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Update: There is now an online sign up to groups with workflowy, based on subject and current ability. You do not have to be signed up to Facebook to join a group, but do add an email address so that the group can contact you: https://workflowy.com/shared/cf1fd9ca-885f-c1b9-c2e8-e3a315f70138/
The recent Main article, searching for interest in LWers studying maths together, had many comments showing enthusiasm, but nothing really happened.
On an aside, I think that on LessWrong, we tend not to work together all that well. The wiki isn't kept bright and shiny, and most of the ideas we search for are in loose blog posts that often take a while to find. However, I think having a single place in which to work together on a specific topic, might encourage effect groups. Especially if it's in a place that you get fairly regular reminders from.
So, here's a Less Wrong Study Group Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/131607983690959/
Rixie suggested that we could split into smaller groups, based on age. I was thinking perhaps ability. Maybe even a group leader. However, before sitting and pondering this for eternity (just until we have a perfect structure), perhaps we should 'just try it'.
So, who exactly do I think should join the group?
Well, if you're interested in learning maths, and think that being surrounded by LWers might enhance your learning, this group is intended for you. If you're interested in learning maths, but you think that reading a textbook on your own is daunting, or you've tried and had difficulty previously, then this group is intended for you.
Also, if you're interested in learning other LessWrongy subjects (perhaps some cognitive science, or more economics-y stuffs) then this group could do that. If ten people join who want a basic idea economics, then they can work together. This isn't specificly maths, it's whatever we make it.
Personally, when I read a textbook, there's often a paragraph describing a key idea, and the author's words fly right over my head. I've often thought the best thing for me, would to have someone else who I could talk through that bit with. Maybe he or she would see it easily. Maybe I'd see something they wouldn't get.
I also wouldn't worry about level of prior knowledge. Mainly, because mine is zilch :)
So, what are you waiting for?
(No seriously. Just try it.)
Edit: It is true that anonymity is difficult to preserve on Facebook. I am entirely unfamiliar with google, and I certainly would have to make that regular effort to check it there too. If you do wish to join but have issues with public knowledge, please PM me, and I'll keep in contact with you through email (or other if you prefer). I will discuss with you there how to best take part in a study group.
What about an online group for high schoolers devoted to refining the art of human rationality?
Hello rationalists-in-training of the internet. My name is Joseph Gnehm, I am 15 and I live in Montreal. Discovering LessWrong had a profound effect on me, shedding light on the way I study thought processes and helping me with a more rational approach. As a teenager in high school, I wish I could share LessWrong's teachings and philosophies with others at my level.
It would be awesome if we could create a list for the interests of LessWrong readers who are in their teens/in high school. I think this would allow a rational online community such as LessWrong to help develop more rationalists whether by outlining some plans to start rationality clubs in high school or discussing ways teenagers an approach rationality. I also think it would help more timid readers to express themselves and talk with other teenagers about common interests (adults could be allowed in to, if they are deemed appropriate for the community). Correct me if I'm wrong, but rationality training should start as soon as possible in the development process and what better age group to target than teenagers? Adolescence is a crucial transitional phase psychologically, biologically and culturally. I would love to see more collected articles on the evolution of rationality in the amazing, flexible mind of an adolescent. If the goal of this blog is to train humans to be rational-minded, more importance should be allocated to training teenagers. I do not think it hasn't happened yet for want of need among teenagers and if we concentrate some resources, gather a list of interested individuals and garner some interest we can make this work. This article is a good example of something that could be distributed in the proposed group:
For LW readers under 20: Note that the Thiel Fellowships (20 under 20) are now open for their next round of applications, and as they put it, "you have a huge readership of folk who would make great applicants". More info here. (from http://lesswrong.com/lw/f9r/weekly_lw_meetups_austin_berlin_cambridge_uk/)
There is also this LessWrong Highschoolers Facebook group created by Curtis SerVaas:
I recently Skyped (not officially a verb yet?) Anna Salamon who is the Executive Director of CFAR (Center for Applied Rationality). We had begun to develop this proposal. She is on the e-mail list and will be involved as a quasi-supervisor person. You can reach her at email@example.com. Drop me a one-line e-mail with your name, age, and situation at firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like to join the list. Speak up! Teenagers should be the subject of concentrated effort on LessWrong. We are the future, help us to reach the fruits of human rationality.
- Joseph Gnehm
I was reading the "Professing and Cheering" article and it reminded me about some of my own ideas about the role of religious dogma as group identity badges. Here's the gist of it:
Religious and other dogmas need not make sense. Indeed, they may work better if they are not logical. Logical and useful ideas pop-up independently and spread easily, and widely accepted ideas are not very good badges. You need a unique idea to identify your group. It helps to have a somewhat costly idea as a dogma, because they are hard to fake and hard to deny. People would need to invest in these bad ideas, so they would be less likely to leave the group and confront the sunk cost. Also, it's harder to deny allegiance to the group afterwards, because no one in their right minds would accept an idea that bad for any other reason.
