This post has too many comments to show them all at once! Newcomers, please proceed in an orderly fashion to the newest welcome thread.
New Comment
805 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 5:17 PM
Some comments are truncated due to high volume. (⌘F to expand all)Change truncation settings


I'm a 32 year old physics PhD, working (so far) on the oh-so-fashionable subfield of graphene and carbon nanotubes. I took Quantum field theory, which is a little unusual for an experimentalist (though not positively rare). I have a background in programming, and a moderate degree of interest in AI.

I came here by way of the Methods of Rationality. After reading that, and upon seeing that there was a sequence on quantum mechanics, I had a suspicion that it wouldn't be terrible. This suspicion was vastly exceeded. I never encountered the slightest technical flaw, which is better than many physicists can produce on the subject, let alone philosophers and amateur physicists.

I began wandering and seeing what else there was, and it is good. The atmosphere also seems quite good around here, so I thought I'd join the community rather than treating it as a collection of essays and comments.

So here I am.

~~ Edited to add: ~

I am not sure how this got so many upvotes. Was it the praise? The brevity? That I'm a physicist? The score just stands out on the page a bit, and I'm not at all sure why.

upvoted, because I've been wondering how the QM sequence is looked upon by physicists :)
I'd be interested to know that myself. I've only spoken with a few because it's a potentially awkward subject. I recall one other strongly and one other regular-strength in favor of MW+decoherence (both in my rough age-group); one classmate said "decoherence, as I understand it, is a little more reasonable sounding than most", for ontology, but uses the Copenhagen interpretation when thinking about epistemology; one professor was against MW just on uneasiness grounds, but didn't have a firm opinion; one professor with the philosophy "If it's just quantum mechanics, I'm not interested. If it's not quantum mechanics, I'm not interested", which is formally equivalent to MW + decoherence but without the explicit acknowledgement that it is; one who was against everything, especially the part with everything in it; and too many "Let's stop talking about this/I'm not qualified to have an opinion/Aargh" to count. ~~ In this tiny sample of mostly experimentalists: People with a preference for the Bohm guide wave interpretation: 0 People with a preference for more sophisticated just-QM interpretations such as transactional or consistent histories: 0 People who accept wavefunction collapse as real: 1 on the fence. A survey on the subject could be interesting.
It's because you're a physicist who commented about the QM sequence. I, and apparently a lot of other people who've read it, really wanted to know if we've absorbed any mistakes. Thanks for giving a more informed opinion than most of us can bring. :)
I can't answer for anyone else, but I think graphene work sounds pretty cool, so here's an upvote from me!

Hello Less Wrong!

I was on facebook and I saw a wall post about the fanfiction Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. I haven't read fanfiction much since I was a kid, but the title was intriguing, so I clicked on it and started reading. The ideas were interesting enough that I went to the author's page and it brought me here.

Anyways, I'm a 22 year old female person. I'm graduating from college in 2 weeks with a chemistry major and I have no real plans, so it makes posting about my life situation a little awkward right now. I'll probably be heading back to the Chicagoland area and trying to find a job, I guess.

I can already tell that this site is going to wreak havoc on my ability to finish up all my projects, study for finals, and hang out with my friends. I just spent a couple hours reading randomly around and I can tell I've barely scratched the surface on the content. But after I almost died laughing at the post about the sheep and the pebbles I was hooked. Really, I just want to be a freshman again so I can spend my time staying up all night thinking and talking and puzzling things out with EZmode classes and no real responsibilities.

Anyways. I'm pretty excited about gett... (read more)

Welcome! I love your story about the Monty Hall problem. Consider putting it as a toplevel anecdote in the Discussion Section.
5Swimmer963 (Miranda Dixon-Luinenburg) 13y
I'm very interesting in reading your future posts! It sounds like you have a lot of potential and a lot of learning to do, which is always the most exciting combination. I wish I could be your roommate and get to hear all of this!
Definitely an interesting intro, and it's good to see someone care so much about whether they understand the world. Approximate quote from Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error: "How does being wrong feel? Exactly like being right."
That was an awesome introduction post. I like the way you think.

Hey everbody,

I'm a PhD Student in Physics. I came across Lesswrong when I read Eliezer's interview with John Baez. I was very intrigued by his answers: especially with his idea that the world needs to understand rationality. I identify with rationalism and especially with Lesswrong, because it just clicked. There were so many things in the world which people accepted and which I knew were just plain wrong. And before I found Lesswrong, I was a frustrated mess. And when I found Lesswrong it was a breath of fresh air.

For example: I was a pretty good debater in college. So in order to be a better debater, I started reading more about logical fallacies, which are common in argument and debate, such as ad hominem, slippery slope, appeal to authority etc . And the more I learnt about these, the more I saw that these were exactly the techniques common in debate. I was forced to conclude that debating was not about reaching the truth, but about proving the other person wrong. The people in debating circles were very intelligent; but very intelligent in a useless (and maybe harmful) way. They were scarcely interested in the truth. They could take any argument, twist it, contort it, appeal ... (read more)

