Due in part to Eliezer's writing style (e.g. not many citations), and in part to Eliezer's scholarship preferences (e.g. his preference to figure out much of philosophy on his own), Eliezer's Sequences don't accurately reflect the close agreement between the content of The Sequences and work previously done in mainstream academia.

I predict several effects from this:

  1. Some readers will mistakenly think that common Less Wrong views are more parochial than they really are.
  2. Some readers will mistakenly think Eliezer's Sequences are more original than they really are.
  3. If readers want to know more about the topic of a given article, it will be more difficult for them to find the related works in academia than if those works had been cited in Eliezer's article.

I'd like to counteract these effects by connecting the Sequences to the professional literature. (Note: I sort of doubt it would have been a good idea for Eliezer to spend his time tracking down more references and so on, but I realized a few weeks ago that it wouldn't take me much effort to list some of those references.)

I don't mean to minimize the awesomeness of the Sequences. There is much original content in them (edit: probably most of their content is original), they are engagingly written, and they often have a more transformative effect on readers than the corresponding academic literature.

I'll break my list of references into sections based on how likely I think it is that a reader will have missed the agreement between Eliezer's articles and mainstream academic work.

(This is only a preliminary list of connections.)


Obviously connected to mainstream academic work

Less obviously connected to mainstream academic work

I don't think Eliezer had encountered this mainstream work when he wrote his articles

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Wow this is awesome. Some comments and questions:

  • Spohn's decision theory does look very similar to Eliezer's, but Spohn couldn't give a good argument for the plausibility of rational cooperation in one-shot PD (he tried in the 2003 paper) because his didn't have the concepts of decision making as an algorithm, and of logical correlation between instances of such algorithms.
  • The kind of AI cooperation discussed by Eliezer is not the type discussed as "program equilibrium". Instead "program equilibrium" is very similar (essentially the same?) as cousin_it's initial approach to AI cooperation, which he came up with in part due to dissatisfaction with Eliezer's approach. (cousin_it later moved on to "Lobian cooperation", which is closer to Eliezer's idea, and as far as anyone knows those results weren't previously discovered in academia.)
  • In your research, did you fail to find previous academic work for some elements of the sequences? In other words, which other elements are not (known to be) expositions or reinventions of previous academic work?
Fixed, thanks. I didn't look very hard. I merely thought about the stuff I already knew about, and then picked a subset of those things to list here.

Why is this only in discussion?


Because the distinction between main and discussion is really confusing.

Because it's only a discussion.

Some readers will mistakenly think that common Less Wrong views are more parochial than they really are.

This one is probably important. With non-LW newcomers to my meetup, I find explaining that we draw most of our ideas from LW kind of weird in the sense that 50% of my simulations of them conclude "these guys are some wacko internet cult". Only some of them come back.

I'd like to see at least some work on how to talk about LW without implying insularity. We can't just drop the LW affiliation, because nowhere else really compares (even if everything on LW exists somewhere else, it doesn't exist anywhere else all in the same place).


The internet is low status due to the low barriers to entry. Mention higher status things than the internet.
Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford (Hey I've heard of Oxford)
Vinge (a published author many have heard of)
Center for Applied Rationality which does real things in real life with real people

Talk about cognitive science. Talk about economics. Talk about anything but the internet. LessWrong? Oh it's just for coordinating all the interesting people who are interested in these interesting things.

I'd like to see at least some work on how to talk about LW without implying insularity.

Name-drop like a motha...

  • "Did you read Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely or Thinking Fast and Slow by Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman? We study their field of predictable human thinking errors and try to figure out how best to apply those lessons to everyday human life so that we can learn how to make decisions that are more likely to achieve our goals.

  • "We talk some about Alan Turing's idea that machines could one day become smarter than humans, and how shortly thereafter we might expect them to become more powerful than humans. One of the mathematicians who worked with him to crack the German Enigma Code, I.J. Good, explained that a smarter-than-human machine could use its intelligence to improve its own inteligence. And since neuroscientists like Paul Glimcher at NYU and Kent Berridge at U Michigan are learning that what humans care about is incredibly complex, it's unlikely that we'll be able to figure out how to program smarter-than-human machines to respect every little detail of what we care about."

Or, more meta-ly, you're not going to be very persuasive if you ignore pathos and ethos. I think this might be a common failure mode of aspiring rationalists because we feel we shouldn't have to worry about such things, but then we're living in the should-world rather than the real-world.
Name dropping is good solution for this but in my experience people very seldom read what you name drop and in certain circles this comes off a bit pretentious.

Some readers will mistakenly think that common Less Wrong views are more parochial than they really are.

I think the parochialism comes from high handed smack-talk like "The obvious answer to philosophically recondite issue is X, and all you need to see this is obvious is our superior rationality". Best example here.

One of the easiest hard questions, as millennia-old philosophical dilemmas go. Though this impossible question is fully and completely dissolved on Less Wrong, aspiring reductionists should try to solve it on their own.

I get a similar vibe regarding QM (obviously many worlds), religion (obviously atheism), phil of mind (obviously reductionsim), and (most worrying) ethics and meta-ethics.

The fact the candidate views espoused are part of the academic mainstream doesn't defray the charge of parochialism due to the tup-thumping, uncharitable-to-opponents and generally under-argued way these views are asserted. Worse, it signals lack of competence on the part of LW: given the views of virtually all domain experts on any of these things, your degree of confidence is better explained by inferior, not superior knowledge, and even if you happen to get the right answer, I doubt you're p-reliable or tracking.

I don't think there's much value in pretending that issues like God (and the absence thereof) or the compatibility between determinism and (any logically coherent view of) free will haven't been decisively answered.

