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Where do LessWrong rationalists debate?

by Viliam1 min read29th Apr 202113 comments

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There are a few places where rationalists debate on internet outside of Less Wrong. Sometimes those places were created for debates that do not belong to the LW website, such as politics or investing. Sometimes they were created for a specific subgroup of rationalists, for example people who attend the same meetup. Some of them are on Slack, some of them are on Discord, some of them are on Facebook, and probably there are other places.

I propose the following:

  1. Let's make a list of all the places where LessWrong rationalists debate currently.
  2. Let's consider whether it would make sense to reduce the number of these places -- either by choosing among the existing ones, or creating a new one.
  3. Afterwards, let's make the remaining places visible enough on the Less Wrong website, to avoid reinventing the wheel in the future.

Some clarifications:

This proposal only concerns the online forums of LessWrong rationalists, or a subset thereof (such as local meetups, or rationalists who are interested in some specific topic). It does not concern websites for wider audience, such as rationality-adjacent, or Slate Star Codex / Astral Codex Ten, or meta/post/dark/whatever rationalists, or effective altruists, or whatever. -- The idea is that the unified forum should still be populated by Less Wrong audience (rather than by general public), keeping the consensus on rationality, science, reductionism, and preserving the above-average quality of discourse.

On websites such as Slack or Discord, it is possible to create separate channels / chat rooms, and join a selected subset of them. I assume the unified forum would also have parts that are interesting only for a subset of members, such as specific topics, or maybe specific meetups. -- This would remove the need to create a separate forum for specific topics or meetups, as long as you want to debate these with (a subset of) fellow rationalists.

I would prefer not using Facebook, to keep our rationalist digital identities separated from our real names and jobs. (Also, Facebook is addictive, and its UI sucks.)

The thing I am specifically trying to avoid here, is the unnecessary fragmentation, where people duplicate things simply because they don't know these already exist at a different place. (Specifically, my trigger was getting an invitation to join a new discussion for "rationalists interested in investing", when I already know about two other such places, and it would obviously make more sense to join all these three groups together to achieve greater "wisdom of crowds". Each of these places was created independently, split from an already small group of rationalists that created their own discussion site for some other purpose. I assume there are similarly duplicate spaces to discuss politics, exercise, nutrition, books, etc.)

I can also imagine some possible disadvantages of a unified forum: too much noise from having too many people (or maybe some people who write too much), disagreement on shared norms such as Overton window in political debates or the level of evidence required for lifestyle debates, etc. But I think these can be solved by having the subforums. And the worst case is that we can return to the current situation (it's not like we have to delete the old places). Therefore, I think this is worth trying.

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I spend a lot of time on the Bayesian Conspiracy discord. It's nominally for discussion of the Bayesian Conspiracy podcast but in practice, TBC convos only happen in one channel and everything else is a rationalist hangout space.

https://discord.gg/qDJ7JWyxHE

Hey! There are at least 3 channels where TBC-and-related-podcast-content is discussed!

(though, if you are only talking about the TBC podcast and not other podcasts hosted by the same people and that are plugged in the same places, then yes, there is only one channel).

Discord works just fine for most cases, but the existing LW discord is all but dead (or was, last time I looked), since it's a separate entity and requires active competent admins and moderators. A button like "discuss this post live on Discord," possibly with a few latest comments visible, would likely make a difference by removing a (non-trivial) inconvenience.

I don't see a good reason to encourage people to comment on a post on Discord instead of commenting on it directly on LessWrong. 

As far as having a space to interact via voice it seems like there the goal of having the garden become that place so it wouldn't make sense to try to at the same time direct people on Discord for that purpose.

There is the Astral Codex Ten Discord server (Scott is not involved) where some debates happen.

There is a Telegram group called “Less Wrong”, which mostly consists of participants of the European Less Wrong Community Weekend. There are on average 1-2 topics, 30 messages a day.

I suspect this group can’t be shared via link, so PM me with your Telegram ID and I can add you to it.

I know of a #lesswrong IRC channel on Freenode. I think there were a few related #lw-* topical channels as well, but I'm not sure where to find them anymore. Someone claiming to be gwern is there, along with a few other regulars. I don't know who the admins are.

I'm aware of a LessWrong slack that's still somewhat active: lesswrongers.slack.com. I don't know who the admins are here either.

(There were also those two Discord servers mentioned in that investing thread.)

There is Rationality Europe Slack, which was originally created for participants of Vienna meetups. Currently it has 105 members, but there is a strong power law in effect: most comments are written by a few people, and most members are passive.

Popular topics are: finance/crypto, health/supplements, future/prepping, math/programming, psychology, reading.

there is a strong power law in effect: most comments are written by a few people, and most members are passive.

When the population exceeds Dunbar's number, that might be the best outcome we can hope for without layering on some kind of hierarchy or entrance exams or something.

Have you seen zulip.com yet? Their threading model seems to be able to handle subtopics a bit more naturally than Slack or Discord, but my experience with it is limited.

2Laszlo_Treszkai11dI suspect most members are even inactive there. I assume only 30-50 read or write comments, suggesting that the group is far from Dunbar's number.
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Related - it would be cool if there was a place for LW rationalists to have good craic? by which I mean shoot the breeze and get to know each other and talk about fun stuff.

It might be possible to consolidate some of these using Matrix.

Given that people on lesswrong.com sometimes talk about the benefit of having places to emigrate to in case they feel they have to, it may make sense to have such a place to emigrate to on a lower level, namely a different forum / webseite to emigrate because of a deteriorating discourse quality. OTOH, people may possible follow the émigrés to the new site.