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Welcome to Less Wrong! (7th thread, December 2014)

16 Gondolinian 15 December 2014 02:57AM
If you've recently joined the Less Wrong community, please leave a comment here and introduce yourself. We'd love to know who you are, what you're doing, what you value, how you came to identify as an aspiring rationalist or how you found us. You can skip right to that if you like; the rest of this post consists of a few things you might find helpful. More can be found at the FAQ.


A few notes about the site mechanics

To post your first comment, you must have carried out the e-mail confirmation: When you signed up to create your account, an e-mail was sent to the address you provided with a link that you need to follow to confirm your e-mail address. You must do this before you can post!

Less Wrong comments are threaded for easy following of multiple conversations. To respond to any comment, click the "Reply" link at the bottom of that comment's box. Within the comment box, links and formatting are achieved via Markdown syntax (you can click the "Help" link below the text box to bring up a primer).

You may have noticed that all the posts and comments on this site have buttons to vote them up or down, and all the users have "karma" scores which come from the sum of all their comments and posts. This immediate easy feedback mechanism helps keep arguments from turning into flamewars and helps make the best posts more visible; it's part of what makes discussions on Less Wrong look different from those anywhere else on the Internet.

However, it can feel really irritating to get downvoted, especially if one doesn't know why. It happens to all of us sometimes, and it's perfectly acceptable to ask for an explanation. (Sometimes it's the unwritten LW etiquette; we have different norms than other forums.) Take note when you're downvoted a lot on one topic, as it often means that several members of the community think you're missing an important point or making a mistake in reasoning— not just that they disagree with you! If you have any questions about karma or voting, please feel free to ask here.

Replies to your comments across the site, plus private messages from other users, will show up in your inbox. You can reach it via the little mail icon beneath your karma score on the upper right of most pages. When you have a new reply or message, it glows red. You can also click on any user's name to view all of their comments and posts.

It's definitely worth your time commenting on old posts; veteran users look through the recent comments thread quite often (there's a separate recent comments thread for the Discussion section, for whatever reason), and a conversation begun anywhere will pick up contributors that way.  There's also a succession of open comment threads for discussion of anything remotely related to rationality.

Discussions on Less Wrong tend to end differently than in most other forums; a surprising number end when one participant changes their mind, or when multiple people clarify their views enough and reach agreement. More commonly, though, people will just stop when they've better identified their deeper disagreements, or simply "tap out" of a discussion that's stopped being productive. (Seriously, you can just write "I'm tapping out of this thread.") This is absolutely OK, and it's one good way to avoid the flamewars that plague many sites.

There's actually more than meets the eye here: look near the top of the page for the "WIKI", "DISCUSSION" and "SEQUENCES" links.
LW WIKI: This is our attempt to make searching by topic feasible, as well as to store information like common abbreviations and idioms. It's a good place to look if someone's speaking Greek to you.
LW DISCUSSION: This is a forum just like the top-level one, with two key differences: in the top-level forum, posts require the author to have 20 karma in order to publish, and any upvotes or downvotes on the post are multiplied by 10. Thus there's a lot more informal dialogue in the Discussion section, including some of the more fun conversations here.
SEQUENCES: A huge corpus of material mostly written by Eliezer Yudkowsky in his days of blogging at Overcoming Bias, before Less Wrong was started. Much of the discussion here will casually depend on or refer to ideas brought up in those posts, so reading them can really help with present discussions. Besides which, they're pretty engrossing in my opinion.

A few notes about the community

If you've come to Less Wrong to  discuss a particular topic, this thread would be a great place to start the conversation. By commenting here, and checking the responses, you'll probably get a good read on what, if anything, has already been said here on that topic, what's widely understood and what you might still need to take some time explaining.

If your welcome comment starts a huge discussion, then please move to the next step and create a LW Discussion post to continue the conversation; we can fit many more welcomes onto each thread if fewer of them sprout 400+ comments. (To do this: click "Create new article" in the upper right corner next to your username, then write the article, then at the bottom take the menu "Post to" and change it from "Drafts" to "Less Wrong Discussion". Then click "Submit". When you edit a published post, clicking "Save and continue" does correctly update the post.)

