This is part of a semi-monthly reading group on Eliezer Yudkowsky's ebook, Rationality: From AI to Zombies. For more information about the group, see the announcement post.

Welcome to the Rationality reading group. This fortnight we discuss Part Q: Joy in the Merely Real (pp. 939-979). This post summarizes each article of the sequence, linking to the original LessWrong post where available.

Q. Joy in the Merely Real

202. Joy in the Merely Real - If you can't take joy in things that turn out to be explicable, you're going to set yourself up for eternal disappointment. Don't worry if quantum physics turns out to be normal.

203. Joy in Discovery - It feels incredibly good to discover the answer to a problem that nobody else has answered. And we should enjoy finding answers. But we really shouldn't base our joy on the fact that nobody else has done it before. Even if someone else knows the answer to a puzzle, if you don't know it, it's still a mystery to you. And you should still feel joy when you discover the answer.

204. Bind Yourself to Reality - There are several reasons why it's worth talking about joy in the merely real in a discussion on reductionism. One is to leave a line of retreat. Another is to improve your own abilities as a rationalist by learning to invest your energy in the real world, and in accomplishing things here, rather than in a fantasy.

205. If You Demand Magic, Magic Won't Help - Magic (and dragons, and UFOs, and ...) get much of their charm from the fact that they don't actually exist. If dragons did exist, people would treat them like zebras; most people wouldn't bother to pay attention, but some scientists would get oddly excited about them. If we ever create dragons, or find aliens, we will have to learn to enjoy them, even though they happen to exist.

206. Mundane Magic - A list of abilities that would be amazing if they were magic, or if only a few people had them.

207. The Beauty of Settled Science - Most of the stuff reported in Science News is false, or at the very least, misleading. Scientific controversies are topics of such incredible difficulty that even people in the field aren't sure what's true. Read elementary textbooks. Study the settled science before you try to understand the outer fringes.

208. Amazing Breakthrough Day: April 1st - A proposal for a new holiday, in which journalists report on great scientific discoveries of the past as if they had just happened, and were still shocking.

209. Is Humanism a Religion Substitute? - Trying to replace religion with humanism, atheism, or transhumanism doesn't work. If you try to write a hymn to the nonexistence of god, it will fail, because you are simply trying to imitate something that we don't really need to imitate. But that doesn't mean that the feeling of transcendence is something we should always avoid. After all, in a world in which religion never existed, people would still feel that same way.

210. Scarcity - Describes a few pieces of experimental evidence showing that objects or information which are believed to be in short supply are valued more than the same objects or information would be on their own.

211. The Sacred Mundane - There are a lot of bad habits of thought that have developed to defend religious and spiritual experience. They aren't worth saving, even if we discard the original lie. Let's just admit that we were wrong, and enjoy the universe that's actually here.

212. To Spread Science, Keep It Secret - People don't study science, in part, because they perceive it to be public knowledge. In fact, it's not; you have to study a lot before you actually understand it. But because science is thought to be freely available, people ignore it in favor of cults that conceal their secrets, even if those secrets are wrong. In fact, it might be better if scientific knowledge was hidden from anyone who didn't undergo the initiation ritual, and study as an acolyte, and wear robes, and chant, and...

213. Initiation Ceremony - Brennan is inducted into the Conspiracy.


This has been a collection of notes on the assigned sequence for this fortnight. The most important part of the reading group though is discussion, which is in the comments section. Please remember that this group contains a variety of levels of expertise: if a line of discussion seems too basic or too incomprehensible, look around for one that suits you better!

The next reading will cover Part R: Physicalism 201 (pp. 983-1078). The discussion will go live on Wednesday, 13 January 2016, right here on the discussion forum of LessWrong.

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1 comment, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 1:51 AM

I would love to seem some hard data about correlation between the public interest in science and it's degree of 'cult status' vs. 'open science'.