If you have a naive interpretation of the dogma, which regards it as an objective statement about the world, you will tend to question it. When you’re contesting the dogma, people won’t judge your argument on its merits: they will look at it as an in-group power struggle. Either you want to install your own dogma, which makes you a pretender, or you’re accepted a competing dogma, which makes you a traitor. Even if they accept that you just don’t want to yield to the authority behind the dogma, that makes you a rebel. Dogmas are just off-limits to criticism.
Public display of dismissive attitude to your questioning is also important. Taking it into consideration is in itself a form of treason, as it is interpreted as entertaining the option of joining you against the authority. So it’s best to dismiss the heresy quickly and loudly, without thinking about it.
Do you know of some other texts which shed some light on this idea?
Stanford has decided to offer a few classes online, for free. These include Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. The classes include videos of the same lectures that the Stanford students received, quizzes, homework, and exams that are graded automatically. They start on October 10.
I'm guessing that more than a few LWers will sign up for these. How many people would like to form a study group? Should we just have a discussion thread for it, or is there a better option?
Full disclosure: This has already been discussed here, but I see utility in bringing it up again. Mostly because I only heard about it offline.
Some researchers were interested if, in the same way that there's a general intelligence g that seems to predict competence in a wide variety of tasks, there is a group intelligence c that could do the same. You can read their paper here.
Psychologists have repeatedly shown that a single statistical factor—often called “general intelligence”—emerges from the correlations among people’s performance on a wide variety of cognitive tasks. But no one has systematically examined whether a similar kind of “collective intelligence” exists for groups of people. In two studies with 699 people, working in groups of two to five, we find converging evidence of a general collective intelligence factor that explains a group’s performance on a wide variety of tasks. This “c factor” is not strongly correlated with the average or maximum individual intelligence of group members but is correlated with the average social sensitivity of group members, the equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking, and the proportion of females in the group.
Basically, groups with higher social sensitivity, equality in conversational turn-taking, and proportion of females are collectively more intelligent. On top of that, those effects trump out things like average IQ or even max IQ.
I theorize that proportion of females mostly works as a proxy for social sensitivity and turn-taking, and the authors speculate the same.
What does this mean for Less Wrong?
The most important part of the study, IMO, is that "social sensitivity" (measured by a test where you try and discern emotional states from someone's eyes) is such a stronger predictor of group intelligence. It probably helps people to gauge other people's comprehension, but based on the fact that people sharing talking time more equally also helps, I would speculate that another chunk of its usefulness comes from being able to tell if other people want to talk, or think that there's something relevant to be said.
One thing that I find interesting in the meatspace meetups is how in new groups, conversation tends to be dominated by the people who talk the loudest and most insistently. Often, those people are also fairly interesting. However, I prefer the current, older DC group to the newer one, and there's much more equal time speaking. Even though this means that I don't talk as much. Most other people seem to share similar sentiments, to the point that at one early meetup it was explicitly voted to be true that most people would rather talk more.
Anything we should try doing about this? I will hold off on proposing solutions for now, but this section will get filled in sometime.
Per this recent paper, individual IQ has no significant correlation with 'group IQ' (defined and measured as the groups ability to accomplish various tasks); group cohesion, motivation, and satisfaction aren't either. The study identified two things that were positively correlated with group IQ: average social sensitivity and a low variance in the amount of time each person spent speaking. (It also found that having more women improved collective intelligence- because women have better social sensitivity.)
(The remaining stuff is idle speculation from me, not the paper. There's no experimental evidence whatsoever backing it up.)
One possible explanation of the contribution of social sensitivity towards collective intelligence is that it reduces conflicts between group members, allowing the group the remain at least somewhat dispassionate/rational about potential solutions instead of turning discussions about solutions into status pissing contests. This is supported by the fact that ego-based actions are well known to be extremely damaging to group outcomes in sports, and that in contexts (e.g. politics) where there are groups with pre-existing conflicts decision-making seems to be relatively poor despite (presumably) higher social sensitivity on the part of politicians. (This also provides an alternative explanation for the benefits of holding off on proposing solutions: while Eliezer focused, as he is wont to do, on the implications for individual rationality, Maier's edict presumably didn't stop people from thinking of potential solutions and privately settling on a preferred solution- but because they hadn't announced it publicly, they would be more willing to listen to others and change their mind.)