Seriously now, the compatibility between free will and determinism is something that I was figuring out by myself back in junior high. Eliezer with his "Thou Art Physics" expressed it better and more compactly than I ever did to myself (I was instead using imagery of the style "we're the stories that write themselves", and this was largely inspired by Tolkien's Ainulindale, where the various gods sing a creation song that predicts all their future behaviour), but the gist is really obvious once you get rid of the assumption that determinism and free will must somehow be opposed.

In every discussion I've had since, in any forum, nobody who thinks them to be incompatible can describe even vaguely what "free will" would be supposed to look like if it does not contain determinism inside it.

I think this is a case of exactly the problem I diagnosed above.

Compatibilism (and related views) have been mentioned at least since Hume, and have been discussed extensively in modern analytic philosophy. Although it commands a slender majority of philosophers of action, it is not like the entire philosophical community considers compatibilism obviously or decisively the 'right answer' (see here, and here for a long index of reasons/objections etc.). You'd be pretty hard pressed to find a single philosopher of action who considers free will a 'solved problem'.

Yet it seems the less wrong community considers it solved based on a sequence of blog posts which merely explicates compatibilism: I couldn't find any discussion of compatibilism which goes beyond undergrad philosophy level, no discussion of common objections to compatibilism, engagement with any thinkers arguing against, nothing.

The two best explanations I have for this is either compatibilism is just obvious and people of sufficient rationality can be confident that domain experts on free will who don't buy compatibilism are wrong, or that the LW 'solution' is frankly philosophically primitive but LWers are generally too f... (read more)

Thanks for that poll. It's a slender majority, but a very strong plurality, since the next most favourite option is less than half as popular, and if you examine only the 'Accept' answers instead of the 'lean towards' answers, the compatibilists are also much more certain in their belief, while the libertarians and no-free-willers tend to be uncertain much more often. And the faculty is more definitely compatibilistic than the students, which seems to indicate education correlates with acceptance of compatibilism. But more importantly: these people also seem to prefer to two-box in Newcomb's problem. So why should I put much weight in their opinion?

A weak majority/strong plurality of relevant domain experts does not make the question decisively answered. I don't have survey data on this, but I'm pretty sure none of the compatibilists (even those who 'accept' it), take the question to be obviously answered etc. etc.

But more importantly: these people also seem to prefer to two-box in Newcomb's problem. So why should I put much weight in their opinion?

The majority of decision theory specialists two-box. I'm sure you can guess what I'm going to say about doman expertise and dunning-kruger effect here, too.

Tell me, do you have any criterion over whether something is "decisively answered" other than how many "relevant domain experts" agree with it? If your definition of "decisively answered" is solely dependent on this, then we can just agree that we were using different definitions for the term. So much for the decision theory specialists. Implement a real life version of Newcomb's box, where you fill in the opaque box based on whether they said they'll one-box or two-box. Assuming everyone follows what they said they should do, the one-boxers will just win, and the two-boxers will be weeping.

Tell me, do you have any criterion over whether something is "decisively answered" other than how many "relevant domain experts" agree with it? If your definition of "decisively answered" is solely dependent on this, then we can just agree that we were using different definitions for the term.

I take 'decisively answered' to mean something along the lines of "here is an account, which, properly understood, solves this problem to the satisfaction of reasonable people". So (near) unanimity among relevant domain experts is necessary but not sufficient for this. I can't think of anything in natural language we would call a 'decisive answer' or similar in which 40% or so of relevant domain experts disagree with.

So much for the decision theory specialists. Implement a real life version of Newcomb's box, where you fill in the opaque box based on whether they said they'll one-box or two-box. Assuming everyone follows what they said they should do, the one-boxers will just win, and the two-boxers will be weeping.

This is recapitulating a standard argument for one-boxing, and it is well discussed in the literature. The fact the bulk of people who spend their time studying this issue and don't find this consideration decisive should make you think it is less a silver bullet than you think it is.