If you want to write a post about a LW-relevant topic, awesome! I highly recommend you submit your first post to Less Wrong Discussion; don't worry, you can later promote it from there to the main page if it's well-received. (It's much better to get some feedback before every vote counts for 10 karma—honestly, you don't know what you don't know about the community norms here.)

Alternatively, if you're still unsure where to submit a post, whether to submit it at all, would like some feedback before submitting, or want to gauge interest, you can ask / provide your draft / summarize your submission in the latest open comment thread. In fact, Open Threads are intended for anything 'worth saying, but not worth its own post', so please do dive in! Informally, there is also the unofficial Less Wrong IRC chat room, and you might also like to take a look at some of the other regular special threads; they're a great way to get involved with the community!

If you'd like to connect with other LWers in real life, we have  meetups  in various parts of the world. Check the wiki page for places with regular meetups, or the upcoming (irregular) meetups page. There's also a Facebook group. If you have your own blog or other online presence, please feel free to link it.

If English is not your first language, don't let that make you afraid to post or comment. You can get English help on Discussion- or Main-level posts by sending a PM to one of the following users (use the "send message" link on the upper right of their user page). Either put the text of the post in the PM, or just say that you'd like English help and you'll get a response with an email address.
* Normal_Anomaly
* Randaly
* shokwave
* Barry Cotter

A note for theists: you will find the Less Wrong community to be predominantly atheist, though not completely so, and most of us are genuinely respectful of religious people who keep the usual community norms. It's worth saying that we might think religion is off-topic in some places where you think it's on-topic, so be thoughtful about where and how you start explicitly talking about it; some of us are happy to talk about religion, some of us aren't interested. Bear in mind that many of us really, truly have given full consideration to theistic claims and found them to be false, so starting with the most common arguments is pretty likely just to annoy people. Anyhow, it's absolutely OK to mention that you're religious in your welcome post and to invite a discussion there.

A list of some posts that are pretty awesome

I recommend the major sequences to everybody, but I realize how daunting they look at first. So for purposes of immediate gratification, the following posts are particularly interesting/illuminating/provocative and don't require any previous reading:

More suggestions are welcome! Or just check out the top-rated posts from the history of Less Wrong. Most posts at +50 or more are well worth your time.

Welcome to Less Wrong, and we look forward to hearing from you throughout the site!


Once a post gets over 500 comments, the site stops showing them all by default. If this post has 500 comments and you have 20 karma, please do start the next welcome post; a new post is a good perennial way to encourage newcomers and lurkers to introduce themselves. (Step-by-step, foolproof instructions here; takes <180seconds.)

If there's anything I should add or update on this post (especially broken links), please send me a private message—I may not notice a comment on the post.

Finally, a big thank you to everyone that helped write this post via its predecessors!

Why don't you attend your local LessWrong meetup? / General meetup feedback

21 philh 27 April 2014 10:17PM

It's fairly common for a LessWrong meetup group to get people attending for a week or two, and then never showing up again. Most of the time, there may not be a very interesting reason for that. But if someone did have a bad experience at a meetup, this would be valuable information that they'd be unlikely to volunteer to the organizers.

Thus, I've created a form to collect meetup feedback. The primary purpose is: if you have a local LessWrong meetup that you don't currently attend, we'd like to know why. However, any other feedback is also appreciated: good feedback, bad-but-not-dealbreaking feedback, and feedback from people who do currently attend. "Currently" is left up to your own interpretation.

Please fill in the form now. It should only take a couple of minutes. There are three short-answer questions and three longer ones, but all questions are optional. Better to give a quick response now than to indefinitely postpone writing a longer one.

I intend to publish the responses, both raw and with some appropriate-seeming amount of aggregation. But I'm going to strip out the "where is your meetup" field from the public data. This is so that you can give feedback to a group without worrying about embarrassing them publicly. I'll tell the organizers which responses applied to them, so that the feedback still reaches the right place. If you identify the meetup in a long-form response, I won't strip that out. I'll also strip out the "anonymous identifier" field, naturally.

If you do currently attend a meetup, but want to give feedback anyway, please do also fill in the form.

If you think your answer seems boring, don't let that stop you: for example, we'd like to know relative numbers of "came once, had a bad time" versus "came once, but it's usually not convenient", and we can't do that if the second group don't reply.

Once again: please fill in the form now! If you comment that you have done so, I will reward you with an upvote.

