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

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

27 Post author: 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.)

A few notes about the site mechanics

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.)

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!

Note from orthonormal: MBlume and other contributors wrote the original version of this welcome post, and I've edited it a fair bit. 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, once this gets past 500 comments, anyone is welcome to copy and edit this intro to start the next welcome thread.

Comments (1750)

Comment author: Paamayim 02 April 2013 09:40:33PM 24 points [-]


My name is Sandy and despite being a long time lurker, meetup organizer and CFAR minicamp alumnus, I've got a giant ugh field around getting involved in the online community. Frankly it's pretty intimidating and seems like a big barrier to entry - but this welcome thread is definitely a good start :)

IIRC, I was linked to Overcoming Bias through a programming pattern blog in the few months before LW came into existence, and subsequently spent the next three months of my life doing little else than reading the sequences. While it was highly fascinating and seemed good for my cognitive health, I never thought about applying it to /real life/.

Somehow I ended up at CFAR's January minicamp, and my life literally changed. After so many years, CFAR helped me finally internalize the idea that /rationalists should win/. I fully expect the workshop to be the most pivotal event in my entire life, and would wholeheartedly recommend it to absolutely anyone and everyone.

So here's to a new chapter. I'm going to get involved in this community or die trying.

PS: If anyone is in the Kitchener/Waterloo area, they should definitely come out to UW's SLC tonight at 8pm for our LW meetup. I can guarantee you won't be disappointed!

Comment author: aime15 16 April 2013 12:55:51AM *  19 points [-]

Hello, I'm E. I'll be entering university in September planning to study some subset of {math, computer science, economics}. I found Less Wrong in April 2012 through HPMoR and started seriously reading here after attending SPARC. I haven't posted because I don't think I can add too much to discussions, but reading here is certainly illuminating.

I'm interested in self-improvement. Right now, I'm trying to develop better social skills, writing skills, and work ethic. I'm also collecting some simple data from my day-to-day activities with the belief that having data will help me later. Some concrete actions I am currently taking:

  • Conditioning myself (focusing on smiling and positive thoughts) to enjoy social interaction. I don't dislike social interaction, but I'm definitely averse to talking to strangers. This aversion seems like it will hurt me long-term, so I'm trying to get rid of it.
  • Writing in a journal every night. Usually this is 200-300 words of my thoughts and summaries of the more important events that happened. I started this after noticing that I repeatedly tried and failed to recall my thoughts from a few months or years ago.
  • Setting daily schedules for myself. When I get sidetracked time seems to fly out the window, though when I'm in a state of flow I seem to be happier. Frequent reminders that I should be working seem to be reducing the amount of time I waste browsing Facebook/Reddit.
  • Data collection. Right now I'm recording my meals, amount of sleep, and severity of acne each day. I'm very open to suggestions about other things that are cheap to record but are not useless.

I've noticed that I hate when something disrupts my daily schedule. I plan out entire days and when a family or other social commitment interrupts this, I find it difficult to focus for the rest of the day. I think this is because I like rigidity. This is another thing I'm trying to de-program, in a less systematic way, by consciously thinking about being spontaneous and then doing more spontaneous things. It's hard to judge if this is working because I've been traveling a lot in the past few months, which naturally leads to more fluid/less planned days.

I've read the sequences "Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions" and "Map and Territory." I found this very encouraging as a lot of the material in those sequences were things I've thought about in the past, presented in a more coherent and logical manner. I read Part I of Gödel, Escher, Bach and also found a lot that aligned with my intuitions. I haven't had much time to read with college visits, school, and MOOCs taking up a lot of my time. Hopefully that will change by June.

I've been taking MOOCs from Coursera and edX since June 2012. My favorites have been Machine Learning, Networked Life, Game Theory, Principles of Economics for Scientists (all Coursera), CS188.1x, and PH207x (edX). These end up being pretty time-consuming but far more interesting and rewarding than my courses at school (an American public high school).

Some things that fall in the category of "things that seem interesting on the surface, but I don't currently have time to look at seriously/I am too lazy to look at seriously": AI, basic linguistics, logic.

Some things that fall in the category of "things that are probably important, but I'm too scared to think about seriously for sufficient time": things to do in college (including selecting classes). There's more in this list but nothing comes to mind right now, maybe because I continually punt them to the back of my mind whenever they come up.

Some things I hate about the world: documents that are not formatted nicely.

I've learned a lot from this community. I think the most important lesson I learned here was to look at things from both an outside view and an inside view. Looking forward to learning more from Less Wrong and contributing in the future.

Comment author: ModusPonies 17 April 2013 02:17:01PM 4 points [-]

Welcome! You sound remarkably driven.

I'll be entering university in September planning to study some subset of {math, computer science, economics}.

Math and CS are foundational fields which can be used for nearly anything, while economics past intro level is much more specialized. I'd suggest putting the least focus on economics unless/until you're sure you want to do something with it. (Warning: I am a programmer with an econ degree. I may be projecting, here.)

I'm very open to suggestions about other things that are cheap to record but are not useless.

Subjective happiness, maybe? The old "how good do you feel right now on a scale of 1-10" could be one way to quantify this.

Some things I hate about the world: documents that are not formatted nicely.

They are the worst thing.

Comment author: Adele_L 01 April 2013 11:52:34PM 18 points [-]

Hi everyone. I have been lurking on this site for a long time, and somewhat recently have made an account, but I still feel pretty new here. I've read most of the sequences by now, and I feel that I've learned a lot from them. I have changed myself in some small ways as a result, most notably by donating small amounts to whatever charity I feel is most effective at doing good, with the intention that I will donate much more once I am capable of doing so.

I'm currently working on a Ph.D. in Mathematics right now, and I am also hoping that I can steer my research activities towards things that will do good. Still not sure exactly how to do this, though.

I also had the opportunity to attend my local Less Wrong meetup, and I have to say it was quite enjoyable! I am looking forward toward future interactions with my local community.

Comment author: Pablo_Stafforini 02 April 2013 02:12:39AM *  5 points [-]

I'm currently working on a Ph.D. in Mathematics right now, and I am also hoping that I can steer my research activities towards things that will do good. Still not sure exactly how to do this, though.

Hi Adele. Given what you write in your introduction, it's likely that you have already heard of this organization, but if this is not the case: you may want to check out 80,000 Hours. They provide evidence-based career advice for people that want to make a difference.

Comment author: Nisan 02 April 2013 12:20:22AM *  3 points [-]

Welcome! I like your username.

EDIT: I know several people in this community who dropped out of math grad school, and most of them were happy with the decision. I'm choosing to graduate with a PhD in a useless field because I find myself in a situation where I can get one in exchange for a few months of work. I know someone who switched to algebraic statistics, which is a surprisingly useful field that involves algebraic geometry.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 02 April 2013 09:01:04AM 2 points [-]

I haven't looked at this issue in detail, but I seem to recall that not getting more education was one of the more common regrets among "Terman's geniuses", whoever those are. Link.

Comment author: magfrump 03 April 2013 10:49:33PM 2 points [-]

There are several people on LW (myself included) who continue to be in graduate school in mathematics. If you're interested in just talking math, there'll be an audience for that. I would personally be interested in more academic networking happening here--even if most people on LW will end up leaving mathematics as such.

Comment author: lll 02 April 2013 01:24:38AM 16 points [-]

Hey everyone!

I'm ll, my real name is Lukas. I am a student at a technical university in the US and a hobbyist FOSS programmer.

I discovered Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality accidentally one night, and since then I've been completely hooked on it. After I caught up, I decided to check out the Less Wrong community. I've been lurking since then, reading the essays, comments, hanging out in the IRC channel.

Comment author: Serendipity 04 August 2013 10:39:45AM *  14 points [-]

Hi everyone, my name is Sara!

I am 21, live in Switzerland and study psychology. I am fascinated with the field of rationality and therefore wrote my Bachelor thesis on why and how critical thinking should be taught in schools. I started out with the plan to get my degree in clinical- and neuropsychology but will now change to developmental psychology for I was able to fascinate my supervising tutor and secure his full support. This will allow me to base my Master project on the development and enhancing of critical thinking and rationality, too. Do you have any recommendations?

After my Master's degree I still intend on getting an education as therapist (money reasons) or going into research (pushing the experimental research on rationality) and on giving a lot of money to the most effective charities around. I wonder if as therapist it would be smarter to concentrate on children or adults; both fields will be open for me after my university education (which will take me about 2.5-3 more years). I speak German, Swiss German, Italian, French and English (and understand some more languages), which will give me some freedom in the choice where to actually work in future.

...but I'm not only looking for advice here. I'm (mainly) interested in educating myself (and possibly other people around me). In fact, I am part of a Swiss group that translates less wrong articles into German, making the content available for more people in our surroundings (Switzerland, Germany, Austria).

I've learned a lot from this community and it has strongly shaped who I have become. There's no way I'd want to go back to my even more biased past self :)

Indeed, I am looking forward to learning more!

Comment author: Jennifer_H 23 October 2013 04:19:48AM 13 points [-]


I'm Jennifer; I'm currently a graduate student in medieval literature and a working actor. Thanks to homeschooling, though, I do have a solid background and abiding interest in quantum physics/pure mathematics/statistics/etc., and 'aspiring rationalist' is probably the best description I can provide! I found the site through HPMoR.

Current personal projects: learning German and Mandarin, since I already have French/Latin/Spanish/Old English/Old Norse taken care of, and much as I personally enjoy studying historical linguistics and old dead languages, knowing Mandarin would be much more practical (in terms of being able to communicate with the greatest number of people when travelling, doing business, reading articles, etc.)

Comment author: Adele_L 23 October 2013 04:54:33AM 2 points [-]

Hey, another homeschooled person! There seem to be a lot of us here. How was your experience? Mine was the crazy religious type, but I still consider it to have been an overall good thing for my development relative to other feasible options.

Comment author: Jennifer_H 23 October 2013 05:12:29AM 2 points [-]

My experience was, overall, excellent - although my parents are definitely highly religious. (To be more precise, my father is a pastor, so biology class certainly contained some outdated ideas!) However, I'm in complete agreement - relative to any other possible options, I don't think I could have gotten a better education (or preparation for postsecondary/graduate studies) any other way.

Comment author: Adele_L 24 October 2013 03:46:37AM 2 points [-]

Yeah, I got taught young earth creationism instead of evolution. But despite this, i think I was better prepared academically than most of my peers.

Comment author: David_Chapman 14 September 2013 06:04:59PM 13 points [-]


I’ve been interested in how to think well since early childhood. When I was about ten, I read a book about cybernetics. (This was in the Oligocene, when “cybernetics” had only recently gone extinct.) It gave simple introductions to probability theory, game theory, information theory, boolean switching logic, control theory, and neural networks. This was definitely the coolest stuff ever.

I went on to MIT, and got an undergraduate degree in math, specializing in mathematical logic and the theory of computation—fields that grew out of philosophical investigations of rationality.

Then I did a PhD at the MIT AI Lab, continuing my interest in what thinking is. My work there seems to have been turned into a surrealistic novel by Ken Wilber, a woo-ish pop philosopher. Along the way, I studied a variety of other fields that give diverse insights into thinking, ranging from developmental psychology to ethnomethodology to existential phenomenology.

I became aware of LW gradually over the past few years, mainly through mentions by people I follow on Twitter. As a lurker, there’s a lot about the LW community I’ve loved. On the other hand, I think some fundamental, generally-accepted ideas here are limited and misleading. I began considering writing about that recently, and posted some musings about whether and how it might be useful to address these misconceptions. (This was perhaps ruder than it ought to have been.) It prompted a reply post from Yvain, and much discussion on both his site and mine.

I followed that up with a more constructive post on aspects of how to think well that LW generally overlooks. In comments on that post, several frequent LW contributors encouraged me to re-post that material here. I may yet do that!

For now, though, I’ve started a sequence of LW articles on the difference between uncertainty and probability. Missing this distinction seems to underlie many of the ways I find LW thinking limited. Currently my outline for the sequence has seven articles, covering technical explanations of this difference, with various illustrations; the consequences of overlooking the distinction; and ways of dealing with uncertainty when probability theory is unhelpful.

(Kaj Sotala has suggested that I ask for upvotes on this self-introduction, so I can accumulate enough karma to move the articles from Discussion to Main. I wouldn’t have thought to ask that myself, but he seems to know what he’s doing here! :-)

O&BTW, I also write about contemporary trends in Buddhism, on several web sites, including a serial, philosophical, tantric Buddhist vampire romance novel.

Comment author: aphyer 23 April 2013 04:43:26PM 12 points [-]

Hi, I'm Andrew, a college undergrad in computer science. I found this site through HPMOR a few years ago.

Comment author: Axion 03 July 2013 03:05:50AM 11 points [-]

Hi Less Wrong. I found a link to this site a year or so ago and have been lurking off and on since. However, I've self identified as a rationalist since around junior high school. My parents weren't religious and I was good at math and science, so it was natural to me to look to science and logic to solve everything. Many years later I realize that this is harder than I hoped.

Anyway, I've read many of the sequences and posts, generally agreeing and finding many interesting thoughts. It's fun reading about zombies and Newcomb's problem and the like.

I guess this sounds heretical, but I don't understand why Bayes theorem is placed on such a pedestal here. I understand Bayesian statistics, intuitively and also technically. Bayesian statistics is great for a lot of problems, but I don't see it as always superior to thinking inspired by the traditional scientific method. More specifically, I would say that coming up with a prior distribution and updating can easily be harder than the problem at hand.

I assume the point is that there is more to what is considered Bayesian thinking than Bayes theorem and Bayesian statistics, and I've reread some of the articles with the idea of trying to pin that down, but I've found that difficult. The closest I've come is that examining what your priors are helps you to keep an open mind.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 18 September 2013 08:43:36AM *  6 points [-]

Bayesian theorem is just one of many mathematical equations, like for example Pythagorean theorem. There is inherently nothing magical about it.

It just happens to explain one problem with the current scientific publishing process: neglecting base rates. Which sometimes seems like this: "I designed an experiment that would prove a false hypothesis only with probability p = 0.05. My experiment has succeeded. Please publish my paper in your journal!"

(I guess I am exaggerating a bit here, but many people 'doing science' would not understand immediately what is wrong with this. And that would be those who even bother to calculate the p-value. Not everyone who is employed as a scientist is necessarily good at math. Many people get paid for doing bad science.)

This kind of thinking has the following problem: Even if you invent hundred completely stupid hypotheses; if you design experiments that would prove a false hypothesis only with p = 0.05, that means five of them would be proved by the experiment. If you show someone else all hundred experiments together, they may understand what is wrong. But you are more likely to send only the successful five ones to the journal, aren't you? -- But how exactly is the journal supposed to react to this? Should they ask: "Did you do many other experiments, even ones completely irrelevant to this specific hypothesis? Because, you know, that somehow undermines the credibility of this one."

The current scientific publishing process has a bias. Bayesian theorem explains it. We care about science, and we care about science being done correctly.

Comment author: Vaniver 03 July 2013 03:55:51AM 4 points [-]

I guess this sounds heretical, but I don't understand why Bayes theorem is placed on such a pedestal here. I understand Bayesian statistics, intuitively and also technically. Bayesian statistics is great for a lot of problems, but I don't see it as always superior to thinking inspired by the traditional scientific method.

I know a few answers to this question, and I'm sure there are others. (As an aside, these foundational questions are, in my opinion, really important to ask and answer.)

  1. What separates scientific thought and mysticism is that scientists are okay with mystery. If you can stand to not know what something is, to be confused, then after careful observation and thought you might have a better idea of what it is and have a bit more clarity. Bayes is the quantitative heart of the qualitative approach of tracking many hypotheses and checking how concordant they are with reality, and thus should feature heavily in a modern epistemic approach. The more precisely and accurately you can deal with uncertainty, the better off you are in an uncertain world.
  2. What separates Bayes and the "traditional scientific method" (using scare quotes to signify that I'm highlighting a negative impression of it) is that the TSM is a method for avoiding bad beliefs but Bayes is a method for finding the best available beliefs. In many uncertain situations, you can use Bayes but you can't use the TSM (or it would be too costly to do so), but the TSM doesn't give any predictions in those cases!
  3. Use of Bayes focuses attention on base rates, alternate hypotheses, and likelihood ratios, which people often ignore (replacing the first with maxent, the second with yes/no thinking, and the latter with likelihoods).
  4. I honestly don't think the quantitative aspect of priors and updating is that important, compared to the search for a 'complete' hypothesis set and the search for cheap experiments that have high likelihood ratios (little bets).

I think that the qualitative side of Bayes is super important but don't think we've found a good way to communicate it yet. That's an active area of research, though, and in particular I'd love to hear your thoughts on those four answers.

Comment author: jsteinhardt 03 July 2013 05:47:49AM 3 points [-]

Regarding Bayes, you might like my essay on the topic, especially if you have statistical training.

Comment author: Jiro 04 July 2013 09:30:25AM 2 points [-]

You are not alone in thinking the use of Bayes is overblown. It can;t be wrong, of course, but it can be impractical to use and in many real life situations we might not have specific enough knowledge to be able to use it. In fact, that's probably one of the biggest criticisms of lesswrong.

Comment author: Peteris 10 April 2013 09:53:14PM *  11 points [-]


I'm a final year Mathematics student at Cambridge coming from an IOI, IMO background. I've written software for a machine learning startup, a game dev startup and Google. I was recently interested in programming language theory esp. probabilistic and logic programming (some experiments here http://peteriserins.tumblr.com/archive).

I'm interested in many aspects of startups (including design) and hope to move into product management, management consulting or venture capital. I love trying to think rationally about business processes and have started to write about it at http://medium.com/@p_e .

I found out about LW from a friend and have since started reading the sequences. I hope to learn more about practical instrumental rationality, I am less interested in philosophy and the meta theory. So far I've learned more about practical application of mathematics from data science and consulting, but expect rationality to take it further and with more rigor.

Great meeting y'all

Comment author: Nisan 10 April 2013 11:39:08PM 3 points [-]

Welcome! You may want to consider participating in a CFAR workshop. I think it's 1000% as effective for learning instrumental rationality as reading Less Wrong. They're optimized for teaching practical skills, and they tend to attract entrepreneurs.

Also, I think you'd be a valuable addition to the community around CFAR, in addition to the online community around the Less Wrong website.

Comment author: nonplussed 07 April 2013 06:50:22PM *  11 points [-]

Hi everyone, I'm Chris. I'm a physics PhD student from Melbourne, Australia. I came to rationalism slowly over the years by having excellent conversations with like minded friends. I was raised a catholic and fully bought into the faith, but became an atheist in early high school when I realised that scientific explanations made more sense.

About a year ago I had a huge problem with the collapse postulate of quantum mechanics. It just didn't make sense and neither did anything anyone was telling me about it. This led me to discover that many worlds wasn't as crazy as it had been made out to be, and led me to this very community. My growth as a rationalist has made me distrust the consensus opinions of more and more groups, and realising that physicists could get something so wrong was the final nail in the coffin for my trust of the scientific establishment. Of course science is still the best way to figure things out, but as soon as opinions become politicised or tied to job prospects, I don't trust scientists as far as I can throw them. Related to this is my skepticism that climate change is a big deal.

I am frustrated more by the extent of unreason in educated circles than I am in uneducated circles, as people should know better. For example, utilitarian morality should be much more widespread in these circles than it is. But moral issues are often politicised, and you know what they say about politics here.

I'm pretty social and would love to meet more rationalist friends, but I have the perception that if I went to a meetup most people would be less extroverted than me, and it might not be much fun for me. Also since I do physics and am into heavy metal, my social circles at the moment are like 95% male, and it seems pretty silly to invest effort in developing a new social group unless it does something about that number, which I'm pretty sure less wrong meetups will not. So I'm probably not going to look into this, even though I enjoy the communities writings online.

Though I find the writing style to sometimes be a bit dense and not self contained (requiring reading a lot of past posts to make sense of.) I find myself preferring the writing style of a rationalist blog like slatestarcodex (or its previous incarnation), and if the same issue is being discussed in two places I'll generally read it there instead because I prefer the more casual writing style.

Comment author: ModusPonies 12 April 2013 02:33:32PM 7 points [-]

I'm pretty social and would love to meet more rationalist friends, but I have the perception that if I went to a meetup most people would be less extroverted than me, and it might not be much fun for me.

My experience at meetups has been pretty social. After all, meetups select for people outgoing enough to go out of the house in the first place. I'd encourage you to go once, if there's a convenient meetup around. The value of information is high; if the meetup sucks, that costs one afternoon, but if it's good, you gain a new group of friends.

Comment author: pushcx 02 April 2013 11:38:20AM *  11 points [-]

Hi folks, I'm Peter. I read a lot of blogs and saw enough articles on Overcoming Bias a few years ago that I was aware of Yudkowsky and some of his writing. I think I wandered from there to his personal site because I liked the writing and from there to Less Wrong, but it's long enough ago I don't really remember. I've read Yudkowsky's Sequences and found lots of good ideas or interesting new ways to explain things (though I bounced off QM as it assumed a level of knowledge in physics I don't have). They're annoyingly disorganized - I realize they were originally written as an interwoven hypertext, but for long material I prefer reading linear silos, then I can feel confident I've read everything without getting annoyed at seeing some things over and over. Being confused by their organization when nobody else seems to be also contributes to the feeling in my last paragraph below.

I signed up because I had a silly solution to a puzzle, but I've otherwise hesitated to get involved. I feel I've skipped across the surface of LessWrong; I subscribe to a feed that only has a couple posts per week and haven't seen anything better. I'm aware there are pages with voting, but I'm wary of the time sink of getting pulled into a community or being a filter rather than keeping up with curated content.

I'm also wary of a community so tightly focused around one guy. I have only good things to say about Yudkowsky or his writing, but a site where anyone is far and away the most active and influential writer sets off alarm bells. Despite the warning in the death spiral sequence, this community heavily revolves around him. Maybe every other time hundreds of people rally around one revelatory guy it's bad news and it's fine here because there are lots of arguments against things like revelation here, but things like the sequence reruns are really off-putting. It fits a well-trod antipattern; even if I can't see anything wrong in the middle of the story I know it ends badly. (Yes, I know, I'm not.)

Comment author: Nornagest 02 April 2013 09:43:36PM *  8 points [-]

I'm also wary of a community so tightly focused around one guy. I have only good things to say about Yudkowsky or his writing, but a site where anyone is far and away the most active and influential writer sets off alarm bells. Despite the warning in the death spiral sequence, this community heavily revolves around him.

Yeah, it's a problem. I'd even go so far as to say that it's a cognitive hazard, not just a PR or recruitment difficulty: if you've got only one person at the clear top of a status hierarchy covering some domain, then halo effects can potentially lead to much worse consequences for that domain than if you have a number of people of relatively equal status who occasionally disagree. Of course there's also less potential for infighting, but that doesn't seem to outweigh the potential risks.

