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Less Wrong NYC: Case Study of a Successful Rationalist Chapter

134 Cosmos 17 March 2011 08:12PM

It is perhaps the best-kept secret on Less Wrong that the New York City community has been meeting regularly for almost two years. For nearly a year we've been meeting weekly or more.  The rest of this post is going to be a practical guide to the benefits of group rationality, but first I will do something that is still too rare on this blog: make it clear how strongly I feel about this. Before this community took off, I did not believe that life could be this much fun or that I could possibly achieve such a sustained level of happiness.

Being rational in an irrational world is incredibly lonely. Every interaction reveals that our thought processes differ widely from those around us, and I had accepted that such a divide would always exist. For the first time in my life I have dozens of people with whom I can act freely and revel in the joy of rationality without any social concern - hell, it's actively rewarded! Until the NYC Less Wrong community formed, I didn't realize that I was a forager lost without a tribe...

Rationalists are still human, and we still have basic human needs. lukeprog summarizes the literature on subjective well-being, and the only factors which correlate to any degree are genetics, health, work satisfaction and social life - which actually gets listed three separate times as social activity, relationship satisfaction and religiosity. Rationalists tend to be less socially adept on average, and this can make it difficult to obtain the full rewards of social interaction. However, once rationalists learn to socialize with each other, they also become increasingly social towards everyone more generally. This improves your life. A lot.

We are a group of friends to enjoy life alongside, while we try miracle fruit, dance ecstatically until sunrise, actively embarrass ourselves at karaoke, get lost in the woods, and jump off waterfalls.  Poker, paintball, parties, go-karts, concerts, camping... I have a community where I can live in truth and be accepted as I am, where I can give and receive feedback and get help becoming stronger. I am immensely grateful to have all of these people in my life, and I look forward to every moment I spend with them. To love and be loved is an unparalleled experience in this world, once you actually try it.

So, you ask, how did all of this get started...?

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Fun and Games with Cognitive Biases

61 Cosmos 18 February 2011 08:38PM

You may have heard about IARPA's Sirius Program, which is a proposal to develop serious games that would teach intelligence analysts to recognize and correct their cognitive biases.  The intelligence community has a long history of interest in debiasing, and even produced a rationality handbook based on internal CIA publications from the 70's and 80's.  Creating games which would systematically improve our thinking skills has enormous potential, and I would highly encourage the LW community to consider this as a potential way forward to encourage rationality more broadly.

While developing these particular games will require thought and programming, the proposal did inspire the NYC LW community to play a game of our own.  Using a list of cognitive biases, we broke up into groups of no larger than four, and spent five minutes discussing each bias with regards to three questions:

  1. How do we recognize it?
  2. How do we correct it?
  3. How do we use its existence to help us win?

The Sirius Program specifically targets Confirmation Bias, Fundamental Attribution Error, Bias Blind Spot, Anchoring Bias, Representativeness Bias, and Projection Bias.  To this list, I also decided to add the Planning Fallacy, the Availability Heuristic, Hindsight Bias, the Halo Effect, Confabulation, and the Overconfidence Effect.  We did this Pomodoro style, with six rounds of five minutes, a quick break, another six rounds, before a break and then a group discussion of the exercise.

Results of this exercise are posted below the fold.  I encourage you to try the exercise for yourself before looking at our answers.

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NYC Rationalist Community

17 Cosmos 29 March 2010 04:59PM

For those who don't yet know, there has been a thriving rationalist community in NYC since April 2009.  We've been holding weekly meetups for the past several months now, and often have game nights, focused discussions, etc.  For those of you who live in the area, and not yet involved, I highly encourage you to join the following two groups:

This Meetup group is our public face, which draws new members to the meetups.

This Google Group was our original method of coordination, and we still use it for private communication.

The reason I am posting this is because there has been interest by several members in sharing an apartment/loft, or even multiple apartments on a floor of a building if there are enough people.  The core interest group is going to be meeting soon to figure out the logistics, so I wanted to extend this opportunity to any aspiring rationalists who either currently or would like to live in NYC.  If you are interested, please join the Google Group and let us know, so that we can include you in the planning process.  Additionally, if anyone has experience living with other rationalists, or more generally in a community setting, please feel free to share your knowledge with us so we can avoid any common pitfalls.