[ Question ]

Where to absolutely start?

by Long try 1 min read21st Oct 201910 comments


Hi there!

I'm a new member and now feeling giddy from the amount of contents presented here on the site. I've read those welcome and FAQ posts, they all point to the library's core reading as material for beginners. BUT... I've just finished the Preface post of R:A-Z, and from the author's very words, it looks like this series focus more on the big, vague things than those hands-on lessons.

So my questions are: among it and the Codex and HPMOR, which is the most newbie-friendly? In your opinion, what are the best 9 sequences rookies like me should read to get to a somewhat intermediate level, in order?

Thanks & cheers!

New Answer
Ask Related Question
New Comment

4 Answers

Even though R:AZ isn't very hands on, it's still pretty core and definitely worth your time. I think all three all roughly equally newbie friendly (Much of the Codex was written with the sequences as background assumptions, but still probably accessible without it)

HPMOR is probably the most "fun", if you happen to like the genre.

If you're looking for shortcuts, perhaps start with:

I am not sure how approachable the above will be to a "rookie", because I can only speak from my own experience. I read Drexler's Engines of Creation, and Kurzweil's The Singularity Is Near and was fascinated by these topics. I kept finding LessWrong on Google searches about them and I thought the writing was good (especially Three Worlds Collide). So after jumping around a bit as I discovered LessWrong in the first place, I read the original blog posts that went into R:AZ in pretty much the order written. I did end up downloading an ebook version of Eliezer's posts to do it (not the slightly reorganized R:AZ ebook, which was not available at the time), which I read on my phone in my spare time.

In my opinion, you should at least try to read all of the R:AZ sequences, even though there are more than 9. It's quite long, but you'll get insights from it long before you finish.

There's also some redundancy as the concepts build on each other. So if you're struggling getting through an essay, I would say read it aloud and move on even if you don't completely get it. (This might be easier with the audiobook.) Some essays are easier to read than others, and I think that some are more valuable than others.

If that's still too much for you, I can try to point out the individual essays I think are especially important:

  • Raising the Sanity Waterline links to some critical earlier posts, which makes it a kind of mini-sequence. It's also got a key insight in its own right: humans are insane, and this is not OK.
  • Beyond the Reach of God — Perhaps the most powerfully written essay in all of the Sequences. Nature is crushingly indifferent to human well-being. Everything is allowed to go horribly wrong. There are no guardrails until we build them ourselves.
  • You Only Live Twice — There’s a big differ­ence be­tween mostly dead and all dead.

You can really test the waters and see for yourself; it's not that the content is going to go anywhere.

With that said, I started with the sequences (R:A-Z) and while reading it, I also read HPMOR (which being fiction, it was a really fast read). Then I mixed some of CODEX in there. (So that's the order I recommend following).

HPMOR really ruined a big chunk of fiction for me; there are no characters with the self-awareness that those on HPMOR have.

In The CODEX, when Scott Alexander tries to find if AA works, he cannot resist himself but to dig deeper and look at the underlying reason of why something is the way it's. Just like a physicist looking at natural phenomena, he investigates, just as well, human nature.

The Sequences changed my mind.

Did you see the list of guides to the LW archives in the FAQ here? Maybe one of them is what you're looking for: