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European Community Weekend in Berlin

38 blob 24 January 2014 05:55PM

The Berlin Meetup Group is organizing the first European community meetup. We are planning a fun weekend with a focus on bringing the LessWrong community closer together. As a treat, some participants offer rationality exercises and workshops.

If you like your local meetup we hope you will like this too. It is similar, but bigger: You will get to meet and exchange ideas with a diverse set of awesome people from all across Europe. And if you don’t have a meetup nearby or didn’t get around to participating yet, this is a great opportunity to get in touch with the rest of the community.

The community weekend will take place April 11-13, from Friday evening to Sunday early afternoon, in the Odyssee Hostel in Berlin. The cost is 70 € including accommodation and breakfast. A conference room with a projector and wifi will also be available during daytime.

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How to Run a Successful Less Wrong Meetup

49 Kaj_Sotala 12 June 2012 09:32PM

Always wanted to run a Less Wrong meetup, but been unsure of how? The How to Run a Successful Less Wrong Meetup booklet is here to help you!

The 33-page document draws from consultations with more than a dozen Less Wrong meetup group organizers. Stanislaw Boboryk created the document design. Luke provided direction, feedback, and initial research, and I did almost all the writing.

The booklet starts by providing some motivational suggestions on why you'd want to create a meetup in the first place, and then moves on to the subject of organizing your first one. Basics such as choosing a venue, making an announcement, and finding something to talk about once at the meetup, are all covered. This section also discusses pioneering meetups in foreign cities and restarting inactive meetup groups.

For those who have already established a meetup group, the booklet offers suggestions on things such as attracting new members, maintaining a pleasant atmosphere, and dealing with conflicts within the group. The "How to Build Your Team of Heroes" section explains the roles that are useful for a meetup group to fill, ranging from visionaries to organizers.

If you're unsure of what exactly to do at meetups, the guide describes many options, from different types of discussions to nearly 20 different games and exercises. All the talk and philosophizing in the world won't do much good if you don't actually do things, so the booklet also discusses long-term projects that you can undertake. Some people attend meetups to just have fun and to be social, and others to improve themselves and the world. The booklet has been written to be useful for both kinds of people.

In order to inspire you and let you see what others have done, the booklet also has brief case studies and examples from real meetup groups around the world. You can find these sprinkled throughout the guide.

This is just the first version of the guide. We will continue working on it. If you find mistakes, or think that something is unclear, or would like to see some part expanded, or if you've got good advice you think should be included... please let me know! You can contact me at kaj.sotala@intelligence.org.

A large number of people have helped in various ways, and I hope that I've remembered to mention most of them in the acknowledgements. If you've contributed to the document but don't see your name mentioned, please send me a message and I'll have that fixed!

The booklet has been illustrated with pictures from various meetup groups. Meetup organizers sent me the pictures for this use, and I explicitly asked them to make sure that everyone in the photos was fine with it. Regardless, if there's a picture that you find objectionable, please contact me and I'll have it replaced with something else.

Selecting optimal group projects and roles

2 calcsam 06 August 2011 05:50PM

Related to: Designing Rationalist Projects, Committees and Leadership

As I mentioned in the above posts, Latter-day Saints communities organize committees to accomplish specific tasks, like serving the outside community or making sure new members get friends.

The question is, what tasks should rationalist communities organize committees or assign individuals to accomplish?

The easy answer: whatever its members want. But there are some collective roles and activities which are better for community-building than others.

Consider the following jury-rigged contraption, which I'll call Bhagwat’s community-building ratio:

  • group project goodness = U(project) / E(social friction),

that is, task goodness equals task utility divided by the expected amount of resulting social friction. For example:

Learning PUA:

  • U(task): medium. Many LW-goers do express a desire to improve social skills.
  • E(social friction): high. This seems to alienate many (most?), though not all, women. And LW meetups need more women, both to function better now and because it would facilitate future meme propagation.

Rejection therapy:

  • U(task): medium-to-high. This also helps to improve social skiils, especially assertiveness. More simple and widely applicable than PUA; easy to do without a mentor.
  • E(social friction): low. This is a multi-gender activity.

So rejection therapy would likely make a better group task then PUA.

What are the most high-utility, low-social-friction tasks?