I should update slightly towards that direction, yes, but I have to note that the poll you gave me are not just about people who study the issue, but people who also seem to have made a career out of discussing it, and therefore (I would cynically suggest) perhaps wouldn't like the discussion to be definitively over. e.g. Theologists and Priests are perhaps not the best people to poll, if you want to determine the existence of God. Ah, but I just remembered atheism was one of the things you complained about being treated as obviously correct by most of us here? Because the domain experts about God (Theologists and Priests) haven't come to same conclusion? I don't feel a pressing need to be non-standard: One-boxing wins, two-boxing loses -- that's all one needs to know for the purpose of choosing between them.
Sure, but I gather there are other things you can discuss in decision theory besides Newcomb's problem, so it isn't like the decision theorists need an artificial controversy about this to keep their jobs. There are dissimilarities between decision theorists and (say) theologians, priests etc. Decision theorists are unlikely to have prior convictions about decision theory before starting to study it, unlike folks who discuss religion. The relevant domain expert in 'Does God exist' would likely be philosophers of religion, although there is a similar selection effect. However, for what it's worth, I doubt atheist philosophers of religion would consider the LW case for atheism remotely creditable.
This is an elementary logical fallacy. Because someone is bad at completely unrelated task X, tells you zero information at task Y. We are however given that they are domain experts, and as such are competent at the task at hand.
There are plenty of reasons for putting forward you conclusions as non decisive: (edited) 1. Not sounding as though you are suffering from the Dunning Kruger effect 2. Academic Modesty. 3. You might actually be wrong. No one who calls themselves a rationalist should confuse "Seems true to me" with "is true".
Are those separate points? I 'might' also be wrong about the Earth not being flat. That still doesn't mean that we shouldn't consider the shape of the earth decisively answered.
They may overlap. Are they bad points? The pertinent point is that all informed opinion considers it decisiley answered. That is not the case with the two issues you cited as having been decisevly answered by EY.
They're insufficient for me. Other people may find them sufficient. So, according to you, it seems I shouldn't pronounce something decisively answered unless "all informed opinion" considers it decisively answered. Don't you see the paradox in this? How is the first person to consider it 'decisively answered' supposed to call it 'decisively answered', if he/she must first wait for all other people to call it 'decisively answered' first?
No they needn't. They only need wait for the point to be reached where an overwhelming majority agree with an answer. Having noted that , they can correctly state that it has been decisevely answered. They only need others to agree with the anwer, not for others to agree that the question has been decisvely answered.
I don't think that "decisively answered" need have anything to do with democracy -- for example I'm sure that if you poll Czech scientists about the existence of God, you'll get a different distribution than if you ask Iranian scientists. Even if they're equally informed, political considerations will make them voice different things. The policy you suggest seems designed to minimize conflict with your academic peers, not designed to maximize effectiveness in the pursuit of understanding the universe.
Churchill said democracy was the worst system apart from all the others. Do you have an alternative way of establishing Deciiveness that improves on the Majority of Informed Opinion? Neither of those subsets would get me the majority of informed opinion. I believe I have already solved that problem.
Churchill's exact quote was "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time" He was talking about forms of government, not methods of understanding the universe. As a sidenote, let me note here that even on the issue you argued about, this "majority" seems to actually exist. The majority of philosophers are compatibilists, according to Thrasymachus's linked poll above. And there seems to be an > 80% percentage (an overwhelming majority) against libertarian free will. According to your own argument then, even if you don't find compabilism a "decisive answer", you should find libertarianism a "decisive failure of an answer". But getting back to your question: "Do you have an alternative way of establishing Deciiveness that improves on the Majority of Informed Opinion?" Well, even if we don't speak about things like "Science" or "Testing" or "Occam's Razor properly utilized", I think I'll prefer the "Majority of Informed Opinion that Also Has IQ > 130 And Also One-Boxes in Newcomb's Dilemma".
I was only drawing a loose analogy. Then Hobbes decisively solved it, not EY. OTOH, if you are talking about EY's specific form of compatibilism.. then he has no majority on his side. Why is it an improvment to make it parochial? Can't you see that it trivialises the claim "EY has decisevely solved FW" to add the rider "..by the LW/EY definition of decisivness". I could also claim to have solved it by my definition. Parochialism devalues the currency.
Downvoted, because I never made that claim, and nobody has made that claim. I said FW/determinism has been solved, I didn't present EY as the originator of compatibilism, any more than I would have assigned the invention of atheism to him. I may have tapped out, but don't you dare make this into an opportunity to misrepresent me. I will still disavow any false statement you assign to me. I'm very territorial about what I have actually said, vs what people attempt to falsely assign to me.
Do you think there is any novelty to EY's compatibilism?

Just want to give one piece of positive feedback: I've been meaning to get some recommendations for reading on many of these topics, and these citations are way awesomer than what I would've hoped to get before. Thanks, Luke!

Thanks for bothering to give "lowly" positive feedback! :)


What about Drescher's Good and Real: Demystifying Paradoxes from Physics to Ethics? Eliezer said it's "pratically Less Wrong in book form."

Not a source, but definitely a parallel. We have talked about Newcomb's problem with transparent boxes on here a few times - I'm pretty sure that's originally from Good and Real.
Yep. Gloriously lucid and quite readable book. Encapsulates good chunks of the sequences. Much more accessible than I had anticipated.

I'd also mention

  • Hayakawa's Language In Thought and Action
  • Axelrod's The Evolution of Cooperation
  • Rawls' Theory of Justice (though the Sequences don't discuss CEV much)
  • maybe Peter Singer?
...is not what I'd call "mainstream academia." Its program of "general semantics" is instead what Martin Gardner labeled as "cultism and pseudo-science" in one chapter of Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science. Despite this, Language in Thought and Action is pretty good.
Could you connect them to the sequences like Luke did please? To the extent that I am familiar with your list, I'm having a hard time seeing it.

Eliezer has explicitly mentioned Hayakawa in Intensions and Extensions. Axelrod is important to understanding the iterated Prisoner's Dilemma. Singer is one of the better-known proponents of a "shut up and multiply" approach to utilitarianism, agreeing with Eliezer's conclusions in various places (eg). Rawls' notions of the "veil of ignorance" and "reflective equilibrium" have been mentioned in connection with Coherent Extrapolated Volition - when I first came across CEV the similarities with Rawls stuck out like a sore thumb.


And lo, people began tweeting:

Eliezer Yudkowsky's "Sequences" are mostly not original

Which is false. This pushes as far in the opposite wrong direction as the viewpoint it means to criticize.

Evolutionary biology, the non-epistemological part of the exposition of quantum mechanics, and of course heuristics and biases, are all not original. They don't look deceptively original either; they cite or attributed-quote the sources from which they're taken. I have yet to encounter anyone who thinks the Sequences are more original than they are.

When it comes to the part that isn't reporting on standard science, the parts that are mostly dealt with by modern "philosophers" rather than experimental scientists of one kind or another, the OP is vastly overstating how much of the Sequences are similar to the standard stuff out there. There is such a vast variety of philosophy that you can often find a conclusion similar to anything, to around the same degree that Leibniz's monadology anticipated timeless quantum mechanics, i.e., not very much. The motivations, the arguments by which things are pinned down, the exact form of the conclusions, and what is done with thos... (read more)

the OP is vastly overstating how much of the Sequences are similar to the standard stuff out there... I think Luke is being extremely charitable in his construal of what's "already" been done in academia

Do you have a Greasemonkey script that rips all the qualifying words out of my post, or something? I said things like:

  • "Eliezer's posts on evolution mostly cover material you can find in any good evolutionary biology textbook"
  • "much of the Quantum Physics sequence can be found in quantum physics textbooks"
  • "Eliezer's metaethics sequences includes dozens of lemmas previously discussed by philosophers"
  • "Eliezer's free will mini-sequence includes coverage of topics not usually mentioned when philosophers discuss free will (e.g. Judea Pearl's work on causality), but the conclusion is standard compatibilism."
  • "[Eliezer's posts] suggest that many philosophical problems can be dissolved into inquiries into the cognitive mechanisms that produce them, as also discussed in"
  • "[Eliezer's posts] make the point that value is complex, a topic explored in more detail in..."