There was a long gap in substantive posts from EY before the epistemology sequence, and I'd hoped that a competitor might emerge from that vacuum. Instead the community seems to have branched; various people's personal blogs have grown in relative significance, but LW has stayed Eliezer's turf in practice. I haven't fully worked out the implications, but they don't seem entirely good, especially since most of the community's modes of social organization are outgrowths of LW.

Comment author: magfrump 03 April 2013 11:02:19PM 4 points [-]

I think a part of the problem with other people filling the "vacuum" left by Eliezer is that when he was writing the sequences it was a large amount of informal material. Since then we've established a lot of very formal norms for main-level posts; the "blog" is now about discussions with a lot of shared background rather than about trying to use a bunch of words to get some ideas out.

That is, most of the point of the sequences is laying out ground rules. There's no vacuum left over for anyone to fill, and LW isn't really a "blog" any more, so much as a community or discussion board.

And for me, personally, at least, a lot of the attraction of LW and the sequences is not that Eliezer did a bunch of original creative work, but that he verbalized and worked out a bit more detail on a variety of ideas that were already familiar, and then created a community where people have to accept that and are therefore trustworthy. What this "feels like on the inside" is that the community is here because they share MY ideas about epistemology or whatever, rather than because they share HIS ideas, even if he was the one to write them down.

Of course YMMV and none of this is a controlled experiment; I could be making up bad post hoc explanations.

Comment author: tanagrabeast 02 January 2014 02:56:50AM 10 points [-]


I'm a long-time singularitarian and (intermediate) rationalist looking be a part of the conversation again. By day I am an English teacher in a suburban American high school. My students have been known to Google me. Rather than self-censor I am using a pseudonym so that I will feel free to share my (anonymized) experiences as a rationalist high school teacher.

I internet-know a number of you in this community from early years of the Singularity Institute. I fleetingly met at a few in person once, perhaps. I used to write on singularity-related issues, and was a proud "sniper" of the SL4 mailing list for a time. For the last 6-7 years I've mostly dropped off the radar by letting "life" issues consume me, though I have continued to follow the work of the key actors from afar with interest. I allow myself some pride for any small positive impact I might have once had during a time of great leverage for donors and activists, while recognizing that far too much remains undone. (If you would like to confirm your suspicions of my identity, I would love to hear from you with a PM. I just don't want Google searches of my real name pulling up my LW activity.)

High school teaching has been a taxing path, along with parenting, and it has been all too easy to use these as excuses to neglect my more challenging (yet rewarding) interests. I let my inaction and guilt reinforce each other until I woke up one day, read HPMoR, and realized I had long-ago regressed into an NPC.

Screw that.

Other background tidbits: I'm one of those atheist ex-mormons that seem so plentiful on this page (since 2000ish). I'm a self-taught "hedge coder" who has successfully used inelegant-but-effective programming in the service of my career. I feel effective in public education, which is not without its rewards. But on some important levels teaching at an American public high school is also a bit like working security at Azkaban, and I'm not sure how many more years I'll be able to keep my patronus going.

I've been using GTD methodologies for the last eight years or so, which has been great for letting me keep my mind clear to work on important tasks at hand; however, my dearest personal goals (which involve writing, both fiction and non) live among some powerful Ugh Fields. If I had been reading LW more closely, I probably would've discovered the Pomodoro method a lot sooner. This is helping.

My thanks to all who share their insights and experiences on this forum.

Comment author: Kendra 19 July 2013 07:54:39PM 10 points [-]

Hi, I'm Denise from Germany, I just turned 19 and study maths at university. Right now, I spend most of my time with that and caring for my 3-year-old daughter. I know LessWrong for almost two years now, but never got around to write. However, I'm more or less involved with parts of the LessWrong and the Effective Altruism community, most of them originally found me via Okcupid (I stated I was a LessWrongian), and from there, it expanded.

I grew up in a small village in the middle of nowhere in Germany, very isolated without any people to talk to. I skipped a grade and did extremely well at school, but was mostly very unhappy during my childhood/teen years. Though I had free internet access, I had almost no access to education until I was 15 years old (and pregnant, and no, that wasn't unplanned), because I had no idea what to look for. I dropped out of school then and prepared for the exams -when I had time (I was mostly busy with my child)- I needed to do to be allowed to attend university. In Germany that's extremely unusual and most people don't even know you can do it without going to school.

When I was 15, I discovered enviromentalism (during pregnancy, via people who share my parenting values) and feminism. Since then, I seriously cared about making the world „a better place“. I was already very nerdy in my special fields of interest then, though still very uneducated and lacking basic concepts. Thankfully, I found LessWrong when I was just 17 and became very taken with it. I started to question my beliefs, became a utilitarian, adopted a somewhat transhumanist mindset and the usual, but the breakthrough only came last year after I started spending time with people from the community. Since then I am totally focused. Most people who have met me this year or at the end of 2012 are very surprised by this, I noticed that a lot of people completely overestimate my past selves (which is somewhat relieving, though I still feel like everyone from the LW/EA who is usually quite taken with me overestimates me). Until the beginning of this year, I even considered enviromentalism the most important problem (which is completely ridiculous for me now). Well, I had been a serious enviromentalist for three years, then I talked half an hour with another LessWrongian about it, who explained to me why it isn't the most important problem, so I dropped it on the same day. After thinking about it myself and talking to several LW/EAs (e.g. 80,000hours) I decided it's the best thing for me to study maths (my minor will be in computer science). People always tell me I worry too much about my future and I am already at a very good position, being so driven, etc. but I often think I have lost so many years now and there is so much to read and so much I don't know and so little time. Especially considering that I lose about 70% of my time awake to caring for my daughter (which people do never take into account at all. They just have no idea. Before last October, it was even 90%). I often felt extremely incompetent and lazy because other people get so much done in comparison to me. Well, I do feel a bit better after actually thinking about how big my disadvantages are, but it's still quite bad. Several people have asked me to consider internships, etc., but I mostly still feel too incompetent, and the even bigger problem, too socially awkward.

Rationality was very helpful in the past with personal problems (e.g., I have a very static mindset, which hasn't really been a problem so far because I always was able to do things despite of it, without having to work for them, but now, doing my maths degree, it doesn't work as well as in the past) and has heavily reduced them, though enough still remain. My productivity has increased a lot. There are a lot of things to do waiting for me, I can't afford losing time to personal inconveniences. (Though anyway most of my time and energy goes into my child and there isn't really much I can do about that.)

I'm very happy that I found LessWrong and like-minded people. If you have reading recommendations, please tell me. I am familiar with all the basic material (the Sequences, of course, the EA stuff, the self-improvement stuff, Bostrom's work, Kahneman...). If you have any other advice, I would also love to hear it.

Comment author: Kawoomba 19 July 2013 08:10:20PM 3 points [-]

As another LW'er with kids in Germany, welcome!

Comment author: [deleted] 20 July 2013 11:21:22PM 2 points [-]

„a better place“

<nitpick> It isn't customary that kind of quotation marks in English; “these ones” are usually used in typeset materials, but most people just use "the ones on the keyboard" on-line.

Comment author: Shmidley 02 April 2013 09:11:32PM *  10 points [-]


Comment author: Manfred 06 April 2013 02:30:48AM *  2 points [-]


The two most useful things I gleaned from this site are the ability to point out when people

The really valuable times are when you get to say those things to yourself - you're the only person you can force to listen :D

Comment author: rationalnoob 10 April 2013 07:47:24AM *  9 points [-]


i have been lurking around here mostly for (rational) self help. Some info about me.

Married. Work at India office of a top tier tech company. 26 y/o

between +2 and +2.5 SD IQ . crystallized >> fluid . Extremely introspective and self critical. ADHD / Mildly depressed most of my life. Have hated 'work' most of my life.

Zero visual working memory (One - Two items with training). Therefore struggling with programming computers and not enjoying it. Can write short programs and solve standard interview type questions. Can't build big functional pieces of software

Tried to self medicate two years back .Overdosed on modafinil + piracetam. in ER. 130+ heart rate for 8 hours. induced panic disorder. As of today, Stimulant use out of question therefore.

Familiar with mindfulness meditation and spiritual philosophy.

Its quite clear that i can't build large pieces of software. Unsure as to what productive use i can be with these attributes.


Comment author: ModusPonies 12 April 2013 02:16:34PM 4 points [-]

Unsure as to what productive use i can be with these attributes.

That depends on what your goal is. Making enough money to fund a relaxed and happy life? Making tremendous amounts of money? Job satisfaction? Something else entirely?

Comment author: rationalnoob 13 April 2013 08:28:16AM *  2 points [-]

in terms of goals, i hadn't formalized things but my mental calculations generally revolve around.

A) making a lot of money. B) not burning out (due to competitive stress e.g.) doing so.

these seems highly improbable in my current environment as i don't have the natural characteristics for this to happen. so either

a) i adapt (major , almost miraculous changes needed in conscientiousness/ working memory etc) to succeed at top tier software product development or any other similar high pay career track. b) settle for low quality / low challenge work and low pay (IT services ? teaching? government bureaucracy?)

jobs in the b) category pay < 20K USD in india so it won't be a very relaxed existence financially.

therefore had been trying to get a) to work somehow. minor successes overall. my working memory and conscientiousness are atleast bottom quartile/ if not bottom decile in my peer group.

stuck big time in life therefore.

Comment author: private_messaging 13 April 2013 09:17:09AM 2 points [-]

You may be able to work as a programmer, given some management so that you only work on small pieces at a time.

It seems to me that it is actually quite uncommon to be able to comprehend projects of significant size, in programming or elsewhere.

Also, maybe you're not that different from other high-IQ individuals. I've always suspected that top scientists, programmers, etc. are at (just an illustrative example) 1 in 1000 on [metric most directly measured by IQ and similar tests] and 1 in 1000 on combination of things like integration of knowledge/memory, working space, etc. Whereas high IQ individuals in general aren't very far from average on the other factors and can't usefully access massive body of knowledge, for example.

Comment author: private_messaging 11 April 2013 08:34:33AM 3 points [-]

between +2 and +2.5 SD IQ

Zero visual working memory (One - Two items with training). Therefore struggling with programming computers and not enjoying it. Can write short programs and solve standard interview type questions. Can't build big functional pieces of software

That's fairly interesting. It seem to be often under-appreciated that IQ (and similar tests) fail to evaluate important aspects of cognition.

Comment author: MenosErrado 07 April 2013 11:39:22PM *  9 points [-]

Hello, Less Wrong; I'm so glad I found you.

A few years ago a particularly fruitful wikiwalk got me to a list of cognitive biases (also fallacies). I read it voraciously, then followed the sources, found out about Kahneman and Tversky and all the research that followed. The world has never quite been the same.

Last week Twitter got me to this sad knee-jerk post on Slate, which in a few message-board-quality paragraphs completely missed the point of this thought experiment by Steve Landsburg, dealing with the interesting question of crimes in which the only harm to the victims is the pain from knowing that they happened. The discussion there, however, was refreshingly above average, and I'll be forever grateful to LessWronger "Henry", who posted a link to the worst argument in the world - which turned out to be a practical approach to a problem I had been thinking about and trying to condense into something useful in a discussion (I was going toward something like "'X-is-horrible-and-is-called-racism' turning into 'We-call-Y-racism-therefore-it's-horrible'").

Since then I've been looking around and it feels... feels like I've finally found my species after a lifetime among aliens. I have heartily agreed with everything I've seen Eliezer write (so far), which I suspect is almost as unusual to him as it is to me. It's simply relieving to see minds working properly. Looking around I've found that I'm not too far behind, but still find something to think and learn in nearly every post, which looks like the perfect spot to be. "Insight porn", somebody said here - that seems about right.

As for my "theme":

I'm Brazilian (btw, are there others here?), currently studying Law. Specifically, I've been trying to apply the heuristics and biases approach to research about day to day decision making by judges and juries. I mean to do empirical research after graduation if possible, but right now I'm attempting a review of the available literature. Research in Portuguese proved futile, but that was expected (sadly, it seems I wouldn't have a problem if searching for psychoanalysis...).

So I humbly ask: if you know of research about cognitive biases in a legal setting, would you kindly direct me to it?

Comment author: volya 07 October 2013 01:17:08PM 8 points [-]

Hi, I am Olga, female, 40, programmer, mother of two. Got here from HPMoR. Can not as yet define myself as a rationalist, but I am working on it. Some rationality questions, used in real life conversations, have helped me to tackle some personal and even family issues. It felt great. In my "grown-up" role I am deeply concerned to bring up my kids with their thoughts process as undamaged as I possibly can and maybe even to balance some system-taught stupidity. I am at the start of my reading list on the matter, including LW sequences.

Comment author: DiamondSoul 21 April 2013 01:20:59AM 8 points [-]

I'm a college student studying music composition and computer science. You can hear some of my compositions on my SoundCloud page (it's only a small subset of my music, but I made sure to put a few that I consider my best at the top of the page). In the computer science realm, I'm into game development, so I'm participating in this thing called One Game A Month whose name should be fairly self-explanatory (my February submission is the one that's most worth checking out - the other 2 are kind of lame...).

For pretty much as long as I can remember, I've enjoyed pondering difficult/philosophical/confusing questions and not running away from them, which, along with having parents well-versed in math and science, led me to gradually hone my rationality skills over a long period of time without really having a particular moment of "Aha, now I'm a rationalist!". I suppose the closest thing to such a moment would be about a year ago when I discovered HPMoR (and, shortly thereafter, this site). I've found LW to be pretty much the only place where I am consistently less confused after reading articles about difficult/philosophical/confusing questions than I am before.

Comment author: Intrism 02 April 2013 03:53:05AM *  8 points [-]

Greetings, LessWrongers. I call myself Intrism; I'm a serial lurker, and I've been hiding under the cupboards for a few months already. As with many of my favorite online communities, I found this one multiple times, through Eliezer's website, TVTropes, and Methods of Rationality (twice), before it finally stuck. I am a student of computer science, and greatly enjoy the discipline. I've already read many of the sequences. While I can't say I've noticed an increase in rationality since I've started, I have made some significant progress on my akrasia, including recently starting on an interesting but unknown LW-inspired technique which I'll write up once I have a better idea of how well it's performing.

Comment author: Laplante 01 April 2013 03:47:57AM *  22 points [-]

Hello, Less Wrong; I'm Laplante. I found this site through a TV Tropes link to Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality about this time last year. After I'd read through that as far as it had been updated (chapter 77?), I followed Yudkowsky's advice to check out the real science behind the story and ended up here. I mucked about for a few days before finding a link to yudkowsky.net, where I spent about a week trying learn what exactly Bayes was all about. I'm currently working my way through the sequences, just getting into the quantum physics sequence now.

I'm currently in the dangerous position of having withdrawn from college, and my productive time is spent between a part-time job and this site. I have no real desire to return to school, but I realize that entry into any sort of psychology/neuroscience/cognitive science field without a Bachelor's degree - preferably more - is near impossible.

I'm aware that Yudkowsky is doing quite well without a formal education, but I'd rather not use that as a general excuse to leave my studies behind entirely.

My goals for the future are to make my way through MIRI's recommended course list, and the dream is to do my own research in a related field. We'll see how it all pans out.

Comment author: RolfAndreassen 01 April 2013 06:27:34PM *  31 points [-]

my productive time is spent between a part-time job and this site.

Perhaps I'm reading a bit much into a throwaway phrase, but I suggest that time spent reading LessWrong (or any self-improvement blog, or any blog) is not, in fact, productive. Beware the superstimulus of insight porn! Unless you are actually using the insights gained here in a measureable way, I very strongly suggest you count LessWrong reading as faffing about, not as production. (And even if you do become more productive, observe that this is probably a one-time effect: Continued visits are unlikely to yield continual improvement, else gwern and Alicorn would long since have taken over the world.) By all means be inspired to do more work and smarter work, but do not allow the feeling of "I learned something today" to substitute for Actually Doing Things.

All that aside, welcome to LessWrong! We will make your faffing-about time much more interesting. BWAH-HAH-HAH!

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 02 April 2013 08:50:07AM 4 points [-]

do not allow the feeling of "I learned something today" to substitute for Actually Doing Things.

Learning stuff can be pretty useful. Especially stuff extremely general in its application that isn't easy to just look up when you need it, like rationality. If the process of learning is enjoyable, so much the better.

Comment author: Dentin 06 April 2013 03:29:22AM 5 points [-]

I think you may have misinterpreted a critical part of the sentence:

'do not allow the FEELING of "I learned something today" to substitute for Actually Doing Things.'

Insight porn, so to speak, is that way because it makes you feel good, like you can Actually Do Things and like you have the tools to now Actually Do Things. But if you don't get up and Actually Do Things, you have only learned how to feel like you can Actually Do Things, which isn't nearly as useful as it sounds.

Comment author: Michelle_Z 01 April 2013 11:46:41PM 5 points [-]

If you want to learn things/explore what you want to do with your life, take a few varied courses at Coursera.

Comment author: shminux 01 April 2013 07:25:25AM *  18 points [-]

My standard advice to all newcomers is to skip the quantum sequence, at least on the first reading. Or at least stop where the many worlds musings start. The whole thing is way too verbose and controversial for the number of useful points it makes. Your time is much better spent reading about cognitive biases. If you want epistemology, try the new sequence.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 01 April 2013 03:20:24PM 2 points [-]

Bad advice for technical readers. Mihaly Barasz (IMO gold medalist) got here via HPMOR but only became seriously interested in working for MIRI after reading the QM sequence.

Given those particular circumstances, can I ask that you stop with that particular bit of helpful advice?

Comment author: Vaniver 01 April 2013 03:37:53PM 21 points [-]

Bad advice for technical readers. Mihaly Barasz (IMO gold medalist) got here via HPMOR but only became seriously interested in working for MIRI after reading the QM sequence.

Do you have a solid idea of how many technical readers get here via HPMOR but become disinterested in working for MIRI after reading the QM sequence? If not, isn't this potentially just the selection effect?

Comment author: Kawoomba 01 April 2013 05:50:37PM 6 points [-]

EY can rationally prefer the certain evidence of some Mihaly-Barasz-caliber researchers joining when exposed to the QM sequence


speculations whether the loss of Mihaly Barasz (had he not read the QM sequence) would be outweighed by even more / better technical readers becoming interested in joining MIRI, taking into account the selection effect.

Personally, I'd go with what has been proven/demonstrated to work as a high-quality attractor.

Comment author: shminux 01 April 2013 05:19:48PM *  6 points [-]

As others noted, you seem to be falling prey to the selection bias. Do you have an estimate of how many "IMO gold medalists" gave up on MIRI because its founder, in defiance of everything he wrote before, confidently picks one untestable from a bunch and proclaims it to be the truth (with 100% certainty, no less, Bayes be damned), despite (or maybe due to) not even being an expert in the subject matter?

EDIT: My initial inclination was to simply comply with your request, probably because I grew up being taught deference to and respect for authority. Then it struck me as one of the most cultish things one could do.

Comment author: hairyfigment 01 April 2013 09:34:31PM 13 points [-]

with 100% certainty, no less, Bayes be damned

Is this an April Fool's joke? He says nothing of the kind. The post which comes closest to this explicitly says that it could be wrong, but "the rational probability is pretty damned small." And counting the discovery of time-turners, he's named at least two conceivable pieces of evidence that could change that number.

What do you mean when you say you "just don't put nearly as much confidence in it as you do"?

Comment author: philh 02 April 2013 12:11:01AM 3 points [-]

Do you have an estimate of how many "IMO gold medalists" gave up on MIRI because [X]

The number of IMO gold medalists is sufficiently low, and the probability of any one of them having read the QM sequence is sufficiently small, that my own estimate would be less than one regardless of X.

(I don't have a good model of how much more likely an IMO gold medalist would be to have read the QM sequence than any other reference class, so I'm not massively confident.)

Comment author: beoShaffer 01 April 2013 04:26:05AM 2 points [-]

Hi, Laplante. Why do you want to enter psychology/neuroscience/cognitive science? I ask this as someone who is about to graduate with a double major in psychology/computer science and is almost certain to go into computer science as my career.

Comment author: atomliner 12 April 2013 08:31:40AM *  21 points [-]

Hello! I call myself Atomliner. I'm a 23 year old male Political Science major at Utah Valley University.

From 2009 to 2011, I was a missionary for the Mormon Church in northeastern Brazil. In the last month I was there, I was living with another missionary who I discovered to be a closet atheist. In trying to help him rediscover his faith, he had me read The God Delusion, which obliterated my own. I can't say that book was the only thing that enabled me to leave behind my irrational worldview, as I've always been very intellectually curious and resistant to authority. My mind had already been a powder keg long before Richard Dawkins arrived with the spark to light it.

Needless to say, I quickly embraced atheism and began to read everything I could about living without belief in God. I'm playing catch-up, trying to expand my mind as fast as I can to make up for the lost years I spent blinded by religious dogma. Just two years ago, for example, I believed homosexuality was an evil that threatened to destroy civilization, that humans came from another planet, and that the Lost Ten Tribes were living somewhere underground beneath the Arctic. Needless to say, my re-education process has been exhausting.

One ex-Mormon friend of mine introduced me to Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, which I read only a few chapters of, but I was intrigued by the concept of Bayes Theorem and followed a link here. Since then I've read From Skepticism to Technical Rationality and many of the Sequences. I'm hooked! I'm really liking what I find here. While I may not be a rationalist now, I would really like to be.

And that's my short story! I look forward to learning more from all of you and, hopefully, contributing in the future. :)

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 12 April 2013 09:14:52PM 12 points [-]

Welcome to LW! Don't worry about some of the replies you're getting, polls show we're overwhelmingly atheist around here.

Comment author: Anna_Zhang 18 July 2013 07:28:02AM 7 points [-]

Hello, Less Wrong, I'm Anna Zhang, a high school student. I found this site about half a month ago, after reading Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. On Mr. Yudkowsky's Wikipedia page, I found a link to his site, where I found a link to this site. I've been reading the sequence How to Actually Change Your Mind, as Mr. Yudkowsky recommended, and I've learned a lot from it (though I still have a lot to learn...)

Comment author: GTLisa 04 July 2013 06:33:56AM 7 points [-]

Hello, my name is Lisa. I found this site through HPMOR.

I'm a Georgia Tech student double majoring in Industrial Engineering and Psychology. I know I want to further my education after graduation, probably through a PhD. However, I'm not entirely sure what field I would want to focus on.

I've been lurking for awhile and am slowly making my way through the sequences, though I'm currently studying abroad so I'm not reading particularly quickly. I'm particularly interested in behavioral economics, statistics, evolutionary psychology, and in education policy, especially in higher education.