The lowest-hanging fruit I know of is to make people feel welcome.[1]

Whenever someone comes to the group for the first time, the group leader should make sure to meet them personally and make them feel welcome. They should get their contact info and afterwards send them a brief e-mail/text, sincerely thanking them for coming.

As people are starting to come for the first few weeks, the group leader should get to know them personally and understand what they’re looking for and why they came. Maybe there’s a particular book or Less Wrong sequence they would like. Maybe they’re trying to improve some skills and would appreciate follow-up. Maybe there’s some skill they know that other Less Wrongians want to learn – and they could teach them!

If you’re able to personalize their experience, you will improve your score on Bhagwat’s Law of Commitment: “The degree to which people identify with your group is directly proportional to the amount of stuff you tell them to do that works."

This task is fairly delegatable. The main requirement is good social skills – you need to be able to have a reasonable conversation with anyone, and the ability to express gratitude sincerely. Otherwise, people might come off as insincere or weird, and that would create social friction.

What are the benefits?

The first three church units I served in were mediocre at befriending new attendees and integrating new members; the last church unit was excellent. Around seventy percent more people joined this last church unit; and of those who joined, retention rates were around 80 to 90 percent, compared to 50 percent elsewhere.

Small Mini-groups

As Less Wrong meetup membership in a given area becomes reasonably dense, and meeting size expands, subgroups can form around common interests.

An Improving Social Skills group. Or an Actually Learning in College group. Or a startup where a bunch of LW people work together…wait, somebody is already doing that.

Mini-meetings would also be good for introducing people to the Less Wrong community. People coming for the first time are generally more comfortable in smaller environments. Latter-day Saint churches with 50-100 weekly attendance grow three or four times faster than churches with 200+ weekly attendance, according to a statistic I read somewhere and can't track down.

There’s a final benefit to having clearly-defined roles held by community members.

All groups, as they evolve, give individuals distinct roles. Class clown, teacher’s pet, whatever. If these roles are positive, people’s identification with and commitment to the group will increase. They will know that the group needs them.

Most people in Latter-day Saint communities have specific, definite roles because of their calling – perhaps they are teaching a class every Sunday, or are responsible to visit a particularly troubled family. This is an unambiguous way to tell them, “We need you.”

The same could be true in rationalist communities.



[1] In Latter-day Saint communities, this is primarily done by the Missionary and Fellowship committees described in my last post.

 

Community roles: committees and leadership

6 calcsam 23 June 2011 03:54PM

Related to: Building rationalist communities, Lessons from Latter-day Saints, Holy Books (Or Rationalist Sequences) Don't Implement Themselves, Designing rationalist projects, Community roles: teachers and auxiliaries.

The ultimate question I’m trying to answer is: what should be the roles in a rationalist community?           

In the previous post and this one, I outline the roles in Latter-day Saint communities along with some implications for rationalist communities. In the following posts, I will elaborate the analysis of implications.

Good sets of rules resemble programs; once developed, they can be made to run everywhere, with local modifications.[1]

Overview

In the previous post, I discussed the role of teachers and auxiliaries. Teachers are the ones who speak, teach and lead discussions in Sunday church meetings. Auxiliaries are responsible for ensuring the well-being of the various segments of the congregation – men, women, and children.

In this post, I will discuss committees and leadership.

Committees are in charge of specific important tasks – planning activities, giving service, and so on. The general leadership appoints people to each of the positions, provides personal counseling, and plans the curriculum.

In smaller groups, the leaders and more-committed members often wear multiple hats.

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Community roles: teachers and auxiliaries

6 calcsam 22 June 2011 10:52AM

Related to: Building rationalist communities, Lessons from Latter-day Saints, Holy Books (Or Rationalist Sequences) Don't Implement Themselves, Designing rationalist projects.

I'm beginning a new subseries of posts, trying to answer the following question: what should be the roles in a rationalist community?           

In this post and the next one, I will outline the roles in Latter-day Saint communities. In the following posts, I will draw more conclusions as to which roles would be ideal for rationalist communities.

I should note that these sets of responsibilities are designed to function in congregations where 100 to 150 people come to church every week. They are slimmed down when the congregations are smaller. I’m going to outline all the roles, and as I go, I’ll note which ones are the most important.

