Filter This year

Less Wrong is a community blog devoted to refining the art of human rationality. Please visit our About page for more information.

Comment author: Alexandros 27 November 2016 10:40:52AM *  65 points [-]

Hi Anna,

Please consider a few gremlins that are weighing down LW currently:

  1. Eliezer's ghost -- He set the culture of the place, his posts are central material, has punctuated its existence with his explosions (and refusal to apologise), and then, upped and left the community, without actually acknowledging that his experiment (well kept gardens etc) has failed. As far as I know he is still the "owner" of this website, retains ultimate veto on a bunch of stuff, etc. If that has changed, there is no clarity on who the owner is (I see three logos on the top banner, is it them?), who the moderators are, who is working on it in general. I know tricycle are helping with development, but a part-time team is only marginally better than no-team, and at least no-team is an invitation for a team to step up.

  2. the no politics rule (related to #1) -- We claim to have some of the sharpest thinkers in the world, but for some reason shun discussing politics. Too difficult, we're told. A mindkiller! This cost us Yvain/Scott who cited it as one of his reasons for starting slatestarcodex, which now dwarfs LW. Oddly enough I recently saw it linked from the front page of realclearpolitics.com, which means that not only has discussing politics not harmed SSC, it may actually be drawing in people who care about genuine insights in this extremely complex space that is of very high interest.

  3. the "original content"/central hub approach (related to #1) -- This should have been an aggregator since day 1. Instead it was built as a "community blog". In other words, people had to host their stuff here or not have it discussed here at all. This cost us Robin Hanson on day 1, which should have been a pretty big warning sign.

  4. The codebase, this website carries tons of complexity related to the reddit codebase. Weird rules about responding to downvoted comments have been implemented in there, nobody can make heads or tails with it. Use something modern, and make it easy to contribute to. (telescope seems decent these days).

  5. Brand rust. Lesswrong is now kinda like myspace or yahoo. It used to be cool, but once a brand takes a turn for the worse, it's really hard to turn around. People have painful associations with it (basilisk!) It needs burning of ships, clear focus on the future, and as much support as possible from as many interested parties, but only to the extent that they don't dillute the focus.

In the spirit of the above, I consider Alexei's hints that Arbital is "working on something" to be a really bad idea, though I recognise the good intention. Efforts like this need critical mass and clarity, and diffusing yet another wave of people wanting to do something about LW with vague promises of something nice in the future (that still suffers from problem #1 AFAICT) is exactly what I would do if I wanted to maintain the status quo for a few more years.

Any serious attempt at revitalising lesswrong.com should focus on defining ownership and plan clearly. A post by EY himself recognising that his vision for lw 1.0 failed and passing the batton to a generally-accepted BDFL would be nice, but i'm not holding my breath. Further, I am fairly certain that LW as a community blog is bound to fail. Strong writers enjoy their independence. LW as an aggregator-first (with perhaps ability to host content if people wish to, like hn) is fine. HN may have degraded over time, but much less so than LW, and we should be able to improve on their pattern.

I think if you want to unify the community, what needs to be done is the creation of a hn-style aggregator, with a clear, accepted, willing, opinionated, involved BDFL, input from the prominent writers in the community (scott, robin, eliezer, nick bostrom, others), and for the current lesswrong.com to be archived in favour of that new aggregator. But even if it's something else, it will not succeed without the three basic ingredients: clear ownership, dedicated leadership, and as broad support as possible to a simple, well-articulated vision. Lesswrong tried to be too many things with too little in the way of backing.

Comment author: Viliam 29 March 2016 08:28:57PM *  36 points [-]

Yeah, it's nice when your opponents volunteer to remove from you the burden of proof whether they are irrational.

But seriously, I don't even know where to start. Perhaps here: Articles written on most popular websites are clickbait. It means that their primary purpose is to make you read the article after seeing the headline, and then share it either because you love it or because you hate it. And that's what you did. Mission accomplished.