Your comment above seems to be reacting to a differ... (read more)


Most people won't read my references. But some of those who do will go on to make a sizable difference as a result. And that is one of the reasons I cite so many related works, even if they're not perfectly identical to the thing me or somebody else is doing.

FWIW, Luke's rigorous citation of references has been absurdly useful to me when doing my research. It's one of the aspects of reading LW that makes it worthwhile and productive.

Luke is already aware that I've utilized his citations to a great extent, but I wanted to publicly thank him for all that awesome work. I'd also like to thank others who have done similar things, such as Klevador. We need more of this.

I am trying to counteract these three effects

I think a valid criticism can be made that while you were trying to counteract these three effects (which is clearly an important and useful effort), you didn't take enough care to avoid introducing a new effect, of making some people think the Sequences are less original than they actually are. (For example you didn't ask Eliezer to double check your descriptions of how the Sequences posts relate to the academic works, and you didn't give some examples of where the Sequences are original.)

This is bad because in addition to communicating various ideas, the Sequences also serve as evidence of Eliezer's philosophy and rationality talents/skills, which is useful for potential donors/supporters to judge the likely future effectiveness of the Singularity Institute in achieving its goals.

I agree I could have spent a paragraph reinforcing the originality of The Sequences. As for asking Eliezer to check the article before posting: I've sent Eliezer things for feedback before, and he usually doesn't give feedback on them until after I stop waiting and post them to LW. But as a result of this post, we've arranged a new heuristic: If I think Eliezer plausibly disagrees with a thing I'm going to post to LW, I'll give him a chance to give feedback on it before I post it.
From a donor point of view, the question is as much whether Eliezer has made relevant lessons a true part of him as whether he has done original work. The Sequences are neither necessary nor sufficient to get funding to do actual research (although I hope they are helpful in obtaining funding for research).
Yvain has posted more than once on this, although with less detail and referencing.
Oops, fixed. Thanks. Though, note that the second Yvain post you linked to was a follow-up to one of my reference-packed posts on the subject.
6Eliezer Yudkowsky12y
All readers have a Greasemonkey script that rips all the qualifying words out of a post. This is a natural fact of writing and reading. Not the post you wrote - the post that the long-time LWer who Twittered "Eliezer's Yudkowsky's Sequences are mostly not original" read. The actual real-world consequences of a post like this when people actually read it are what bothers me, and it does feel frustrating because those consequences seem very predictable - like you're living in an authorial should-universe. Of course somebody's going to read that post and think "Eliezer Yudkowsky's Sequences are mostly not original"! Of course that's going to be the consequence of writing it! And maybe it's just because I was reading it instead of writing it myself, without having all of your intentions so prominently in my mind, but I don't see why on Earth you'd expect any other message to come across than that. A few qualifying words don't have the kind of power it takes to stop that from happening!

All readers have a Greasemonkey script that rips all the qualifying words out of a post... I don't see why on Earth you'd expect any other message to come across than ["Eliezer's Sequences are mostly not original"].

Do you think most readers misinterpreted my post in that way? I doubt it. It looks to me like one person tweeted "Eliezer's Sequences mostly not original" — a misinterpretation of my post which I've now explicitly denied near the top of the post.

My guess now would be that I probably underestimate the degree to which readers misinterpreted my post (because my own intentions were clear in my mind, illusion of transparency), and that you probably overestimate the degree to which readers misinterpreted my post (because you seem to have initially misinterpreted it, and that misinterpretation diminishes several years of cognitive work that you are justly proud of).

Also: you seem to be focusing on the one tweeted misinterpretation and not taking into account that we have evidence that the post is also achieving its explicitly stated goals, as evidenced by many of the comments on this thread: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.


It is very easy to read the sequences and think that you think the philosophical thought is original to you. Other than the FAI stuff and decision theory stuff, is that true?

What exactly is wrong with being thought of as a very high-end popularizer? That material is incredibly well presented.

Additionally, people who disagree with your philosophical positions ought not be put in the (EDIT: position) of needing to reinvent the philosophical wheel to engage critically with your essays.

Put in the position of?
Yes, thanks.
3Paul Crowley12y
I'd take out the EDIT - people can see from the comment below that you edited in response to a comment.

All readers have a Greasemonkey script that rips all the qualifying words out of a post. This is a natural fact of writing and reading.

I don't. In fact, I sometimes insert such words.

Only a single conclusion is possible: LukeProg is a TRAITOR!

Only a single conclusion is possible: LukeProg is a TRAITOR!

I can understand why this would be negatively received by some---it is clearly hyperbole with a degree of silliness involved. That said---and possibly coincidentally---there is a serious point here. In fact it is the most salient point I noticed when reading the post and initial responses.

In most social hierarchies this post would be seen as a betrayal. An unusually overt and public political move against Eliezer. Not necessarily treason, betrayal of the tribe, it is a move against a rival. Of course it would certainly be in the interest of the targeted rival to try to portray the move as treason (or heresy, or whatever other kind of betrayal of the tribe rather than mere personal conflict.)

The above consideration is why I initially expected Eliezer to agree to a larger extent than he did (which evidently wasn't very much!) Before making public statements of a highly status sensitive nature regarding an ally the typical political actor will make sure they aren't offending them---they don't take the small risk establishing an active rivalry unless they are certain the payoffs are worth it.

This (definitely!) isn't to say ... (read more)

The thought that Luke was trying to sabotage my position, consciously or unconsciously, honestly never crossed my mind until I read this comment. Having now considered the hypothesis rather briefly, I assign it a rather low probability. Luke's not like that.

