Looking for alteration suggestions for the official Sequences ebook

by alexvermeer1 min read16th Oct 201273 comments

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As you may have heard, the Singularity Institute is in the process of creating an official ebook version of The Sequences (specifically, Eliezer's Major Sequences written between 2006 and 2009). 

Now is an opportune time to make any alterations to the contents of the Sequences. We're looking for suggestions about:

  1. Posts to add to the Sequences. E.g., "scope insensitivity" is not currently a part of any sequence, perhaps it should be? Preferably suggest a specific location, or at least a specific sequence where you think the addition would logically go.
  2. Posts to remove from the Sequences. Are there redundant or unnecessary posts? To call the Sequences long is a bit of an understatement.
  3. Alternatives to "The Sequences" as a title, such as "How to be Less Wrong: The Sequences, 2006--2009."

Put separate suggestions in separate comments so that specific changes can be discussed. All suggestions will be reviewed, with final changes made by Eliezer. Next thing you know, you'll be sipping a hot mocha in your favorite chair while reading about Death Spirals on your handy e-reader.

The Sequences that will be present in the ebook:

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If it were me, I'd split your list after reductionism into a separate ebook. Everything that's controversial or hackles-raising is in the later sequences. A (shorter) book consisting solely of the sequences on cognitive biases, rationalism, and reductionism could be much more a piece of content somebody without previous rationalist intentions can pick up and take something valuable away from. The later sequences have their merits, but they are absolutely counterproductive to raising the sanity waterline in this case. They'll label your book as kooky and weird, and they don't, in themselves, improve their readers enough to justify the expense. People interested in the other stuff can get the companion volume.

You could label the pared down volume something self helpey like 'Thinking Better: The Righter, Smarter You." For goodness sake, don't have the word 'sequences' in the title. That doesn't mean anything to anyone not already from LW, and it won't help people figure out what it's about.

EDIT: Other title suggestions - really just throwing stuff at the wall here

  • Rationality: Art and Practice

  • The Rational You

  • The Art of Human Rationality

  • Black Belt Bayesian: Building a Better Brain

  • The Science of Winning: Human Rationality and You

  • Science of Winning: The Art and Practice of Human Rationality (I quite like this one)

Oh, and somebody get Yudkowsky an editor. I love the sequences, but they aren't exactly short and to the point. Frankly, they ramble. Which is fine if you're just trying to get your thoughts out there, but people don't finish the majority of the books they pick up. You need something that's going to be snappy, interesting, and cater to a more typical attention span. Something maybe half the length we're looking at now. The more of it they get through, the more good you're doing.

EDIT: Oh! And the whole thing needs a full jargon palette-swap. There's a lot of LW-specific jargon that isn't helpful. In many cases, there's existing academic jargon that can take the place of the phrases Yudkowky uses. Aside from lending the whole thing a superficial-but-useful veneer of credibility, it'll make the academics happy, and make them less likely to make snide comments about your book in public fora. If you guys aren't already planning on a POD demand run, you really should. Ebooks are wonderful, but the bulk of the population is still humping dead trees around. An audiobook or podcast might be useful as well.