Comment author: Rafe 21 May 2013 01:05:06PM 7 points [-]

Hello everyone!

I've read occasional OB and LW articles and other Yudkowsky writings for many years, but never got into it in a big way until now.

My goal at the moment is to read the Quantum Physics sequence, since quantum physics has always seemed mysterious to me and I want to find out if its treatment here will dispel some of my confusion. I've spent the last few days absorbing the preliminaries and digressing into many, many prior articles. Now the tabs are finally dwindling and I am almost up to the start of the sequence!

Anyway, I have a question I didn't see in the FAQ. Given that I went on a long, long, long wiki walk and still haven't read very much of the core material, how big is Less Wrong? Has anyone done word counts on the sequences, or anything like that?

Comment author: sceaduwe 26 May 2013 04:13:29AM *  3 points [-]
Comment author: MumpsimusLane 01 May 2013 11:23:36PM *  7 points [-]

Saluton! I'm an ex-mormon athiest, a postgenderist, a conlanging dabbler, and a chronic three-day monk.

Looking at the above posts (and a bunch of other places on the net), I think ex-mormons seem to be more common than I thought they would be. Weird.

I'm a first-year college student studying only core/LCD classes so far because every major's terrible and choosing is scary. Also, the college system is madness. I've read lots of posts on the subject of higher education on LessWrong already, and my experience with college seems to be pretty common.

I discovered LessWrong a few months ago via a link on a self-help blog, and quickly fell in love with it. The sequences pretty much completely matched up with what I had come up with on my own, and before reading LW I had never encountered anyone other than myself who regularly tabooed words and rejected the "death gives meaning to life" argument et cetera. It was nice to find out that I'm not the only sane person in the world. Of course, the less happy side of the story is that now I'm not the sanest person in my universe anymore. I'm not sure what I think about that. (Yes, having access to people that are smarter than me will probably leave me better off than before, but it's hard to turn off the "I wanna be the very best like no one ever was" desire.) Yet again, my experience seems to be pretty common.

Huh, I've never walked into a room of people and had nothing out of the ordinary to say. Being redundant is a new experience for me. I guess my secret ambition to start a movement of rationalists is redundant now too, huh? Drat! I should have come up with a plan B! :)

Comment author: Osiris 19 April 2013 03:53:18AM 7 points [-]

Hello there, everyone! I am Osiris, and I came here at the request of a friend of mine. I am familiar with Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, and spent some time reading through the articles here. Everythin' here is so interesting! I studied to become a Russian Orthodox Priest in the early nineties, and moved to the USA from the Russian Federation at the beginning of the W. Bush Administration. The change of scenery inspired me, and within the first year, I had become an atheist and learned everything I could about biology, physics, and modern philosophy. Today, I am a philosophy/psychology major at a local college, and work to change the world one little bit at a time.

Though I tend to be a bit of a poet, I hope I can find a place here. In particular, I am interested in thinking of morality and the uses of mythology in daily life.

I value maintaining and increasing diversity, and plan on posting a few things which relate to this as soon as possible. I am curious to see how everyone will react to my style of presentation and beliefs.

Comment author: orthonormal 20 April 2013 04:37:57AM 2 points [-]

Hi Osiris, and welcome!

If you're looking for awesome things that a poet can offer Less Wrong, there are people looking to create meaningful rationalist holidays with a sense of ritual to them.

Comment author: HumanitiesResearcher 17 April 2013 01:14:57AM *  7 points [-]

Hi everyone,

I'm a humanities PhD who's been reading Eliezer for a few years, and who's been checking out LessWrong for a few months. I'm well-versed in the rhetorical dark arts, due to my current education, but I also have a BA in Economics (yet math is still my weakest suit). The point is, I like facts despite the deconstructivist tendency of humanities since the eighties. Now is a good time for hard-data approaches to the humanities. I want to join that party. My heart's desire is to workshop research methods with the LW community.

It may break protocol, but I'd like to offer a preview of my project in this introduction. I'm interested in associating the details of print production with an unnamed aesthetic object, which we'll presently call the Big Book, and which is the source of all of our evidence. The Big Book had multiple unknown sites of production, which we'll call Print Shop(s) [1-n]. I'm interested in pinning down which parts of the Big Book were made in which Print Shop. Print Shop 1 has Tools (1), and those Tools (1) leave unintended Marks in the Big Book. Likewise with Print Shop 2 and their Tools (2). Unfortunately, people in the present don't know which Print Shop had which Tools. Even worse, multiple sets of Tools can leave similar Marks.

The most obvious solution that I can see is

  • to catalog all Marks in the Big Book by sheet (a unit of print production, as opposed to the page), then
  • sort sheets by patterns of Marks, then
  • make some associations between the patterns of Marks and Print Shops, and then
  • propose Print Shops [x,y,z] to be the sites of production for the Big Book.

If nothing else, this method can define the n-number of Print Shops responsible for the Big Book.

The Bayesian twist on the obvious solution is to add some testing onto the associations, above. Specifically,

  • find some books strongly associated with Print Shops [x,y,z], in order to

  • assign probability of patterns of Marks to each Print Shop, then

  • revise initial associations between Print Shops [x,y,z] and the Big Book proportionally.

I'm far from an expert in Bayesian methods, but it seems already that there's something missing here. Is there some stage where I should take a control sample? Also, how can I find a logical basis for the initial association step, when there are many potential Print Shops? Lastly, how can I account for the decay of Tools, thus increasing Marks, over time?

Comment author: Vaniver 17 April 2013 02:36:17PM 5 points [-]

This is a problem that machine learning can tackle. Feel free to contact me by PM for technical help.

To make sure I understand your problem:

We have many copies of the Big Book. Each copy is a collection of many sheets. Each sheet was produced by a single tool, but each tool produces many sheets. Each shop contains many tools, but each tool is owned by only one shop.

Each sheet has information in the form of marks. Sheets created by the same tool at similar times have similar marks. It may be the case that the marks monotonically increase until the tool is repaired.

Right now, we have enough to take a database of marks on sheets and figure out how many tools we think there were, how likely it is each sheet came from each potential tool, and to cluster tools into likely shops. (Note that a 'tool' here is probably only one repair cycle of an actual tool, if they are able to repair it all the way to freshness.)

We can either do this unsupervised, and then compare to whatever other information we can find (if we have a subcollection of sheets with known origins, we can see how well the estimated probabilities did), or we can try to include that information for supervised learning.

Comment author: HumanitiesResearcher 17 April 2013 03:42:14PM *  5 points [-]

That's a hell of a summary, thanks!

I'm glad you mentioned the repair cycle of tools. There are some tools that are regularly repaired (let's just call them "Big Tools") and some that aren't ("Little Tools"). Both are expensive at first and to repair, but it seems the Print Shops chose to repair Big Tools because they were subject to breakage that significantly reduced performance.

I should add another twist since you mentioned sheets of known origins: Assume that we can only decisively assign origins to single sheets. There are two problems stemming from this assumption: first, not all relevant Marks are left on such sheets; second, very few single sheet publications survive. Collations greater than one sheet are subject to all of the problems of the Big Book.

I'm most interested in the distinction between unsupervised and supervised learning. And I will very likely PM you to learn more about machine learning. Again, thanks for your help!

EDIT: I just noticed a mistake in your summary. Each sheet is produced by a set of tools, not a single tool. Each mark is produced by a single tool.

Comment author: Vaniver 17 April 2013 04:20:25PM 2 points [-]

I just noticed a mistake in your summary. Each sheet is produced by a set of tools, not a single tool. Each mark is produced by a single tool.

Okay. Are the classes of marks distinct by tool type- that is, if I see a mark on a sheet, I know whether it came from tool type X or tool type Y- or do we need to try and discover what sort of marks the various tools can leave?

Comment author: HumanitiesResearcher 18 April 2013 12:54:07AM 3 points [-]

Fortunately, we know which tool types leave which marks. We also have a very strong understanding of the ways in which tools break and leave marks.

Thanks again for entertaining this line of inquiry.

Comment author: DaFranker 19 April 2013 01:33:07PM 3 points [-]

This is a problem that machine learning can tackle. Feel free to contact me by PM for technical help.

Good point!

Also yay combining multiple fields of knowledge and expertise! applause

Seriously though, the world does need more of it, and I felt the need to explicitly reward and encourage this.

Comment author: EHeller 17 April 2013 01:28:24AM *  3 points [-]

Any time you are doing statistical analysis, you always want a sample of data that you don't use to tune the model and where you know the right answer. (a 'holdout' sample)

In this case, you should have several books related to the various print shops that you don't feed into your Bayesian algorithm. You can then assess the algorithm by seeing if it gets these books correct.

To account for the decay of the books, you need books that you know not only came from print shop x,y or z, but also you'd need to know how old the tools wee that made those books. Either that, or you'd have to have some understanding of how the tools decay from a theoretical model.

Comment author: gwern 17 April 2013 02:10:50AM 6 points [-]

I'm interested in associating the details of print production with an unnamed aesthetic object, which we'll presently call the Big Book, and which is the source of all of our evidence.

It's the Bible, isn't it.

Print Shop 1 has Tools (1), and those Tools (1) leave unintended Marks in the Big Book. Likewise with Print Shop 2 and their Tools (2). Unfortunately, people in the present don't know which Print Shop had which Tools. Even worse, multiple sets of Tools can leave similar Marks.

How can you possibly get off the ground if you have no information about any of the Print Shops, much less how many there are? GIGO.

I'm far from an expert in Bayesian methods, but it seems already that there's something missing here.

Have you considered googling for previous work? 'Bayesian inference in phylogeny' and 'Bayesian stylometry' both seem like reasonable starting points.

Comment author: Vaniver 17 April 2013 02:26:50PM 2 points [-]

How can you possibly get off the ground if you have no information about any of the Print Shops, much less how many there are? GIGO.

Not quite. You can get quite a bit of insight out of unsupervised clustering.

Comment author: HumanitiesResearcher 17 April 2013 01:47:45PM *  2 points [-]

Interesting feedback.

It's the Bible, isn't it.

Ha, I wish. No, it's more specific to literature.

How can you possibly get off the ground if you have no information about any of the Print Shops, much less how many there are? GIGO.

We have minimal information about Print Shops. I wouldn't say the existing data are garbage, just mostly unquantified.

Have you considered googling for previous work?

Yes, but thanks to you I know the shibboleth of "Bayesian stylometry." Makes sense, and I've already read some books in a similar vein, but there are some problems. Most fundamentally, I have trouble translating the methods to a different type of data: from textual data like word length to the aforementioned Marks. Otherwise, my understanding of most stylometric analysis was that it favors frequentist methods. Can you clear any of this up?

EDIT: I have a follow-up question regarding GIGO: How can you tell what data are garbage? Are the degrees of certainty based on significant digits of measurement, or what?

Comment author: labachevskij 09 April 2013 10:07:11PM 7 points [-]

Hi everyone, I'm labachevskij. I'm a long time lurker on this site, attracted by (IIRC) Bayesian Decision Theory. I'm completing my PhD studies in Maths, but I have also been caught by HPMOR, which is proving a huge source of procrastination (I'm reading it again for the third time). I'm also on my way with the reading of the sequences.

Comment author: Alrenous 09 April 2013 02:49:24AM 7 points [-]

Apparently I have just registered.

So, I have a question. What's an introduction do? What is it supposed to do? How would I be able to tell that I've introduced myself if I somehow accidentally willed myself to forget?

Comment author: jjvt 08 April 2013 09:51:32PM 7 points [-]

Hi. I'm a computer science student in Oulu University (Finland).

I don't remember exactly how I got here, but I guess some of the first posts I read were about counterarguments to religious delial of evolution.

I have been intrested in rationality (along with sciense and technology) for a long time before I found lesswrong, but back then my view of rationality was mostly that it was the opposite of emotion. I still dislike emotions - I guess that it's because they are so often "immune to reflection" (ie. persistently "out of sync" with what I know to be the right thing to do). However, I'm aware that emotions do have some information value (worse than optimal, but better than nothing) and simply removing emotions from human neuroarchitechture without other changes might result something functionally closer to a rock than a superhuman...

I'm an atheist and don't believe in non-physical entities like souls, but I still believe in eternal life. This unorthodox view is because 1) I'm a (sort of) "modal realist": I believe that every logically possible world actually physically exists (it's the simplest answer I've found to the question "Why does anything exist at all?") and 2) I don't believe in identity distinct from physical mind state, ie. if a copy was made of my mind, I could not see any way of telling which of them was "me"/"original", even if one of them was implemented in completely different hardware and/or was separated by large distance/time from my previous position in space-time. The result is that as long as there is a logically possible "successor" mind-state to my current mind-state, "I" will continue to experience "being".

I'm intrested in politics, but I hope not to become mind-killed by it (or worse: already being mind-killed). If someone is intrested in knowing my political views and is not conserned of killing their mind, I put a short summary here in ROT13: V'z terravfu sne yrsg yvoreny/nanepuvfg, ntnvafg pbclevtug (nf vg pheeragyl vf) naq ntnvafg chavfuzragf. V unir nyfb (gbb znal gb erzrzore ng bapr be yvfg urer) bgure fznyyre aba-znvafgernz cbyvgvpny vqrnf.

I think I'm much better at epistemic rationality than instrumental rationality. I'm bad at getting things done. I'm a pessimist and usually think the bad side of things first, although I'm able to find the good side too if I deliberately search for it. I sometimes make a joke about it: "I'm a pessimist, therefore I'm - unfortunately - more likely than average to be correct."

I have asperger syndrome and I'm suffering from quite bad OCD. I hope to be able to improve my rationality so that one day I'll be able to write an article about "how rationality cured my OCD"...

I don't want to lie to anyone, but I don't think I'm morally required to say out loud everything I know. However because of many hidden assumptions in human language it is sometimes hard to find words that convey partial information, but not false information. Also in many social situations people are expected to lie and figuring out what to say without lying or causing unnecessary anger is non-trivial. For these reasons I can't clain to be a perfect non-liar, although I try to. Am I hypocritical in this? - I don't know.

I have problems at writing text, or to be more specific, figuring out what to write. I think of many different ways of converting my thoughts into text, but they all seem wrong in some way or another, so it takes a long time for me to write nothing and I likely give up. This applies to this post also - I started writing it for the previous welcome thread, and then gave up when the welcome thread started getting old and inactive. So I apologise if reply slowly or not at all. I hope that improving my rationality will help me in this problem also.

I've been lurking here for some years now and also had an account for a couple of years. I have several ideas for posts of my own. I don't know if I ever get to post them, but I at least want to get rid of the trivial inconvience of the karma barrier.

Because there seems to be very smart people here in much greater consentration than in my everyday life, I expect that there may be significant shifts in my views resulting from conversations with you (many changes have already happened just because of reading lesswrong); nothing in this message should be considered as permanet.

Comment author: [deleted] 07 April 2013 10:59:08PM *  7 points [-]

I found HPMOR nearly three years ago. Soon afterward, I finished the core sequences up through the QM sequence, read some of Eliezer's other posts, and other sequences and authors on LW. When I look back, I realize my thinking has been hugely influenced by what I have learned from this community. I cannot even begin to draw boundaries in my mind identifying what exactly came from LW; hopefully this means I have internalized the ideas and that I am actually using what I learned.

There is a story behind why I have now, after three years of lurking, finally created an account. I am currently a sophomore in high school. I have always been driven to learn by my curiosity and desire for truth and knowledge. But I am also a perfectionist and an overachiever. Somehow, in the last two years of high school, I began to latch onto academics as my “goal.” I started obsessing about ridiculous things - getting perfect scores on every assignment and test, guarding my perfect GPA, etc. It wasn't enough anymore that I understood the content without needing to study - I had to devote huge amounts of time and energy to achieve "perfection."

In March, over spring break, I returned to make some progress on my to-read list that had been piling up. I read Thinking, Fast and Slow; I finished the decision theory FAQ and Eliezer's most recent sequence on LW; and I read the FAQ on MIRI and several articles by Nick Bostrom and Eliezer on AI. When I returned to school, I found I had broken out of the destructive spiral around academics. I had no interest in chasing “perfection” in scores. Interestingly, my grades have hardly changed - the largest drop in any class was 2 percentage points. I have been far happier, curious about the world, and enthusiastic about my involvement in it. My drive to know the “why” behind things, and my interest in other topics (many of which are discussed on LW) have returned.

Now, mentally refreshed, I see opportunities everywhere; I am in the short period after making a huge mental change, during which it is easiest to start taking action. I have wanted to leave high school for quite some time now, but never took any action before. I just finished my application to Bard College at Simon’s Rock last week.

Comment author: Alicorn 08 April 2013 03:22:50AM 2 points [-]

I just finished my application to Bard College at Simon’s Rock last week.

Ooh, good school, I went there, best of luck.

Comment author: MindTheLeap 06 April 2013 01:51:16PM 7 points [-]

Hi everyone,

I'm a PhD student in artificial intelligence/robotics, though my work is related to computational neuroscience, and I have strong interests in philosophy of mind, meta-ethics and the "meaning of life". Though I feel that I should treat finishing my PhD as a personal priority, I like to think about these things. As such, I've been working on an explanation for consciousness and a blueprint for artificial general intelligence, and trying to conceive of a set of weighted values that can be applied to scientifically observable/measurable/calculable quantities, both of which have some implications for an explanation of the "meaning" of life.

At the center of the value system I'm working on is a broad notion of "information". Though still at preliminary stages, I'm considering a hierarchy of weights for the value of different types of information, and trying to determine how bad this is as a utility function. At the moment, I consider the preservation and creation of all information valuable; at an everyday level I try to translate this into learning and creating new knowledge and searching for unique, meaningful experiences.

I've been aware of Less Wrong for years, though haven't quite mustered the motivation to read all of the sequences. Nevertheless, I've lurked here on and off over that time, and read lots of interesting discussions. I consider the ability to make rational decisions, and not be fooled by illogical arguments, important. Though without a definite set of values and goals, any action is simply shooting in the dark.

Comment author: Baeo_Maltinsky 04 April 2013 06:22:09AM 7 points [-]

Hello, my name is Baeo. Last summer, while looking for information on Dual N-back, I came across gwern's FAQ on the subject. I noticed that he had been leaving a lot of links to LessWrong, but I didn't look too much into it at first. Eventually, after another blogger I follow recommended the sequences, I decided that they were at least worth looking into. I started to read the sequences and I was impressed with what I read. As it stands now, I've gotten through the core sequences but other work has sucked up enough of my time that my effort to get through the other sequences (Quantum Mechanics, etc) has stalled.

A few months ago, I began to attend the Berkeley LessWrong meetup. If you live in the area, stop by. It's usually a lot of fun. Participation in this motivated me to actually go through the trouble of creating a LessWrong account a few days ago. I've gotten one friend to start reading the LessWrong sequences and three or four friends to start reading HPMOR (it really is excellent for introducing people to the ideas).

As it stands now, I'm just a high school student, so I don't have too much choice over what I study, but an electrical engineering or CS degree with a lot of math and physics courses to supplement it seems to be a likely path for me once I go off to college. I've been programming in my spare time for 5 or so years now (functional programming for almost 2 years). I feel like I'm a pretty typical LessWrong user in most respects: atheist, libertarian leaning, INTx, sci-fi fan, etc. I don't have much else to say at the moment, except that I really have barely scratched the surface of the space of human knowledge and I would like to thank this site for quite a bit of what I've done.

Comment author: someonewrongonthenet 02 April 2013 09:39:37AM *  7 points [-]

I made an account seven months ago, but I wasn't aware of the last welcome thread, so I guess I'll post on this one.

I'm not sure when I exactly "joined". My first contact with this community was passing familiarity with "Overcoming bias" as one of the blogs which sometimes got linked in the blogosphere I frequented in high school. As typical of my surfing habits in those days, I spent one or two sessions reading it for hours and then promptly forgot about all it. Second contact was a recommendation from another user on reddit to Lesswrong. Third contact was a few months later when my roommate recommended I read hpmor. I lurked for a short time, and made an account, and went to my first few meetups about two months ago. Meetups are fun, you meet lots of smart people, and I highly recommend it.

First impressions? I think this is the (for lack of a better word) most intellectual internet community that I am familiar with. Almost every post or comment is worth reading, and the site has got an addictive reddit-ish feel about it (which hampers my productivity somewhat, but que sera, sera.)

I've noticed that most of the opinions here tend to align precisely with my own, which is gratifying, because it's evidence that my thinking makes sense. However, it's also irritating, because it means I learn less and I have little to contribute. It's a little disconcerting for someone who thrives on discussion and is usually forced to play the role of the contrarian. Not that I'm complaining - it would be quite worrying if rationalists didn't tend to agree. Plus, it's really refreshing to have discussions where two people mutually try to figure out where the truth lies, rather than arguments where two people try to convince each other of something.

Biggest upside: Lesswrong has it's own, rationality/philosophy specific jargon, which is really helpful for communicating complicated ideas using very few words. In addition to introducing me to a few concepts I'd never even considered, I think the greatest benefit I got from reading this site is that I've got a better language to verbalize abstract concepts.

What I'd like to see: Expansion from the philosophical side into practical things, like scientific knowledge,, useful skills, etc. It's not often you get a community hub with such a high concentration of skills and knowledge, and I think it should be put to more use. (the rationalist-utilitarian charities lesswrong is loosely affiliated with is one good example of this being done successfully)

Comment author: [deleted] 08 April 2013 12:29:38AM 2 points [-]

I've noticed that most of the opinions here tend to align precisely with my own, which is gratifying, because it's evidence that my thinking makes sense. However, it's also irritating, because it means I learn less and I have little to contribute.

I noticed this as well, while first reading the sequences. I flew through blog posts, absorbing it all in, since it all either matched my own thoughts, or were so similar that it hardly took effort to comprehend. But I struggled to find anything original to say, which was part of why I initially didn't bother making an account - I didn't want to simply express agreement every time. (And now I notice that my second comment is precisely that.)

Biggest upside: Lesswrong has it's own, rationality/philosophy specific jargon, which is really helpful for communicating complicated ideas using very few words.

That's one of the things I've frequently benefited from in my thinking. I have found that the concepts behind keywords like dissolving the question, mysterious answers, map and territory, and the teacher's password can be applied in so many areas, and that having the arsenal to use them makes it much easier to think clearly about otherwise elusive concepts.

Comment author: gothgirl420666 05 April 2013 12:15:43AM *  19 points [-]

I'm a male senior in high school. I found this site in November or so, and started reading the sequences voraciously.

