This is a thread for updates about the upcoming LessOnline festival. I (Ben) will be posting bits of news and thoughts, and you're also welcome to make suggestions or ask questions.

If you'd like to hear about new updates, you can use LessWrong's "Subscribe to comments" feature from the triple-dot menu at the top of this post.

Reminder that you can get tickets at the site for $400 minus your LW karma in cents.

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We are currently at 270 attendees for LessOnline! It's gonna be a busy weekend. 

Also (if you haven't seen) lots of new great writers confirmed attending including Scott Sumner, Agnes Callard, and Patrick McKenzie.

Questions Thread

How scarce are tickets/"seats"?

I think on-site housing is pretty scarce, though we're going to make more high-density rooms in response to demand for that. Tickets aren't scarce, our venue could fit like a 700 person event, so I don't expect to hit the limits.

Is there going to be some sort of slack or discord for attendees?

Yep! My guess is I will send one out to people who bought tickets next week, along with various spreadsheets for signing up to activities with (e.g. giving a lightning talk).

(I personally strongly prefer slack for a bunch of UI reasons including threading and especially because I always find the conversational culture on discord disorienting, though I know manifest has a community discord so it might be worth using discord.)


How's the childcare situation looking? Last I heard it wasn't clear and the organizers were seeing how much interest there was in it.

Launched a few days ago, the plan is:

  • Kids tickets are $50
  • There's daycare purchasable on-site from 10am to 7pm, for like $10/hour if you book ahead of time or $30/hour if you use it on-the-day
  • If you want connection to a nanny for outside of those hours we have a service that can help with that at $45/hour.

Happy to get feedback on this, still figuring out what exactly helps parents and how to set it up right.


That just sounds great, thanks.

Still working on setting it up, once I have the details I'll announce them (e.g. pricing and whatnot).

I'm aiming to have childcare available in some form for the full 9-day LessOnline-to-Summer-Camp-to-Manifest period. I'm excited for folks to come with their full families.

I'm not a parent, but if I was I expect I would need this locked down before I could commit. And I would need to decide on attendance earlier, because traveling with kids is a lot more work. 

Thinking Thread

Question: What is this event celebrating?

I've been trying to think a bit about the boundary of this event. Naturally I love LessWrong, but it's not simply about LessWrong.

This is not comprehensive, but here are three subcultures that I admire and am hoping to celebrate at this event.

  1. Aspiring Rationalists – people interested in understanding and improving their cognitive algorithms
  2. Rational Fiction Readers & Writers – people who write fiction that illustrate intelligent characters and lawful worlds
  3. Public Worldview Builders and/or Polymaths – people earnestly trying to directly understand the world and explain what they’ve learned with online writing

Below are a few notes about each of them and what I hope from bringing them together.

Aspiring Rationalists

I continue to believe the mission to understand our cognitive algorithms and improve them is a worthwhile one, and there's still lots of people working on advancing this, whether it's finding new theoretical underpinnings for decision-making or coming up with pragmatic heuristics for improving the truth-tracking nature of discussions or building up models for how the world is trying to fight your ability to understand it or something quite different.

I'm hoping to bring folks together who are interested in this mission and give them the ability to get ideas from other people who have been working on this too.

Rational Fiction Readers & Writers

Near to the aspiring rationalists is Rational Fiction. For detailed pointers to it check the description in the r/rational subreddit sidebar or the TV Tropes Page, but broadly it really respects the characters' intelligence and the rules of how the fictional world works. It's the sort of story where a key plot point might involve doing a fermi estimate for how much steel is required to withstand a given magical blast, or where a key moment of dramatic tension involves the protagonist carefully reasoning about their situation and reaching a novel conclusion, one that in-principle the reader themselves could've deduced given the information that they had available.

This community is very active and large! r/rational has 25k subscribers, and the best works are extremely popular. At the time of publication Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality had the most reviews (37k) of any work on (now second most) and is the most followed HP-fic (22k), Mother of Learning has the most views (18M) on Royal Road, and Worth the Candle is the 3rd most read original fiction on Archive of Our Own (I started it a month ago and am now 220 chapters in, no spoilers please). There's so many more amazing works, I'd guess like 300-1,000 rational-fics (especially counting all of the Glow-Fics).

I think this often (not always) has a similar nature to the old hard sci-fi, where people try to set up rules of a world and really ask what would follow from these rules, and authors put in a lot of work to be very creative-and-lawful.

