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How Can Rationalists Join Other Communities Interested in Truth-Seeking?

by Evan_Gaensbauer1 min read16th Jul 20199 comments


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Last week, Davis Kingsley wrote about reasons one might want to diversify one's "friendship portfolio." I commented that if this, being on LessWrong, was aimed at a rationalist audience, it's my experience many rationalists are introverted or shy enough, some have difficulty joining new groups of friends outside the rationality community as well (though of course there were several comments on Davis' posts about the benefits of having just a small, consistent group of friends in a single community, worth considering). However, Ruby commented with an even greater reason why some rationalists who might want friends beyond the rationality community nonetheless primarily stick to the rationality community:

I suspect there are challenges for rationalists in joining new communities beyond introversion. I've found it jarring to be getting along with some new folk and then people start saying ridiculous things, but worse, having no real interest in determining whether the things they say are actually true. Or even when they try, being terrible at discussion. I don't need to nitpick everything or correct every "wrong" thing I hear, but it is hard to feel like beliefs aren't real to people - they're just things you say. A performance.
There are people outside the rationality community who are fine at the above, but being used to rationalists does introduce some novel challenges. It'd be nice if we ever accumulated communal knowledge on how to bridge such cultural gaps.

So, I thought I would ask.

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Hi Evan,

I'm one of the founders of a new online platform called Letter. I'm in the process of building a community around thoughtful conversation. We have a private Facebook group for our writers, and we host a meetup event (online) every few weeks. I'd like to welcome you and anyone else from the rationalist community to join.

Another fantastic community is Fair Game - a private Facebook group for respectful, "good faith" discussion.

Warm regards,


Hi Dayne. I'd like to join the Facebook group. How do I join?

2Dayne2yThanks for your interest, Evan. If you're referring to joining Fair Game go to the FB page [https://www.facebook.com/groups/1750878868488774/about] click join, and answer a few questions. If you'd like to join Letter's public community group you can do so here [https://www.facebook.com/groups/LetterCommunity/]. Letter's [https://letter.wiki]writers group is private - if you write a letter in good faith you'll receive an invitation ;)

Since The Rationality Quotient mostly showed that Rationality isn't much of a thing on top of g, that means that despite not caring about the quality of arguments too much, other people aren't suffering worse life outcomes. One can take it as an opportunity to be curious about why that might be. What might others who seem to be less explicitly/verbally committed to truth be getting right in other ways? I've found that spiritual communities are good for this, and more open to reflection than most, once the right semantic flags are understood and translated.

I'm not sure there *are* other communities interested in truth-seeking, at least not in the generalized way that rationalists are. (Obviously there are lots of communities seeking the truth in some particular domain.) Do you have some in mind?

If I can reinterpret the question a bit, a similar question might be how to find common ground with people who are not part of the rationality community. In that case I think the relevant question is "to what *end* do you want to be rational?" When I think of a typical highly rational person who doesn't identify with the rationalist community, I think of someone who sees rationality in large part as an instrument to achieve goals, rather than a pastime. If one can find other people with similar goals, and then select from them the ones pursuing those goals rationally, one might find some commonality of culture/values/interests.

To list a few communities I would consider to be truth-seeking and with whom I have interacted: Chaos Computer Club, General Semantics, Quantified Self/Biohacking, Radical Honesty, Perceptive Pedagogy, Debating (BPS-based), Wikidata and Skeptics.SE

One thing about this comment that really sticks out to me is the fact I know several people who think LessWrong and/or the rationality community aren't that great at truth-seeking. There are a lot of specific domains where rationalists aren't reported to be particularly good at truth-seeking. Presumably, that could be excused by the fact rationalists are generalists. However, I still know people who think the rationality community is generally bad at truth-seeking.

Those people tend to hail from philosophy. To be fair, 'philosophy', as a... (read more)

2Dagon2yCan you give some pointers to "philosophy" as a community? It feels like a type mismatch to compare a bunch of message boards and blogs ('rationalist community') to an academic pursuit ('philosophy'). I wonder if this post and thread is conflating multiple meanings of "truth-seeking" in a way that causes confusion. My version of rationality is about truth-seeking in terms of my beliefs about the world, and my processes (including hidden ones) for selecting the best model for any given decision. Influence over future experiences is the truth I'm seeking. Academics (including scientists and philosophers) are "truth-seeking" in a much more theoretical sense, looking for consistent descriptions of parts of the world (or sometimes other imagined worlds), and in getting agreement (or at least publication references) on such. Each observes and learns from the other, of course, but they're not really all that similar. I think of rationality as engineering more than science.
2Evan_Gaensbauer2ySome but not all academics also seek truth in terms of their own beliefs about the world, and their own processes (including hidden ones) for selecting the best model for any given decision. From a Hansonian perspective, that's at least what scientists and philosophers are telling themselves. Yet from a Hansonian perspective, that's what everyone is telling themselves about their ability to seek truth, especially if a lot of their ego is bound up in 'truth-seeking', including rationalists. So the Hansonian argument here would appear to be a perfectly symmetrical one. I don't have a survey on hand for what proportion of academia seek truth both in a theoretical sense, and a more pragmatic sense like rationalists aspire to do. Yet "academia", considered as a population, it much larger than the rationality community, or a lot of other intellectual communities. So, even if the relative proportion of academics who could be considered a "truth-seeking community" in the eyes of rationalists is small, the absolute/total amount of academics who would be considered part of a "genuine truth-seeking community" in those same eyes would be large enough to take seriously. To be fair, the friends I have in mind who are more academically minded, and are critical of the rationality community and LessWrong, are also critical of much of academia as well. For them it's about aspiring to a greater and evermore critical intellectualism than it is sticking to academic norms. Philosophy tends to be a field in academia that tends to be more like this than most other academic fields, because philosophy has a tradition of being the most willing to criticize the epistemic practices of other academic fields. Again, this is a primary application of philosophy. There are different branches and specializations in philosophy, like the philosophies of: physics; biology; economics; art (i.e., aesthetics); psychology; politics; morality (i.e., ethics); and more. The practice of philosophy at it's