Advice for an isolated Rationalist?

Hello fellow readers.

I've been enjoying LW for a while now, and I can confidently say that many of the ideas on in this community have done much to better my life.

However, I live in some isolation from like-minded individuals. I lack social groups that aspire to the same values of rationality that I have come to treasure. My nearest meet-up is Melbourne, but that takes approximately a hour and a half to get to, and would require more time and money than I can reasonably afford at the moment.
I find it difficult to immerse myself and live out many of these ideas when I do not have the social support to back me.

Anyone have any tips for managing rationalist isolation?

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As a stop-gap measure, until you find some rationalist meat friends, you can gain some immediacy from the freenode IRC #lesswrong channel. YMMV.


By this shminux means either we'll be discussing fun things, or gwern will be filling up the IRC channel with article quotes.

The IRC #lesswrong channel is sort of like the Mos Eisley Cantina of rationality.

Gwern also spams cool links on his google+ profile. His website is also something I would recommend.

No doubt gwern is a cool cat. Just sometimes, some people (hi) want to engage in pointless sarcasm.

Well, your biggest step was to even find and join this site. I'm in a similar predicament at the moment, and I JUST found LessWrong last week.

I supposes you could find similar minded people if you try to join community groups/projects that you have interest in. Try sharing your ideas/thoughts on the various social media sites. I'm sure you won't get a bunch of responses if you have friends similar to mine, and the responses you do get will be sparse and not so worthwhile - but it's a great way to refine your thinking.

And as others have suggested, try contacting those who plan on going to the Melbourne meetup and see if there is a chance a future meetup could be organized closer to you.

Best of luck.

I would try asking members of the Melbourne meet-up if any of them had an interest to meet at either your house, their house, or at a chosen point in between at some point. There is a chance that you'll find out that some of them are less than 90 minutes away, and another chance some of them do not live less than 90 minutes away, but might have the time to make the drive over, particularly if you try to meet them at some sort of halfway point.

I can confidently say that many of the ideas on in this community have done much to better my life

Could you give some examples?

Consider setting up online LW meetups via say google hangouts. From previous experience I think this can work for groups no larger than 8 if two or three participants already know each other.

How old are you, and what's your life situation like? For example, if you're about to start college, you may be able to pick one that would have some intelligent, like-minded people around, or if you're in college right now you could think about transferring to a different one, or whatever.

Besides that, I don't know. What do you mean you don't have the social support to back you up? We're here, aren't we? It may not be as good as knowing people IRL, but it's not that much worse if you're just talking academically. And if you're looking to socialize, you don't need LW-caliber intellectuals for that.

I will confirm that Less Wrong is dramatically more useful when you have people to reinforce good rationality practices.

I'd start by doublechecking that there are actually no rationalists in your area. Post a meetup in the discussion section for your city if you haven't already, go to a coffeeshop with a sign that says "Rationality Meetup" and see if people show up. (Bring a book in case they don't and don't stress about it)

Can you give me a few examples of the good rationality practices you're speaking of? You probably don't mean good epistemic practices, because hanging out on LW and similar websites handles that, so I assume you mean something else, but I can't think of what else you would need LW-style rationalists for.

Both epistemic and instrumental stuff. It's one thing to read about biases in an academic fashion. It's quite another thing to have friends who know you, who also know rationality, who can point out when you're being affected by biases (which you wouldn't have thought to bring up on LW because you were busy being blinded by a bias), who you trust to help you evaluate things with a concern for truth-seeking.

Being surrounded by people who actively work to improve their decision making also inspires me to do better.

And then there's just value in having LW-caliber intellectuals to socialize with, just because there's a kind of enjoyment that comes from that which you don't get from other types of people.

I'm in a similar situation. My nearest meetup is in Melbourne, too. But for me Melbourne is 9 hours' drive away. I'm not just looking for friends - of which I have a few already, I'm also looking for a partner. Of all the woman I've met in the last decade (taken or otherwise), I've only met one who would not be turned off by this stuff and that one was taken.

On the friends front, I've sent messages to the two Less Wrong members that I could find who live in Adelaide, but no response yet. On the partner front, I recently had a date with a woman who asked me what I believed about the beginning of the world as an atheist. I said I open the science book and see what it says and then reread it every few years to get up to date. This led into a discussion of rationality, after which things cooled off. I haven't heard back from her since then.

So do I need to keep my mouth shut about the things I think about? Or just wait for the statistically unlikely occurrence of a rationalist, un-taken woman who is also interested in me?

This led into a discussion of rationality, after which things cooled off.

Do you think you came across in a wrong way? Maybe too condescending, or too cold, or too calculating? Maybe you overused some LWish jargon, like "utility function"? Did you let her express her views and did you empathize with them?

I could have come across the wrong way. I'm pretty sure I mentioned a utility function at one point. I tried not to come across as cold. I think I gave her a chance to express her views. But she never did, so either I didn't do a good enough job or she had another reason not to express them (shock at me, never thought about it, etc).

Well, I suppose as a general advice, it's not a good idea to utter the words "utility function" on the first date with a person not already familiar with the term. Also, listening and empathizing (or, if you prefer, "constructing a mental model") is a rational thing to do when meeting new people, date or no date.

I don't think that's a good idea, to be honest. Conversion of other individuals is one of the more difficult things you can do as an aspiring rationalist. Let's face it, a lot of irrational arguments have very very strong intuitive appeal. Unless you are very familiar with the standard arguments for rationalism, you're more likely to simply alienate those around you and further isolate yourself by attempting to convert your non-rationalist friends.

I agree that it's hard to take irrational types, and turn them into rational types. However, I think it is very EASY to take smart types and turn them into baby LWians. They won't magically become rational, but they will become conversant on the basic ideas here.

Hardly any of my efforts to convince people that Less Wrong is cool have succeeded. On the other hand, if I had sent them an actual article instead of just explaining how awesome it was (in the same breath as the singularity, no less), I might have been successful...

Reach out to existing rationalists past and present, and start trying to develop semi-original rationality skills building on your personal strengths, and the sorts of things you pay attention to.

I got a lot out of sporadically talking with people in the rationality community over Skype and phone and the like, and there are a lot of really good autobiographies by fairly important people. There really is a lot of information in the community that just isn't on LW, or in most of the meetups.

Feel free to PM me if you're interested in emailing back and forth about this.