9wedrifid8yFor most part the sequences define said jargon, rather than using it.
7handoflixue8yFirst: Ahahahaha. No. The sequences use jargon. They use a lot of it. Approximately every single hyperlink in the Sequences is there to define jargon. This, by the way, works wonderfully when you have hyperlinks to remind you what the heck all the jargon means. Which leads me to #2... Second: Print books, lacking hyperlinks, will need a glossary Third: You are not allowed to use the chapter index as said glossary
0Epiphany8yI think what this person is saying is "We already have words for a lot of these things so Eliezer and the other people who wrote the sequences are making up their own words for no reason." The sequences would get more hits from search engines by using existing terms, LWers and other flavors of rationalists would be able to communicate more easily, and people would have to remember less terms overall if he just uses existing terms. (Edit: added "and other people" to above sentence about making up unnecessary words for the sequences)
2Epiphany8yExample: Luminosity is a new word for the existing concept "self-awareness" (Edit: "self-awarness" used to say "metacognition").
0wedrifid8yA new annoying word. I'd nominate it for "worst local jargon (single-word division)".
0Epiphany8yDoes any other unnecessary jargon come to mind?
-3Alicorn8y"Luminosity" is best glossed as "self-awareness", not "metacognition". Also, Eliezer didn't make it up (and I didn't make it up from scratch), so bringing it up under the grandparent is peculiar.
0Epiphany8ySince metacognition is thinking about your thoughts, and self-awareness means introspecting, which means thinking about your thoughts (or self-awareness can mean being aware that you have a separate personality, a self, which isn't how you use it), I would say these could be synonymous. To test whether my perception here is wrong, I went to wikipedia, Google, and the dictionary to see how they used those words. Here's what I discovered: Both the internet and you are using self-awareness in a broader way to encompass emotions and states of mind. Metacognition is more narrow and is something I personally use more frequently when I'm referring to re-engineering my thought processes. I think the reason I initially selected "meta cognition" as a term to suggest is because the sequences are, to me, an invitation to think about thinking and re-engineer one's thinking processes, so I was interpreting your luminosity concept within that context. Also, the way that I introspect about my feelings and experiences, I'm pretty focused on getting down to the thoughts behind everything and re-engineering them. The way I experience self-awareness, self-awareness and metacognition are inseparable and may as well be synonymous, but I acknowledge that other people may do it differently. If your focus is more on the emotional / state of mind type aspects (I have not read all of your luminosity articles to be able to see the patterns in how you use it) self-awareness is probably a closer synonym for luminosity. I also discovered that you have one of the top five Google results for luminosity. Good job. However, I think you're more likely to show up when people are looking for light bulbs or similar than when they are looking for self-improvement materials, so in my view it was not the most optimal term to SEO. I took the word "luminosity" from "Knowledge and its Limits" by Timothy Williamson, although I'm using it in a different sense than he did. [http://lesswrong.com/lw/1xh/living
0wedrifid8yOne could also say that 'meta-cognition' allows one to arrive at self-awareness.
0Epiphany8yI dunno, I think it might go the other way around actually. As tempting as it is to continue this, I'm becoming aware of the fact that this has resulted in a bunch of people talking about wording and I am not sure whether there's a point in discussing this further. I do want to discuss my ideas to slow Moore's Law [http://lesswrong.com/lw/e7a/heading_off_a_nearterm_agi_arms_race/798f] though.
0[anonymous]8yMerely modifying the title may also look like keyword stuffing.
-5Epiphany8y
4NancyLebovitz8yI'm not sure whether what looks like rambling is actually an effective method of easing people into the ideas so that the ideas are easier to accept, rather than just being inefficient. Is there any way to find out?
3Dolores19848yIn general, when something can be either tremendously clever, or a bit foolish, the prior tends to the latter. Even with someone who's generally a pretty smart cookie. You could run the experiment, but I'm willing to bet on the outcome now. It's important to remember that it isn't particularly useful for this book to be The Sequences. The Sequences are The Sequences, and the book can direct people to them. What would be more useful would be a condensed, rapid introduction to the field that tries to maximize insight-per-byte. Not something that's a definitive work on rationality, but something that people can crank through in a day or two, rave about to their friends, and come away with a better idea of what rational thinking looks like. It'd also serve as a less formidable introduction for those who are very interested, to the broader pool of work on the subject, including the Sequences. Dollar for sanity-waterline dollar, that's a very heavily leveraged position. Actually, if CFAR isn't going to write that book, I will.
1Epiphany8yI'm currently writing a summary of each sequence as I read them. I am doing this because it helps me to remember what I read. What is going to result from my doing this is a Cliff's notes version of the sequences. If you were going to do something similar anyway, I might as well just post these notes when I am done to save you the work. Would that serve the purpose you were thinking of? Or is your idea significantly different?
0alexvermeer8yI'm not sure if we will need these, though you should definitely put your summaries in the LW wikI!
0Epiphany8yHmm okay. Maybe I will do just that. (:
-1handoflixue8ySuggested title: The Tao of Bayes Ideally it should not be significantly longer than "The Tao of Pooh" I'd be half-tempted to try my hand at it myself...
0Dolores19848ySo far, I'm twenty pages in, and getting close to being done with the basic epistemology stuff.
2DaFranker8yRegarding the jargon, I agree with wedrifid that LW-specific jargon is actually being defined as the sequences, and from what I've heard and experienced this is extremely helpful in setting down a common language for us to discuss these matters. However, there is some jargon that could and probably should be done away with: the computer science stuff. Not all sequences/articles have it, but when it's there it's usually several levels of inference away from laypeople. The CS/programming examples, comparisons and metaphors are fun for someone like me, but it's an accepted matter among IT people that things like the XKCD comic on a random function that always returns 4 will not help get the point across to non-IT people. I'm sure that has been mentioned before, but it's worth making sure that it's looked over and that while doing it you remember that when writing educative material, most people severely overshoot the level that they're aiming for, and end up writing a text that's perfect for undergrads when they were targeting a middle school audience or somesuch. Personally, I'd leave in most of the random intercultural references (like the anime references, for instance) since I suspect they'd still reach a good portion of the audience and wouldn't have negative impact, but that'd be up for discussion. This also gives me an idea, but I'll make a separate comment for it.
2Epiphany8yOn the one hand, I agree with you. If people can't understand, then that's bad. On the other hand, touches like those give the sequences personality, and that personality may be part of what makes them popular. Usually, though, there's a way to phrase IT descriptions such that everyone can understand. I do this for my boss all the time. Maybe giving it a high-tech "personality" and making it comprehensible are not mutually exclusive.
0DaFranker8yYes, I agree. The IT culture stuff is good, what I think wouldn't pass is specific IT vocabulary or concepts that don't get introduced within the sequences and that is assumed to be understood. I seem to recall a reference somewhere of object-level vs class-level distinctions, and someone who's never heard about OOP would have no idea that we're basically talking about the programming equivalent of specific emails vs email templates (or "an email", or whatever helps make them understand, but I've found the specifc email vs template example sufficient as a first step for most people I've had to explain this to).