I feel like I might be a somewhat atypical LessWrong reader. For one, I'm on the young side. Also, if you saw me and talked to me, you would probably not guess that I was a "rationalist" from the way I act/dress but, I don't know, perhaps you might. When I first found this website, I was pretty sure I wanted to be an art major, now I'm pretty sure I want to be an art/comp sci double major and go into indie game development (correlation may or may not imply causation). I also love rap music (and not the "good" kind like Talib Kweli) and I read most of the sequences while listening to Lil Wayne, Lil B, Gucci Mane, Future, Young Jeezy, etc. I occasionally record my own terrible rap songs with my friends in my friend's basement. Before finding this site, the word "rational" had powerful negative affect around it. Science was far and away my least favorite subject in school. I have absolutely no interest at the moment in learning any science or anything about science, except for maybe neuroscience, and maybe metaphysics. I've always found the humanities more interesting, although I do enjoy some abstract math stuff. I'm somewhat of an emotional Luddite - whenever a new technology like Google Glass or something comes out I groan and I think about all the ways it's going to further detach people from reality. Transhumanism was disgusting to me before I found this site, while reading the sequences I started to buy into the philosophy, now a few months after reading the sequences for the first time I rationally know it is a very very good thing but still emotionally find it a little unappealing.

After finding this site, I have gone from having a vaguely confused worldview to completely "buying into" most of the philosophy espoused here and on on other sites in the rationalist-sphere such as Overcoming Bias, blogs of top contributors, etc. (I'm not a racist yet though), and constantly thinking throughout my day about things like utility functions, sunken cost fallacies, mind projection fallacy, etc. I feel like finding this website has immeasurably improved my life, which I know might be a weird thing to say, but I do think this is true. First of all, my thinking is so much clearer, and moral/philosophical/political questions that seemed like a paradox before now seem to have obvious solutions. More importantly, after being inspired by stuff like The Science of Winning at Life, I now spend several hours a day on self-improvement projects, which I never would have thought to do without first becoming a rationalist. This community also lead me to vipassana meditation, the practice of which I think has improved my life so far. I feel like this new focus on rational thinking and self improvement will only continue to pay dividends in the future, as it's only been a few months since I developed this new attitude towards life. It may be overly optimistic, but I really do see finding this site and becoming a rationalist as a major turning point in my life and I'm very grateful to Eliezer and co. for revealing to me the secrets of the universe.

Comment author: [deleted] 05 April 2013 01:02:16AM 4 points [-]


I'm a male senior in high school.

lulz. You have my attention.

You sound like quite an intelligent and awesome person. (bad rap, art, rationality. only an interesting person could have such a nonstandard combination of interests. Boring people come prepackaged...)

Glad to have you around.

(I'm not a racist yet though)

It's only a matter of time ;)

I feel like finding this website has immeasurably improved my life ... and moral/philosophical/political questions that seemed like a paradox before now seem to have obvious solutions.

I remember that feeling. I'm more skeptical now, but I can't help but notice more awesomeness in my life due to LW. It really is quite cool isn't it?

spend several hours a day on self-improvement projects

This is the part that's been elusive to me. What kind of things are you doing? How do you knwo you are actually getting benefits and not just producing that "this is awesome" feeling which unfortunately often gets detached from realty?

becoming a rationalist.

keep your identity small.

Where do you live? Do you attend meetups?

Comment author: gothgirl420666 05 April 2013 12:39:26PM *  3 points [-]

You sound like quite an intelligent and awesome person. (bad rap, art, rationality. only an interesting person could have such a nonstandard combination of interests. Boring people come prepackaged...)

Thank you :)

This is the part that's been elusive to me. What kind of things are you doing? How do you knwo you are actually getting benefits and not just producing that "this is awesome" feeling which unfortunately often gets detached from realty?

I guess essentially what I do is try to read self-help stuff. I try to spend half my "work time", so to speak, doing this, and half working on creative projects. I've read both books and assorted stuff on the internet. My goal for April is to read a predetermined list of six self-help books. I'm currently on track for this goal.

So far I've read

  • Part of the massive tome that is Psychological Self Help by Clayton Tucker-Ladd
  • Success - How We Can Reach Our Goals by Heidi Halverson
  • How to Talk to Anyone by Leil Lowndes
  • 59 Seconds by Richard Wiseman
  • Thinking Things Done by PJ Eby
  • the first 300 pages of Feeling Good by David Burns, the last 200 seem to be mostly about the chemical nature of depression and have little practical value, so I'm saving them for later

If meditation books count

  • Mindfulness in Plain English by Henepola Gunaratana
  • most of Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha by Daniel Ingram

I also have been keeping a diary, which is something I've wanted to get in the habit of all my life but have never been able to do. Every day, in addition to summarizing the day's events, I rate my happiness out of ten, my productivity out of ten, and speculate on how I can do better.

I've only been keeping the diary a month, which is too small of a sample size. However, during this time, I had three weeks off for spring break, and I told myself that I would work as much as I could on self-improvement and personal projects. I ended up not really getting that much done, unfortunately. However, I managed to put in a median of... probably about five hours every day, and more importantly, I was in a fantastic mood the whole break. It might even have been the best mood I've been in for an extended time in the last few years. In the past, every time I have had a break from school, I ended up in a depressed, lonely, lethargic state, where I surfed the internet for hours on end, in which I paradoxically want to go back to school knowing that as soon as I do, I'll want to go back on break. The fact that I avoided this state for the first time I can remember since middle school is a major improvement for me. Additionally, the fact that I have managed to keep up the habit of diary-writing and meditating for a month so far is an achievement, knowing my past.

Also, even though I found How to Talk to Anyone mostly useless (it's written in a very white-collar, "how to network with the big winners" mindset that doesn't apply to my life), the one major Obvious In Retrospect thing I got from it was that in general I should never complain or criticize anyone. I used to think I was charmingly cynical. Since finishing it about four days ago, I have applied this advice, and I think, although it's very hard to tell, that I have made a person who previously harbored dislike for me view me as a someone pleasant to be around. Only one data point, but still.

I will admit that it is very possible that I am merely cultivating the "this is awesome" feeling. However, if reading scientifically minded self-help books isn't the solution, then what could possibly be? Meditation, but then what if that turns out to be a sham too? Therefore, I feel like it's rational to at least try the tactics that seem to have the highest chance of success before concluding that self-improvement is hopeless. Plus, I enjoy doing it.

Where do you live? Do you attend meetups?

I live in Columbus, OH, but I go to boarding school in a rural area. I will probably go to college in St. Louis next year. If there's ever a meetup nearby me, I would love to go.

Comment author: someonewrongonthenet 08 April 2013 02:51:21AM *  2 points [-]

I have gone from having a vaguely confused worldview to completely "buying into" most of the philosophy espoused here and on on other sites in the rationalist-sphere such as Overcoming Bias, blogs of top contributors, etc. (I'm not a racist yet though)

I have yet to see this. Which major LW contributor is advocating racism, and where can I read about it?

Comment author: gothgirl420666 08 April 2013 06:30:13PM 4 points [-]

I'm sorry, I can't really remember any specific links to discussions, and I don't really know exactly who believes in what ideas, but I feel like there are a lot of people here, and especially people who show up in the comments, who believe that certain races are inherently more or less intelligent/violent/whatever on average than others. I specifically remember nyan_sandwich saying that he believes this, calling himself a "proto-racist" but that's the only example I can recall.

The "reactionary" philosophy is discussed a lot here too, and I feel like most people who subscribe to this philosophy are racist. Mencius Moldbug is the biggest name in this, I believe. Also I've seen a lot of links to this site http://isteve.blogspot.com/ which seems to basically be arguing in favor of racism. This blog post http://slatestarcodex.com/2013/03/03/reactionary-philosophy-in-an-enormous-planet-sized-nutshell/ contains a discussion of these issues.

Comment author: Nornagest 08 April 2013 07:55:59PM *  5 points [-]

The one basically follows from the other, I think. This isn't a reactionary site by any means; the last poll showed single-digit support for the philosophy here, if it's fair to consider it a political philosophy exclusive with liberalism, libertarianism, and/or conservatism. However, neoreaction/Moldbuggery gets a less hostile reception here than it does on most non-reactionary sites, probably because it's an intensely contrarian philosophy and LW seems to have a cultural fondness for clever contrarians, and we have do have several vocal reactionaries among our commentariat. Among them, perhaps unfortunately, are most of the people talking about race.

It's also pretty hard to dissociate neoreaction from... let's say "certain hypotheses concerning race", since "racism" is too slippery and value-laden a term and most of the alternatives are too euphemistic. The reasons for this seem somewhat complicated, but I think we can trace a good chunk of them to just how much of a taboo race is among what Moldbug calls the Cathedral; if your basic theory is that there's this vast formless cultural force shaping what everyone can and can't talk about without being branded monstrous, it looks a little silly if that force's greatest bugbear turns out to be right after all.

(There do seem to be a few people who gravitate to neoreaction as an intellectual framework that justifies preexisting racism, but I don't think Moldbug -- or most of the neoreactionary commentators here -- fall into that category. I usually start favoring this theory when someone seems to be dwelling on race to the exclusion of even other facets of neoreaction.)

Comment author: Kawoomba 08 April 2013 06:35:52PM *  4 points [-]

If someone were to correctly point out genetic differences between groups (let's assume correctness as a hypothetical), would that be - in your opinion - 1) racist and reprehensible, 2) racist but not reprehensible, or (in the hypothetical) 3) not racist?

Would your opinion differ if those genetic differences were relating to a) IQ, or b) lactose intolerance?

Comment author: gothgirl420666 08 April 2013 07:42:44PM *  3 points [-]

Yes to the second question, in that I would give the answer of 2 for A and 3 for B.

Racism has at least three definitions colloquially that I can think of

  • 1: A belief that there is a meaningful way to categorize human beings into races, and that certain races have more or less desirable characteristics than others. This is the definition that Wikipedia uses. Not that many educated people are racist according to this definition, I think.

  • 2: The tendency to jump to conclusions about people based on their skin color, which can manifest as a consequence of racism-1, or unconsciously believing in racism-1. Pretty much everyone is racist to some extent according to this definition.

  • 3: Contempt or dislike of people based on their skin color, i.e. "I hate Asians". You could further divide this into consciously and unconsciously harboring these beliefs if you wanted.

In the sexism debate, these three definitions are sort of given separate names: "belief in differences between the sexes", "sexism", and "misogyny" respectively.

Racism-3 seems to be pretty clearly evil, and racism-2 causes lots of suffering, but racism-1 basically by definition cannot be evil if it is a true belief and you abide by the Litany of Tarski or whatever. But because they have the same name, it gets confusing.

Some people might object to calling racism-1 racism, and instead will decide to call it "human biodiversity" or "race realism". I think this is bullshit. Just fucking call it what it is. Own up to your beliefs.

(I am not racist-1, for the record.)

Comment author: [deleted] 27 April 2013 06:30:28AM 5 points [-]

(I am not racist-1, for the record.)

Why not?

Comment author: CCC 14 April 2013 09:50:51AM 4 points [-]

As far as racism-1 goes, I am told that high levels of melanin in the skin lead to an immunity to sunburn. So black people can't get sunburnt - that's a desirable characteristic, to my mind. (There's still negative effects - such as a headache - from being in the sun too long. Just not sunburn).

Comment author: Zaine 27 April 2013 03:07:57AM *  3 points [-]


Human skin is repeatedly exposed to ultraviolet radiation (UVR) that influences the function and survival of many cell types and is regarded as the main causative factor in the induction of skin cancer. It has been traditionally believed that skin pigmentation is the most important photoprotective factor, since melanin, besides functioning as a broadband UV absorbent, has antioxidant and radical scavenging properties. Besides, many epidemiological studies have shown a lower incidence for skin cancer in individuals with darker skin compared to those with fair skin. Skin pigmentation is of great cultural and cosmetic importance, yet the role of melanin in photoprotection is still controversial. This article outlines the major acute and chronic effects of UV radiation on human skin, the properties of melanin, the regulation of pigmentation and its effect on skin cancer prevention.

Comment author: wedrifid 08 April 2013 08:22:19PM *  7 points [-]

Some people might object to calling racism-1 racism, and instead will decide to call it "human biodiversity" or "race realism". I think this is bullshit. Just fucking call it what it is.

"What it fucking is" is a straw man. ie. "and that certain races have more or less desirable characteristics than others" is not what the people you are disparaging are likely to say, for all that it is vaguely related.

Own up to your beliefs.

Seeing this exhortation used to try to shame people into accepting your caricature as their own position fills me with the same sort of disgust and contempt that you have for racism. Failure to "own up" and profess their actual beliefs is approximately the opposite of the failure mode they are engaging in (that of not keeping their mouth shut when socially expedient). In much the same way suicide bombers are not cowards.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 08 April 2013 06:58:55PM 2 points [-]

If it helps, the LW user I most consistently associate with the "certain races are inherently more or less intelligent/violent/whatever on average than others" (as gothgirl420666 says below) is Eugine Nier. A quick Google search ("site:http://lesswrong.com Eugine_Nier rac intelligence") turns up just about any proxy measure of intelligence, from SAT scores, to results of IQ tests, to crime rates, will correlate with race, for example.

That said, were someone to describe Eugine Nier or their positions as "racist," I suspect they would respond that "racist" means lots of different things to different people and is not a useful descriptor.

Comment author: Brendon_Wong 18 July 2013 06:21:56PM *  6 points [-]

Hello! I’m a 15 year old sophomore in high school, living in the San Francisco Bay Area. I was introduced to rationality and Less Wrong while interning at Leverage Research, which was about a month ago.

I was given a free copy of Chapters 1-17 of HPMOR during my stay. I was hooked. I finished the whole series in two weeks and made up my mind to try and learn what it would be like being Harry.

I decided to learn rationality by reading and implementing The Sequences in my daily life. The only problem was, I discovered the length of the Eliezer’s posts from 2006-2010 was around around 10 Harry Potter books. I was told it would take months to read, and some people got lost along the way due to all the dependencies.

Luckily I am very interested in self improvement, so I decided that I should learn speed reading to avoid spending months dedicated solely to reading The Sequences. After several hours of training, I increased my reading speed (with high comprehension) five times, from around 150 words per minute to 700 words per minute. At that speed, it will take me 33.3 hours to read The Sequences.

It seems like most people advise reading The Sequences in chronological order in ebook form. Is using this ebook a good way to read The Sequences? Also, If I could spend 5 seconds to a minute after each blog post doing anything, what should I do? I was thinking of making some quick notes for myself to remember everything I read, perhaps with a spaced repetition system, or figuring out all the dependencies to smooth the way for future readers, perhaps leading to the easier creation of a training program...

Thanks for all your help, and I look forward to contributing to Less Wrong in the future!

Comment author: James_Miller 18 July 2013 06:43:11PM 6 points [-]

If I could spend 5 seconds to a minute after each blog post doing anything, what should I do?

Figure out how you would explain the main idea of the post to a smart friend.

Comment author: DiscyD3rp 27 June 2013 03:14:28AM 6 points [-]

Hello LW. My pseudonym is DiscyD3rp, and this introduction is long overdo. I am 17, male, and currently enrolled in high school. I discovered this site over a year ago, via HPMoR, and have read a good percentage of the main sequences in a kinda correct order. However, i was experiencing significant angst from what I call Dungeon Crawl Anxiety (The same reason that when exploring RPG dungeons i double back and explore even AFTER discovering the correct path). I am now (re-)reading the entirety of Eliezer's posts in the ebook version of the sequences. I have found the re-read articles still useful after having gotten a basic handle on bayesian thought, and look forward to completing my enlightenment

As far as personality, I was (am) incredibly arrogant, and future goals involve MIRI and/or rationality teaching myself (one time involves an email to Eliezer claiming the ability to save the world, and subsequently learning that decision theory is HARD). I am not particularly talented in quickly absorbing technical fields of knowledge, but plan on on developing that skill. My existing talent seems to be manipulating idea and concepts easily and creatively once well understood. Im great at reading the map, but suffer difficulty in writing it. (In very mathy fields)

Im a born Christian, with a moderate upbringing, but likely saved from extremism by the internet just in time. Now a skeptic and an atheist.

Comment author: [deleted] 27 June 2013 03:50:51AM 3 points [-]

I hope you will forgive the impertinance of offering unsolicited advice: if you havn't already, you might consider teaching yourself several programming languages in your free time. It's a very marketable skill, important to MIRI's work, and in many ways suffices for a basic education in logic. The mathy stuff is probably not optional given your ambitions, and much of the same discipline and attention to detail necessary cor programming can be applied to learning serious math. Arrogance will be a terrible burden if unaccompanied by usefulness and skill.

Comment author: DiscyD3rp 27 June 2013 04:01:48PM 2 points [-]

I am currently teaching myself Haskel and have a functional programming textbook on my device. While unsolicited, i apreciate ALL advice. Any other tips?

Comment author: BraydenM 10 June 2013 09:46:24AM 6 points [-]

Hi, I'm Brayden, from Melbourne Australia. I attended the May 2013 CfAR workshop in Berkeley about 1 year after finding Less Wrong, and 2 years after finding HPMOR. My trip to The States was phenomenal, and I highly recommend the CfAR workshops.

My life is significantly better now than it was before, and I think I am on track with the planning process for eventually working on the highest impact causes that might help save the world.

Comment author: lesliecuthbert 20 May 2013 05:54:00AM 6 points [-]

Hello to the Less Wrong community. My name is Leslie Cuthbert and I'm a lawyer based in the United Kingdom. I look forward to reading the various sequences and posts here.

Comment author: hylleddin 13 May 2013 09:55:18PM 6 points [-]

Hi! I'm a 24 year old woman starting grad school this fall studying mathematics. Specifically I'm interested in mathematically modelling organizational decision making.

My parents raised me on Carl Sagan and Michael Shermer, so there was never really a point that I didn't identify as a rationalist. I discovered less wrong long enough ago that I don't actually remember how I found it. I've been lurking here for several years. I finally registered after doing the last survey, though I didn't make another post until the last few days.

Oh, and I have a talking coyote in my head. This post has more information. I'm going to be diving into the psychological literature to understand this phenomonon better and I'm planning on making a post with anything I find out that would be useful for rationalists.

Comment author: jetm 09 April 2013 02:29:40AM 6 points [-]

I've been browsing the site for at least a year. Found it through HP:MoR, which is absolutely amazing. I've been coming to the LessWrong study hall for a couple weeks now and have found it highly effective.

For the most part, I haven't really applied this at all. I ended up making a final break with Christianity, but the only significant difference is that I now say "Yay humanism!" instead of "Yay God!" I've used a few tricks here and there, like the Sunk Cost Fallacy, and the Planning Fallacy, but I still spent the majority of my time not thinking about things. Because thinking is hard.

Then I started trying again to figure out what I should do with my life. Now, the first time I tried this I spent less effort on the decision than I did on most papers I've written for class. Ended up signing a five-year contract with miserable results. Now I'm actually thinking. It is incredibly difficult, but I am convinced that it is worth it.

My current goals are to broaden my knowledge (I know a ton of information about classical music but almost nothing else) and sharpen my critical thinking skills.

Comment author: Ronak 08 April 2013 04:25:50PM 6 points [-]

Well, hello. I'm a first-year physics PhD student in India. Found this place through Yvain's blog, which I found when I was linked there from a feminist blog. It's great fun, and I'm happy I found a place where I can discuss stuff with people without anyone regularly playing with words (or, more accurately, where it's acceptable to stop and define your words properly). So, one of my favourite things about this place is the fact that it's based on the map to territory idea of truth and beliefs; I've been using it to insult people ever since I read it.

The post says I should say why I identify as a rationalist; I wouldn't, personally, 'cause I never feel like being better at rationality is the point, and whatever you or I say the word means it stands to be misunderstood in this way. But as for why I'm interested in this place at all: better calibration, and the possibility of better communication.

Anyway, still going through the sequences (personally, I would prefer reading something more mathematical, but I can understand why these posts aren't). I have a whole tab group in firefox for LW right now, because it went too far out of hand.

As for special personal interests, I'm ridiculously scatterbrained, and so haven't garnered any non-trivial understanding of anything. One vaguely interesting thing I do enjoy doing is trying to charitably understand some mystical-looking stuff, like the Tao te Ching or Maya or art criticism (warning: my blog is a review blog, but you won't find much of this if you click through, as there I just use the conventions post-justification and modify them whenever). My methodology: ask what questions they were thinking about to posit the answers they did, and then think about the questions myself. Collect more information, and update. Maybe I'll even write about some of this once I have a better grasp of how to explicitly use the tools presented here.

Also, I have a question about Anki: is the web part defunct or something? I can't find anything there. Whatever I search for, I get a blank page. (I was going to post in that page, but this is more likely to be replied to.)

Comment author: nicdevera 06 April 2013 02:09:11PM 6 points [-]

Yo. I've been around a couple years, posted a few times as "ZoneSeek," re-registered this year under my real name as part of a Radical Honesty thing.

Comment author: LM7805 18 September 2013 01:38:32AM 5 points [-]

Hi. I've been a distant LW lurker for a while now; I first encountered the Sequences sometime around 2009, and have been an avid HP:MOR fan since mid-2011.

I work in computer security with a fair bit of software verification as flavoring, so the AI confinement problem is of interest to me, particularly in light of recent stunts like arbitrary computation in zero CPU instructions via creative abuse of the MMU trap handler. I'm also interested in applying instrumental rationality to improve the quality and utility of my research in general. I flirt with some other topics as well, including capability security, societal iterated game theory, trust (e.g., PKI), and machine learning; a meta-goal is to figure out how to organize my time so that I can do more applied work in these areas.

Apart from that, lately I've become disillusioned with my usual social media circles, in part due to a perceived* uptick in terrible epistemology and in part due to facing the fact that I use them as procrastination tools. I struggle with akrasia, and am experiencing less of it since quitting my previous haunts cold turkey, but things could still be better and I hope to improve them by seeking out positive influences here.

*I haven't measured this. It's entirely possible I've become more sensitive to bad epistemology, or some other influence is lowering my tolerance to bad epistemology.

Comment author: vollmer 02 August 2013 04:37:33AM 5 points [-]

I'm a Swiss medical student. I've read HPMoR and a large part of the core sequences. I've attended LW meetups in several US cities and met quite a few of you in the Bay Area and/or at the Effective Altruism Summit. I've interned for Leverage Research. I co-founded giordano-bruno-stiftung.ch (outreach organisation with German translations of some LessWrong blog posts, and other posts about rationality). Looking forward to participating in the comment section more often.

Comment author: djm 25 July 2013 11:27:06AM 5 points [-]

Hello, I am a 46 yr old software developer from Australia with a keen interest in Artificial Intelligence.

I don’t have any formal qualifications, which is a shame as my ideal life would be to do full time research in AI - without a PhD I realise this won’t happen, so I am learning as much as I can through books, practice and various online courses.

I came across this site today from a link via MIRI and feel like I have struck gold - the articles, sequences and discussions here are very well written, interesting and thoughtful.

