Less Wrong NYC: Case Study of a Successful Rationalist Chapter

by Cosmos11 min read17th Mar 2011173 comments


Meetups (topic)Group RationalityCommunityPractical

It is perhaps the best-kept secret on Less Wrong that the New York City community has been meeting regularly for almost two years. For nearly a year we've been meeting weekly or more.  The rest of this post is going to be a practical guide to the benefits of group rationality, but first I will do something that is still too rare on this blog: make it clear how strongly I feel about this. Before this community took off, I did not believe that life could be this much fun or that I could possibly achieve such a sustained level of happiness.

Being rational in an irrational world is incredibly lonely. Every interaction reveals that our thought processes differ widely from those around us, and I had accepted that such a divide would always exist. For the first time in my life I have dozens of people with whom I can act freely and revel in the joy of rationality without any social concern - hell, it's actively rewarded! Until the NYC Less Wrong community formed, I didn't realize that I was a forager lost without a tribe...

Rationalists are still human, and we still have basic human needs. lukeprog summarizes the literature on subjective well-being, and the only factors which correlate to any degree are genetics, health, work satisfaction and social life - which actually gets listed three separate times as social activity, relationship satisfaction and religiosity. Rationalists tend to be less socially adept on average, and this can make it difficult to obtain the full rewards of social interaction. However, once rationalists learn to socialize with each other, they also become increasingly social towards everyone more generally. This improves your life. A lot.

We are a group of friends to enjoy life alongside, while we try miracle fruit, dance ecstatically until sunrise, actively embarrass ourselves at karaoke, get lost in the woods, and jump off waterfalls.  Poker, paintball, parties, go-karts, concerts, camping... I have a community where I can live in truth and be accepted as I am, where I can give and receive feedback and get help becoming stronger. I am immensely grateful to have all of these people in my life, and I look forward to every moment I spend with them. To love and be loved is an unparalleled experience in this world, once you actually try it.

So, you ask, how did all of this get started...?

Genesis, or a Brief History of Nearly Everything

The origin of the NYC chapter was the April 24th, 2009 meetup that Robin Hanson organized when he came to the city for a prediction markets conference.  Approximately 15 people attended over the course of the night, and we all agreed that we had way too much fun together not to do this on a regular basis. I handed out my business cards to everyone there, told them to e-mail me, and I would create a mailing list. Thus Overcoming Bias NYC was born.

It was clear from the very beginning that Jasen Murray was the person most interested in seeing this happen, so he became the organizer of the group for the first year of its existence. At first the times and locations were impromptu, but in August Jasen made the brilliant move of precommitting to be at a specific time and place for a minimum of two hours twice per month. Because enough of us liked Jasen and wanted to hang out with him anyway, several people began showing up every time and a regular meetup was established. Going forward we tried a combination of social meetups, focused discussions and game nights. Jasen also attempted to shift coordination from the mailing list to the Meetup group, but Meetup is not a great mailing list and people were loathe to use multiple services. That now serves as our public face.

In April 2010, Jasen departed to run the Visiting Fellows program at SIAI, and I became the group's organizer. We immediately agreed on a number of changes: weekly meetups (with game nights every other week), focused discussions addressing specific problems instead of general theory, and a temporary taboo on discussion of AGI/FAI. We also moved the majority of our meetups from a public diner to a private residence, which avoided a lot of hassles with loud crowds, ordering of food, etc.  These changes marked our transition to a social group that focused on practical life benefits. June brought two more key changes: we started holding strategy sessions on request to help members optimize their lives, and I started hugging people, which began a cascade of increasing physical contact. That summer brought an increased interest in skill sharing, a reduced game night frequency, and meetups focused around specific topics. That fall we began using the group more for discussions, sharing social events of mutual interest, and coordinating activities together outside of the weekly meetups.

Then, in October, things began to accelerate. I told everyone on the list to respond or be removed, to get an idea of numbers and to galvanize the core membership. Several members broke off old relationships and some of them entered new ones within the group. More women started attending; we had previously been almost all male. We began having more contact with the west coast rationalists, including visits by Jasen and Michael Vassar and an extended stay by Divia, which brought valuable new memes to our community. Self-reported levels of fun and happiness began to radically increase. Mailing list discussions turned towards asking for practical advice. The meetups took on a self-improvement focus, with weekly goal-setting and accountability. Andrew Rettek began a public lecture series presenting the Sequences. Demand for more-than-weekly meetups grew...


NYC has pioneered creating rationalist communities. While we have largely proceeded via trial and error, the rest of you who are going to become organizers can learn from our experiments and avoid a lot of mistakes. The lessons largely fall under two categories: how to build a group, and what to do with a group once you have one. I hope that you find this advice helpful in your own efforts to establish rationalist communities.

Building a Community

Communities need heroes: Until we have a cadre of paid community organizers, LW meetups will have to run on hero power. Most members are going to be passively attending, a few will actively contribute ideas and activities on the mailing list, but someone needs to be willing to step up as a leader and begin organizing people. Do you want a community badly enough to build one yourself?

Commitment works: We started having regular meetings because Jasen committed to showing up at a specific time and place and staying for a minimum length of time, regardless of other attendance. Enough folks wanted to hang out that this resulted in successful meetups.

Schedule events first, get feedback later: Trying to ask everyone to state their preferences in order to accommodate them all rarely works and can result in prolonged indecision. Just schedule a time and place and topic; people who want to come but can't will speak up and tell you why. With enough iterations you can settle on something approximately utility maximizing.

We are a group of friends: This is the true secret of our success, we are not just a meetup group. We started off as a bunch of people who enjoyed talking about rationality enough that we kept doing it regularly until we became a part of each other's lives. You can tell because we greet each other with hugs instead of handshakes. That physical contact has a profound psychological impact. Furthermore, almost the entire growth of our group has come through friend-referral, not through increased Less Wrong readership. Rationality per se is not the core selling point of the group - people genuinely like hanging out with us, and they tell other people to come hang out with us too.

Gender ratio matters: It is no secret that rationality suffers from a paucity of women, which makes it difficult to start a group with any women at all. There is no easy answer here, but it is important to address this factor as early as possible. Simply put, if you're winning at life and having enough fun women will want to join you, and a balanced gender ratio encourages more people of both genders to attend.  Work hard to find interested women, and be careful in the presence of newcomers when trying to sanely explicitly discuss hot-button gender topics.  In case the argument for more women is not sufficiently clear, gender-balanced meetups are a lot more fun, and it provides a unique perspective on ideas and group dynamics.

The mailing list is for more than just meetups: While scheduling meetups is an obvious function of a group mailing list, it can be used for all manner of discussions and coordination between group members. Given our significant overlapping interests, one function of the list is for people to invite others to join them on their adventures, be that going to conferences, parties, sous-vide steak dinners, rock climbing, or whatever else people feel like doing.  Another very important use is to ask the group for advice on a particular subject, like optimizing OKCupid profiles, learning programming languages, alleviating bad moods, and more! Last but not least, mailing lists make large group discussions on serious questions feasible.

Interact with outside rationalists as much as possible: Just as division of labor exists within the group, it also exists among groups. This allows a steady flow of new memes to try out, and an external evaluation of the current group memes. SIAI and the NYC community have been working on different projects and have different perspectives, and it has been extremely helpful to both groups to have more collaboration between them. NYC is also a major city, so we get a lot of visiting rationalists passing through, and people have traveled from neighboring states to attend our events. This provides constant perspective and growth.