It is perhaps worth noting that wedrifid didn't say anything about motives (conscious or otherwise). Whether I believe someone is trying to sabotage my position (consciously or unconsciously) is a different question from whether I believe they are making a move against me in a shared social hierarchy. (Although each is evidence for the other, of course.)

With both your comment here and your comments on the troll-fee issue I've found you coming across as arrogant. This perception seems to roughly match the response that other people have had to those comments as well, since most people disagreed with you in both areas (judging by number of upvotes). I hadn't perceived you that way before now, so I'm wondering if something happened to you recently that's altered the way you post or the way you think. This change is for the worse; I want my old model of Eliezer Yudkowsky back!

Frankly, I have found the sequences to be primarily useful for condensing concepts that I already had inside my head. The ideas expressed in almost all of the sequences are blatantly obvious, but they come across as catchy and often are reducible to a quick phrase. Their value lies in the fact that they make it easy to internalize certain ideas so that they're more readily accessible to me. They also helped clarify the boundaries of some concepts, to a certain extent. The sequences have provided me with a useful terminology, but I don't think they've offered me much else.

What ideas do you believe to be original that you've produced?

Is there a reason that defending the originality of the sequences is so important to you?

With both your comment here and your comments on the troll-fee issue I've found you coming across as arrogant.

You only got this now?

While it wasn't perfectly phrased, I understand where chaosmosis is coming from: I too get the sense that Eliezer is responding significantly less well to criticism, both by misinterpreting or straw-manning what other people have written and letting negative emotions influence what he writes. However, I don't think that one draw a line through two data points: after all, what I regard as Eliezer's best response to criticism, Reply to Holden on 'Tool AI', was written well after the Sequences.
"Is there a reason that defending the originality of the sequences is so important to you?" Yudkowsky may need to begin reviewing the literature on cognitive biases for his own sake at this point.
Eliezer Yudkowsky is the supreme being to whom it is up to all of us to become superior!
I think chaosmosis would prefer to perceive this as occurring through a change in chaosmosis than a change in chaosmosis's evidence about Eliezer.
No preference. I don't understand how your comment is responsive to atorm's though, so I might be missing something here.
It responds to the disconnect between the quote and the quoted quote, in particular the implication of the latter regarding the former.

One anecdote given the 'PR' worries raised:

I have never read the sequences. After reading Luke's post, I am much less likely to: the impression given is the sequences are generally idiosyncratic takes which recapitulate an already existing and better organized literature. I also think it is more likely the sequences are overrated, either through readers being unaware their (or similar) insights have already been made, or lacking the technical background to critique them.

It also downgraded my estimate of the value of EY's work. Although I was pretty sceptical, I knew there was at least some chance that the sequences really were bursting with new insights and that LW really was streets ahead of mainstream academia. This now seems much less likely - although I don't think EY is a plagiarist, it seems most of the sequences aren't breaking new ground, but summarizing/unwittingly recapitulating insights that have already been made and taken further elsewhere.

So I can see the motivation for EY to defend that their originality: his stock goes down if the sequences are neat summaries but nothing that new rather than bursting with new and important insights, and EY's stock is important for things like donations, public perception of him and the SI, etc. (Both my likelihood of donating and my regard for SI has been lowered a bit by this post and comments). However, EY's way of responding to (weakly implied) criticism with catty arrogance compounds the harm.

If you are at all interested in rationality it would be a huge shame for you to skip the Sequences.

Yes, a lot of the material in the Sequences could also be obtained by reading very very carefully a few hundred impenetrable scholarly books that most people have never heard of in five or ten different disciplines, supplemented by a few journal articles, plus some additional insights by "reading between the lines", plus drawing all the necessary connections between them. But you will not do this.

The Sequences condense all that information, put it in a really fun, really fascinating format, and transfer all of it into the deepest levels of your brain in a way that those hundred books wouldn't. And then there's some really valuable new material. Luke and Eliezer can argue whether the new material is 30% of the Sequences or 60% of the Sequences, but either number is still way more output than most people will produce over their entire lives.

If your worry is that they will just be recapitulating things you already know, I am pretty doubtful; I don't know your exact knowledge level, but they were pretty exciting for me when I first read them and I had college degrees in philosop... (read more)

For the record, when I read Eliezer's comments about the originality of The Sequences, it sounds to me like he and I have pretty much the same estimate of how original The Sequences are.
Fair enough. Your and Luke's recommendation are enough for me to read at least some to see if I have got the wrong impression.
You might want to link to "Yes, a blog" by Academian.
The sequences need a summary like the one you just wrote, the way books have a summary on the cover. Maybe this should be taken as a hint that you'd get more mileage out of the sequences with a really good description placed prominently in front of them. That could quickly re-frame non-originality claims as being irrelevant by plainly stating that they're an accessible and entertaining way to learn about logic and bias (implying that the presentation is valuable even if some of the content can be found elsewhere), with (whatever amount) of new content on X, Y, Z topics. If you choose to write such a description, I'd really like to know what you got out of them that your philosophy and psychology degrees didn't give you.
The sequences need a second edition. It's sheer hubris to think that nothing has changed in four years.

The sequences need a second edition. It's sheer hubris to think that nothing has changed in four years.

There would be room for improvement even without anything changing. They were produced as daily blog posts for the purpose of forcing Eliezer to get his thoughts down on a page.

Actually I think the sequences are worth reading even though I deplore the tub-thumping, lack of informedness, etc. What would you expect if someone bright but uninformed about philosophy invented their own philosophy? Lots of ground re-covered. Lots of avoidable errors. Some novel insights.

I hadn't expected you to disagree with that tweet, so I'm clearly getting something wrong. I wrote that in the hope that it would encourage people to read the Sequences, not put them off - I think people imagine it as this million-word work of revelation, but a very large part of what it is is a work of popular science - turning people on to good existing ideas in psychology and philosophy and biology and physics and suchlike. There is a great deal that is original and valuable in there, but I don't think of it as the majority of the material.

