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

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


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

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

A few notes about the community

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

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

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

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

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

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* Normal_Anomaly
* Randaly
* shokwave
* Barry Cotter

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

A list of some posts that are pretty awesome

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

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

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


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

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

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

Comments (635)

Comment author: vernvernvern 16 December 2014 12:12:44AM 19 points [-]

New to the site. LW came to my attention today in a Harper's Magazine article "Come With Us If You Want To Live (Among the apocalyptic libertarians of Silicon Valley)" January 2015. I hope to learn about rationalism. My background includes psychology, psycho-metrics, mechanics, and history but my interests are best described as eclectic. I value clarity of expression but also like creativity and humor. I view the world skeptically, sometimes cynically. For amusement I often speak ironically and this, at times, offends my listeners when I fail to adequately signal it. I do not hesitate to apologize when I see that I have offended someone. Hello.

Comment author: dxu 16 December 2014 03:52:13AM 4 points [-]

Welcome to Less Wrong!

(Wow. So you came here after reading the Harper's article, huh? That's actually pretty surprising to me. It's only one data point, but I feel as though I should significantly weaken what I said here about the article. Color me impressed.)

Comment author: Capla 16 December 2014 01:49:21AM 4 points [-]


Comment author: BayesianMind 20 July 2015 02:25:15AM 15 points [-]


I am Falk. I am a PhD student in the computational cognitive science lab at UC Berkeley. I develop and test computational models of bounded rationality in decision making and reasoning. I am particularly interested in how we can learn to be more rational. To answer this question I am developing a computational theory of cognitive plasticity. I am also very interested in self-improvement, and I am hoping to develop strategies, tools and interventions that will help us become more rational.

I have written a blog post on what we can do to accelerate our cognitive growth that I would like to share with the LessWrong community, but it seems that I am not allowed to post it yet.

Comment author: James_Miller 20 July 2015 02:29:39AM 3 points [-]

I look forward to reading your post.

Comment author: CurtisSerVaas 23 March 2015 02:30:43AM *  15 points [-]

I'm a long-time user of LW. My old account has ~1000 karma. I'm making this account because I would like it to be tied to my real identity.

Here is my blog/personal-workflowy-wiki. I'd like to have 20 karma, so that I can make cross-posts from here to the LW Discussion.

I'm working on a rationality power tool. Specifically, it's an open-source workflowy with revision control and general graph structure. I want to use it as a wiki to map out various topics of interest on LW. If anybody is interested in working on (or using) rationality power tools, please PM me, as I've spent a lot of time thinking about them, and can also introduce you to some other people who are interested in this area.

EDIT: First cross-post: Personal Notes On Productivity (A categorization of various resources)

EDIT: I've edited the LW-wiki to make a list of LWers interested in making debate tools..

Comment author: Grothor 16 December 2014 11:06:21PM 15 points [-]

Hi everyone!

My name is Rick, and I'm 29. I've been lurking on LW for a few years, casually at first, but now much more consistently. I did finally post a stupid question last week, and I've been going to the Austin Meetup for about a month, so I feel it's time to introduce myself.

I'm a physics PhD student in Austin. I'm an experimentalist, and I work on practical-ish stuff with high-intensity lasers, so I'm not much good answering questions about string theory, cosmology, or the foundations of quantum mechanics. I will say that I think the measurement problem (as physicists usually refer to the question which "many worlds" is intended to answer) is interesting, but it's not clear to me why it gets so much attention.

I come from a town where (it seems like) everybody's dad has a PhD, and many people's moms have them as well. Getting a PhD in physics or engineering just seemed like the thing to do. I remember thinking as a teenager that if you didn't go to grad school, you were probably an uneducated yokel. More importantly, I learned very early that a person can have a PhD and still make terrible decisions or have terrible beliefs. I also formed weird beliefs like "chemistry is for girls" and "engineers ride mountain bikes; physicists ride road bikes". I think I still associate educational attainment too strongly with status.

I've been involved in the atheist and secular humanism communities for close to ten years now. I gradually transitioned from viewing these communities as a source of intellectual stimulation to sources of interesting and relatable people. I'm still involved in the secular humanism club that I started a few years back at UT.

I was vaguely aware of Less Wrong for a while before my roommate showed me HPMOR. After reading through all of that (which had been released at the time), I got more into the site and quickly read all the core sequences. I found all of it to be much more intellectually satisfying than all of the atheist apologetics I'd read in college, and I realized how much better it was for actually accomplishing something other than winning an argument. Realizing how toxic most political arguments are and understanding why I could win an argument and still feel icky about it were pretty huge revelations for me. In the last six months, I've been able to use things that I learned here and made some seriously positive changes in my life. It's been pretty great.

I'm also interested in backpacking, rock climbing, and competitive cycling. A bike race is a competition in which knowing what your opponent knows about you can be a decisive advantage. It's very much a Newcomb-like problem. Maybe I'll start a thread about that sometime.

Comment author: Forux 03 July 2015 11:31:48AM 14 points [-]

Hello all =)

I am reading LW more that one year. I organized book club meetups about HPMOR in Kyiv, Ukraine in past (https://vk.com/hpmor_meeting and https://vk.com/efficient_reading5)

Now i start to organization process of first general LW meetup in Kyiv, our google group: http://groups.google.com/d/forum/LessWrong-Kyiv

On the first meet we will discuss Daniel Kahneman`s "Thinking, Fast and Slow" book in addition to what we will do in the future =)

Please, if you can - give any useful suggestions about what and how first meetup must be done (i have read LW pdf file about how to organize meetups).

Comment author: [deleted] 03 July 2015 05:44:55PM 3 points [-]

Hello there! I mean, here and there, too! I will do my best to come, although I have not read the book. Good luck!

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 05 July 2015 03:18:28PM *  2 points [-]

Awesome! Note that you can advertise your meetup further using the LW meetup system.

Comment author: Forux 08 July 2015 11:03:53AM 2 points [-]
Comment author: VivienneMarks 16 June 2015 09:08:48PM 14 points [-]

Finally bit the bullet and made an account-- hi people! I've been "LW adjacent" for a while now (meatspace friends with some prominent LWers, hang around Rationalist Tumblr/ Ozy's blog on the sidelines, seems like everyone I know has read HPMOR but me), and figured I ought to take the plunge.

Call me Vivs. I'm in my early twenties, currently doing odd jobs (temping, restaurant work, etc.) in preparation to start a Masters' this fall. I'm a historian, and would loooooove to talk history with any of you! (fans of Anne Boleyn/Thomas Cromwell/Victorian social peculiarities to the front of the line, please) I've always been that girl who pays waaaaay too much attention to if the magic system is internally consistent in a fantasy novel and gets overly irritated if my questions are brushed off with "But magic isn't real," so I have a feeling I'll like the way this site thinks, even if I'm way out of the median 'round these parts in a lot of ways.

Comment author: [deleted] 18 June 2015 09:11:54AM 5 points [-]


Victorian social peculiarities

I just want to say I found Stefan Zweig's The World Of Yesterday really insightful about that. I used to think that kind of prudishness came from religion. According to Zweig, it was actually almost the opposite: it came from Enlightenment values, as in, trying really really hard to always act rationally (not 100% in our sense, but in the sense of: deliberately, thoughtfully, impassionately) and considered sexual instincts a far too dangerous, uncontrollable, passionate, "irrational" force, that is where it came from. Which suggests that Freud was the last Victorian, so to speak.

Comment author: VivienneMarks 20 June 2015 03:44:52PM 4 points [-]

Hi back!

Actually, interestingly, some Victorian prudishness was encouraged by Victorian feminists, weirdly enough. Old-timey sexism said that women were too lustful and oozed temptation, hence why they should be excluded from the cool-headed realms of men (Arthurian legend is FULL of this shit, especially if Sir Gallahad is involved). Victorian feminists actually encouraged the view of women as quasi-asexual, to show that no, having women in your university was not akin to inviting a gang of succubi to turn the school into an orgy pit (this was also useful, as back then, there were questions on the morality of women). A lot of modern sexism actually has its roots not in anything ancient, but in a weird backlash of Victoriana.

Comment author: Lumifer 20 June 2015 03:53:27PM *  2 points [-]

having women in your university was not akin to inviting a gang of succubi to turn the school into an orgy pit

LOL. To quote Nobel Laureate Tom Hunt as of a couple of weeks ago:

Let me tell you about my trouble with girls … three things happen when they are in the lab … You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticise them, they cry.

Comment author: [deleted] 24 June 2015 02:57:13PM 2 points [-]

One therefore wonders at man/man, woman/man and woman/woman troubles, which statistically should account for the majority of academic, er, troubles.

Comment author: CellBioGuy 20 June 2015 04:10:44PM *  4 points [-]

I found that particular piece of stupidity particularly amusing since my field is upwards of 55 percent female (at my level - the old guard of people who have been in it since the 60s or 70s is more male) and I have worked in labs where I was the only man.

Comment author: Sarunas 29 June 2015 05:21:11PM 3 points [-]
Comment author: VivienneMarks 20 June 2015 06:40:04PM 0 points [-]

Uggghhhh.... that guy. I may not be a scientist, but I saw red when I read that.

Comment author: Nornagest 16 June 2015 09:10:43PM 2 points [-]

Welcome to LW! I suspect you'll find a lot of company here, at least as regards thinking in unwarranted detail about fictional magic systems.

Comment author: Epictetus 22 December 2014 12:19:09PM 12 points [-]

Hello. My name is Tom. I'm 27 and currently working an a PhD in mathematics. I came to this site by following a chain of links that started with TVTropes of all things.

I have been a fan of rational thinking as long as I can remember. I'd always had the habit of asking questions and trying to see things from every point of view. I devoured all sorts of books growing up and shifted my viewpoints often enough that I became willing to accept the notion that everything I currently believe is wrong. That's what pushed me to constantly question my own beliefs. I have read enough of this site to satisfy myself that it would be worthwhile to make an account and perhaps participate in the community that built it.

Comment author: rikisola 17 July 2015 12:00:33PM 11 points [-]

Hi all, I'm new. I've been browsing the forum for two weeks and only now I've come across this welcome thread, so nice to meet you! I'm quite interested in the control problem, mainly because it seems like a very critical thing to get right. My background is a PhD in structural engineering and developing my own HFT algorithms (which for the past few years has been my source of both revenue and spare time). So I'm completely new to all of the topics on the forum, but I'm loving the challenge. At the moment I don't have any karma points so I can't publish, which is probably a good thing given my ignorance, so may I post some doubts and questions here in hope to be pointed in the right direction? Thanks in advance!

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 17 July 2015 12:33:30PM 6 points [-]

Hello and welcome! Don't be shy about posting; if you're a PhD making money with HFT, I think you are plenty qualified, and external perspectives can be very valuable. Posting in an open thread doesn't require any karma and will get you a much bigger audience than this welcome thread. (For maximum visibility you can post right after a thread's creation.)

Comment author: rikisola 17 July 2015 01:14:35PM 3 points [-]

Hi John, thanks for the encouragement. One thing that strikes me of this community is how most people make an effort to consider each other's point of view, it's a real indicator of a high level of reasonableness and intellectual honesty. I hope I can practice this too. Thanks for pointing me to the open threads, they are perfect for what I had in mind.

Comment author: Jacobian 22 December 2014 09:11:46PM *  11 points [-]

Greetings, y’all. I’m very excited to take the plunge into the LW community proper. I spent the last six months plowing through the sequences and testing the limits of my friends’ patience when I tried to engage them in it. Besides looking for people to talk to, I am beginning to feel a profound restlessness at not doing anything with all the new ideas in my head. At 27, I’m not a “level 1 adult” yet. I don’t really have something to protect or a purpose I’m dedicated to. I hope that by being active in the community will at least get me in the habit of being active.

My name is Jacob, I was born in the Soviet Union and grew up in Israel. My parents are scientists, my dad is probably top 10 worldwide in his field. I grew up playing soccer and sitting at dinner with students and scientists from around the world, I hope I actually did realize even as a teenager how awesome it was. I did my Bar Mitzva at a reform synagogue but God was never really part of our family conversation, I don’t think that I’ve said a prayer and actually meant it since I was 12 or 13. There are just enough Russian-speaking math geeks in Israel to form a robust subculture and I was at the top of it: winning national competitions in math and getting drunk the next day on cheap vodka. I had a very strange four-year service in the IDF. I sweated blood for a degree in math and physics that got me a minimum-wage job in the Israeli desert, and then effortlessly breezed my way through a top 20 MBA in the US that suddenly made me a middle class New Yorker. I work an easy job that leaves me with plenty of energy at the end of the day to play sports, perform stand up, date, and improve my skills as a rationalist by considering my intellectual biases.

I stumbled on LW after reading an article about Roko’s #$&%!@ of all things, and the last few months were what I saw someone here describe as “epiphany porn”. Even before that, I read a lot on similar themes and took it all very seriously: “Fooled by Randomness” made me quit my job as a day-trader for a hedge fund and “Thinking Fast and Slow” changed my life in several ways, including the choice of car I bought. I’m very happy to start noticing changes in my brain after LW too. For example, I spent a lot of my time in the US arguing with anti-zionists. I just recently realized that the hypocrisy and stupidity I usually find arrayed against me has pushed me into a pro-Israel affective death spiral of my own, that I’m now trying to climb out of. In general, I argue less about politics now and don’t ever plan to vote anymore. I just went to my first OB-New York meetup and hung out at the solstice concert, I hope to become more and more engaged with LWers offline going forward.

The main result of my business school days are several entrepreneurial fantasies about “Moneyballing” things. One recent idea is to set up a personal philanthropy investment fund - people put in X% of their salary that can be used only for emergency or charity. This eliminates the psychological pain of giving money, increases giving, makes personal altruism much more focused and effective and saves on taxes. I also came up with a better matching algorithm for dating websites. Dating in general is at the very top of my interests. While a rigorous model of Bayesian dating seems as unattainable as quantum relativity, I do find that my open minded approach has gotten me in relationships that I didn’t even believe were an option a few years ago (that’s a discussion I’d love to get to on somewhere else on this site).

And finally: where I hope to end up. Perhaps even a year ago I imagined I could be perfectly satisfied living a content middle-class life with a decent job, good relationships and fun hobbies. I realized that the world doesn’t care too much that I was always the smartest person in the room as a teenager, and that I’d do well to dedicate myself to humility. Unfortunately, LW changed that. I see now that things are changing and going to change unpredictably, and that smart people occasionally do make a very non-humble impact. I’m not in a rush to plunge myself into some grand project (like FAI) just for the sake of it, but I do feel that my life is getting too comfortable for comfort. When the waves come, I want to have built a rad surfboard.

Comment author: arbo 20 December 2014 06:51:32AM 11 points [-]

Hello. I’m Mark. I’m a 24-year-old software engineer in Michigan.

I found LessWrong a little over a year ago via HPMOR. I’m working through the books listed on MIRI’s Research Guide. I finished Bostrom’s Superintelligence earlier this week, and I’m currently working through the Sequences and Naive Set Theory. I’m not quite sure what I want to do after I complete the Research Guide; but AI is challenging and interesting, so I’m excited to learn more.

P.S. I’m a SuperLurker™. I find it very difficult to post in public forums. I only visualize the futures where future!Me looks back at his old posts and cringes. If you suffer similarly, I hope you will follow my lead and introduce yourself. Throw caution to the wind! Or, you know, just send me a private message (a simple “hey” will suffice) and maybe we can help each other.

Comment author: Neo 20 December 2014 07:26:24AM 8 points [-]

Instead of cringing you can think "wow, I made a lot of progress since". It did the trick for me, but well, YMMV.

Comment author: Gypsum 08 June 2015 09:43:25PM *  10 points [-]

Hello, all!

I’ve lurked this site on and off for at least five years, probably longer. I believe I first ran into it while exploring effective altruism. Articles that had a definite impact on my thinking included those on anchoring, priming, akrasia, and Newcomb's problem. Alicorn's Luminosity series is also up there, and I keep perpetual bookmarks to "The Least Convenient Possible World" and "Avoiding Your Belief's Real Weak Points."

I earned a B.A. in history, worked for a couple years in a financial planning office, then ended up on the rather weird track of becoming a professional piano accompanist. It turned out to be a far more financially and logistically feasible career move than the other grand idea I attempted at the time (convincing GiveWell I'd be an awesome hire). So piano is what I'm doing now. (GiveWell is admittedly still my longshot/backburner plan B, but I'm focusing all professional development on the music end of things right now).

Some things I've got more than a passing interest in, which I think fit the LW ethos:

  • Taubman approach. Approach to keyboard technique (and prevention of repetitive-motion-injury) that got the recognition and interdisciplinary interest of the scientific and medical communities. My personal experience is, "This shit works: it saved my wrists and music career," and the data indicates my experience isn't just anecdote or placebo effect.

  • Evaluating the effectiveness of charitable-giving interventions. I went to a highly conservative/libertarian college, where, if I wanted to donate to or support any poverty-alleviation program, I'd better be ready with a 95-point defense of my choice. Or else. It's been a continuing interest of mine ever since, appealing equally well to both my cynicism and idealism.

  • Finding secular alternatives to the community-building structures, motivational structures, and self-examination/self-change disciplines of religion.

  • Classical stoicism. Thus far I've found its framework and mindhacks to be a balanced, practical fit for my personality and temperament. I especially appreciate how it hasn't yet sent me into any extreme, detrimental pitfalls as I've tried to apply it. I'd be interested in meeting other people who are trying to methodically apply it to their lives, but I get the feeling we're probably a pretty quiet and weird bunch.

I likely won't comment here much, but I wanted to at least finally make an account, introduce myself, and let you all know I've found the site valuable over the years. I've been making a more concerted effort recently to seek out and connect with individuals who value things I value, and I figured it was high time to drop by the Less Wrong community, as a part of that.

Comment author: Marlon 12 March 2015 05:19:55PM 10 points [-]

Hello. New to the active part of the site, I've been lurking for a while, reading much discussions (and not always agreeing, which might be the reason I'm going active). I've come to the site thanks to HPMOR and the quest towards less bias.

I'm a (soon starting a PhD) student in molecular dynamics in France, skeptic (I guess) and highly critical of many papers (especially in my field). Popper is probably the closest to how I define, although with a few contradictions, the philosophy of what I'm doing.

I'm in the country of wine, cheese and homeopathy, don't forget it :)

Comment author: babblefish 18 January 2015 11:22:35PM 10 points [-]

Hey... I'm Babblefish. Having posted elsewhere I've been directed to this helpful Welcome thread.

How I got here? friends->HPMOR->Lesswrong blogs-> Project suggestion-> Forum.

Much as I'd love to claim I'm here to meet all you lovely folks, the truth is, I'm mainly here for one reason: I was recently re-reading the original blogs (e-reader form and all that), and noticed a comment by Eliezer something to the effect of "Someone should really write 'The simple mathematics of everything' ". I would like to write that thing.

I'm currently starting my PhD in mathematics (appears common here), with several relevant side interests (physics, computing, evolutionary biology, story telling), and the intention of teaching/lecturering one day.

Now... If someone's already got this project sorted out (it has been a few years), great... however I notice that the wiki originally started for it is looking a little sad, (diffusion of responsibility perhaps), and various websearches have turned up nothing solid.

So... if the project HAS NOT been sorted out yet, then I'd be interested in taking a crack at it: It'll be good writing/teaching practice for me, and give me an excuse to read up on the subjects I HAVEN'T got yet, and it'll hopefully end up being a useful resource for other people by the time I'm finished (and hopefully even when I'm under way)

I am here, because I figure this is probably a pretty good place to get additional information. In particular: 1) Has "the simple mathematics of everything" already been taken care of? If so, where? 2) Does anyone know what wiki/blog formats/providers might be useful (and free maybe?) and ABLE TO SUPPORT EQUATION. 3) Any other comments/advice/whatever?

Cheers, Babblefish.

Comment author: adam_shimi 23 December 2014 05:36:10PM 10 points [-]

Hello LessWrongers! After discovering the blog and MIRI research papers through a friend (Gyrodiot ) a few weeks ago, I finally decided to register here. For I keep seeing fascinating discussions I want to be part of, and I also would like to share my ideas about IA and rationnalism.

Currently, I am a first year student in an french Engineering school in Computer science and applied mathematics. Before that, I was in "Classes Préparatoires" for two years, an intensive formation in mathematics and physics to pass engineering school contests. Even If it was quite harsh (basically 30 hours of classes + 5 hours exam + homeworks impossible to finish every week), it gave me some kicks to become a post-rigorous mathematics student. (post-rigorous being here the definition of Terence Tao : http://terrytao.wordpress.com/career-advice/there%E2%80%99s-more-to-mathematics-than-rigour-and-proofs/ )

For my interest, I am actually working with one of my teacher on a online handwriting OCR based on a model of oscillatory handwriting he developped. But we also explore the cognitive consequences of the model, mostly Piaget's idea of assimilation, which can be linked to modern discoveries about mirror neurons. I also self-study Quantum Computation, even more now that there is high probability I will be on a summer research internship on Quantum information theory.

On the topics I saw here on LW and on the MIRI web-site, I think the corrigibility is the one that interests me the most.

That's all folks. ;)

Comment author: michael_b 29 January 2015 12:37:29PM 9 points [-]

I discovered lesswrong.com because someone left a printout of an article on the elliptical machine in my gym. I started reading it and have become hooked.

I'm a formally uneducated computer expert. The lack of formal education makes me a bit insecure, so I obsess over improving my thinking through literature on cognitive dissonance and biases, such as books from the library and also sites like this.

Nowadays I get paid to be a middle-manager at technology companies. Most of my career has been in Linux system administration as well as functional programming.

I'm a bit of a health nut. I adopted a whole-food plant-based diet (the "China Study" diet) because it seems most well supported in the literature, although a broad consensus on the topic has not emerged. I base this decision in part on my trust of experts with titles after their names, since I'm too out of my element to read and interpret most of the literature on my own. At the same time I have a personal anecdote that this works well, so those two are enough to convince me for now.

There are times when I find reading about rational thinking rather sobering. It's clear that we were born with an irrational, "defective", brain and that we would be so lucky if we could even make a small dent in improving our decision making. Improvements seem very hard to come by, I worry that all I'm really doing is learning to distrust my beliefs.