Meetup topics

  • Social/unfocused discussions: Attendance is usually poor, members replied that hanging out is harder to justify than having a specific purpose.
  • Discussion topics: Reliably good attendance and fun. The topics can vary widely, everything from TDT to making money. Note that large group discussions rarely lead to progress/insight on a question, but breaking into smaller sub-groups can work.
  • Presentation/skill share: Depends on the topic, draws specialized crowds, but usually high interest.
  • Game nights: Good for social bonding, regulars reliably show up. Poker, Nomic, German-style games popular. Games also represent a very stylized domain within which we can practice optimizing - rationalists should reliably win more on average or we're doing something wrong.  Note that even folks not playing the game still show up to socialize.
  • Group planning/meta: Draws only core members, so low attendance, but that is actually useful in this context. Worth doing occasionally for feedback and direction if no other avenues exist.
  • Structured exercises: Attendance varies but exercises tend to be highly engaging, we will likely explore with this format more in the future. Our recent fun with cognitive biases is a good example
  • Bacchanalia: Because sometimes, you just really need to party.

Group Rationality

Spend time with each other: The biggest benefit of having the community is having the community.  Hold meetups often, and use the mailing list to arrange activities outside the meetups as well. Do the things you like doing... together. Get to know other people in the group, figure out who your closest friends are and hang out with them.  This is incredibly fun, promotes well-being, and encourages the spread of knowledge. When everyone is feeling good, the positive mood contagion can be overwhelmingly powerful.

Epistemic privilege and meme-sharing: The most powerful aspect of a group of rationalists is that you have an entire class of people whose reasoning you trust. Division of labor arises naturally as each member has different interests, they all pursue a variety of skills and areas of expertise, which they can then bring back to the group. Even the lowest-level rationalists in the group can rapidly upgrade themselves by adopting winning heuristics from other group members. I cannot overstate the power of epistemic privilege. We have rapidly spread knowledge about metabolism, exercise, neuroscience, meditation, hypnosis, several systems of therapy... and don't forget the Dark Arts.

Ask the group for help: There is a reason we identify as aspiring rationalists, rather than just plain rationalists. Despite our best efforts we are not perfect Bayesians, but at least we know the importance of saying oops. One of the biggest advantages of a group of rationalists is that any of the individual members can ask the group for help when they are feeling indecisive or they think their logic is compromised. When everyone else in the group unanimously agrees with each other and disagrees with us, that's evidence strong enough not to ignore. For the record, the only thing that drives rationalists crazier than loneliness is being in a relationship.

Be honest with each other: Maybe this should go without saying, but it bears worth repeating. One of a rationalist's strengths is not identifying with our beliefs, which allows us to surrender our old attire, update on new evidence, and actually change our minds. It is difficult for others to identify errors in our data or reasoning if that entire process is a black box - and by symmetry, if others wish to improve as well, they need to be willing to hear us and we need to be willing to tell them unpleasant truths. Most rationalists I have encountered also tend not to be very judgmental, and this quality makes this kind of communication drastically easier because everyone feels safe. Make your community a place where everyone can give and receive feedback and share their best knowledge of the map without fear.

Learn to be social, and go forth into the world: To be frank, many of us are not very good at social interaction, which can definitely be painful, and, when socializing is an important part of our life or job, debilitating. Fortunately, rationalists have a major hack: we can start socializing with each other in a non-judgmental environment. Once some of the benefits of regular social interaction settle in, and people become happier and more comfortable in groups, it becomes increasingly easy to socialize with other people outside the group. There has been a very clear trend towards increased sociability and as a result good social outcomes.

Most progress is accomplished in small groups: There is strong consensus that group discussions rarely result in updating, even if they are fun. Conversations of 2 or 3 (maybe 4 at the most), seem to produce the most useful insights. This is why spending time together bilaterally is incredibly important to group development. When a handful of people are all interested in a particular topic and practice it together, they form a de facto working group which allows them to iterate rapidly and then teach it to the rest of the members.

Set goals and hold each other accountable: This has been a recent, but powerful, addition to the group. Humans are not automatically strategic, but we have each other to remind us of this fact. The vast majority of people don't even reach the first step of having explicit goals! Not only that, but being a social group allows us to leverage that social pressure on each other - it is legitimately challenging to stand in front of the group and admit that you have not achieved your goal for the week. These goals should either be focused on the most important step that would change your life, or radically push you outside your comfort zone.

The Road Ahead

The NYC community continues to change and grow, and every week brings something new. The problem of optimizing group rationality is far from solved, and I hope to share insights with Less Wrong as we continue to have them. Our current biggest challenge is that we are outgrowing our usual meetup location as there has been demand for more meetups on a wide variety of topics. Given that our biggest strengths are social in nature, we are beginning to hit fundamental limits on group size above which coordination begins to break down.

The solution we are currently implementing is creating multiple groups, each meeting weekly and focused on a different topic. Andrew Rettek is creating a group at Columbia University, focusing on outreach/education and specifically teaching rationality through cognitive biases. My own group is focusing on self-development, which involves goal-setting, skill-sharing, and creating tools to correct errors in reason and emotion - in short, instrumental rationality. Zvi Mowshowitz is running a third group sticking to the core meetups like discussions and game nights, and trying experimental formats as well.  Members may attend any meetups they wish during the week, with the goal of decreasing total attendance at each one to keep numbers reasonable - and we will keep creating more groups if these ones get full.

Most importantly, however, we want to make everything we have done here and everything we have learned reliably reproducible.  This post is one example of an attempt to codify what steps we have taken to get here from there as a community so that others can begin following our lead, and I fully intend to flesh out each of these in more exact detail. We have also stumbled on a number of useful memes and heuristics, all of which I seek to turn into explicit knowledge: step by step instructions that anyone could follow to achieve similar benefits. Given that much of this knowledge will likely contain implicit components, instructors of these skills should be able to earn profits teaching them to others. Making more money seems to be one of the biggest metrics on which rationalists do not yet perform exceptionally, but if we are truly creating value in the world we should learn how to capture it.

Call to Assemble

You have now heard my case for group rationality, and it rests upon the individual benefits it incurs: you will be drastically more happy, and you will level up a lot more quickly. Armed with this knowledge, what should you do?

First of all, if you live in an area which already has a critical mass of rationalists you should take these lessons and create a community of your own, so that you and everyone else can reap the rewards. It is up to you to be the hero - yes, you.  One common piece of feedback we get from new members is that Less Wrong discussions are intimidating, and they don't feel qualified to even talk about these topics (much less contribute or become an organizer).  They are invariably wrong.

If you find yourself having to move for any reason, then you should make every attempt you can to congregate in an area with more people.  Note that in-person interaction requires minimal effective distance between people. There is a strong case to pick NYC: it is a major urban area with a lot of different job opportunities, the unusually good subway system shortens effective distance, and we are creating a model which can scale with additional rationalists. Two alternatives are suburban areas with good highways, or to move within walking distance of other rationalists. Taken to the limit you can share housing with other rationalists, as in the case of the Visiting Fellows program. As the NYC community grows we are naturally clustering around different parts of the city, and we hope to build an intentional community where many of us live together in shared housing.

You may have had a sense that more was possible, and if you did then you were correct: groups of rationalists have more fun and win at life, and it's time to scale up the awesome. Whether you decide to make your own home or come join ours, the NYC community will always welcome you with open arms.