7Swimmer963 (Miranda Dixon-Luinenburg) 12y
Welcome, Stabilizer! Interesting that you say this...I haven't had the same experience at all. I was raised basically agnostic/atheist, by parents who weren't so much disapproving of religion as indifferent. I started going to church basically because I made friends with a girl who I had incredibly fun times hanging out with and who was also a passionate born-again Christian. I knew that most of the concepts expressed in her evangelical Christian sect were fallacious, but I met a lot of people whose belief had allowed them to overcome difficult situations and live much happier lives. Even if true belief wasn't an option for me, I could see the positive effect that my friend's church had, in general, in the community it served. And I was a happier, more positive, and more generous person while I attended the group. There was a price to pay: either I would profess my belief to the others and feel like I was lying to a part of myself, or I wouldn't, and feel like ever-so-slightly an outsider. But maybe because of my particular brain architecture, the pain of cognitive dissonance was far outweighed by the pleasure of having a ready-made community of kind, generous (if not scientific-minded) people eager to show me how welcoming and generous they could be. I have yet to find something that is as good for my mental health and emotional stability as attending church. That being said, a year of not attending church and reading LessWrong regularly has honed my thinking to the point that I don't think I could sit back and enjoy those church services anymore. So that avenue is closed to me now, too.
For what it's worth, it depends a lot on the church service: I know quite a few very sharp thinkers whose church membership is an important and valuable part of their lives in the way you describe. But they are uniformly members of churches that don't demand that members profess beliefs. One gentleman in particular gave a lay sermon to his church on Darwin's birthday one year about how much more worthy of admiration a God who arranges the fundamental rules of the universe in such a way that intelligent life can emerge naturally out of their interaction, than is a God who instead must clumsily go in and manually construct intelligent life, and consequently how much more truly worshipful a view of life is the evolutionary biologist's than the creationist's, which was received reasonably positively. So you might find that you can get what you want by just adding constraints to the kind of church service you're looking for.
6Swimmer963 (Miranda Dixon-Luinenburg) 12y
Sounds like the Unitarian church that my parents took us to for a few years...I'm not sure why they took us, but I think it might have had more to do with "not depriving the children of a still-pretty-typical childhood experience like going to Sunday school" than with a wish to have church an important part of their lives. I would probably enjoy the Unitarian community if I joined for long enough to really get to know them... I'm sure the adults were all very kind, welcoming people. Still, the two churches that I've attended the most are High Anglican and Pentecostal. The Anglican cathedral is where I sang in the choir for more than five years, and the music is what really drew me; although the Anglican church is very involved in community projects and volunteering, almost the whole congregation is above the age of fifty, and the young people who do attend are often cautious, conservative, and not especially curious about the world, which reduces the amount of fun I can have with them. Surprisingly enough, in the Pentecostal church where the actual beliefs professed are much more extreme, most of the congregation are young and passionate about life and even intellectually curious. They are fun to hang out fact, I frequently had more fun spending a Friday night at a Pentecostal event than at a party. They took their beliefs seriously and really lived according to how they saw the Bible, even though I have no doubt their actions would have been considered weird in a lot of contexts and by many of their friends. I think a lot of the apparent mental health benefit of this church came from the community's decision to stop caring about social stigmas and just live. This is, I think, what I most respected about them...but for a lot of the same reasons, I now find their ideas and beliefs a lot more jarring than those of the Anglican church. I have no doubt that there are churches on all sides of the continuum: "traditional" communities, like the Anglican church
I used to have that kind of brain architecture for quite some time, and I kind of miss it. But as I started studying more and more physics, it just became harder and harder. So, I guess the trade-off got really skewed at some point of time. I have to mention that my religiosity kind of went through cycles. There was a time when I was an internally-militant (not very outspoken) atheist, followed by a period of considerable appreciation for religion, and again followed by a (currently) pretty comfortable atheism. If I think back to my first episode of atheism (religion was my default state as I was born in a pretty religious family), I guess I was pretty uncomfortable with it, in the sense that I felt that a lot more needed to be explained. In the intervening episode of religiosity, I appreciated the exact things that you mention about religion, but I just didn't like all the baggage, i.e. the time and money spent in rituals. My religion was Hinduism, which is highly ritualistic, but enjoys some nice philosophies. I still like some of the philosophy but I dislike most of the ritual.
0Swimmer963 (Miranda Dixon-Luinenburg) 12y
Funny. That's probably a brain architecture thing, too, but I really enjoy a lot of the High Anglican rituals at the church where I used to sing in choir. The traditional carols that all of us know by heart, every single word... The ministers and the bishop in their beautiful robes leading the choir in a procession around the cathedral while we sing in insane harmony... Stuff like the ritual of turning out all the lights and everyone leaving in the dark on Maundy Thursday (day before Easter Friday) to symbolize Jesus' death. It's all very theatrical, and very moving, and usually makes me cry. I have a feeling that you might be talking about a different kind of ritual, though, if you're frustrated by the amount of time and money spent on them.
Building and running a church, paying for a bishops education and the time he works there, training children to sing, and all of the time people spend there is not a small investment. Multiply that by all the churches in the world, and add the cost of various missions and church plants to spread religion, or the charities which do their work sub-optimally because they take religion more seriously then saving lives and I imagine that the figure would become inappropriately ludicrous. Not that just eliminating religion would make us all much more efficient, humans are very gifted at wasting time and money.
3Swimmer963 (Miranda Dixon-Luinenburg) 12y
I've heard that argument before, and it does have a lot of weight. In this case, though, are we talking about religion or about costly ritual? Both are cultural phenomena, and they're frequently found together, but there are religions that aren't into ritual at all, like Quakers, who are best known for their simple, silent style of prayer and worship, and don't go around building fancy cathedrals). And there are costly "rituals" which are not related to religion at all: football, for example, or theatre. Agreed that churches which run charities may run their sub-optimally from an atheist's point of view, since a lot of the time one of the unstated aims of their charity is to convert people. (This used to make me furious when I attended the Pentecostal church mentioned in one of the parent comments.) But we were talking about ritual, and I was specifically talking about deeply moving, meaningful rituals. It just so happens that the ones that have meaning to me are religious in nature. I know a lot of people find arts and theatre meaningful, and likely there are people who find watching sports meaningful, in a similar way. There's some kind of human instinct to gravitate towards activities that are communal, repetitive, and have a sense of tradition that imbues them with meaning. There's also a human instinct to think superstitiously, which I don't share much, and which makes it hard for me to really enjoy those meaningful moments in church. Nitpick: yes, paying for a bishop's work and teaching children to sing is something that happens "under religion's umbrella." That doesn't make it bad! I learned to sing better through the church choir (for which I was paid a monthly stipend for the community service of singing during Sunday worship!) than I would have in the $400-per-month children's choir, which I probably wouldn't have been allowed into...most people thought I was tone deaf until I proved them wrong. Bishops who organize community events and charities are doi
0Swimmer963 (Miranda Dixon-Luinenburg) 12y
I've heard that argument before, and it does have a lot of weight. In this case, though, are we talking about religion or about costly ritual? Both are cultural phenomena, and they're frequently found together, but there are religions that aren't into ritual at all (like (, who are best known for their simple, silent style of prayer and worship, and don't go around building fancy cathedrals). And there are costly "rituals" which are not related to religion at all: football, for example, or theatre. Agreed that churches which run charities may run their sub-optimally from an atheist's point of view, since a lot of the time one of the unstated aims of their charity is to convert people. (This used to make me furious when I attended the Pentecostal church mentioned in one of the parent comments.) But we were talking about ritual, and I was specifically talking about deeply moving, meaningful rituals. It just so happens that the ones that have meaning to me are religious in nature. I know a lot of people find arts and theatre meaningful, and likely there are people who find watching sports meaningful, in a similar way. There's some kind of human instinct to gravitate towards activities that are communal, repetitive, and have a sense of tradition that imbues them with meaning. There's also a human instinct to think superstitiously, which I don't share much, and which makes it hard for me to really enjoy those meaningful moments in church. Nitpick: yes, paying for a bishop's work and teaching children to sing is something that happens "under religion's umbrella." That doesn't make it bad! I learned to sing better through the church choir (for which I was paid a monthly stipend for the community service of singing during Sunday worship!) than I would have in the $400-per-month children's choir, which I probably wouldn't have been allowed into...most people thought I was tone deaf until I proved them wrong. Bishops who organize communi
Please do not sign your posts. That information is conveyed by the username listed at the top of the post.
Welcome to lesswrong, I'm quite new here too. I read your intro and think you would probably thoroughly devour Edward De Bono's "I am right, you are wrong". I agree with you regarding debating (and criticism) and so does De Bono, he writes about it quite elegantly. Cheers, peacewise.
I have a Physics question for you: is time continuous? I mean, is any given extent of time always further divisible into extents of time?
As far as I understand it : any time smaller than Planck's time (around 10^-43 second) is not meaningful, because no experiment will ever be able to measure it. So the question is kinda pointless, for all practical purpose, time could be counted as integer units of Planck's time.
I've read that too, but I get confused when I try to use this fact to answer the question. On the one hand, it seems you are right that nothing can happen in a time shorter than the Planck time, but on the other hand, we seem to rely on the infinite divisibility of time just in making this claim. After all, it's perfectly intelligible to talk about a span of time that is one half or one quarter of Planck time. There's no contradiction in this. The trouble is that nothing can happen in this time, or as you put it, that it cannot be meaningful. But does this last point mean that there is no shorter time, given that a shorter time is perfectly intelligible? Suppose for example that exactly 10 planck times from now, a radium atom begins decay. Exactly 10 and a half planck times from now, another radium atom decays. Is there anything problematic in saying this? I've not said that anything happened in less than a Planck time. 10 Planck times and 10.5 Planck times are both just some fraction of a second and both long enough spans of time to involve some physical change. If there's nothing wrong with saying this, then we can say that the first atom began its decay one half planck length before the second. This makes a half Planck length a meaningful span of time in describing the relation between two physical processes.
Well, the correct answer up to this point is that we don't know. We would need a theory of quantum gravity to understand what's happening at this scale, and who knows how many ither step further we need to move to have a grasp of the "real" answer. Up to now, we only know that "something" is going to happen, and can make (motivated) conjectures. It may indeed be that time is discretized in the end, and talking about fractions of planck time is meaningless: maybe the universe computes the next state based on the present one in discrete steps. In your case, it would be meaningless to say that an atom will decay in 10.5 Planck times, the only thing you could see is that at step 10 the atom hasn't decayed and at step 11 it has (barring the correct remark of nsheperd that in practice the time span is too short for decoherence to be relevant). But, honestly, this is all just speculation.
Thanks for the response, that was helpful. I wonder if the question of the continuity of time bears on the idea of the universe computing its next state: if time is discreet, this will work, but if time is continuous, there is no 'next state' (since no two moments are adjacent in a continuous extension). Would this be important to the question of determinism? Finally, notice that my example doesn't suggest that anything happens in 10.5 planck times, only that one thing begins 10 planck times from now, and another thing begins 10.5 planck times from now. Both processes might only occupy whole numbers of planck times, but the fraction of a planck time is still important to describing the relation between their starting moments.
Warning: wild speculations incoming ;) I don't think continuous time is a problem for determinism: we use continuous functions every day to compute predictions. And, if the B theory of time turns out to be the correct interpretation, everything was already computed from the beginning. ;) What I was suggesting was this: imagine you have a Planck clock and observe the two systems. At each Planck second the two atoms can either decay or not. At second number 10 none has decayed, ad second 11 both have. Since you can't observe anything in between, there's no way to tell if one has decayed after 10 or 10.5 seconds. In a discreet spacetime the universe should compute the wavefunctions at time t, throw the dice, and spit put the wavefunctions at time t+1. A mean life of 10.5 planck seconds from time t translates to a probability to decay at every planck second: then it either happens, or it doesn't. It seems plausible to me that there's no possible Lorentz transformation equivalent in our hypothetical uber-theory that allows you to see a time span between events smaller than a planck second (i.e. our Lorentz transformations are discreet, too). But, honestly, I will be surprised if it turns out to be so simple ;)
Do you think you could explain this metaphor in some more detail? What does 'computation' here represent?
Just a side-note... I don't think this was supposed to be a 'metaphor'.
Fair enough. How does the view of the universe as a computer relate to the question of the continuity of time?
0A1987dM12y (It's been years since I read that article; I'm going to read it again...)
I read that too as soon as I saw thomblake's reply. I'm a newcomer here, and I hadn't heard of this view of physics before so it was very informative (though the quality of the wiki article isn't that high, citation wise). I've also been talking to a physicist/philosopher about this (he's been saying a lot of the same things you have) and he gave me the impression that if there's a consensus view in physics, it's that time is continuous...but that this is an open question. Is this computationalist view of physics popular here, or rather, is it more popular here than in the academic physics community? It seems as though a computationalist view would on the face of it come into some conflict with the idea of continuous time, since between any state and any subsequent computed therefrom there would be an intermediate state containing different information than the first state. But I'm way out of my depth here.
In your example you're using the term "now". That term already implies a point in time and therfore an infinitely divisible time. The problem is that while you certainly could conceive of a half planck time you could never locate that half in time. I.e. an event does not happen at a point in time. It happens anywhere in a given range of time with at least the planck length in extend. Now suppose that event A happens anywhere in a given timeslice and event B happens in another timeslice that starts half a planck time after the slice of event A. You can not say that event B happens half a planck time after event A since the timeslices overlap and thus you cannot even say that event B happens at all after event A. It might be the other way round. So while in your mind this half planck length seems to have some meaning in reality it does not. Your mind insists on visualizing time as continuous and therefore you can't easily get rid of the feeling that it were.
Why do you say that the time slices overlap? It seems on your set up, and mine, that they do not. The point seems to be just that nothing can happen in less than a Planck time, not that something cannot happen in 10.5 Planck times. The latter doesn't follow from the former so far as I can see. But I'm not on firm ground here, and I may well be mistaken. (ETA: But at any rate my example above doesn't involve anything happening in 10.5 Planck times. Everything I describe in that example can be said to occur in a whole number of planck times.) And 'now' doesn't imply infinite divisiblity: we could have moments of time whether or not time is infinitely divisible, and we would need to refer to them to talk about the limit between two planck times anyway. And we cannot arrive at moments by infinite divisibility anyway, since moments are extensionless, and infinite division will always yield extensions.
Ah, english is not my native language. With "event B happens in another timeslice that starts half a planck time after the slice of event A" I meant timeslice B starts half a planck length after timeslice A started, so the second half of A overlaps with the fist of B. B does not happen at 10.5 planck times after now. It happens somewhere between 10 and 11 planck times after "now" and you cannot tell when. Do not visualize time as a sequence of slices. Edit: My point is, it's simply impossible to visualize time. If your brain insists on visualizing it, you will never understand. Because whenever you visualize a timeslice you visualize it with a clear cut start and a clear cut end. But that's not how this works. Edit2: Maybe I'm just reading your response wrong. My point is that the precision in your example is the problem. There is no event that happens at a time with a precision smaller than one planck length. So 10.5 is just as wrong as 0.5.
Ahh, I see, I think I misunderstood you. I'm not sure I understand why A and B overlap. The claim about Planck times is that nothing can happen in less time. Does it follow from that that all time must be measured in whole numbers of Planck times? A photon takes one Planck time to pass through one Planck length, but I can't see anything problematic with a cosmic ray passing through one Planck length in 10.5 Planck times. In other words does the fact that the Planck time is a minimum mean that it's an indivisible unit? I don't think anything in my example relies on visualizing time, or on visualizing it as a series of slices. But I may be confused there. Do you have reason to think that one cannot visualize time? I suppose I agree that time is not a visible object, and so any visualization is analogical, but isn't this true of many things we do visualize to our profit? Like economic growth, say. What makes time different?
No. The claim is that nothing is located in time with a precision smaller than the planck time.
I don't really doubt that you're right. Most everything I read on the subject agrees with or is consistant with what you're saying. But the idea is still very confusing to me, so I appreciate your explanations. Let me try to make my troubles more clear. So far as I understand it, a Planck time is a minimum because that's the time it takes the fastest possible thing to pass through the minimum possible length. If something were going 99% the speed of light, or 75% or any percentage other than 100%, 50%, 25%, 12.5% etc. then it would travel through the Planck length in a non-whole number of Planck times. So something traveling at 75% the speed of light would travel through the Planck length at 1.5 Planck times. Maybe we can't measure this. That's fine. But say something were to travel at a constant velocity through two Planck lengths in three Planck times. Wouldn't it just follow that it went through each Planck length in 1.5 Planck times? It may be that we can't measure anything with precision greater than whole numbers of Planck times, but in this scenario it wouldn't follow from that that time is discontinuous.