The Main Roles

There are four main groups of “callings,” responsibilities in the church. I will discuss the first two groups in this post.

First, there are the teachers, who speak, teach and lead discussions in Sunday church meetings.

Second, there are auxiliaries, responsible for ensuring the well-being of the various segments of the congregation. In each congregation, there is a women’s organization, a men’s organization, as well as young women’s, young men’s, and children’s organizations.

In smaller groups, the leaders and more-committed members often wear multiple hats.

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Upcoming meet-ups: Bangalore, Minneapolis, Edinburgh, Melbourne, Houston, Dublin

5 FrankAdamek 28 May 2011 01:52AM

Upcoming meet-ups: Auckland, Bangalore, Houston, Toronto, Minneapolis, Ottawa, DC, North Carolina, BC...

5 John_Maxwell_IV 21 May 2011 05:06AM

There are upcoming irregularly scheduled Less Wrong meetups in:

Cities with regularly scheduled meetups: New York, Berkeley, Mountain View, Cambridge, MA, Toronto, Seattle, San Francisco, Irvine.

If you'd like to talk with other LW-ers face to face, and there is no meetup in your area, consider starting your own meetup; it's easy (more resources here). Check one out, stretch your rationality skills, and have fun!

If you missed the deadline and wish to have your meetup featured, my username is dreamalgebra on google's webmail service.

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Upcoming meet-ups: Buenos Aires, Minneapolis, Ottawa, Edinburgh, Cambridge, London, DC

29 AnnaSalamon 13 May 2011 08:49PM

There are upcoming Less Wrong meetups in:

Cities with regularly scheduled meetups:  New York, Berkeley, Mountain View, Cambridge, MA, Toronto, Seattle, San Francisco, Irvine.

If you'd like to talk with other LW-ers face to face, and there is no meetup in your area, consider starting your own meetup; it's easy (more resources here). Check one out, stretch your rationality skills, and have fun!

continue reading »

Designing Rationalist Projects

29 calcsam 12 May 2011 03:38AM

Related to: Lessons from Latter-day Saints, Building Rationalist Communities overview, Holy Books (Or Rationalist Sequences) Don't Implement Themselves

My thesis:

It doesn’t matter what ideas are conveyed on Less Wrong, or in LW meetings -- the subset that matters is what group members resolved to do. Discussion of these 'resolves', and people's experience doing them, is useful in creating an expectation that people level up their skills.

Intelligent discussion of ideas is always refreshing. But translating that into action is more difficult.

Our learned reflexes are deep. They need to be overridden. How? Practice.

One woman I taught in India, we’ll call her Girija, was 35 years old, extremely intelligent and really wanted to change her life but had incredibly low levels of self-confidence. Every time we met Girija, we’d have a really sharp discussion, followed by her pouring her heart out to us. It was the same every time, and though we enjoyed the visits, and the food she would feed us, she never seemed to be getting anywhere.

If she really wanted to fundamentally change her life, our weekly meetings weren’t enough. (Similarly, weekly meetups are a good start, but if you really want to be learning rationality you should be practicing every day.)

We felt that if Girija spent some time every day with her 9 year old daughter and live-in boyfriend, reading the scriptures together, they would be happier. We explained this to her frequently, and she said she would start -- but she never did it.

One week, through cleverly calling Girija and chatting for 10 minutes every day, we got her to do it. After the week was over, we asked her how it went.

“You know, it was really good,” she said. “Sandeep and I have been getting along a lot better this week because we did that.”

It was like a light had turned on in her head. Because we followed up, she did it, and was far more motivated to do more things afterwards.[1] 

Let me give two simple examples of goal, project, and follow-up.[2]

  • GOAL: To become better at noticing logical fallacies as they are being uttered
  • PROJECT: A certain Less Wrong group could watch a designated hour of C-SPAN -- or a soap opera, or a TV show -- and try to note down all the fallacies.
  • FOLLOW-UP: Discuss this on a designated thread. Afterwards, compile the arguments and link to the file, so that anyone in the LW community can repeat this on their own and check against your conclusions. Reflect communally at your next LW meeting. 
  • GOAL: To get into less arguments about definitions.
  • PROJECT: “Ask, "Can you give me a specific example of that?" or "Can you be more concrete?" in everyday conversations.” Make a challenging goal about how much you will do this – this is pretty low-hanging fruit.
  • FOLLOW-UP: Write instances in your journal. Share examples communally at your next LW meeting.