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I'm a little surprised to see the issues of LWers interacting with women reduced to "being careful when discussing explicit awareness of social reality" ... with a link to PUA stuff.

1) PUA stuff is hardly the only example out there of "explicit awareness of social reality".

2) It's quite telling that the implication of the post is that "women don't like explicit awareness of social reality", rather than the (more accurate) "women don't like PUA".

One way to encourage women to participate in rationalist communities might be to make a conscious effort not to portray us as silly, manipulative, fickle, irrational gold-diggers. Some rationalists do a good job of this ... many don't. And PUAs, rationalist and otherwise, are usually bad at this. (Yes, there are exceptions.)

PUA stuff targets the middle of the bell curve. Of course it looks silly to intelligent people.

This. Pickup at the right of the bell curve looks a bit different. It involves more puns, for instance.

Pickup at the right end of the bell curve looks like this:

"If I were to ask you out, would your answer to that question be the same as the answer to this one?"

(Disclaimer: I didn't make it up. I saw it somewhere else on this site, long time ago.)

3taryneast10ylooks silly to me. ;)
2Johnicholas10ySmullyan invented this "coercive logic" in "The Riddle of Scheherazade".
3Sniffnoy10yPretty sure this is much, much older than that.
1[anonymous]10yAnd you know you've got a winner when the pickup-ee grins and answers with no hesitation, "Maybe."
5khafra10yIs there a more comprehensive resource anywhere on picking up the right side of the bell curve? edited to add: as long as I'm asking how to pull the long tail, so to speak, how 'bout resources considering the culturally Russian, Indian, Japanese, Chinese, etc.?
5taryneast10yI'd guess that this is just indicative that being at the right end of the bell curve works on those who are also at the right end of the bell curve. FYI - puns and wit work as a pick-up line... only if they're your puns and wit... not if you're just parroting somebody else's idea of what "should work".

How much do you actually communicate with people who are around the middle of the bell curve? In places like LW, people often have a very skewed perspective about the bottom three quartiles.

My experience is that intelligent people overestimate the abilities of people around the middle.


3Nisan10ySkewed which way?

It's skewed in several ways, each of which would be a complex topic in its own right. In this particular context, I have the impression that nazgulnarsil's idea of what the middle of the distribution looks like would correspond more exactly to somewhat higher percentiles.

I actually had not noticed that LWers alienated women in any way. And yes, I am female. And maybe not very observant.

Also relatively new here. You may have missed the big blow-ups.

I would be interested to see these...are they still on the site?

7clarissethorn10yThe first LW post I was ever directed to was so bad (and the comments were waaaay worse) that I didn't comment, decided never to look at this site again, and had to be convinced by the steady campaigning of a friend. Of course, feminism (and sexuality) is my pet issue. Note the quote from Alicorn in the "sayeth the girl" post that rhollerith posted: "I would almost certainly have vacated the site already if feminism were my pet issue, or if I were more easily offended." Maybe this is more evidence that I'm particularly hard to offend? Not sure. I spent a while trying to find the first post I was ever directed to, but I couldn't -- sorry.
[-][anonymous]10y 13

I found your blog, and I liked it, and it occurred to me that the mode of thinking and expression that's common in feminist (or kinky, or gender-conscious) circles isn't unrelated to the LessWrong mode. They're different languages, but they're similar in being explicit about social dynamics that are normally implicit, and encouraging people to self-modify their minds and second-guess their own thoughts in a way that provokes a knee-jerk "but that's unnatural!" reaction in "normal" people. So maybe this is a good blog for feminists.

2Nick_Tarleton10yWas this [http://lesswrong.com/lw/ac/is_masochism_necessary/] the post?
8clarissethorn10yNo, I didn't comment on the post I'm thinking of. It was overwhelmingly sexist (in comments people made jokes about women being gold-diggers, for example), but it didn't have to do with BDSM. I've gotten better at "sounding rationalist" since I commented on that "is masochism necessary" post, and I've also gotten better at not getting angry. I look back at how I wrote my comment there and I'm a little surprised at myself.
2steven046110yDo you remember what post that was?
4clarissethorn10yAs I said, I spent a while trying to find it, but I couldn't. I really wish I could find it, because it was a stellar example. After I failed to find it I thought that maybe it was actually a post at OvercomingBias (don't even get me started on Robin Hanson), but I couldn't find it when looking for that either. I think I must have deleted the email in a fit of rage.
6Eliezer Yudkowsky10yMy own vague recollection of this event says it was a Hanson post on the original OB.
3steven046110yOh, oops, I didn't even notice that last line, or didn't notice it was talking about the same thing. Sorry.

Nitpick: It had "PUA" in the title, but the formerly-linked article was not about seduction/gender in any way.

I will not make this particular mistake again (is there a term for "Boo Lights"?), but I still think the idea of explicitly practicing high-value social skills in a group is a good one.

2CuSithBell10yThe article was about discussing PUA or relevant techniques while avoiding or eliminating the seduction / gender / Dark Arts issue - that is, the phrasing of the link to the post read (to at least a few of us) as "being careful when discussing explicit awareness of social reality" = "don't talk about the seduction / gender issue" and thus "social reality" = "seduction dark arts".
0[anonymous]10yThat is now the 3rd different reading of that sentence that I've heard, so I feel justified in having asked what it meant [http://lesswrong.com/lw/4ul/less_wrong_nyc_case_study_of_a_successful/3ph2].
4CuSithBell10yQuite possible. And I apologize, I replied (in the grandparent) identifying you as the originator of the current post rather than the linked post. So far as I can tell, you've written a fine article, and I'd bet you're addressing an important need (maybe I'm just being selfish - I'd be ecstatic if nerds were a little more socially aware!). The problem (according to my reading) was in the link to the post - as though the idea were "follow this guy's lead and don't discuss dark-arts pick-up techniques - because women don't like thinking about how things Really Are".
8clarissethorn10yYes -- and I find that the "Women hate the dark arts because they can't deal with reality" trope is a very common one (perhaps less common on LW, but common in general). It may be that the OP didn't intend to imply that, but it may also not be an unreasonable implication to draw given the frequency the argument is made.
8[anonymous]10yFor what it's worth, there were no gender wars to my knowledge while I've been a member in the group. Some guys who went to PUA classes, but more in the context of "normal person who wants better luck with women."
8rabidchicken10yAre rationalists more likely than average men to treat women like silly, fickle, manipulative gold diggers? As far as I can tell, trying to be rational has only given me more reasons to treat women and humans in general better. Tangentially, I try to avoid treating women differently since the cultural assumptions about how each gender thinks are rarely accurate, and appreciate it when women do the same thing.
6lessdazed10yLW is waaaaaay on the right of the bell curve when it comes to groups treating people like they are silly.
6wnoise10yYou know, I'm honestly not entirely sure whether "waaaaaay on the right of the bell curve" means that "LW does much more than average group of treating people like they are silly", or that "LW is much better than the average group at not treating people like they are silly".

Ha! I see I assumed too much and miscommunicated by under-communicating...again.

I meant LW treats people like they are silly, none of their core values are beyond question, their imagined reasons are confabulations, and their real reasons reek of bias, irrationality, and anti-epistemology.

It doesn't seem at all correct to say "average men treat women like they're silly, but rationalists don't do that!"

Sure, rationalists treat men as silly too, which might be what is meant, but I think that part of the statement is literally false.