Mathematically speaking, you can say "in average it travelled for 1 Planck length in 1.5 Planck time". But physically speaking, it doesn't mean anything. Quantum mechanics works with wavefunction. Objects don't have an absolutely precise position. To know where the object is, you need to interact with it. To interact with it, you need something to happen. Due to Heinsenberg's Uncertainity Principle (even if you consider it as a "certainity principle" as Eliezer does), you just can't locate something more precisely in space than a Planck length, nor more precisely in time than a Planck time. Done at quantum level, objects don't have a precise position and speed. So saying "it moves at 0.75c so it crosses 1 Planck length in 1.5 Planck time" doesn't hold. It can only hold as an average once the object evolved for many Planck times (and moved many Planck length).
I see. But this raises again my original worry: does QM's claim about Planck times actually say anything about the continuity of time? Or just something about the theoretical structure of QM? Or just something about the greatest possible experimental precision? Does a limit on the precision of time at this level imply that these are actual indivisible and discontinuous units?
Maybe I'm just too steeped in pragmatism to notice, but it seems your question has already been answered. For example: No, a limit on precision tells you that it's not meaningful to ask whether or not there are actual indivisible and discontinuous units. There's no experiment that could tell the difference.
I think pragmatism is a fine approach here, but could you clarify for me what your think the answer to my question is exactly? If it's not meaningful to ask whether or not there are indivisible and discontinuous units, then is the answer to my question "Does QM's claims about Planck time imply that time is discontinuous?" simply "No" because QM says nothing meaningful about the question one way or the other?
In ‘pure’ QM (without gravity), the Planck length has no special significance, and spacetime is assumed to be continuous. But we know that QM as we know it must be an approximation because it disagrees with GR (and/or vice versa), and the ‘correct’ theory of quantum gravity might predict weird things at the Planck scale. So far, most proposed theories of quantum gravity have little more predictive power than “The woman down the street is a witch; she did it”, though some do predict stuff such as the dispersion of gamma rays I've mentioned elsewhere.
We're trying to dissolve the question by pointing out that there exists a third option besides "continuous" or "discontinuous". So the answer to "Does QM's claims about Planck time imply that time is discontinuous?" would be "No, but neither is it continuous, but a third thing that tends to confuse people." Edit: retracted because I don't think this is helpful.
For a start the classical hallucination of particles and decay doesn't really apply at times on the planck scale (since there's no time for the wave to decohere). There's just the gradual evolution of the quantum wavefunction. It may be that nothing interesting changes in the wavefunction in less than a planck time, either because it's actually "blocky" like a cellular automata or physics simulation, or for some other reason. In the former case you could imagine that at each time step there's a certain probability (determined by the amplitude) of decay, such that the expected (average) time is 0.5 planck times after the expected time of some other event. Such a setup might well produce the classical illusion of something happening half a planck time after something else, although in a smeared-out manner that precludes "exactly".
That's a good point about decay, but my example only referred to the beginning of the process of decay. I wasn't trying to claim that the decay could take place in less than one, one, or less than one trillion planck times. The important point for my example is just that the starting points for the two decay processes (however long they take) differ by .5 planck times. Nothing in the example involves anything happening in less than a Planck time, or anything happening in non-whole numbers of Planck times.
But the thing is : how can you measure that the decay differs by .5 Planck times ? That would require an experimental device which would be in a different state .5 Planck times earlier, and that's not possible, according to my understanding.
Good point. I agree, it doesn't seem possible. But this is what confuses me: no measuring device could possibly measure some time less than one Planck time. Does it follow from this alone that a measuring device must measure in whole numbers of Planck times? In other words, does it follow logically that if the planck time is a minimum, it is also an indivisible unit? This is my worry. A photon travels across a planck length in one planck time. Something moving half light-speed travels across the same distance in two planck times. If Planck times are not only a minimum but an indivisible unit, then wouldn't it be impossible for some cosmic ray (A) to move at any fraction of the speed of light between 1 and 1/2? A cosmic ray (B) moving at 3/4 c couldn't cover the Planck length in less time than A without moving at 1 c, since it has to cover the planck length in whole numbers of planck times. This seems like a problem.
It could be like that something moving at 3/4 c will have, on each Planck time, a 3/4 chance of moving of one Planck length, and a 1/4 chance of not moving at all. But that's how I understand it from a computer scientist point of view, it may not be how physicists really see it. But I think the core reason is that since no signal can spread faster than c, no signal can cross more than one Planck length over a Planck time, so a difference of less than a Planck time can never be detected. Since it cannot be detected, since there is no experimental setting that would differ if something happened a fraction of Planck time earlier, the question has no meaning. If time really is discreet or continuous doesn't have any meaning, if no possible experiments can tell the two apart.
Of course, given any experiment, spacetime being discrete on a sufficiently small scale couldn't be detected, but given any scale, a sufficiently precise experiment could tell if spacetime is discrete at that scale. And there's evidence that spacetime is likely not discrete at Planck scale (otherwise sufficiently-high-energy gamma rays would have a nontrivial dependency of speed on energy, which is not what we see in gamma-ray bursts). See
Thanks for the post and for the very helpful link.
The difference between discreet or continuous time is a concern of mine because it bears on what it means for something to be changing or moving. But I'm very much in the dark here, and I don't know what physicists would say if asked for a definition of change. Do you have any thoughts?
Well, the nature of time is still a mystery of physics. Relativity killed forever the idea of a global time, nad QM damaged the one of a continuous time. Hypothesis like Julian Barbour's timeless physics (which has significant support here), or Stephen Hawking's imaginary (complex number) time could change it even more. Maybe once we have a quantum gravity theory and an agrement over the QM interpretation we could tell more... but for now, we've to admit we don't know much about the "true nature" of change or movement. We can only tell how it appears, and since any time smaller than Planck time could never be detected, we can't tell apart from that if it's continuous or discreet.
Well, I'm not so much asking about the true nature of change or movement but rather just what we mean to say when we say that something is changing or has changed. I take it that if I told any layperson that a block of wood changed from dark to pale when left out in the sun, they would understand what I mean by 'changed'. If interrogated as to the meaning of change they might say something like "well, it's when something is in one condition at one time, and the same thing is in another condition at another time. That's a change." But obviously that's quite informal and ill suited to theoretical physics. On the other hand, physicists must have some basic idea of what a change or motion is. Yet I cannot think of anything more precise or firm than what I've said above.
If you go deep enough in physics, you don't have "wood". You just have a wavefunction. The wavefunction evolves with time in "classical" QM physics, and just exists statically in timeless physics. And "the same thing" doesn't mean much, since there is nothing like "this electron" but only "one electron". Saying that a piece of wood changed is an upper-level concept, which you can't directly define in fundamental physics, but only approximates (like "pressure", or "wood", or "liquid"). The way you define your high level approximation doesn't really need to know if the lower level is continuous or not. The same way you won't define "liquid" differently just because we discovered that protons are not indivisible, but made of quarks. Of course, lower level can be relevant : for example the fact there is no such thing as "this electron" contributes to saying that personal identity depends of configuration more than of "the same matter". But it's only a minor argument towards it, for me.
Fair enough, but surely the idea is to explain wood and the changes therein by reference to more fundamental physics. So even if the idea of change doesn't show up at the very most fundamental levels, there must be some level at which change becomes a subject of physics. Otherwise, I don't see how physics could profess to explain anything, since it would have nothing to do with empirical (and changable) phenomena. I'd love to talk more about that. Do you see configurations as platonic? And if our configuration is in constant flux (as is hard to doubt) on some level, do we therefore need to distinguish essential aspects of the configuration from accidental ones? And wouldn't this view admit of two distinct persons having the same personal identity? That seems odd.
Well, I will say that a movie is "the same movie", whatever it is stored on analog film, optical support, magnetic support or ssd storage. The content and the physical support are different issue. I'll say that a movie "changed" if you cut or add some scene, or add subtitles, ... but not if you copy the file from your magnetic hard disk to an USB key, even if there are much more differences at physical level between the HD and the USB key. The same is true for personal identity, in my point of view. The personal identity is in the configuration of neurons, and even in the way changes propagate on the neural network, not in the specific matter distribution. Then, personal identity is not binary (am I the same I was one week ago ? and 20 years ago ?). But to a point yes, you can theoretically have two distinct "persons" with the "same" personal identity, if you can duplicate, or scan, a person.
I'm sorry, I really don't know. In fact, I don't think I even know what the majority opinion is among physicists (if there is one). At the face of it, it seems like if spacetime is discrete, then up until now, the unit of discreteness is small enough to allow us to do calculus (which assumes continuity) with impunity, even at the smallest of scales our experiments go to. So, as far as experimental evidence goes, there's no reason to believe in discreteness. But I guess your question is whether there are any theoretical arguments which suggest discreteness... to which I really don't have an answer. If I understand some interesting argument in the future, I'll get back to you.
Thanks, I'll look forward to it.