The contribution from variance presumably comes from the fact that if people are on average speaking roughly the same amount, then there are more ideas and perspectives being offered than if only a few people dominated the conversation.
I'd also be interested in seeing whether Collective Intelligence is correlated with individual rationality, given that there is little to no correlation between individual rationality and IQ.
I originally titled this post "The Less Wrong wiki is wrong about group selection", because it seemed wildly overconfident about its assertion that group selection is nonsense. The wiki entry on "group selection" currently reads:
People who are unfamiliar with evolutionary theory sometimes propose that a feature of the organism is there for the good of the group - for example, that human religion is an adaptation to make human groups more cohesive, since religious groups outfight nonreligious groups.
Postulating group selection is guaranteed to make professional evolutionary biologists roll up their eyes and sigh.
However, it appears that the real problem is not that the wiki is overconfident (that's a problem, but it's only a symptom of the next problem) but that the traditional dogma on the viability of group selection is wrong, or at least overconfident. I make this assertion after stumbling across a paper by Martin Nowak, Corina Tarnita, and E. O. Wilson titled "The evolution of eusociality", which appeared in Nature in August of this year. I found a PDF of this paper through Google scholar, click here. A blog entry discussing the paper can be found here (bias alert: it is written by a postdoc working in Martin Nowak's Evolutionary Dynamics program at Harvard).
Here's some quotes (bolding is mine):
It has further turned out that selection forces exist in groups that diminish the advantage of close collateral kinship. They include the favouring of raised genetic variability by colony-level selection in the ants Pogonomyrmex occidentalis and Acromyrmex echinatior—due, at least in the latter, to disease resistance. The contribution of genetic diversity to disease resistance at the colony level has moreover been established definitively in honeybees. Countervailing forces also include variability in predisposition to worker sub-castes in Pogonomyrmex badius, which may sharpen division of labour and improve colony fitness—although that hypothesis is yet to be tested. Further, an increase in stability of nest temperature with genetic diversity has been found within nests of honeybees and Formica ants. Other selection forces working against the binding role of close pedigree kinship are the disruptive impact of nepotism within colonies, and the overall negative effects associated with inbreeding. Most of these countervailing forces act through group selection or, for eusocial insects in particular, through between-colony selection.
Yet, considering its position for four decades as the dominant paradigm in the theoretical study of eusociality, the production of inclusive fitness theory must be considered meagre. During the same period, in contrast, empirical research on eusocial organisms has flourished, revealing the rich details of caste, communication, colony life cycles, and other phenomena at both the individual- and colony-selection levels. In some cases social behaviour has been causally linked through all the levels of biological organization from molecule to ecosystem. Almost none of this progress has been stimulated or advanced by inclusive fitness theory, which has evolved into an abstract enterprise largely on its own
The question arises: if we have a theory that works for all cases (standard natural selection theory) and a theory that works only for a small subset of cases (inclusive fitness theory), and if for this subset the two theories lead to identical conditions, then why not stay with the general theory? The question is pressing, because inclusive fitness theory is provably correct only for a small (non-generic) subset of evolutionary models, but the intuition it provides is mistakenly embraced as generally correct.
Check out the paper for more details. Also look at the Supplementary Information if you have access to it. They perform an evolutionary game theoretic analysis, which I am still reading.
Apparently this theory is not that new. In this 2007 paper by David Sloan Wilson and E. O. Wilson, they argue (I'm just pasting the abstract):
The current foundation of sociobiology is based upon the rejection of group selection in the 1960s and the acceptance thereafter of alternative theories to explain the evolution of cooperative and altruistic behaviors. These events need to be reconsidered in the light of subsequent research. Group selection has become both theoretically plausible and empirically well supported. Moreover, the so-called alternative theories include the logic of multilevel selection within their own frameworks. We review the history and conceptual basis of sociobiology to show why a new consensus regarding group selection is needed and how multilevel selection theory can provide a more solid foundation for sociobiology in the future.
From the other camp, this seems to be a fairly highly-cited paper from 2008. They concluded:
(a) the arguments about group selection are only continued by a limited number of theoreticians, on the basis of simpliﬁed models that can be difﬁcult to apply to real organisms (see Error 3); (b) theoretical models which make testable predictions tend to be made with kin selection theory (Tables 1 and 2); (c) empirical biologists interested in social evolution measure the kin selection coefﬁcient of relatedness rather than the corresponding group selection parameters (Queller & Goodnight, 1989). It is best to think of group selection as a potentially useful, albeit informal, way of conceptualizing some issues, rather than a general evolutionary approach in its own right.
I know (as of yet) very little biology, so I leave the conclusion for readers to discuss. Does anyone have detailed knowledge of the issues here?