Yup, this is planned. It may be that SI publishes the full Sequences thing, and CFAR publishes the cut-down version (with a new introduction by Eliezer, or something).

1[anonymous]8y.
0lukeprog8yWould you please contact malo@intelligence.org? Thanks!
0[anonymous]8y.
0jsalvatier8yThat sounds like exactly the correct split.
5wedrifid8yThat one is taken.
0Dolores19848yMy mistake.
5cata8yI agree completely with this comment (assuming that the ebook is aimed at people who aren't already familiar with LW.) Regarding the title, you should aim for describing what the writing is about, not where the writing came from. Unfortunately I can personally only generate boring titles like "Essays On Thinking Straight".
1amcknight8yQuantum mechanics and Metaethics are what initially drew me to LessWrong. Without them, the Sequences aren't as amazingly impressive, interesting, and downright bold. As solid as the other content is, I don't think the Sequences would be as good without these somewhat more speculative parts. This content might even be what really gets people talking about the book.
5loup-vaillant8yMaybe we could test that. Does LessWrong keep non-anonymous access logs? If so, we may be able to (approximately?) reconstruct access patterns over the weeks/months/years by unique user. We could know: * What are the first reads of newcomers? * What are typical orders of reading? * Does reading stops, when, and where? For instance, if we find that people that start by the quantum mechanic sequence tend to leave more often than the others, then it is probably a good idea to segregate it in a separate volume. It would at least signal that the author knows this is advanced or controversial.
4Epiphany8yFrom Google analytics: Google has a term for pages that people come in on: "landing pages". Basically, it can tell whether someone got to the page from clicking an external link / advertisement or by using a search engine -- or whether they clicked a link from within the same site. "Timeless Physics" is in the 50 most popular landing pages and so is "An intuitive explanation of quantum mechanics" (though it is not a sequence). I am not seeing any pattern to the topics that people prefer in these landing pages. I can tell you this though, all the top 50 landing pages have terrible bounce rates (meaning people leave the site without clicking further), usually 80% or 90%. "What are typical orders of reading?" Analytics has something like this, but it's not specific to the sequences, so it basically shows people coming in on the main page, checking out discussions or maybe an article, going to the user sections or discussions or maybe a different article, and so on. It's not really useful for figuring this out. "Does reading stops, when, and where?" Everywhere. Most of the pages I've seen on there have an 80% or 90% bounce rate. The question here is what pages do they NOT quit reading on? restricts the analytics view to landing pages with < 60% bounce rate and orders them by total visits Well, look at that. "The Quantum Physics Sequence" is the first sequence page in the list. The next piece of writing is "Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality" which has a somewhat lower bounce rate but not nearly as many visits.