3Dorikka10ySo we have a statement of the general form "X does Y, but we don't." This is the sort of statement that people are liable to say even when it's false, so we should heavily discount the weight that we would give to their personal opinion (because it might be biased.) Instead, we should hug the query [http://lesswrong.com/lw/ly/hug_the_query/] -- gather more evidence (as unfiltered as we can -- statistics may be more unbiased than pure anecdote) or display that which has been gathered, instead of ignoring the possibility that the claim is factually true. If the claim is false, the evidence should tell us that as well.
3clarissethorn10yOf course, it depends more on the individuals involved than anything else, but I would say that a non-negligible percentage of rationalists are unwilling to question gender biases (and in fact, many get defensive because they prefer to consider themselves rational and non-sexist, and then in their defensiveness, fail to examine their biases). This is common enough that the geek feminist blog Restructure has a whole post called The Myth Of White Male Geek Rationality: http://restructure.wordpress.com/2010/08/23/myth-of-white-male-geek-rationality/ [http://restructure.wordpress.com/2010/08/23/myth-of-white-male-geek-rationality/]
7Cosmos10yI agree that associating with PUA is distasteful and an immediate fail, and have removed the link from the post. The link is here: http://lesswrong.com/lw/298/more_art_less_stink_taking_the_pu_out_of_pua [http://lesswrong.com/lw/298/more_art_less_stink_taking_the_pu_out_of_pua] Social phenomena exist like anything else and can be analyzed, but how it is discussed matters almost entirely. It is a high-status behavior to make observations about social phenomena, but analysis sends a bad signal.
8CuSithBell10yI don't think it's bad to analyze social phenomena. I do think it's bad to engage in or endorse (unwanted) sexually manipulative behavior. I also think it's bad to equate distaste for unwanted sexually manipulative behavior with distaste for analysis.

I don't think it's bad to analyze social phenomena.

Neither does anyone else. It's just that if one actually analyses social phenomena instead of consciously or subconsciously taking the opportunity to judge/play ploitics, one pisses off many, many people very quickly.

I do think it's bad to engage in or endorse (unwanted) sexually manipulative behavior.

I summon HughRistik! But even if I were to accept manipulation as a natural kind, which I don't, rather than as a continuum with communication and influence, where are you going to draw the line?

I also think it's bad to equate distaste for unwanted sexually manipulative behavior with distaste for analysis.

PUA is up there with psychology, sales and marketing in the ranks of useful insights into how people actually work. It is unfortunate that there are some desperate misogynists among them, but if one is to denounce it then sales, marketing, PR, they all gotta burn too.

I have a big crush on HughRistik. It is important to note that he is not an accurate representation of PUAs. He is considerably more concerned with ethics, more friendly to feminism, more willing to acknowledge systemic problems in the PUA subculture, and smarter than the vast majority of PUAs. Quotation from one of his writings:

"There are a lot of problems with the seduction community that feminists correctly observe, including misogyny, cynicism towards relationships, and a few tactics that are bad for consent." from: http://feministcritics.nfshost.com/blog/about/seduction-communitypickup-artists/

(edited for grammar)

3CuSithBell10yLong post. I hope I've managed to express this stuff clearly, I feel like I'm leaving stuff out, but I guess we can get to whatever that is when it comes up. ... What I am saying is, I will not become angry if someone "actually analyses social phenomena". I do not think it is bad. That is not the issue. This seems disingenuous. It looks like you're saying, essentially, "Ah, but nothing has inherent meaning!". Are you unable to understand the concept of "manipulation" in non-technical terms? (As an aside: following the pattern "Even if I thought X were an A rather than a B, something something," typically one treats X as an A rather than a B.) As I understand it, people did not on the whole have a problem with the PUA discussion because some pick-up artists are misogynists, but rather because of the parts of the discussion that weren't analysis but were instead themselves casually misogynistic or exclusionary or clueless or whatever. Like, for example, "with women, you have to pretend that they don't have cheat codes (unlike with us tough-minded rational men)", or "bayes tells us we should all bang hot chicks". It's partially a PR thing, but PR isn't just waving your hands about in a mystical pattern to calm people down - it's also about effectively communicating. You don't want the most rational response to your comments to be "this person rejects sexual equality", for example.
8Gray10yI think it is useful to compare/contrast the terms manipulation and influence. Barry Cotter did talk about a "continuum of influence", and I think this is the point that you're missing. Between two people, if one person is far more influential in their relationship than the other, then we call it manipulative. But there is an area in the middle of the continuum where their influence on each other isn't one-sided. I don't know a whole lot about the whole PUA thing, but of the things I've read here and there online, one interesting point is that sexual attraction isn't this innate thing that you either have or don't have. So yeah, you can influence other people by presenting yourself in a more appealing way. But this shouldn't be seen as "manipulation", unless you're doing something underhanded. But if we're going to exaggerate all influence by calling it manipulation, then we have an extremely inhibited view of society. A society where members didn't influence each other could hardly be considered a society at all.
3CuSithBell10yCertainly, I agree with this. But there are prominent pickup techniques that are manipulative and undesirable - you know, stuff like undermining someone's self-esteem. That's what I'm talking about. I'm using "manipulative" to refer to these "bad influences" or, if you prefer, "Dark Arts". Edit: Or, in other words, I'm not exaggerating all influence by calling it manipulation - I'm using the word to refer to basically the same thing you are ("influence other people by... doing something underhanded").
0Barry_Cotter10yI understand the non-technical meaning of manipulation. It's when someone uses private information, or a power/skill imbalance to bring about a result that would not have occured given equality of capabilities. I don't see how you can avoid it without forbidding interaction between agents who are not of implausibly rare equalcapability. That's an attitude I can get behind. Everyone has cheat codes. You may not have access to cheat codes for someone, if so this is weak evidence they have cheat codes for you, stronger evidence that either they are at least at your level or they are playing a different game. I reject one interpretation of that statement. I'm a gender egalitarian but I do not believe men and women have an equal distribution of capabilities or interests .
0CuSithBell10yThere is a reply to the grandparent leading to a brief discussion on the intended meaning. Does it solve your objection? Which is an attitude you can get behind? "With women, you have to pretend that they don't have cheat codes (unlike with us tough-minded rational men)"? I'm not sure what you're trying to say here. Did you understand my assertion? Okay, this is a reasonable position and I'm sure you're aware of its caveats. But can you clarify - in context, do you believe that my analysis accurately reflects your beliefs?
5khafra10yI'm interested in other frameworks for approaching social interactions in a experimentally-verified manner, but the closest thing I can think of is Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People. Could you list some, with links to information?
4XFrequentist10yIMO Dale Carnegie is a pretty good base. This sequence [http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/The_Science_of_Winning_at_Life], and particularly point 3 in this recent article [http://lesswrong.com/lw/4su/how_to_be_happy/], are probably a start (although "experimentally-validated" sets the bar rather high). Depending on what exactly you aspire to do (be less awkward at parties, take over the world, etc.), I would think that you would probably be after very different resources. What are you after?
2clarissethorn10yI agree -- different resources are necessary for different questions. I personally tend to read sociology papers whenever I can get my grubby little paws on them. Note that I have a feminist bent, so I tend to look for feminist-leaning resources. For example, I recently read this fascinating study: http://das.sagepub.com/content/10/3/293.short [http://das.sagepub.com/content/10/3/293.short]
3CuSithBell10yI had the same reaction. The link seems... snide. Probably wasn't meant that way, but I'm not sure how it was meant.
4Eliezer Yudkowsky10yFix deployed.

