Call for Volunteers: Rationalists with Non-Traditional Skills

by Jasen1 min read28th Oct 201068 comments

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SIAI's Fellows Program is looking for rationalists with skills.  More specifically, we're looking for rationalists with skills outside our usual cluster who are interested in donating their time by teaching those skills and communicating the mindsets that lead to their development.  If possible, we'd like to learn from specialists who "speak our language," or at least are practiced in resolving confusion and disagreement using reason and evidence.  Broadly, we're interested in developing practical intuitions, doing practical things, and developing awareness and culture around detail-intensive technical subskills of emotional self-awareness and social fluency.  More specifically:    

We're interested learning how to "make stuff" in order to force ourselves down to object level from time to time, practice executing plans in the real world and to refine our intuitions about material phenomena.  Examples:

  • Home Construction/repair contractor (We'll need to fix up the house we're trying to buy in Berkeley)
  • Auto-repair 

We're interested in learning skills that require one to pay very close attention to the detail of the physical world - how things actually are instead of what our mental representation says about them.  Examples:

  • Technical Drawing 
  • Stage Magic

We'd like to get better at working with people, both inside the institute and outside.  Examples:

  • Journalist
  • Science/engineering project manager

We want to become more aware and in control of our emotions.  Emotional self-awareness seems very important for productivity, social success and understanding our tendencies toward motivated cognition.  Aside from things that traditionally train emotional awareness like acting and meditation, we expect that certain formal systems of kinesthetic practice such as Iyengar yoga will also help because of the close association between emotional states and patterns of muscle tension.  Examples:

  • Personal trainer
  • Dance instructor
  • Acting instructor (improv in particular)
  • Martial art instructor
  • Specialist in some developed, highly technical system of kinesthetic practice (e.g. Alexander technique, Feldenkrais, Iyengar yoga or kundalini yoga)

We obviously don't have the time for everyone to learn all of these skills right now, but we would like to get the ball rolling on what's available.  Whether you're interested in joining the fellows program, visiting regularly or even just video conferencing occasionally, if you think you can teach one of these skills or something else that seems to align well with the faculties we're interested in training, please send me an email at jasen@intelligence.org.

Even if you don't live in the Bay Area, I encourage you to post your skills here anyway, in case one of the regular Less Wrong meetup groups are interested.  There are regular meetups in New York, Boston, and Los Angeles.  As always, if there aren't already meetups in your area I encourage you to start one.

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On a related note, a friend of ours named John Ku has negotiated a donation of 20% stock to SIAI from his company MetaSpring. MetaSpring is a digital marketing consultancy that mostly sells a service of rating the effectiveness of advertising campaigns and they are currently hiring. They are looking for experience with:

Ruby on Rails MySql / Sql web design / user interface JavaScript wordpress php web programming in general sales client communication unix system administration Photoshop / slicing HTML & CSS drupal

If you're interested, contact John Ku at ku@johnsku.com

I apologize for the embarrassing amount of time it has taken to respond to this. This was posted before the negotiations were actually finalized, which took some number of weeks. Then, in a matter of months, I ended up returning all of the equity in exchange for a computer and waived referral fee. At this point, I assume any further details are a moot point.

20% equity stake in MetaSpring, or 20% of Mr. Ku's personal equity?

I live in the Boston area (Arlington) and am moderately skilled in

  • woodturning
  • blacksmithing
  • shooting

I've got the barest hint of skill in metalworking, cabinetmaking, and gunsmithing / ammunition reloading.

Give me a yell at at tjic.com if I can be of help.

And thus was the SIAI militia born.

This leads to so many ideas about post-apocalyptic scifi stories.

If anything's worth the application of military force to acheive, it's a positive singularity. Of course, there probably isn't anything you could do with a militia to help implement a positive singularity...

Take down AGI projects that are unconcerned about Friendliness and are likely enough to succeed that they're dangerous?

I think the odds of such a thing happening in a way for which direct (para?)military action is the best solution are incredibly low.

Agreed. Basically zero. The chances of military action happening if an AGI arms race were to develop seem much higher, though still very low compared to the background risk of major military conflicts for mundane reasons.

Yeah. Leave that one for the novelists.

Probably better in most scenarios to get the government involved.

And in the few scenarios where it isn't, you'd probably end up actually opposing the government of the country the project's based in, so a militia would have to be pretty darned tough to get the job done. I'd expect the resources to prepare for that eventuality would be better spent elsewhere. And as paramilitary solutions go, a few letter bombs or whatever would probably be more effective than marching in with a load of militia dudes.

Oh, I agree — I was just responding to the claim that "there probably isn't anything you could do with a militia to help implement a positive singularity", not claiming that it would be the best use of resources under the circumstances. :P

This is a guy who calls for the assassination of politicians on his blog. I'm not sure you want him on your side, for both tactical and ethical reasons. Not to mention that an easy resort to violence doesn't really suggest rationalism, but YMMV.