I get your point, but to lots of people the wording of that tweet would have the connotation ‘EY is a plagiarist’, not ‘EY is not a crackpot’.

Yes, this.

The word "original" has positive connotations. And therefore the words "unoriginal" or "not original" have negative connotations.

So, yeah, I don't think you'd encourage anyone to read anything by calling it "not original".

Except on Wikipedia (where it's usually an euphemism for ‘crackpottish’). ;-) (As someone on a Wikipedia talk page once said -- quoting from memory, “if we aren't allowed to [do X] the allowed band between original research and plagiarism becomes dangerously narrow”.)
4Paul Crowley12y
Right, but I had hoped that the result would be that someone would follow the link in the tweet, after which they find out some things that may cause them to feel more positively.
I don't know anything about the friends ciphergoth is attempting to reach, but I observe that in religion, "original" would be the greater turn-off. In religion, every innovation is heretical, because it is an innovation. To be accepted it must be presented as "not original", either because it is exactly in accordance with official doctrine, or because it is a return to the true religion that the official doctrine has departed from. It is rare for a religion to successfully introduce a new prophet with the power to sweep away the old, and even then ("I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil") the pretence is maintained that no such thing has happened.
Someone who doesn't want to read science-y stuff because they have that kind of mindset is not going to suddenly become curious when someone tells them it's based on science-y stuff from less than 30 years ago. I like to think of it temporally; that religion is much like rationalists facing the wrong direction. Both occasionally look over their shoulders to confirm their beliefs (although with theists it's more like throwing a homunculus into the distant past and using that for eyes), while most of the time the things we really care about and find exciting are in front of us. Original vs unoriginal with respect to modern thought is of no practical interest to someone with the "every innovation is heretical" mindset unless it is completely within their usual line of sight - heretical is code for "I don't want to keep looking over my shoulder", not "I hate the original on principle". So unless you put that "original" encouragement thousands of years ago where they can see it, where it's a matter of one in front and one behind, the distinction between which is the greater turn-off is not going to matter, or bait anyone into turning around - there is nothing in their usually observed world to relate it to.

Thinking about it further though, this makes something of a nonsense of the original tweet, since it's hard to think what would count as "mostly original" by this standard. You might as well describe eg The Better Angels of Our Nature as "mostly not original" since it contains no original research but presents a synthesis of the research of others, building up to a common theme.

The problem I have is that if I say something that sounds positive about the Sequences, that's going to turn my friends off, since they already know I think well of them. By saying something that on first reading sounds negative, I might get their interest, but that only works if they go on to follow the link.

The problem I have is that if I say something that sounds positive about the Sequences, that's going to turn my friends off, since they already know I think well of them.

For example, they may be turned off if you came out and said "The sequences really aren't the parochial ramblings of an intellectual outcast, they are totally in accord with mainstream scientific thinking". But "mostly not original" conveys much of the same message by making a concession to the orthodoxy.

I do not understand this. What planet are your friends from? If you're tweeting to your friends, and they already know what you think of the Sequences, why are you tweeting about them to them?
5Paul Crowley12y
They are from Earth. Because it would be great for me and for the world if more of my friends took an interest in this sort of thing, and if they have misconceptions that stand in the way of that I'd like to clear up those misconceptions.
I understand the goal; but not the action taken to achieve it. Negging the Sequences will get them to take more of an interest?

I agree that Luke's post might cause some people to update too much in the direction of "the Sequences aren't original". He was wrong or overstated things in the couple of bullet points that I checked out (and pointed out in my earlier comment). He probably should have showed it to you for error-checking and making sure it's being fair before posting it.

I do think having an index of related works is very valuable, for people wanting to do further readings, or figuring out exactly which parts of the Sequences are original.

So they won't actually read the literature and find out for themselves that it's not what they've already read.

I read Spohn right away, and I'm at least planning to read some of the other references. But I'm not sure how typical I am in this regard.

The reader really shouldn't have to figure it out; it's a bit intellectually dishonest to impose that burden on the reader--to the author's reputational benefit.
In general, Eliezer did a fairly good job of citing things that he actually was drawing from, ie he didn't plagiarize often. Much of LukeProg's post was simply providing references to similar or independently invented ideas in academia, which were not directly relevant and would have been somewhat inappropriate to put in the posts.

There's literature out there which is written in the same spirit as LW, but with different content. Now that's an exciting message. It might even get people to read things.

Maybe we can start to build up a repository of those things, too. So far, you've recommended:

  • Language in Thought and Action
  • Psychological Foundations of Culture
  • Good and Real
  • Rational Choice in an Uncertain World

Unfortunately, those works seem incredibly different to me, so it's hard for me to guess which other works you would also endorse as being in the "LW spirit." I'll try anyway:

How about: * Mental Traps Written by a psychologist-philosopher (literally), it reads exactly like a Sequence on five-second approaches to a wide array of thinking errors, carefully cataloged and taxonomized with the information needed to get out of them... and most of them are not thinking errors that have previously been cataloged on LW. (Even what we commonly refer to here under the heading of "sunk-cost fallacy" is given a much more rigorous, "five-second level" analysis, showing how we get stuck in that fallacy all day long doing ordinary things. Forget sticking with a big multi-year project, he shows how we can get skewered by this fallacy in doing things that take five minutes.)
There should be more (literal) philosopher-psychologists.
Several essays by Paul Graham. (eg Keep Your Identity Small or How to Disagree)

There's a spirit in LW which really is a spirit that exists in many other places,

Yes, and pointing out those other places here serves two purposes.

It serves to brand LW, so that people passing by can quickly see the kind of spirit here. Yes, there's a whole world out there, and many of us have spent some time in it, so seeing references to that world here serves to quickly communicate some of what LW is about.

References also server to point people here to other expositions of similar material.

