I've just come back from the latest post on revitalizing LW as a conversational locus in the larger Rational-Sphere community and I'm personally still very into the idea. This post is directed at you if you're also into the idea. If you're not, that's okay; I'd still like to give it a try.

A number of people in the comments mentioned that the Discussion forum mostly gets Link posts, these days, and that those aren't particularly rewarding. But there's also not a lot of people investing time in making quality text posts; certainly nothing like the 'old days'.

This also means that the volume of text posts is low enough that writing one (to me) feels like speaking up in a quiet room -- sort of embarrassingly ostentatious, amplified by the fact that without an 'ongoing conversation' it's hard to know what would be a good idea to speak up about. Some things aren't socially acceptable here (politics, social justice?); some things feel like they've been done so many times that there's not much useful to say (It feels hard to have anything novel to say about, say, increasing one's productivity, without some serious research.) 

(I know the answer is probably 'post about anything you want', but it feels much easier to actually do that if there's some guidance or requests.)

So, here's the question: what would you like to see posts about?

I'm personally probably equipped to write about ideas in math, physics, and computer science, so if there are requests in those areas I might be able to help (I have some ideas that I'm stewing, also). I'm not sure what math level to write at, though, since there's no recent history of mathematically technical posts. Is it better to target "people who probably took some math in college but always wished they knew more?" or better to just be technical and risk missing lots of people?

My personal requests:

1. I really value surveys of subjects or subfields. They provide a lot of knowledge and understanding for little time invested, as a reader, and I suspect that as overviews are relatively easy to create as a writer since they don't have to go deep into details. Since they explain existing ideas instead of introduce new ones they're easier and less stressful to get right. If you have a subject you feel like you broadly understand the landscape of, I'd encourage you to write out a quick picture of it.

For instance, u/JacobLiechty posted about "Keganism" in the thread I linked at the top of the post, and I don't know what that is but it sounds interconnected to many other things. But in many cases I can only learn so much by *going and reading the relevant material*, especially on philosophical ideas. What's more important is how it fits into ongoing conversations, or political groups, or social groups, or whatever. There's no efficient way for me to learn to understand the landscape of discussion around a concept that compares to having someone just explain it.
(I'll probably volunteer to do this in the near future for a couple of fields I pay attention to.)

It's also (in my opinion) *totally okay* to do a mediocre job with these, especially if others can help fill in the gaps in the comments. Much better to try. A mostly-correct survey is still super useful compared to none at all. They don't have to be just academic subjects, either. I found u/gjm's explanation of what 'postrationalism' refers to in the aforementioned thread very useful, because it put a lot of mentions of the subject into a framework that I didn't have in place already -- and that was just describing a social phenomenon in the blog-sphere.

2. I've seen expressed by others a desire to see more material about instrumental rationality, that is, implementing rationality 'IRL' in order to achieve goals. These can be general mindsets or ways of looking at the world, or in-the-moment techniques you can exercise (and ideally, practice). (Example) If you've got personal anecdotes about successes (or failures) at implementing rational decision-making in real life, I'm certain that we'd like to hear about them.

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I very much want an atmosphere where people feel encouraged to post things and not stressed out about "doing a good enough job." But hopefully, ALSO have an atmosphere where people are focused on improving their writing. I think good writing is the limiting factor here. We can't get there if we're too stressed out about it but I do think it requires some focus on craftsmanship, i.e. what writing elements make for a good post?

I actually want shorter posts, expressing an idea concisely to prompt discussion. I almost don't care what the topic is (I assume if it's posted by a LWer it's probably interesting).

(Or rather - I want posts to be as short and interesting as-is possible, to cover the material. For example, if doing a survey of a field, I'd prefer a tldr that summarizes it with bullet points, and then have the actual essay briefly discuss the most interesting avenues of discussion)

I'd actually like to see, instead of link posts, posts with a short description of the link that summarizes the key information and asks a few interesting questions about it. (I feel like otherwise I have do a lot more up-front work to start a discussion, and so would everyone else. One person kicking things off can make the rest of the discussion more frictionless)

Absolutely. There are link posts to decent content sitting with no discussion. There was an article about octopuses a couple of days ago that I really enjoyed and would have liked to discuss - plenty of LW-relevant material in it about how brains work - but I couldn't think of anything to start the ball rolling other than "aren't octopuses cool?" which I think would have been Frowned Upon.

(To be fair to morganism, who posted that link, they do at least create a comment on each one with a relevant quote from the article, which is more than some people do.)


I think is is a very very good idea. Simply having a short discussion with links (so all of them are technically text posts that at least keep the flow of the website) seems like a small change that could really help the UX / discussion.

If people want math posts I'm game. Reply with requests, the more specific the better, not optimized for whether you think anyone can satisfy them; if I can't maybe someone else can.

I don't think lots of math is a good direction to take the site. And I say this as a person with a mathematics degree.

I think mathematics is a bit too much of a fun distraction for us nerds from the hard problem of "refining the art of human rationality".

I'm sympathetic to this concern (it's why I don't like the QM sequence and think thinking about many-worlds is mostly a waste of time), but I also think math has the potential to be a useful toy environment in which to practice good epistemic habits (as suggested by shev's recent litmus test posts), especially around confusing paradoxes and the like. Many of the complications of reasoning about the real world, like disagreement about complicated empirical facts, are gone, but a few, like the difficulty of telling whether you've made an unjustified assumption, remain.

I don't know if it is possible, but could you explain Dirichlet's theorem on arithmetic progressions and Green–Tao theorem to someone with, uhm, good knowledge of high-school math, but not much beyond that?

In general I wonder how can anything be proved about prime numbers (other than the fact that they are infinitely many), because they seem to appear quite randomly.

EDIT: I will accept if the inferential distance is simply too large. I am just hoping that maybe it isn't.

Presumably you mean explaining the proofs? Unfortunately the proof of Dirichlet's theorem is quite difficult starting from a high-school background, and I don't even know the proof of Green-Tao. I can try to say something about how one could go about proving nontrivial facts about prime numbers, though; for example, various special cases of Dirichlet's theorem are much easier to prove.

Thanks; I am not really interested in the theorem per se, but in the tools that are useful for proving it. I guess the special cases use quite different tools, which is what makes them much easier.

In general, I would like to read about things that are not high-school knowledge, but that have a short inferential distance from the high-school knowledge. But I don't have a strong preference for anything specifically here; mostly because I don't even know what's there.

Could you maybe consider creating "split-level" math/physics/computer science posts? A few interesting bits of beginner-level information or introductions to basic concepts for the noobs like me, and then proper meaty technical stuff for the well-informed. There'd be something for everyone that way - no need to choose between turning off the beginners or boring the advanced.


I know it's not exactly what you're looking for, but you might find arbital very cool if you haven't checked it out yet.

It's a wiki for math and cs topics that tries to scale with what you know, and it has lots of cool features like confidence intervals from experts for controversial claims, among other things.

tbh I haven't figured out how to use Arbital yet. I think it's lacking in the UX department. I wish the front page discriminated by categories or something, because I find myself not caring about anything I'm reading.

I'd like to see more about spreading rationality. Translations of sequences into other languages, presentations of rationality in other forms (podcasts, videos, graphic novels, whatever) and other attempts to reach people who we currently don't, like Red Tribe people, kids or seniors.

I'd also like posts by Eliezer, Yvain and some of the other people who have moved on to their private blogs.

math, physics, and computer science

Yes, yes, and yes.

surveys of subjects or subfields

You mean like a literature review, but aimed at people entirely new to the field? If so, Yes. If not, probably also yes, but I'll hold off on committing until I understand what I'm committing to.

instrumental rationality

No. Just kidding, of course it's a Yes.

Personally, I think that changing the world is a multi-armed bandit problem, and that EA has been overly narrow in the explore/exploit tradeoff, in part due to the importance/tractablness/neglectedness heuristic. (And I can translate that sentence into english if the jargon is a bit much.)

I would like to see LW explore science, philosophy, and the world with an eye toward uncovering new things which are potentially big and important. (Hence, I'm a fan of Future of Humanity Institute, Foundational Research Institute, Principia Qualia, etc.) I suspect that in the next couple decades, we are likely to uncover multiple things as important or more important than AI takeoff scenarios, and the more we uncover the better.

Within the topics you mentioned, I'm particularly curious about:

  1. Mathematics: mathematical infinities and whether infinite utility might be attainable in our universe.

  2. Physics: condensed matter physics and entropy, with an eye toward engineering materials which will survive long into the heat death of the universe.

  3. Computer science: Everything seems to be built on simple binary Boolean logic, but obviously DNA uses base 4. (There are 4 base pairs.) So, I'm particularly interested in base 3 logic, many-valued logic, fuzzy logic, etc. I suspect these may have applications to quantum computers or novel architectures, where physics doesn’t like to give you simple Boolean operators, but more complex operators are easier to implement, if not to understand.