What is your opinion on rationality-promoting articles by Gleb Tsipursky / Intentional Insights? Here is what I think:
Trying to teach someone to think rationally is a long process -- maybe even impossible for some people. It's about explaining many biases that people do naturally, demonstrating the futility of "mysterious answers" on gut level; while the student needs the desire to become stronger, the humility of admitting "I don't know" together with the courage to give a probabilistic answer anyway; resisting the temptation to use the new skills to cleverly shoot themselves in the foot, keeping the focus on the "nameless virtue" instead of signalling (even towards the fellow rationalists). It is a LW lesson that being a half-rationalist can hurt you, and being a 3/4-rationalist can fuck you up horribly. And the online clickbait articles seem like one of the worst choices for a medium to teach rationality. (The only worse choice that comes to my mind would be Twitter.)
On the other hand, imagine that you have a magical button, and if you press it, all not-sufficiently-correct-by-LW-standards mentions of rationality (or logic, or science) would disappear from the world. Not to be replaced by something more lesswrongish, but simply by anything else that usually appears in the given medium. Would pressing that button make the world a more sane place? What would have happened if someone had pressed that button hundred years ago? In other words, I'm trying to avoid the "nirvana fallacy" -- I am not asking whether those articles are the perfect vehicle for x-rationality, but rather, whether they are a net benefit or a net harm. Because if they are a net benefit, then it's better having them, isn't it?
Assuming that the articles are not merely ignored (where "ignoring" includes "thousands of people with microscopic attention spans read them and then forget them immediately), the obvious failure mode is people getting wrong ideas, or adopting "rationality" as an attire. Is it really that wrong? Aren't people already having absurdly wrong ideas about rationality? Remember all the "straw Vulcans" produced by the movie industry; Terminator, The Big Bang Theory... Rationality already is associated with being a sociopathic villain, or a pathetic nerd. This is where we are now; and the "rationality" clickbait, however sketchy, cannot make it worse. Actually, it can make a few people interested to learn more. At least, it can show people that there is more than one possible meaning of the word.
To me it seems that Gleb is picking the low-hanging fruit that most rationalists wouldn't even touch for... let's admit it... status reasons. He talks to the outgroup, using the language of the outgroup. But if we look at the larger picture, that specific outgroup (people who procrastinate by reading clickbaity self-improvement articles) actually aren't that different from us. They may actually be our nearest neighbors in the human intellectual space. So what some of us (including myself) feel here is the uncanny valley. Looking at someone so similar to ourselves, and yet so dramatically different in some small details which matter to us strongly, that it feels creepy.
Yes, this whole idea of marketing rationality feels wrong. Marketing is like almost the very opposite of epistemic rationality ("the bottom line" et cetera). On the other hand, any attempt to bring rationality to the masses will inevitably bring some distortion; which hopefully can be fixed later when we already have their attention. So why not accept the imperfection of the world, and just do what we can.
As a sidenote, I don't believe we are at risk of having an "Eternal September" on LessWrong (more than we already have). More people interested in rationality (or "rationality") will also mean more places to debate it; not everyone will come here. People have their own blogs, social network accounts, et cetera. If rationality becomes the cool thing, they will prefer to debate it with their friends.
EDIT: See this comment for Gleb's description of his goals.
I have not a clue whether this sort of marketing is a good idea. Let me be clear what I mean: I think there's maybe a 30-40% chance that Gleb is having a net positive impact through these outreach efforts. I also think there's maybe a 10-20% chance that he's having a horrific long-term negative impact through these outreach efforts. Thus the whole thing makes me uncomfortable.
So here's some of the concerns I see; I've gone to some effort to be fair to Gleb, and not assume anything about his thoughts or motivations:
I really appreciate you sharing your concerns. It helps me and other involved in the project learn more about what to avoid going forward and optimize our methods. Thank you for laying them out so clearly! I think this comment will be something that I will come back to in the future as I and others create content.
I want to see if I can address some of the concerns you expressed.
In my writing for venues like Lifehack, I do not speak of rationality explicitly as something we are promoting. As in this post, I talk about growing mentally stronger or being intentional - euphemisms that do not associate rationality as such with what we're doing. I only incidentally mention rationality, such as when I speak of Rationality Dojo as a noun. I also generally do not talk of cognitive biases, and use other euphemistic language, such as referring to thinking errors, as in this article for Salon. So this gets at the point of watering down rationality.
I would question the point about arguing from authority. One of the goals of Intentional Insights is to convey what science-based itself means. For example, in this article, I specifically discuss research studies as a key way of validating truth c... (read more)
As a professional educator and communicator, I have a deep visceral experience with how "fully correct forms of good ideas" are inherently incompatible with bridging the inferential distance of how far the ordinary Lifehack reader is from the kind of thinking space on Less Wrong. Believe me, I have tried to explain more complex ideas from rationality to students many times. Moreover, I have tried to get more complex articles into Lifehack and elsewhere many times. They have all been rejected.