For example, you say:

The only real way for people to learn better is to go out and read Language in Thought and Action

I'd recommend people at some point move on from Hayakawa to Korzybski, Science and Sanity, and the whole General Semantics literature. People have spent decades discussing these issues and organizing

It doesn't get people to read the literature. Why should they? From what they can see, it's already been presented to them on LW, after all.

That's not my reaction to references. When I first came here, the references to Jaynes didn't make me think "I've already covered this stuff, no need to read this web site." On the contrary, it made me want to read more.... (read more)

TDT doesn't artifically sever decision nodes from anything upstream; the idea is that observing your algorithm, but not its output, is supposed to screen off things upstream.

Pardon me; I'm not yet much of an expert with LW decision theories. When you explained TDT on the whiteboard to Alex (with me listening), you kept talking about "severing" rather than "screening off." I'll try to find a way to modify the OP.

ETA: I remembered I have a recording of that tutorial, and I when checked the recording, and it turns out my memory was wrong. You did talk about how TDT "screened off" the information whereas CDT "severs" the causal diagram.

I don't understand what the purpose of this post was supposed to be - what positive consequence it was supposed to have.

I took the post to be Luke writing notes to himself, in public so as to recruit others' help, toward the kind of bibliography that might be included in an academically acceptable version of the Sequences, or of some parts of them.

The intention being, I gathered, to publish these bibliographies as an adjunct to the Sequences - perhaps in the "wall of references" style of Luke's early posts. (If so, I hope a more user-friendly way of displaying those is worked out first!)

(ETA: the specific positive consequence of that would be to help the reader "find the related works in academia" as per Luke's third numbered point in the OP.)

-1Eliezer Yudkowsky12y
Why would that actually be a consequence of the OP as written?

I'm stating what I discerned of the intention - I won't presume to judge the OP either as a plan of action, or as a first step in its execution.

Completely agree with your latter addendum that people should read Hofstadter, Hayakawa etc. not as footnotes to your work but for their own merits. Hofstadter I discovered in childhood and I wouldn't be the same person if I hadn't; I read Hayakawa on your recommendation, and am glad I did. Yay to more discussion of works that have the LW-nature, but are not otherwise alluded to in the Sequences. :)

Thankyou for clearing that up. Given your occupational affiliation with Luke I had been overestimating the extent to which you would endorse his position. That is, I wouldn't have expected Luke to write this without checking with you first so thought you must have agreed.

Regardless of whether it's original, you're the one making rationality popular. Inspiring this many people to take more interest in rationality is a profoundly worthwhile accomplishment. The world needs teachers who can motivate them to think more clearly. I'm heartened to see your progress.
Added to my list! Do you have any more reading suggestions for people who have read the sequences? I read a few books recommended in the book recommendation open threads (or on irc), but was sometimes disappointed ("Thinking in Systems" is not very rigorous and formal, Nassim Taleb's "Fooled by Randomness" takes too much liberty interpreting various concepts, and I'm not a fan of books that start by telling me "don't worry I won't hurt your little brain with equations").
Great minds think alike?

And remember, billionaire friend Peter Thiel financed this immense production, which E.Y. wrote while on Thiel's payroll at SIAI. It's immensity isn't a product of original thought but, in the end, of a pampered parasite with too much time on his hands.

Seriously? DevilWorm is criticizing Eliezer for managing to find financial support while producing his intellectual output? That's how most intellectual work gets done---both within and without formal academic establishments and in various forms across time. This criticism is utterly pathetic.

I don't understand how DevilWorm has been upvoted here (+3 prior to my vote). The remainder of the comment is almost as bad---as is every other comment he has written. Moreover a brief glance at the user's comment history identifies the DevilWorm account as rather obviously yet another sock-puppet created for the purpose of acting out his personal animosity.

How the heck are our new anti-trolling measures going to work if people go around upvoting blatant trolling like this? I mean sure, this guy seems to have a basic grasp of grammar and punctuation but apart from that he doesn't seem to have contributed anything but some filler in which to embed some unnecessary insults.

DevilWorm's comments (and all other slander-sockpuppets) should not be upvoted. They should be downvoted to invisibility until someone has a chance to ban the comments---and that only because the 'ban user by name and IP' is missing.

I'm actually moderately alarmed by the level at which their comments are upvoted (with all the bold face and whatnot). This event potentially adds motivation to the "Don't let users with low Karma upvote things" change.

If a non-negligible number of people upvote comments expressing negative opinions of Eliezer Yudkowsky or the Sequences, what leads you to the conclusion that the best response is to label these comments "slander" and cast for roundabout ways to suppress them? If you want an echo-chamber (a reasonable thing to want), that can be easily and non-disingenuously accomplished, for instance by making it explicit policy that disagreement with local authority figures is not permitted.
I'm afraid of the acceptance and approval of low quality comments, irrespective of the positions they express.
Owing to my low karma, I can't respond directly to DevilWorm's comment. But this is for you, my friend. DevilWorm, I don't like to judge a person too harshly. I acknowledge that in principle your trolling has the potential to make a positive contribution to the community. It would be cruel to just say "go back to troll school until you measure up". But to be honest, I do have my doubts about whether you have what it takes. To be brutally honest, the world only needs good trolls and bad trolls, and you are neither. Bad trolls (in the good sense of bad) are the ones who are born to trolldom. They are the griefers, the naturally vindictive spirits. But among genuinely evil trolls, you wouldn't last a day. If you enrolled in the Sith Academy's trolling masterclass, they would end up using you for target practice. Good trolls have trolldom thrust upon them. Through a mysterious mutant strain in their makeup, they see something that others cannot, and they are driven to the status of troll just by bearing witness to truth. But you are that sad case of someone who mistakes their own blind spot for superior vision: you think you can see that there is nothing to see here. Finally we have the ugly trolls, the wannabes, the ones who aspire to trolldom. My advice is, give it up. Don't use boldface, don't use italics, don't call people semiliterate when you don't know where to place an apostrophe yourself. Be humble, accept your station in life as just another commenter who occasionally makes a valid point. It's better to be an ordinary person who makes a small but genuine contribution, than a blowhard who contributes nothing at all. Your concerned friend, metatroll

It's posts like this that remind me that the sequences are vast, excellent, and most importantly of all, not particularly organized at the moment.