My current goals are to build a framework that would allow a machine to manage its information (goals, tasks, raw data, external biases, weightings, and eventually its “knowledge”). As I understand it the last bit hasn’t been solved yet as it implies the machine needs a consciousness, but I am having fun playing around with it.

Comment author: Camaragon 08 July 2013 09:43:53AM 5 points [-]

Hello, my name is Cam :]

My goals in life are: 1. To build a self sufficient farm I with renewable alternative energy and everything. 2. Acquire financial assets to support the building of my farm and other hobbies and activities I pursue. 3 .To further my fitness and health and maintain it. 4. Love and Romance.

That's pretty much it, hahaha, I want to learn the ways of a Rationalist to make the best decisions and solutions for problems I might encounter in pursuing these goals! I have a immature or childlike air around me, people tend to say, which is why I am often looked down upon me and not taken seriously. I think it's how I construct my sentences maybe? My English is only at decent quality. Maybe I just see things too simply and positively people see it as being naive? Well, Anyway, I look forward to having you as my one of my buddies! :D

Comment author: Zoe 06 July 2013 04:39:32AM 5 points [-]

Hello Less Wrong community members,

My name is Zoe, I'm a philosophy student, and increasingly discombobulated by the inadequacy of my field of study to teach me how to Actually Do Things. I discovered Less Wrong 18 months ago, thanks to the story Harry Potter and the Method of Rationality. I've read a number of articles and discussions since then, mostly whenever I felt like reading something both intelligent and relevant, but I have not systematically read through any sequence or topic.

I have recently formed the goal to develop the skills necessary to 'raise the waterline' of rationality in the meat space discussions in which I take part, but without appearing to put anyone down.

Working towards this goal will make me interact more with a greater proportion of the people that are around me, which is something that I need to do. Right now, apart from a few friends whose minds I love, I usually flee at the earliest politically correct time from most conversations, due to sheer boredom or annoyance and a huge lack of confidence in my ability to steer the conversation somewhere interesting. I want to change this by improving myself (since Less Wrong has well taught me that it would be foolish to wait or hope for others to change or improve when I could be changing myself.)

While so far my use of Less Wrong has been recreational, I'm creating an account now to be able to participate in discussions, not because I think I have anything really important to say, but because practicing rationality not just in my mind but while actually interacting is probably a good way to go about my newfound objective. I would really like to become able to introduce rationality into conversations with the average non-rationalist and do so tactfully, and I think Less Wrong can help me.

Do you agree with my assessment that the Less Wrong posts and discussion community have the potential to help me further my goal? If so, how do you think I should best use the resources here?

I'm looking very much forward to interact with all of you!


PS : My first language is French. I really do welcome any and all nitpicks and corrections about my English.

Comment author: TemplarR 12 June 2013 12:59:42PM 5 points [-]

Hello, Less Wrong! I'm Michael Odintsov from Ukraine, so sorry for my not-nearly-perfect :) English. Just like many here I found this site from Yudkowsky's link while reading his "Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality". I am 27 years old programmer, fond of science in general and mostly math of all kinds.

I worked a bit in fields of AI and machine learning and looking forward for new opportunities. Well... that's almost all that I can tell about me right now - never been a great talker :) If anyone have questions or need some help with CS related topics - just ask, I always ready to help.

Comment author: Coscott 09 June 2013 11:08:06PM 5 points [-]

Hello Less Wrong! I am Scott Garrabrant, a 23 year old math PhD student at UCLA, studying combinatorics. I discovered Less Wrong about 4 months ago. After reading MoR and a few sequences, I decided to go back and read every blog post. (I just finished all Eliezer's OB posts) I was going to wait and start posting after I got completely caught up, but then I started attending weekly meetups 2 months ago, and now I need to earn enough karma to make meetup announcements.

I have been interested in meta-thinking for a long time. I have spent a lot of time thinking about the nature of rationality, purely out of curiosity, and have independently made many of the same conclusions I have found on this blog. I believe that I realized that decision/probability theory was the correct language to talk about rationality in high school about 6 years ago. It has made me very happy to learn that there are so many like-minded people.

However, there has been one mistake I have been making for a long time. I have been giving other people too much respect in their rationality. I have been treating other people as almost rational agents with different utility functions and very different prior probabilities. This blog has taught me how wrong that view was, which is causing me to rethink some of my prior views.

One thing would like some help in deciding right now is about Unitarian Universalism. I would love it if any rationalists who know anything about Unitarianism (or who don't) could help me out. I am agnostic (If you define the god hypothesis to include the simulation hypothesis, atheist otherwise). I believe that most of the bad parts of religion and theism come from the fact that they tend to encourage irrationality. So far, my picture of the average Unitarian is above average rationality, but not great. The main thing that attracts me to the group is that they (at least claim to) promote "a free and responsible search for truth and meaning." Their search algorithms could really use some work, but they both view truth as a goal and understand that they have not attained it completely. In looking for a local community to provide "brownies and babysitters," it seems to be the best I have found. Also, although I do not have a "god shaped hole" that needs to be filled, I understand that many people do, and so I can see that it might be good to support an organization that will help to allow those people to fill that hole with something that does not encourage irrationality. On the other hand, sometimes I feel like Unitarians care a lot a lot more about the "free" part of "free and responsible search for truth and meaning" than the "responsible" part. I am worried that they like to discuss their individual beliefs as they would discuss their favorite colors, and never actually change. Maybe with our current messed up society, the first step is for people to feel free to believe what they want, and then learn how to be critical.

In attending Unitarian churches, I have repeatedly enjoyed myself, thought about interesting philosophy (even though I often disagree with the sermon), had sufficiently strong emotional responses from the music (e.g. "imagine"), and been encouraged by how much people were willing to help each other. I already know that I enjoy experience. What I am trying to decide is morally if I should be willing to support this organization. For the future, I am also trying to decide if I should be worried that being around this kind of thinking might be bad for my future kids.

Comment author: codingstrand 31 May 2013 02:54:56PM 5 points [-]

As a new member of this community, I am having a bit of difficulty with the numerous abbreviations that people use in their writing on this site. For example I have come across a number of these that are not listed on the Jargon page (eg: EY, PC, NPC, MWI...). I realize that as a new member, I will eventually understand many of these, however, it is very frustrating trying to read something and be continually distracted by having to look-up some of these obscure terms. This is especially a problem on the Welcome Thread, where a potential new member could be put off by the argot like discussions. Alternatively, if someone want to use an abbreviation that is not common or listed on the Jargon page, then perhaps they could spell it out at first use and then resort to the abbreviation thereafter within the post. Or set-up and use a text-expander is also another possible solution.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 11 July 2013 06:58:53AM 3 points [-]

I added the acronyms you mentioned to the Jargon page. Tell me if you come across any more. You can also edit the page to add them yourself as you learn them if you like.

Comment author: wubbles 30 May 2013 12:12:54AM 5 points [-]

Hello, my name is Watson. The username comes from my initials and a Left 4 Dead player attempting to pronounce them. I am a math student at UC Berkeley and a longtime lurker. I've got a post on rational investing, based on the conclusions of years of research by academic economists, but despite lurking I never realized there is a karma limit to post in discussion. I'm interested in just about everything, a dangerous phenomenon.

Comment author: anon2280 26 May 2013 09:15:10PM 5 points [-]

Hi, my name is Danon. I just joined less wrong after reading a wonderful post by Swimmer963: http://lesswrong.com/lw/9j1/how_i_ended_up_nonambitious/ on her reasoning for why she ended up without ambition (actually, I felt she had a lot of ambition). I got to her post while trying to figure out why I am lazy, I was wondering if it was because I had no (or little, if any) ambition. Her post got me asking the right questions I have finally been able to save a private draft in LW stating a reasoning for my laziness. It really is refreshing to read the posts here at LW. Thank you for having me.

Comment author: RationalAsh 07 April 2013 08:32:03AM 5 points [-]

Well... I'm an engineering student who intends to graduate in electronics. I became interested in AI when I started learning programming at the age of 12. I became fascinated with what I could make the computer do. And rather naively I tried for months and months to program something that was "intelligent" (and failed horribly of course). I set that project aside temporarily but never stopped thinking about it. Years later I discovered HPMoR and through it LessWrong and suddenly found a whole community of people interested in AI and similar things. That was also about the same time I became a full blown atheist. So while exploring this website, I felt like a kid in a candy store.

Once I graduate I really hope I can do some research in AI.

Comment author: franz_bonaparta 02 April 2013 11:53:58PM *  5 points [-]

Hello everyone, I'm Franz. I don't actually remember how I happened upon this site, but I do know it was rotting in my unsorted bookmark folder for over a year before I actually decided to read any post. This I do regret.

Because of circumstances I am currently in Brazil and due to a lack of internet infrastructure, I have to read the downloadable versions of the sequences and won't be able to comment often. I do enjoying reading your insightful thoughts!

I was wondering if anyone has directly applied EY methods to their own life? For what reason and what were the results? I tend to be very unproductive with my time and incredibly guilty of procrastination, and was wondering what introspection tools and/or protocols others in similar positions have used to overcome these problems.

(I was also curious if a diagram of priors/reflection of a Bayesian-rationalist existed somewhere, as I am probably more of a visual learner)

Comment author: notsonewuser 04 April 2013 08:36:07PM 3 points [-]


I was wondering if anyone has directly applied EY methods to their own life?

I have. Specifically, the How to Actually Change Your Mind sequence was very helpful to me in real life.

However, in spite of how some people feel about this site, for me, it is not about [only] EY. Lots of things from Less Wrong have affected my life outside of Less Wrong, specifically (quoting from an older draft of this comment, now, so that is why the flow may be weird here):

One of the most helpful posts I came upon here was "The Power of Pomodoros", which introduced me to the Pomodoro technique. See this PDF from the official website for a more detailed guide.

Another helpful thing I discovered via Less Wrong is the Less Wrong Study Hall. See "Co-Working Collaboration to Combat Akrasia" and "Programming the LW Study Hall". This is the current study hall (on Tinychat), but I think it will eventually be moved to somewhere else.

Less Wrong taught me about existential risk and efficient charity. This has produced a tangible change in what I do with my money.

lukeprog's The Science of Winning at Life sequence was also very helpful to me.

I could write more, but I've already spent too much time on this comment. Enjoy Less Wrong!

Comment author: Roman_Yampolskiy 16 September 2013 10:35:39PM 11 points [-]

Hey, my name is Roman. You can read my detailed bio here, as well as some research papers I published on the topics of AI and security. I decided to attend a local LW meet up and it made sense to at least register on the site. My short term goal is to find some people in my geographic area (Louisville, KY, USA) to befriend.

Comment author: AABoyles 26 September 2014 03:14:57PM *  4 points [-]

Hi Everyone! I'm AABoyles (that's true most places on the internet besides LW).

I first found LW when a colleague mentioned That Alien Message over lunch. I said something to the effect of "That sounds like an Arthur C. Clarke short story. Who is the author?" "Eliezer Yudkowsky," He said, and sent me the link. I read it, and promptly forgot about it. Fast forward a year, and another friend posts the link to HPMOR on Facebook. The author's name sounded very familiar. I read it voraciously. I subscribed to the Main RSS feed and lurked for a year.

I joined the community last month because I wanted to respond to a specific discussion, but I've been having a lot of fun since I got here. I'm interested in finding ways to achieve the greatest good (read: reducing the number of lost Disability Adjusted Life Years), including Effective Altruism and Global Catastrophic Risk Reduction.

Comment author: MelbourneLW 23 July 2014 03:59:10AM 4 points [-]

This account is used by a VA to post events for the Melbourne Meetup group. Comment is to accrue 2 karma to allow posting.

Comment author: Stefan_Schubert 07 January 2014 10:57:51PM 4 points [-]


I'm a philosopher (postdoc) at the London School of Economics who recently discovered Less Wrong. I am now reading through lots of old posts, especially Yudkowsky's and lukeprog's philosophy-related material, which I find very interesting.

I think lukeprog is right when he points out that the general thrust of Yudkowsky's philosophy belongs to a naturalistic tradition often associated with Quine's name. In general, I think it would be useful to situate Yudkowsky's ideas visavi the philosophical tradition. I hope to be able to contributre something here at some point (though I should point out that I'm not an expert in the history of philosophy).

lukeprog argues for these ideas in two excellent articles:

http://lesswrong.com/lw/4vr/less_wrong_rationality_and_mainstream_philosophy/ http://lesswrong.com/lw/4zs/philosophy_a_diseased_discipline/

I agree with most of what is said there, and am myself very critical of mainstream analytical philosophy. It also seems to me that the overall program advocated here - to let psychological knowledge permeate all philosophical arguments in a very radical way - is very promising. Though there are philosophers who make use of psychology, do experiments, etc., few let it influence their thinking as radically as it is done here.

The site seems very interesting in other respects as well. I am presently reading up on cognitive science (I found this site after googling on Stanovichs Rationality and the Reflective Mind, which I now have read) and am grateful for the info on this subject gathered on Less Wrong.

Comment author: rafiss 11 July 2013 05:35:01AM 4 points [-]

Hi everyone! I've been lurking around here for a few years, but now I want to be more active in the great discussions that often occur on this site. I discovered Less Wrong about 4 years ago, but the Methods of Rationality fanfic brought me here as a more attentive reader. I've read some of the sequences, and found them generally to use clear reasoning to make great points. If nothing else, reading them has definitely made me think very carefully about the way nature operates and how we perceive it.

In fact, this site was my first exposure to cognitive biases, and since then I've had the chance to study them further in college and read about them independently. This has been tremendously useful for me to understand why I and others I know behave the way we do.

I recently graduated college with a major in computer science and a decent exposure to math, having done some small independent research projects in machine learning. I'll soon begin a job as a software engineer at a late-stage startup that brings machine learning to the field of education.

I find that my greatest weakness with online communities is my tendency to return to lurking, even if I find the content very engaging. I hope to avoid that problem here, and at least continue participating in the comment threads.

Comment author: caffemacchiavelli 11 July 2013 12:00:37AM 4 points [-]

Hello, everyone. I stumbled upon LW after listening to Eliezer make some surprisingly lucid and dissonance-free comments on Skepticon's death panel that inspired me to look up more of his work.

I've been browsing this site for a few days now, and I don't think I've ever had so many "Hey, this has always irritated me, too!" moments in such short intervals, from the rant about "applause lights" to the discussions about efficient charity work. I like how this site provides some actual depth to the topics it discusses, rather than hand the reader a bullet list of trivialities and have them figure out the application.

I am working as a direct marketing consultant, in the process of getting my MBA (a decision I've started to regret; my faith in the scientific validity of academic management begins to resemble a Shepard Tone) and with future ambitions in entrepreneurship, investing, scaling and other things that fit in the "things I've never done yet smart people are supposed to be good at" box.

I'm a member of Mensa, casual Poker (winning) and Mahjong (losing) player, enjoy lifting weights, cooking (in an utterly unscientific way that would make Heston Blumenthal weep) and martial arts. I also have an imaginary -5yo son/daughter who keeps me motivated to put in more hours at work so we won't have financial worries once they get born.

There are a bunch of things I'd like to do with my life long-term, with varying amounts of megalomania, but I'm generally content with focusing on increasing my financial and (practical) intellectual power in the short- to mid-term and let the future decide just how far off my predictions and plans turn out to be. Estimates range from very to utterly.

Here's hoping LW will help me with that, and that I'll be helpful to others.

Comment author: [deleted] 04 July 2013 01:20:58PM *  4 points [-]

Hi, I'm Alex, high school student. Came here from hpmor and have been lurking for about 5 months for now.

I use my "rationalnoodles" nickname almost everywhere, however still can't decide if it's appropriate on LW. Would like to read what others think.


Comment author: kvd 18 June 2013 10:10:57PM 4 points [-]

Hi everyone,

I have been lurking LessWrong on and off for quite a while. I originally found this place through HPMoR; I thought the 'LessWrong' authorname was clever and it was nice to find out there was a whole community based around aiming to be less wrong! My tendency to overthink whatever I write has gotten in the way of actually taking part in the community so far though. Maybe now that I have gotten the introduction out of the way I'll be more likely to post.

A bit more about myself: I'm a student from the Netherlands, doing a masters in Artificial Intelligence. I'm currently planning a research internship in Albany, NY, that will start sometime this summer. I'd love to get in touch with people from there by the way, so if anyone is interested let me know!

Comment author: wadavis 17 May 2013 07:11:04PM 4 points [-]

Greetings Less Wrong Community. I have been lurking on the site for a year reading the articles and sequences and now feel I've cut down the inferential differences enough to contribute meaningful comments.

My goal here is to have clear thought and effective communication in all aspects of my life, with special attention to application in the work environment.

Above most else I value the 12th virtue of rationality. Focus on the goal, value the goal, everything else is a tool to achieve the goal. Like chess, you only need two pieces to win, the only purpose of the other 14 is put the right two into position.

The sequences have been a great source of new idea, and a great exploration of some thoughts I've held but never took the time to charge rent on.

Lastly I was surprised by the amount of atheist/theist discussion. I only encounter situations were I consider having an atheist/theist talk roughly annually and even then I often decide to avoid the discussion because it would not further my current goals. How often do other Less Wrong reader enter atheist/theist discussions with the intent of achieving a goal?

Regards, wadavis

Comment author: Lumifer 16 May 2013 05:51:00PM 4 points [-]

Hello, smart weird people.

I've been lurking on and off for a while but now it seems to be a good time to try playing in the LW fields. We'll see how it goes.

I'm interested in "correct" ways of thinking, obviously, but I'm also interested in their limits. The edges, as usual, are the most interesting places to watch. And maybe to be, if you can survive it.

No particular hot-burning questions at the moment or any specific goals to achieve. Just exploring.

Comment author: DSimon 16 May 2013 06:06:05PM *  2 points [-]

Hello, Lumifer! Welcome to smart-weird land. We have snacks.

So you say you have no burning questions, but here's one for you: as a new commenter, what are your expectations about how you'll be interacting with others on the site? It might be interesting to note those now, so you can compare later.

Comment author: Lumifer 16 May 2013 06:25:32PM 2 points [-]

Hm, an interesting question.

In the net space I generally look like an irreverent smartass (in the meatspace too, but much attenuated by real relationships with real people). So on forums where I hang out, maybe about 10% of the regulars like me, about a quarter hate me, and the rest don't care. One of the things I'm curious about is whether LW will be different.

Or maybe I will be different -- I can argue that my smartassiness is just allergy to stupidity. Whether that's true or not depends on the value of "true", of course...

Comment author: DSherron 01 May 2013 04:02:09PM 4 points [-]

Hi! I've been lurking here for maybe 6 months, and I wanted to finally step out and say hello, and thank you! This site has helped to shape huge parts of my worldview for the better and improved my life in general to boot. I just want to make a list of a few of the things I've learned since coming here which I never would have otherwise, as nearly as I can tell.

  • I've dropped the frankly silly beliefs I held as an evangelical Christian; I wasn't as bad as most in that category but in hindsight that was just due to luck and strong logical skills. (I knew better than to assert that everyone should [know that they should] believe, but nonetheless I chose to follow a harmful "morality")
  • I've learned how to argue effectively and identify real disagreements as opposed to simple definitional disputes, or asking the wrong question. I've used this to resolve a long-standing (think years) dispute with my cousin about the application of the word "literally" as it relates to hyperbole
  • I've realized that intelligence isn't just a fun party trick; I can use it directly to improve my life. Instrumental rationality was something that just never crossed my mind before coming here; intellect made me a good programmer but it sucked that I couldn't get girls. Now I've been actively dieting and getting exercise just because I suddenly realized that I can actually improve my life, if I try.
  • In a similar vein, akrasia is a thing I can fight, and a thing I can fight smart. If just jumping in and doing doesn't work, I have options.
  • Cryonics exists, like, right now. I can go out and buy immortality (or at least a decent chance of a really long life). That's a huge deal to me.
  • There are other people who think the same way I do. I always had trouble finding any combination of intelligence and epistemically rationality, plus the desire to talk about relevant topics using those skills. I knew, realistically, that I couldn't be that exceptional, but I had trouble finding evidence to disprove it (not that I looked that well, mind you).
  • Polyamory (sp?) is a real thing that real people do, not just a cool idea from a story. I haven't made any use of the observation yet, but it tends to mesh well with many of my intuitions about romance.
  • Did I really just almost forget the basic premise of this site? I've become, in general, less wrong (epistemic rationality). Quantum Mechanics are awesome!
  • Probably a bunch of stuff that isn't coming to mind at the moment.

Anyway, for all of that and more, thanks! This site has influenced me more than anything or anyone else ever has. It's really difficult to describe what it feels like to be less wrong and know exactly how and why, but I guess you guys probably know anyway.

And a few questions. First, I noticed that there's a meetup in Austin but not in the (much larger) Houston area. Is this just a lack of members in the area (this is the Bible Belt after all) or just because no one's tried to start one? Second, and there may be a thread already devoted to this somewhere, but what are some good math or computer science books I should look for? I already know the basics of calculus and I can throw my own solutions together for most harder problems but I'd like to get a stronger understanding of higher level math and computer algorithms to use it. And third, are there any other websites/ blogs (besides OB) that have a similar tone/community to this one, though perhaps on different topics, which anyone would recommend?

Comment author: shminux 01 May 2013 05:06:07PM *  2 points [-]

And third, are there any other websites/ blogs (besides OB) that have a similar tone/community to this one, though perhaps on different topics, which anyone would recommend?

Anything written by Yvain, including his old and new blogs, though someone ought to compile a list of his greatest hits.

Comment author: Bluehawk 20 April 2013 05:32:00AM 4 points [-]

Hi there, denizens of Less Wrong! I've actually been lurking around here for a while (browsing furtively since 2010), and only just discovered that I hadn't introduced myself properly.

So! I'm Bluehawk, and I'll tell you my real name if and when it becomes relevant. I'm mid-20's, male, Australian, with an educational history in Music, Cinema Studies and Philosophy, and I'm looking for any jobs and experience that I can get with the craft of writing. My current projects are a pair of feature-length screenplays; one's in the editing/second draft stages, the other's coming up to the end of the first draft. When I have the experience to pull it off (gimme another year or two), I'm hoping to develop a few projects that are more focussed on rationality. The backup plan for my future is to take on a Masters and beyond in screenwriting and/or film, either at RMIT or overseas (NY, LA, France?) depending on where my folio can get me.

That said, my scientific literacy is way lower than it "should" be, and I'm tempted to spend a few years working on that instead, but I'm not sure how much would be practical for my life; I normally find that I can ask (some of) the right questions about a list of stats, and I can generally understand human psychology when the concepts are put in front of me, and that seems to have been enough to get me by so far; I just feel really, really out of my league whenever I run into predicate logic, advanced mathematics, physics, chemistry, or programming languages.

