalWiki has been doing it for years now, they're not the only game in town.


If you have any ideas in these areas, or others just a technical, let me know either here, on the Less Wrong Slack group, or on my talk page and maybe we can make Wikis Great Again? ;)

Comments (36)

Comment author: Vaniver 13 June 2017 04:07:41PM 6 points [-]

One of the things that we've noticed, doing user interviews of several solid posters from previous eras of Less Wrong, is that most of them didn't write their first comment or post until they had been on the site for months, and had been spending that time lurking and reading the Sequences. (This was my introduction to the site, for example.)

This suggests to me that there is actually something really good that happens when you read the Sequences front to back. (Like Viliam points out, there's an ebook and physical book versions are starting to come out, and also the redesign involves making the UI for reading through the Sequences much better.)

Comment author: Viliam 13 June 2017 11:29:54PM *  7 points [-]

Reading the Sequences made me feel, on the gut level, things like: "reality already exists, and your clever words are not going to change it retroactively". After reading the Sequences, most of the online debates, including many that previously seemed interesting and I was participating at them, now feel like watching retarded people doing the same elementary mistakes over and over again. Before this, I didn't fully realise how much even the typical smart person is incapable of distinguishing between the map and the territory (i.e. their own thoughts and social consensus vs. the actual reality). Now it seems like people try to magically change reality by yelling at it loudly enough; and the smart ones keep doing the same thing as the stupid ones, only yelling more sophisicated words.

Comment author: RomeoStevens 15 June 2017 07:17:52AM 1 point [-]

Babbler reality has a strong pull because it doles out tasty treats.

Comment author: Viliam 15 June 2017 11:27:31AM *  0 points [-]

Somehow being explained why and how my brain loves those treats makes them less attractive.

It's probably a shift in perspective, that winning online pigeon chess only feels good if you are not aware of the kind of game you were playing. Learning about the fact makes further pigeon chess games feel low-status.

Comment author: username2 14 June 2017 11:43:47AM 5 points [-]

Back when I had a username of my own I interacted in this way.
A huge difference between then and now: Eliezer was not only posting new "Sequences" but actively discussing their content. And a few others were making sequence-like posts and continuing discussion similarly.

Now, the sequences are a fixed set of documents that still serve as interesting, eye-catching and thought provoking entry point. But what is absent is constructive and productive discussion around them. Sure, there have been attempts to reread and discuss, and occasionally someone will create a top-level post to try and discuss ideas from one or another of the Sequence posts --- but these attract minimal and low quality discussion here.

From my outside perspective it seems like a key part is that the "content providers" also engage beyond the first post.
I hope this resumes if LW 2.0 continues to have an essay+discussion format.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 17 June 2017 02:02:02AM 3 points [-]

making the UI for reading through the Sequences much better

Take a look at this site :)

Comment author: Lumifer 19 June 2017 07:12:44PM 1 point [-]

Take a look at this site

The link as given fails to load in Firefox 54.0 with the "Secure Connection Failed" error message (and, notably, Firefox doesn't offer me an obvious way to make an exception for this site). The link does work if you replace the https:// with the plain http://

Comment author: Lumifer 20 June 2017 02:57:26PM 1 point [-]

Update: I checked from another location and everything works properly. I'm now inclined to blame the firewall or, more precisely, some interaction between this particular site's TLS and this particular firewall.

False alarm, switch off the sprinklers :-)

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 19 June 2017 10:16:27PM 1 point [-]

Hmm, interesting. I can't reproduce this issue (Chrome 58.0.3029.110 / Firefox 54.0 / Opera 45.0.2552.888 / Safari 10.0.1 on Mac; Chrome 59.0.3071.86 / Firefox 47.0 on Linux).

Is anyone else getting this?

Comment author: arundelo 19 June 2017 08:08:10PM 0 points [-]

It works for me in Firefox 53.0.3, Firefox 54.0, and Chrome 58.0.3029.110.

(All 32-bit on Windows. I tested it both by clicking on the link, which goes through Less Wrong's redirect.viglink.com thing, and by entering the [https] readthesequences link in the address bar.)