So that's a nutshell full. How's everyone else? :)

Comment author: Lumifer 29 January 2015 04:03:32PM 3 points [-]

I adopted a whole-food plant-based diet (the "China Study" diet) because it seems most well supported in the literature

Are you aware of Denise Minger's dissection of the China Study?

Comment author: michael_b 29 January 2015 04:58:42PM *  2 points [-]

Yes. I spent a lot of time reviewing critiques of The China Study (TCS), including Minger's. At the end of it I came to the following conclusions.

  1. Nutrition science is extraordinarily nonlinear
  2. I'm definitely not qualified to deconstruct claims made about nutrition
  3. TCS critics don't seem very qualified either, especially when compared to the qualifications of the people advancing TCS
  4. There's no larger group of qualified people advancing a radically different approach

So, those are my reasons. I admit they're not very satisfying. I'm spoiled by fields where, once you grok the formal proof you can be highly confident that the claim is correct.

No such luck with something as squishy as nutrition, it would seem.

Comment author: IlyaShpitser 29 January 2015 05:29:32PM 4 points [-]

General advice: learn causal inference. Getting strong causal claims empirically is not so simple...

Comment author: matt2000 24 December 2014 04:55:45AM 9 points [-]

I'm Matt, 32, Living in Los Angeles. I first read Less Wrong sometime in 2012, and attended the CFAR Workshop in February 2014, and finally now am getting around to signing up an account, because while i am not as wrong as I used to be, I'm still mostly wrong much of the time, but I'm working on fixing that. Sometimes I make overly complicated jokes that misuse mathmatical language, because I'm a programmer, not a mathematician. Sometimes I host rationalist rap battles, which in practice are a bit more like ratioanlist group hugs than the thing you saw in 8 mile. I'm an atheist who will gladly debate educated theists. I like board games and short walks on the beach. I'm @matt2000 on twitter.

Comment author: PhilipKolbo 18 December 2014 04:28:28PM *  9 points [-]

Hello LessWrong community,

I came to this site after having read Harper's Magazine article "Come With Us If You Want To Live" by LW member @swfrank (@vernvernvern and I have this in common!). I am 21 years old, and am a percussionist living in Omaha Nebraska.

The first rational thought I can recall occurred in Kearney, NE. I was about 8 years old, I was walking across a soccer pitch on my way home from school. I was singing a modern christian worship song, looking into the sky. As I stared into space, I realized how meaningless my words were. I was alone and I sang to no one (time seemed to slow, it was a surreal experience). I began questioning the existence of a watchful god (this was a hard thing to do in my highly christian family). After that I struggled to involve myself in worship. This was a cornerstone event for me, leading to a more rational way of life.

I am now a junior at University of Nebraska at Omaha working toward a percussion performance degree. My diet consists of about 60% Soylent. I look forward to the connections I will make on LessWrong.

I have compiled some individuals who have played a large role in my rationality and progress: Bjork (musician), Omar Rodriguez Lopez (of The Mars Volta), Stanley Kubrick, C.S. Lewis, Ralph Ellison, Friedrich Nietzsche, George Orwell, Ludwig Van Beethoven, György Ligeti (composer), David Lang (composer), Elon Musk, and Steven Schick (percussionist).

Philip Kolbo

Comment author: matt2000 24 December 2014 04:59:45AM 2 points [-]

I can relate to having musicians in my list of intellectual inspirations. Greg Graffin of Bad Religion was certainly an influence in mmy developing aspirations to rationality.

Comment author: hargup 18 December 2014 04:12:53PM *  9 points [-]

Hi I'm Harsh Gupta I'm an undergraduate student studying Mathematics and Computing at IIT Kharagpur, India. I became interested in Rationality when I came across the wikipedia article for Conformational Bias around 2 years ago. That was pretty intriguing, I searched more and read Dan Ariely's book Predictably Irrational. Then also read his other book Upside of Irrationality and now I'm reading hpmor and Khaneman's Thinking Fast and Slow. I also read The Art of Startegy around the same time as Arliey's book and that was a life changer too. The basic background of Game Theory that I got from The Art of Startegy helped me learn to analyze complex real life situation from mathematical perspective. I came to know about lesswrong from grwern.net, which was suggested by friend who is learning functional programming. I want to get more involved with the community and I would like to contribute some articles in future. BTW is there any community todo list?

Comment author: Tom_Allen 16 December 2014 08:41:17AM 9 points [-]

Hello all. My name's Tom and I'm a second-year undergraduate mathematics student in Adelaide, Australia. I rediscovered LessWrong a few months back after a conversation with friends about charitable donations where I referenced a post here about effective altruism. I had previously read only a few of the Sequences posts, having been directed here by Eliezer's fanfiction, but since signing up I've made my way through about 80% of the major sequences.

If anyone has any questions about my background or interests, please feel free to ask.

Comment author: JohnGreer 06 July 2015 06:24:45AM 8 points [-]


I’ve lived in Berkeley for about six years. My girlfriend is going to medical school so we’re going to be moving to Boca Raton, Florida (most likely) or Columbus, Ohio in less than a month. I’m sad to be leaving the Bay Area but thrilled to be with my girlfriend when she starts such an exciting chapter of her life. I’m also very fortunate that I can handle nearly all my business online.

I co-founded a startup devoted to making a web game with an old buddy of mine. This same guy introduced me to LW.

Critical thinking and debate has been a focus of mine since I was quite young so LW fit right into my interests. I’m very interested in instrumental/practical applications of rationality. I’ve been lurking for many years and finally decided to make an account to get over my fear of online embarrassment given my unfamiliarity with a lot of the lexicon and protocol on LW.

Some passions of mine are movies, seeking out novel experiences (examples are shooting an AK-47, judging a singing competition, and visiting Pixar), and martial arts.

I’m also interested in effective altruism and AI research but still have a lot of learning to do, especially in the latter.

Comment author: Benquo 06 July 2015 01:47:45PM 1 point [-]


You may want to check out some of AnnaSalamon's old posts for some things to try as far as applied rationality goes, if you haven't already.

Have you been / are you interested in connecting with the Bay Area Rationalist or EA community while you're still here?

Comment author: JohnGreer 07 July 2015 02:05:44AM 1 point [-]

Thanks for the tip! I've read some of her posts but will look into the ones I've haven't.

We're going to be moving in about two weeks and are fairly busy before so probably not going to be able to. I regret not going to a Berkeley Meetup while I had more time.

Comment author: Philosophist 07 June 2015 06:45:23PM 8 points [-]

Hello LW World!

I have been reading the writings of Eliezer Yudkowsky for about 2 years now, ever since a friend of mine introduced me to HPMOR. It continues to blow my mind that there is an entire movement and genre dedicated to reason. It's provided a depth of thought that I've always felt different from others for enjoying, and now I can happily say that there's a community for it.

I am currently an unemployed veteran and college dropout seeking to solve the financial problems which prevent me from currently completing my degree. I am halfway finished with an ultrasound tech school and I am also studying programming as a hobby. I'm proud of a lot of my work so far, from making the beginnings of an awesome game on Scratch to completing an advanced challenge on Hackerrank (technically it's incomplete, but it's only the timeout limit on large inputs that I have yet to find a solution for). I'm also learning web design skills on FreeCodeCamp where I have found very supportive mentors and hope to get a basic foot-in-the-door level of skills to gain employment.

What I REALLY wanted to do but failed at due to financial hardship is to work in neuroscience research. I'm more interested in the cybernetic side of turning science fiction into real scientific discoveries, but AI research is not a concept that I would turn away from, as I believe it has mutually beneficial applications to connect with neuroscience. Fingers crossed, I can either accomplish my goals toward neuroscience sooner rather than later or I can be lucky enough to survive to the point where aging is cured and widely distributed, giving me more than a lifetime to complete my goals.

The reason I'm posting today in particular is that I wanted to know if Reason, Cyberpunk, and Transhumanist themed poetry that I have created would have a place here. I'm thinking that I would like to have feedback from others who enjoy thinking critically about life. That said, the poetry I've made is an art form and would only expect to get feedback from rationalists to the extent that Reason is an art form. Perhaps any concern of that nature is really the result of a fallacious view of Reason that still clings to me as the "Hollywood Reason" concept that Eliezer described.

Regardless, what I have created is intended to be thought provoking and entertaining for individuals who often think of the intricate concepts that are on LessWrong. Any feedback that would help me to make them more thought provoking and entertaining would be a great help to improve them. Any advice on if there is an acceptable space for such a thing as well as advice on where to begin is appreciated in advance.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 05 July 2015 03:33:52PM *  2 points [-]


I don't think there's an official rule about poetry. Speaking as a person with over 9000 karma, my intuition is that it'd be well received if it has some novel ideas/perspective and was linked to from an open thread.

Comment author: Sable 24 April 2015 07:34:06PM 8 points [-]

Hello, my name is Daniel.

I've wanted to join the rationality community for a little while now, and I finally worked up the courage after a brief but informative discussion with Anna Salamon, CFAR's executive director (who was as kind as I was nervous).

I'm working on finishing up a B.S. in Electrical Engineering, and I plan on continuing to a doctorate in some branch of decision or control theory. I also study philosophy, fiction writing, and computer science.

Since becoming aware of rationality in general, and Eliezer Yudkowsky's way of making everything make sense, I've gotten pretty heavily into cognitive psychology and metacognition.

To be frank, I understand that I'm a rank amateur in the field of rationality in general, but I'm looking forward to trying to get better. So if you're downvoting me, or even upvoting me, explaining why in a comment or message would be extremely helpful, so I can take the time to reinforce my positive cognitive pathways, and prune my negative ones.

See you in the threads!

Comment author: lochchessmonster 23 March 2015 05:44:43PM 8 points [-]


I am a month long lurker who finally decided to make an account.

I'm 24, and am living as a US expat in Beijing right now. I have a BA in Economics from a top 5 university, where the most important thing I learned was just how little that actually meant. I got pretty disillusioned with academia, and I've only been able to start enjoying intellectual pursuits again in the last year or so; hence, it is nice to find a non-university community where I might be able to discuss interesting ideas without all of the self-important swagger.

I would say that the other important thing my econ background influenced is my rational decision making: I do not vote; I was involved in effective altruism (until I became an ethical nihilist); etc. I think I've experience some significant emotional blunting from this, and have mixed feelings about it. Hopefully being in a community of similarly oriented people (and getting more information about typical outcomes) will help me work through whether this is something that I need to address or not.

I lean somewhat classical-liberal (or pro-market left of center, with significant room for government provisioning for market failure) at the moment, but lately I've fallen into a more libertarian heuristi, which I want to become more aware of and counteract as I disagree with that political philosophy on several formal issues. Hopefully I can use the resources at LW to recalibrate on this issue in particular.

My interests are pretty broad: - Public finance / policy - Game theory / auction theory / voting theory (especially wrt collective decisionmaking / policy) - Epistemology (especially regress / Munchausen Trilemma) - Dynamics of social identity (especially the ethics of statistical discrimination) - Aesthetics (especially w.r.t. visual art) - Psychology and personal identity (especially antipsychiatry) - Consciousness, continuity of experience, and personhood - Literature (especially Latin American)

Additionally, I enjoy learning math, though I am not very talented at it (I was a single Algebra/Galois Theory class away from a math degree though). Recently, I've been going back through some old analysis / algebra / number theory books to give it another shot; I'm still bad at it, but it's nonetheless rewarding.

One of the things about LW that seems really awesome is the deep programming knowledge. I enjoyed the few programming classes I took, and look forward to learning more about its applications to modelling decision making.

Anyways, I look forward to engaging with you, and if anyone has anything they want to point me towarda here, I'd love the tip.

Comment author: [deleted] 02 March 2015 11:28:44PM 8 points [-]

Good [insert-time-of-day-here]! My name is Tighe, I'm 16 years old, and I found this site through one of my friends at school. I'm not the most intelligent person, but I am interested in becoming less wrong. I don't expect myself to compare very well to most people on this site, but hey, that's what the point of being an "aspiring" rationalist is, right? Some of my interests in life so far have been writing, programming, math, and science (though I'm not very good at the last two). I've been told that this site helps to improve one's thinking skills, ones that aren't offered in most high schools (or any high schools, really), and I think that could really help me improve in the aforementioned areas. Well, hello.

Comment author: AvivaLasVegas 28 January 2015 08:06:57PM 8 points [-]

I'm not new to the site, but new to actually posting. Long time reader, first time poster, etc. I am a somewhat-regular member of the Los Angeles Less Wrong meetup, and I'm excited to keep learning more about rationality in general and Bayesian probability in particular.

Comment author: David_Kristoffersson 16 July 2015 10:14:54PM *  6 points [-]


I'm currently attempting to read through the MIRI research guide in order to contribute to one of the open problems. Starting from Basics. I'm emulating many of Nate's techniques. I'll post reviews of material in the research guide at lesswrong as I work through it.

I'm mostly posting here now just to note this. I can be terse at times.

See you there.

Comment author: John_Mitchell 12 June 2015 12:17:19PM 6 points [-]

Hello people.

I am brand new to this site and really to the topic of rationality in general. A friend recommended HPMOR to me a few months ago and I loved it. I then read Cialdini's 'Influence' on recommendation from these forums, and I am now reading Rationality: from AI to Zombies.

My background is in science, having studied oceanography at university, graduating about ten years ago. I am currently thinking about training as a science teacher. I look forward to becoming better acquainted with this topic, and being involved in the discussions.

Comment author: [deleted] 20 May 2015 05:12:17PM 6 points [-]

Hey everyone!

I'm a long-time lurker of this site, but I haven't posted anything before. I've read all the sequences twice over the past few years, along with almost all non-sequence posts. The list of all posts was really not in an obvious location, but I eventually managed to find it!

So I'm new to the idea of actually communicating with people over the internet; I've never actually been a member of any forum before. Though I have a Reddit account, I've only made about ten posts in the year that I've been there. It's really weird; I often find myself thinking I have a response to something I read, then thinking "too bad I can't communicate with them!", completely forgetting that no, wait, I have an account expressly for that purpose.

I've decided that this pseudo-voyeurism of online communities has gone on long enough and decided to join. I don't know if I'll have anything to contribute, as I'm pretty critical of the value of my own ideas, to the point that I once tried to start a blog but decided that everything I could ever want to say has already been said, and I deleted the blog after one post. Maybe I need to impose a comment quota on myself?

In any case, I'm a physics grad student who mostly works in biophysics. I'm also interested in pure mathematics, philosophy, and computer science / artificial intelligence, though I procrastinate too much and don't really know more than the average CS minor. I plan on changing that at some point (he said, ironically).

Comment author: theowl 09 May 2015 03:27:28AM 6 points [-]

Hi All, I live at the LW Boston house, the Citadel. My undergrad and grad was in Biology, and I am switching into programming. I am interested in psychology and cognitive biases. I value self-improvement and continuous learning. I recently started blogging at https://evolvingwithtechnology.wordpress.com.

Comment author: Nanashi 10 February 2015 03:19:50PM *  6 points [-]

Hi all,

I've been following EY and LW for about four years now. I'm fairly new to posting though. I started out as a "republican" in elementary school, then turned into a "libertarian" in high school because I didn't care for many conservative positions. Then an "objectivist" in college, because I didn't care for the fact that libertarianism only extended to politics and not ethics. Then I became frustrated with the Objectivist community and their inability to adapt to the real world so I became a "all the people I've met who self-identify as one of these labels has turned out to be really obnoxious so I really don't want to convolute discussions by using a label"-ist. It wasn't until recently that I discovered Rationalism and so far it has been the most accurate label and also the most complete system so far.

My end-game is to end death (and if entropically possible, reverse it). Which is a pretty big practical problem. As such, I don't have a ton of interest in many of the ethical questions because more often than not, my answer is: "If we can end or reverse death, it doesn't matter." .Short-term, my goal is to become rich enough to retire fairly early and have a significant amount of money that can be used to fund various worthy causes and allow me to continue this path full-time. I'm probably 75% of the way there. When I'm not trying to build wealth, most of my free time is spent tinkering with various AI algorithms, exploring number theory, or building prototypes of various gadgets (my latest one is a hard drive that stores data using energy rather than matter. Nevermind the fact that it can only store about 16 bytes.).

Comment author: [deleted] 10 February 2015 02:39:14PM 6 points [-]

Hey everyone! I'm a longtime lurker but I've never gotten around to making an account before now. I think my introduction to this site was actually someone linking to the Baby-Eating Aliens story a few years ago, which I guess isn't a common way to find this site. I've since read all of the sequences twice, and most of the other posts. Recent (unfounded, I hope) discussion about the site dying have made me finally get an account.

I'm a physics PhD student working in biophysics and computer simulations, and I also read philosophy and psychology in my free time. Hopefully I'll have some interesting things to contribute; maybe a few posts or mini-sequences about just how useful learning a programming language is to your ability to think and plan, or about the gulf between the scientific methods employed by physics versus biology. Or maybe some clarifications on the interpretations of quantum mechanics. Hopefully there's something I can say that hasn't been said already and much better by someone else, even if it's just links to interesting articles I find as I scour the net.

In any case, Less Wrong has been insanely useful to me over the past few years. Reading it is how I was introduced to Anki, sleep hygiene, methods of avoiding procrastination, and all sorts of useful information I have successfully employed in my daily life.

Comment author: kaler 05 February 2015 09:28:20AM *  6 points [-]

Hi! Lesswrong first came to my attention when I read HPMOR. I took a 2-year course in Knowledge and Inquiry - which includes critical thinking and epistemology (also includes philosophy of science). I was a Christian but reading some articles on Lesswrong and reading counter-arguments to Christianity convinced me otherwise (trying to reduce confirmation bias and trying to falsify the belief of Christianity).

Pardon me for taking this opportunity to express one concern I've had for more than a year. I'm a college student and I am concerned that I am not smart enough expect a net gain in utility by aspiring to rationality (added in edit).

I don't do well in Math (about 60th percentile for multivariable calculus), but consistently do relatively well in Physics, Chemistry, Engineering and Programming modules. (consistently in top 8 percent of students in top university in Asia). I'm in a double degree in Chemical Engineering and Business and on track to receive at least Second Upper in both (First Class in one and Second Upper in the other seems to be the most likely outcome, though of course I am striving for First Class in both. I am usually too pessimistic when it comes to grades and honours).

Yet I find it difficult to multiply two 2-digit numbers in my head. I always forget what numbers I was trying to multiply and the progress of the multiplication so far. I tried Dual N-Back and had to work for half an hour to pass n=2. I can't remember numbers and always make tons of errors in my mathematics work (not switching signs for one or more terms when factoring out a negative number, for example, or just plain getting stuck).

I'm worried that my fluid intelligence just isn't enough. I'm also quite sad at the expectation that my fluid intelligence will decrease throughout my adulthood. I can't find any convincing evidence (maybe a study or something) that fluid intelligence cannot be fully described by mathematical ability (if effort exists). Should I aspire for rationality or am I too stupid?


Edit: I'm also in another predicament - I am no longer a Christian, but I still go to church every week. I treasure the friendship and companionship of my Christian friends. They are really nice and caring people. I cannot predict reliably what their reactions would be to me revealing the current status of my beliefs. I meet them only once a week in church and if I were to stop going to church, our friendship would most likely perish.

There are other benefits to going to church as well: Here, church is a marketplace for contacts and relationships. I believe going to church would help me in the future if I were to go into business.

However, my parents and all my relatives who are descended from my paternal and maternal grandparents are Christians, and most of my extended family beyond that are Christians. My parents are devoted Christians and it would break their hearts to find out that I am no longer a Christian. My relatives would judge me and proclaim me a failure. Most of our Asian community would do the same (Where I'm from, it is considered odd, or mad not to have a mainstream religious belief. We are categorized by religion as much as we are categorized by race). Even if I were to succeed financially, they would say that I am not someone to be trusted because I am somehow immoral for rejecting Christianity.

Would anyone care to offer my some advice?

Comment author: gjm 05 February 2015 12:59:48PM 6 points [-]

I am concerned that I am not smart enough

No one is smart enough.

But if you mean, specifically, smart enough to

aspire for rationality

then I think the question is kinda backwards. "Am I too stupid to try to improve my thinking?" -- it's like "am I too sick to try to improve my health?" or "am I too weak to try to improve my strength?" or "am I too poor to try to get more money?".

Now, no doubt all those things are possible. If you really can't reason at all, maybe you'd be wasting your time trying to reason better. And there are such things as hospices, and maybe some people are so far in debt that nothing they do will get them out of poverty.

But those are unusual situations, and someone who is headed for a good result in a challenging subject at a good university is absolutely not in that sort of situation, and if the stuff on Less Wrong is too hard for you to understand the fault is probably in the material, not in you.

I find it difficult to multiply two 2-digit numbers in my head

A fine example of the kind of "easy" task human brains (even good ones) are shockingly bad at. I just attempted a randomly-chosen 2-digit multiplication in my head. I got the wrong answer. Am I just not very intelligent? Well, I represented the UK at two International Mathematical Olympiads, have a PhD in mathematics from the University of Cambridge, and have been gainfully employed as a mathematician in academia and industry for most of my career. So far as I can tell from online testing, my IQ is distinctly higher than the (already quite impressive) Less Wrong average. It is OK not to be very good at mental arithmetic.

(Having said which: If there were something important riding on it, I'd be more careful and I'm pretty sure I could do it reliably. I did a few more to check this and it looks like it's true. So I may well in fact be better at multiplying 2-digit numbers than you are. But the point is: this is not something you should expect to be easy, even if it seems like it should be. And the other point is: Even if you are, in some possibly-useful sense, less intelligent than you would like to be, that is not reason not to aspire to rationality. And the other other point is: It's clear that your intelligence is, at the very least, perfectly respectable.)

Comment author: IlyaShpitser 05 February 2015 10:19:51AM *  3 points [-]

For folks who post here morale and akrasia are usually much bigger problems than brain hardware.

Comment author: CCC 05 February 2015 10:10:41AM 3 points [-]

Should I aspire for rationality or am I too stupid?


...consistently do relatively well in Physics, Chemistry, Engineering and Programming modules.

You are not too stupid.

I'm in a double degree in Chemical Engineering and Business and on track to receive First Class Honours in both.

You are really, really, seriously, not too stupid.

Yet, I find it difficult to multiply two 2-digit numbers in my head.

That's something that you might want to work on, but it's not a general intelligence failure. There are some tricks that can be learned (or discovered) and employed to multiply by specific numbers more quickly; alternatively, practice will help to speed up your mental multiplication.