I also aspire to aspire to become fluent in French and Japanese.

Comment author: yakurbe0112 13 April 2013 03:47:06AM 7 points [-]

Alright. Hi. I'm a senior in high school and thinking about majoring in Computer Science. Unlike most other people my age, this is probably my first post on any chat forum/ wiki/ blog. I also don't normaly type things without a spell checker and would like to get better. Any coments about my spelling or anything else would be appriciated.

My brother showed me this site a while back and also HP:MoR. Spicificly, I saw the Sequences. And they were long. Some of them were some-what interesting but mostly they were just long. In addition to that, I had just been introduced to the Methods of Rationality which, dispite being long, was realy interisting (actualy my favorite story that I have ever read), and there was some other things, so yeah . . . I still haven't read them. But anyway, that was about a year ago and at this point I have read through MoR at least three times. I feel that I am starting to think sort of rationaly and would like to improve on that.

In addition to that, I have this friend that I talk to at lunch. Normaly we talk about things that we probably don't have any ideas about that actualy reflect reality, like the origins of the universe, time travel, artificial intelligence (I did actualy read a bit about that by Eliezer. didn't understand as much as I would have liked, but still) those sorts of things. And about half the time I am almost entirly sure that whatever thought process he's using just doesn't work. So another reason I'm here is to make sure that what ever thought process I'm using is actualy the right way to be looking at things and that I am acting as an intelligent thinker rather than a condecending jerk.

So, I'm going to go get reading those sequences now.

Comment author: Dahlen 14 April 2013 04:27:58AM *  4 points [-]

Any coments about my spelling or anything else would be appriciated.

Since you asked... "comments", "appreciated".

Welcome to LessWrong!

Comment author: PhilGoetz 13 April 2013 07:18:07AM 4 points [-]


I should probably write a post, "Why not to major in computer science." My advice is to be aware that there is almost no money in the world budgeted to computer science research, that most people can't even conceive of or believe in the concept of computer science research, and that a degree in computer science leads only to jobs as a computer programmer unless it is from a top-five school.

Comment author: MarkusRamikin 13 April 2013 07:50:03AM 10 points [-]

jobs as a computer programmer

You say that like it's a bad thing.

Comment author: lirene 10 August 2014 01:48:53PM 3 points [-]

Hello community.

I've been aware of LW for a while, reading individual posts linked in programmer/engineering hangouts now and then, and I independently came across HPMOR in search of good fanfiction. But the decision to un-lurk myself came after I attended a CFAR workshop (a major positive life change) and realized that I want to keep being engaged with the community.

I'm very interested in anti-aging research (both from the effective altruism point of view, and because I find the topic really exciting and fascinating) and want to learn about it in as much depth as time permits. So far I would come across science articles about single related discoveries in specialized fields (molecular biology, brain science, ... ) but I haven't found a good resource (book, coursera course, whatever) where I can learn the necessary medicine/biology background and how it all comes together in the current state of the art (I'm thinking of something similar to all the remarkable physics books we have on the market). Any pointers are appreciated.

Comment author: shelikavoid 25 July 2014 05:57:44PM 3 points [-]

Hi I'm N. Currently a systems engineer. Lurked for sometime and finally decided to create an account. I am interested in mathematics and computer science and typography. Fonts can give me happiness or drive me crazy.

I am currently in SoCal.

Comment author: more_wrong 26 May 2014 04:59:23PM 3 points [-]

I chose more_wrong as a name because I'm in disagreement with a lot of the lesswrong posters about what constitutes a reasonable model of the world. Presumably my opinions are more wrong than opinions that are lesswrong, hence the name :)

My rationalist origin story would have a series of watershed events but as far as I can tell, I never had any core beliefs to discard to become rational, because I never had any core beliefs at all. Do not have a use for them, never picked them up.

As far as identifying myself as an aspiring rationalist, the main events that come to mind would be: 1. Devouring as a child anything by Isaac Asimov that I could get my hands on. In case you are not familiar with the bulk of his work, most of it is scientific and historical exposition, not his more famous science fiction; see especially his essays for rationalist material.

  1. Working on questions in physics like "Why do we call two regions of spacetime close to each other?", that is, delving into foundational physics.

  2. Learning about epistemology and historiography from my parents, a mathematician and a historian.

  3. Thinking about the thinking process itself. Note: Being afflicted with neurological and psychological conditions that shut down various parts of my mentality, notably severe intermittent aphasia, has given me a different perspective on the thinking process.

  4. Making some effort to learn about historical perspectives on what constitutes reason or rationality, and not assuming that the latest perspectives are necessarily the best.

    I could go on but that might be enough for an intro.

    My hope is to both learn how to reason more effectively and, if fortunate, make a contribution to the discussion group that helps us to learn the same as a community. mw

Comment author: briancrisan 21 January 2014 11:30:25AM 3 points [-]


I'm Brian. I'm a full-time police dispatcher and part-time graduate student in the marriage and family therapy/counseling master's degree program at the University of Akron (in northeast Ohio). Before I began studies in my master's program, I earned a bachelor's degree in emergency management. I am an atheist and skeptic. I think I can trace my earliest interest in rationality back to my high school days, when I began critically examining theism (generally) and Catholicism (in particular) while taking an elective religion class called "Questions About God." It turned out the class raised more questions than answers, for me.

I found LessWrong by way of browsing CFAR's website and wishing that I had the money to attend one of their workshops. With that being said, I haven't been lurking around LW proper for very long. Thus, I anticipate it will take some time for me to become acquainted with norms of this platform. However, after briefly browsing around, I get the sense that this is a thoughtful community of people that value rationality. That's exciting to me! I hope to get more involved, as time permits, and to eventually become a valuable contributor.

Comment author: radu_floricica 12 January 2014 09:14:36AM 3 points [-]


I'm a 34 yo programmer/entrepreneur in Romania, with a long time interest in rationality - long before I called it by that name. I think the earliest name I had for it was "wisdom", and a desire to find a consistent, repeatable way to obtain it. Must admit at that time I didn't imagine it was going to be so complicated.

Spent some of my 20s believing I already know everything, and then I made a decision that in retrospect was the best I ever made: never to look at the price when I buy a book, but only at the likelihood of finishing it. Which is something I strongly recommend even (or especially) to cash-starved students. The first one happened to be Nassim Taleb's Black Swan, which was another huge stroke of luck. Not only it exposed me to some pretty revolutionary concepts and destroyed my illusions of omniscience, but he's a frequent name dropper and provided a lot of leads for future reading material. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Introduction aside, I'm a long time lurker and I actually came here with a request for comments. There is an often mentioned thought experiment in the sequences that compares a lot of harm done to a person (like torture) with minimum harm done to a lot of people, like a mote in the eye of a billion people. I've always found it a bit disturbing, but couldn't escape the conclusion that harm is additive and comparable. Except I now think it's not.

I've recently read Anti-fragile and found the concept of "hormesis", i.e. small harm done to a complex system generates an over-compensatory response, resulting in overall improvement. Simple examples: cold showers or lifting weights. So small harm done to a lot of people is possible to overall have net positive effects.

Two holes I see in this argument: some harms like going to the gym create hormesis, while motes in the eye don't. Also, you could just up the harm: use a big enough mote that the overall effect is a net negative, like maybe cause some permanent damage. But both holes are plugged by the fact that complex systems will always find ways to compensate. Small cornea damage gets compensated at processing level, muscle damage turns into new muscle, neuron damage means rerouting etc. There are tipping points and limits, but they're still counter-intuitive. Killing the n-th neuron will put somebody in a wheelchair, but their happiness level still bounces back. There is harm, but it's very non-linear in respect to the original damage. So I can't help but conclude that harm is simply non-additive and non-comparable, at least not easily.

Comment author: [deleted] 03 December 2013 12:05:33PM 3 points [-]

Hello, LW,

One of my names is holist. I am 45. Self-employed family man, 6 kids, 2 dogs, 1 cat. Originally a philosopher (BA+MA from Sussex, UK), but I've been a translator for 19 years now... it is wearing thin. Music and art are also important parts of my life (have sold music, musically directed a small circus, have exhibited pictures), and recently, with dictatorship being established here in Hungary, politics seems increasingly urgent, too. I dabble in psychotherapy and call myself a Discordian. Recently, I started thinking about doing a PhD somewhere. My topic is very general: what has caused the increasingly hostile relationship between individual and culture, and what are the remedies available? My window of opportunity is a few years away: I am intermittently thinking about possible supervisors. I have a blog at holist.hu, some of it is in English and it has a lot of pictures. The discordians at PD kicked me out, I found the Secular Café to be indescribably boring, I am a keen MeFite, but I'd like something a little more discussioney. A friend pointed me at LW. I hope it works out.

For pointers, here's a slightly random list of some books that are very important to me: Fiction: Mason and Dixon by Thomas Pynchon, Ulysses by James Joyce, Karnevál by Béla Hamvas, Moby Dick by Herman Melville, The Diamong Age by Neal Stephenson. Non-fiction: The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff, The Facts of Life by R. D. Laing, Children of the Future by Wilhelm Reich, The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller, The Story of B by Daniel Quinn, Tools for Conviviality by Ivan Illich

I guess I'll start by lurking, but you never know :)

Comment author: raydpratt 27 July 2013 10:28:37PM 3 points [-]

I am a maximum-security ex-con who studied and used logic for pro se, civil-rights lawsuits. (The importance of being a maximum-security ex-con is that I was stubborn iconoclast who learned and used logic in all seriousness.) Logic helped me identify the weak links in my opponent's arguments and to avoid weak links in my own arguments, and logic helped my organize my writing and evidence. I also studied and learned to use “The Option Process” for eliminating my negative emotions and to understand other people's negative emotions. The core truth of “The Option Process” is that we choose to have negative emotions for reasons, not randomly, and not even necessarily. So, our rationality is very much a part of our emotions, and, as such, good reasoning can utterly remove negative emotions at the core of their raison d'être. However, some of my emotional and intellectual challenges have resisted solutions via logic and “The Option Process.” For example, I could not figure out how to stay objective and to behave objectively while trying to gamble for profit (not for fun). So, I began reading widely about self-control, discipline, integrity, neuroeconomics, etc. And, in the process, I found this LessWrong website.

I have only recently identified what may be at the root of my problem with gambling and why it resists both logic and “The Option Process.” Freud called it “childhood megalomania.” In our early years, whenever we cried and sniveled, the universe of Mom and Dad and others rushed to our needs. That inner baby rarely grows up well in any of us, and we still whine, snivel, and howl at the universe when things don't go our way, and we can get down right obstinate about doing so until the universe listens! The universe, in turn, responds favorably often enough to keep our inner babies convinced of our magic, temper-tantrum powers over reality.

I figured out that when I get frustrated, afraid, and challenged by the difficulties of gambling, I would rather feel safe, powerful and warm, and so I often lapse into an obstinate insistence on continuing to gamble because I want to believe and feel that I can successfully gamble whenever I want, even during objectively bad, fear-inducing, and frustrating conditions.

The universe has not been kind in that regard, but with my recent insight, I at least hope that my inner baby has grown one year older. The rest of the problem, the frustration and fear, will easily fall prey to the power of logic and “The Option Process.”

Comment author: dirtfruit 24 July 2013 09:25:17PM *  3 points [-]

Hey, I'm dirtfruit.

I've lurked here for quite a while now. LessWrong is one of the most interesting internet communities I've observed, and I'd like to begin involving myself more actively. I've been to one meetup, in NYC, a few months ago, which was nice. I've read most of the sequences (I think I've read all of them at least once, but I haven't looked hard enough to be super-confident saying that). HPMOR is cool, I enjoyed reading it and continue to check for updates. I've tried to read most of what Eliezer has written, but gave up early on anything extremely technical, as I don't have the background for it. EY seems like a righteous dude to me. I dig his cause, and would like to make myself available to help, in what ways I can.

I'm currently 21 years old. I was born and raised on the west coast of the united states, and am now attending a college on the east coast studying fine art, with a concentration in drawing. I've always read a lot. When I was young; analog fiction, mostly. Now I most often find myself reading nonfiction online .

I'd like to find ways for artists (specifically me, but also other interested artists(to a lesser degree)) to be useful to the general cause of rationality; raising waterlines and whatnot. I believe there exists a general feeling among lesswrong users that artists can be fun, but are not very instrumentally useful to their particular cause. If this belief is misplaced, I'd be overjoyed to adjust it properly. I'm obviously biased, but I believe this feeling to be more than a few shades off from correct. Pictorial communication can be super intuitive. It can communicate very quickly relative to the written word, can be very memorable, and is capable of transcending many written/spoken language barriers. It's main downsides include: time-expense (drawing a picture generally takes longer than describing something verbally(spoken or written)); and scarcity of expertise - drawing and painting's difficulty curves seems roughly similar to that of writing, but they are practiced far less often than writing, and (nowadays, in the fine art world at least) held to very different standards. Experts in visual communication should be very instrumentally useful, for clarifying concepts not well suited to words, and also for attracting/aiding/communicating with those beyond the reach of literacy. I'm not claiming expertise (I'm still building my skills as a student), but at the very least I have some experience in crafting understandable, detailed pictures to something of a high standard. I'm also somewhat talented with words; integrating textual communication with visual communication (and visa versa) is something I'm sensitive to and interested in.

I also just really like the spirit and conventions of debate here, and would very much like to hear any and all thoughts about what I just wrote. :D thanks!

(also I think we need a new welcome thread? either that or I failed to find the proper one. This thread has far exceeded 500 posts...)

Comment author: Tsende 19 July 2013 12:35:22AM 3 points [-]

Hi, I'm a second year engineering student at a university of California. I like engaging in rational discussions and find importance in knowing about what's going on in the world and gain more insight on controversial issues such as abortion, gay rights, sexuality, immigration, etc. Someone on Facebook directed me to this site but I easily get bored so I may or may not be much of a contribution.

Comment author: afterburger 09 July 2013 02:38:34AM 3 points [-]

Hello! I'm here because...well, I've read all of HPMOR, and I'm looking for people who can help me find the truth and become more powerful. I work as an engineer and read textbooks for fun, so hopefully I can offer some small insights in return.

I'm not comfortable with death. I've signed up for cryonics, but still perceive that option as risky. As a rough estimate, it appears that current medical research is about 3% of GDP and extends lifespans by about 2 years per decade. I guess that if medical research spending were increased to 30% of current GDP, then most of us would live forever while feeling increasingly healthy. Unfortunately, raising taxes to achieve this is not realistic -- doubling taxes for an uncertain return is a hard sell, and I have been unable to find research quantifying the link between public research spending and healthcare technology improvements. Another approach is inventing a technology to increase the overall economy size by 10x, by creating a practical self-replicating robot. This is possible in principle (as demonstrated by Hod Lipson in 2006 and by FANUC robot arm factories daily) but I am currently not a good enough programmer to design and build a fully automated RepRap assembly system in a reasonable amount of time. Also, there are many smart and innovative people at Willow Garage, FANUC and other similar organizations, and it seems unlikely I could exceed the slow and incremental progress of those groups. A third option, trying to create super-level AI to make self-replicating robots for me, is even more difficult and unlikely. A fourth option, not taking heroic responsibility, would make me uncomfortable because I'm not that optimistic about the future. As it is, since dropping out of a PhD program I'm not confident in my ability to complete such a large project. Any practical help would be appreciated, as I would prefer not to rely on the untestable promises of quantum immortality, or on the faith that life is a computer game.

Comment author: polutropon 06 July 2013 08:11:53PM 3 points [-]

Hello again, Less Wrong! I'm not entirely new — I've been lurking since at least 2010 and I had an account for a while, but since that I've let that one lie fallow for almost two years now I thought I'd start afresh.

I'm a college senior, studying cognitive psychology with a focus on irrationality / heuristics and biases. In a couple of months I'll be starting my year-long senior thesis, which I'm currently looking for a specific topic for. I'm also a novice Python programmer and a dabbler in nootropics.

I'll be trying to avoid spending too unproductive time on LW ("insight porn" really is a great description, and I've learned to be wary of being excessively cerebral), but here I am again.

Comment author: claus 20 June 2013 10:18:04AM 3 points [-]

Hi all, my name is Claus. I'm a third year (23 year old) BA philosophy student from the Netherlands. I am unsure how exactly I got here, but I sure do know why I kept coming back. Throughout my study I have become increasingly frustrated with the state of philosophy in general and my own University's approach to philosophy. Being only interested in finding truth (and thus; knowledge) I mainly grew tired of what can be called 'continental philosophy' (specifically 'Hegelianism') because of it's lack of clarity. I found my views on this matter are much the same as the views presented in the 'Philosophy: A Diseased Discipline' post, and I'm so happy to have found such a large and confident group of like minded people.

As for my own goals and personality. I am heavily interested in transhumanism (Life-Extension, human enhancement), gadgets, psychology (some PUA and social engineering as well) and quantified-self. I try to live as healthy as possible, I meditate and I am planning to try Soylent (I'm sure you have heard of it) in the near future. I am (and have been for a couple of years) obsessive about improving myself to the point of consciously trying to develop some sort of 'succes' algorithm for my life (think of Robin Hanson's 'Betterness Explosion'). As you will understand, sequences like 'The Science of Winning at Life' have been very useful to me. Central to this whole project of mine is to learn from every experience. To help me with this effort I have, since a year and a half, been documenting my own beliefs (in the form of lists of short propositions). This way I have an ever-growing, external, database of my own beliefs (and if true: knowledge) which changes and improves as evidence accumulates.

Currently I am involved with two start-up companies, am trying to finish my Bachelors degree and plan to write some essays on Science and evidence based politics. I'm sure I will enjoy my stay here!

Comment author: [deleted] 15 June 2013 09:54:42PM 3 points [-]

Hi there. I'm thrilled to find a community so dedicated to the seeking of rational truth. I hope to participate in that.

Comment author: Articulator 14 June 2013 11:47:48PM *  3 points [-]

Hi everyone, I’m The Articulator. (No ‘The’ in my username because I dislike using underscores in place of spaces)

I found LessWrong originally through RationalWiki, and more recently through Iceman’s excellent pony-fic about AI and transhumanism, Friendship is Optimal.

I’ve started reading the Sequences, and made some decent progress, though we’ll see how long I maintain my current rate.

I’ll be attending University this fall for Electrical Engineering, with a desire to focus in electronics.

Prior to LW, I have a year’s worth of Philosophy and Ethics classes, and a decent amount of derivation and introspection.

As a result, I’ve started forming a philosophical position, made up of a mishmash of formally learnt and self-derived concepts. I would be very grateful if anyone would take the time to analyze, and if possible, pick apart what I’ve come up with. After all, it’s only a belief worth holding if it stands up to rigorous debate.

(If this is the wrong place to do this, I apologize - it seemed slightly presumptuous to imply that my comment thread would be large enough to warrant a separate discussion article.)

I apologize in advance for a possible lack of precise terminology for already existing concepts. As I’ve said, I’m partially self-derived, and without knowing the name of an idea, it’s hard to check if it already exists. If you do spot such gaps in my knowledge, I would be grateful if you’d point them out. Though I understand correct terminology is nice, I'd appreciate it if you could judge my ideas regardless of how many fancy words I use to descrive them.

My thought process so far:

P: Naturalism is the only standard by which we can understand the world

P: One cannot derive ethical statements or imperatives from Naturalism, as, like all good science, it is only descriptive in nature

IC : We cannot derive ethical statements

IC: There is no intrinsic value

C: Nihilism is correct

However, assuming nihilism is correct, why don’t I just kill myself now? That’s down to the evolutionary instincts that need me alive to reproduce. Well, why not overcome those and kill myself? But now, we’re in a difficult situation – why, if nothing matters, am I so desperate to kill myself?

Nihilism is the total negation of the intrinsic and definitive value in anything. It’s like sticking a coefficient of zero onto all of your utility calculations. However, that includes the bad as well as the good. Why bother doing bad things just as much as doing good things?

My eventual realization came as a result of analyzing the level or order of concepts. Firstly, we have the lowest order, instinct, which we are only partially conscious of. Then, we have a middle order of conscious thought, wherein we utilize our sapience to optimize our instinctual aims. Finally, we have the first of a series of high order thought processes devoted to analyzing our thoughts. It struck me that only this order and above is concerned with my newfound existential crisis. When I allow my rationality to slip a bit, a few minutes later, I stop caring, and start eating or taking out my testosterone on small defenseless computer images. Essentially, it is only the meta-order processes which directly suffer as a result of nihilism, as they are the ones that have to deal with the results and implications.

Nihilism expects you to give up attempting to change things or apply ethics because those are seen as meaningful concepts. However, really, the way I see it, Nihilism is about simply the state of ‘going with the flow’, colloquially speaking. However, that’s intentionally vague. Consider: if your middle-order processes don’t care that you just realized nothing matters, what’ll happen? They’ll just keep doing what they’ve always done.

In other words, since humans compartmentalize, going with the flow is synonymous with turning off your meta-level thought processes as a goal-oriented drive, and purely operate on middle-level processes and below. That corresponds, for a Naturalist, with Utilitarianism.

Now, that’s not to say “turn off your meta-level cognition”, because otherwise, what am I doing here? What I’m doing right now is optimizing utility because I enjoy LessWrong and the types of discussions they have. I bother to optimize utility despite being a nihilist because it is easier, and less work, meta-level-wise, to give in to my middle-level desires than to fight them.

To define Nihilism, for me, now comes to the concept of passively maintaining the status quo, or more aptly, not attempting to change it. Why not wirehead? – because that state is no more desirable in a world with zero utility, but takes effort to reach. It’s going up a gradient which we can comfortably sit at the bottom of instead.

I fear I haven’t done the best job of explaining concisely, and I believe my original, purely mental, formulations were more elegant, so that’s a lesson on writing everything down learned. However, I hope some of you can see some flaws in this argument that I can’t, because at the moment, this explains just about everything I can think of in one way or another.

Thank you all in advance for any help given,

The Articulator (It’s kind of an ironic choice of name, present ineptitude considered.)

Comment author: Vaniver 15 June 2013 01:24:00AM 2 points [-]

Welcome to LW!

There is a metaethics sequence, of which this post asks what you would do if morality didn't exist. This may be a good place to start looking, but I wouldn't be too discouraged if you don't find it terribly useful (as Eliezer and others see it as not as communicative as Eliezer wanted it to be).

The point I would focus on is that there's a difference between an ethical system that would compel any possible mind to follow it, and an ethical system in harmony with you and those around you. Figure out what you can get from ethics, and then seek to discover which the results of ethics you try. Worry more about developing a system that reliably makes small, positive changes than about developing a system that is perfectly correct. As it is said, a complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked.