Were there people who rejected the group or who the group had to reject?

There are people who show up once or a few times and fail to continue coming. They rarely give explanations for why they stop showing up. I imagine some move, some find other ways to spend a Tuesday, and some don't like what we do. Good data on this is unavailable to me.

The group has rejected one person. This person had been drinking too much, and disruptive over several weeks. The process took several hours of discussion before the person was asked to come on the condition that they stayed sober at the meetups. The person decided not to come back.


This post is wonderful! The general category of "codified knowledge about best practices on how to do something important gained from doing it for hundreds of hours" is way underrepresented on LW. The density of practical experience makes it harder to write than finding a study or bias and musing about it, but it also makes it a lot more useful.

I look forward to helping replicate these practices in the Bay Area. Although achieving gender balance here is going to be a pretty significant challenge...

[-][anonymous]10y 10

You get gender balance (or closer to it) by having members invite women they know who seem like they might be interested. I got involved because a friend and fellow-LessWronger invited me. Thinking about the other women... we have a couple who were there from the beginning, a friend of one of the old-timers, Divia whom people knew from the West Coast, and some others whose "origin stories" I don't know.

I don't think you have to paint it pink or anything. Just ordinary networking. (You might possibly have an extra challenge in that San Francisco has more men than New York, proportionally -- but at the scale of an in-person meetup I'm not sure that matters.)

Thank you so much for this post. This is absolute gold for someone like me.

I have only just recently begun a Less Wrong meet up group in Sydney, Australia, and have been scouring around for advice and prior models to go of and you pretty much just provided everything in one freaking awesome post!

What's really encouraging is that in doing comparisons I already see similar happening in my group. Firstly most of the attendants are very good friends of mine, to whom topics pertaining to rationality come up naturally at almost any occasion, their great fun to hang out with, and most have shown keen interest in a fortnightly Less Wrong meeting. It's really encouraging to receive some confirmation that what I'm doing does have this potential, and it's really good to have a precedent to give me some basic idea of what to expect.

I wish I could upvote twice!

I'm interested in hearing a bit more on meeting structure ("Meetup Topics" heading), as well as how it relates to time progression (what types of activities work best for forming the tribe vs. later maintaining it).

I'll be in NYC Apr 1-18 inclusive with the sole agenda of actually meeting the community this time.

2Raemon10yI was in San Francisco of all places last time, but I was under the impression that you "met" them. Do you mean get an opportunity to talk to individual people?
3Eliezer Yudkowsky10yLast time I talked to Zvi, Laura, and Will and those were the only people I got to know in any real sense - I didn't really get a chance to meet the community as a community and I had no idea that all this stuff was going on. Mostly, last time I ran around giving talks and meeting potential SIAI donors, etc.

OK, let's try this in Seattle.

You know, it finally occurred to me that instead of complaining about the paucity of LWers in Texas (or infiltrating churches, or planning a move), I should start and promote one right here, and draw all the latent rationalists out of the woodwork, even if it is Waco.

(Btw, I visited the NYC group last November while Will was out of town and stayed in his room. [Edit: Yes, he was aware of this, jokers.] Great group, but you already knew that.)

You should check out project Sifter, which is essentially what you are describing, started in San Diego in the late 90's but now worldwide including NY. http://sifter.org

It is fairly quiet lately due to lack of "heroes" but it only takes one to revive an area and the membership is there (and fairly easy to grow).

(Disclaimer: it's my site. But it's ad-free, no fee -- I just maintain it for the benefit of the members.)

Open to collaborations if you want to merge efforts. I have some solutions brewing for the heroes problem, and other ideas in the... (read more)

0[anonymous]10yThanks -- if I'm ever in one of those cities I'll check it out. (Hiking seems like one of those activities in the overlap, and it's always good to get in touch with other people who like it.)

Rationalists are still human, and we still have basic human needs.

I see this happen quite a bit: people (even other rationalists, apparently) seem to believe that rationalists should be advanced enough to not have basic psychological needs of this sort. This is a complete non sequitur. How does having accurate beliefs, good decision-making skills, and the rationalist attitude inhibit those basic needs? And why those needs and not even more basic needs, like comfort?

I'm very happy you included the word "Bacchanalia" in your post, it made me laugh. These sorts of aesthetic touches are what allow people to really read material. Keep up the good work.

I am very interested in replicating your success in the Bay Area. Thank you for writing this all up.

5childofbaud10yDitto for Toronto. We're still in the early stages (only two meetups behind us), but things are looking good so far.
4bisserlis10yI'm excited to see what you have planned, and would like to help in any way I can. Along the lines of moshez's reply to you, I'd be super excited to run a San Francisco satellite.
0Mass_Driver10yAwesome! Let me know if you want help / want to work together on that. :-)
3Nisan10yI also am interested in making this happen.
0LucasSloan10yGlad to hear it!
2moshez10yThe "Bay Area" is too big, I think, for that to work. You seem to be focusing on the East Bay, which I think is good. Perhaps, when my life stabilizes enough, I can work on "Peninsula LW" (working slogan: "Closest center of gravity to EY!") :)
0LucasSloan10yI am focused on the East Bay, yes (that's where I live), but that doesn't mean that I'm not trying to generate a community for everyone in the area. If you want to help by creating satellite meet ups, that's awesome and I wish you the best. If there's anything I can do to help, let me know.
1lukeprog10yI am choosing to interpret this as meaning that you have chosen to be the hero. I'm so glad!
4LucasSloan10yI'm happy to hear you say that. In other news, (expect a post about my plans for the future within 24 hours) the post now exists [http://lesswrong.com/lw/4un/towards_a_bay_area_less_wrong_community/]. I hope to solicit everyone's feedback, so start thinking, everyone!
3childofbaud10yI don't like the designation of hero, because it implies the rest of the participants are helpless and in need of saving. And if we tell that to people, they might just start believing it--or continue believing it. I think we should stick with organizer. This is not to detract from the accomplishments of these original organizers. Kudos to them, and to the original post, which is both informative and motivational. (And by the way, I'm sorry to pick on you lukeprog. You were just extending the metaphor established in the OP. But that continuation was what made me notice. )
7LucasSloan10yWell, someone has to get the ball rolling and, speaking in general, and not about my own particular case, I think calling people who do that hard work by high status titles is a good idea - starting a good community should be thought of as a good and noble thing. OTOH, your point about everyone being potentially useful is true, but as Eliezer talked about in the latest chapter of Methods, the solution is to try to get everyone to be a hero, not to deny the existence of heroes.
1childofbaud10yBut real heroes shouldn't need the promise of a high status title to get the ball rolling. Isn't one of their many attributed qualities selflessness? They may even be dissuaded by such high-status titles, since one of their many other positive attributes is modesty. And what exactly is low status about organizer? It is an extremely crucial role.

But real heroes shouldn't need the promise of a high status title to get the ball rolling.

Real heroes are the sorts of things we expect to find in escapist fantasy, but we live in the real world where promises of status really do get certain people off their duff and acting on important problems.

4childofbaud10yOkay, but if you strip away all these noble qualities away from a hero, what meaning is there left for the term? It seems to me that there is some semantic sleight of hand going on here. On the one hand, you are deflating the term hero of its original meaning. On the other hand, you are still counting on people using it in its original sense, otherwise it wouldn't be a high-status title. As a result, you are deceiving both this so-called hero, as well as any of his potential followers. Don't you think using an alternate, more descriptive term would avoid this deception and, at the same time, do away with the implied helplessness of the rest of the participants? Like, say, I don't know... organizer? :-) And once again, organizer is not a low status title. Except perhaps when put side by side with the hyperbolic term of hero. But you've just dismissed the latter into the realm of escapist fantasy. So why continue using it in the real world?
5DavidAgain10yI also found it confusing, because the community has 'heroes' in the sense of much-talked-about role models who are generally admired. One of the odd things about the London meetup I went to was that there were several names being spoken of in mildly reverent tones. I'm not criticising this: it has ups as well as downs. But it's that, not organisers, thatI think of when you say 'heroes'.
2Paul Crowley10yWhat sort of community wouldn't you expect that of? If we were some sort of martial arts interest group, or an environmentalist group, or pretty much any kind of common interest meetup, wouldn't you expect there to be names that were overall spoken of approvingly?
1DavidAgain10yAs I said, it's not a criticism. I guess the difference is that for some interest groups the people who are looked up to are clearly separate from the community itself. And it's not a question of approving of them in terms of 'don't they do good work', which you might expect in enviromentalists. It's closer to martial arts in that it's looking up to mentor-like figures who are seen as further down the path of rationality. Though the related qualities of intelligence and productivity get attention too.
0Cosmos10yWhat do you call someone who generates positive externalities?
4DavidAgain10yDepends on the context: a chef, a doctor, an artist a lover, an author...
1childofbaud10yTo be fair, some chefs, doctors, artists and authors are excellent at what they do, some are mediocre, and some may have a downright negative impact.

That's a very positive implied attitude to lovers!

0childofbaud10yA compromise might be to call people by a descriptive term, such as the ones DavidAgain suggests, describe their accomplishments and effect on the external world in detail (much as you have done in your original post), and leave it up to the reader to decide on the magnitude of their impact, and their virtue. The only downside to this approach is that it wouldn't make for such "good writing" to some. I guess what I'm really suggesting here is to tone down the rhetoric. I understand that some people might be impelled into action by it, but I think it's approaching Dark Arts territory.
2JGWeissman10yThere is room for more than one hero, especially when splitting into subgroups.

Preach it, brother!


[-][anonymous]9y 3

Most progress is accomplished in small groups: There is strong consensus that group discussions rarely result in updating, even if they are fun. Conversations of 2 or 3 (maybe 4 at the most), seem to produce the most useful insights. This is why spending time together bilaterally is incredibly important to group development. When a handful of people are all interested in a particular topic and practice it together, they form a de facto working group which allows them to iterate rapidly and then teach it to the rest of the members.

This is important and o... (read more)

0PhilGoetz8yLarge meetups are okay, but having a single big conversation which gets hectic because people have to struggle to be heard, and gets you angry at the one inevitable loudmouth who doesn't realize he's dominating the conversation, is not very good.

This sounds extremely awesome. Something like this would improve my quality of life incomprehensibly much, I'd do very desperate things for it.

If I were in an area with critical mass, I'd go out and do the hero thing RIGHT NOW. I'd probably fail but as I said I'm desperate. However, where I live is not near critical mass, not even near it, maybe 2 or 3 orders of magnitude away from it. I can't travel far or move because of... medical reasons, and it will likely remain this way for the foreseeable future. I am trapped and miserable, please help.

1Goobahman10yHey Armok Have you considered that there may be those who have very similar values as us here at Less Wrong, but rather champion them under a different banner than 'Rationality'? I'm just thinking it might be worth widening your search, and scracth under the surface a bit more of what's around you to see if you can find any gold. Short of that, send out a few transmissions in the local forums e.g. newspapers and their websites. and see if you can pick up any signals.
1PhilGoetz8yGot any keywords to suggest?
0jimrandomh10yWhat area is that? Have you tried posting an announcement to see if you get any responses?
1Armok_GoB10ySouth Sweden, specifically near gotenburg. I doubt there are enough rationalists in the entirety of Sweden to make a meetup, I've never heard of any single one. That and a few other things makes my p of such a post being worthwhile to small for me to even measure.
5abramdemski10yFrom my perspective, you are a counterexample and your existence suggests that there are more like you. If you are desperate, try something. What's the worst that can happen?
0Armok_GoB10yThe worst that can happen? I manage to pull in some insane people mistaken them for rationalists, the resulting community goes increasingly darker and create bad memes, those then spread through all of LW, ultimately resulting in a Friendliness-minimizing AI taking over the universe. Now, if you'd asked what the worst thing that could reasonably happen was that's a tougher question, but it's probably still quite bad.
2Risto_Saarelma10yThere's Anders Sandberg [http://www.nada.kth.se/~asa/], and this Google search [http://www.google.com/search?q=link%3Alesswrong.com+site%3Ase] brings up some stuff. Sandberg is also associated with a Swedish transhumanist organization [http://manniskaplus.org/] that probably has folk interested in LW stuff in it. If there are local LW readers, they might be students at Gothenburg university, or they might hang out with Piratpartiet. (The Finnish Piraattipuolue has a subset of LWers readers, I don't know how similar the Swedish one is.) Have you tried looking for forums or IRC channels of student associations for math, compsci, cognitive science or philosophy students at Gothenburg University or looked into Piratpartiet forums?
0PhilGoetz8yI thought it was a hotbed of futurism, although not on any stronger evidence than the Swedish willingness to try change. Anders Sandberg and Nick Bostrom have both left, but I bet there's more there. Ask Anders and Nick, to start.
0gwern8yI would have too, although not on any stronger evidence than a wealthy Scandinavian country being sure to harbor plenty of smart atheists.

The Cambridge meetup group has a core group of regulars, but hasn't expanded much beyond that. Thanks for all the ideas; I'm going to try applying some of them to make the group more active and hopefully attract more people to it.

0Nick_Roy10yI live on the South Shore, so I can participate at Cambridge during my break from university this summer, and I'll bring my most rational one or two friends, too.
0paulfchristiano10yMy perception is that this group meets once a month (and isn't well advertised). I would like to come by, but I couldn't make it last month and am out of town this month.

I intend to keep this post firmly in my mind, as I will soon begin graduate school in a new location.

[-][anonymous]9y 1

I am so glad this article was linked to in a comment. We are in the midst of forming a Cincinnati/Columbus area meetup group, and this is useful information. I am pretty impressed by how much response we have gotten. The email list is at 10 people, and we expect 8 at our first meetup.

I could use advice on the issue below, as well.

As LW-ers in non-major cities want to form meetups, I think they are likely to face the same difficulty that we are currently facing, which is that we are pretty spread out. No mid-sized city has enough by itself to establish its... (read more)

Is anyone in Oregon interested in a meetup?

0HollyIrene7yYes, I'd love to get together. I'm near Eugene, Where are you?
0goatherd7yI would be interested in a meetup. I live near Eugene.

IMHO there is little chance that an online-only community could replicate the successes (many friendships among the members, very high levels of enjoyment, motivation and engagement) of LW NYC. Why not? See the post I just made.

This post inspires me. I'll definitely keep this in mind when considering the next meetup in Helsinki.

(Unfortunately for organizing meetups, I'll be traveling until August. I hope my motivation won't have subsided when I come back.)

I live (by explicit preference) in a small town in the rural mountain west. Has anybody had success with starting a rationalist group in a small town?

0LucasSloan10yHow small a town? How far from the nearest city? Do you know everyone in the town, well enough to know if they would want to be part of such a group?
0jswan10yAbout 15,000 people in the immediate area. Longer than four hours to drive to the nearest urban area. There's a college in town, so there's probably a larger intellectually-inclined population than would otherwise be expected. I've lived here a long time and I know a lot of intelligent atheists, but no one so far who's interested in systematic rationality as an explicit endeavor.
4LucasSloan10yWell, my best advice is get yourself a table and some spiffy signs and try to evangelize in the busiest part of campus. One thing which can be very useful to getting people into rationality is Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, so have a sign for that as well as LW, and maybe hand out print-outs of the first 5 chapters.

This is gold. Upvote, upvote, upvote!

0lukeprog10yI think this post wins the prize for 'fastest to 40 upvotes ever'.

I did not believe that life could be this much fun or that I could possibly achieve such a sustained level of happiness.

you didn't explain how meetups = sustained level of happiness...

or did I miss something?

I've searched the site, but I can't find any lw meetups in my area, Tampa, FL. Does anyone know if there are and how to find them?

0AlexanderD8yYou can find upcoming meetups here [http://lesswrong.com/meetups/].

I still have on my google calendar a "LW/OB Meetups" calendar, which says, among other things

NYC LW/OB Meetup Sat, August 11, 11am – 1pm Moonstruck Diner (400 W 23rd St, between 10th Ave & 9th Ave) map

Is this obsolete?

You have mentioned "Presentation" as one of meetup topics. Could you please tell me, have you ever made or heard a presentation of some scientific discoveries and break-troughs at your meetups? For example, someone could read an interesting article in a magazine, and tell about this topic at the meetup. Or just talk about his or her own speciality and science interests. For me it seems to be useful and interesting kind of activity to do at rationalists' meetings.

I don't have a lot of time to travel into the city at the moment, but I'm graduating in a matter of weeks, which should hopefully leave me a bit more mobile. I'll make a point of checking this out.

[-][anonymous]10y 0

I'm contemplating make a trip to New York on the weekend of April 2-3 specifically in the hopes of meeting some members of the LW NYC Chapter (and EY as well, if I can manage it). Since I don't know anyone in the city, I'm hoping this comment will generate interest in having some kind of get-together on that weekend.

I'd be traveling from Ottawa, Canada; anyone in the region is welcome to contact me by PM to get in on the action. (I've already canvassed XFrequentist and received a positive reply.) Cosmos has offered to let me crash at his place, but I haven't asked him about extra space for other folk.

[-][anonymous]10y 0

Rationalists are still human, and we still have basic human needs. I see this happen quite a bit: people (even other rationalists, apparently) seem to believe that rationalists should be advanced enough to not have basic psychological needs of this sort. This is a complete non sequitur. How does having accurate beliefs, good decision-making skills, and the rationalist attitude inhibit those basic needs? And why those needs and not even more basic needs, like comfort?

[-][anonymous]10y 0

I see this happen quite a bit: people (even other rationalists, apparently) seem to believe that rationalists should be advanced enough to not have basic psychological needs of this sort. This is a complete non sequitur. How does having accurate beliefs, good decision-making skills, and the rationalist attitude inhibit those basic needs? And why those needs and not even more basic needs, like comfort?

8Raemon10yIt makes people uncomfortable. That's pretty much the whole story, I think, unless I'm missing something.
4Zvi10yThis was taken by most to mean PUA, but when Cosmos and I went over the draft we were thinking far more generally. Explicitly talking about status is low status and similar issues are involved with mapping other social interactions. These activities seem to get particularly bad reactions from women. PUA, of course, has the potential to be far worse if handled in the wrong way.
2XFrequentist10yIt would surprise me if women found non-seduction-related explicit discussion of social strategy more distasteful than did men. Is your experience the same even if there's no mention of seduction or anything gender related?
4Zvi10yMy experience is yes, they find it more off putting and distasteful, but I admit that sample sizes are not sufficient to have high confidence in that conclusion.
3AspiringRationalist9ySuppose this hypothesis is correct. While improving the gender ratio is instrumentally useful, do we really want to attract the sort of people who are offended by all explicit discussion of messy social reality?
0Zvi9yNo, but yes. If there exists a person P such that, for every explicit discussion of messy social reality, P is offended, then ~Want(P) with probability very high. However, if there exists a person P such that, for a given randomly selected explicit discussion of messy social reality, if one does not pay attention to the potential to offend, that they are then offended with high probability, then I don't think that says much about that person. In fact, the set S of such persons P contains the majority not only of people, but of people worth attracting to meetings, especially before they've been exposed to alternate social norms.
4rhollerith_dot_com10yHe means that it is easy for discussion of pick-up / seduction to alienate potential female LW participants.
6XFrequentist10yAside from advocating the theft of the PUAs' group structure and ethic of practice, my article had nothing to do with seduction. I thought Cosmos might be making a more complicated point, but fair enough.
1rhollerith_dot_com10yFair enough. When I wrote grandparent BTW I was not aware you were the author of the (very fine IMHO) article at the far end of the link. I thought you were just mystified as to what the sentence might mean. Anyway, he removed the link to your article from his article, so I am going to assume that there is no need for me to say more.
1[anonymous]10yWhile at the same time gratuitously alienating them by suggesting that calling attention to reality is the thing that causes alienation.

Several members broke off old relationships and some of them entered new ones within the group.

Cult alert.

Should one's SO be worried if one considers going to a LW meetup?

4Nornagest10yI'd expect that to happen in any group that has an effect on its members' worldview. That's a necessary but not a sufficient condition for culthood.

No, this is not a mere worldview phenomenon. Apparently the NYC LW group has successfully proved, contrary to all stereotypes, that rationality done right makes you a more attractive mate.


1) "How could you say that! You terrible mean person who wants to hurt my feelings!"

2) "You need to understand that when you say something like that, it makes me feel as though you're trying to hurt my feelings, whether or not you do."

3) "I'm sorry about how I reacted; even though I know on the level of rational probabilities that it's extremely unlikely you meant to hurt my feelings, I'm still working on getting my brain to alieve that and not just believe it."

Let's say you've got a mate at level 1. Then you join a group in which you find (a) single people at level 3 and (b) a widespread understanding of the concept of the "sunk cost fallacy" and the importance of saying oops and changing your policies occasionally.

What do you think happens next?

And yes, NYC LW is demonstrating that this also works with women realizing that they can no longer stand to be around non-rationalist guys.

PS: Cultish countercultishness. I'm actually pretty sick of hearing someone yell "Cult!" every time rationalists try to coordinate as well as a model railroad club. Why Our Kind Can't Cooperate.

[-][anonymous]10y 39

A relationship between two rationalists can be much happier and freer of drama. If Eliezer's example isn't clear enough, here's another one.

"I'm worried about X."

Non-rationalist: "I've told you a million times, that's not gonna happen! Why can't you trust me?"

Rationalist: "Ok, let's go to Wikipedia, get some stats, and do the expected value calculation. Let me show you how unlikely this is."

Which conversation ends in a fight? Which conversation ends in both people actually feeling more at ease?