Comment author: kaler 05 February 2015 10:41:20AM *  3 points [-]

Thanks for the encouragement!

I will try my best to work through the sequences. I have just finished map and territory and mysterious answers to mysterious questions. I noticed that many articles in the sequences confuse me at times because I can think of multiple interpretations of a particular paragraph but have no idea which was intended. Also, many actions/thoughts of Harry in HPMOR confuse me. I might have interpretations of the events but I don't think those interpretations are likely to be correct. Is this normal?

I have edited the post though, I think that saying that I am on track to receive First Class Honours in both is too optimistic. I can say with quite a high degree of certainty that I am on track to receive at least Second Upper in both. But then again, I tend to be too pessimistic when it comes to grades and honours.

I just really don't get why I don't do well in math, which I assume would be the best measure of one's fluid intelligence. Things such as why dividing by zero doesn't work confuses me and I often wonder at things such as the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus. It seems that my mind lights up with too many questions when I learn math, many of which are difficult to answer. (My professor does not have much time to meet students for consultations and I don't think I want to waste his time). It seems that I need to undergo suspension of disbelief just to do math, which doesn't seem right given that a lot of it has been rigorously proven by loads of people much smarter than me. (But yes, I understand there is the Gödel's theorem as well). Is this normal too?

The thing is, I can't find any convincing evidence (maybe a study or something) that fluid intelligence cannot be fully described by mathematical ability (if effort exists).

Thanks again for your encouragement!

Comment author: Epictetus 05 February 2015 01:29:47PM *  3 points [-]

I just really don't get why I don't do well in math, which I assume would be the best measure of one's fluid intelligence.

Scholastic math is a different beast. I can say that a lot of professors have issues with the "standard" math curriculum. I have taught university calculus myself and I don't think that the curriculum and textbook I had to work with had much to do with "fluid intelligence".

It seems that my mind lights up with too many questions when I learn math, many of which are difficult to answer. (My professor does not have much time to meet students for consultations and I don't think I want to waste his time). It seems that I need to undergo suspension of disbelief just to do math, which doesn't seem right given that a lot of it has been rigorously proven by loads of people much smarter than me.

Sounds like one source for your troubles. It's a lot harder to succeed at school math and go through the motions if you have unanswered questions about why the method works (and aren't willing to blindly follow formulas). By all means bring your questions up to the professor. If he's teaching, there's probably some university policy that he be available to students for a certain amount of hours outside of class (i.e. it's part of his job). You lose nothing by trying. Even an e-mail wouldn't be a bad idea in the last resort. In my experience, professors tend to complain about students who never seek help until they show up the day before the final at their wits' end (or, worse still, after the final to ask why they failed). By that point it's too late.

Things such as why dividing by zero doesn't work confuses me

We like our multiplication rules to work nicely and division by zero causes problems. There's no consistent way to define something like 0/0 (you could say that since 1 x 0 = 0, 0/0 should be 1, but this argument works for any number). With something like 1/0, you could say "infinity", but does that then mean 0 x infinity = 1? What's 2/0 then?

Comment author: ChristianKl 05 February 2015 01:35:57PM 2 points [-]

A very easy way to improve your writing would be to separate your text into paragraphs. It doesn't take any intelligence but just awareness of norms.

It seems that my mind lights up with too many questions when I learn math, many of which are difficult to answer. (My professor does not have much time to meet students for consultations and I don't think I want to waste his time).

Math.stackexchange exists for that purpose.

Not everybody is good at math. That's okay. Scott Alexander who's an influential person in this community writes on his blog:

In Math, I just barely by the skin of my teeth scraped together a pass in Calculus with a C-. [...]“Scott Alexander, who by making a herculean effort managed to pass Calculus I, even though they kept throwing random things after the little curly S sign and pretending it made sense.”[...]I don’t want to have to accept the blame for being a lazy person who just didn’t try hard enough in Math.

Things such as why dividing by zero doesn't work confuses me and I often wonder at things such as the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus.

Math is about abstract thinking. That means "common sense" often doesn't work. One has to let go of naive assumptions and accept answers that don't seem obvious.

In many cases the ability to trust that established mathematical finding are correct even if you can't follow the proof that establishes them is an useful ability. It makes life easier.

In addition to what CCC wrote http://math.stackexchange.com/questions/26445/division-by-0 is a good explanation of the case.

Comment author: kaler 05 February 2015 01:44:34PM 2 points [-]

I hope you don't mind that I have now separated my comment into paragraphs. It's such an obvious problem in hindsight.

Thank you for your reply! It encouraged me a lot!

Comment author: CCC 05 February 2015 11:34:17AM 2 points [-]

I noticed that many articles in the sequences confuse me at times because I can think of multiple interpretations of a particular paragraph but have no idea which was intended. Also, many actions/thoughts of Harry in HPMOR confuse me. I might have interpretations of the events but I don't think those interpretations are likely to be correct. Is this normal?

This seems normal to me. What is intended is very often not an easy question to answer.

I have edited the post though, I think that saying that I am on track to receive First Class Honours in both is too optimistic.

The mere fact that you have been accepted for and expect to pass a double degree tells me that you are really not too stupid. (I'm not actually sure what the difference between Second Upper and First Class Honours is - I assume that's because you're referring to the education system of a country with which I am not familiar).

I just really don't get why I don't do well in math, which I assume would be the best measure of one's fluid intelligence. Things such as why dividing by zero doesn't work confuses me and I often wonder at things such as the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus. It seems that my mind lights up with too many questions when I learn math, many of which are difficult to answer.

Theory: You had a poor teacher in primary-school level maths, and failed to learn something integral to the subject way back there. Something really basic and fundamental. Despite this severe handicap, you have managed to get to the point where you're going to pass a double degree (which implies good things about your intelligence).

Is this normal too?

I... don't actually know. Throughout my entire school career, I was the guy for whom maths came easily. I don't know what's normal there.

Actually, it may be possible to narrow down what you're missing in mathematics. (If we do find it, it won't solve all your math problems immediately, but it'll be a good first step)

Let's start here:

Things such as why dividing by zero doesn't work confuses me

Define "division".

Comment author: PrimeMover 18 January 2015 08:59:21PM 6 points [-]

Newcomer, mathematician by species; freethinker, secularist and rationalist by nature. Abrasive and irreverent, if I haven't annoyed off at least five pompous people in any given day, it's a day utterly wasted.

Comment author: Nikario 24 December 2014 12:46:22PM 6 points [-]

Hello. I am new to this site as well. My background includes physics, mathematics, and philosophy at graduate level, which I am studying now.

I do not identify myself as a "rationalist", but that does not mean that I may not be a rationalist or that I am not trying to follow some of the advice that is given here to be a rationalist. I discovered LW after reading the story "Three Worlds Collide", which I discovered thanks to tvtropes.org. Lately I have been thinking and writing a lot about my own goals, and when I took a look around LW I was surprised to discover that many of the conclusions that I have arrived at independently appear in the sequences and other posts here. Thus I find myself agreeing with many of the things said here, but without having ever considered myself a "rationalist" explicitly. Still now, I'm not sure if "rationalism" is the right label to identify the kind of aspirations that I have and that I have found in this site. But it may be.

Anyway, to me that is unimportant. I think I am likely to find people here with a kind of interests that are very difficult to find in people you meet in person. I hope that I will be able to discuss here some topics that I cannot talk about anywhere else. Thus I have decided to sign up :)

Comment author: Acty 28 June 2015 03:21:34PM *  14 points [-]

Hey! <retracted because I changed my mind about the sensibleness of putting personal info on the internet and more people started recognising my name than I'm happy with>

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 05 July 2015 03:24:36PM 7 points [-]

I think it's a bit of a shame that society seems to funnel our most intelligent, logical people away from social science. I think social science is frequently much more helpful for society than, say, string theory research.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 21 July 2015 08:21:17AM 4 points [-]

Note: I do find it plausible that doing STEM in undergrad is a good way to train oneself to think, and the best combo might be a STEM undergrad and a social science grad degree. You could do your undergrad in statistics, since statistics is key to social science, and try to become the next Andrew Gelman.

Comment author: Acty 21 July 2015 08:36:00AM *  1 point [-]

As advice for others like me, this is good. For me personally it doesn't work too well; my A level subjects mean that I won't be able to take a STEM subject at a good university. I can't do statistics, because I dropped maths last year. The only STEM A level I'm taking is CompSci, and good universities require maths for CompSci degrees. I could probably get into a good degree course for Linguistics, but it isn't a passionate adoration for linguistics that gets me up in the mornings. I adore human and social sciences.

I don't plan to be completely devoid of STEM education; the subject I actually want to take is quite hard-science-ish for a social science. If I get in, I want to do biological anthropology and archaeology papers, which involve digging up skeletons and chemically analysing them and looking at primate behaviour and early stone tools. It would be pretty cool to do some kind of PhD involving human evolution. From what I've seen, if I get onto the course I want to get onto, it'll teach me a lot of biology and evolutionary psychology and maybe some biochemistry and linguistics.

Comment author: btrettel 12 July 2015 03:38:05AM 2 points [-]

I agree wholeheartedly. A field like theoretical physics is much more glamorous to large number of intelligent people. I think it's partly signaling, but I'm not sure that explains everything.

What makes the least sense to me are people who seem to believe (or even explicitly confirm!) that they are only interested in things which have no applications. Especially when these people seem to disparage others who work in applied fields. I imagine this teasing might explain a bit of why so many smart people work in less helpful fields.

Comment author: Acty 20 July 2015 02:37:39PM 3 points [-]

I think to an extent, physics is more intellectually satisfying to a lot of smart people. It's much easier to prove things for definite in maths and physics. You can take a test and get right answers, and be sure of your right answers, so when you're sufficiently smart it feels like a lot of fun to go around proving things and being sure of yourself. It feels much less satisfying to debate about which economics theories might be better.

Knowing proven facts about high level physics makes you feel like an initiate into the inner circles of secret powerful knowledge, knowing a bunch about different theories of politics (especially at first) just makes you feel confused. So if you're really smart, 'hard' sciences can feel more fun. I know I certainly enjoy learning computer science and feeling the rush of vague superiority when I fix someone's computer for them (and the rush of triumph when my code finally compiles). When I attempt to fix people's sociological opinions for them, there's no rush of vague superiority, just a feeling of intense frustration and a deeply felt desire to bang my head against the wall.

Then there's the Ancient Greek cultural thing where sitting around thinking very hard is obviously superior to going out and doing things - cool people sit inside their mansions and think, leaving your house and mucking around in the real world actually doing things is for peasants - which has somehow survived to this day. The real world is dirty and messy and contains annoying things that mess up your beautiful neat theories. Making a beautiful theory of how mechanics works is very satisfying. Trying to actually use the theory to build a bridge when you have budget constraints and a really big river is frustrating. Trying to apply our built up knowledge about small things (molecules) to bigger things (cells) to even bigger things (brains) to REALLY BIG AND COMPLICATED things (lots and lots of brains together, eg a society) is really intensely frustrating. And the intense frustration and higher difficulty (more difficult to do it right, anyway) means there's more failure and less conclusive results / slower progress, which leads some people to write off social science as a whole. The rewarding rush of success when your beautifully engineered bridge looks shiny and finished is not something you really get in the social sciences, because it will be a very long time before someone feels the rewarding rush of success that their beautiful preference-satisfying society is shiny and perfect.

I do think that the natural sciences are hopelessly lost without the social sciences, but for most super-clever people, is studying natural science more fun than doing social science? Definitely - I mean, while the politics students are busy reading books and banging their heads against walls and yelling at each other, physics students are putting liquid nitrogen in barrels of ping pong balls so that the whole thing explodes! (I loved chemistry in secondary school for years, right up until I finally caught on that coloured flames were the closest we were going to get to scorching our eyebrows off. Something about health and safety, thirteen year olds, and fire. I wish I hadn't stopped loving chemistry, because I hear once you're at university they do actually let you set things on fire sometimes.)

Comment author: btrettel 21 July 2015 03:52:42PM *  1 point [-]

I don't think that something being (more) mathematically rigorous explains all of what we see. Physicists at one time used to study fluid dynamics. Rayleigh, Kelvin, Stokes, Heisenberg, etc., all have published in the field. You can do quite a lot mathematically in fluids, and I have felt like part of some inner circle because of what I know about fluid dynamics.

Now the field has been basically displaced by quantum mechanics, and it's usually not considered part of "physics" in some sense, and is less popular than I think you might expect if a subject being amenable to mathematical treatment is attractive to some folks. Physicists are generally taught only the most basic concepts in the field. My impression is that the majority of physics undergrads couldn't identify the Navier-Stokes equations, which are the most basic equations for the movement of a fluid.

It could also be that fluids have obvious practical applications (aerodynamics, energy, etc.) and this makes the subject distasteful to pedants. That's just speculation, however. I'm really not sure why fields like physics, etc., are so attractive to some people, though I think you've identified parts of it.

You do make a good point about the sense of completion being different in engineering vs. social science. I suppose the closest you could get in social science is developing some successful self-help book or changing public policy in a good way, but I think these are much harder than building things.

Comment author: Acty 21 July 2015 04:58:54PM *  1 point [-]

I think there's also definitely a prestige/coolness factor which isn't correlated with difficulty, applicability, or usefulness of the field.

Quantum mechanics is esoteric and alien and weird and COOL and saying you understand it whilst sliding your glasses down your nose makes you into Supergeek. Saying "I understand how wet stuff splashes" is not really so... high status. It's the same thing that makes astrophysics higher status than microbiology even though the latter is probably more useful and saves more lives / helps more people - rockets spew fire and go to the moon, bacteria cells in a petri dish are just kind of icky and slimy. I am quite certain that, if you are smart enough to go for any field you want, there is a definite motivation / social pressure to select a "cool" subject involving rockets and quarks and lasers, rather than a less cool subject involving water and cells or... god forbid... political arguments.

And, hmm, actually, not quite true on the last point - a social scientist could develop an intervention program, like a youth education program, that decreases crime or increases youth achievement/engagement, and it would probably feel awesome and warm and fuzzy to talk to the youths whose lives were improved by it. So you could certainly get closer than "developing some successful self-help book". It is certainly harder, though, I think, and there's certainly a higher rate of failure for crime-preventing youth education programs than for modern bridge-building efforts.

Comment author: btrettel 21 July 2015 07:47:48PM *  3 points [-]

Quantum mechanics is esoteric and alien and weird and COOL

To be honest, I found QM to be the least interesting subject of all physics which I've learned about.

Also, I don't think the features you highlighted work either. Fluid dynamics has loads of counterintuitive findings, perhaps even more so than QM, e.g., streamlining can increase drag at low Reynolds numbers, increasing speed can decrease drag in certain situations ("drag crisis"). Fluids also has plenty of esoteric concepts; very few people reading the previous sentence likely know what the Reynolds number or drag crisis is.

Physicists, even astrophysicists, know little more about how rockets work than educated laymen. Rocketry is part of aerospace engineering, of which the foundation is fluid dynamics. Maybe rocketry is a counterexample, but I don't really think so, as there are a lot more people who think rockets are interesting than who know what a de Laval nozzle is. Even that has some counterintuitive effects; the fluid accelerates in the expansion!

Comment author: Acty 25 July 2015 03:01:27AM *  2 points [-]

You make me suddenly, intensely curious to find out what a Reynolds number is and why it can make streamlining increase drag. I am also abruptly realising that I know less than I thought about STEM fields, given I just kind of assumed that astrophysicists were the official People Who Know About Space and therefore rocketry must be part of their domain. I don't know whether I want to ask if you can recommend any good fluid dynamics introductions, or whether I don't want to add to the several feet high pile of books next to my bed...

Okay - so why do you think quantum mechanics became more "cool" than fluid dynamics? Was there a time when fluid dynamics held the equivalent prestige and mystery that quantum mechanics has today? It clearly seems to be more useful, and something that you could easily become curious about just from everyday events like carrying a cup of tea upstairs and pondering how near-impossible it is not to spill a few drops if you've overfilled it.

Comment author: btrettel 25 July 2015 02:06:50PM *  4 points [-]

The best non-mathematical introduction I have seen is Shape and Flow: The Fluid Dynamics of Drag. This book is fairly short; it has 186 pages, but each page is small and there are many pictures. It explains some basic concepts of fluid dynamics like the Reynolds number, what controls drag at low and high Reynolds numbers, why golf balls (or roughened spheres in general) have less drag than smooth spheres at high Reynolds number (this does not imply that roughening always reduces drag; it does not on streamlined bodies as is explained in the book), how drag can decrease as you increase speed in certain cases, how wind tunnels and other similar scale modeling works, etc.

You could also watch this series of videos on drag. They were made by the same person who wrote Shape and Drag. There is also a related collection of videos on other topics in fluid dynamics.

Beyond that, the most popular undergraduate textbook by Munson is quite good. I'd suggest buying an old edition if you want to learn more; the newer editions do not add anything of value to an autodidact. I linked to the fifth edition, which is what I own.

I'll offer a few possibilities about why fluids is generally seen as less attractive than QM, but I want to be clear that I think these ideas are all very tentative.

This study suggests that in an artificial music market, the popularity charts are only weakly influenced by the quality of the music. (Note that I haven't read this beyond the abstract.) Social influence had a much stronger effect. One possible application of this idea to different fields is that QM became more attractive for social reasons, e.g., the Matthew effect is likely one reason.

The vast majority of the field of fluid mechanics is based on classical mechanics, i.e., F = m a is one of the fundamental equations used to derive the Navier-Stokes equations. Maybe because the field is largely based on classical effects, it's seen as less interesting. This could be particularly compelling for physicists, as novelty is often valued over everything else.

I've also previously mentioned that fluid dynamics is more useful than quantum mechanics, so people who believe useless things are better might find QM more interesting.

There also is the related issue that a wide variety of physical science is lumped into the category "physics" at the high school level, so someone with a particular interest might get the mistaken impression that physics covers everything. I majored in mechanical engineering in college, and basically did it because my father did. My interest even when I was a teenager was fluids, but I hadn't realized that physicists don't study the subject in any depth. I was lucky to have picked the right major. I suppose this is a social effect of the type mentioned above.

(Also, to be clear, I don't want to give the impression that more people do QM than fluids. I actually think the opposite is more likely to be true. I'm saying that QM is "cooler" than fluids.)

Fluid mechanics used to be "cooler" back in the late 1800s. Physicists like Rayleigh and Kelvin both made seminal contributions to the subject, but neither received their Nobel for fluids research. I recall reading that two very famous fluid dynamicists in the early 20th century, Prandtl and Taylor, were recommended for the prize in physics, but neither received it. These two made foundational contributions to physics in the broadest sense of the word. Taylor speculated the lack of Nobels for fluid mechanics was due to how the Nobel prize is rewarded. I also recall reading that there was indications that the committee found the mathematical approximations used to be distasteful even when they were very accurate. Unfortunately those approximations were necessary at the time, and even today we still use approximations, though they are different. Maybe the lack of Nobels contributes to fluids not being as "cool" today.

Comment author: Acty 25 July 2015 08:05:16PM *  2 points [-]

Ooh, yay, free knowledge and links! Thankyou, you're awesome!

The linked study was a fun read. I was originally a bit skeptical - it feels like songs are sufficiently subjective that you'll just like what your friends like or is 'cool', but what subjects you choose to study ought to be the topic of a little more research and numbers - but after further reflection the dynamics are probably the same, since often the reason you listen to a song at all is because your friend recommended it, and the reason you research a potential career in something is because your careers guidance counselor or your form tutor or someone told you to. And among people who've not encountered 80k hours or EA, career choice is often seen as a subjective thing. It'd be like with Asch's conformity experiments where participants aren't even aware that they're conforming because it's subconscious, except even worse because it's subconscious and seen as subjective...

That seems like a very plausible explanation. There could easily be a kind of self-reinforcing loop, as well, like, "I didn't learn fluid dynamics in school and there aren't any fluid dynamics Nobel prize winners, therefore fluid dynamics isn't very cool, therefore let's not award it any prizes or put it into the curriculum..."

At its heart, this is starting to seem like a sanity-waterline problem like almost everything else. Decrease the amount that people irrationally go for novelty and specific prizes and "application is for peasants" type stuff, and increase the amount they go for saner things like the actual interest level and usefulness of the field, and prestige will start being allocated to fields in a more sensible way. Fluid dynamics sounds really really interesting, by the way.

Comment author: Good_Burning_Plastic 25 July 2015 08:11:27AM 2 points [-]

"I am an old man now, and when I die and go to heaven there are two matters on which I hope for enlightenment. One is quantum electrodynamics, and the other is the turbulent motion of fluids. And about the former I am rather optimistic." (Horace Lamb)

(Indeed, today quantum electrodynamics makes correct predictions within one part per billion and fluid dynamics has an open million-dollar question.)

Comment author: VoiceOfRa 12 July 2015 03:01:15AM 3 points [-]

The bigger shame is the kind of BS that passes for humanities/social science these days.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 19 July 2015 08:40:56PM *  3 points [-]

I think there may be a self-reinforcing spiral where highly logical people aren't impressed by social science, leading them to avoid it, leading to social science being unimpressive to highly logical because it's done by people who aren't highly logical. But I could be wrong--maybe highly logical people are misperceiving.

Comment author: VoiceOfRa 20 July 2015 08:33:32PM 4 points [-]

It's not just a self-reinforcing spiral. There is also a driver, namely since social science has more political implications and there is a lot of political control over science funding, social science selects for people willing to reach the "correct" conclusions even if they have to torture logic and the evidence to do so.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 21 July 2015 04:19:09AM *  4 points [-]

Well that's a self-reinforcing spiral of a different type. In general, I see a number of forces pushing newcomers to a group towards being similar to whoever the folks already in the group are:

  • The Iron Law of Bureaucracy, insofar as it's accurate.

  • Self-segregation. It's less aversive to interact with people who agree with you and are similar to you, which nudges people towards forming social circles of similar others.

  • Reputation effects. If Google has a reputation for having great programmers, other great programmers will want to work there so they can have great coworkers.

This is why it took someone like Snowden to expose NSA spying. The NSA was the butt of jokes in the crypto community for probably doing illicit spying long before Snowden... which meant people who cared about civil liberties didn't apply for jobs there (who wants to work for the evil empire?) (Note: just my guess as someone outside crypto; could be totally wrong on this one.)