I’m hoping to bring people together to talk about stories and the ideas that go into them and come away with lots of new ideas for stories they could write.

Public Worldview Builders and/or Polymaths

(This bit is something Ray helped a lot in writing)

There’s a style of discourse that has felt pretty important to me. It used to be kinda The Central Thing going on on the internet. It’s become less so, with the rise of social media. That Thing is a bit hard to pin down, but it’s something like:  

“Longform, thoughtful writing, earnestly trying to figure stuff out.”  

LessOnline is a festival celebrating that kind of writing. Furthermore, I have a strong hunch that there’s a craft that everyone invited is involved with in some way — an art of paying attention to the information you get about the world, piecing things together into a coherent perspective, extracting strong arguments to show to others, writing in a way that’s engaging and clear, and leaving people with a little bit of a better understanding of the world, that altogether hopefully adds up to leave me and humanity with a much more accurate and more leveraged map of the world.

The idea here is to invite the part of the blogosphere that seems sort of like "kindred spirits" to LessWrong, approaching similar kinds of questions from different perspectives. I think one framing is "we're looking for people who are publicly building out cohesive worldview in public."

I’m hoping to bring such people together to share ideas they’ve been thinking about and knowledge they’ve learned, and also to share insights about the shared craft. 

An quick and incomplete list of other subcultures I'm excited about bringing together

Econ Blogosphere, Statistics Blogosphere, History Blogosphere, Finance Blogosphere, The Nerdy Cartoon-O-Sphere (e.g. XKCD, SMBC, Abstruse Goose, many more), Agent Foundations researchers, Genetic Enhancement researchers, more.

  1. Putting the festival at the same time as EAG London is unfortunate.
  2. Giving out "over 100 free tickets" induces (in me) a reaction of "If I'm not invited I'm not going to buy a ticket". This is perhaps because I hope/wish to slide into those 100 slots, even though it's unrealistic. I believe other events solve this by just giving a list of a bunch of confirmed attendees, and being silent about giving out free tickets to those.
  1. I anticipate the vast majority of people going to each of the events will be locals to the state and landmass respectively, so I don't think it's actually particularly costly for them to overlap.
  2. That's unfortunate that you are less likely to come, and I'm glad to get the feedback. I could primarily reply with reasons why I think it was the right call (e.g. helpful for getting the event off the ground, helpful for pinpointing the sort of ideas+writing the event is celebrating, I think it's prosocial for me to be open about info like this generally, etc) but I don't think that engages with the fact that it left you personally less likely to come. I still overall think if the event sounds like a good time to you (e.g. interesting conversations with people you'd like to talk to and/or exciting activities) and it's worth the cost to you then I hope you come :-)

That's unfortunate that you are less likely to come, and I'm glad to get the feedback. I could primarily reply with reasons why I think it was the right call (e.g. helpful for getting the event off the ground, helpful for pinpointing the sort of ideas+writing the event is celebrating, I think it's prosocial for me to be open about info like this generally, etc) but I don't think that engages with the fact that it left you personally less likely to come. I still overall think if the event sounds like a good time to you (e.g. interesting conversations with people you'd like to talk to and/or exciting activities) and it's worth the cost to you then I hope you come :-)

Maybe to clarify my comment: I was merely describing my (non-endorsed[1]) observed emotional content wrt the festival, and my intention with the comment was not to wag my finger at you guys in the manner of "you didn't invite me".

I wonder whether other people have a similar emotional reaction.

I appreciate Lightcone being open with the information around free invitations though! I think I'd have bought a ticket anyway if I had time around that weekend, and I think I'd probably have a blast if I would attend.

Btw: What's the chance of a 2nd LessOnline?

  1. I think my reaction is super bound up in icky status-grabbing/status-desiring/inner-ring-infiltrating parts of my psyche which I'm not happy with. ↩︎

What's the chance of a 2nd LessOnline?

Um, one part of me is (as is not uncommon) really believes in this event and thinks it's going to be the best effort investments Lightcone's ever made (though this part of me currently has one or two other projects and ideas that it believes in maybe even more strongly), that's part of me is like "yeah this should absolutely happen every year", though as I say I get this feeling often about projects that often end up looking different to how I dreamed them when they finally show up in reality. I think that part would feel validated by the event turning out to be awesome and people finding it was worthwhile to come. Then there's the question of how much resources Lightcone actually has and whether we'll successfully fundraise and whether this will be one of the few projects we're investing a few staff-months in a year from now. I think my probabilities just went from 80% to 50% to 99% to... 30%. Overall it depends on how good this event is, which varies on a log scale.