Every so often, Lukeprog or others will make a small effort towards collating the sequences, but the resulting product disappears into the ether of Discussion archives.

Talk is cheap, but somebody really needs to do something about the sequences to make them more accessible and visible to a newcomer. The LW wiki index of the sequence is incomplete, and seems like it hasn't been changed since 'Tetronian' created it six months ago.

They're compiling a book-format edition of the Sequences, and there's quite a bit of work into an alternate pop-sci edition.

Likewise, much of the Quantum Physics sequence can be found in quantum physics textbooks, e.g. Sakurai & Napolitano (2010).

I don't think Sakurai is the best reference here - most of an introductory QM book will be about what particles do in the presence of forces, and treats identical particles in a more complicated language because they can be either fermions or bosons.

A better text would be an introduction for people who want to do quantum computing - those people get to use all the nice abstractions and let the physicists worry about the particle... (read more)

I think it would be beneficial for this list to be put on a wiki page, so that there can be more comprehensive and collaborative cross-referencing.

This is good. Getting people to read lots of quality stuff by a wide variety of authors can put them on the path of being able to produce high quality output themselves, after overlearning the concepts and ways to present them from many viewpoints.

People who just stick with the sequences can end up parroting the surface jargon and alienating people who expect familiarity with a bit wider range of literature for someone whose opinion they would value.

So, you approve of the practice of disappearing comments without any notice of the fact or the reason?

Not as such, but I approve of disappearing anything everything from known trolling sockpuppet accounts.

(I feel like I should be paying a 5 karma troll-feeding-toll to write this but for some reason there are upvotes where I expected downvotes. I'll wait a day to see how things stabilize then consider if my model of lesswrong users needs to be updated.)

I edited the sequences page to add a link to this post.

And why was it deleted, when I've posted far more "objectionable" matter?

Because the moderators don't have access to a "ban account' feature for accounts that only post 'objectionable' material.

If you were an honest person (not one feeding at the trough of Thiel/Yudkowsky), you would vote yourself down.

Assuming we disregard ownership of multiple accounts, the consequent of your conditional is impossible.

It is easy to see why DevilWorm wouldn't disregard ownership of multiple accounts as a possibility.

It looks as though there is also earlier work on cooperation in one-shot prisoners dilemmas - e.g.:

Harrington, Joseph E. Jr. (1995) Cooperation in a one-shot Prisoners' Dilemma.

Heiner, Ronald Asher (2002) Robust Evolution Of Contingent Cooperation In Pure One-Shot Prisoners' Dilemmas

The sheer magnitude is what impresses gullible readers of the Sequences.

Wow. Deja vu. I actually have to follow this link and double check the date to see if this was the same comment we dealt with before or just a repetition of the same agenda by the same sockpuppet. If you check DevilWorm's user page you will see that this comment is a copy and paste clone of one he previously made that has now been deleted or banned (5 comments below on that page, to be precise). Once again it has received initial upvotes---either from his other accounts or from user... (read more)

What is originally his? AFAIK the FOOM and the Friendliness are his.

I am just curious.

Eliezer credits Nick Bostrom with coming up with the idea of Friendly AI first (and indeed while Eliezer was indifferent to AI risk on the assumption that either superintelligences would be automatically supermoral or it didn't matter what happened). FOOM probably goes to I.J. Good, or SF (Eliezer found out about the idea of a technological singularity by reading Vernor Vinge's science fiction, and closely related ideas are decades older in SF).

FOOM (AKA Intelligence Explosion) was formulated by I.J. Good about 50 years ago.
9Eliezer Yudkowsky12y
...and pre-formulated by John W. Campbell, a famous science-fiction editor.
Maybe it is just me. But as I understood I.J. Good's intelligence explosion is much more "Kurzweilian". Happens as a consequence of some large improvement all over the place. While for the Yudkowsky's FOOM, a right binary string in the RAM of the PC from 2000 would suffice to blow us away. I think, that the computer may need to be from today, or even from tomorrow, but this does not change much.
You would need improvements in both software and hardware to compete with natural nanotechnology at its best. Improvements in software would catalyse improvements in hardware - and visa versa. I think most of the parties involved are on the same page about all this.

http://lesswrong.com/lw/va/measuring_optimization_power/ and a couple of posts before and after are variations on the ideas of Daniel Dennett's The Intentional Stance. I loved both versions.

That's why he always refuses to summarize his conclusions.

It seems like his latest sequence is offering summarized versions of at least some of the previous sequences.


Looking at the PhilPapers.org survey of philosophers, the pattern of views in the main sequences can be predicted rather well with one heuristic: select the option that (religious) philosophers of religion disproportionately reject. Or, alternatively, the option most compatible with Dennett-style naturalism. Exceptions include one-boxing on Newcomb, and perhaps personal identity (which is somewhat tied up with transhumanism, but judged differently by philosophers of computing vs biology).

However, the conjunction of all of these naturalist-favored views has... (read more)

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limp on for years

More like a few weeks.

All I can do now is be silent. I shall sink into the divine shadow, and will not know the troll or the metatroll, or anything else. Numquam novi nomen eius, nomen troglodytam.

Even when E ideas are extremely similar to some SEP article, he assumes: " If the words are not the same, then there are differences". This sentiment converge to point 2.

I suppose has to do with possible linguistic traps. If we use terms who has a focal points as a premisse, probably these words come with hidden inferences associated to specific groups. Avoiding academic parlance whenever possible is good, but obvious improvements could be done in the writings.