Welcome to Less Wrong! (6th thread, July 2013)

21 KnaveOfAllTrades 26 July 2013 02:35AM
If you've recently joined the Less Wrong community, please leave a comment here and introduce yourself. We'd love to know who you are, what you're doing, what you value, how you came to identify as an aspiring rationalist or how you found us. You can skip right to that if you like; the rest of this post consists of a few things you might find helpful. More can be found at the FAQ.


continue reading »

Making Rationality General-Interest

30 Swimmer963 24 July 2013 10:02PM


Less Wrong currently represents a tiny, tiny, tiny segment of the population. In its current form, it might only appeal to a tiny, tiny segment of the population. Basically, the people who have a strong need for cognition, who are INTx on the Myers-Briggs (65% of us as per 2012 survey data), etc.

Raising the sanity waterline seems like a generally good idea. Smart people who believe stupid things, and go on to invest resources in stupid ways because of it, are frustrating. Trying to learn rationality skills in my 20s, when a bunch of thought patterns are already overlearned, is even more frustrating.

I have an intuition that a better future would be one where the concept of rationality (maybe called something different, but the same idea) is normal. Where it's as obvious as the idea that you shouldn't spend more money than you earn, or that you should live a healthy lifestyle, etc. The point isn't that everyone currently lives debt-free, eats decently well and exercises; that isn't the case; but they are normal things to do if you're a minimally proactive person who cares a bit about your future. No one has ever told me that doing taekwondo to stay fit is weird and culty, or that keeping a budget will make me unhappy because I'm overthinking thing.

I think the questions of "whether we should try to do this" and "if so, how do we do it in practice?" are both valuable to discuss, and interesting.


Is making rationality general-interest a good goal?

My intuitions are far from 100% reliable. I can think of a few reasons why this might be a bad idea:

1. A little bit of rationality can be damaging; it might push people in the direction of too much contrarianism, or something else I haven't thought of. Since introspection is imperfect, knowing a bit about cognitive biases and the mistakes that other people make might make people actually less likely to change their mind–they see other people making those well-known mistakes, but not themselves. Likewise, rationality taught only as a tool or skill, without any kind of underlying philosophy of why you should want to believe true things, might cause problems of a similar nature to martial art skills taught without the traditional, often non-violent philosophies–it could result in people abusing the skill to win fights/debates, making the larger community worse off overall. (Credit to Yan Zhang for martial arts metaphor). 

2. Making the concepts general-interest, or just growing too fast, might involve watering them down or changing them in some way that the value of the LW microcommunity is lost. This could be worse for the people who currently enjoy LW even if it isn't worse overall. I don't know how easy it would be to avoid, or whether

3. It turns out that rationalists don't actually win, and x-rationality, as Yvain terms it, just isn't that amazing over-and-above already being proactive and doing stuff like keeping a budget. Yeah, you can say stuff like "the definition of rationality is that it helps you win", but if in real life, all the people who deliberately try to increase their rationality do worse off overall, by their own standards (or even equally well, but with less time left over for other fun pursuits) than the people who aim for their life goals directly, I want to know that. 

4. Making rationality general-interest is a good idea, but not the best thing to be spending time and energy on right now because of Mysterious Reasons X, Y, Z. Maybe I only think it is because of my personal bias towards liking community stuff (and wishing all of my friends were also friends with each other and liked the same activities, which would simplify my social life, but probably shouldn't happen for good reasons). 

Obviously, if any of these are the case, I want to know about it. I also want to know about it if there are other reasons, off my radar, why this is a terrible idea.


What has to change for this to happen?

I don't really know, or I would be doing those things already (maybe, akrasia allowing). I have some ideas, though.

1. The jargon thing. I'm currently trying to compile a list of LW/CFAR jargon as a project for CFAR, and there are lots of terms I don't know. There are terms that I've realized in retrospect that I was using incorrectly all along. This presents both a large initial effort for someone interested in learning about rationality via the LW route, and also might contribute to the looking-like-a-cult thing.

2. The gender ratio thing. This has been discussed before, and it's a controversial thing to discuss, and I don't know how much arguing about it in comments will present any solutions. It seems pretty clear that if you want to appeal to the whole population, and a group that represents 50% of the general population only represents 10% of your participants (also as per 2012 survey data, see link above), there's going to be a problem somewhere down the road.