Comment author: Articulator 15 June 2013 12:02:01AM *  2 points [-]

Okay, whoa, hey. I clearly and repeatedly explained my lack of total understanding of LW conventions. I'm not sure what about this provoked a downvote, but I would appreciate a bit more to go on. If this is about my noobishness, well, this is the Welcome Thread. Great job on the welcoming, by the way, anonymous downvoter. At the very least offer constructive criticism.

Edit: Troll? Really?

Edit,Edit: Thank you whoever deleted the negative karma!

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 15 June 2013 12:30:39AM 2 points [-]

I wouldn't take downvotes to heart, if I were you, unless like, a whole bunch of people all downvote you. A downvote's not terribly meaningful by itself.

Welcome to Less Wrong, by the way.

Now, I didn't downvote you, but here's some criticism, hopefully constructive. I didn't read most of your post, from where you start discussing your philosophy (maybe I will later, but right now it's a bit tl;dr). In general, though, taking what you've learned and attempting to construct a coherent philosophical position out of it is usually a poor idea. You're likely to end up with a bunch of nonsense supported by a tower of reasoning detached from anything concrete. Read more first. Anyway, having a single "this is my philosophy" is really not necessary... pretty much ever. Figure out what your questions are, what you're confused about, and why, approach those things one at a time and in without an eye toward unifying everything or integrating everything into a coherent whole, and see what happens.

Also: read the Sequences, they are pretty much concentrated awesome and will help with like, 90% of all confusion.

Comment author: bouilhet 19 May 2013 08:54:15PM 3 points [-]

Hello everyone.

I go by bouilhet. I don't typically spend much time on the Internet, much less in the interactive blogosphere, and I don't know how joining LessWrong will fit into the schedule of my life, but here goes. I'm interested from a philosophical perspective in many of the problems discussed on LW - AI/futurism, rationalism, epistemology, probability, bias - and after reading through a fair share of the material here I thought it was time to engage. I don't exactly consider myself a rationalist (though perhaps I am one), but I spend a great deal of my thought-energy trying to see clearly - in my personal life as well as in my work life (art) - and reason plays a significant role in that. On the other hand, I'm fairly committed to the belief (at least partly based on observation) that a given (non-mathematical) truth claim cannot quite be separated from a person's desire for said claim to be true. I'd like to have this belief challenged, naturally, but mostly I'm looking forward to further investigations of the gray areas. Broadly, I'm very attracted to what seems to be the unspoken premise of this community: that being definitively right may be off the table, but that one might, with a little effort, be less wrong.

Comment author: dellbarnes 24 April 2013 07:38:49AM 3 points [-]

I have an interest in gaming management and practical probabilities. I have a great interest in economics as well. I stumbled onto this site and tyhe "Drawing 2 aces" post. I struggled with it for about a week, and then wrote a few things. The thread is old, but I look forward to any helpful responses.

Comment author: Free_NRG 21 April 2013 09:39:50AM 3 points [-]

Hi! I'm Free_NRG. I've just started a physical chemistry PhD. I found this site through a link from Leah Libresco early last year (I can't remember exactly how I found her blog). I read through the sequences as one of the distractions from too much 4th year chemistry, and particularly liked the probability theory and evolutionary theory sequences. This year, I'm trying to apply some of the productivity porn I've been reading to my life. I'm thinking of blogging about it.

Comment author: JonMcGuire 13 April 2013 02:58:41PM 3 points [-]

New to LW... my wife re-ignited my long-dormant interest in AI via Yudkowski's Friendly AI stuff.

Is there a link somewhere to "General Intelligence and Seed AI"? It seems that older content at intelligence.org has gone missing. It actually went missing while my wife was in the middle of reading it online... very frustrating. Friendly AI makes a lot of references to it. Seems important to read it.

I'd prefer a PDF, if somebody knows where to find one.


Comment author: TheSarge 03 May 2013 09:05:44AM *  5 points [-]

Discovered while researching the global effects of a Pak-Indo nuclear exchange. Once here I began to dig further and found it appealing. I am a simple soldier pushing myself into a Masters in biology. Am I rationalist? I am not sure to be honest. If I am I know the exact date and time when I started to become one. Nov 2004 I was part of the battle of Fallujah, during an exchange of gunfire a child was injured. I will never know if it was one my rounds that caused her head injury but my lips worked to bring her life again. It was a futile attempt, she passed and while clouded with this damn experience I myself was wounded. At that very moment I lost my faith in any loving deity. My endless pursuit of knowledge, to include academics provided by a brick and mortar school has helped me recover from the loss of a limb. I still have the leg however it does not function well. I like to think and philosophy fascinates me, and this site fascinates me. :) Political ideology- Fiscally Conservative Religion-possibilian Rather progressive on issues like gay marriage and abortion. Abortion actually the act I despise but as a man I feel somehow that I haven't the organs to complain. To sum me up I suppose I am a crippled, tobacco chewing, gun toting member of the Sierra Club with a future as a freshwater biologist with memories I would like to replace with Bayes. LoL Well I just spilled that mess out, might as well hit post. Please feel free to ask anything you like, I am not sensitive. Open honesty to those that are curious is good medicine.

Comment author: TimS 03 May 2013 12:30:53PM 2 points [-]

Welcome. Hope you find what you are looking for, and maybe find some of it here.

Comment author: ThinkOfTheChildren 08 April 2013 07:35:31PM 6 points [-]

Hey Lesswrong.

This is a sockpuppet account I made for the purpose of making a post to Discussion and possibly Main, while obscuring my identity, which is important due to some NDAs I've signed with regards to the content of the post.

I am explicitly asking for +2 karma so that I can make the post.

Comment author: smercjd 03 June 2013 09:15:16PM 4 points [-]

Hi...I'm Will -- I learned about less wrong through a very intelligent childhood friend. I am quite nearly his opposite - so maybe I shouldn't say anything...ever...and just stick to reading and learning. But It recommended leaving an introduction post. I also like this as a method of learning. I skimmed a few of the articles in the about page and enjoyed them...they provided a good deal of information that I believe I am much better at processing and understanding as opposed to creating. Therefore, I'm excited to see what I get out of this. I'm also curious to attend a Less Wrong meeting. I haven't looked for one yet, but I will be.

Part of the problem I have is that I prefer doing things that provide tiny levels of fun with little to no levels of self-growth. For example, I would prefer playing a game of League of Legends over reading...anything. This is an annoying habit for obvious reasons. So I guess if there were suggestions of where I should start that might help me subconsciously (and eventually consciously) in favor of more meaningful activities. Not to abolish random bouts of pointless fun, but rather to refine my efficiency with time devoted to ALL of my daily activities.

Comment author: Will_Newsome 03 June 2013 09:40:32PM 7 points [-]

How funny, I'm Will too! Just a quick & probably useless suggestion: be sure to be extremely honest with yourself about what it is all parts of you want, including the parts that want to play League of Legends. If you understand those parts and how they're a non-trivial part of you, not just an adversarial thing set up to subvert your prefrontal cortex's 'real' ambitions, that will allow you to find ways in which those parts can be satisfied that are more in line with your whole self's ambitions. E.g. the appeal of League of Legends is largely that you have understandable, objective goals that you can make measurable cumulative progress on, which is intrinsically rewarding—the parts of you that are tracking that intrinsic reward might be just as well rewarded by a sufficiently well-taskified approach to learning, say, piano, Japanese, programming, and other skills that are more likely to provide long-term esteem-worthy capital. Finding a way to taskify things in general might be tricky, and it won't itself be the sort of thing that you're likely to make unambiguous cumulative progress on, but it's meta and thus is a very good way to bootstrap to a position where further bootstrapping is easier and where you can hold on to momentum.

Comment author: VCavallo 04 April 2013 03:17:54PM 4 points [-]

Hey! My name is Vinney, I'm 28 years old and live in New York City.

To be exceedingly brief: I've been working through the sequences (quite slowly and sporadically) for the past year and a half. I've loved everything I've seen on LW so far and I expect to continue. I hope to ramp up my study this year and finally get through the rest of the sequences.

I'd like to become more active in discussions but feel like I should finish the sequences first so I don't wind up making some silly error in reasoning and committing it to a comment. Perhaps that isn't an ideal approach to the community discussions, but I suspect it may be common..

Comment author: [deleted] 07 February 2014 11:04:41AM *  2 points [-]

Comment author: zoltanistvan 07 February 2014 02:03:10AM *  2 points [-]

Hi, My name is Zoltan Istvan. I'm a transhumanist, futurist, journalist, and the author of the philosophical novel "The Transhumanist Wager." I've been checking out this site for some time, but decided to create an account today to become closer to the community. I thought I'd start by posting an essay I recently wrote, which sums up some of my ideas. Feel free to share it if you like, and I hope you find it moving. Cheers.

"When Does Hindering Life Extension Science Become a Crime—or even Genocide?"

Every human being has both a minimum and a maximum amount of life hours left to live. If you add together the possible maximum life hours of every living person on the planet, you arrive at a special number: the optimum amount of time for our species to evolve, find happiness, and become the most that it can be. Many reasonable people feel we should attempt to achieve this maximum number of life hours for humankind. After all, very few people actually wish to prematurely die or wish for their fellow humans' premature deaths.

In a free and functioning democratic society, it's the duty of our leaders and government to implement laws and social strategies to maximize these life hours that we want to safeguard. Regardless of ideological, political, religious, or cultural beliefs, we expect our leaders and government to protect our lives and ensure the maximum length of our lifespans. Any other behavior cuts short the time human beings have left to live. Anything else becomes a crime of prematurely ending human lives. Anything else fits the common legal term we have for that type of reprehensible behavior: criminal manslaughter.

In 2001, former President George W. Bush restricted federal funding for stem cell research, one of the most promising fields of medicine in the 21st Century. Stem cells can be used to help fight disease and, therefore, can lengthen lives. Bush restricted the funding because his conservative religious beliefs—some stem cells came from aborted fetuses—conflicted with his fiduciary duty of helping millions of ailing, disease-stricken human beings. Much medical research in the United States relies heavily on government funding and the legal right to do the research. Ultimately, when a disapproving President limits public resources for a specific field of science, the research in that field slows down dramatically—even if that research would obviously lengthen and improve the lives of millions.

It's not just politicians that are prematurely ending our lives with what can be called "pro-death" policies and ideologies. In 2009, on a trip to Africa, Pope Benedict XVI told journalists that the epidemic of AIDS would be worsened by encouraging people to use condoms. More than 25 million people have died from AIDS since the first cases began being reported in the news in the early 1980s. In numerous studies, condoms have been shown to help stop the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This makes condoms one of the simplest and most affordable life extension tools on the planet. Unfathomably, the billion-person strong Catholic Church actively supports the idea that condom usage is sinful, despite the fact that such a malicious policy has helped sicken and kill a staggering amount of innocent people.

Regrettably, in 2014, America continues to be permeated with an anti-life extension culture. Genetic engineering experiments in humans often have to pass numerous red-tape-laden government regulatory bodies in order to conduct any tests at all, especially at publically funded universities and research centers. Additionally, many states still ban human reproductive cloning, which could one day play a critical part in extending human life. The current US administration is also culpable. The White House is simply not doing enough to extend American lifespans. The US Government spends just 2% of the national budget on science and medical research, while their defense budget is over 20%, according to a 2011 US Office of Management Budget chart. Does President Obama not care about this fact, or is he unaware that not actively funding and supporting life extension research indeed shortens lives?

In my philosophical novel The Transhumanist Wager, there is a scene which takes place outside of a California courthouse where transhumanist activists are holding up a banner. The words inscribed on the banner sum up some eye-opening data: "By not actively funding life extension research, the amount of life hours the United States Government is stealing from its citizens is thousands of times more than all the American life hours lost in the Twin Towers tragedy, the AIDS epidemic, and the Vietnam War combined. Demand that your government federally fund transhuman research, nullify anti-science laws, and promote a life extension culture. The average human body can be made to live healthily and productively beyond age 150."

Some longevity experts think that with a small amount of funding—$50 billion dollars—targeted specifically towards life extension research and ending human mortality, average human lifespans could be increased by 25-50 years in about a decade's time. The world's net worth is over $200 trillion dollars, so the species can easily spare a fraction of its wealth to gain some of the most valuable commodities humans have: health and time.

Unfortunately, our species has already lost a massive amount of life hours; billions of lives have been unnecessarily cut short in the last 50 years because of widespread anti-science attitudes and policies. Even in the modern 21st Century, our evolutionary development continues to be significantly hampered by world leaders and governments who believe in non-empirical, faith-driven religious doctrines—most of which require the worship of deities whose teachings totally negate the need for radical life extension science. Virtually every major leader on the planet believes their "God" will give them an afterlife in a heavenly paradise, so living longer on planet Earth is just not that important.

Back in the real world, 150,000 people died yesterday. Another 150,000 will cease to exist today, and the same amount will disappear tomorrow. A good way to reverse this widespread deathist attitude should start with investigative government and non-government commissions examining whether public fiduciary duty requires acting in the best interest of people's health and longevity. Furthermore, investigative commissions should be set up to examine whether former and current top politicians and religious leaders are guilty of shortening people's lives for their own selfish beliefs and ideologies. Organizations and other global leaders that have done the same should be scrutinized and investigated too. And if fault or crimes against humanity are found, justice should be administered. After all, it's possible that the Catholic Church's stance on condoms will be responsible for more deaths in Africa than the Holocaust was responsible for in Europe. Over one million AIDS victims died in Africa last year alone. Catholicism is growing quickly in Africa, and there will soon be nearly 200 million Catholics on the continent. Obviously, the definition of genocide needs to be reconsidered by the public.

As a civilization of advanced beings who desire to live longer, better, and more successfully, it is our responsibility to put government, religious institutions, big business, and other entities that endorse pro-death policies on notice. Society should stand ready to prosecute anyone that deliberately promotes agendas and actions that prematurely end people's useful lives. Stifling or hindering life extension science, education, and practices needs to be recognized as a legitimate crime.

Comment author: James_Miller 07 February 2014 04:48:46AM 3 points [-]

it is our responsibility to put government, religious institutions, big business, and other entities that endorse pro-death policies on notice. Society should stand ready to prosecute anyone that deliberately promotes agendas and actions that prematurely end people's useful lives.

A tiny minority group such as transhumanists should not make threats against the powers that be.

Comment author: thirdfloornorth 07 February 2014 06:37:45AM *  2 points [-]

He's making it himself, not as a spokesperson of the movement. However, as a transhumanist myself, I can't say I disagree with him. Morally speaking, when does not only actively hindering, but choosing to not vehemently pursue, life extension research constitute a threat on our lives?

Maybe it is time (or if not, it will be very soon) for transhumanism and transhumanists to enter the public sphere, to become more visible and vocal.

We have the capacity, for the first time in human history, to potentially end death, and not for our progeny but for ourselves, now. Yet we are disorganized, spread thin, essentially invisible in terms of public consciousness. People are having freakouts about something as mundane as Google Glass: We are talking about the cyberization or gross genetic manipulation of our bodies, increasing life spans to quickly approach "indefinite", etc., and not in some distant future, but in the next twenty or thirty years.

We are being held back by lack of funding, poor cohesion, and a general failure of imagination, and that is largely our own fault for being content to be quiet, to remain a fringe element, optimistically debating and self-congratulating in nooks and niches of various online communities, bothering and being bothered by few if any.

I believe it is our moral imperative to, now that is is possible, pursue life extension with every cent and scrap of resources we have available to us. To do otherwise is reprehensible.


Let Mr. Istvan make his threats, as long as it gets people talking about us.

Comment author: zoltanistvan 07 February 2014 06:17:12AM 2 points [-]

Hi, Thanks for the response. I should be clear; transhumanists are not making the threat. I'm making it myself. And I'm doing it as publicly and openly as possible so there can be no misunderstanding:



The problem is that lives are on the line. So I feel someone needs to openly state what seems to be quite obvious. Thanks for considering my thoughts.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 07 February 2014 12:16:46PM 2 points [-]

Society should stand ready to prosecute anyone that deliberately promotes agendas and actions that prematurely end people's useful lives.

Do you apply this stirring declaration to the beginning of a life as well as to the end of one?

Comment author: kotrfa 09 January 2014 08:54:28PM *  2 points [-]


I'd like to get some opinions about my future goals.

I'm 21 and I'm a second-year student of engineering in Prague, Czech Republic, focusing mainly on math and then physics.

My background is not stunning - I was born in 93, visiting sporting primary school and then general high school. Until I was in second year of high school, I behaved as an idiot with below-average results in almost everything, paradoxically except extraordinary "general study presupposes" (whatever it means). My not so bad IQ - according to IQ test I took when I was 15 - is about 130 points. When I was 17, I realized that there is something about the world that needs to be done with. I started to study, mainly math and physics. I was horrible at it - I had very big disadvantage because I missed basics and wasn't able to recognize it. Anyway, I tried (but, unfortunately, not as much as I had to) and reached so-so level and I got on the technical university. Here I tried really hard and I achieved relatively good results and got into the best maths-focused student group. I'm below-average in this group (about 30 students) and my results are satisfactory. I'm quite popular thanks to collaborating on some non-study events for my schoolmates. I also created a presentation for high school students about engineering and I distributed it among faculty workers and students, who are connected to propagation.

About 10 years I obtained ECDL and it started my curiosity about informatics. But nothing special - I was autodidact in HTML and "computer administration" for regular usage. I was also very interested in economy, as my father is working in this area. I actively did cross-country skiing and play on piano and trombone.

I have high charisma, authority and ability to organize people and some bigger events, which I was usually asked to prepare (the graduate prom, matriculation etc.). I have good reasoning skills and ability to negotiate even under heavy pressure and stress. People usually enjoy time with me and appreciates me for my honesty, empathy and "cold-think" reasoning solutions, which in most time shows there were the best possible. I'm in healthy relationship for two years. My family is good background for my activities and support me. They also support me financially. My expense per month is not more than 300 USD including accommodation with in an apartment (university students, two of them from my university and domain), food and social activities.

Currently, apart from my school activities, I'm also attending some kind of philosophy group every week, where we usually discuss some topic about epistemology, relationships, culture, religions etc., we read some philosophic works (Platon), deal with art (classical music or paintings) or we write some kind of voluntary essays. I'm really interested in discussions about these topics and I try to develop my reasoning skills as often I can. For example, now I contacted a priest from local temple with whom I want to discuss some religion based questions. I autodidact psychology (last book I've read was Kahneman: Think fast and slow), rationality (started to read LW sequences), and programming. I enjoy using open source software on my Archlinux laptop and now I dived into Python as a scripting language. I also develop some web for my mother using Django and I also signed for a statistical research task about datamining in Python (pandas, numpy, scikit-learn...) or R. In school I have courses of C++ also. I'm not the most talented or generally best mathematician or programmer, but I have quite good learning (and also teaching) skills.

I've chosen my "path" - I'd like to do what's right and true and seek for the truth whenever it is possible. I feel that I'm not getting everything (e.g. from my school) I need for changing the world to a better place. I could do more. I can't decide where to focus and how to divide my attention and possibilities. Should I do aggressive autodidact of sequences? Should I focus on maths and algorithms or biases? Should I try to develop my social skills?

And the second question is simple:" Are there any Czechs who are interested in meetups in PRAGUE?"

Thank you

Comment author: ericgarr 09 December 2013 12:47:24AM 2 points [-]

Hi everybody,

My name is Eric, and I'm currently finishing up my last semester of undergraduate study and applying to Ph.D. programs in cognitive psychology/cognitive neuroscience. I recently became interested in the predictive power offered by formal rational models of behavior after working in Paul Glimcher's lab this past summer at NYU, where I conducted research on matching behavior is rhesus monkeys. I stumbled upon Less Wrong while browsing the internet for behavioral economics blogs. After reading a couple of posts, I decided to join.

Some sample topics that I like reading about and discussing include intertemporal choice, risk preferences, strategic behavior in the context of games, reinforcement learning, and the evolution of cooperation. I look forward to chatting with some of you!

Comment author: aquaticko 29 November 2013 05:07:02PM 2 points [-]

Hello, my name is Luke. I'm an urban planning graduate student at Cleveland State University, having completed an undergrad in philosophy at the University of New Hampshire a year ago. It was the coursework I did at that school which lead me to be interested in the nebulous and translucent topic of rationality, and I'm happy to see so many people involved and interested in the same conversations I'd spend hours having with classmates. Heck, the very question I was asking myself in something of an ontological sense--am I missing the trees for the forest--is what led me here, specifically to Eliezer's article on the fallacies of compression, which was somewhat helpful. Suffice to say, I tend to think I'm not missing the trees for the forest, and that in fact the original form of the idiom remains true for most other people, though thankfully, not many here.

I'm deeply interested in epistemology, metaphysics, aesthetics, and metaethics, all of which I attempt to approach in systemic ways. As for what led me to consider myself a rationalist in these endeavors...I'm not sure I do. In fact, I'm not sure anyone can or should think of themselves a rationalist, considering that basic beliefs, other than solipsism, are inductive and inferential, and thus fallible. We could argue in circles forever (as others have) what constitutes knowledge, but any definition seems, in my view, to be arbitrary and thus non-universal and therefore, again, fallible--even mathematical knowledge and formal logic.

Granted, I don't sit in a corner rocking back and forth sucking my thumb, driven mad by the uncertainty of it all, but I also operate with the knowledge that whatever I deem rational behavior and thought processes only seem rational because I've pre-decided what constitutes rational behavior (i.e., circularity, or coherentism at best...feeling like I'm writing a duplicate of a different post). Of course, all that seems like too easy an exit from a number of hard problems, so I keep reading to make sure that, in fact, I oughtn't be rocking back and forth in a corner sucking my thumb for the utility of it, turning into a kind of utility monster. An absurdist I remain, but one with a pretty strong intuitive consequentialist metaethical framework which allows me to find great joy in the topics covered on LW.

Comment author: David_Chapman 23 November 2013 10:57:56PM 2 points [-]

Hi, I have a site tech question. (Sorry if this is the wrong place to post that!—I couldn't find any other.)

I can't find a way to get email notifications of comment replies (i.e. when my inbox icon goes red). If there is one, how do I turn it on?

If there isn't one, is that a deliberate design feature, or a limitation of the software, or...?

Thanks (and thanks especially to whoever does the system maintenance here—it must be a big job.)

Comment author: alexg 13 November 2013 12:33:03PM 2 points [-]


As you can probably guess, I'm Alex. I'm a high school student from Australia and have been disappointed with the education system here from quite some time.

I came to LW via HPMoR which was linked to me by a fellow member of the Aus IMO team. (I seriously doubt I'm the only (ex-)Olympian around here - seems just the sort of place that would attract them). I've spent the past few weeks reading the sequences by EY, as well as miscellaneous other stuff. Made a few (inconsequential) posts too.