Sounds like a class of skills, though not an exact set of skills, that could be useful for Seasteading Institute

Hire PJEby to teach you guys emotional awareness/control. The Mankind Project uses some similar psychological techniques, which has helped me actually put what I read from PJ into practice, but is male-only and not rational in its approach.

Another kinesthetic practice to consider is Z-Health.

There are tons of PUA instructors, but that is an expensive route. Maybe some of the more successful in the community can volunteer some training. Is there an mPUA in the house?

Zvi thinks very highly of hypnosis as a psychological tool, I would consider that as well.

I've spoken with Eby. Would love to run a retreat with him eventually, possibly with other partners but would need to take some more time to work out details.

Wait. Isn't The Mankind Project the one that has been at the center of the... controversy surrounding the lawyer and the forced retreat? The articles I read on the issue made it sound like they used cult tactics and were variously disreputable. Would you care to share your experience?

MKP's public image is determined almost entirely by their detractors, as they have no publicity team to put a more positive image out there or respond to these incidents. That incident in particular was about a business owner forcing his employees to join, I don't think that reflects on MKP itself. There have been other high-profile incidents in the news as well, I am sure you can Google them easily enough.

My experience with them has been positive, everything is voluntary and opting out is completely respected. They certainly don't take a rationalist approach to things (which feels distasteful at times), but they do utilize proven psychological techniques and make real changes in mens' lives. I'm learning very useful tools from the organization, but other than that I have no particular connection or commitment to MKP. Obviously in a large, dispersed organization like this I am not getting a representative sample, but I have worked with three local communities now and have found the same in each one.

Have you done anything with Z Health yourself? It looks promising.

I haven't done much with it yet. One of my CrossFit coaches was a Z-Health expert, his warmups often involved developing our kinesthetic senses and seemed helpful in developing movement patterns.

Seattle-based licensed electrician here.

I live in the Bay Area now and have experience running outreach organizations. Specifically I ran a student secular group in New York for two years, and I've been involved on the national level with a large atheist organization. Some skills that I have from that are good for event planning and promotion, public relations, running social meetings, recruiting new members, that sort of thing.

Also, I can knit, which is very relaxing. You can also make awesome geek-chic cold weather gear.

I hope you come to some of the occasion Bay Area Less Wrong meet-ups. We'll be moving them from Santa Clara to Berkeley fairly soon. I'd also be happy to discuss discuss atheist organizations via Skype.

Believe me, you can't keep me away.

My username for everything is the same as my username here, possibly with @gmail.com appended if necessary.

Great idea. If you have practicing public speaking on your list then consider founding your own Toastmasters Groups. I became a member some years ago, and profited from it. The provided teaching materials are the most empirically based manuals I have seen so far. And the extended practice helped.

I have two bronze national medals in speech/debate, and a host of toastmaster awards.

Public speaking has been the most useful soft skill I've learned in my life!

I for one would absolutely love a rationalist Toastmasters. I haven't found a good fit with any of the existing groups in the Bay Area.

Do you know anything specifically about the formation of new Toastmasters groups?

A rationalist Toastmasters Speakers Bureau in the area could also be really cool and useful, by the way. I know of a number of groups who would love to host speakers on LW topics.

I wonder whether a public speaking class could be taught over the internet. I know nothing about how this skill is taught, but I would guess that it is much like any other performance art. First you watch people doing it well, then a group leader shows you how to analyze good performance. Next you each try doing it yourself, and the leader guides the members of the group in critiquing each other. Rinse and repeat, for each specific skill or genre in this art form.

I never founded a group myself. But maybe can give a few pointers. First make sure you actually want to do that. Going to other groups as guest is free and easy, and you can check out if the structure of the Organization is something you like. Then you need a few like-minded people. There is a minimum number for new groups. Keep in mind that it is a training group for speaking in general. One does not practice to convince in a specific topic, but the speaking itself - which would classify it as a dark art, and maybe not even be what you look for. For the actual founding the easiest way is to contact another local group and ask for assistance. There is some paperwork, and then holding the regular meetings. Having a few experienced members is a really good way to get a new group going.

Dissing training in speaking because it isn't specific to persuading people of true facts is like dissing target practice because it isn't specific to self defence or sport. If we're going to use the term "Dark Arts", it should refer to things that are actually shady, not potentially so.

rationality might have at some point evolved from the dark arts themselves, i.e. human propensity to make up reasons as they go might have lead to their being better minds at making up reasons and arguments-I read that in an article somewhere but can't remember where exactly.