Pay lots of attention to the first articles. Definitely don't lead with The Simple Truth; it's not a good hook and it's much too long. I made a suggested reading order awhile back, which you might find useful; I also have the spreadsheet which generated it (though the sheet really just records the subjective judgments I made). That reading order includes other authors in addition to Eliezer, and it doesn't have anything after July 2011 when it was made.

3alexvermeer8yThe current plan is to include The Simple Truth and An Intuitive Explanation as "appendix" items, so not at the start of the book.
2Fhyve8yOh good. The best predictor for whether or not I successfully introduce someone to LW is whether or not I remember to tell them not to read The Simple Truth first.

Removal Suggestion: Bayesian Judo. I'm an atheist, too, but this post has a pile of issues:

  1. His reasoning is "If this one thing is false, the entire religion is wrong" - but that's a hasty generalization. I briefly explained in the comments why this cannot prove religion wrong.

  2. Since the reasoning is poor, and he opens with "You can have some fun with people..." this really looks like he's just putting in a "good, solid dig" like in the political mindkill piece.

  3. Also, this is likely to scare off religious people by caus

... (read more)
2beoShaffer8yAgreed. Related, Arresting irrational information cascades [http://www.overcomingbias.com/2012/10/arresting-irrational-information-cascades.html] talks about point 4.

I'm somewhat interested in doing editing work for these. I'm not sure if you guys are looking for a volunteer editor, and we'd have to negotiate before I would want to commit to such a huge project, but I'm inquiring about this.

I have three years of experience as a writer's group organizer, have been paid to edit two books in the past, and I write practically constantly (though I have not attempted to get published).

P.S. I have an editing suggestion, myself: there are places that use odd wording that is reminiscent of ancient holy books. This might contr... (read more)

0alexvermeer8yWe will be looking for volunteer Sequence proofreaders* using our new volunteer platform, with details are to come shortly. *proofreading, in this case = spelling, punctuation, minor grammar fixes, etc. Changes to content, terminology, overall style, etc. are beyond the scope of this project.
0Epiphany8yI am not the best choice as a spelling and grammar proofreader, to be honest.

Would there be any issues with titling the actual book "How to actually change your mind"?

It's catchy, it covers a lot of why someone might find the book interesting, and it's not that unusual for a book to have a chapter name identical to the title (or just rename that chapter, or break it down by sub-sequence instead)

5bsterrett8yI think this title sounds better if you are already familiar with the sequences. The importance and difficulty of changing your mind are not likely to be appreciated by people outside this community.
1handoflixue8yWhile I suspect you are correct, I also suspect that the audience for this book would probably be significantly more aware of it as a problem. This isn't a mainstream book, it's just a more accessible version of the sequences, so the target audience is going to be less "random Joe" and more "aspiring rationalist / potential LessWrong reader". Speaking to my social circle alone, any of my friends who weren't curious about a book like that would probably also struggle with the material. For some reason, it also strikes me as signalling "I am not a peppy self-help 'you can do anything!' book", which seems like a very useful property in a title. I have no clue if that's just me though :)

Add references and footnotes for alluded or summarised studies, papers, findings, etc. Use footnotes when original points have diverging academic parallels.