Another article on the same website explains why animal rights movements are oppresive. (I am not going to link it, but here are the arguments for the curious readers: because it's wrong to care about animals while there are more important causes on this planet such as people being oppressed; because vegans and vegetarians don't acknowledge that vegan or vegetarian food can be expensive; because describing animals as male and female marginalizes trans people; and because protecting animals is colonialistic against native people who hunt animals as part of their tradition.) Obviously, the whole article is an exercise in making the reader scream and share the article to show other readers how crazy it is. This is exactly what the authors and editors get paid for; this is how you shovel the sweet AdSense money on them. So the only winning move is not to play this game.

.

I may be too extreme in this aspect, but when I talk with most people, I simply assume that almost everything they say is a metaphor for something (usually for their feelings), and almost nothing is to be taken literally. This is a normal way of communication among people who couldn't program a Friendly AI if their very lives depended on it.

When someone says "rationality is bad", the correct translation is probably something like "I hate my father because he criticized me a lot and didn't play with me; and my father believes he is smart, and he makes smartness his applause light; and this is why I hate everything that sounds like smartness". You cannot argue against that. (If you try anyway, the person will not remember any specific thing you said, they will only remember that you are just as horrible person as their father.) This is how people talk. This is how people think. And they understand each other, so when another person who also hates their father hears it, they will get the message, and say something like "yeah, exactly like you said, rationality is stupid". And then they know they can trust each other on the emotional level.

Here is a short dictionary containing the idioms from the article:

  • everydayfeminism.com = "I hate my father"
  • we should abolish prisons, police = "I hate my father"
  • cisheteropatriarchy = "I hate my father; but I also blame my mother for staying with him"
  • those who are committed to social justice = "my friends, who also hate their fathers"
  • we have to stop placing limits on ourselves = "we should steal some money and get high"
  • Being Rational Has No Inherent Value = "I don't even respect my father"
  • my very existence is irrational = "my father disapproves of my lifestyle"
  • The only logical time for abolition and decolonization is now = "I wish I had the courage to tell my parents right now how much I am angry at them"

You are overanalyzing it, searching for a logical structure when there is none. If you treat the article as a free-form poem, you will get much closer to the essence. You don't share the author's emotions, that's why the text rubs you the wrong way.

And by the way, other political groups do similar things, just in a different flavor (and perhaps intensity).

Comment author: AnnaSalamon 27 November 2016 10:29:20PM *  35 points [-]

Re: 1, I vote for Vaniver as LW's BDFL, with authority to decree community norms (re: politics or anything else), decide on changes for the site; conduct fundraisers on behalf of the site; etc. (He already has the technical admin powers, and has been playing some of this role in a low key way; but I suspect he's been deferring a lot to other parties who spend little time on LW, and that an authorized sole dictatorship might be better.)

Anyone want to join me in this, or else make a counterproposal?

Comment author: sarahconstantin 27 November 2016 10:14:51AM 35 points [-]

I applaud this and am already participating by crossposting from my blog and discussing.

One thing that I like about using LW as a home base is that everyone knows what it is, for good and for ill. This has the practical benefit of not needing further software development before we can get started on the hard problem of attracting high-quality users. It also has the signaling benefit of indicating clearly that we're "embracing our roots", including reclaiming the negative stereotypes of LessWrongers. (Nitpicky, nerdy, utopian, etc.)

I am unusual in this community in taking "the passions" really seriously, rather than identifying as being too rational to be caught up in them. One of my more eccentric positions has long been that we ought to be a tribe. For all but a few unusual individuals, humans really want to belong to groups. If the group of people who explicitly value reason is the one group that refuses to have "civic pride" or similar community-spirited emotions, then this is not good news for reason. Pride in who we are as a community, pride in our distinctive characteristics, seems to be a necessity, in a cluster of people who aspire to do better than the general public; it's important to have ways to socially reinforce and maintain that higher standard.