Hello Less Wrong!

I'm 16, female, and a senior in high school. Before I started reading here, I was not particularly interested in math, science, or rationality (which I had never really heard of). I stumbled on Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality in October, and fell in love immediately. I read through the whole story in one night, and finally made the leap to Less Wrong during Eliezer's hiatus.

I started on Less Wrong by reading Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions and within three posts I realized that, for the first time in my life, I was surrounded by people significantly smarter than me. Some people would probably have been excited about that; I was terrified. I promised myself that I wouldn't post - wouldn't even create an account, to avoid the temptation of posting - until I had read all the sequences and understood everything everyone said.

In retrospect, that may have been setting the bar a little too high for myself, especially since seven more sequences were added while I was reading. I eventually revised my standard to "I will not comment until I'm sure I actually have something to add to a discussion, and until I understand the things I have read we... (read more)

Welcome. Just remember: don't take the posts on LessWrong as gospel, so to speak, just because of their source. Eliezer has posted about this several times, though, so you most probably need no reminding.
Thanks! I worried for a while about changing my mind too much on the basis of one blog, and I still don't agree with the Less Wrong consensus on everything, but overall I've found them very helpful. Anything specifically you would view with a skeptical eye?
Nothing specific that I can think of! There are some posts I might disagree with, but I don't think there are any systematic errors being made.¹ I agree with the conclusions laid out in most of the posts here, and with Mr. Yudkowsky's posts in particular. It's just easy to become so enthusiastic about becoming rational "the LessWrong way" that you end up losing that rationality! But this is not so easy as it might be with other topics, perhaps. ¹(An example of a post of Eliezer's that contains some things I disagree with would be "Circular Altruism"; I posted my views and some counter-examples there, so I won't go into it here. However, I recognize many people do agree with him, so I'm not claiming to be entirely certain his conclusions are wrong - my point is just that it's a rare individual who never arrives at an incorrect conclusion!)

My name is Scott Starin. I toyed with the idea of using a pseudonym, but I decided that this site is related enough to my real world persona that I should be safe in claiming my LW persona.