Edit: evaporative cooling should probably be considered related to the bullet points above.

Comment author: Lumifer 20 July 2015 01:24:48AM 2 points [-]

You're assuming that "intelligent" == "logical". That just ain't so and especially ain't so in social sciences.

"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function." -- F. Scott Fitzgerald

Comment author: Gram_Stone 30 June 2015 12:22:09AM 3 points [-]

I am learning (or have learnt and am now struggling to keep up with) Spanish, German, French, Mandarin, and Ancient Greek.

I've studied Spanish for some time and would be happy to converse with you. I'm not sure if you only want to converse with native speakers. I've been wanting to learn how to talk about LessWrongian stuff in Spanish.

Comment author: Acty 05 July 2015 12:48:04AM *  2 points [-]


Comment author: ChristianKl 29 June 2015 08:12:17PM 2 points [-]

I'll then be heading off to university in September 2016, unless applications go so badly that I take a gap year and reapply next year. I am dreaming of going to Cambridge to read Human, Social and Political Sciences.

Why do you dream of doing Human, Social and Political Sciences?

Comment author: Acty 05 July 2015 12:30:28AM *  5 points [-]


Comment author: ChristianKl 05 July 2015 07:44:54AM 2 points [-]

Politics 1 is about democracy and how it works and whether it actually works and whether the alternatives might work.

You assume that studying politics in university tells you a good answer to that question. To me that doesn't seem true.

If you look at a figure like Julian Assange who actually plays and make meaningful moves, Assange didn't study politics at university.

Studying politics at Cambridge on the other hand will make it easier to become an elected politician in the UK. But that's not necessarily because of the content of lectures but because of networking.

It quite often happens that young people don't speak to older more experienced people when making their decisions about what to study. As your goal is making a difference in the world, it could be very useful to ask 80,000 for coaching to make that choice: https://80000hours.org/career-advice/ You might still come out of that with wanting to go to the same program in Cambridge but you will likely have better reasons for doing so and will be less naive.

Comment author: Acty 10 July 2015 11:42:20AM *  1 point [-]


Comment author: Lumifer 10 July 2015 02:43:40PM *  2 points [-]

"The more you believe you can create heaven on earth the more likely you are to set up guillotines in the public square to hasten the process." -- James Lileks

Comment author: VoiceOfRa 12 July 2015 03:13:09AM *  0 points [-]

sexism and racism and homophobia and transphobia, and preachers who help spread AIDS by trying to limit access to contraception, and all of those things make me REALLY REALLY ANGRY. If I think about them too hard I see red.

In otherwords, you're completely mindkilled about the topics in question and thus your opinions about them are likely to be poorly thought out. For example, when you think about, most of what is called "racism/sexism/etc." is actually perfectly valid Baysian inference (frequently leading to true conclusions that some people would prefer not to believe). As for AIDS, are you also angry at people opposing traditional morality since they also help spread AIDS?

Frankly, given your list, it looks like you merely stumbled up on the causes fashionable where you grew up and implicitly assumed that since everyone is so worked up about them they must be good causes. Consider that if you had grown up differently you would feel just as angry at anyone standing in the way of saving people's souls.

Comment author: Acty 19 July 2015 06:14:39PM *  3 points [-]


Comment author: VoiceOfRa 19 July 2015 08:30:09PM 2 points [-]

Talking about how angry I am about them IRL gets me labelled weird, and with my family, told to shut up or I'll be kicked out of the room/car/conversation/etc.

Where you live is more then just your immediate family.

You also assume that I oppose 'perfectly valid Bayesian inference', as if that's the only thing that can be meant by opposing racism and sexism.

Well technically one could define "sexism" and "racism" however one wants; however, in practice that's not how most people who oppose them use the words.

but a lot of people have trouble on updating on the fact that the individual they're faced with doesn't fit the trend.

That's because usually the individual does fit the trend. In fact these days people tend to under update for fear of being called "racist" and/or "sexist".

I don't know why you automatically leap to assuming that I am really angry about, say, people reading studies comparing male and female IQs when what I'm actually angry about is,

So are you also angry about what happened to Watson?

say, people beating LBGTQA+ individuals to death in dark alleys (which I am presuming you would not defend).

Are you also angry about people beating people without those psychological issues in dark alleys? The latter is much more common. Are you angry about, say, what happened in Rotherham and the ideology that lead to it being cover up? What about all the black on black violence in inner cities that no one seems to care about and cops don't want to stop for fear of being called "racist" when they disproportionately arrest black defendants.

Some people use a slight statistical trend indicating a small difference in X to say that all members of a minority must be completely lacking in X and therefore it's okay to hate them.

Do you know what the word "hate" means? I've seen it thrown around to apply to lot's of situations where there is no actual hate involved. Furthermore, in the rare cases where I've seen actual hate, well like you yourself said latter "emotion is arational" and hate is sometimes appropriate.

I'm a utilitarian.

Yet earlier you said "I'm against beatings and murder in general, really." Do you see the contradiction here? Do you some beatings and killings [your example wasn't murder since it was legal] even if they increase utility?

Comment author: Jiro 20 July 2015 04:11:10PM *  1 point [-]

I don't know why you automatically leap to assuming that I am really angry about, say, people reading studies comparing male and female IQs when what I'm actually angry about is, say, people beating LBGTQA+ individuals to death in dark alleys (which I am presuming you would not defend).

Because the former is what a lot of other people using your rhetoric mean. And assuming that you mean what a lot of other people using your rhetoric mean is a reasonable assumption.

Also, even interpreting what you said as "I am angry about people beating LBGTQA+ individuals", it sounds like you are angry about it as long as it happens at all, regardless of its prevalence. Terrorism really happens too, but disproportionate anger against terrorism that ignores its prevalence has led to (or has been an excuse for) some pretty awful things.

Comment author: Acty 21 July 2015 03:35:08AM *  1 point [-]


Comment author: Jiro 21 July 2015 03:59:15AM *  2 points [-]

Racism and sexism and transphobia and homophobia have a lot of effects. They run the gamut, from racism causing literal genocides and the murders of millions of people, to a vaguely insulting slur being used behind someone's back

The same is true for terrorism, but if someone came here saying "I'm really angry at terrorism and we have to do something", you'd be justified in thinking that doing what they want might not turn out well.

Can we apply the principle of charity, and establish that we agree on certain things, before we leap to yell at one another?

I'm sure we can agree that terrorism is bad, too. In fact, I'm sure we can agree that Islamic terrorism specifically is bad. So being really angry at it is likely to produce good results, right?

Comment author: Acty 21 July 2015 05:28:54AM 1 point [-]

I am very angry about terrorism. I think terrorism is a very bad thing and we should eliminate it from the world if we can.

Being very angry about terrorism =/= thinking that a good way to solve the problem is to randomly go kill the entire population of the Middle East in the name of freedom (and oil). I hate terrorism and would prevent it if I could. In fact, I hate people killing each other so much, I think we should think rationally about the best way to eliminate it utterly (whilst causing fewer deaths than it causes) and then do that.

Comment author: VoiceOfRa 21 July 2015 06:31:13AM 0 points [-]

I am very angry about terrorism. I think terrorism is a very bad thing and we should eliminate it from the world if we can.

Then why wasn't it included along with racism/sexism/etc. in your list of things your angry about in the ancestor?

Comment author: VoiceOfRa 21 July 2015 05:49:10AM 1 point [-]

Being very angry about terrorism =/= thinking that a good way to solve the problem is to randomly go kill the entire population of the Middle East in the name of freedom (and oil).

You do realize no one thinks that. In particular that wasn't the position Jiro was arguing against.

Comment author: Jiro 21 July 2015 06:36:16AM *  1 point [-]

If you see someone else very angry about terrorism, though, wouldn't you think there's a good chance that they support (or can be easily led into supporting) anti-terrorism policies with bad consequences? Even if you personally can be angry at terrorism without wanting to do anything questionable, surely you recognize that is commonly not true for other people?

It's the same for racism.

Comment author: Lumifer 21 July 2015 03:41:00AM 2 points [-]

How much of my rhetoric have you actually had the chance to observe?

Well, right here is a nice example:

that reveals a set of values which are kinda disturbing to me. It signals that you care about whether you can read IQ-by-race-and-gender studies more than you care about genocide and acid attacks and lynchings

Would you care to be explicit about the connection between IQ-by-race studies and genocide..?

Comment author: Acty 21 July 2015 05:16:02AM *  0 points [-]

There is no connection. I'm not trying to imply a connection. The only connection is that they are both things possibly implied by the word "racism".

I'm trying to say that when I say "I oppose racism", intending to signal "I oppose people beating up minorities", and people misunderstand badly enough that they think I mean "I oppose IQ-by-race studies", it disturbs me. If people know that "I oppose racism" could mean "I oppose genocide", but choose to interpret it as "I oppose IQ-by-race studies", that worries me. Those things are completely different and if you think that I'm more likely to oppose IQ-by-race studies than I am to oppose genocide, or if you think IQ-by-race studies are more important and worthy of being upset about than genocide, something has gone very wrong here.

A sentence like "I oppose racism" could mean a lot of different things. It could mean "I think genocide is wrong", "I think lynchings are wrong", "I think people choosing white people for jobs over black people with equivalent qualifications is wrong", or "I think IQ by race studies should be banned". Automatically leaping to the last one and getting very angry about it is... kind of weird, because it's the one I'm least likely to mean, and the only one we actually disagree about. You seriously want to reply to "I oppose racism" with "but IQ by race studies are valid Bayesian inference!" and not "yes, I agree that lynching people is very wrong"? Why? Are IQ by race studies more important to your values than eliminating genocide and lynchings? Do you genuinely think that I am more likely to oppose IQ-by-race studies than I am to oppose lynchings? The answer to neither of those questions should be yes.

Comment author: VoiceOfRa 21 July 2015 06:29:49AM 0 points [-]

I'm trying to say that when I say "I oppose racism", intending to signal "I oppose people beating up minorities", and people misunderstand badly enough that they think I mean "I oppose IQ-by-race studies", it disturbs me.

That's because most people who say "I oppose racism" mean the latter, and no one except you means the former. That's largely because most people oppose beating people up for no good reason and thus they don't feel the need to constantly go about saying so.

Comment author: VoiceOfRa 21 July 2015 05:23:19AM 1 point [-]

Racism and sexism and transphobia and homophobia have a lot of effects. They run the gamut, from racism causing literal genocides and the murders of millions of people,

False beliefs in equality are also responsible for millions of people being dead, and in fact have a much higher body-count then racism.

Comment author: Acty 21 July 2015 05:42:41AM *  1 point [-]


Comment author: VoiceOfRa 21 July 2015 06:11:34AM *  0 points [-]

Believing in equality of opportunity =/= believing in equality of outcome =/= believing in communism =/= being willing to kill people to make communism happen.

Actually falsely believing in equality of ability => being willing to kill to make equality happen. The chain of reasoning goes as follows:

1) As we know all people/groups are of equal ability, but group X is more successful then other groups, thus they must be cheating in some way, we must pass laws to stop the cheating/level the playing field.

2) We passed laws to level the playing field but group X is still winning, they must be cheating in extremely subtle ways, we must pass more laws to stop/punish this.

3) Group X is still ahead, we must presume members of group X are guilty until proven innocent, etc.

If you are seriously suggesting that believing that it is wrong for people to hurt one another, so if you're hurting someone on grounds of their race, you should stop somehow leads to wanting to have a repeat of Cambodia and kill all the educated people

No that's not what I'm saying. In the grandparent you said:

If I say that I am opposed to racism, and someone immediately leaps to defend their right to read whatever scientific studies they like - completely ignoring all of the other things that racism refers to, like you know, genocide, which I think we can agree is a pretty bad thing - then that reveals a set of values which are kinda disturbing to me. It signals that you care about whether you can read IQ-by-race-and-gender studies more than you care about genocide and acid attacks and lynchings, and would rather yell at me about the possibility that I might oppose you reading IQ studies rather than agree with me that people murdering one another is a bad thing.

My point is that not being able to read IQ-by-race-and-gender studies is likely to lead to a repeat of Mao/Pol Pot. Thus being extremely concerned about being able to read them is a perfectly rational reaction.

I want to learn social science, do research to figure out what will make people happiest, and then do that.

Unfortunately, as we've just established you have very false ideas about how to go about doing that. Furthermore, since these same false ideas are currently extremely popular in academia, going there to study is unlikely to fix this.

Comment author: [deleted] 21 July 2015 12:32:41PM -1 points [-]

An excellent way to stop people from being killed is to make them strong or get them protected by someone who is strong. Strong in a broad sense here, from courage to coolness under pressure etc.

Here is a problem. To be a strong protector correlates with having the kind of transphobic and so on, long list of anti-social justice stuff or bigotry, because that list reduces to either disliking weakness or distrusting difference / having strong ingroup loyalty, and there is a relationship between these (a tribal warrior would have all).

Here is a solution. Basically moderate, reciprocal bigotocracy. Accept a higher-status, somewhat elevated i.e. clearly un-equal social role of the strong protector type i.e. that of traditional men, in return for them actively protecting all the other groups from coming to serious harm. The other groups will have to accept having lower social status, and it will be hard on their pride, but will be safer. This can be made official and perhaps more palatable by conscripting straight males, everybody claiming genderqueer status getting an exemption, and also after the service expecting some kind of community protection role, in return for higher elevated social status and respect. Note: this would be the basic model of most European countries up to the most recent times, status-patriarchy and male privilege explicitly deriving from the sacrifice of conscription.

This is not easy to swallow. However there seem to be not many other options. You cannot have strong protectors who are 100% PC because then they will have no fighting spirit. Without strong protectors, all you can hope is a utopia and hoping the whole Earth adopts it or else any basic tribe with gusto will take you over.

But I think a compromise model of not 100% complete equality and providing a proctor role in return should be able to work, as this has always been the traditional civilized model. In the recent years it was abandoned due to it being oppressive, and perhaps it was, but perhaps there is a way to find a compromise inside it.

Comment author: [deleted] 21 July 2015 04:01:55AM -1 points [-]

At age 6, I quote my younger self, I wanted "to follow Jesus' way". I have improved away from my upbringing and the fashionable things where I grew up. I came to lefty conclusions all on my ownsies, because they make sense.

Ah, so you're a socialist?

Comment author: Acty 21 July 2015 05:45:35AM *  2 points [-]

Eh, I'm not sure I'm an anything-ist. Socialist ideas make a lot of sense to me, but really I'm a read-a-few-more-books-and-go-to-university-and-then-decide-ist. If I have to stand behind any -ist, it's going to be "scientist". I want to do research to find out which policies most effectively make people happy, and then I want to implement those policies regardless of whether they fall in line with the ideologies that seem attractive to me.

But yeah, I do think that it is morally wrong to let people suffer and morally right to make people happy, and I think you can create a lot of utility by taking money from people who already have a lot (leaving them with enough to buy food and maybe preventing them from going on holiday / buying a nice car) and giving it to people who have nothing (meaning they have enough money for food and education so they can survive and try and change their situation). So I agree with taxing people and using the money to provide universal healthcare, housing, food, etc. Apparently that makes me a socialist.

Comment author: VoiceOfRa 21 July 2015 06:18:31AM 1 point [-]

But yeah, I do think that it is morally wrong to let people suffer and morally right to make people happy, and I think you can create a lot of utility by taking money from people who already have a lot (leaving them with enough to buy food and maybe preventing them from going on holiday / buying a nice car) and giving it to people who have nothing (meaning they have enough money for food and education so they can survive and try and change their situation).

That would increase utility in the very short term, agreed. Of course, it would destroy the motivation to work, thus leading to a massive drop in utility shortly there after.

Comment author: Acty 21 July 2015 06:34:25AM 3 points [-]

Well, "providing universal healthcare and welfare will lead to a massive drop in motivation to work" is a scientific prediction. We can find out whether it is true by looking at countries where this already happens - taxes pay for good socialised healthcare and welfare programs - like the UK and the Nordics, and seeing if your prediction has come true.

The UK employment rate is 5.6%, the United States is 5.3%. Not a particularly big difference, nothing indicating that the UK's universal free healthcare has created some kind of horrifying utility drop because there's no motivation to work. We can take another example if you like. Healthcare in Iceland is universal, and Iceland's unemployment rate is 4.3% (it also has the highest life expectancy in Europe).

This is not an ideological dispute. This is a dispute of scientific fact. Does taxing people and providing universal healthcare and welfare lead to a massive drop in utility by destroying the motivation to work (and meaning that people don't work)? This experiment has already been performed - the UK and Iceland have universal healthcare and provide welfare to unemployed citizens - and, um, the results are kind of conclusive. The world hasn't ended over here. Everyone is still motivated to work. Unemployment rates are pretty similar to those in the US where welfare etc isn't very good and there's not universal healthcare. Your prediction didn't come true, so if you're a rationalist, you have to update now.

Comment author: VoiceOfRa 21 July 2015 06:39:30AM *  0 points [-]

Well, "providing universal healthcare and welfare will lead to a massive drop in motivation to work" is a scientific prediction.

I wasn't talking about providing people with universal healthcare. (That merely leads to a somewhat dysfunctional healthcare system). I was talking about taking so much from the "haves" that you "[prevent] them from going on holiday / buying a nice car".

Word of advice, try actually reading what I wrote before replying next time. Yes, I realize this is hard to do while one is angry; however, that's an argument for not using anger as your primary motivation.

Comment author: Journeyman 21 July 2015 07:15:46AM *  1 point [-]

Scandinavia and the UK are relatively ethnically homogenous, high-trust, and productive populations. Socialized policies are going to work relatively better in these populations. Northwest European populations are not an appropriate reference class to generalize about the rest of the world, and they are often different even from other parts of Europe.

Socialized policies will have poorer results in more heterogenous populations. For example, imagine that a country has multiple tribes that don't like each other; they aren't going to like supporting each other's members through welfare. As another example, imagine that multiple populations in a country have very different economic productivity. The people who are higher in productivity aren't going to enjoy their taxes being siphoned off to support other groups who aren't pulling their weight economically. These situations are a recipe for ethnic conflict.

Icelanders may be happy with their socialized policies now, but imagine if you created a new nation with a combination of Icelanders and Greeks called Icegreekland. The Icelanders would probably be a lot more productive than the Greeks and unhappy about needing to support them through welfare. Icelanders might be more motivated to work and pay taxes if it's creating a social safety net for their own community, but less excited about working to pay taxes to support Greeks. And who can blame them?

There is plenty of valid debate about the likely consequences of socialized policies for populations other than homogenous NW European populations. Whoever told you these issues were a matter of scientific fact was misleading you. This is an excellent example of how the siren's call of politically attractive answers leads people to cut corners during their analysis so it goes in the desired direction, whether they are aware they are doing it or not.

Generalizing what works for one group as appropriate for another is a really common failure mode through history which hurts real people. See the whole "democracy in Iraq" thing as another example.

Comment author: [deleted] 21 July 2015 01:19:37PM *  0 points [-]

So I agree with taxing people and using the money to provide universal healthcare, housing, food, etc. Apparently that makes me a socialist.

The correct term is social-democrat, actually. Among the different systems, social democracy has very rarely received full-throated support, but seems to have done among the best at handling the complexity of the values and value-systems that humans want to be materially represented in our societies.

(And HAHAHA!, finally I can just come out and say that without feeling the need to explain reams and reams of background material on both value-complexity and left-wing history!)

Eh, I'm not sure I'm an anything-ist. Socialist ideas make a lot of sense to me, but really I'm a read-a-few-more-books-and-go-to-university-and-then-decide-ist. If I have to stand behind any -ist, it's going to be "scientist". I want to do research to find out which policies most effectively make people happy, and then I want to implement those policies regardless of whether they fall in line with the ideologies that seem attractive to me.

Oh, that's all well and good. I just tend to bring up socialism because I think that "left-wing politics" is more of a hypothesis space of political programs than a single such program (ie: the USSR), but that "bad vibes" in the West from the USSR (and lots and lots of right-wing propaganda) have tended to succeed in getting people to write off that entire hypothesis space before examining the evidence.

I do think that an ideally rational government would be "more" left-wing than right-wing, as current alignments stand, but I too think it would in fact be mixed.

Have some reading material!

Comment author: David_Bolin 17 July 2015 09:20:47AM 5 points [-]

I am have been a Less Wrong user with an anonymous account since the Overcoming Bias days. I decided to create this new account using my real name.

Comment author: [deleted] 30 June 2015 02:28:54AM 5 points [-]

A Challenger Has Arrived! Hello, yes, I'd like to announce that I am successfully existing for the first time in forever. I've been a lurker for quite some time, and have finished Eliezer's book. As I've stepped up my studies and plan to continue doing so, I've decided that scouting for a party to join would be wise.

Right now I'm finalizing my grasp of Rationality: From A.I. to Zombies, and organizing some notes I have on my personal struggle with willpower depletion. I would really appreciate if anyone knows of any site-external sources I could devour, in service to these goals.

From this basic grasp of rationality technique I will be departing to MIRI's research guide, so if you're currently on a quest to join the best, I certainly could use some companions in case I stumble.

Thanks, PhoenixComplex7

Comment author: zanglebert 27 June 2015 03:17:12PM *  5 points [-]

Introduction comment, as requested.

I've been coming back to this site over and over again, for one or two years now I would say, for any number of topics, and today it dawned on me that there's something great about this site, the community / comments, and material, and that - maybe - I would like to become a part of it.

One email confirmation later, and the goal is achieved in its entirety.

Right, guys?


EDIT: One minor technical question... the comment system seems to be more or less a straight port from reddit, correct? But, unlike reddit, comment score starts at 0, it seems. Or did my other comment immediately receive a negative vote, seconds after going live?

Comment author: [deleted] 30 June 2015 02:38:41AM 2 points [-]

Hail zanglebert.

The comments do indeed start at a null score. I also have noticed a "Powered by Reddit" icon in the lower right. That is the extent of my knowledge.

Comment author: 11kilobytes 03 June 2015 08:27:54AM 5 points [-]

Hello everyone.