This is why it's not possible for the lay audience to read scientific papers, or even the Sequences. This is why we have to digest the material for them, and present it in sugar-coated pills.
To be clear, I am not speaking of talking down to audiences. I like sugar-coated pills myself when I take medicine. To use an example related to knowledge, when I am offered information on a new subject, I first have to be motivated to want to engage with the topic, then learn the basic broad generalities, and only then go on to learn more complex things that represent the "fully correct forms... (read more)
My main update from this discussion has been a strong positive update about Gleb Tsipursky's character. I've been generally impressed by his ability to stay positive even in the face of criticism, and to continue seeking feedback for improving his approaches.
In writing this I considered the virtue of silence, and decided to voice something explicitly.
If rationality is ready to outreach it should be doing it in an as bulletproof way as possible.
Before today I hadn't read deeply into the articles published by Gleb. Owing to this comment:
I explicitly just read a handful of Gleb's articles. Prior to this I have just avoided getting in his way (virtue of silence - avoid reading means avoiding being critical and avoid judging someone who is trying to make progress)
These here (to be clear):
Now that we know that Newtonian physics was wrong, and Einstein was right, would you support my project to build a time machine, travel to the past, and assassinate Newton? I mean, it would prevent incorrect physics from being spread around. It would make Einstein's theory more acceptable later; no one would criticize him for being different from Newton.
Okay, I don't really know how to build a time machine. Maybe we could just go burn some elementary-school textbooks, because they often contain too simplified information. Sometimes with silly pictures!
Seems to me that I often see the sentiment that we should raise people from some imaginary level 1 directly to level 3, without going through level 2 first, because... well, because level 3 is better than level 2, obviously. And if those people perhaps can't make the jump, I guess they simply were not meant to be helped.
This is why I wrote about "the low-hanging fruit that most rationalists wouldn't even touch for... let's admit it... status reasons". We are (or imagine ourselves to be) at level 3, and all levels below us ar... (read more)
Let's start with a false statement from one of Gleb's articles:
What's false? Researchers don't use the terms "intentional system" and "autopilot system".
Why is that the problem? Aren't the terms near enough to system I and system II? A person who's interested might want to read additional literature on the subject. The fact that the terms Gleb invented don't match with the existing literature means that it's harder for a person to go from reading Gleb articles to reading higher level material.
If the person digs deeper they will sooner or later run into trouble. The might have a conversation with a genuine neuroscientist and talk about the "intentional system" and "autopilot system" and find that th... (read more)
Thank you for bringing this up as a topic of discussion! I'm really interested to see what the Less Wrong community has to say about this.
Let me be clear that my goal, and that of Intentional Insights as a whole, is about raising the sanity waterline. We do not assume that all who engage with out content will get to the level of being aspiring rationalists who can participate actively with Less Wrong. This is not to say that it doesn't happen, and in fact some members of our audience have already started to do so, such as Ella. Others are right now reading the Sequences and are passively lurking without actively engaging.
I want to add a bit more about the Intentional Insights approach to raising the sanity waterline broadly.
The social media channel of raising the sanity waterline is only one area of our work. The goal of that channel is to use the strategies of online marketing and the language of self-improvement to get rationality spread broadly through engaging articles. To be concrete and specific, here is an example of one such article: "6 Science-Based Hacks for Growing Mentally Stronger." BTW, editors are usually the ones who write the headline, so I can't &quo... (read more)
I was insufficiently clear: that was a question about your model of my motivation, not what you want my motivation to be. You can say you want to hear more, but if you act against people saying things, which do you expect to have more impact?
But in the spirit of kindness I will write a longer response.
This subject is difficult to talk about because your support here is tepid and reluctant at best, and your detractors are polite.
Now, you might look at OrphanWilde or Clarity and say "you call that polite?"--no, I don't. Those are the only people willing to break politeness and voice their lack of approval in detail. This anecdote about people talking in the quiet car comes to mind; lots of people look at something and realize "this is a problem" but only a few decide it's worth the cost to speak up about it. Disproportionately, those are going to be people who feel the cost less strongly.
There's a related common knowledge point--I might think this is likely net negative, but I don't know how many other people think this is a likely net negative. Only if I know that lots of people think this is a likely net negative, and that they are also aware that this is the ... (read more)
I'll talk about marketing, actually, because part of the problem is that, bluntly, most of you are kind of inept in this department. By "kind of" I mean "have no idea what you're talking about but are smarter than marketers and it can't be nearly that complex so you're going to talk about it anyways".
Clickbait has come up a few times. The problem is that that isn't marketing, at least not in the sense that people here seem to think. If you're all for promoting marketing, quit promoting shit marketing because your ego is entangled in complex ways with the idea and you feel you have to defend that clickbait.