My data point: as a female on LW, I haven't experienced any discrimination, and I'm a bit baffled as to why the gender ratio is so skewed in the first place. Then again, I've already been through the filter of not caring if I'm the only girl at a meetup group. And I do hang out in female-dominated groups (i.e. the entire field of nursing), and fit in okay, but I'm probably not all that good as a typical example to generalize from. 

3. LW currently appeals to intelligent people, or at least people who self-identify as intelligent; according to the 2012 survey data, the self-reported IQ median is 138. This wouldn't be surprising, and isn't a problem until you want to appeal to more than 1% of the population. But intelligence and rationality are, in theory, orthogonal, or at least not the same thing. If I suffered a brain injury that reduced my IQ significantly but didn't otherwise affects my likes and dislikes, I expect I would still be interested in improving my rationality and think it was important, perhaps even more so, but I also think I would find it frustrating. And I might feel horribly out of place.

4. Rationality in general has a bad rap; specifically, the Spock thing. And this isn't just affecting whether or not people thing Less Wrong the site is weird; it's affecting whether they want to think about their own decision-making.

This is only what I can think of in 5 minutes...


What's already happening?

Meetup groups are happening. CFAR is happening. And there are groups out there practicing skills similar or related to rationality, whether or not they call it the same thing.



Rationality, Less Wrong and CFAR have, gradually over the last 2-3 years, become a big part of my life. It's been fun, and I think it's made me stronger, and I would prefer a world where as many other people as possible have that. I'd like to know if people think that's a) a good idea, b) feasible, and c) how to do it practically.

The Centre for Applied Rationality: a year later from a (somewhat) outside perspective

41 Swimmer963 27 May 2013 06:31PM

I recently had the privilege of being a CFAR alumni volunteering at a later workshop, which is a fascinating thing to do, and put me in a position both to evaluate how much of a difference the first workshop actually made in my life, and to see how the workshops themselves have evolved. 

Exactly a year ago, I attended one of the first workshops, back when they were still inexplicably called “minicamps”. I wasn't sure what to expect, and I especially wasn't sure why I had been accepted. But I bravely bullied the nursing faculty staff until they reluctantly let me switch a day of clinical around, and later stumbled off my plane into the San Francisco airport in a haze of exhaustion. The workshop spat me out three days later, twice as exhausted, with teetering piles of ideas and very little time or energy to apply them. I left with a list of annual goals, which I had never bothered to have before, and a feeling that more was possible–this included the feeling that more would have been possible if the workshop had been longer and less chaotic, if I had slept more the week before, if I hadn't had to rush out on Sunday evening to catch a plane and miss the social. 

Like I frequently do on Less Wrong the website, I left the minicamp feeling a bit like an outsider, but also a bit like I had come home. As well as my written goals, I made an unwritten pre-commitment to come back to San Francisco later, for longer, and see whether I could make the "more is possible" in my head more specific. Of my thirteen written goals on my list, I fully accomplished only four and partially accomplished five, but I did make it back to San Francisco, at the opportunity cost of four weeks of sacrificed hospital shifts. 

A week or so into my stay, while I shifted around between different rationalist shared houses and attempted to max out interesting-conversations-for-day, I found out that CFAR was holding another May workshop. I offered to volunteer, proved my sincerity by spending 6 hours printing and sticking nametags, and lived on site for another 4-day weekend of delightful information overload and limited sleep. 

Before the May 2012 workshop, I had a low prior that any four-day workshop could be life-changing in a major way. A four-year nursing degree, okay–I've successfully retrained my social skills and my ability to react under pressure by putting myself in particular situations over and over and over and over again. Four days? Nah. Brains don't work that way. 

In my experience, it's exceedingly hard for the human brain to do anything deliberately. In Kahneman-speak, habits are System 1, effortless and automatic. Doing things on purpose involves System 2, effortful and a bit aversive. I could have had a much better experience in my final intensive care clinical if I'd though to open up my workshop notes and tried to address the causes of aversions, or use offline time to train habits, or, y'know, do anything on purpose instead of floundering around trying things at random until they worked. 