I came up with these in about five minutes. Having spent more time in the community than me, you will all be able to generate more and better possibilities.

Some points about Projects:

  • Here are some ideas that can easily be made into Projects. Thanks commenters on the last post.
  • Projects don't have to be group-based, but groups motivate doing stuff.
  • Projects should be more short than the above linked posts. The above Goal/Project/Follow-Up kernels are 85 and 57 words, respectively. Brevity is key to implementation.
  • There is currently no central database of Rationality Projects or people's experiences trying to implement them. (Correct me if I'm wrong here.)
  • Feedback on implementation is essential for improving practices.

Finally, a really 'low-cost' way to make a project and follow up. Right before the conclusion of a Less Wrong group, give everyone a slip of paper and ask them to write down one thing they are going to do differently next week as a result of the discussion. For two minutes (total) at the beginning of the next meeting, let people tell what they did.

Some notes and warnings:

Doing this in a fraternalistic manner, not a paternalistic manner, will be a key to success.[3] Community agreement that We Should Do This is important before launching a Project.

Beware of the following tradeoff:

  •  implementing Projects will alienate some people. Even if projects are determined by consensus, there will be some people who don’t want to do any Project, and they will feel marginalized and excluded.
  • not implementing Projects, people will improve their Rationality skills at a far slower pace. [4] You will thus run afoul of Bhagwat’s Law of Commitment: “The degree to which people identify with your group is directly proportional to the amount of stuff you tell them to do that works." But ultimately, commitment drives growth. More leadership to organize stuff, more people bringing friends, and so on.

I will discuss this more later, along with possible solutions. Latter-day Saints, with a large emphasis on doing things, have high levels of commitment; however, there are definitely people who would come to church more if they were expected to do less.

Please post any ideas you have for Projects in the comments.


[1] Even subtracting the religious element, common goals reduce conflict.

[2] Here are some keys to following up that I learned. In two years, I probably applied this on about 600 people:

  •  Following up is mere nagging (and equally ineffective) unless the person/group actually wanted to do the task in the first place.
  • Congratulating people when they  did  do something was far more important than expressing disappointment when they didn’t do it – the 80/20 rule applies.
  • I often felt afraid to ask someone if they had done what they promised to do, because they probably hadn’t, and I didn’t know what I should say then.
  • But awkwardness is contagious; if you act awkward when talking to someone, the other person will feel awkward too. Be genuinely excited, and they will also reflect this. 
  • It’s all about how you ask the question. “How did you like reading X?” is far better than “Did you read X?”. Use humor and make the task seem easy to do.
  • Don’t be self-righteous; actively deprecate yourself if necessary.
  • Each person has different ways they like – and don’t like – being followed-up with.

[3] Coming from my experience as a Latter-day Saint missionary, my personal examples are all fairly paternalistic. With tweaks, they can all be made fraternalistic. The sentiment has been  expressed  that “I don’t like people telling me what to do”; this will avoid that pitfall.  

[4] I say 'far slower' based on my missionary experience. When people were dedicated to specific projects, they seemed to improve a lot faster.

Holy Books (Or Rationalist Sequences) Don’t Implement Themselves

31 calcsam 10 May 2011 07:15AM

Related to: Lessons from Latter-day Saints, Building Rationalist Communities overview

This is my basic thesis:

Marx needed a Lenin. Fermi, Hahn and Meitner needed a Manhattan Project. EY and the Sequences need more clearly- and simply-defined rationality skills and methods for improving them.

Using Eliezer’s levels scheme, these are the three descending levels on which belief systems operate: theology, norms, and implementation.

I’ll give some examples. Here’s a general example, again from the Latter-day Saints:

  • Theology: God knows everything. Your purpose on earth is to become like God;
  • Norms: You should pursue as much education as possible.
  • Implementation: Create and operate a really big, cheap university system.[1]

Here’s one that I often dealt with as a missionary:

  • Theology: God is really good at making decisions. Your purpose on earth is to become like God.
  • Norms: You shouldn’t take alcohol, tobacco, tea, coffee, or addictive substances. Taking addictive substances impairs your ability to make correct decisions.
  • Implementation: We are going to bring you candy every week so that when you’re tempted to buy a cigarette, you can eat the strawberry toffee instead. (Or, we are going to stop by your house every day at 8:30pm to give you a boost, because going from 7 cups of coffee a day to 0 is tough.)