There are female memes to the effect "Men are endearing fools," and male memes to the effect "Women are beautiful fools." But a fool eventually gets frustrating. It is an incredible relief to meet someone who isn't foolish. "Whoa... you mean you can embrace an idea without being an uncritical fanatic? You mean you can actually make allowances for overconfidence bias, instead of taking reckless gambles? You can listen to the content of what I'm saying instead of the applause lights?" Having a rationalist partner means never having to say "Oh, you wouldn't understand."

Also, on cultishness: I saw an ad the other day ... (read more)

6Vladimir_M10yJust curious: what would be a concrete example of an X that would provide for a realistic exchange that fits this pattern?

World-destroying black hole caused by LHC. Autism through vaccination. Cancer from low intensity radio waves (i.e. a cell phone rather than a radar station). A meteorite hitting your house. A plane crashing into your house if you don't live in a landing vector of an airport. Terrorists capturing the plane you are on if you fly rarely.

5grobstein10yWhich of these is a major stressor on romantic relationships?
4Cyan10yNot that it's happened to me, but I can easily see "autism through vaccination" fitting into the scenario.
0jefftk9yHow much we should have been worried about a world destroying black hole as an effect of the LHC sounds hard to determine from wikipedia stats. Would you just look at "how often do people say that scientists are going destroy the world, and how often are they right"?

Only the other day, a friend called because she was worried about a possible bad consequence of a mistake she'd made. I immediately agreed that the bad consequence could follow from the mistake. But I went on to point out that it could only happen if three conditions are met, and all three are unlikely, so the probability of the bad consequence is very low.

The result was that she was genuinely reassured. If I had just tried to say "Oh, don't worry, I'm sure it will be fine", or tried to argue that it was impossible that it would go wrong, she would have seen that it was not impossible and rejected my reassurance.

I'm trying to turn her onto this site; at the moment she's pretty explicitly saying she isn't sure she wouldn't prefer to hang on to her illusions.

2anon89510yThey don't sound meaningfully different to me; you're saying the same thing, just less emotively and more casually. I saw someone recently suggest saying (in a sympathetic tone) "What are you planning to do?". (Possibly preceded by something like "Yeah, I can understand why you would be".) I wouldn't expect good results from it in real life, but I like it anyway (and it might be better than some alternatives).
9[anonymous]10yThey're not the same substance. The first way says "Trust me -- I'm upset that you don't take my word for an answer." (And the reaction will be "You want me to just smile and nod to everything you say? What gives you the authority?") The second way says "Ok, let's see if your fears are justified by checking some objective source." (And, ideally, the reaction will be "Oh, ok, I didn't know that. Guess I shouldn't have worried." Of course, that depends on the worried partner being fairly rational too; a less rational person might just perceive a status grab and not notice the new information.)

The second way also takes advantage of psychological commitment and consistency. First, you commit to a procedure for determining whether to worry about X, like getting stats from Wikipedia and doing some arithmetic. Only then do you actually do this and find out what the answer is -- and by then, no matter what the result, you've already made the decision to accept it!

Definitely a handy technique.

2Mycroft6553610yIf both participants are rational the second allows the worried party to get real data and execute an update, allowing a real emotional worry to go away. This allows people to have less anxiety about their relationships. This makes relationships with rationalists orders of magnitude better than relationships with people who are merely smart and reasonable. I don't think I could go back to dating a nonrationalist.

I'm not sure what you mean by rationality making you a more attractive mate. Bringing like-minded people together in a close-knit community will make them more likely to get together even if what the group has in common is halitosis: it doesn't mean halitosis makes you a more attractive mate.

Perhaps the increase in confidence makes members more attractive, but that doesn't mean rationality beats irrationality, just that a confident self-assured rationalist beats a shy uncertain one, which is hardly breaking news. Or am I missing something?

I also think that if anyone feels like they can't stand to be around non-rationalists then they've handicapped themselves to an excessive degree. And also made the cult accusation more justified. If you mean can't stand to be 'with' a non-rationalist, that's more common, though still quite a strong, quasi-religious separation from the rest of the world.

Apparently I erred too much on the side of short and punchy. The scenario you outline seems like a special case of the point I was trying to make: namely, that changing minds in any way changes the basis of a relationship, and sometimes the relationship in its changed state will end up unstable. Even aside from your (entirely reasonable) scenario, there's unfortunately no shortage of people who seem to respond poorly to rationality as implemented by LW in its current state (as opposed to idealized always-wins rationality), which presumably shares a number of characteristics with the flavor the New York guys are teaching.

Heck, a competent instrumental rationalist in an unhappy relationship is if nothing else probably more likely to hack off the bloody stump of the partnership than a non-rationalist (being undeterred by sunk costs and unwarranted feelings of obligation), and I'd expect that alone to generate a correlation between new membership in rationality-oriented communities and the termination of existing relationships.

And yeah, the cult accusations are annoying, which was the other point I apparently failed to convey. I've seen firsthand what real cult psychology looks like. It's not at all pretty, and it's not what we've got going on here.

For the record, saying "cult alert" might not constitute an accusation, but rather "you need to watch your PR".

3) "I'm sorry about how I reacted; even though I know on the level of rational probabilities that it's extremely unlikely you meant to hurt my feelings, I'm still working on getting my brain to alieve that and not just believe it."

Even as a rationalist, this line is a bit of a turnoff. If both spouses like this kind of phrasing, that's great, but that's an issue of shared culture, not inherent superiority of rationality. I preferred option 2.

Edit: more accurately, I think real rationalism promotes good relationships, but the Less Wrong lexicon is not inherently helpful.

Try this approximately-equivalent rephrasing: "I'm sorry about how I reacted; even though I know in my head that it's extremely unlikely you meant to hurt my feelings, I'm still working on getting my gut reaction to match up with that."

My version is still a bit stiff-sounding, and it attributes anatomically implausible acts to your digestive organs, but it keeps the message intact without sounding too far removed from normal diction.

0ameriver10yI regularly say things like this to the people closest to me. The phrasing is only awkward the first time, when I have to do a bit of backstory and explanation. Thereafter, a short phrase suffices to indicate that this sort of phenomenon is occuring. I consider it a good intermediate rationality tactic. I'm not yet to the point where noticing that a feeling (anger, sadness) is irrational lets me eliminate it. But explicitly noting what is going on to my converational partner helps keep both of us from letting the situation worsen.
0Raemon10yYeah, that's a little better.
6NancyLebovitz10yIs lack of malice always enough? What's a rationalist way of handling repeated inattention?
9Paul Crowley10yThe rationalist way of handling X is whatever produces the best outcome overall.
4[anonymous]10yIf there are no signs of improvement despite communicating dissatisfaction with this, update your beliefs on how important you really are to them (also the chances that they will leave you when someone more exciting comes along), reflect on how much this matters to your own satisfaction with the relationship & then take a continue or quit decision?
2Mycroft6553610yIt's actually surprising how quickly applying rationality can make one more attractive. Winning at nutrition, fashion, fitness take very little time if you're body is at all typical, especially if you're in a community where resources can be pooled. Posture and confidence are harder, but not much. The fact that there are virtuous cycles there also help. I've seen real gains in attractiveness over the past several years, with noticeable progress on the scale of months. I've achieved gains of 3-4 points on a 10 point scale.
0[anonymous]10yCultish countercultishness [http://lesswrong.com/lw/4ul/less_wrong_nyc_case_study_of_a_successful/3pj5]. I'm gettin' pretty sick of hearing someone yell "Cult!" every time rationalists try to coordinate as well as a model railroad club.