I am a spacecraft dynamics and control expert working for NASA. I am a 35-year old man married to another man, and we have a year-old daughter. I am an atheist, and in the past held animist and Christian beliefs. I would describe my ethics as rationally guided with one instinctive impulse to the basic Christian idea of valuing and respecting one's neighbor, and another instinctive impulse to mistrust everyone and growl at anyone who looks like they might take my food. Understanding my own humanity and human biases seems a good path toward suppressing the instinctive impulses when they are inappropriate.

I came to this site from an unrelated blog that briefly said something like "Eliezer Yudkowsky is frighteningly intelligent" and linked to this site. So, I came to see for myself. I've read through a lot of the sequences. I really enjoyed the Three Worlds Collide story and forced my husband to read it. EY does seems to be intelligent, but I'm signing up because he and the rest of the comm... (read more)

Welcome then! Your first idea does sound interesting, and I look forward to heard about it. Don't worry too much about Karma.
Welcome! Understanding and overcoming human cognitive biases is, of course, a recurring theme here. So is management of catastrophic (including existential) risks. Discussions of charity come up from time to time, usually framed as optimization problems. This post gets cited often. We actually had a recent essay contest on efficient charity that might interest you. The value of religion (as distinct from the value of charity, of community, and so forth) comes up from time to time but rarely goes anywhere useful. Don't sweat the karma. If you don't mind a personal question: where did you and your husband get married?
We got married in a small town near St. Catharine's, Ontario, a few weeks after it became legal there. Thanks for the charity links. I find practical and aesthetic value in the challenging aspect of "shut up and multiply,"(, particularly in the example you linked about purchasing charity efficiently. However, it seems to me that oversimplification can occur when we talk about human suffering. (Please forgive me if the following is rehashing something written earlier.) For example, multiplying a billion people's suffering for 1 second to make it equal to a billion seconds of consecutive suffering to make it seem way more bad than a million consecutive seconds--almost 12 straight days--of suffering done by one person is just plainly, rationally wrong. One proof of that is that distributing those million seconds as one-second bursts at regular intervals over a person's life is better than the million consecutive seconds because the person is not otherwise unduly hampered by the occasional one-second annoyances, but would probably become unable to function well in the consecutive case, and might be permanently injured (a la PTSD). My point is there's something missing from the equation, and that potential lies at the heart of the human impulse to be irrational when presented with the same choice as comparative gain vs. comparative loss.
As you say, a million isolated seconds of suffering isn't as bad as a million consecutive seconds of suffering, because (among other things) of the knock-on effects of consecutivity (e.g. PTSD). Maybe it's only 10% as bad, or 1%, or .1%, or .0001%, or whatever. Sure, agreed, of course. But the moral intuition being challenged by "shut up and multiply" isn't about that. If everyone agreed that sure, N dust-specks was worse than 50 years of torture for some N, and we were merely haggling over the price, the thought experiment would not be interesting. That's why the thought experiment involves ridiculous numbers like 3^^^3 in the first place, so we can skip over all that. When we're trying to make practical decisions about what suffering to alleviate, we care about N, and precision matters. At that point we have to do some serious real-world thinking and measuring and, y'know, work. But what's challenging about "shut up and multiply" isn't the value of N, it's the existence of N. if we're starting out with a moral intuition that dust-specks and torture simply aren't commensurable, and therefore there is no value of N... well, then the work of calculating it is doomed before we start.
OK, I now understand the way the site works: If someone responds to your comment, it shows up in your mailbox like an e-mail. Sorry for getting that wrong with Vaniver ( i responded by private mail), and if I can fix it in a little while, I will (edit: and now I have). Now, to content: Thanks for responding to me! I didn't feel like I should hijack the welcome thread for something I didn't know hadn't been thoroughly discussed elsewhere. So I tried to be succinct, and failed and ended up garbled. First, 3^^^3 is WAY more than a googolplex ;-) Second, I fully recognize the existence of N, and I tried to make that clear in the last statement of content-value in my answer to you, by recalling the central lesson of "shut up and multiply", which is that people, when faced with identical situations presented at one time as gain comparisons, and at another time as loss comparisons, will fail to recognize the identity and choose differently. That is a REALLY useful thing to know about human bias, and I don't discount it. I suppose my comment above amounts to a quibble if it's already understood that EY's ideas only apply to identical situations presented with different gain/loss values, but I don't have the impression that's all he was getting at. Hence, my caveat. If everyone's already beyond that, feel free to ignore. I agree that dust-specks and torture are commensurable. If you will allow, a personal story: I have distichiasis. Look it up, it ain't fun. My oily tear glands, on the insides of my eyelids, produce eyelashes that grow toward my eyes. Every once in a while, one of those (almost invisible, clear--mine rarely have pigment at all) eyelashes grows long enough to brush my eyes. At that instant, I rarely notice, having been inured to the sensation. I only respond when the lash is long enough to wake me up in the middle of the night, and I struggle to pull out the invisible eyelash. Sometimes, rarely, it gets just the right (wrong) length when I'm driving, and
This topic interests me quite a bit, and I think it would be well-received here if you focus on the practice and ignore the belief. EY has a number of posts that are unabashedly influenced by religious practices.
Vaniver, I thought the message from you in my mailbox was private, so I responded in a private manner. But, it was a copy of this public posting; I've got the hang of it now. I cannot, however, figure out how to recover the private response I sent you and post it here as a public reply. Feel free to do so if you like!
There's a button in the grey tab when you're in your messages labeled "sent". In the upper left.
Thanks js, here was my response to Vaniver, responding to the "initiation_ceremony" link, as mundane as it may be: The initiation sequence was funny. And very Agatha Christie, revealing the critical piece of information just as Poirot solves the mystery! 11/16. Would they have let him in?

Hi, I'm Alison - I used to be a professional tarot reader and astrologer in spite of having a (fairly average) science degree. I recovered from that over 15 years ago and feel it would be valuable for more people to understand how I came to do it and how I changed my mind. I am also a 45 year old woman, which makes me feel in a tiny minority on LW.

I've been reading large chunks of the sequences for the last year, as well as books like Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear and a bunch of rationalist blogs (and been thoroughly sucked into HPMOR).

Topics I'm particularly interested in include day to day rationality, tackling global warming, rationality from the perspective of people with mental health issues and tackling irrationality while maintaining polite and less arrogant discourse.

