Survey Articles: A justification

by casebash 1 min read18th Oct 2015No comments


There seems to be a growing consensus among the community that while Less Wrong is great at improving epistemic rationality, it is rather lacking when it comes to resources for instrumental rationality. I've been thinking about how to address this. This can be very hard because many of the questions most important to instrumental rationality lack an objective answer and depend heavily on individual circumstance. Consider for example the question, "How do I become a more interesting person?", that is the first survey article I've published. One person might easily have the resources to go travelling and gain new experiences, while another person might be prevented by their financial situation. One person may enjoy the process of broadening their experience by reading, while another may simply detest books. Ignoring these individual circumstances will lead to much of the advice being unsuitable

It therefore seems that in a general resource, that is forced by its very nature to ignore individual circumstances, that the best response would be to gather together as many ideas as possible. It is hoped that each rationalist has the capacity to critically examine each suggestion that is proposed and reject those that would be counterproductive. This differs from a standard list article as, instead of limiting itself to an arbitrary number of ideas, or only using ideas thought of by the author, I have made a comprehensive list and taken ideas from different sources. Taking ideas from different sources is extremely important - a single person can only possess so much creativity. It also decreases the influence of the author's subjective point of view - I might never have said something myself, but I might be willing to include it in a list of ideas. Another problem with lists is that if they are wordy, they take a long time to read through, while if they are concise, they may be misunderstood. Summarising whilst linking to a source means that extra detail is available for those who need it.

One flaw is that the production of this lists will always be greatly subjective. I really like Mark Manson and am probably going to quote him a lot in these lists, but another person might love The Secret and quote it everywhere instead. Regardless of this subjectivity, if you think that a particular source lacks value, then you can choose to just ignore that source and just read the rest of the article. If there is a noticeable omission, that can be addressed in the comments, or, in extreme cases, by producing a rival list. So I think that these articles can work well regardless of subjectivity.

What problem is this designed to solve?

This has already been discussed above, but I want to go into more detail about the current process when someone has one of these subjective questions. The current process probably looks like Googling the question or searching the question on a trusted source (ie. Quora or Reddit). There are many good answers and good ideas, but they are spread out all over the Internet. It is very possible for someone to fail to find a suggestion that would have helped them. Gathering together a large number of different resources helps to minimise this. It also helps people to discover new sources that they might not have thought to look at.

What feedback am I after?

As well as general support or criticisms of the idea, I'd also like to see some suggestions on which questions you'd love to see a survey for.