My name is Kabelo Moiloa, and I graduated from the Anglo-American School of Moscow three weeks ago. My deep interests are math, computer science and physics, in fact I might consider doing a series of posts here on Homotopy Type Theory, since I've been going through the HoTT Book. I first came to this website likely four years ago, so I don't remember well how it was. As I recall, I came here soon after I deconverted from Catholicism, and have found the discussions and content here fascinating ever since. For example, although I had already rejected theistic morality before reading the articles here, Fake Explanations allowed me to explain why. The idea that morality is, "intrinsic to the nature of God," is no more explanatory than "my confusion about this metal plate is explained by the phrase heat conduction." Additionally, the emphasis here on beating akrasia and achievement, lead me to pursue commitment devices, productivity systems etc., which have improved my ability to archive my goals, although unfortunately I only pursued these late in my senior year of high school. I was also exposed to Cognito Mentoring, which was quite useful.

Comment author: cunning_moralist 22 May 2015 03:43:52PM 5 points [-]

I love teaching, especially interacting with my students and their thinking, and I love philosophy, especially ethics. Understandably, I'm a philosophy teacher. I also enjoy politics, history, biology and the great outdoors.

Comment author: J_Smart 20 May 2015 02:21:15AM 5 points [-]

Hi all,

I'm a recently graduated aerospace engineer. First came upon LW via HPMOR a couple years ago, been through the Sequences once since then, currently going through Rationality: A to Z mostly as a refresher.

Gravitated toward aerospace as a sort of proto existential risk mitigation effort, but having spoken with Nick Beckstead via 80,000 hours and comparing the potential of various fields to mitigate X-Risk within the next ~100 years which resulted in my discounting space development relative to other fields, currently more open to other avenues.

Very interested in learning more computer science, and applied mathematics more generally, but part of what makes me strongly prefer LW over other communities interested in the same is the strong focus on effective, economical implementation of ideas

Comment author: wildboarcharlie 05 April 2015 09:56:55PM *  5 points [-]

We'd love to know who you are:

  1. 19 y.o. at Berkeley
  2. Lived in Shanghai, London, CT, and CA

What you're doing:

  1. Dealing with classes
  2. Working jobs in design and CS on the side
  3. Thinking

What you value:

  1. Design that follows Dieter Rams' 10 Principles
  2. Talking with thoughtful people
  3. Big Hairy Audacious Ideas
  4. Good whisky

How you came to identify as an aspiring rationalist

  1. I get bored very easily so if Netflix and Hulu aren't available I occupy myself with thought experiments
  2. I like spotting logical holes in my beliefs and values (I argue against myself sometimes)

How you found us

  1. An HN post

Very new here. Hopefully I can learn a lot from all of you.

Comment author: physicistcellist 10 March 2015 12:00:11AM 5 points [-]

Hello All!

I'm not exactly new: I discovered this at around time HPMOR started (wow 3 years ago). I've always liked thinking about how thought works; Hofstadter's GEB was a big influence. I've started the sequences several times, but never seem to finish. So I'm actually registering to see if that helps motivate me to read them all.

Comment author: ladyastralis 06 March 2015 08:57:38AM 5 points [-]

Hello everyone!

I just registered and I don't quite know how this works, but the HPMOR Wrap Party Organizers Handbook said to post here, and so here I am.

Venue: Griffith Observatory front lawn

2800 E Observatory Rd, Los Angeles, CA 90027

Date/Time: March 14, 2015: 6:00pm

Cost: Free access to the complex, planetarium shows are $7

Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1585754024996915/

Contact email: ladyastralis at gmail youknowtherest

Please bring: A (picnic) blanket, some snacks/food, some way to read HPMOR that has its own light source (I called the observatory -- they turn off the lights pretty early), and a thermos of hot cocoa. Don't forget a coat!

Notes: The final planetarium show is at 8:45pm. A fitting tribute.

The complex closes at 10:00pm.

I will be wearing my Ravenclaw scarf.

Looking forward to finally meeting other HPMOR fans!


Comment author: pzwczzx 27 February 2015 09:32:01AM 5 points [-]

Hello everyone,

I'm Xavier, a 20 year old student from France. I've known about this site for a while. A week ago, I finally decided to start digging into the sequences for some useful insights. I'm interested in various topics such as philosophy, futurology, history and science. However, I'm almost certain my understanding of the world is seriously lacking compared to the average poster here. For example, I have no STEM background at all aside from the most basic knowledge, which is likely to become a problem in the future.

I've been obsessed with the idea of living a rational life for years. I've failed spectacularly to achieve this lofty goal, instead falling prey to what some of the sequences have described as akrasia. I've also been "dunning-krugered" many times due to a tendency to overestimate my abilities. I hope that by reading more Less Wrong and following the discussions here I will be able to eventually correct some of these issues and become a bit less amateurish in the process! Who knows?

Looking forward to meeting you guys.

Comment author: TimCoehn 18 February 2015 05:35:50PM 5 points [-]

Hey everyone!

My name is Tim Cohen and I wanted to say hello! I am new to lesswrong and I am excited to be here.

Comment author: [deleted] 06 February 2015 12:25:07PM 5 points [-]

Dear All (or whatever is the appropriate way to address the community here),

Reading Star Slate Codex kindled my interest in this community. I do not (yet) consider myself a Rationalist, largely because I don't put a disproportionately high value on the truth value of statements as opposed to their other uses, but I might be something sort of a fellow traveller because I think we have one thing in common: curiosity and the desire to investigate and analyze everything.

About me: not actually Dutch (although European, never been to the USA), my nickname is a bit of an in-joke I cannot explain without compromising my privacy. ESL, but hopefully fluent enough.

Things I would like to discuss and please guide me to the right places for this:

1) Why do you place such a high value on the truth value of statements as opposed to their other uses? For example when you are grieving for a loved one, don't you rather want to hear some comforting, soothing half-truths?

2) Same, with a focus on religion. Why do you care so much about whether they are true, as opposed to caring about whether they are socially useful or harmful, for a huge variety of purposes and optimization goals?

2/B) Shouldn't a species with a generally Low Sanity Waterline rather construct something along the lines of lest harmful / most useful Designer Religion (parallel: designer drugs) as opposed to trying to overcome it entirely? What would be the ideal features, goals, deliverables of a proper Designer Religion?

3) How can we approach the problem of ego-centrism / narcissisism rationally, which is NOT the same problem as selfishness or egoism? It is rather the problem of a disproportionate focus / attention to the self, which can be entirely coupled with unselfish altruism, for example giving charity but not focusing on the recipient but on your own virtue. This a problem, I think this is a growing problem, I think in politics narcissism or ego-centrism has traditionally been a problem of the Left and the most intelligent conservatives and religious writers (Chesterton, Burke, Oakeshott, Lewis etc.) can be seen as anti-narcissists, but they were not systematic, not principled enough - and ignored narcissism on their own side of course. This deserves a rational analysis but I don't even know where to begin! Is there something like a narcissism test for example?

4) Value judgements and personal choices. Is the Future You always right? You face the choice between going to the gym to lose weight or stay in comfortably and read. Your short term goals conflict with your long term ones. Your time preference conflicts with your other preferences. Current You would feel better staying in, Future You prefers to not be overweight. Generally it is said wise people who have self-control and whatnot, respected people choose the preferences of Future You. But if you keep pleasing Future You, you will very literally never be happy. And if you keep pleasing Current You, you end up an unhealthy addicted trainwreck. What is the rational strategy?

5) Testosterone and masculinity. I used to be the typicial intellectual "gamma rabbit" man who dislikes it, see Carl Sagan on testosterone poisoning. I used to be influenced by Redpillers to the opposite, then I realized they are, how to put it, not the kind of people I want to take my advice from. Vox Day does a "great job" of inadvertedly convincing people like me to not want to have ANYTHING to do with people like them. Now I stand confused in the middle. Right now I try to play both sides of the game, be a good husband and dad at home and a fierce fighter in the boxing gym (the keyword is "try", as in, fiercely trying not to collapse from exhaustion during sandbag work). I don't know if anyone tried to analyze this rationally, what is best etc.

6) Discuss Jack Donovan. Dude be crazy. Also, intelligent and writing well-researched stuff. Also, he is evil. What not to like?

7) Thomas Aquinas. Theist or not theist, he was a genius. Even if you see theology as a form of fantasy fiction, he was leaps and bounds the best, most structured, most logical fantasy writer. You want superhuman machine intelligence? It will probably have to cross through the phases of very high human intelligence. One phase of your AI will be "AIquinas".

8) Pet topic: how to un-fuckup Eastern Europe? I intend to live there, so quite motivated. Example: how to convince people that thinking in categories of players and suckers is not such a good idea or cooperation is a good one? Is there such a thing as escaping the corruption spiral?

Comment author: IlyaShpitser 06 February 2015 12:52:36PM 2 points [-]

how to un-fuckup Eastern Europe?

This is a great question, I think about this a lot too. My intuitions are: a bit of reaction, e.g. getting in touch with the glorious past. This might work w/ e.g. Poland/Lithuania, may work even on Russia, if Russia remembers how the Novgorod republic worked. But Russia is a hard nut to crack.

But yes once there is a society-wide defection norm, it is hard to get out of.

Comment author: Lumifer 06 February 2015 03:30:09PM *  2 points [-]

a bit of reaction, e.g. getting in touch with the glorious past

Isn't that what Putin is doing? I am not sure this is a great idea. The past glories tend to be associated with nationalistic wars.

Another issue is what would unfucking entail -- turning East Europeans into Scandinavians? National cultural characteristics tend to be pretty persistent :-/ Otherwise, the canonical answer seems to be a long period of civil society, rule of law, etc. I am not holding my breath.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 06 February 2015 02:56:33PM 1 point [-]

And while I'm thinking about Aquinas, I remember I once wrote this pastiche of the method:

Whether the composition of the Summa Theologiae was an act of bizarre monomania divorced from reality?

Objection 1: The Angelic Doctor was learned in all of the theology and scripture that preceded him, and drew it into a single coherent work that has not been superceded. Therefore, this was a valuable and mighty deed, and not an act of bizarre monomania divorced from reality.

Objection 2: The Church has blessed his work and canonised its author. Therefore, etc.

On the contrary, It is written that the author himself, after seven years labour cast his work aside, saying that it was of straw, and did not pick up his pen again before he died soon after.

I answer that, It was an act of bizarre monomania divorced from reality. For it is written that there is only One Holy Book, the manuscript of nature, the only scripture which can enlighten the reader. And the Summa makes no reference to anything but the writings and philosophical speculations of the past. Therefore, it fails to read of that Book which alone can enlighten the reader.

Furthermore, the form in which the Summa is written, listing for each point of doctrine objections, contrary objection, verdict, and refutation of the opposing objections, lends itself to argument in favour of any view whatever; in contrast to the method of logic and experiment, which does not lend itself to argument in favour of any view whatever, but only (save for our fallible natures), in favour of that which is true and can be tested. Therefore the Summa proves no point of doctrine, but rather provides only a form of catechism to be recited in favour of the official doctrine.

Reply to Objection 1. The writings of the past are valuable as a source of truth, only in so far as they ultimately rest on observation of nature. Neither theology nor scripture rest upon observation of nature.

Reply to Objection 2. Those who themselves value a work, do not by that act prove the value of that work.

Comment author: wikispective 27 January 2015 03:36:30AM 5 points [-]

Hello everyone – I’m a new member of LessWrong. I consider myself to be a rationalist and humanist. I’m interested in applying rational analysis to help the general public understand complex problems. To help achieve this goal, I’ve been working on a wiki-style website to explain the key nuances of various controversial issues.

The concept is designed to provide meaning and clarity to a wide variety of complex issues, rather than simply enumerating the facts as Wikipedia already does decently well.

I’m wondering if: 1) Anyone in the LessWrong community has thought about something like this; and 2) If there is any interest in learning more about this project

Best, WS

Comment author: misterbailey 12 January 2015 02:15:57PM 5 points [-]

Hi. I'm a long time lurker (a few years now), and I finally joined so that I could participate in the community and the discussions. This was borne partly out of a sense that I'm at a place in my life where I could really benefit from this community (and it could benefit from me), and partly out of a specific interest in some of the things that have been posted recently: the MIRI technical research agenda.

In particular, once I've had more time to digest it, I want to post comments and questions about Reasoning Under Logical Uncertainty.

More about me: I'm currently working as a postdoctoral fellow in mathematics. My professional work is in physics-y differential geometry, so only connected to the LW material indirectly via things like quantum mechanics. I practice Buhddist meditation, without definitively endorsing any of the doctrines. I'm surprised meditation hasn't gotten more airtime in the rationalist community.

My IRL exposure to the LWverse is limited (hi Critch!), but I gather there's a meetup group in Utrecht, where I'm living now.

Anyway, I look forward to good discussions. Hello everyone!

Comment author: RaistDragon 31 December 2014 04:13:23AM 5 points [-]

I'm Sam, 22. Lurked here for two years after first stumbling upon the Sequences. Since then, I've been trying to curb inaccurate or dishonest thought patterns or behaviors I've noticed about myself, and am trying to live my life more optimally. I'm making an account to try to hold myself more accountable.

Comment author: [deleted] 20 March 2015 09:03:17PM 12 points [-]

Wow, I'm so glad I stumbled onto slatestarcodex, and from there, here!!! You guys are all like smarter, cooler versions of me! It's great to have a label for the way my brain is naturally wired and know there other people in the world besides Peter Singer who think similarly. I'm really excited, so my "intro" might get a little long...

Part 1-Look at me, I'm just like you!

I'm Ellen, a 22 year old Spanish major and world traveling nanny from Wisconsin, so maybe not your typical LWer, but actually quite typical in other, more important ways. :)

I grew up in a Christian home/bubble, was super religious (Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod), truly respected/admired the Christians in my life, but even while believing, never liked what I believed. I actually just shared my story plus some interesting studies on correlations between personality, intelligence, and religiosity, if anyone is interested: http://magicalbananatree.blogspot.com/2015/02/christian-friends-do-you-ever-feel.html The post is based almost entirely on what I've come to learn is called "consequentialism" which I'm happy to see is pretty popular over here. I subscribe to this line of thinking so much that I used to pray for a calamity to strengthen my faith. I chose a small Lutheran school despite having great credentials to get into an Ivy, because with an eye on eternity, I wanted to avoid any environment that would foster doubt. My friends suggested I become a missionary, but to me, it made far more sense to become a high profile lawyer and donate 90% of my salary to fund a dozen other missionaries. (A Christian version of effective altruism?) No one ever understood!

Some people might deconvert because they can't believe in miracles, or they can't get over the problem of evil. These are bad reasons, I think, and based on the presupposition that God doesn't exist. Personally, the hardest thing for me was believing that God was all-powerful. Like, if God were portrayed as good, but weak, struggling against an evil god and just doing the best he could to make a just universe and make his existence known, I probably would never have left the faith. It took me long enough as it is!

Part 2-A noob atheist's plea for help

Anyway, now I've "cleared my mind" of all that and am starting fresh, but my friends have a lot of questions for me that I'm not able to answer yet, and I have a lot of my own, too. I'm starting by reading about science (not once had I even been exposed to evolution!) but have a lot of other concerns on the back burner, and maybe you guys can point me in the right direction:

Who was the historical Jesus? As a history source, why is the Bible unreliable?

How can I have morality?? Do I just have to rely on intuition? If the whole world relied on reason alone to make decisions, couldn't we rationalize a LOT of things that we intuit as wrong?

Does atheism necessarily lead to nihilism? (I think so, in the grand scheme of things? But the world/our species means something to us, and that's enough, right?)

What about all the really smart people I know and respect, like my sister and Grandma, who have had their share of doubts but ultimately credit their faith to having experienced extraordinary, miraculous answers to prayer? Like obviously, their experiences don't convince ME to believe, but I hate to dismiss them as delusional and call it a wild coincidence...

Are rationalists just as guilty of circular reasoning as Christians are? (Why do I trust human reason? My human reason tells me it's great. Why do Christians trust God? The Bible tells them he's great.)

Part 3-Embarrassingly enthusiastic fan mail

Yay curiosity! Yay strategic thinking! Yay honesty! Yay open-mindedness! Yay opportunity cost analyses! Yay common sense! Yay tolerance of ambiguity! Yay utilitarianism! Yay acknowledging inconsistency in following utilitarianism! Yay intelligence! Yay every single slatestarcodex post! Yay self-improvement! Yay others-improvement! Yay effective altruism!

Ahhh this is all so cool! You guys are so cool. I can't wait to read the sequences and more posts around this site! Maybe someday I'll even meet a real life rationalist or two, it seems like the Bay Area has a lot. :)

Comment author: Alicorn 20 March 2015 09:11:52PM 5 points [-]

Maybe someday I'll even meet a real life rationalist or two, it seems like the Bay Area has a lot. :)

There's now a portal into the meatspace Bay rationalist community if this is something you're interested in.

Comment author: [deleted] 20 March 2015 09:20:48PM 2 points [-]

Wow, you guys even play board games? Nice. Thanks!! I'll try to come to the Friday meetup next Friday!

Comment author: adamzerner 21 March 2015 01:21:27AM 4 points [-]

My friends suggested I become a missionary, but to me, it made far more sense to become a high profile lawyer and donate 90% of my salary to fund a dozen other missionaries. (A Christian version of effective altruism?) No one ever understood!

That is awesome!

I'm starting by reading about science

If you haven't heard of HPMOR, check it out here. Anyway, there's this great sequence where Harry teaches the ways of science to Drako Malfoy... it's great! And I think very worthwhile for a beginner to read.

How can I have morality?? Do I just have to rely on intuition? If the whole world relied on reason alone to make decisions, couldn't we rationalize a LOT of things that we intuit as wrong? + other things you mention

Eliezer talks about a lot of this in the Metaethics Sequence, particularly in the post Where Recursive Justification Hits Bottom.

If you haven't already heard of it, check out the idea of terminal values. Something tells me that you understand it (at least on some level) though. Anyway, Eliezer seems to say something about Occam's Razor justifying our intuitive feelings about what's moral. Personally, I don't really get it. I don't see how a terminal value could ever be rational. My understanding is that rationality is about achieving terminal values, not choosing them. However, I notice confusion and don't have strong opinions.

Ahhh this is all so cool! You guys are so cool. I can't wait to read the sequences and more posts around this site!

Welcome :) LessWrong has had a huge positive impact on my life. I hope and suspect that the same will be true for you!

Comment author: [deleted] 24 March 2015 04:10:24AM 2 points [-]

Thanks for the welcome!!

I just read Where Recursive Justification Hits Bottom, and it was perfect and super relevant, thanks. "What else could I possibly use? Indeed, no matter what I did with this dilemma, it would be me doing it. Even if I trusted something else... it would be my own decision to trust it." This is basically what I've been telling people who ask me how I can trust my own reason, but it's great to have more good points to bring up. All the posts I've read so far have been so clear and well-written, I can't help but smile and nod as I go.

I'm going to start with the e-book, and once I finish that, I'll probably look into HPMOR! I've seen it mentioned a lot around here, so I figure it must be great, but um, should I read the original Harry Potter first? Growing up, I was never allowed to.

I clicked the terminal values link, and then another link, and then another, and then another... then I googled what Occam's razor is... my questions about morality are still far from settled, but all this gives me a lot to think about, so thank you :)

Comment author: adamzerner 30 March 2015 03:31:45AM 2 points [-]

Sorry for the late reply. Glad to be of assistance!

I'm going to start with the e-book, and once I finish that, I'll probably look into HPMOR!

That seems reasonable. A thought of mine on the sequences: they could be a bit dense and difficult to understand at times. I think some version of the 20/80 rule applies, and I'd approach the reading with this in mind. In other words, there's a lot of material and a lot of it requires a lot of thought, and so a proper reading would probably take many months. And it would probably take years to achieve true understanding. However, there's still a lot of really important core principles that you could get in a couple of weeks.

should I read the original Harry Potter first?


Personally, I think that knowing the gist of the story is sufficient.

I saw some of your other comments and see that you still have a lot of questions and are a bit hesitant to post here before doing more reading. I think that people will be very receptive to any sort of comments and questions as long as you're open minded and curious. And if you ever just don't want to say something publicly, feel free to message me privately.

Comment author: [deleted] 03 April 2015 09:49:54PM 2 points [-]

Thanks! I'm 30% through now. I've really been enjoying them so far, going back to reread certain chapters and recommending others like crazy based on conversations about similar but far less articulate thoughts I've had in the past. Even without knowing much about the content of HPMOR, I'm looking forward to it already just for its having been written by the same author.

Thanks for your offer, I will probably take you up on it some day! Although you're right that people here seem pretty receptive to honest questions. I asked a question in another thread a few days ago, about ambition vs. hedonism, an issue I've always wondered about...no replies so far, but I did get some "karma" so that felt nice, haha :)

Comment author: adamzerner 04 April 2015 12:46:10AM 2 points [-]

30% through the Rationality book?!! WOW!

I responded to your comment about ambition vs. hedonism.

Comment author: JohnBuridan 21 March 2015 08:08:28PM *  3 points [-]

Hi els!

I just wanted to welcome you and perhaps start a discussion. I have lurked around the Less Wrong boards for years (three, I think, recently made a new account because I forgot my username) and there is a lot of helpful and exciting discussion going on here and so long as you communicate clearly even dissenting opinions are valued.

You came from the jean-skirt Lutherans. I too came from a bubble, and I know it can be tough to find people around whom you feel comfortable talking about big questions like religion, metaphysics, and truth, and logic. But I believe once you start looking, you will find people who are curious about the world and want to increase their quality of life and mind too!

I don't think atheism leads to nihilism. An atheist doesn't have to be a strict materialist! For example, logic probably exists as part of the universe's fabric whether or not humans are thinking or even exist. Yet logic is not made of brain matter or any material. It is mind-independent. So are all the qualities that help people achieve their goals, such as courage, perseverance, honest self-reflection, charity, or whatever else. These are part of the human universe, even though they aren't essentially made of stuff. Well that's my perspective. And I, like the other guys and gals here, am always up to discuss these topics further and try to deepen our understanding and practice of rationality.

Hope you enjoy hanging around LW!


Comment author: [deleted] 24 March 2015 06:28:21AM 2 points [-]

Thanks for the welcome! :) You're right, so many great conversations taking place here! I feel like I'm going to be doing a LOT more reading before I really post anywhere else, but I look forward to lurking too.

I guess when I think about nihilism, I don't necessarily think about strict materialism. That's an interesting point about logic being mind-independent though. I guess I just think about the simple definition of nihilism as meaninglessness. All my life, the "meaning" of life had come from Jesus, which in my mind, meant a relationship with God and eternity in heaven. Now, there's no afterlife. Is there still meaning? Do I even care what happens after I die? I think I do, but why? I could just go out and do more good than bad and enjoy my meaningless days under the sun; is it really worth the mental energy to think about all this stuff, and if so, why? I'm realizing one thing people love about Christianity is how easy it is, once you can get past the whole childlike faith thing.

Comment author: orthonormal 20 March 2015 09:55:58PM 3 points [-]

There's also a Less Wrong meetup group in Madison, if you still live in Wisconsin! (They also play lots of board games.)

Comment author: Gunnar_Zarncke 21 April 2015 10:12:15PM 2 points [-]

You are awesome! I wish I could radiate only half as much enthusiasm and happiness. Even though I feel it - I just can't render it as much. I plan to learn from you in this regard!

You are welcome. I will also try to answer your questions. Some of them I ponderd myself and arrived at some answers. But then I had more time. I have a comparable background and I have a deep interest in children so you may also find my ressources for parents of interest.

But now to your questions:

My friends suggested I become a missionary, but to me, it made far more sense to become a high profile lawyer and donate 90% of my salary to fund a dozen other missionaries. (A Christian version of effective altruism?) No one ever understood!

Awesome. But it can be explained by the presence of memes in real-life christian culture that regulate such actions as misguided. See Reason as memetic immune disorder.

Who was the historical Jesus? As a history source, why is the Bible unreliable?

The Jesus Seminar may have answers of the kind you desire. If a historical Jesus can be found by taking the bible as historcal evidence instead of sacred text, then look there. The Jesus Seminar has been heavily criticised (in part legitimately so) but it may provide the counter-balance to your already known facts. See also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_Seminar

How can I have morality?? Do I just have to rely on intuition? If the whole world relied on reason alone to make decisions, couldn't we rationalize a LOT of things that we intuit as wrong?

Well. What do you mean by "how"? By which social process does moral exist? Or due to which psychological process? The spiritual process apparently is out of business because it is ungrounded. There was a Main post with nice graphs about it that I can't find.

You might also want to replace the question with "why do I think that I have morality?"

Does atheism necessarily lead to nihilism? (I think so, in the grand scheme of things? But the world/our species means something to us, and that's enough, right?)

No. Atheism does remove one set of symbol-behavior-chains in your mind, yes. But a complex mind will most likely lock into another better grounded set of symbol-behavior-chains that is not nihilistic but - depending on your emotional setup - somehow connected to terminal values and acting on that. "symbol-behavior-chains" is my ad-hoc term. Ask if it is unclear.

What about all the really smart people I know and respect, like my sister and Grandma, who have had their share of doubts but ultimately credit their faith to having experienced extraordinary, miraculous answers to prayer? Like obviously, their experiences don't convince ME to believe, but I hate to dismiss them as delusional and call it a wild coincidence...

I feel with you. I have the same challenge. See my first link above. I respect them. I know how complex this migration is. I was free to explore. How can't I not reciprocate. I don't want to manipulate. I just want the best for them. And then extensions of the simulation argument might actually lead you back to theism (as least a bit).

Good luck and cheers!

Comment author: Gram_Stone 21 March 2015 08:48:23AM *  2 points [-]

How can I have morality?? Do I just have to rely on intuition? If the whole world relied on reason alone to make decisions, couldn't we rationalize a LOT of things that we intuit as wrong?

Does atheism necessarily lead to nihilism? (I think so, in the grand scheme of things? But the world/our species means something to us, and that's enough, right?)

If these are the questions weighing heavily on your mind, then you would probably enjoy Gary Drescher's Good and Real. I suggest reading the first Amazon review to get a good idea of the topics it covers. It is very similar to some of the content in the Sequences. (By the way, if you purchase the book through that link, 5% goes to Slate Star Codex.)

Also, the Sequences have recently been released as an ebook entitled Rationality: From AI to Zombies. (You can download the book for free in MOBI, EPUB, and PDF format if you follow the 'Buy Now' link at the bottom of that page and enter a price of $0.00. If you do this, it won't request any payment information. If you pay more than that, the money will go to the Machine Intelligence Research Institute.) I have found that Rationality is much, much easier to read than the Sequences.

Are rationalists just as guilty of circular reasoning as Christians are? (Why do I trust human reason? My human reason tells me it's great. Why do Christians trust God? The Bible tells them he's great.)

You may not yet have the background knowledge necessary to understand it, and if that's the case then you can always return to it later, but I think that the most relevant post on this topic is Where Recursive Justification Hits Bottom. It's chapter 264 in Rationality. (That's a daunting number but the chapters are very short. Rationality is Bible-length but you can hack away at it one chapter at a time, or more at a time, if you please.) To be frank, you're asking the Big Questions and you might have to read a bit before you can answer them.

What about all the really smart people I know and respect, like my sister and Grandma, who have had their share of doubts but ultimately credit their faith to having experienced extraordinary, miraculous answers to prayer? Like obviously, their experiences don't convince ME to believe, but I hate to dismiss them as delusional and call it a wild coincidence...

When I read that, I'm reminded of something that Luke Muehlhauser, a prominent LessWrong user and former devout Christian, once wrote:

I went to church and Bible study every week. I prayed often and earnestly. For 12 years I attended a Christian school that taught Bible classes and creationism. I played in worship bands. As a teenager I made trips to China and England to tell the godless heathens there about Jesus. I witnessed miraculous healings unexplained by medical science. And I felt the presence of God. Sometimes I would tingle and sweat with the Holy Spirit. Other times I felt led by God to give money to a certain cause, or to pay someone a specific compliment, or to walk to the cross at the front of my church and bow before it during a worship service.

As you said yourself, "Yay tolerance of ambiguity!" Although their beliefs are false, their experiences can certainly be real. Even if there exists no God, that doesn't mean that the Presence-of-God Quale isn't represented by the patterns of neural impulses of some human brains. It's easy, nay, the default action, to view others with false beliefs in a negative light, but if rationalism were always intuitively obvious, then the world would be a very different place. I try not to make myself feel bad by overestimating my ability to convince others of the value of rationalism. That doesn't mean that I keep my mouth shut all of the time, but I do take it a day at a time, and it seems to work; sometimes I talk about something and it doesn't seem to go anywhere, and then a friend will bring it up days or weeks later and say something like, "You know, I was thinking about that, and I realized it made a lot of sense." And then I privately jump up and down. Sometimes it doesn't work, but for me, there's definitely a middle ground between falling in line and abandoning All I Have Ever Known. I also often see Paul Graham's essay What You Can't Say linked here when new atheists ask about how to maintain ties with religious family members.

EDIT: Oh, and welcome to LessWrong!

Comment author: [deleted] 24 March 2015 05:32:35AM 3 points [-]

Thanks for the welcome!! Good and Real does seem like a good read. I'm going to read Rationality first, which I'm guessing will help me work through some of my questions, but I'll definitely keep that one in mind for later.

Where Recursive Justification Hits Rock Bottom was really relevant, thanks for the link. I'm still digesting Occam's Razor, I think that was the only concept completely new to me.

Thanks for the link to Luke's story. It seems like we went through the same difficult process of desperately wanting to believe, but ultimately just not being able to. I find it super encouraging that his doubts stemmed from researching the Historical Jesus, since that's one thing that my old high school track coach/religion teacher insists I have to look into. He claims no atheist has ever been able to answer any of his questions. The atheists I know all credit a conflict with science as the reason they left Christianity, and I credit...I don't even know, my personal thoughts, I guess... but it's great to know that researching history will also lead there. I'll have to go through the same resources he used so I can better explain myself to Christian friends.

"Although their beliefs are false, their experiences can certainly be real. Even if there exists no God, that doesn't mean that the Presence-of-God Quale isn't represented by the patterns of neural impulses of some human brains." Thanks for that!! It does make me feel better.

Hahaha, wow, I haven't even considered trying to convince others of the value of rationalism yet. Especially after my deconversion, I've been totally on the defensive, almost apologizing for my rationality. ("It's not my fault; it's the personality I was born with. If you guys really believe, you should feel lucky not just for having been born into Christian homes, but also, more importantly, for having been born with the right personalities for faith." and "You think my prayers for a stronger faith weren't answered because my faith wasn't strong enough, but I was doing everything possible to strengthen my faith to no avail." and "Believing isn't a choice, no matter how much I wanted it, I couldn't believe. So if any brand of Christianity is true, Calvinism is your best bet, and I wasn't among the elect.")

So far this strategy is doing remarkably, remarkably well in maintaining ties with friends and family. People understand where I'm coming from, and they feel just awful, sorry for me since they think I'm going to hell, but for the most part, not finding me at fault. Pity is slightly annoying when I'm so happy, but hopefully their pity will eventually lead them to find God unfair, which will lead them to dislike their beliefs, which will lead them to question why they bother believing something they don't like...and then, they won't find much reason at all aside from upbringing/community. Those were actually pretty much the steps of my deconversion process, only I didn't need a personal connection with a particular unbeliever to get there. Anyway, if nothing else, the defensive strategy works wonders for relations. I helped a friend share her doubts with her family in this way, and she said it worked for her too.

Comment author: Gram_Stone 27 March 2015 05:42:09PM *  1 point [-]

I just thought to point out that there's going to be a Rationality reading group; basically, it's a planned series of posts about each Part in the book, where you have the opportunity to talk about it and ask questions. You clearly are very curious, (it's the only way you could survive so many hyperlinks) so it seems like just the thing for you.

I credit...I don't even know, my personal thoughts, I guess...

Just to give you words for this, and from what I read in the blog post that you linked to in your first comment (which I found very amusing), I think you're trying to verbalize that Christianity was inconsistent. You don't have to prefer consistency, but most people claim to prefer it, and apparently you do prefer it. (I know I do.) You didn't like it as a system because it was a system that said that God was perfectly benevolent and ridiculously selfish (though the second statement was only implicit) at the same time. You can always look at other subjects like science and history and come to the conclusion that religion conflicts with those things when it shouldn't; but you can also just look at religion and see how it conflicts with itself. I think that's what you did.

I saw some of your other comments about meaning, and meaninglessness in the absence of God, and nihilism. Notice that when you ask "Does life have meaning in the absence of God?", everyone says that it depends on what you mean, offers some possible interpretations, and shares their viewpoints and conclusions on what it means. The simplest way to give you a clue as to some of the problems with the question is something that you wrote yourself:

Oh! I like that definition of nihilism, thanks. Personally, I think I could actually tolerate accepting nihilism defined as meaninglessness (whatever that means), but since most people I know wouldn't, your definition will come in handy.

Vagueness is part of the problem, but there are other parts as well. Even though I've never been religious and therefore don't know what it's like to lose faith, worrying about "meaninglessness" is something that I dealt with. I promise that atheists aren't all secretly dead inside. (I actually used to wonder about that.) Rationality Parts N and P deal with questions like that.

I also want to say that I agree with Viliam_Bur's comments on you doing research to defend your new beliefs: It's a lot cheaper time- and resource-wise to act like a skeptic than it is to do research, and you never have to tolerate that awful feeling that you might be wrong. Even when you return with evidence contrary to their beliefs, their standards of evidence are too high for it to matter. I think it's telling that your coach sat around waiting for unusually knowledgeable, atheistic passersby to tell him about the Historical Jesus instead of doing any research on his own.

Comment author: [deleted] 27 March 2015 07:50:21PM 2 points [-]

Cool, thanks so much for mentioning the Rationality reading group!! I'm probably going to finish each section long before it's discussed, but I'll definitely go back to re-read and chat. I'll bookmark it for sure! So exciting! I will try to bribe my sister and maybe a few other people to participate as well (self-anchoring again, maybe, but I'll call it optimism, haha).

Ooh, I like consistency, and Christianity is inconsistent. Christianity conflicts with itself. A God can't be both perfectly benevolent and ridiculously selfish. That's why I rejected it. Yeah, that sounds nice, thanks for the words. :)

Good point about vagueness. I like this slatestarcodex post" The Categories Were Made for Man, Not Man for the Categories Looking forward to parts N and P now too!

And yeah, good point about the standards of evidence being too high. Still, right now my only info about Historical Jesus is based off a few articles I've read on the internet, and I just feel like after 22 years learning one thing, I can't just reject it and jump ahead to other things without being able to formulate basic, well-reasoned atheist answers to common Christian questions. I guess it's not just about maintaining my friends' respect, it's also about my own self-respect. I can't go around showing the improbability of every religion, but I want to be able to do so about the one I grew up in (maybe this is a cousin of the sunk-cost fallacy?). Luckily, all of the groundwork here has already been done by other atheists, it should just a matter of familiarizing myself with basic facts/common arguments.

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 25 March 2015 03:06:55PM 1 point [-]

My two cents:

Who was the historical Jesus?

Who cares? Okay you obviously do, but why? If the religion is false and reports of miracles are lies, is there really an impotant difference between a) "Yes, once there was a person called Jesus, but almost everything that Bible attributes to him is completely made up" and b) "No, everything about Jesus is completely made up"?

In other words, if I tell you that my uncle Joe is the true god and performs thousand miracles every thursday, why would you care about whether a) I have a perfectly ordinary, non-divine, non-magical uncle called Joe, and I only lied about his divinity and miracles, or b) actually I lied even about having an uncle called Joe? What difference would it make and why?

As a history source, why is the Bible unreliable?

Because it was written by people who had an agenda to "prove" that they are the good ones and the divinely chosen ones? Maybe even because it contains magic?

I don't fully trust even historical books written recently. It can be funny to read history textbooks written by two countries which had conflicts recently; how each of them describes the events somewhat differently. And today's historical books are much more trustworthy than the old ones, because today people are literate, they are allowed to read and compare the competing books, they are allowed to criticize without getting killed immediately.

Sorry for the offensive comparison, but trusting Bible's historical accuracy would be as if in the parallel universe Hitler would win the war, then he would write his own historical book about what "really happened" and make it a mandatory textbook for everyone... and then a few thousand years later people would trust his every written word to be honest and accurate.

the world/our species means something to us, and that's enough, right?

Exactly. You already know what you care about. Atheism simply means there is no higher boss who could tell you "actually, you should like this and hate that, because I said so", and you would have to shut up and obey.

On the other hand; people can be wrong about their preferences, especially when their decisions are based on wrong assumptions. But "being wrong" is different from "disagreeing with the boss".

I can't wait to read the sequences

I would recommend the PDF version. It is better organized; you can read it from the beginning to end, instead of jumping through the hyperlinks. And it does not include the comments, which will allow you to focus on the text and finish it faster (the comments below the original articles are 10x as much text as the articles themselves; they are often interesting, but then it is really extremely lot of text to read).

Comment author: hairyfigment 23 March 2015 07:54:07PM 1 point [-]

the problem of evil. These are bad reasons, I think, and based on the presupposition that God doesn't exist. Personally, the hardest thing for me was believing that God was all-powerful. Like, if God were portrayed as good, but weak, struggling against an evil god and just doing the best he could to make a just universe and make his existence known, I probably would never have left the faith.

This puzzled me, since it sounds a lot like the problem of evil. I take it you were describing the argument you lay out at the link?

For completeness - since I'm about to bash Christianity - I should note that Paul does not write like he has even an imagined revelation on the subject of Hell. He writes as if people in the Roman Empire often talked about everyone going to Hades when they died, and therefore he could count on people receiving as "good news" the claim that belief in Jesus would definitely send you to Heaven. (Later, the Gospels implied that your actions could send you to Heaven or Hell regardless of what you believed. Early Christians might have split the difference by reserving baptism for those they saw as living a 'Christian' life.) Clearly one can be a Christian in Paul's sense without believing in Hell.

Who was the historical Jesus?

We don't know. I have some qualms about Richard Carrier's argument (eg in On the historicity of Jesus: Why we might have reason for doubt). But plugging different numbers into his calculations, I come out with no more than a 54% chance Jesus even existed. We can't answer every factual question; some information is almost certainly lost to us forever.

As a history source, why is the Bible unreliable?

This one seems fundamental enough that if people insist on the truth of miracles - and reports that you can move mountains if you have faith the size of a mustard seed - I don't know what to tell them. But besides directing people to mainstream scholarship (which by the way places the date of Mark after the destruction of the Temple), I can note that Mark inter-cuts the story of the fig tree with Jesus expelling the money-lenders from the Temple. The tree seems like a straightforward metaphor. Then we have later Gospels openly changing the narrative for their own purposes. Mark says Jesus could give no sign to those who did not believe, and they would not have believed (says Jesus in a parable) even if some guy named Lazarus had returned from the dead. John says Jesus performed signs all the time, and as you would expect this led many people to believe in him, especially when he brought Lazarus back from the dead. Though the resurrected disciple who Jesus loved disappears from the narrative after the period John depicts, and even Acts shows no awareness of this important witness.

How can I have morality?? Do I just have to rely on intuition? If the whole world relied on reason alone to make decisions, couldn't we rationalize a LOT of things that we intuit as wrong?

If you want to have morality, you can just do it. By this I mean that any function assigning utility to outcomes in a physically meaningful way appears consistent. But yes, I've come to agree that simple utility functions like maximizing pleasure in the Universe technically fail to capture what I would call moral. For more practical advice, see a lot of this site and perhaps the CFAR link at the top of the page.

Does atheism necessarily lead to nihilism?

This depends. I would normally use the term "nihilism" to mean a uniform utility function, which does not distinguish between actions. This is equivalent to assigning every outcome zero utility. As the previous link shows, plenty of non-uniform utility functions can exist whether Yahweh does or not.

If you mean the lack of a moral authority you can trust absolutely, or that will force you to behave morally, then I would basically say yes. There is no authority anywhere.

What about all the really smart people I know and respect, like my sister and Grandma, who have had their share of doubts but ultimately credit their faith to having experienced extraordinary, miraculous answers to prayer?

Do they seem smarter and more worthy of respect than Gandhi? Perhaps he's not the best example, but putting him next to the many people from non-Christian religions who have made similar claims to religious experience may get the point across. (Aleister Crowley made a detailed study of mystical experience and how to produce it, but you may find him abrasive at best.)

Are rationalists just as guilty of circular reasoning as Christians are?

That also depends on what you mean.

Comment author: [deleted] 24 March 2015 07:27:04AM *  2 points [-]

Oh, oops, I can see why that would be puzzling. But yeah, you figured it out. Do you really think my link was an argument though? A lot of people have accused me of trying to deconvert my friends, but I really don't think I was making an argument so much as sharing my own personal thoughts and journey of what led me away from the faith.

You correctly point out that not all Christians believe in hell, but I didn't want to just tweak my belief until I liked it. If I was going to reject what I grew up with, I figured I might as well start with a totally clean slate.

I'm really glad you and other atheists on here have bothered looking into Historical Jesus. Atheists have a stereotype of being ignorant about this, which actually, for those who weren't raised Christians, I kind of understand, since now that I consider myself atheist, it's not like I'm suddenly going to become an expert on all the other religions just so I can thoughtfully reject them. But now that my friends have failed to convince me atheism is hopeless, they're insisting it's hallucinogenic, that atheists are out of touch with reality, and it's nice (though unsurprising) to see that isn't the case.

Okay, I know that I personally can have morality, no problem! But are you trying to say it's not just intuition? Or if I use that Von Neumann–Morgenstern utility theorem you linked, I'm a little confused, maybe you can simplify for me, but whose preferences would I be valuing? Only my own? Everyone's equally? If I value everyone's equally and say each human is born with equal intrinsic value, that's back to intuition again, right? Anyway, yeah, I'll look around and maybe check out CFAR too if you think that would be useful.

Oh! I like that definition of nihilism, thanks. Personally, I think I could actually tolerate accepting nihilism defined as meaninglessness (whatever that means), but since most people I know wouldn't, your definition will come in handy.

Also, good point about Gandhi. I had actually planned on researching whether people from other religions claimed to have answered prayers like Christians do, but bringing up the other alleged "religious experiences" of people of other faiths seems like a good start for when my sister and I talk about this. Now I'm curious about Crowley too. I almost never really get offended, so even if he is abrasive, I'm sure I can focus on the facts and pick out a few things to share, even if I wouldn't share him directly.

Thanks for your reply! Hopefully you can follow this easily enough; next time I'll add in quotes like you did...

Comment author: hairyfigment 25 March 2015 07:58:54PM 1 point [-]

The theorem shows that if one adopts a simple utility function - or let's say if an Artificial Intelligence has as its goal maximizing the computing power in existence, even if that means killing us and using us for parts - this yields a consistent set of preferences. It doesn't seem like we could argue the AI into adopting a different goal unless that (implausibly) served the original goal better than just working at it directly. We could picture the AI as a physical process that first calculates the expected value of various actions in terms of computing power (this would have to be approximate, but we've found approximations very useful in practical contexts) and then automatically takes the action with the highest calculated expected value.

Now in a sense, this shows your problem has no solution. We have no apparent way to argue morality into an agent that doesn't already have it, on some level. In fact this appears mathematically impossible. (Also, the Universe does not love you and will kill you if the math of physics happens to work out that way.)

But if you already have moral preferences, there shouldn't be any way to argue you out of them by showing the non-existence of Vishnu. Any desires that correspond to a utility function would yield consistent preferences. If you follow them then nobody can raise any logical objection. God would have to do the same, if he existed. He would just have more strength and knowledge with which to impose his will (to the point of creating a logical contradiction - but we can charitably assume theologians meant something else.) When it comes to consistent moral foundations, the theorem gives no special place to his imaginary desires relative to yours.

I mentioned above that a simple utility function does not seem to capture my moral preferences, though it could be a good rule of thumb. There's probably no simple way to find out what you value if you don't already know. CFAR does not address the abstract problem; possibly they could help you figure out what you actually value, if you want practical guidance.

Now I'm curious about Crowley too. I almost never really get offended, so even if he is abrasive, I'm sure I can focus on the facts and pick out a few things to share, even if I wouldn't share him directly.

Note that he doesn't believe in making anything easy for the reader. The second half of this essay might perhaps have what you want, starting with section XI. Crowley wrote it under a pseudonym and at least once refers to himself in the third person; be warned.