(The again, I didn't apply concepts like System 1 and System 2 to myself a year ago. I read 'Thinking Fast and Slow' by Kahneman and 'Rationality and the Reflective Mind' by Stanovich as part of my minicamp goal 'read 12 hard nonfiction books this year', most of which came from the CFAR recommended reading list. If my preceptor had had any idea what I was saying when I explained to her that she was running particular nursing skills on System 1, because they were engrained on the level of habit, and I was running the same tasks on System 2 in working memory because they were new and confusing to me, and that was why I appeared to have poor time management, because System 2 takes forever to do anything, this terminology might have helped. Oh, for the world where everyone knows all jargon!)

...And here I am, setting aside a month of my life to think only about rationality. I can't imagine that my counterfactual self-who-didn't-attend-in-May-2012 would be here. I can't imagine that being here now will have zero effect on what I'm doing in a year, or ten years. Bingo. I did one thing deliberately!

So what was the May 2013 workshop actually like?

The curriculum has shifted around a lot in the past year, and I think with 95% probability that it's now more concretely useful. (Speaking of probabilities, the prediction markets during the workshop seemed to flow better and be more fun and interesting this time, although this may just show that I was more averse to games in general and betting in particular. In that case, yay for partly-cured aversions!)

The classes are grouped in an order that allows them to build on each other usefully, and they've been honed by practice into forms that successfully teach skills, instead of just putting words in the air and on flipcharts. For example, having a personal productivity system like GTD came across as a culturally prestigious thing at the last workshop, but there wasn't a lot of useful curriculum on it. Of course, I left on this trip wanting to spend my offline month creating with a GTD system better than paper to-do lists taped to walls, so I have both motivation and a low threshold for improvement. 

There are also some completely new classes, including "Againstness training" by Valentine, which seem to relate to some of the 'reacting under pressure' stuff in interesting ways, and gave me vocabulary and techniques for something I've been doing inefficiently by trial and error for a good part of my life.

In general, there are more classes about emotions, both how to deal with them when they're in the way and how to use them when they're the best tool available. Given that none of us are Spock, I think this is useful. 

Rejection therapy has morphed into a less terrifying and more helpful form with the awesome name of CoZE (Comfort Zone Expansion). I didn't personally find the original rejection therapy all that awful, but some people did, and that problem is largely solved. 

The workshops are vastly more orderly and organized. (I like to think I contributed to this slightly with my volunteer skills of keeping the fridge stocked with water bottles and calling restaurants to confirm orders and make sure food arrived on time.) Classes began and ended on time. The venue stayed tidy. The food was excellent. It was easier to get enough sleep. Etc. The May 2012 venue had a pool, and this one didn't, which made exercise harder for addicts like me. CFAR staff are talking about solving this. 

The workshops still aren't an easy environment for introverts. The negative parts of my experience in May 2012 were mostly because of this. It was easier this time, because as a volunteer I could skip classes if I started to feel socially overloaded, but periods of quiet alone time had to be effortfully carved out of the day, and at an opportunity cost of missing interesting conversations. I'm not sure if this problem is solvable without either making the workshops longer, in order to space the material out, and thus less accessible for people with jobs, or by cutting out curriculum. Either would impose a cost on the extroverts who don't want an hour at lunch to meditate or go running alone or read a sci-fi book, etc. 

In general, I found the May 2012 workshop too short and intense–we had material thrown at us at a rate far exceeding the usual human idea-digestion rate. Keeping in touch via Skype chats with other participants helped. CFAR now does official followups with participants for six weeks following the workshop. 

Meeting the other participants was, as usual, the best part of the weekend. The group was quite diverse, although I was still the only health care professional there. (Whyyy???? The health care system needs more rationality so badly!) The conversations were engaging. Many of the participants seem eager to stay in touch. The May 2012 workshop has a total of six people still on the Skype chats list, which is a 75% attrition rate. CFAR is now working on strategies to help people who want to stay in touch do it successfully. 


I thought the May 2012 workshop was awesome. I thought the May 2013 workshop was about an order of magnitude more awesome. I would say that now is a great time to attend a CFAR workshop...except that the organization is financially stable and likely to still be around in a year and producing even better workshops. So I'm not sure. Then again, rationality skills have compound interest–the value of learning some new skills now, even if they amount more to vocab words and mental labels than superpowers, compounds over the year that you spend seeing all the books you read and all the opportunities you have in that framework. I'm glad I went a year ago instead of this May. I'm even more glad I had the opportunity to see the new classes and meet the new participants a year later. 