GEICO has good marketing, which doesn't sell you on their product at all. Indeed, the most prominent "marketing" element of their marketing - the "Saves you 15% or more" bit - mostly serves to distract you from the real marketing, which utilizes the halo effect, among other things, to get you to feel positively about them. (Name recognition, too.) The best elements of their marketing don't get noticed as marketing, indeed don't get noticed at all.
The issue with this entire conversation is that everybody seems to think marketing is noti... (read more)
Not sure if it makes any difference, but instead of "stupid people" I think about people reading articles about 'life hacking' as "people who will probably have little benefit from the advice, because they will most likely immediately read hundred more articles and never apply the advice"; and also that the format of the advice completely ignores the inferential distances, so pretty much the only useful thing such article could give you is a link to a place that provides the real value. And if you are really really lucky, you will notice the link, follow the link, stay there, and get some of the value.
If I'd believe the readers were literally stupid, then of course I wouldn't see much value in advertising LW to them. LW is not useful for stupid people, but can be useful to people... uhm... like I used to be before I found LW.
Which means, I used to spend a lot of time browsing random internet pages, a few times I found a link to some LW article that I read and moved on, and only after some time I realized: "Oh, I have already found a few interesting articles on the same website. Maybe instead of randomly browsing the web, reading this one website systematica... (read more)
/reads link to The Virtue of Silence
My overall updating from this thread has been:
Learning a lot more about the diversity of opinions and concerns among Less Wrongers.
1) Learning that there are a lot more risk-averse people on LW who are opposed to experimenting with new things, learning from experience, improving going forward, and optimizing the world, than I had previously thought.
2) Learned a lot about Less Wrongers' "ew" experiences and flinching away from [modern marketing], despite some getting it
Updated toward some different strategies with Intentional Insights
Okay well it seems like I'm a bit late to the discussion party. Hopefully my opinion is worth something. Heads up: I live in Columbus Ohio and am one of the organizers of the local LW meetup. I've been friends with Gleb since before he started InIn. I volunteer with Intentional Insights in a bunch of different ways and used to be on the board of directors. I am very likely biased, and while I'm trying to be as fair as possible here you may want to adjust my opinion in light of the obvious factors.
So yeah. This has been the big question about Intentional Insights for its entire existence. In my head I call it "the purity argument". Should "rationality" try to stay pure by avoiding things like listicles or the phrase "science shows"? Or is it better to create a bridge of content that will move people along the path stochastically even if the content that's nearest them is only marginally better than swill? (<-- That's me trying not to be biased. I don't like everything we've made, but when I'm not trying to counteract my likely biases I do think a lot of it is pretty good.)
Here's my take on it: I don't know. Like query, I don't pretend to be confident... (read more)
The short version of my reaction is that when it comes to PR, it's better to be right than to be quick.
I expect II's effect is small, but seems more likely to be negative than positive.
Do you believe that the "one weird trick to effortlessly lose fat" articles promote healthy eating and are likely to lead people to approach nutrition scientifically?
To me it seems like you conflate the brand of rationality and a body of ideas with rationality as defined in our wiki "Rationality is the characteristic of thinking and acting optimally. An agent is rational if it wields its intelligence in such a way as to maximize the convergence between its beliefs and reality".... (read more)
I don't think that a few articles like those will make someone pick up rationality as attire who wasn't already in that area beforehand.... (read more)
Somehow in this context the notion of "picking the low-hanging fruit" keeps coming up. This is prejudgmental and one would have a hard time disagreeing with such an action. Intentional Insights marketing is also discussed on Facebook. I definitely second the thence stated opinion that the suggested T-Shirts and rings are counterproductive and, honestly, ridiculous. Judging the articles is seems more difficult. If the monthly newsletter generates significant readership, this might be useful in the future. However, LW and Rationality FB groups already have their fair share of borderline self-help questions. I would not choose to further push in this direction.
I find your chutzpah impressive.
This is not incompatible with marketing persay - marketing is about advocacy, not teaching. And pretty much all effective advocacy has to be targeted to System 1 - the "heart" or the "gut" - in fairly direct terms.
To me, it seems that CFAR was supposed to be working on this sort of stuff, and they have not accomplished all that much. So I think, in a way, we should be welcoming the fact that Gleb T./International Insights are now trying to fill this void. Maybe they aren't doing it very well at this time, but that's a separate matter.
Ohh, rationalist drama... is that gold I smell?
LW is a fairly mature site and I'm sure somebody did this already, in one variation or another, both marketing, and discussing said marketing. Can any veteran confirm or deny my speculation?
(I have a longer post saved, but in the middle of it I just thought that I'm re-inventing the wheel.)
Ah. My response to you was in error. You approve.
The issue isn't that he's marketing rationality. The issue is that what he's doing has nothing to do with rationality, it's pseudo-rationalist babble. He markets rationality in the same way that homeopathy markets healthcare. His marketing doesn't add an easily-corrected flawed version of rationality, it is a ritual designed to exorcise the demons of bias and human suffering and he literally promises to help you find a purpose in life through science. Which is to say, what he's doing isn't marketing, it's religion.