I have very little in the way of controversial opinions to offer (relative to the demographics of this site) as just about all the unusual positions it takes I already agreed with (e.g. athiesm) or seemed pretty obvious to me after some thought (e.g. transhumanism). Maybe it's just hindsight bias.

I'm slightly disappointed with the ban on political discussion. I do agree that it should not be mentioned when not relevant but it seems a shame to waste this much rationality in one place by forbidding them to use it where it's most needed. A possible compromise would be to create a politics dicussion page to discuss pros and cons to particular ideologies. (If one already exists point me to it). A reason cited is that there are other sites to discuss politics - if any do so rationally I'd like to see them.

It is a relief to be somewhere where I don't have to constantly take into account inferential distance, and I shall try to make the most of this. I only resolve to write just that which has not been written.

Comment author: Vaniver 13 November 2013 05:02:43PM *  3 points [-]


There have been previous political threads, like here, here, or here. If you search "politics," you'll find quite a bit. Here was my response to the proposal that we have political discussion threads; basically, I think politics is a suboptimal way to spend your time. It might feel useful, but that doesn't mean it is useful. Here's Raemon's comment on the norm against discussing politics. Explicitly political discussion can be found on MoreRight, founded by posters active on LessWrong, as well as on other blogs. (MoreRight is part of 'neoreaction', which Yvain has recently criticized here, for example.)

I don't see what you mean by the 'pros and cons' of holding a particular ideology. Ideologies are, generally, value systems- they define what is a pro and what is a con.

Comment author: Lumifer 13 November 2013 05:20:36PM 2 points [-]

I must add that not all political discussion is a mud-flinging match between the Cyans and the Magentas.

For example, the Public Choice theory is a bona fide intellectual topic, but it's also clearly political.

I would also argue that knowing things like the scope of NSA surveillance is actually useful.

Comment author: aarongertler 10 October 2013 08:38:04PM 2 points [-]


My name is Aaron. I'm a college junior on the tail end of the cycle of Bar Mitzvah to New Atheist to info-omnivorous psychology geek to attempted systems thinker. Prospective Psychology/Cognitive Science major at Yale, very interested in meeting other rationalists in the New Haven area. I'm on the board of the Yale Humanist Community, I'm a research assistant in a neuroscience lab, and I do a lot of writing.

Big problems I've been thinking a lot about: Why are most people wildly irrational in the amount of time they're willing to devote to information search (that is, reducing uncertainty around uncertain decisions)? How can humanists and rationalists build a compelling community that serves adults of all ages as well as children? What sorts of media tend to encourage the "shift" from bad thinking to good thinking, and/or passive to active thinking (NPC vs. hero mindset, sort of--this one is complicated), and how can we get that media in the hands of more people?

I read HPMoR without really noticing Less Wrong, but have been linked to a few posts over the years. Last spring, I found "Privileging the Question", which rang so true that I went on to read the Sequences and much of the rest. I was never very certain in my philosophy before finding the site, but now I'm pretty sure I at least know how to think about philosophy, which is nice.

The next few years hopefully involve me getting a job out of college that will allow me to build savings while donating plenty, while aligning me to take a position in some high-upside sector of tech or in the rationalist arena, but a lot of people say that, and I'm very unsure about what will actually happen if I flunk my case interviews. Still, the future will be better than the past regardless, and that thought keeps me going (as does knowing how many people are out there working to avoid future-is-worse-than-past scenarios).

Comment author: nasrin 02 October 2013 11:31:31PM 2 points [-]

Hi! Everyone below are superbly impressive! I'm a physicist, in my second year of teaching English and that's as much rationality as I can provide at the moment. Looking to relocate to China in an effort to be superhuman. Would really appreciate a few pointers on teaching institutions to avoid/ embrace.

Excellent reading here, thanks! Nas

Comment author: pashakun 26 July 2013 05:13:31AM 2 points [-]

I'm Pasha, a financial journalist based in Tokyo.

I recently found out about this blog from this post on The View From Hell: http://goo.gl/DCNX4U

A few years in a school specialized in math and physics in the former Soviet Union have convinced me to seek my fortunes in liberal arts. (It's those kids in my class who would yell out an answer to a physics problem even before the teacher has finished reading the question.)

Covering the semiconductor industry here in Japan has sparked a renewed appreciation of the scientific method and revived my interest in rationality, math and computation. ... One thing leads to another and here I am ~

Comment author: tofu257 16 June 2013 03:19:51PM *  2 points [-]


I've been reading LW for a long time. At the moment I'd like to learn about decision making more rigorously as well as finding out how to make better decisions myself - and then actually doing that in real life.

I'm also very interested in algorithmic reasoning about and creation of computer programs but I know far too little about this.

Comment author: Salguod 29 May 2013 05:26:53AM 2 points [-]

Hi folks --

In high school I became obsessed with Gödel, Escher, Bach; in college in the 80s I studied philosophy of language, linguistics and AI; then tracked along with that stuff on the side through various career incarnations through the 90s (newspaper production guy, systems programmer, Internet entrepreneur, etc.). I'm now a transactional attorney who helps people buy and sell services and technology and work together to make stuff -- sort of a meta-anti-Lloyd Dobler.

I'm de-lurking because I finished HP:MoR a month ago and I'm chewing through the sequences at a rapid clip; it's all resonating nicely with my decades-long marinade in a lot of the same source materials referenced in the sequences. It's also helping me to systematize a lot of ad-hoc observations I've made over the years about the role that imperfect cognition plays in my life and my corner of the legal world.

Looking forward to hanging out here with you folks!

Comment author: bartimaeus 15 May 2013 01:09:09AM 2 points [-]

I've been lurking for almost a year; I'm a 25 year old mechanical engineer living in Montreal.

Like several people I've seen on the welcome thread, I already had figured out the general outline of reductionism before I found LW. A friend had been telling me about it for a while, but I only really started paying attention when I found it independently while reading up on transhumanism (I was also a transhumanist before finding it here). Reading the sequences did a few things for me:

  • It filled in the gaps in my world-model (and fleshed out my transhumanist ideas much more thoroughly, among many other things)
  • It showed me that my way of seeing the world is actually the "correct" way (it yields the best results for achieving your goals).

Since then, I've helped a friend of mine organize the Montreal LessWrong meetups (which are on temporary hiatus due to several members being gone for the summer, but will start again in the fall) and have begun actively trying to improve myself in a variety of ways along with the group.

I can't think of anything else in particular to say about myself...I like what I've seen of the community here and think I can learn a lot from everyone here and maybe contribute something worthwhile every now and again.

There's a lot of great information on Less Wrong, but some of it is hard to find. Are there any efforts for organizing the information here in progress? If so, can anyone let me know where?

Comment author: citizen9-100 12 April 2013 08:22:44PM 5 points [-]

Hello LW users, I use the alias Citizen 9-100 (nine one-hundred) but you may call me Nozz. This account will be shared between my sister and I, but we will sign it with the name of whoever is speaking. I would write more but I wrote a lot already but it didn't post due to a laptop error, so all I'll say for now is anything you'd like to know, feel free to ask, just make sure you clarify who your asking. BTW, for those interested, you may call my sister, any of the following, Sam, Sammy, Samantha, or any version of that :)

Comment author: Alicorn 12 April 2013 08:53:57PM 13 points [-]

I don't recommend sharing an account. It will be confusing, and signatures are not customary here.

Comment author: Curiousguy 13 April 2013 07:42:31PM 4 points [-]

Student of economics. Not going to write any more than that about myself at this point.

"To post to the Discussion area you must have at least 2 points." - I'd like to post something I've written, but I need two karma to do so.

Comment author: Heraclitus 21 July 2013 04:29:25AM *  3 points [-]

So: Here goes. I'm dipping my toe into this gigantic and somewhat scary pool/lake(/ocean?).

Here's the deal: I'm a recovering irrationalic. Not an irrationalist; I've never believed in anything but rationalism (in the sense it's used here, but that's another discussion), formally. But my behaviors and attitudes have been stuck in an irrational quagmire for years. Perhaps decades, depending on exactly how you're measuring. So I use "irrationalic" in the sense of "alcoholic"; someone who self-identifies as "alcoholic" is very unlikely to extol the virtues of alcohol, but nonetheless has a hard time staying away from the stuff.

And, like many alcoholics, I have a gut feeling that going "cold turkey" is a very bad idea. Not, in this case, in the sense that I want to continue being specifically irrational to some degree or another, but in that I am extremely wary of diving into the list of readings and immersing myself in rationalist literature and ideology (if that is the correct word) at this point. I have a feeling that I need to work some things out slowly, and I have learned from long and painful experience that my gut is always right on this particular kind of issue.

This does not mean that linking to suggested resources is in any way not okay, just that I'm going to take my time about reading them, and I suppose I'm making a weak (in a technical sense) request to be gentle at first. Yes, in principle, all of my premises are questionable; that's what rationalism means (in part). But...think about it as if you had a new, half-developed idea. If you tell it to people who tear it apart, that can kill it. That's kind of how I feel now. I'm feeling out this new(ish) way of being, and I don't feel like being pushed just yet (which people who know me might find quite rich; I'm a champion arguer).

Yes, this is personal, more personal than I am at all comfortable being in public. But if this community is anything like I imagine it to be (not that I don't have experience with foiled expectations!), I figure I'll probably end up divulging a lot more personal stuff anyway.

I honestly feel as if I'm walking into church for the first time in decades.

So why am I here then? Well, I was updating my long-dormant blog by fixing dead links &c, and in doing so, discovered to my joy that Memepool was no longer dead. There, I found a link to HPMOR. Reading this over the next several days contributed to my reawakening, along with other, more personal happenings. This is a journey of recovery I've been on for, depending on how you count, three to six years, but HPMOR certainly gave a significant boost to the process, and today (also for personal reasons) I feel that I've crossed a threshold, and feel comfortable "walking into church" again.

Alright, I'll anticipate the first question: "What are you talking about? Irrationality is an extremely broad label." Well, I'm not going to go into to too terribly much detail just now, but let's say that the revelation or step forward that occurred today was realizing that the extremely common belief that other people can make you morally wrong by their judgement is unequivocally false. This (that this premise is false) is what I strongly believed growing up, but...well, perhaps "strongly" is the wrong word. I had been raised in an environment that very much held that the opposite was true, that other people's opinion of you was crucial to your rightness, morality and worth as a human being. Nobody ever said it that way, of course, and would probably deny it if put that way, but that is nonetheless how most people believe. However, in my case it was so blatant that it was fairly easy to see how ridiculous it was. Nonetheless, as reasonable as my rational constructions seemed to me, there was really no way I could be certain that I was right and others were wrong, so I held a back-of-my-head belief, borne of the experience of being repeatedly mistaken that every inquisitive child experiences, that I would someday mature and come to realize I had been wrong all along.

Well, that happened. Sort of. Events in my life picked at that point of uncertainty, and I gave up my visceral devotion to rationality and personal responsibility, which led slowly down into an awful abyss that I'm not going to describe at just this moment, that I have (hopefully) at last managed to climb out of, and am now standing at the edge, blinking at the sunlight, trying to figure out precisely where to go from here, but wary of being blinded by the newfound brilliance and wishing to take my time to figure out the next step.

So again, then, why am I here? If I don't want to be bombarded with advice on how to think more rationally, why did I walk in here? I'm not sure. It seemed time, time to connect with people who, perhaps, could support me in this journey, and possibly shorten it somewhat.

I also notice that this thread has gone waaay beyond 500 comments; perhaps someone with more Karma than I can make a new Welcome thread?

Comment author: seanwelsh77 25 April 2013 04:06:05AM 3 points [-]

Hi Less Wrong,

My name is Sean Welsh. I am a graduate student at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch NZ. I was most recently a Solution Architect working on software development projects for telcos. I have decided to take a year off to do a Master's. My topic is Ethical Algorithms: Modelling Moral Decisions in Software. I am particularly interested in questions of machine ethics & robot ethics (obviously).

I would say at the outset that I think 'the hard problem of ethics' remains unsolved. Until it is solved, the prospects for any benign or friendly AI seem remote.

I can't honestly say that I identify as a rationalist. I think the Academy puts for too much faith in their technological marvel of 'Reason.' However, I have a healthy and robustly expressed disregard for all forms of bullshit - be they theist or atheist.

As Confucius said: Shall I teach you the meaning of knowledge? If you know a thing, to know that you know it. And if you do not know, to know that you do not know. THAT is the meaning of knowledge.

Apart from working in software development, I have also been an English teacher, a taxi driver, a tourism industry operator, online travel agent and a media adviser to a Federal politician (i.e. a spin doctor).

I don't mind a bit of biff - but generally regard it as unproductive.

Comment author: JoshElders 10 October 2013 08:13:48PM 3 points [-]

I am a celibate pedophile. That means I feel a sexual and romantic attraction to young girls (3-12) but have never acted on that attraction and never will. In some forums, this revelation causes strong negative reactions and a movement to have me banned. I hope that's not true here.

From a brief search, I see that someone raised the topic of non-celibate pedophilia, and it was accepted for discussion. http://lesswrong.com/lw/67h/the_phobia_or_the_trauma_the_probem_of_the_chcken/ Hopefully celibate pedophilia is less controversial.

I have developed views on the subject, though I like to think that I can be persuaded to change them, and one thing I hope to get here on LessWrong is reason-based challenges. Hopefully others will find the topics informative as well. In the absence of advice on a better way to proceed, I plan to make posts in Discussion now and then on various aspects of the topic.

I'm in my 50s and am impressed with the LessWrong approach in general and have done my best to follow some of its precepts for years. I have read most of the core sequences.

Comment author: [deleted] 13 May 2013 06:56:42PM *  3 points [-]

Hello, Less Wrong world. (Hi, ibidem.)

I'm pretty new here. I heard about this site a few months ago and now I've read a few sequences, many posts, and all of HP:MoR.

About a week ago I created an account and introduced myself on the Open Thread along with a difficult question. Some people answered my question helpfully and honestly, but most of them mostly just wanted to argue. The discussion, which now includes over two hundred comments, was very interesting, but at the end it appeared we just disagreed about a lot of things.

It began to be clear that I don't fully accept some important tenets of the thinking on this site—I warned I might fundamentally disagree—but a few community members became upset and decided to make me feel unwelcome on the site. My Karma dropped from 6 (+13, -7) to -25 in just a couple hours, and someone actually came out and told me I'd better leave the site for good. (Don't let this person's status influence your opinion of the appropriateness of such a comment, in either direction.)

Don't worry, I'm not offended. I knew there might be a bit of backlash (though one can always hope not, because there doesn't have to be) and I'm certainly not going to be scared away by one openly hostile user.

Now, before everyone reads the comments and takes sides because of the nature of the issue, I'd like to think about how and why this all happened. I have several different ways of thinking about it ("hypotheses"):

  1. The easy justification for those opposing me is to blame my discourse: my opinions are not a problem as long as I present them reasonably. However, I have consistently been "incoherent" etc. and that's why I got downvoted. Never mind that I managed to keep up hundreds of comments' worth of intelligent discussion in the meantime.

  2. The "contrarian" hypothesis: I am a troll. I never had anything helpful or constructive to say, and in fact everyone who participated in my discussion (e.g. shminux, TheOtherDave, Qiaochu_Yuan) ought to be downvoted for engaging with me.

  3. The "enforcer" hypothesis: I came in here as a newbie, unaware that actually substantive disagreement is highly discouraged. The experienced community members were just trying to tell me that, and decided that being militant and aggressive would be the best way to do so.

  4. The "militant atheist" hypothesis: my opinions are mostly fine, but I managed to really touch a nerve with a few people, who started unnecessarily attacking me (calling me irrational) and making the entire LW community look unreasonable and intolerant.

  5. The "martyr" hypothesis: The LW community as a whole is not open to alternate ways of thinking, and can't even say so honestly. They should have been nicer to me.

What do you think? Which of these are most accurate? Other explanations?

Here is a link to my original comment.

These are the most honest and helpful responses I received,

and this is the most hostile one.

My generally impression has been—trying not to offend anyone—that the thinking here is sometimes pretty rigid.

I have found that there is a general consensus here that belief in God (and even a possibility that there could be a God) is fundamentally incompatible with fully rational thinking. (Though people have been reluctant to admit it because I personally think it's unhealthy and reflects poorly on the site.)

But in any case, I've enjoyed the discussion and I'd guess that some other people have too. I'm definitely not going to leave as some have tried to coerce me to do; I like the way of thinking on this site, and it's the best place I know of to find smart people who are willing to talk about things like this. I'll keep reading at the very least.

I'm still undecided as to what I think generally of the people here.

Yours truly,


(Oh, and I'm a Mormon. And intend to remain that way in the near future.)

Comment author: Nisan 14 May 2013 03:45:03PM 6 points [-]

There are threads about theism, etc. in which theists have received positive net karma. It should be possible to learn which features of discourse tend to accrue upvotes on this site.

Comment author: Jack 13 May 2013 09:41:36PM *  13 points [-]

I think probably none of those hypotheses are correct. I think you mean well and I think your comments have been stylistically fine. I also obviously don't think people here are are opposed to substantive disagreement, close-minded or intolerant (or else I wouldn't have stuck around this long). What you've encountered is a galaxy sized chasm of inferential distance. I'm sure you've had a conversation before with someone who seemed to think you knew much less about the subject than you actually did. You disagree with him and try to demonstrate you familiarity with the issue but he is so behind he doesn't even realize that you know more than he does.

I realize it is impossible for this not to sound smug and arrogant to you: but that is how you come off to us. Really, your model of us, that we have not heard good, non-strawman arguments for the existence of God is very far off. There may be users who wouldn't be familiar with your best argument but the people here most familiar with the existence of God debate absolutely would. And they could almost certainly fix whatever argument you provided and rebut that (which is approximately what I did in my previous reply to you).

To the extent that theism is ever taken under consideration here it is only in the context of the rationalist and materialist paradigm that is dominant here. E.g. We might talk about the possibility of our universe being a simulation created by an evolved superintelligence and the extent to which that possibility mirrors theism in it's implications. Or (as I take it shminux believes) about how atheism is, like religion, just a special case of privileging the hypothesis. But you don't appear to have spent enough time here to have added these concepts to your tool box and outside that framework the theism debate is old-hat to nearly all of us. It's not that we're close minded: it's that we think the question is about as settled as it can be.

Moreover, while this is a place that discusses many things, we don't enjoy retreading the basics constantly. So while a number of us politely responded to answer your question, an extended conversation about theism or our ability to consider theism is not really welcome. This isn't because we are unwilling to consider it: it's because we have considered it and now want to discuss newer ideas.

You don't have to agree with this perspective. Maybe you feel like you have evidence and concepts that we're totally unfamiliar with. But bracket those issues for now. It is nothing that will be resolvable until you've gotten to know us better and figured out how you might translate those concepts to us. So if you want to stick around here you're welcome to. Learn more about our perspective, become familiar with the concepts we spend time on and feel free to discuss narrower topics that come up. But people here aren't generally interested in extended debates about God with newcomers. That's why you've been down voted. Not because we're against dissent, just because we're not here to do that. There are lots of places on the internet dedicated to debating theism.

Don't mind wedrifid's tone. That's the way he is with everyone. But take his actual point seriously. Don't preach your way of thinking until you've become a lot more familiar with our way of thinking. And a new handle at some point wouldn't be a terrible idea.

Comment author: Desrtopa 13 May 2013 11:12:31PM *  11 points [-]

I agree with Jack here, but I'm going to add the piece of advice that used to be very common for newcomers here, although it's dropped off over time as people called attention to the magnitude of the endeavor, and suggest that you finish reading the sequences before trying to engage in further religious debate here.

Eliezer wrote them in order to bring potential members of this community up to speed so that when we discuss matters, we could do it with a common background, so that everyone is on the same page and we can work out interesting disagreements without rehashing the same points over and over again. We don't all agree with all the contents of every article in the sequences, but they do contain a lot of core ideas that you have to understand to make sense of the things we think here. Reading them should help give you some idea, not just what we believe, but why we think that it makes more sense to believe those things than the alternatives.

The "rigidity" which you detect is not a product of particular closedmindedness, but rather a deliberate discarding of certain things we believe we have good reason not to put stock in, and reading the sequences should give you a much better idea of why. On the other hand, if you don't stick so closely to the topic of religion, I think you'll find that we're also open to a lot of ideas that most people aren't open to.

If we're to liken rationality to a martial art, then it would be one after the pattern of Jeet Kune Do; "Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless." A person trained in a style or school which lacked grounding in real life effectiveness might say "At my school, we learned techniques to knock guys out with 720 degree spinning kicks and stab people with knives launched from our toes, and they were awesome, but you guys just reject them out of hand. Your style seems really rigid and closed-minded to me." And the Jeet Kune Do practitioner might respond "Fancy spinning kicks and launching knives from your toes might be awesome, but they're awesome for things like displaying your gymnastic ability and finesse, not for defending yourself or defeating an opponent. If we want to learn to do those things, we'll take up gymnastics or toe-knife-throwing as hobbies, but when it comes to martial arts techniques, we want to stick to ones which are awesome at the things martial arts techniques are supposed to be for. And when it comes to those, we're not picky at all. "

Comment author: CCC 14 May 2013 02:22:41PM 4 points [-]


I'd like to point to myself as a data point; I'm a theist, specifically a Roman Catholic, and I consider myself a rationalist. I know that there's a strong atheistic atmosphere here, but I just thought I should point out that it's not all-inclusive.

Comment author: Estarlio 14 May 2013 04:04:24PM *  8 points [-]

My generally impression has been—trying not to offend anyone—that the thinking here is sometimes pretty rigid.

Of course, that's to be expected for a community that defines itself as rationalist. There are ways of thinking that are more accurate than others, that, to put it inexactly, produce truth. It's not just a "Think however you like and it will produce truth," kind of game.

The obsession that some people have with being open minded and considering all ways of thinking and associated ideas equally is, I suspect, unsustainable for anyone who has even the barest sliver of intellectual honesty. I don't consider it laudable at all. That's not to say they have to be a total arse about it, but I think at best you can hope that they ignore you or lie to you.

Comment author: Bugmaster 14 May 2013 01:08:32AM 4 points [-]

FWIW, I neither upvoted nor downvoted your posts; I think they are typical for a newcomer to the community. However, I must admit that your closing line comes across as being very poorly thought out:

Oh, and I'm a Mormon. And intend to remain that way in the near future.

This makes it sound like your Mormonism is a foregone conclusion, and that you're going to disregard whatever evidence or argumentation comes along, unless it is compatible with Mormonism. That is not a very rational way of thinking. Then again, that's just what your closing statement sounds like, IMO; you probably did not mean it that way.