The dark arts get too much mud slung at them and IMO warrant further study,careful dissection by wise men wearing all the necessary charms and offering appropriate sacrifices should be sufficient ..:)

I am somewhat afraid of the fact that convincing can be tought seperate from reasoned arguing, that not the best reason wins, but the most enthusiastic speaker, and the one who can best make his point in the eyes of the people. I am surprised on the spread of public debates and how many people change opinions during a debate. I still want to learn it, but I do not wish to persuade unreasoned.

Notice the effects in charismatic leaders how they become inable to get good criticism of their ideas.

I am somewhat afraid of the fact that convincing can be tought seperate from reasoned arguing, that not the best reason wins, but the most enthusiastic speaker, and the one who can best make his point in the eyes of the people.

Fear of a fact is not a good reason to ignore a fact.

... but I do not wish to persuade unreasoned.

A good argument, like a good novel, can work on several levels.

ok, so I'm considering that a discussion post at least should be made, any thoughts?

it could potentially be part of the sequences, although Eliezer and others do cover the Dark Arts I don't recall a dedicated thread. I found some good examples from a quick googling, like Yvain's Defense Against The Dark Arts: Case Study #1 or The Power of Positivist Thinking

what makes an irrational argument convincing is human biases, but what I think lacks is more focused treatment of things like good writing or effective signaling, I haven't read all of LW though so it might just be a simple task of collecting articles, but I don't feel that's the case, or is it?

I'm a bit uncomfortable with calling this a "dark art" (perhaps because teaching dark arts seems to be such a dangerous occupation). But there is a "rainbow art" consisting of equal parts of attention-grabbing and persuasion; an art which is necessary even if it is a good argument that you are trying to propagate. I would like to learn something about that art. Ideally, by means of an online class.

I can think of at least 5 different persuasion media that I would like to become skillful at.

  • Stand up lectures - like the TED lectures, for example
  • Powerpoint-style presentations with voiceovers.
  • Blog postings (and sequences of blog postings)
  • Publishable academic-style papers on technical topics.
  • Works of fiction with a didactic subtext - like HPMOR and Luminosity.

I'd bet lots of other people would like to become skillful at these things too.

I'd bet we have people here who are good enough at these things that they could lead a kind of online study group focused on learning and/or improving skills like these.

My track record with completing courses online and staying on task is terrible, whereas I'm fantastic about remembering to show up to things in person and I really learn well from experiencing things when physically present. If this were a class in Berkeley (relating back to the original point of this posting tangentially) I would definitely be there taking it.

Also, I like the term "rainbow art", but rainbows are linked with the indelibly good in my mind. What about "grey arts"? Or just tools?

sounds like a good idea (though I'm not giving up on the Dark Arts class/sequence yet ..), given that OP does "encourage you to post your skills here anyway" I think bringing this up in the open thread or as a general call to candidates should be worthwhile, this can effectively and depending on the instructions make short work of most barriers to publishing an LW top level post, given relevant and interesting topics of course.

we have been experiencing a slump of late, I think this potentially helps in overcoming the slow stagnation that happens in all forums after the early 'glory days' are over.

precisely the reasons why we want better dark art skills just for the sake of countering them at least? I'm half tempted to start a thread on this, but I can't write as clearly as most here.

I too feel like I lack the wherewithal to write top-level LessWrong posts, but since this is a topic I too am interested in, perhaps we could collaborate and produce something worthy between us. If your issue is not being able to write clearly, I would gladly proofread and comment on drafts.

Part of what the Discussion section is for is a place to post drafts of potential top-level posts for discussion and criticism.

I'm also keen to find out what role hypnosis can play in optimizing one's life. Based on its effectiveness at reducing chronic pain and helping people to quit smoking it seems like there could be real benefits to employing hypnosis.

At first I was thinking of more lifestyle benefits but now that I think about it there could be real benefits in hypnotically inducing people to do things like seek to be accurate or to consider the opposite. I've never seen post-hypnotic rationality-training studied but it would certainly be interesting to experiment with it if you could get someone. Seems like little downside, some possible upside anyway. Even a null result would be interesting.

Wow, something I may be abnormally normal at!

I am somewhat skilled at metal smithing (best with copper/silver/brass, but some other metals aren't much different), and I've spent plenty of time as a home owner fixing home-related problems. I've built several sheds, and spent a lot of time thinking of ways to use technology to make homes easier and cooler. I've also changed my car's oil, and diagnosed brake/coolant/and other car issues. Even better, I have friends who are exceedingly skilled at house/car issues, and can also communicate these kinds of issues to me exceedingly well. Let me know if you need help, and I can press them for assistance.

Thanks for the info. Are you or your friends in the Bay Area? We're trying to purchase a dorm for the fellows program. Will need to repair roof and some mold.

Unfortunately (in this context, at least), we live in Alaska. However, with more info, I could help work on the planning, cost estimation, and maybe come down to help work on it.

I don't want to speak for my friend, but I could ask him about helping. He's recently started a contractor business, and he may welcome work outside the state enough to waive or significantly reduce his fees. I know he has a point system for accepting jobs, so if there is a lot of fun and learning, profitability can be nil.

