Jun 11, 2012
Guys I'd like your opinion on something.
Do you think LessWrong is too intellectually insular? What I mean by this is that we very seldom seem to adopt useful vocabulary or arguments or information from outside of LessWrong. For example all I can think of is some of Robin Hanson's and Paul Graham's stuff. But I don't think Robin Hanson really counts as Overcoming Bias used to be LessWrong.
The community seems to not update on ideas and concepts that didn't originate here. The only major examples fellow LWers brought up in conversation where works that Eliezer cited as great or influential. :/
Another thing, I could be wrong about this naturally, but it seems to clear that LessWrong has not grown. I'm not talking numerically. I can't put my finger to major progress done in the past 2 years. I have heard several other users express similar sentiments. To quote one user:
I notice that, in topics that Eliezer did not explicitly cover in the sequences (and some that he did), LW has made zero progress in general.
I've recently come to think this is probably true to the first approximation. I was checking out a blogroll and saw LessWrong listed as Eliezer's blog about rationality. I realized that essentially it is. And worse this makes it a very crappy blog since the author doesn't make new updates any more. Originally the man had high hopes for the site. He wanted to build something that could keep going on its own, growing without him. It turned out to be a community mostly dedicated to studying the scrolls he left behind. We don't even seem to do a good job of getting others to read the scrolls.
Overall there seems to be little enthusiasm for actually systematically reading the old material. I'm going to share my take on what is I think a symptom of this. I was debating which title to pick for my first ever original content Main article (it was originally titled "On Conspiracy Theories") and made what at first felt like a joke but then took on a horrible ring of:
Over time the meaning of an article will tend to converge with the literal meaning of its title.
We like linking articles, and while people may read a link the first time, they don't tend to read it the second or third time they run across it. The phrase is eventually picked up and used out the appropriate of context. Something that was supposed to be shorthand for a nuanced argument starts to mean exactly what "it says". Well not exactly, people still recall it is a vague applause light. Which is actually worse.
I cited precisely "Politics is the Mindkiller" as an example of this. In the original article Eliezer basically argues that gratuitous politics, political thinking that isn't outweighed by its value to the art of rationality, is to be avoided. This soon came to meant it is forbidden to discuss politics in Main and Discussion articles, though it does live in the comment sections.
Now the question if LessWrong remains productive intellectually, is separate from the question of it being insular. But I feel both need to be discussed. If our community wasn't growing and it wasn't insular either, it could at least remain relevant.
This site has a wonderful ethos for discussion and thought. Why do we seem to be wasting it?