Hi Alison! Welcome to LessWrong! I'm always happy to see people who are interested in maintaining politeness on here. I have a friend who is a professional psychic/ magician/ tarot reader, and he is extremely rational (uses cold reading and builds technology stuff for tricks.). I don't think you necessarily have to give the profession up if it's something you enjoy. So long as you don't fall prey to the trap of believing your own schtick. I would love to hear your story of how you came to change your mind! Glad to have you here!
I'm with you! There's quite a culture divide between "win the argument" and "get along", and since I spend more time in the latter camp, Less Wrong was unpalatable for me at first.
There's also "point out errors", which is different from "win the argument".
May I ask, at that time did you thoroughly believe that you were actually able to predict the future? Also, with the benefit of hindsight, do you consider yourself to have used the dark arts?
Hi there (belatedly)! I believe we've met, way back when.

Hullo Less Wrongers,

I am a philosopher working mostly on methodology and causal inference, though I also dabble in (new wave) experimental philosophy -- not to be confused with the straight-up physics that went by that name from the days of Newton and Boyle until some time in the mid-nineteenth century. ;)

I just finished my PhD (in history and philosophy of science) and started as an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign on August 16th.

From time to time over the last two or three years, I've glanced at Less Wrong and found it engaging. I am a bit depressed at the pessimism often displayed with respect to contemporary philosophy, but part of that depression is the recognition that the critiques are pretty reasonable. Anyway, I thought I should officially sign on so that I can throw in my two cents and expose my thinking to severe -- but, hopefully, courteous -- testing.


I am a bit depressed at the pessimism often displayed with respect to contemporary philosophy, but part of that depression is the recognition that the critiques are pretty reasonable.

Don't worry, 99% of philosophy is crud, but only because 99% of everything is crud. (That doesn't sound as reassuring as it did in my head. :-) )

Only 99%? That sounds low. ;)
Which 99% are you talking about?

I thank the Ravenclaw Harry Potter for bringing me here. I've been lurking for a couple of weeks. My first clue that I'd feel at home here was learning that Eliezer taught himself physics by reading the Feynman lectures.

I'm an evolutionary ecologist by training, and a self-taught Python programmer and GIS analyst. I currently work at a community college, where I do a lot of one-on-one biology-teaching. I spend a lot of time thinking about where students go wrong when they're thinking about science, and how to help them think more about their own thinking. (In my department we call it metacognition.) I'm also the father of a four-year-old, and so I also spend a good part of my home-life confronting and responding to some pretty fascinating cognitive and philosophical puzzles. (Her latest interest: the origins and arbitrariness of names.)

I've been developing as a rationalist (without the label) since who-knows-when during childhood, but I trace my more careful, articulated thinking about my own thinking to my early grad-school days, when I spent a lot of time fretting over how scientists should think about nature and problem-solving.

I'm looking forward to learning some new cognitive habits (my current thing is to think of -- and teach -- many cognitive skills as habits) and reinforcing some that I already have.

I'm bad at this.

Oh well here goes.

Hi there! I'm Erik. I'm 20 years old.

I am a pure math major at the University of Waterloo. I am half way through my third year here.

That being said, I am largely an autodidact, which I gather is pretty common around these parts. Up until age 13 or so I was primarily interested in physics. In the course of trying to learn physics, I inevitably had to learn some math. So I did, and I never looked back. I can actually pinpoint the exact moment, all those years ago, when I became sure that I would spend the rest of my life doing math. But I won't bore you with such an excessively personal story.

My mathematical interests are fairly broad. My single greatest fear is that I will probably have to specialize at some point, to learn truly focus on one subject area; To think that I could ever actively decide not to want to learn all the things. I plan to delay this for as long as possible.

I tend to lean towards what I consider to be a pragmatic form of ultrafinitism. Other mathematicians tend to punch me when I talk about that though. A favourite pet problem of mine is to try to work how to recover things like eg real analysis without having to talk about inf... (read more)

An easy example: How do you know how far away the sun is?

Terry Tao has a really cool presentation on that topic: The Cosmic Distance Ladder.

Parallax effects are a surprisingly good reason to reject heliocentrism. Wrong, of course, but it does seem to fail the sniff test -- and about all the Greeks had to work with were sniff tests of varying sophistication. Although now I kind of wonder how Aristarchus' critics explained his observations.
That was long, but very good. People underestimate the ancient Greeks - it's awesome to see the whole set of calculations laid out. (This reminds me guiltily of a post I keep meaning to write doing something similar for Atomism.)
First thing you can do to become better at this: Don't start by telling people you are bad at it. If it was really important that we know that you are bad at it we could probably figure it out for ourselves!

Hi everyone, my name is Jesse. I was introduced to LessWrong by my sister, Julia, a couple years ago and I've found the posts here fantastic.

Since college, I've been a professional atheist. I've done communications/PR work for three secular nonprofit organizations, helping to put a friendly face on nontheistic people and promoting a secular worldview/philosophy. It doesn't exactly pay well, but I like knowing that I'm part of making the world a more rational place.

I'm fascinated by a lot of the same things you are - psychology, rationality, language. But as a communications director, I have a particular passion for effective communication and persuasion. The "A Human's Guide to Words" sequence was invaluable in shaping my understanding and practice.

The question currently on my mind (among others) is: "Does it make sense to call a particular persuasion technique unethical? Or does it entirely depend on how it's used?"

Let me know what you think, and I look forward to being a part of this community!

  • Jesse

Some questions to ask:

  • Am I making people stronger, or weaker?
  • What would they think if they knew exactly what I was doing?
  • If lots of people used this technique, would the world be better off or worse off? Is that already happening and am I just keeping pace? Am I being substantially less evil than average?
  • Is this the sort of Dark Art that corrupts anything it touches (like telling people to have faith) or is it more neutral toward the content conveyed (like using colorful illustrations or having a handsome presenter speak a talk)?

(I've recently joked that SIAI should change its motto from "Don't be jerks" to "Be less evil than Google".)