Comment author: k_ebel 24 June 2015 10:58:08PM 4 points [-]

I joined a while ago but don't think I ever posted here. I'd lurked for quite some time here and at various blogs a degree or so separation away since before that. I've mostly link-hopped my way around the sequences and various pieces of fiction and followed folks on facebook and recently realized we had a local LW meetup. I'm happy to answer any questions about me, but never really know what kind of information would be relevant to put in an introductory post, so instead I thought I'd make a proposal instead:

I've seen (for a while) a lot of activity regarding AI / Singularities / Existential Risk within these groups of people. For my own part, I have pretty much no background knowledge when it comes to that. So I was looking to really dig into the book Superintelligence as a way to get a rudimentary understanding of it all.

That said, I find that I definitely get a lot more out of learning when I have people to discuss it with. So, with a bit of encouragement, since this is the "get-to-know-you" thread, I figured I'd to put a call out on here to see if there was anyone who might be interested in reading (or re-reading) the book along with me being skype buddies for this process.

My current plan is to go through it a chapter at a time and discuss / do further research / etc before moving on. Message me if that sounds like something you might be interested in doing!


Comment author: humesbacon 15 June 2015 01:56:36PM 4 points [-]

Hi, I'm new here. I find this site while looking for information about A.I. I read a few articles and couldn't help but smile to myself and think 'wasn't this what to the Internet was suppose to be. I had no idea this site existed and I'm honestly glad to have found stacks of future reading, you know that feeling. I never really post on sites and would have usually have lurked myself silly but I've been promted into action by a question. I posted this to reddit in the shower thoughts section because it seemed appropriate but I'd like to ask you (more).

I was reading about Orthogonality thesis, and Oracle A.I.'s as warnings and attempted precaution to potential hostile outcomes. I've recently finished Robots and Empires and couldn't help but think that something like the Zeroth law could further complicate trying to restrain A.I.'s with begin laws like do no harm or seemingly innocent tasks like acquire paper clips. To me it seemed trying to stop A.I.'s from harming us whilst also completing another task would always end up with us in the way. So I thought perhaps we should try to give the A.I. a goal that would not benefit from violence in anyway. Try to make it Buddha-like. To become all knowing and one with all things? Would a statement like that even mean anything to a computer? The one critism I receive was "what would be the point of that?" I don't know. But I'm curious.

What do you think?

Comment author: nitrat665 26 March 2015 02:21:27PM *  4 points [-]

Hello, everyone!

I am a long-time lurker and reader of LessWrong, and I have finally worked myself up to making an account and writing some comments. I am looking forward to participating in the discussions more, and hopefully writing some posts and contributing to the thought-bank here. So far, LessWrong have been a great resource for me, helping me to get a sturdier basis for my ideological framework, and exposing me to some good new ideas to think about.

For a little bit about myself: I am 29 years old, Russian, bachelors’ degree in Chemistry and Math and a Masters’ in Nuclear Chemistry from an American university. Currently I live in Russia, working as an instructor in IT / software development for a business analytics software company. The job is pretty much another step of school, only going into a “job experience” slot on the resume, instead of the “education” one – we study a topic for a month, then we go and teach it to our developers. My first year was our company’s software applications, then development and coding, now I am on the databases part. Eventually, I am hoping to return to a sciencier sort of work, though.

Religion-wise, I am an atheist, formerly going through all kinds of interesting religious searches (maybe I will make a separate comment on the rationalist origin thread about that). Politics – wise, I find it hard to classify myself as going with any traditional views (call me an effective anarchist, maybe?). Or maybe I am hoping for a better set of political ideas to emerge someday in the future.

My interests are the following:

  • Reading everything I can get my hands on, preferably science and science-pop literature, fiction and science fiction.

  • Science and self-education. When I found Less Wrong, it sparked yet again my interest in the more arcane parts of IT, and I am currently working through the basics part of the Miri research guide posted here, while also keeping up with my job-related applied IT studies. In the past, I found myself sometime venturing into the evolution theory field (still hoping to find some time some day to make a study of evolutionary algorithms and maybe program some fun simulation with evolving pseudo-life), basics of quantum (well, that was in my school program), biology, sometimes philosophy, religion and applied ethics.

  • As for less science and reading-related interests – I enjoy camping, rafting, the general summery outdoors stuff. In my city, summer is short, so we try to squeeze as much goodness as possible out of it.

Anyways, I am looking forward to having some fun discussions here. Nice to meet you, guys!

Comment author: [deleted] 30 January 2015 03:27:34AM 4 points [-]

I do economics, working on an interesting problem that might involve computer logic and recursion, but I am not a computer logic and recursion man. Thought to write a series of articles on economics aimed at building up to my current confusion, then thought to post them somewhere, would be convenient if audience with some knowledge of computer logic and recursion...


~12 articles in, should be fun....

Comment author: Ulti8 11 January 2015 11:27:27AM 4 points [-]

Hello, I am Connor (18) from Victoria, Australia. I have been at LW a few times before but usually only as a brief look after being drawn into it from a link. As of today, I have decided to actually stay and properly look into it all (The Sequences, discussions, etc) and learn.

I am a student learning economics and business management. I mostly got interested in rationalism because of two fundamental reasons. Firstly through my upbringing and in extension personality, where my father taught me to be highly sceptical of assumptions (Ironically, he himself is relatively irrational as his beliefs fall under being overly cynical and paranoid) and claims made by any person or organization without first thinking on it myself. My questioning of baseless or fallacious assumptions (Including from the person who taught me to be as such) and desire for adapting my mindset to factor in evidence led me to find rationalism something worth inspecting to improve my thinking process.

Secondly, the other reason I am here is my interest in learning how the world and its many systems work, particularly societal(Which I am learning) and natural/scientific (Which I am sadly limited in). While I myself am not a scientist and have little knowledge of (hard) sciences, I put high value in said fields and would like to talk to (or at least quietly learn from) people who actually ARE knowledgeable in those area's.

I am a fan of technology (particularly cybernetics, robotics, space technology and energy technology) , literature, history, military strategy and art. I also occasionally dabble in philosophy. On a less serious note I love video games, watch anime and occasionally read fanfiction (HPMoR did not bring me here but I have read it). Finally, I am a futurist and transhumanist eagerly awaiting the singularity and am an ardent advocate of renewable energy (Along with my father, we plan on starting up an energy company built around algae bio-fuel once we have enough investors).

And that's me, off to continue reading the Sequence's.

Comment author: SwitchContext 26 December 2014 06:49:24PM 4 points [-]

Hi there everyone, happy mid-winter festive period.

I'm V (not from the film), 33, and living in the wilds of the UK, for now. I became very sick when I was 16 and essentially slept through my late teens and 20s so I'm playing catch up with a vengeance. I found the site through a friend and I've been a (silent, shadowy) member for a while but hadn't been able to carve out the time to get through the sequences, until now.

I'm a final year Applied Maths and Computer Science student but I'm also really interested in cognitive science, rationality, philosophy and their applications. I detest being wrong and not understanding things I consider to be important. Rationality is the best tool I've found for helping me get out of my own way and for protecting myself from myself and others. Having lost so much time and having had a generally strange life, I care a lot about getting the most out of the time that I do have, having opinions that reflect reality as closely as possible and making the best quality decisions I can.

At the moment degree work, trying to move house and preparing for post graduation is swallowing my life but I do have a couple of side projects on the go; a couple of app ideas which may or may not be useful enough to make, gaining basic programming proficiency (for some value of all three words) and a portfolio of work; a blog about my later stage recovery and the process of becoming "well", and a few other bits and pieces.

I have embarrassingly poor grammar and spelling which I'm trying to improve so I'm happy to be corrected if I start spewing word salad. I'm aware I've just invited replies consisting entirely of corrections to this comment and that's o.k.

Comment author: Good_Burning_Plastic 25 December 2014 12:39:46PM 4 points [-]

Hello, everybody, and happy belated solstice.

I used to post here from a different account until some time ago, then I decided it was not anonymous enough (also, the username was quite silly) so I deleted it. Here I am again, but this time I'll be more careful about privacy.

BTW, the only reason for the underscores in my username is that the software won't let me use spaces, so don't bother with them. Also, in case you need to refer to me with a gendered pronoun, I'm a "he".

Comment author: theWRITER 01 February 2015 08:27:14PM 7 points [-]

New to this site... Have studied very little about logic and philosophy starting with some big famous papers that talk about how we know nothing for certain (thanks, Descartes), going through whether All Ravens are Black, studying the Perfect Island argument, learning about Famine, Affluence, and Morality, and ending somewhere along the lines of whether justified true belief is knowledge. That is to say, I'm not that educated on logic or rationality, but entertaining ideas is a great hobby of mine.
I came to Less Wrong because I found it on Harry Potter MOR (I haven't read HPMOR, or HP for that matter, but I find both interesting nonetheless, and I just got really excited when I found that a site like this existed.).
My beliefs: I am a theist, and I do not affiliate with a religion or political party. Of course, that is to say, the mark of an educated mind is to be able to entertain ideas without fully accepting them. :) I also like to assume that the majority of the population is evil and has ulterior motives, but that's just me... I'm a high school student who's just looking for something to write about and something to learn about. Just a new perspective altogether.
Nice to be here.

Comment author: ilzolende 02 February 2015 02:33:55AM 4 points [-]

There seems to be a lot of other high school students on this site lately. If you like this stuff, you may also like the International Baccalaureate class Theory of Knowledge, which you can often take as an elective even if you're not an IB student.

Kind of curious about your theism, don't feel required to answer: A lot of nonreligious people who believe in a god are deists or pantheists. Are you either of those? If not, would you be willing to give more detail about your beliefs?

Also, I'm kind of starting to wonder if some people don't really like classifying themselves into groups. Is the reason you don't affiliate with a political party because you want one that better matches your positions on policy, or because you wouldn't associate with one even if you agreed with them on all policy proposals?

Most people define "evil" as "wants evil things", not "has evil revealed preferences". If you're looking at social behavior, we all have ulterior motives (I want to talk about things regardless of how annoyed a listener is, I want a strong support structure so that if something goes wrong I can get help, I want people to entertain me), but the actions those motives lead to are pretty low on the scale of bad stuff, somewhere close to EY's dust speck.

Comment author: theWRITER 02 February 2015 04:58:59AM 1 point [-]

See as far as my beliefs, I have a strong religious background... Catholic elementary and middle school (I go to non-sectional, public high school now), Hindu dad, Protestant (Lutheran) mom... I mean, I generally end up changing my mind every year or so, but right now, I believe that God exists as the Universe working within itself... and that as each of us live, we each experience God... I don't know, I can't seem to get my head wrapped around the idea of a nonexistent god because of my strong religious background. Not very "rational", I guess, but that's just me personally, and there's really no should or shouldn't as far as faith goes, so I've just been rolling with it. So, I sort of just been changing my perspective based on what I learn and hear about the world.
I don't know if that really affiliates with deism or pantheism, really, but if what I explained above affiliates with one of them, would you (or anyone) explain how?

And as far as political parties go, there was this time when I tried to identify myself as Republican (though I really would be more of a Conservative Democrat) because I was tired of saying "No affiliation." It also kind of seemed like a fun little experiment because then I would be going against pretty much everyone else (most of the people I know tend to be democrat). I couldn't really hold out that long because, I don't know, being affiliated with Republican--or Democrat for that matter--makes people regard you as some political freak and not merely a person just agreeing with one more. Another thing, when I found myself affiliating with Republican, I found that I began to care more about what party supports what position, and I feel like that's something that just shouldn't matter.
In the end, I'm also somewhat ignorant and not very confident about my positions just yet either.

And as far as ulterior motives, saying that I don't trust people could be seen as my ulterior motive to not have to be generous and charitable (it's a pretty lame excuse to not empathize with charities sometimes.).

Comment author: LawrenceC 01 February 2015 11:05:25PM 3 points [-]

Welcome! I just want to comment on the "everyone is evil" idea - "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity." Or broken incentive systems. Or something in that vein. :p

Comment author: TheFaceDancerFox 21 April 2015 01:01:44PM *  3 points [-]

Well met!

My name is Fox, and I am an actor and magician...well...In actuality, I guess those are both the same thing. I know how you all love concision, so I'll try again...* ahem *

Well met!

My name is Fox, and I am a liar. Empathetic to a fault, highly spiritual, and emotionally driven--still an emo boy at heart--I live as far from consciously as it gets. My main passions are girls, music, and service to others. Core values are: love, kindness, beauty, passion, immersion, and evolution.

For the past year I have studied and practiced magick. It is very real to me and has been the lens through which I view the universe as well as my primary method for navigating life. I have enjoyed many experiences and even some progress, living as such. ...for a time.

Lately, I have just been working and preparing to reenter school. I find this "being an adult" business baffling and struggle with finances. Throw intangibles into the mix and it's untenable. Which brings me to why I am here: I need to implement rational-thinking as my default state-of-mind to help me with goal-oriented decision making and getting a grasp on the most elusive concept in the world to me: self-discipline

I suggest you may be human. Your awareness may be powerful enough to control your instincts. Your instincts will be to remove your hand from the box. If you do so you will die.

-Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam during the testing of Paul Atreides in Dune.

So LW...will you be my Gom Jabbar??

Comment author: Lumifer 21 April 2015 03:14:40PM *  2 points [-]

magick... my primary method for navigating life


I need to implement rational-thinking

8-0 Prediction: you will have a very confused and maybe fun trip.

Comment author: Dajoker 14 April 2015 06:28:08PM 3 points [-]

Hello everyone!

I'm new to the site. I'm a grad student with a science background hoping to learn more about rationality and science. I've read posts on LW for quite some time (~ 3 years). I'm an atheist and a skeptic with some knowledge about theoretical physics.

See you around! ~dajoker

Comment author: dottedmag 09 April 2015 08:12:09AM 3 points [-]


My name is Mikhail, and I have been lurking on LW for a several months, mostly reading sequences. I have discovered this site after reading HPMoR, as no doubt many had.

I'm a practitioner of GTD, and I am looking for

  • supplementing understood low-level practices of performing things with metaalgorithms for decision making and planning

  • improving tactics / learning tricks for handling low-level tasks which don't come naturally to me (such as learning languages), and hence cannot be efficiently done by regular planning / execution process

A bit of personal info: I am a software engineer (15y experience, more if one counts tinkering with software during school years), I live in Norway and originally from Siberia.

Comment author: Algon 07 April 2015 01:49:38PM 3 points [-]

Hi. I've been lurking here for a couple of months, reading up on some of the sequences and so forth, I made an account because I wanted to post a few things on the discussion board. Mainly to do with why I'm pretty convinced that immortality is already a thing, and how that has badly damaged my belief in a utilitarian system of ethics. Finally, I wanted to ask about something to do with FAI; essentially, why wouldn't X work. I'm curious to see how FAI will reveal itself to be more fiendish than I already thought.

Comment author: dlarge 26 March 2015 08:28:28PM 3 points [-]

Hello, everyone! I've been lurking for about a year and I've finally overcome the anxiety I encounter whenever I contemplate posting. More accurately, I'm experiencing enough influences at this very moment to feel pulled strongly to comment.

I've just tumbled to the fact that I may have an instinctive compulsion against the sort of signalling that's often discussed here and by Robin Hanson. In the last several hours alone I've gone far out of my way to avoid signalling membership in an ingroup or adherence to a specific cohort. Is this sort of compulsion common amongst LWers? (I'm aware that declaring myself an anti-signaller runs the risk of an accusation of signalling itself but whadayagonnado.)

I'm also very interested in how pragmatism, pragmaticism, and Charles Sanders Peirce form (if at all) the philosophical underpinnings of the sort of rationality that LW centers on. It seems like Peirce doesn't get nearly as much attention here as he should, but maybe there are good reasons for that.

Comment author: TommiH 18 March 2015 03:32:52PM *  3 points [-]


My name is Tommi, and I'm a 34-years old Finn living in Berlin at the moment. I work as a freelance developer, focusing on the Unity development environment, making educational games, regular games, virtual art galleries, etc. for an hourly fee (so that's the skill set I bring into the community). I found Less Wrong some years ago via HPMOR (I forget how I found HPMOR). I've read it occasionally, but over the last year or so I've been slowly gravitating towards it, and decided now to make the effort to try on this community.

I've always valued reason and science over hearsay and guessing, but so far it's manifested mostly in terms of what I like to read and who I vote for. I also participated in the Green party of Finland for some years, in order to advance scientific decision making and a long-term, global approach to things (the Greens in Finland have a fairly strong scientific leaning despite hanging onto some dogmas). However, as an introvert my effect was, as far as I could tell, minimal. Now that I've learned that lesson, and am also in a good position financially and in terms of available time, I'm looking at my life goals again, and would like to see if this community could help me reach them.

As I understand them now, my goals are as follows:

1) Live a comfortable life materially. I'm not willing to sacrifice all of life's comforts to serve a higher goal. However, my material desires are lowish compared to my ability to earn (I'm a freelance programmer and apparently a pretty good one).

2) Have a fullfilling social life. One reason I've been looking at Less Wrong are the articles on improving social skills. However, I'm not certain if improving them is worth the effort - perhaps it would be better to settle for the kind of social life I can get with my current skills, and focus on other things. (Romance seems to be particularly hard to achieve - I think it's particularly hard because I'm gay and I haven't found many social circles that are simultaneously gay and nerdy enough to feel comfortable to me.)

3) Have a high net positive impact on the world. Unless I suddenly lose my income, I intend to pay 10% of my income this year to charity. I'll probably go for a GiveWell approved charity, although I have some reservations on the utilitarian leanings of it. I believe in more complex ethics than a simple sum total of utility. For example, I believe that debt exists: If someone loses utility because of me (either they helped me or I did them harm), I'm obligated to compensate them (if they want that) instead of helping some other person. So I tend to think I should become carbon-neutral before contributing to other charities, unless those charities help the same people damaged most by carbon emissions (something that may well be true). I also believe that the utility of people who do harm to others is worth less than the utility of those who don't. The application of this second rule isn't as clear, though.

4) Artistic aspirations. I wish to advance the field of interactive storytelling. Basically, I'd like to make a game/games that offer the player/players meaningful choices. Meaningful in storytelling, moral, and strategic sense. Such games already exist, of course, but I want to make the choices more open-ended than in an RPG like Mass Effect, and more real and personal than in a strategy game. Ideally, I'd like to make the player feel like they're interacting with and affecting the lives of real people in an imaginary setting. My ambitions are similar to Chris Crawford's (http://www.erasmatazz.com/library/interactive-storytelling/what-is-interactive-storyte.html) but my approach is not as puristic as his. My other role models are the people behind the game King of Dragon Pass.

Initially, I was thinking about this in terms of the usual heroic stories that are being made into games over and over (just doing it better, of course). However, now I'm thinking about combining this ambition with another ambition, which was turning one of my old roleplaying campaigns into a novel/series. I wrote a few chapters a couple of years ago, and it was very well received at the creative writing workshop I showed it at. Some of the honor goes to the failed MMO Seed which my roleplaying campaign was fanfiction of. Seed, and by extension the campaign, had strong rationalistic leanings - it's a science fiction story about a group of colonists on another planet sorting out various problems via science and technology, and having political games about which way to steer the colony. The characters tend to be very analytic and look at things with a long perspective.

My campaign was pre-HPMOR, though, so it wasn't that super-deep about rationalism. But now I think it might be interesting to combine the writing goal with the interactive story goal, and strive to deepen the thinking involved as much as I can. Ideally, the game would reward the player/players for thinking rationally, while also making them care about the characters and the unfolding story - without turning it into a series of rationality puzzles with only one right answer.

So, I'd like to see if digging deeper into the Less Wrong community would help me with these goals.

Comment author: Tryagainslowly 16 March 2015 12:36:56PM 3 points [-]

Hello, I'm new to LessWrong. I was hoping someone could help me with a technical problem I'm having. I posted this same problem on the open thread under the discussion page, but I thought I'd be more likely to get a response here. It's to do with the LessWrong wiki. I made an account called Tryagainslowly on it; it wouldn't let me use my LessWrong account, instead making me register for the wiki independently. I wanted to post in the discussion for the wiki page entitled "Rationality". The discussion page didn't have anything posted in it. I wrote out my post, and attempted to post it, but it wouldn't let me, telling me new pages cannot be created by new editors. What do I need to do in order to submit my post? I'm happy to show what I was intending to post here if anyone wants me to.

Comment author: Vilx- 08 March 2015 02:05:45PM 3 points [-]

Hello folks! I'm new to your site here and still trying to get my bearings. :) The navigation is pretty nonstandard, hence somewhat confusing to me. I found this website from a link my friend posted on a Facebook discussion we had. Since then I've got one question that keeps bugging me, so I decided to ask it here. As I understand, this thread (is this the equivalent of a forum thread?) is a good place to do it. :)

The question is this: I've got a theory which seems (to me) so simple and obvious and able to explain all human behavior that I'm surprised that it hasn't been already accepted as the golden standard. In fact, when browsing Wikipeda it seems there are dozens different competing theories about human motivation, and some of the more popular ones (like the one that Daniel Pink is promoting) are really skirting around the truth (according to my theory). So, obviously I'm full of doubts about how correct I am. There must be something I'm missing here.

Furthermore the idea isn't exactly mine - it's just a slightly modified (or maybe not even modified, depending how you look at it) totally classical idea dating back to Freud himself. I tried to find counterexamples on this site but couldn't find any that I couldn't explain with my theory.

So, the theory is this: humans will always choose to do the action which they think will bring them most pleasure/least pain. As I said - totally classical. The "modification" however is the "they think" part. We cannot see into the future so we cannot choose with absolute certainty the actions what will bring us the maximum enjoyment. Instead we try to predict the likely outcomes of our choices - and quite often we get it totally wrong. Many times every day, in fact.

The reasons for getting it wrong are many. We don't have complete information (or our memory didn't recall it in time; or recalled it incorrectly); we value consequences that arrive sooner as more important than those that arrive later; we can only correlate a limited number of items (memory limitation); etc.

Also we don't only take external things into account but also try to predict our own emotions, because those are quite real pleasure/pain sources too. For example, when I decide to organize my desk, I do it because I anticipate the sense of accomplishment and order (everything in its place and a place for everything) when I've completed the task.

But at the end of the day when all is said and done, the decision mechanism will just sum up all the predicted positive outcomes (and their magnitudes) and all the negative ones, and choose the option with the greatest value.

And this way I've so far been able to explain any example I've come across. Now, if this was the truth, I'm sure there wouldn't be such an eternal debate over it and there wouldn't be so many other competing theories. So where is my mistake? Can anyone come up with a counterexample that I won't be able to explain with my theory?