Welcome to Less Wrong! (5th thread, March 2013)

27 orthonormal 01 April 2013 04:19PM
If you've recently joined the Less Wrong community, please leave a comment here and introduce yourself. We'd love to know who you are, what you're doing, what you value, how you came to identify as a rationalist or how you found us. You can skip right to that if you like; the rest of this post consists of a few things you might find helpful. More can be found at the FAQ.

(This is the fifth incarnation of the welcome thread; once a post gets over 500 comments, it stops showing them all by default, so we make a new one. Besides, a new post is a good perennial way to encourage newcomers and lurkers to introduce themselves.)

continue reading »

Schelling Day: A Rationalist Holiday

32 ModusPonies 27 March 2013 01:18PM

The Big Idea

—Holidays are awesome.
—Getting to know people is awesome.
—Schelling Day is a holiday about getting to know people.
—The Boston group will celebrate Schelling day.
—Hopefully other cities will too.

Why Are We Doing This?

Getting to know people—really, truly getting to know people—is hard. You have to spend a huge amount of time with them, of course, but that’s the easy part. Spending time with people is fun! The challenging part is opening yourself up. Sharing your fondest hopes and deepest fears is a powerful way to make connections, but exposing your soul like that terrifying. Worse, it’s awkward. There’s no socially appropriate time to bring up stuff like that. I’ve talked to a bunch of people who wish there were more opportunities for that sort of sharing, but initiating it is risky. Even when everything works out beautifully, getting it started feels stressful and not-fun.

What if we could set aside a time where sharing like that is not merely accepted, but expected? Historically, this doesn’t seem too hard to do. As soon as people are in a context where everyone agrees that sharing is normal (e.g. an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, or a conversation with a therapist), the stigma and self-consciousness don’t hold people back nearly as much.

All we need is an arbitrary time when we agree to change the social rules, and we’re set! In other words, we need a Schelling point. April 14th, the birthday of Thomas Schelling, is as good a time as any.

I’m creating a ritual around this, for two reasons. First, an established structure makes it easier to do something that feels difficult or strange. Second, in my experience, adding ritual to powerful, true statements makes them even more powerful.

When Are We Doing This?

Schelling Day is April 14th, which is a Sunday this year. The Boston group will be holding our celebration at 2:30. The ritual will begin sharply at 2:45, so please be on time.

Please RSVP to the meetup if you’re coming. We’re allowed to have up to 20 people in the space, and we’ll be using the Meetup site to track this. It’s fine if you RSVP at 2:00 on the day of the event, so long as you don’t put us above the limit. If for some reason you don’t want your RSVP to be public, PM me and I’ll reserve you a spot anonymously.

There will be a potluck dinner. Everyone who brings a dish gets two Rationality Points.

What Are We Doing?

Everyone sits in a semicircle. At the focal point are two tables. On the first table are five small bowls of delicious snacks. Eating the delicious snacks at this stage is VERBOTEN. On the second table is a single large, empty bowl.

Everyone will have a six-sided die.

Everyone will have a chance to speak, or to not speak. When it’s your turn, roll your die. Showing the result to others is VERBOTEN.

If your die shows a six, you MUST speak. If your die shows a one, you MAY NOT speak. Otherwise, you choose whether or not to speak. The die is to provide plausible deniability. Attempting to guess whether someone’s decision was forced by the die roll is VERBOTEN. 

If you speak, take 1-5 minutes* to tell the group about one of your secret Joys, Struggles, Hopes, Confessions, or Something Else Important, as described below. Then scoop some food from the appropriate bowl and put it into the larger bowl.

Struggles (Chocolate):
Flaws, interpersonal drama, professional challenges, stuff you’d say to a therapist

Joys (Raspberries):
Passions, guilty pleasures, “I love you guys” speeches

Confessions (Pretzels):
Burdens, personal secrets, things you’re tired of hiding, stuff you’d say to a priest

Hopes (Raisins):
Goals, wishes, deepest desires, crazy schemes

Something Else (Trail mix):
Because trying to make an exhaustive list would be silly.