In general, make it easier to find out whence the Sequences' information derives, or what, if anything, inspired the original insights; if original insights were no inspired by anything, but have historical precedent in the same philosophical vein, please include a footnote providing that context.

2lukeprog8yThis is probably too expensive a sub-project for right now. Maybe a future edition can be produced which includes references and so on.

I have suggestions other than posts to add or remove, for instance like how the crux of My Wild and Reckless Youth seems to be that you need to use "retrospective predictions" but this term is not defined and it's not searchable because the common term for this is "retrodiction". Gwern explained in the comments, but that sequence could really use a definition and example. Or how "Absence of Evidence is Evidence of Absence" has a terrible title because it sounds too much like he's saying "make appeals to ignorance".... (read more)

[-][anonymous]8y 4

universal fire and universal law. Your selection of "reductionism" seems to imply they won't be in there.

very good posts.

I have an idea/question:

Would it be helpful if I (or anyone, or maybe as a collaborative effort of volunteers) put articles from the sequences in private collaborative formats (like, say, Google Drive documents) and pinned comments to specific sections of text within those articles?

I'd love to go over some of the explanations, particularly some IT/CS jargon I've noticed that would probably be utterly lost on non-IT people (or even just confuse them), and suggest improvements/replacements or at least point that there's something there that might need rewording. However, I don't want to do this if it's only going to cause trouble or be completely useless in the end.

0alexvermeer8yThis is beyond the scope of what we're looking to do at the moment; we won't be making changes to the content of the sequences, just fixing minor things like spelling, punctuation, some grammar, etc.

Add logical rudeness to the sequences. Why:

  • Getting everyone to be consciously aware of this may help them improve their thinking quality.

  • Being able to link to this and say "this argument is wrong" can be extremely helpful. I am noticing a pattern - when I simply describe bad reasoning, I am ignored or stupid arguments are thrown at me. When I link to a sequence describing bad reasoning, I am not ignored. It's like it's causing them to behave. I think everyone should be aware of this in order to be able to link to it and get people to rea

... (read more)

Depending on your deadline for the e-book... I'm in the process of reading the sequences right now (just finished mysterious answers to mysterious questions). If you want, I could agree to provide feedback as I go and also to finish them ASAP. I've already done work on improving my rationality like setting out to raze my cached thoughts (almost half my life ago, not triggered by the sequences), detecting biased reasoning in myself and learning about logical fallacies and I ran a writer's group for several years, so I'd probably give good feedback.

What is the deadline for the feedback / would you be interested in somebody reading it over with these and/or other concerns in mind?

If you could specially mark interbook links and internet links so that they're visually different, that'd be nice. I'm working my way through an unofficial epub of the sequences, and I'm never sure if the blue link will take me to another chapter, or open the browser and ruin my reading experience.

2alexvermeer8yI like this idea. I've had the same problem with the current epub, where clicking non-internal links (without realizing they're non-internal) takes me to my Kindle's (rather aweful) internet browser.

In the spirit of being more specific, could you please list all the chapters in the order they will have in the book?

I am not sure if some chapters don't appear in more than one sequence. The linear ordering could be used to check whether a sooner chapter does not hyperlink to a later chapter; which should be avoided, if possible. Also on wiki some chapters are written in bold font, and some in plain font; does it mean the first ones will be somehow emphasised in the book?

To avoid unbalanced hierarchy, perhaps the sequence "How To Actually Change Your... (read more)

0alexvermeer8yThe chapters are all the posts listed on the wiki under the various sequences. There are a few overlapping chapters, which will be removed. Something similar—summary/notes of an entire sequence, not for every single post—will exist at the beginning of the ebook. A paper version is not planned (our current template puts the entire sequences at a 2,400 pages).