Comment author: Viliam_Bur 08 March 2015 03:30:53PM 8 points [-]


Short introduction to navigation: Clicking the "Discussion" link at the top of the page will show you (most of) the new articles. If you write comments there, you are most likely to receive replies.

If there is something called "Open Thread", that pretty much means: feel free to ask or say anything (as long as it is at least somewhat relevant to this website, but even that is not always necessary). Also, posting in the most recent open thread will give you more visitors and thus more replies than posting in a three months old article. As of today, the most recent open thread is here, but tomorrow a new one will be started, and it may be strategic to wait.

humans will always choose to do the action which they think will bring them most pleasure/least pain. ... and quite often we get it totally wrong.

Well, if you put it this way, it is almost impossible to find a counterexample, because for literally any situation where "a person X did Y", you can say "that's because X somehow believed Y will bring them most pleasure / least pain", and even if I say "but in this specific situation that doesn't make any sense", you can say "well, this is one of those situations when X was totally wrong".

Better approach than "can you find a situation that my theory cannot explain?" is "can you find a situation that my theory cannot predict?" The difference between explanation and prediction is that explanation is what you do after the fact, when you already know which outcome you need to explain, while predictions are done before the fact. For example, if in the next American elections the Democrats will win, I can explain you why. However, if Republicans will win, I can also explain you why. But if you ask me to predict who will win, then I am in trouble, because here my verbal skills cannot save me.

Analogically, if we have a situation "Joe spends his afternoon reading Reddit", it is easy to explain: Joe believed that reading Reddit will bring him most pleasure. But if we have a situation "Joe decided not to read Reddit, and instead learned a new programming language", it is also easy to explain: Joe believed that learning will bring him most pleasure in long term. The problem is if Joe is starting his computer right now, and your theory has to predict whether he will read Reddit (as he usually does, but not always), or whether he will learn a new programming language (which is what he procrastinated doing for a long time, but today he feels slightly more motivated than usually). What will Joe do? This is the difficult question. But once he does something, it will be extremely easy to explain in hindsight why did he choose this option, instead of the other option.

More info here: Making beliefs pay rent. But the general idea is: if your theory can explain anything, but predict nothing, what exactly is the point of having such theory?

Comment author: Vilx- 08 March 2015 03:46:36PM 3 points [-]

Ahh, I see. Thank you! This is exactly what I was looking for! :) Back to thinking. :)

Comment author: high_IQ_monkey 02 March 2015 07:48:42AM 3 points [-]

Hello to all, although I am quite new to this site I have been exploring it ever since I first found it. I am an undergraduate mathematics and physics student with the goal to get a PhD in mathematics with a specialization in game theory and/or decision theory. Throughout my schooling I have constantly been bored with the lackluster mathematics that have been shoved in my face so consequently I have constantly been doing extra studying and research on my own. During one of my information binges I came across what is known as 'timeless decision theory' that I found on this website and after reading the article I was hooked on the plethora of talking points that I found on this website. Though i have done much research on my own on topics such as behavior analysis, game theory of popular board games, and group theory I do not plan on trying to contribute right away, though I hope I will end up posting some great arguments, I feel I need to learn the jargon and protocol before I can sufficiently contribute. As for the more personal side of things, my hobbies include a very healthy dose of board games and math ( yeah, i count it as a hobby). I have what I think is a good sense of humor and my philosophy is that offence is taken, not given, meaning their is no such thing as an intrinsic offensive statement. If anyone has a desire to chat about any of the previously mentioned topics I would be happy to indulge (especially board games, which if you couldn't already tell is a favorite of mine). Thank you and have a nice day to all.

Comment author: inferential 01 January 2015 07:00:19PM *  8 points [-]

The person behind this account is not at all new to the Less Wrong community. He has read all of the sequences multiple times, as well as much of the output of many non-Eliezer figures associated with or influenced by LW, and has been around for more than half the time the site has existed. Suffice it to say he knows his stuff. He used to comment and then stopped for reasons which remain unclear.

The obvious question is, why the new account, especially since I'm not trying to hide who I was? I decline to answer.

Less Wrong is important to me. Reading the sequences caused in me a serious upgrade. LW inspired a lot of meetup groups, one of which I attend every week. It's not the group I wish I was attending, but it's better than the alternative: none. Things fall apart. Roko exploded. Vladimir_M vanished, Yvain seceded; many others of import including Eliezer have abandoned LW. They all have their reasons, some common and others not. There are forces, it seems, driving the best away, leaving behind a smattering of dunces.

I aim to turn the tide. Nate Soares didn't show up until 2013. Less Wrong is still at least theoretically a place that can attract good people. Less Wrong has been navel-gazing about its own demise for a long time, and the wails have gotten stronger while nothing else has. What is more, the widespread perception that "X is dead," is a self-fulfilling prophecy. But I think it can be done, I think I can lay down a gauntlet, for myself and others, the Less Wrong Rejuvenation Project. Why do I think it can be done? Wei Dai is still here. He is my benchmark. The day he goes off to greener pastures is the day I give up.

The name refers to inferential distance, something I want myself and my audiences to keep in mind.

Comment author: Philosophist 13 June 2015 02:32:02PM 2 points [-]

Thank you for this article. I'm finding it still difficult to navigate the site in terms of comments and posts. Would it be possible to edit some more explanation in the "site mechanics" portion of this article to include an explanation of what open threads are and how to use them?

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 05 July 2015 03:29:57PM 1 point [-]

Open threads are for things that aren't important enough for either a toplevel post or a discussion post. You use them just like you used the welcome thread: leave a comment and let people respond :)

Comment author: Ozyrus 20 May 2015 04:43:36PM *  2 points [-]

Hello, everyone!

LW came to my attention not so long ago, and I've been commited to reading it since that moment about a month ago. I am a 20-year old linguist from Moscow, finishing my bachelor's. Due to my age, I've been pondering with usual questions of life for the past few years, searching for my path, my philosophy, essentially, a best way to live for me.

I studied a lot of religions, philosophies, and they all seemed really flat, essentially because of the reasons stated in some articles here. I came close to something resembling a nice way to live after I read "Atlas shrugged", but something about it bothered me, and after thorough analysis of this philosophy I decided to take some good things from it and move on, as I did a lot of times before.

I found this gem of a site through reddit and roko's basilisk (is it okay if I say it here? I heard discussion was banned). I am deeply into the whole idea of rationality and nearly all ideas that are presented on this site, but something really bothers me here, too.

The thing is that it is implied that altruism and rationality go hand in hand; maybe I missed some important articles that could explain me, why?

Let's imagine a hypothetical scenario: there is a guy, Steve, who really does not feel anything when he helps other people nor when does other "good" things generally; he does this only because his philosophy or religion tells them to. Say this guy was introduced to ideas of rationality and thus he is no longer bound by his philosophy/religion. And if Steve also does not feel bad about other people suffering (or even takes pleasure in it?)?

What i wanted to say is that rationality is a gun that can point both ways: and it is a good thing that LessWrong "sells" this gun with a safety mechanism (if it is such "safety mechanism". Once again, maybe I missed something really critical that explains why altruism and "being good" is the most rational strategy).

In other ways, Steve does not really care about humanity; he cares about his well-being and will utilize all knowledge he got just to meet his ends ( people are different, aren't they? and ends are different, too).

Or even another, average rationalist Jack estimated that his own net gain will be significantly bigger if he hurts or kills someone (considering his emotions and feelings about overall humanity net gain, and all other possible factors). That means he must carry on? Or is it a taboo here? Or maybe it is a problem of this site's demographics and nobody even considered this scenario (which fact I really doubt).

I feel that i dive too deep into metaphors, but i am not yet a good writer. I hope you understood my thought and can make me less wrong. :)

edit: fixed formatting

Comment author: Lumifer 20 May 2015 05:11:54PM *  4 points [-]

The thing is that it is implied that altruism and rationality go hand in hand

That is not so. There is a certain overlap between the population of rationalists and the population of altruists, people from this set intersection are unusually well represented on LW. But there is no "ought" here -- it's perfectly possible to be a non-altruist rationalist or to be a non-rational altruist.

Comment author: Gram_Stone 20 May 2015 07:28:17PM 3 points [-]

Welcome, Ozyrus.

This is moral philosophy you're getting into, so I don't think that there's a community-wide consensus. LessWrong is big, and I've read more of the stuff about psychology and philosophy of language than anything else, rather than the stuff on moral philosophy, but I'll take a swing at this.

Let's imagine a hypothetical scenario: there is a guy, Steve, who really does not feel anything when he helps other people nor when does other "good" things generally; he does this only because his philosophy or religion tells them to. Say this guy was introduced to ideas of rationality and thus he is no longer bound by his philosophy/religion. And if Steve also does not feel bad about other people suffering (or even takes pleasure in it?)?

What i wanted to say is that rationality is a gun that can point both ways: and it is a good thing that LessWrong "sells" this gun with a safety mechanism (if it is such "safety mechanism". Once again, maybe I missed something really critical that explains why altruism and "being good" is the most rational strategy).

In other ways, Steve does not really care about humanity; he cares about his well-being and will utilize all knowledge he got just to meet his ends ( people are different, aren't they? and ends are different, too).

It seems that your implicit question is, "If rationality makes people more effective at doing things that I don't value, then should the ideas of rationality be spread?" That depends on how many people there are with values that are inconsistent with yours, and it also depends on how much it makes people do things that you do value. And I would contend that a world full of more rational people would still be a better world than this one even if it means that there are a few sadists who are more effective for it. There are murderers who kill people with guns, and this is bad; but there are many, many more soldiers who protect their nations with guns, and the existence of those nations allow much higher standards of living than would be otherwise possible, and this is good. There are more good people than evil people in the world. But it's also true that sometimes people can for the first time follow their beliefs to their logical conclusions and, as a result, do things that very few people value.

Or even another, average rationalist Jack estimated that his own net gain will be significantly bigger if he hurts or kills someone (considering his emotions and feelings about overall humanity net gain, and all other possible factors). That means he must carry on? Or is it a taboo here? Or maybe it is a problem of this site's demographics and nobody even considered this scenario (which fact I really doubt).

Jack doesn't have to do anything. If 'rationality' doesn't get you what you want, then you're not being rational. Forget about Jack; put yourself in Jack's situation. If you had already made your choice, and you killed all of those people, would you regret it? I don't mean "Would you feel bad that all of those people had died, but you would still think that you did the right thing?" I mean, if you could go back and do it again, would you do it differently? If you wouldn't change it, then you did the right thing. If you would change it, then you did the wrong thing. Rationality isn't a goal in itself, rationality is the way to get what you want, and if being 'rational' doesn't get you what you want, then you're not being rational.

Comment author: hoofwall 11 April 2015 12:35:10PM 2 points [-]

Hi! I am socially retarded... There are many things the standard human was born with the capacity to grasp that I never can. The word "autism" appears to me to be being thrown around a lot lately, mostly as a meaningless word used to convey that one thinks another is simply not normal but when I first noticed how heavily users on the internet threw around the word two years ago I identified as such for a bit to make conversation more expedient. I am able to comprehend metaphors and similes and such for some reason, but things such as having the capacity to roleplay or being able to perceive what I should do in any given scenario to maximize the happiness of the human before me is incomprehensible to me. I like to think I am a purely logical thinker and was born to be such but I'd rather not start talking about that right now...

My education is pretty poor. Eighth grade. I have read next to no books, and the internet was what taught me to speak English as I do today. My English was very basic prior, even though it is my only language. I looked up in the dictionary every word I encountered that I couldn't define for two years, until I decided that refining my expression in the English language for the human's sake was a waste of time and stopped caring.

I feel like I can't express more about myself without delving right into my philosophy, the likes of which I used to contest with every mind I came across indiscriminately only to have them still disagree with me 99% of the time despite my cornering them in argument, and I don't really want to because I've had such bad experiences with convincing others to think like me. The downvote system on this website is kind of intimidating as well... my first post on this website got downvoted once almost immediately and I'm not sure if I can tell by whom. I hate systems that enable passive-aggression like that. Even conversing in real life is awful because others can use petty tricks to try to emotionally manipulate you instead of actually just explaining why you should think like them via argument. It's just masturbation for them, and they have no interest in convincing you to think like them. I suppose that is one thing I feel I can safely say about my philosophy... I don't see my opinions as just opinions, I see them as an objective rationalization of this universe the likes of which one cannot disagree with without simply being wrong. I want to rationalize everything too, you know. I used to be indoctrinated to the point where I thought simply asking questions was evil. All I'd ever wanted to do was rationalize to all my understanding of the universe to objectively minimize their pain and maximize their pleasure for the sake of forcing the world to tend to its most rational end as i perceive it but whatever... I'm still being impertinent with whatever I'm writing here since I don't think just up and writing out my opinions would be a good idea.

I have very few interests. I really only care about defining right and wrong, and giving my philosophy to others, which I haven't done for a very long time. One day I hope to start expressing my opinions on what is right and wrong in a formal manner just to have done so in my lifetime. I apologize for the entirely vague post... I still haven't really any idea how this site works but if I ever debate users here or something I won't hesitate to express my opinions in their entirety.

Comment author: Weedlayer 11 April 2015 03:28:01PM *  2 points [-]

Edit: I misunderstood what you said by "rationalize", sorry.

As Polymath said, rationalization means "To try to justify an irrational position later"", basically making excuses.

Anyway, I wouldn't worry about the downvotes, based on this post the people downvoting you probably weren't being passive aggressive, but rather misinterpreted what you posted. It can take a little while to learn the local beliefs and jargon.

Comment author: polymathwannabe 11 April 2015 01:56:51PM 2 points [-]

Hi, Hoofwall. Welcome to LessWrong.

I have considered the label "autistic" to describe myself at some points in the past, but now I'm not sure. I may be at another point in the spectrum, or I may be just imagining things. But I can definitely empathize with anyone who struggles to make themselves understood to humans.

I'm confused about one point: Your usage of the verb " to rationalize" suggests that you intend it for a meaning that is slightly different from the standard meaning it has in logical jargon. We usually say that someone is "rationalizing" when they make an irrational decision and then, afterwards, make up an excuse to keep feeling good about it. I suspect that's not what you meant when you used that word; it feels like it would have been clearer to use the verb "to reason."

Of course, this is only my speculation. Please correct me if I'm wrong. (Within the rationalist culture prevalent in this forum, correcting other people when they're wrong is socially accepted as something you can do, but also, accepting corrections when you're wrong is something you're expected to do.)

Comment author: [deleted] 16 March 2015 12:25:24PM *  2 points [-]

Hello world.

I am new to the community, but I have read through the most part of the major sequences before I registered. I found this site by reading Eliezer´s Harry Potter fanfic hpmor. It was really good by the way. I am happy to learn about biases and how to overcome them and how to optimize certain things.

I am fairly intelligent and I am a VERY philosophical person.

Comment author: Ndtrip 12 March 2015 10:35:05AM 2 points [-]

Hello everyone, first post. My education level is Associate's. My special skills include mathematics and reading comprehension.

I come to this website, because as I look at the rationalist techniques I can't think to myself, "This is a skill that would be beneficial to learn." I have done some preliminary reading of some of the posts here and find that while a lot of it is rather chewy (that is, taking extra time to process mentally), it is genuinely enjoyable to peruse and be made to think.

I have a question. Considering that I am religious, and I fully intend to stay that way, despite any evidence that might otherwise suggest to change that, how much are any rationalist skills that I may build up hampered? I don't want to summon a religious discussion, so if it seems that I might be, please just think of it as Fixed Belief X. I understand that the ability to update beliefs is central to rationality, but one such belief doesn't seem crushing.

I ask because I want to make sure that I am actually obtaining value out of my time. I don't want to find some arbitrary time down the road that my efforts have borne no fruit, and it was impossible from the beginning.

Comment author: [deleted] 09 February 2015 11:31:42PM 2 points [-]

Hello all, I'm new to this site. I've stumbled across this website a few times, and have been interested in its implications on philosophy. I am here in a position of scepticism about the claims and projects this site wishes to advance. I suspect most of my posts in the recent future will be critiques of other things found on this website. I hope I make some friends, and not too many enemies.

Comment author: ChristianKl 09 February 2015 11:43:15PM 2 points [-]

I am here in a position of scepticism about the claims and projects this site wishes to advance.

What do you understand those to be?

Comment author: [deleted] 29 December 2014 02:06:43PM 2 points [-]

Been looking for this for a few moments. I don't see much to expand on myself. I found out about LW when someone pointed me to the 1000-year old vampire post which I really liked.

And that's almost enough for now. I tried using the search but I didn't get the thing I wanted. All or fucking nothing I guess: What's the best way to ask a girl out?

"Best" means a lot of things that I'm naturally not aware of otherwise I wouldn't be asking this :) But true, I feel like there's a lot of things to account for in "best" that I might not be realistically able to do in different situations.

If you're asking why I'm asking this, it's just because although I manage a conversation (I do have an almost severe aversion to inane conversations/topics so sometimes I really have nothing to say, and in the case I do I always think "this is stupid but.. fucking conversation") at a level I consider okayish (could work on this too, but that's an entirely different topic) I always feel like "now's not the time". Not sure why. Maybe I'm not getting the right signal or maybe I'm missing it, but I always have this feeling that even though I'd like to do it, I'd probably mess up. Instinctively (or in some cached way) I think I should lead the conversation there but.. well, this is dragging on. So guys (I guess girls too), what's the best way to ask a girl out?

Comment author: chaosmage 29 December 2014 03:48:58PM *  4 points [-]

I'm guessing here, but it sounds like you have a very common problem, which people usually call "fear of rejection" but I think should be called "no plan for rejection". We instinctively avoid situations we don't feel able to handle, and in anyone able to think ahead, this includes situations that might lead into situations we don't feel able to handle. And that can feel like now's not the time.

A popular method for fixing this is The Rejection Game. Ask for something and get rejected, once per day, for a month. Your requests should be somewhat ridiculous, so you'll get rejected even though you're super polite and respectful. (Ask salespeople for discounts, for example.) After rejection, don't give up immediately, but negotiate a bit - this gives you something to do and should get you rejected more firmly.

Also, it might help to pretend they're boys.

Bonus prize: If you handle rejection really well, you get additional attempts later. Magic!

Comment author: curtd59 18 May 2015 09:49:10AM 1 point [-]

HI. Curt Doolittle. I follow LW via Feedly, but today someone asked me to comment on a LW article. I write analytic philosophy in epistemology (specifically truth), ethics, law, politics and science. I'm reasonably well known and easy to find on the web.

Here is my response to the recent post on Signaling by Outliers (Hipster analogy). You can use it as a test of worthiness.

All, Thank you for asking me to respond. I'll convert it from signaling (the author's criticism and somewhat humorous demonstration of signaling), from moral justification, to scientific language, and I think it will be clearer:

1) All radicals do not fit into the center of the distribution - the statement is tautological, not insightful.

2) We all signal, and signaling is necessary for evolutionary reproductive selection.

3) The presumption of not fitting into some locus of the median of the distribution is a democratic one - that we are equal rather than (as I argue) we constitute a division of cognitive labor: perception, evaluation, knowledge and advocacy. (humans divide cognition more so than other creatures because we specialize in cognition.)

4) Our theories do tend to justify our social positions (signaling) but then, we would not have information necessary to theorize about any other set of interests, now would we?

5) The origin of theories is irrelevant (justification is false), and therefore the question of a theory produced by any subset of a polity can be judged by only criticism - its irrelevant who comes up with a theory.

The vast difference between pseudoscience and science in ethics, law, politics, and economics is captured those few words.

Now, to state the positive version: the solution to the fallacy of the enlightenment hypothesis of equality of ability, interest, and value is captured in these additional points:

6) economic velocity (wealth) is determined by the degree of suppression of parasitism (free riding/imposed costs). This eliminates transaction costs.

7) central power originates to centralize parasitism and increase material costs, by suppressing local parasitism and transaction costs. Once centralized they can be incrementally eliminated. If and only if an institutional means of following rules can be used to replace personal judgement.

8) The only means of producing institutional rules to replace personal judgement (provision of 'decidability') is in the independent, common, evolutionary law resting upon a prohibition on parasitism/free-riding/imposed costs (negatives), codified as property rights (positives): productive, warrantied, fully informed, voluntary transfer(exchange), free of negative externalities.

9) Language evolved to justify (morality), negotiate (deceive), and rally and shame (gossip), and only tangentially and late to describe (truth). Truth as we understand it is an invention and an unnatural one - which is why it is unique to the west, and why it has taken philosophers so long to understand it. However, westerners evolved a military epistemology because they relied upon self-financing warriors voluntarily participating, as well as the jury and truth telling. (The marginal difference in intellectual ability apparently not common - they were all smart enough. and such testimony was in itself 'training'.)

10) We cannot expect or demand truth from people unless they know how to produce it. ie: Education in what I would consider the religion of the west: "the true, the moral and the beautiful". So I consider this education 'sacred' not just utilitarian.

11) We cannot demand truth and law from people unless it is not against their interests: ie: the only universal political system is Nationalism, because groups can act truthfully internally, truthfully externally, and can use trade negotiations to neutralized competitive differences. And with nationalism, individuals cannot escape paying the cost of transforming their own societies, and themselves, and laying the burden of doing so upon other societies.

12) Commons are a profound competitive advantage. Territorial, institutional, normative, genetic, physical, and economic (industrial) commons are a profound advantage to any group. The west is the most successful producer of commons so it is even more important to the west. So we must provide a means of producing those commons. The difference between market for private goods and services (where competition in production is a good incentive) and corporate (public) goods, where we must prevent privatization of gains an socialization of losses, requires that we provide monopoly protection of those goods from consumption. But does not require that we provide monopoly contribution to them. Commons require only that the people willing to pay for them, do so. Otherwise there is no demonstrated preference for that commons. Insurance is a commons and I will leave that for another time. Return on investment (dividends) are the product of commons. I will leave that for another time as well. The central point is that we can produce a market for common goods using government just as we do in the market private goods. But that law and commons are two different things. and that there is no reason whatsoever, knowing how to construct the common law, that government should be capable of producing law. it cannot. Law is. It cannot be created. Only identified.

(This is also probably the most profound 1000 words on politics that you will be able to find at this moment in time)


Curt Doolittle The Propertarian Institute