I think there are worlds where we do it again and invest less effort into it, also there's worlds where we do it again and invest more effort into it. I think there's also a bunch of worlds where we're happy about this event but try a subtly different one next time (e.g. me and a teammate generated like 5 other serious event contenders before this one, including things more like workshops or academic conferences than like large festivals, and perhaps we'll try a different thing next). I think I like that this event is essentially open-invite and trying to be more big-tent, and I hope to do more things like this, so that even if we change what sorts of events we run anyone will just be able to buy a ticket. There's also worlds where we stop exploring having an events team for our campus and stop running events.

As one datapoint, in 2021 I organized a 60-person private event called the Sanity & Survival Summit for rationalist folk and folks working professionally on x-risk stuff, and I thought we'd maybe make that a yearly thing, and a year later we sort of last-minute/impromptu ran another version of it called Palmcone (it was in the Bahamas) for 80-100 people, and then we made the Lightcone Offices to try and get a more permanent version of the EA/x-risk things in the Bay, and then we scrapped the whole thing as we uninvested in the professional x-risk/EA ecosystem. That's a possible trajectory things could take.

Updates Thread

Update #1

Lots of info to share! Here's a bunch of awesome people confirmed as coming.

Eliezer YudkowskyThe Sequences | HPMOR | Project Lawful
Scott AlexanderSlateStarCodex | Astral Codex Ten | UNSONG
Zvi MowshowitzThe Zvi | Don't Worry About The Vase
Alexander WalesWorth the Candle | Alexander Wales
Kevin SimlerMelting Asphalt | The Elephant in the Brain
Katja GraceWorld Spirit Sock Puppet | AI Impacts
Sarah ConstantinRough Diamonds
Martin Sustrik250bpm | LW
Duncan SabienHomo Sabiens | r!Animorphs
John WentworthLW
Abram DemskiLW
AlicornAlicorn | LW
Jacob FalkovichPutANumOnIt | LW
Zack DavisLW
Daystar EldDaystar Eld
Ozy BrennanThing of Things

Two activities I'm personally quite excited to go to are Sarah Constantin's "Write Your First Fact Post" and Alicorn's "Write Your First GlowFic" (I want to try to do both of these things!).

Also here are some sessions tentatively scheduled (some may change):

  1. Fighting Moloch in Politics talk/Q&A with Martin Sustrik
  2. One-Shot 'Baba Is You' Rationality Exercises activity with Raymond Arnold
  3. Write Your First Fact-Post activity led by Sarah Constantin
  4. Currently Untitled Sequel to And All the Shoggoths Merely Players narrated by Zack Davis and John Wentworth
  5. Write Your First Glowfic activity led by Alicorn
  6. Podcast and Q&A with Alexander Wales (author of Worth the Candle) and Daystar Eld, moderated by Jamie Wahls
  7. Wanted: People Who Want by Jacob Falkovich
  8. Magic-The-Gathering Color Wheel for Writers talk by Duncan Sabien

I'm on deck to run something but haven't decided what yet. Some overlapping possibilities I'm toying with:

  1. Practicum for CFAR-style "could you solve this in an hour?" focused on health, environmental health, and, uh, looking for a good term for things like cognition improvement and better fitness. Super health?
  2. Emotional titration

The first sounds like the sort of thing that turns out to be surprisingly useful (nobody ever gives me health advice). Mm, maybe folks can agree-react to this sentence if they too want to go to such a session?


(I would agree-react but I can't actually make it)

Health and longevity blogger from here. I've submitted talks on optimal diet, optimal exercise, how to run sub 3:30 for your first marathon, and sugar is fine -- fight me!

Looking forward to extended, rational health discussions!

Nice, just had a good call with Alkjash, who is coming and will be preparing 2 layman-level math talks about questions he's been thinking about.

Other ideas we chatted about having at LessOnline include maybe having some discussions about doing research inside and outside of academia, and also about learning from GlowFic writers how to write well collaboratively. (Let me know if you'd be interested in either of these!)

Writing collaboratively is definitely something David and I have been trying to figure out how to do productively.