The only weird thing is that after I upgraded to Firefox 54, the "TLS handshake" step of loading the page took a long time -- ten seconds or so -- a couple times, but it's not doing that now.

Comment author: Lumifer 19 June 2017 08:42:25PM 0 points [-]

Vigilink is blocked in my browser, so there is no redirect.

At the moment both Firefox 54.0 and whatever the latest Chrome is give me a "reset connection error" for https but are perfectly happy to display the site via http.

I'm behind a firewall at the moment so it's possible that it's playing games, but I don't know why it would treat https and http differently (https in general works perfectly fine behind this firewall).

Comment author: Vaniver 19 June 2017 06:42:39PM 0 points [-]

Yeah, that site is pretty excellent. (The one thing about it that seems sort of 'meh' to me is putting the 'next page' button all the way under lists of links, which show up a bunch at the start; you have to do a lot of scrolling and a lot of clicking to hit the first non-preface Eliezer words. I think it's pretty important, for newcomers especially, that one click puts them in front of the first post.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 19 June 2017 10:24:35PM 0 points [-]


(FYI: You can also click "Contents", at the top right, which takes you to the table of contents.)

Comment author: Ilverin 14 June 2017 09:32:58PM *  2 points [-]

I think this might be confounded: the kind of people with sufficient patience or self-discipline or something (call it factor X) are the kind of people both to read the sequences in full and also to produce quality content. (this would cause a correlation between the 2 behaviors without the sequences necessarily causing improvement).

Comment author: casebash 13 June 2017 01:49:32AM *  6 points [-]

I probably don't have time to be involved in this, but just commenting to note my approval for this project and appreciation for anyone who choses to contribute. One major advantage of this project is that any amount of effort here will provide value - it isn't like a spaceship that isn't useful half built.

Comment author: gworley 13 June 2017 06:37:25PM 4 points [-]

Speaking of transhumanism and LessWrong, let me know if you're interested in knowing more about the early history, especially how it grew out of earlier discussions starting on the extropians mailing list. I'm not sure exactly what you might like to know, but I'm happy to pass on some of the history to others if they want to do something with it.

Comment author: Deku-shrub 13 June 2017 06:52:31PM 1 point [-]


I've captured the key info for future expansion but I don't have the time to dive the entire list myself, so understanding notable people, conversations and activities would be greatly appreciated!

I have written the most comprehensive high-level history of transhumanism and I would love to flesh out these earlier days better. Grab me on Slack or did you prefer some other channel?

Comment author: gworley 15 June 2017 07:14:52PM 0 points [-]

Actually I wasn't already on LW Slack so waiting on an invite (messaged Elo as described in the wiki).

Comment author: gworley 14 June 2017 06:43:44PM 0 points [-]

Yeah, Slack is fine. I'm not usually on it but I can be. We'll coordinate further there.

Comment author: gworley 13 June 2017 06:40:52PM 1 point [-]

I guess more broadly I'm saying if you want to know how we got from late 90s transhumanism to rationality, I was part of that story the whole way so remember a lot of things that happened that I don't think are documented or, at the least, already connected by a historical narrative.

Comment author: Tyrrell_McAllister 15 June 2017 04:30:53PM 3 points [-]

There was a historical attempt to summerise all major Less Wrong posts, an interesting but incomplete project. It was also approach without a usefully normalised approach. Ideally, every article would have its own page which could be heavily tagged up with metadata such a themes, importance, length, quality, author and such. Is this the goal of the wiki?

I wrote a dozen or two of those summaries. My goal was to write a highly distilled version of the post itself.

I aimed for summaries that were about four or five sentences long. Very roughly speaking, I tried to have a sentence for each principle thesis, and a sentence for each supporting argument. As a self-imposed constraint, I kept my summaries under 70 words.

For me, the summary should capture just the logical structure supporting the final take-away of the post, while losing all the anecdotes, illustrative examples, tribal signals, pseudo-dialectical back-and-forth, and discursive meanderings in the original.