Fix this

Also, that whole article needs to make it clear that this structure is entirely a function of how humans categorize things, rather than of reality itself, and that comparisons between dimensions are impossible without reference to human values (there is no absolute way to compare one cm of height to three jnds of redness). The sequence does more-or-less get to that later, but the argument is not presented cleanly and clearly.

Because writing out summaries of what I just read along with the terms used to describe things (like titles) assists me in remembering things, I am essentially creating a Cliff's notes version of the sequences as I read them. Is there any interest in posting either a Cliff's notes version of the sequences or using summaries in the table of contents or marketing materials?

"Clearer Thinking, More Effective Action" would be a very accurate title, but it may not be exciting enough.

wait, so is this the actual, has-been-in-the-works-for-years, legendary final Rationality Book, or something more temporary to get existing stuff out there because the former is taking to long?

3DaFranker8yHere's hoping that this one doesn't pull a Duke Nukem Forever.
1wedrifid8yIt's not Eliezer's rationality book. It's just a publication of the existing sequences.
1alexvermeer8yThis is a separate project solely to get the Sequences into ebook form.
0katydee8yI'm slightly confused as to why this is useful-- LessWrong itself seems like it's already the Sequences in better-than-ebook form. Is the potential ereader appeal big enough to justify the quality loss that will come from porting the Sequences over to this format? 'Yes' is a perfectly valid answer to that question, I'm just curious as to what went in to that decision.
0alexvermeer8yThe main appeal with having an ebook is the ability to read it on an e-reader such as a Kindle. How so?
0katydee8yThe sequences weren't (to the best of my knowledge) written to be read on an ereader, and something is almost always lost in translation.
0Kawoomba8yAs in the formatting? Can you explain what you mean by quality loss, and what would be getting lost in the "translation"?
0katydee8yYeah, I find that I tailor anything I write extremely specifically for the medium in question. For instance, changing the screen width might make my line breaks look bad, cause me to want to put paragraphs in different places, alter the way I use hyperlinks, etc. etc. That aside, there's also the obvious "ereaders don't have a comments section" issue.
0Epiphany8yWill the improvements to the sequences be made to the web version also? If a published book is made, will that be built on the improvements made in the e-book? It makes little sense to me that there could potentially be three versions. Since I am considering volunteering to help with this, I am interested in knowing how contributions will be used.
0alexvermeer8ySince the planned improvements are minor, the effort will not be expended to backport the changes to the web version. A published book is not planned.
1Epiphany8yThis makes no sense to me. Here's how I interpreted this: "It's too much effort to update the web version because these changes are minor." If you don't update all the versions at the same time, you will end up with several versions. If Eliezer EVER wants to put out a new and improved version of the sequences and he thinks that LW's input is helpful, then he will be in this pickle: If the changes were approved for the e-book, it will be assumed that they were improvements. If you want to make sure your your latest version is as good as possible, you need to apply all those improvements. In order to make sure you apply all the improvements, someone must find all the differences between the versions. If they go through the comments on this thread, that will take longer than it would have for a volunteer to make edits to the original sequences at the same time as the e-book. If they have to compare each page and look for differences that's really tedious and would take forever. If the e-book editing person makes a list of all the edits so they're organized, that will probably take LONGER than copying and pasting the change into the sequences or even removing an article out of them. This is for several reasons. Reason 1: The list is going to have to describe what to change (For instance: "Paragraph three, word two, there is a typo" -- the text of which is different from and therefore in addition to the actual change). You can't just paste the new word onto the list. It won't make sense later. You CAN just paste the new word into the web version of the sequences, though and no further explanation will be needed because you've put it into a context that justifies it. Reason 2: You can't just put stuff like "Delete Bayesian Judo" onto a to-do list. That will not make sense later. The people who made the list may forget, and they may not be the same people executing the to do list items. You would have to explain why to delete it on to to do list or else the futur