I did both of these (with different people), and they worked.

Norms and Implementation

As a missionary for the Church, my basic role was to:

  •  find people who were willing to try something out
  • design individualized “commitment systems” for each person, and
  • support them in implementing them.

There’s a lifestyle change here.

The “basic package,” (my terminology), which is a prerequisite to joining the church, includes: a strong focus on strengthening the family, daily family prayer and scripture study, the aforementioned health code, and sex only inside marriage. The glue is weekly church attendance, ensuring membership in a community that shares the same values.

After the “basic package,” it gets a bit more complex, as there are lots of higher-level elements of this lifestyle. To sample a few in no particular order:

  • Loving others. Developing gratitude. Keeping a journal. Following Church leaders. Inviting other people to church. Serving others, especially by accepting responsibilities in church. Pursuing education. Forgiving others.
  • Understanding that you have innate self-worth. Not gossiping. Dressing modestly. Being a good parent. Honoring and respecting parents. Keeping a budget. Doing family activities and not shopping on Sunday. Staying out of debt.
  • For the doubting, to continue living these habits, until they develop (expected) greater belief through experience.[2]

Obviously these are different than rationalist norms, but my point is that they are fairly comprehensive. Though each topic is fairly regularly discussed in church, it’s impossible to implement them into your life all at once. It’s easy to seem overwhelmed by the flood of new information. (Sound familiar?)

And that is why we were there, to design mini-programs for each person.[3] We would isolate a couple of specific standards that would be effective for person X, and assist in implementation. If they liked it and wanted more, we helped them implement the “basic package” lifestyle.

This decision, that they liked it and wanted more, was the single most crucial decision that someone could make. It is directly related to Bhagwat’s Law of Commitment: “The degree to which people identify with your group is directly proportional to the amount of stuff you tell them to do that works.” I will discuss this further on a subsequent post.

Okay, so how does this apply to Less Wrongians?

Less Wrong has its version of a theological framework – the Sequences. They give a comprehensive set of statements about the way the world works, drawn from evolutionary psychology, anthropology, Bayesian statistics, etc.

But rationalism doesn’t have a well-defined set of norms/desirable skills to develop. As a result, we Less Wrongians unsurprisingly also lack a well-developed practical system for implementation.

You may cite lukeprog’s guide. That’s good, but it’s only six posts. Less Wrong needs a lot more of it!

Or maybe you’ll say that if you read the Sequences carefully, etc, etc. Well, I did. Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions is 51 dense pages in Word, or about 25,000 words. This is an (extremely good) foundational text. It is not a how-to manual.[4]

Brevity is key to implementation.

For Latter-day Saints, the basic explanation of family standards is about 6000 words (95% of the important stuff is from page 4 to 15). The basic guide for teenagers is about 4000 words, and the basic guide for running a church organization is about 12000 words. And each one is very clear about what to do. (The teenage guide most clearly illustrates this point about brevity.)

The easiest way to begin building a how-to manual is for LW members to post specific, short personal examples of how they applied the principles of rationality in their day-to-day lives. Then they should collect all of the links somewhere, probably on the wiki.

If this sounds salesman-y or cheesy to you, or if you're extremely skeptical about religion, I quote a commenter on my last post. “If this works for people that are obviously crazy," said Vaniver, "that suggests it'll work for people who are (hopefully obviously) sane.”


[1] Admittedly, this also supports other norms, such as ‘marry another Latter-day Saint.’

[2]I’m not claiming this is perfect. Over the four years since I joined, I've encountered various amounts of ingroup snobbery, use of these standards to judge others, cliquishness, and intolerance towards certain groups, primarily gays. Plus all of the normal human imperfections.

[3] In designing and sequencing programs, we generally used a simple cost-benefit standard: how much will this help X vs. how much effort will it cost X?

[4] By comparison: the Bible is a foundational text of Christianity.  The Purpose-Driven Life  is a derivative how-to manual. This is a distillation of the Sequences, which is at least a start.

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