Comment author: Viliam 13 June 2017 02:06:29PM 3 points [-]

I've shirked reading all the sequences end to end, instead focused on the most popular ideas transmitted by Internet cultural osmosis.

I don't expect to convince you, but (1) the sequences exist in the book form, free to download, which has the advantage that it is a little more polished, linear, and without the distraction of comments, but still quite long, however (2) when I once actually measured how many pages of text I read on an average day of online browsing, I got the impression that the sequences are actually not as long as they seem. I mean, reading a 1000 pages long book seems like a big deal, but sometimes I spend an afternoon reading hundred web pages, some of them several pages long, so I actually process the same amount of text in a week.

Ideally, every article would have its own page which could be heavily tagged up with metadata such a themes, importance, length, quality, author and such.

That would be an insane amount of work. Perhaps doing this only for articles with karma 50 and more would be less insane, but still a lot of work.

Comment author: Deku-shrub 13 June 2017 02:31:23PM 0 points [-]

That would be an insane amount of work

Not at all. Once you're familiar with syntax, it's far less work than creating e.g. an original article summary for instance.

Comment author: TheAncientGeek 14 June 2017 08:27:52AM *  1 point [-]

Are you sure that gathering and condensing existing material is the highest value action the community could take? The main alternative would be to improve it. Is CEV still an extant idea? No one seems to know. Can Bayes and Solomonoff Induction be used the way LessWrong says? The experts think not.

Comment author: Dagon 16 June 2017 09:50:47PM 3 points [-]

"the community" consists of many individuals with different availability and talents. It's extremely believable that there are a lot of people who can write (and edit/curate) summaries who would be less effective at improving or extending the material.

Comment author: ChristianKl 14 June 2017 10:21:02AM 2 points [-]

Writing summaries can help to make the existing claims more clear.

Comment author: Deku-shrub 14 June 2017 10:31:36AM 1 point [-]

Developing the most important ideas would fall under 'rationalist research'.

Comment author: Raemon 13 June 2017 10:51:40PM 1 point [-]

Not precisely related but not precisely unrelated either: I coined the term "rationalsphere" to refer specifically to people who don't necessarily identify as a rationalist, or in the rationality community, but are nonetheless connected to the blogosphere somehow. (i.e. people like Tyler Cohen).

Comment author: Deku-shrub 13 June 2017 11:32:01PM 0 points [-]

How's my write up?

What are your thoughts on the most agreeable umbrella term?

Comment author: Raemon 19 June 2017 12:28:17AM *  0 points [-]

I don't think there's a biggest of deals, and I'm not sure how others have been using the word, but since the point of the umbrella term is specifically to encompass people who wouldn't identify as a rationalist, using "rationalistphere" seems odd. (rationalsphere, rationalitysphere and rational-o-sphere all seem fine)

(I also wouldn't use it as something analogous to the rationality movement, since it's specifically a superset of the rationality movement)

Comment author: Deku-shrub 19 June 2017 11:58:51AM 0 points [-]

I'm not sure how others have been using the word

Please read the article for plenty of examples and get back to me how your view compares or differentiates!

Comment author: Evan_Gaensbauer 13 June 2017 08:32:33AM 1 point [-]

Arbital as a community project is on the back-burner right now, though Alexei and Eliezer apparently have plans to develop into something new in the future. Oliver Habryka and Matthew Graves are two community members working on a successor site to this one.

Comment author: Deku-shrub 13 June 2017 10:41:56AM 1 point [-]

Info on successor site?

Comment author: Vaniver 13 June 2017 04:07:49PM 1 point [-]

It'll be at lesswrong.com, assuming the community decides it's worth switching. It's a more modern codebase, which will allow us to add in new moderation tools and be more responsive in several ways.

Comment author: ChristianKl 13 June 2017 11:31:59AM 1 point [-]

The linked post says: "I'm starting work on Arbital 2.0. It's going to be a (micro-)blogging platform"

As far as I know that's what's public at the moment.

Comment author: Deku-shrub 13 June 2017 10:41:22AM 0 points [-]

I got this this doc from the facebook group. I urgently need to find out if this can merge to the wiki or is going to be a hard forked doc