After your speak, or after you choose not to speak, the person to your left rolls their die and the process repeats.

Once everyone has had a chance to speak or not, take five minutes* to stretch, then do the same thing again.

After that, take five minutes to stretch, then begin the BONUS ROUND.

The BONUS ROUND is like the first two rounds, with one exception. If you haven’t spoken yet, do not roll your die. You MUST speak.

Then What?

We’ll pass around the bowl of snacks we’ve assembled from our accumulated revelations until everything is eaten.

Depending on the timing, the emotional state, and our patience, we might or might not have another round or two.

After that, dinner! The rest of the time will be for eating and socializing. We’ll break into smaller groups and follow up on the things we said during the ritual. Asking questions about what someone said is actively encouraged! (There is no obligation to answer. “I would prefer not to talk about that” is a completely acceptable response.) Err on the side of asking an awkward question; if you’re over the line, the other person will simply decline to answer, and no harm done. Judging people, or explaining why their revelations were wrong, is of course VERBOTEN—unless someone specifically asks for feedback, in which case be honest but don’t be a jerk. We’ll get the potluck dishes people brought, and we’ll eat, drink, and be merry.

*I’ll be using a timer! I don’t want to be a jerk, but I want to keep things moving.

UPDATE: My review of the event is here.

Programming the LW Study Hall

31 ShannonFriedman 15 March 2013 06:28PM

We've had considerable interest and uptake on the Less Wrong Study Hall, especially with informal timed Pomodoro sessions for everyone to synchronize on.  Working together with a number of other visible faces, and your own face visible to them, does seem effective.  Keeping the social chat to the 5 off minutes prevents this from turning into just another chatroom.

We've been using this Tinychat room, and implementing everything Pomodoro-related with manual typing.  Is there anyone out there who's interested in taking this to the next level with some custom code, possibly via the Google Hangouts API (Javascript), so we can have the following nice features?

continue reading »

MetaMed: Evidence-Based Healthcare

83 Eliezer_Yudkowsky 05 March 2013 01:16PM

In a world where 85% of doctors can't solve simple Bayesian word problems...

In a world where only 20.9% of reported results that a pharmaceutical company tries to investigate for development purposes, fully replicate...

In a world where "p-values" are anything the author wants them to be...

...and where there are all sorts of amazing technologies and techniques which nobody at your hospital has ever heard of...

...there's also MetaMed.  Instead of just having “evidence-based medicine” in journals that doctors don't actually read, MetaMed will provide you with actual evidence-based healthcare.  Their Chairman and CTO is Jaan Tallinn (cofounder of Skype, major funder of xrisk-related endeavors), one of their major VCs is Peter Thiel (major funder of MIRI), their management includes some names LWers will find familiar, and their researchers know math and stats and in many cases have also read LessWrong.  If you have a sufficiently serious problem and can afford their service, MetaMed will (a) put someone on reading the relevant research literature who understands real statistics and can tell whether the paper is trustworthy; and (b) refer you to a cooperative doctor in their network who can carry out the therapies they find.

MetaMed was partially inspired by the case of a woman who had her fingertip chopped off, was told by the hospital that she was screwed, and then read through an awful lot of literature on her own until she found someone working on an advanced regenerative therapy that let her actually grow the fingertip back.  The idea behind MetaMed isn't just that they will scour the literature to find how the best experimentally supported treatment differs from the average wisdom - people who regularly read LW will be aware that this is often a pretty large divergence - but that they will also look for this sort of very recent technology that most hospitals won't have heard about.

This is a new service and it has to interact with the existing medical system, so they are currently expensive, starting at $5,000 for a research report.  (Keeping in mind that a basic report involves a lot of work by people who must be good at math.)  If you have a sick friend who can afford it - especially if the regular system is failing them, and they want (or you want) their next step to be more science instead of "alternative medicine" or whatever - please do refer them to MetaMed immediately.  We can’t all have nice things like this someday unless somebody pays for it while it’s still new and expensive.  And the regular healthcare system really is bad enough at science (especially in the US, but science is difficult everywhere) that there's no point in condemning anyone to it when they can afford better.

I also got my hands on a copy of MetaMed's standard list of citations that they use to support points to reporters.  What follows isn't nearly everything on MetaMed's list, just the items I found most interesting.

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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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