Sounds worth considering. We'll get estimates from inspectors etc, and will send you the info if you would like it. Just send your contact info to michael d-t vassar at gmail

I got the American bench press record for 15 year olds.

Its been about a year since I was into weightlifting intensely, but I am happy to help out with anything you might need.

I use weights a bit, and since you are on a rationalist site I'd ask this question: where is the point where lifting unusually heavy things contributes more to the destruction of the body than to its maintenance?

Well, after researching this topic for several years, i can condense it into this.

Lifting unusually heavy things, and running unusually long distances do more long term harm than good. Think doing heavy squats, and running marathons.

The only benefit I can think of for doing heavy lifts, is to impress to bros, and get buff for a party fast, while taking a semi-legal supplement. heavy lifting does not have long term advantages.

The extreme is uninformative, that's why I was asking if you came to any heuristics about finding and optimal point. Clearly there are benefits to muscle, besides status: strength and increased metabolism (the way I understand it is you actually have to exercise less with weights than with aerobics to stay in shape). Too much is likely to lead to injury and possibly other problems (possibly caused by extreme blood pressure during heavy lifting).

My personal conclusion is that bodyweight exercises are pretty safe, though I do use weights where bodyweight alternatives are too complicated or require annoyingly many reps.

Too many people run marathons and lift heavy weights for me not too say them.

I don't think that increased strength and increased metabolism are great benefits now. There are few instances in today's world where strength matters, and increased metabolism is really only important if you really like food, or are a competitive food eater.

Beyond not being obese and being able to play a game of pick up basketball with the guys, I am not convinced that exercise really means anything, beyond increasing status to some groups of people.

I would simply recommend doing the type of exercises that will make your body type appeal to those who you want to impress, or get along with, that don't have a high risk of injury(unless you like impressing the risky crowd, up to you)

How old are you currently and where do you live?

Eh, I am 18 now. I currently live in riverside, at the college.

Yeah, needless to say, any advise I could give, I would give online.

I'm in the Chicago area -- I'm a journalist, programmer, and media creator (video/audio, etc.) I'd be happy to volunteer/pass on those skills.

Thanks. If you would like to help in editing video after the next Singularity Summit that might be helpful. Also, what news organizations do you work with?

NYC based architect (active in the profession) with experience teaching computer drafting and technical drawing, computer modeling (3d modeling and some rendering), as well as various aspects of design and technical problem solving...

Although I just realized that I just referred to my profession as "non-traditional", and was complicit in the pairing of my profession to stage magic.

Hmm...

Feel free to pop onto the NYC meetup list here and say hello (and would love to meet you in person):

http://groups.google.com/group/overcomingbiasnyc?hl=en

Stage magic and critical thinking seem to go together extremely well. I think technical drawing would be a good skill for most people to have. If you can introduce yourself to me via Gmail I'd love to introduce you to the physical NYC Less Wrong community.

It's good to hear that SIAI is still alive and doing interesting things.

I'm a journalist & writer with related skills in online media & graphic design. But - I live in Sydney (Australia). Happy to be added to your list of resources. Will send you an email with contact details.

My main non-traditional skill is music; theory, composition, woodwinds and strings. I also work in public policy--I have some training in interacting with and writing for the media, framing issues, influencing regulation. (I am not yet licensed as a lawyer; I am currently licensed as a patent agent, but have very little experience.) I joke that my real job skill is translation between geeks and lawyers.

I live in the DC area, but travel to the Bay Area every few months.

This is going to be less conventional than you might have expected, but I think a good skill to learn would be lucid dreaming, as the practice of lucid dreaming involves a great deal of evaluating one's surroundings and looking for unusual elements and inconsistencies.

Unfortunately, I can't teach this method in a useful/consistent way at present (though that might change soon), but I think it's an option worth considering.

Home Construction/repair contractor (We'll need to fix up the house we're trying to buy in Berkeley)

My dad works in real estate, and has built and renovated and fixed up and bought and sold many houses. I think he has said that he might be interested in helping SIAI with that sort of thing, though probably only remotely, to whatever extent that's possible. Would any of that (anything he could provide by phone or email — information, advice, etc.) be helpful? If so, I'll ask him if he's still interested.

(I wouldn't call him a "rationalist", but within that domain he is quite competent.)

Thanks. A few people are now doing that, so it won't be necessary but I appreciate the offer.

Got 2nd kyu (brown belt) in Kokikai Aikido, so I could theoretically lead practice. I live in New Jersey right now.

You might want to add Scott Sonnon's stuff to your kinesthetic practice list-- I've only tried a little of his material, but all of it has been excellent.

This seems like a good idea. If I can think of any skills I could teach, I will post them, but I can't access any in working memory right now.