Having a website of "our" own is useful for practical purposes, but it also has the value of reinforcing an online locus for the community, which defines, unifies, and distinguishes us. Ideally, our defining "place" will also be a good website where good discussion happens. I think this is a better outcome than group membership being defined by "what parties in Berkeley you get invited to" or "whose FB-friends list you're on" or the other informal social means that have been used as stopgap proxy measures for ingroupiness. People are going to choose demarcations. Why not try to steer the form of those demarcations towards something like "virtue"?

Comment author: Will_BC 30 March 2016 05:38:40PM 34 points [-]

I have taken the survey

Comment author: lfghjkl 30 March 2016 01:09:54PM 34 points [-]

I have taken the survey.

Comment author: alyssavance 27 November 2016 10:39:26AM 32 points [-]

I appreciate the effort, and I agree with most of the points made, but I think resurrect-LW projects are probably doomed unless we can get a proactive, responsive admin/moderation team. Nick Tarleton talked about this a bit last year:

"A tangential note on third-party technical contributions to LW (if that's a thing you care about): the uncertainty about whether changes will be accepted, uncertainty about and lack of visibility into how that decision is made or even who makes it, and lack of a known process for making pull requests or getting feedback on ideas are incredibly anti-motivating." (http://lesswrong.com/lw/n0l/lesswrong_20/cy8e)

That's obviously problematic, but I think it goes way beyond just contributing code. As far as I know, right now, there's no one person with both the technical and moral authority to:

  • set the rules that all participants have to abide by, and enforce them
  • decide principles for what's on-topic and what's off-topic
  • receive reports of trolls, and warn or ban them
  • respond to complaints about the site not working well
  • decide what the site features should be, and implement the high-priority ones

Pretty much any successful subreddit, even smallish ones, will have a team of admins who handle this stuff, and who can be trusted to look at things that pop up within a day or so (at least collectively). The highest intellectual-quality subreddit I know of, /r/AskHistorians, has extremely active and rigorous moderation, to the extent that a majority of comments are often deleted. Since we aren't on Reddit itself, I don't think we need to go quite that far, but there has to be something in place.

Comment author: roryokane 30 March 2016 09:41:19PM 32 points [-]

I took the survey.

Comment author: Glen 30 March 2016 10:13:52PM 30 points [-]

I have taken the survey

Comment author: Bitnotri 30 March 2016 10:09:35PM 30 points [-]

I have taken the survey.

Comment author: Styrke 30 March 2016 10:07:16PM 30 points [-]

I have taken the survey.

I think I spent about 1 hour and 20 minutes answering almost all of the questions. I'm probably just unusually slow. :P

Comment author: Luke_A_Somers 31 March 2016 11:04:34AM 28 points [-]

Survey taken. By me, even.

Comment author: labachevskij 31 March 2016 08:50:15AM 28 points [-]

Took the survey, and as others pointed out had some trouble with the questions about income (net? gross?) Also, is there any place where all the reading (fanfiction, books, blogs) hinted to in the survey are collected? I knew (and have read) some, but many I have never heard of, and would like to find out more.

Comment author: Furcas 31 March 2016 12:32:06AM 28 points [-]

Did it.

Comment author: Alia1d 30 March 2016 11:56:21PM 28 points [-]

I have taken the survey

Comment author: alyssavance 03 December 2016 02:02:03AM *  27 points [-]

This is just a guess, but I think CFAR and the CFAR-sphere would be more effective if they focused more on hypothesis generation (or "imagination", although that term is very broad). Eg., a year or so ago, a friend of mine in the Thiel-sphere proposed starting a new country by hauling nuclear power plants to Antarctica, and then just putting heaters on the ground to melt all the ice. As it happens, I think this is a stupid idea (hot air rises, so the newly heated air would just blow away, pulling in more cold air from the surroundings). But it is an idea, and the same person came up with (and implemented) a profitable business plan six months or so later. I can imagine HPJEV coming up with that idea, or Elon Musk, or von Neumann, or Google X; I don't think most people in the CFAR-sphere would, it's just not the kind of thing I think they've focused on practicing.

Comment author: SatvikBeri 27 November 2016 05:18:43PM 27 points [-]

On the idea of a vision for a future, if I were starting a site from scratch, I would love to see it focus on something like "discussions on any topic, but with extremely high intellectual standards". Some ideas:

  • In addition to allowing self-posts, a major type of post would be a link to a piece of content with an initial seed for discussion
  • Refine upvotes/downvotes to make it easier to provide commentary on a post, e.g. "agree with the conclusion but disagree with the argument", or "accurate points, but ad-hominem tone".
  • A fairly strict and clearly stated set of site norms, with regular updates, and a process for proposing changes
  • Site erring on the side of being over-opinionated. It doesn't necessarily need to be the community hub
  • Votes from highly-voted users count for more.
  • Integration with predictionbook or something similar, to show a user's track record in addition to upvotes/downvotes. Emphasis on getting many people to vote on the same set of standardized predictions
  • A very strong bent on applications of rationality/clear thought, as opposed to a focus on rationality itself. I would love to see more posts on "here is how I solved a problem I or other people were struggling with"
  • No main/discussion split. There are probably other divisions that make sense (e.g. by topic), but this mostly causes a lot of confusion
  • Better notifications around new posts, or new comments in a thread. Eg I usually want to see all replies to a comment I've made, not just the top level
  • Built-in argument mapping tools for comments
  • Shadowbanning, a la Hacker News
  • Initially restricted growth, e.g. by invitation only
Comment author: Rixie 31 March 2016 12:25:20PM 27 points [-]

I have taken the survey.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 27 November 2016 01:02:16PM *  25 points [-]

I used to do this a lot on Less Wrong; then I started thinking I should do work that was somehow "more important". In hindsight, I think I undervalued the importance of pointing out minor reasoning/content errors on Less Wrong. "Someone is wrong on less wrong" seems to me to be an actually worth fixing; it seems like that's how we make a community that is capable of vetting arguments.

Participating in online discussions tends to reduce one's attention span. There's the variable reinforcement factor. There's also the fact that a person who comes to a discussion earlier gets more visibility. This incentivizes checking for new discussions frequently. (These two factors exacerbate one another.)

These effects are so strong that if I stay away from the internet for a few days ("internet fast"), my attention span increases dramatically. And if I've posted comments online yesterday, it's hard for me to focus today--there's always something in the back of my mind that wants to check & see if anyone's responded. I need to refrain from making new comments for several days before I can really focus.

Lots of people have noticed that online discussions sap their productivity this way. And due to the affect heuristic, they downgrade the importance & usefulness of online discussions in general. I think this inspired Patri's Self-Improvement or Shiny Distraction post. Like video games, Less Wrong can be distracting... so if video games are a distracting waste of time, Less Wrong must also be, right?

Except that doesn't follow. Online content can be really valuable to read. Bloggers don't have an incentive to pad their ideas the way book authors do. And they write simply instead of unnecessarily obfuscating like academics. (Some related discussion.)

Participating in discussions online is often high leverage. The ratio of readers to participants in online discussions can be quite high. Some numbers from the LW-sphere that back this up:

  • In 2010, Kevin created a thread where he asked lurkers to say hi. The thread generated 617 comments.

  • 77% of respondents to the Less Wrong survey have never posted a comment. (And this is a population of readers who were sufficiently engaged to take the survey!)

  • Here's a relatively obscure comment of mine that was voted to +2. But it was read by at least 135 logged-in users. Since 54+% of the LW readership has never registered an account, this obscure comment was likely read by 270+ people. A similar case study--deeply threaded comment posted 4 days after a top-level post, read by at least 22 logged-in users.

Based on this line of reasoning, I'm currently working on the problem of preserving focus while participating in online discussions. I've got some ideas, but I'd love to hear thoughts from anyone who wants to spend a minute brainstorming.

View more: Next