"Am I making people stronger, or weaker?" That's a very important question, and sometimes hard to get right. Consider a theist for whom the belief in god is a fundamental aspect of his life, whose faith makes him strong because it gives him something to protect. Breaking (or weakening) his belief in god before he built himself a line of retreat can do much more harm than good. What should be done is first building the line of retreat, showing him that even without a god, his life does not become pointless, his ethics won't crumble to dust, and the thing he wants to protect is still worth protecting. And then, but only then, showing to him that his belief in god is not only unnecessary, but also making him weaker.
Great questions! Regarding the second one, "What would [people] think if they knew exactly what I was doing?" - I absolutely agree that it's important as a pragmatic issue. If someone will get upset by a technique - justified or not - we need to factor that into the decision to use it. But do you think their discomfort is a sign that the technique is unethical in any meaningful sense, or merely socially frowned upon? Society tends to form its conventions for a reason, but those reasons aren't necessarily tied to a consistent conception of morality. That said, I agree that if people get upset by a practice, it's a good warning sign that the practice could be unethical and merits careful thought. ...Which could be exactly what you meant by asking the question. By the way, I'm looking forward to meeting you at Skepticon next month - I'll be moderating a panel you'll be on!
If people get upset by a technique, that is a harm, but if their suffering that harm has good consequences, upsetting them was, all else equal, a good thing to do. So upsetting people is always related to ethics as more than just a sign. Unethical things are frowned upon to the extent people feel (at some level) frowning impacts that sort of action; regarding blame: Society often has good reasons behind its moral classifications. Use your gut.
I just checked out the Skepticon list of speakers. Laughter was induced by the picture of David Silverman.
6Paul Crowley12y
Didn't know the story behind that one, so thank you Know Your Meme. That's the face he made when Bill O'Reilly said "You can’t explain why the tide goes in."
First I thought "Oh great, another believer in n gods for n=0", but after looking through your site I realized that it is much more about rationality and a secular approach to life, not just telling people that faith is a bad thing. As for the morality of a particular persuasion technique, "do unto others..." is still a golden rule, despite its inherent biases and religious connotations.
Bienvenidos, Jesse! You may or may not be aware, but this has been discussed at some length around these parts; Dark Arts is an okay summary. (Edit: A particularly good post on the subject is NTLing.) If you've already read it and think the topic could stand more elaboration, though, I'm with you. Oh, and "professional atheist"? Totally awesome.
Thanks for the tip! I've come across some of this material, but haven't read it in a systematic way. I very occasionally refer to persuasion as 'the dark arts' - I think that phrase/connection came from LW originally. Earlier this year I gave a talk on the psychology of persuasion, synthesizing some of the fascinating studies that have been done. Rather than present the most blatant techniques as manipulation, I framed them as known weaknesses in our minds that could be exploited if we weren't wary and aware. Thus: defense against dark arts. Combining rationality and Harry Potter! Hey, that would be a great fanfiction! (Yes, I'm aware of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality and have done my best to spread it far and wide.) Thanks for the support regarding my job: I've loved doing it and hope to do more for the secular movement!
I think the best approach is to read the sequence on a Human's Guide to Words before subject specific material. In particular at least the first nine (until Neural Categories) and also Categorizing Has Consequences Where to Draw the Boundary and Words as Mental Paintbrush Handles.
/clears throat suggestively
Are you volunteering for the post of LessWrong's DADA professor? The space is open if you want it, though Yvain has previously submitted an application. It should also be noted that a certain someone doesn't seem interested in the job (probably a good thing, on balance).
That depends - would I die horribly and mysteriously after a year?
No, of course not! Whatever gave you that idea? (You might be found in a closet with three fifth-year Hansonians, though...)
I would say that any persuasion technique that requires plain lies is unethical. Lies are contagious and break trust, while trust is required for any constructive communication. Now, it may be a lesser evil in some situations. But a lesser evil is still evil, and should be avoided every time it can be. So yes, to me, you can call a technique itself unethical. Some exceptional situations may force you to do something unethical, because the alternatives are much worse, but that can be said to anything (you can always construct an hypothetical situation in which a given ethical rule will have to be broken), so if we want to keep that "ethical" word, we can apply it to something like openly lying.
Particular persuasion techniques are called different things depending on if they are used ethically.
That's one useful way to make a distinction! And, honestly, probably the one I lean toward. That's probably the way I'd use the words, but even so I'm trying to figure out whether there's a sensible and coherent way to call a persuasion technique unethical as a reflection on the technique, rather than solely the consequences. I've thought about it another way - if a particular technique is far easier (and more likely) to be used in a way that reduces utility than it is to use in a positive way, society should be wary of it, and perhaps call it an unethical practice. I'm thinking of some alleged pick-up artist techniques that are based on lowering a woman's self-esteem and sense of self-worth. (Disclaimer: this is second or third-hand information about PUA, so I could be misrepresenting it. Regardless of whether it's practiced by PUA, the hypothetical holds.)
The first step might be to back up and see whether there's a perfectly coherent way to distinguish among persuasion techniques, in case that becomes important. Sure, there are sensible ways to distinguish among them. But if you had a good idea of what your subject's matter was like, and a good idea of how you would want it to be, and you had sufficient power, you could talk softly to them, or torture them, or disassemble their atoms and reshape them into a nearly identical version that had a few changed opinions, or barbecue them and feed them to a child and teach the child the opinions you wanted them to have. All four ways begin with an interlocutor and end with a person made out of mostly the same atoms thinking largely what you set out to have the person you are talking to think. (Note: I do not claim that for every mind, persuasion would work.) While these methods are distinct, there is a continuum of possibilities along the influence-manipulation-reconstruction-recycling axis. I don't think there is a solid, sharp boundary marking a difference in kind between "influence" and Dark Art style "manipulation". On slavery, which everyone agrees is always wrong...right?


I am a 22-year-old middle-class male from the Boston area. I was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome at a young age, and have lived most of my life on medication, primarily Concerta. I found this site after reading all of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality in one sleepless night and wanting to read more about rationality. I consider myself to be a rationalist-in-training; while I am capable of actually changing my mind (I believe), I am a procrastinator and let my emotions get the better of me at times. I am pleased to find a community of rationalists, as I can learn from them and better my own skills as a rationalist. I will likely not post very much, but the posts I do write will hopefully be of high quality. (I find that negative incentives, e.g. karma downvotes, have a powerful effect on me; also, I am a perfectionist and want anything I do to be done right the first time according to objective criteria, such as using proper grammar and such.) I can type approximately 50 words per minute (hunt-and-peck) and am obsessed with roller coasters. I hope that I will be accepted into the Less Wrong community.



Hello all,

I've been following discussions on LW for about 6 months now and have been urged by another member of the community to join in commenting. I've been hesitant to join, but now that I've moved to a state in which I don't know a soul, I'm finding myself reading discussions here more than usual.

I think participation in LW can help me do things better at my job (and in life generally). Discussion here seems a good resource for testing out and working through ideas in a non-combative, but rigorous setting.

My field is evolutionary biology and I recently have spent a lot of time thinking about:

1) Whether people "trained" in the sciences believe they are inherently more objective and clear thinking than those in other fields, and as a consequence do not work hard to make sure their thinking and communication IS clear and objective. I'm not sure that all people receiving a science education are actually well trained to think empirically (I include my own education here), but a degree in science gives them the impression that they are.

2) What are the obstacles to understanding evolutionary biology? I find that students, after having taken an evolutionary biology course,... (read more)

"I find that students, after having taken an evolutionary biology course, STILL fundamentally don't understand." Could you elaborate on this? I haven't taken an evolutionary biology course, but I'd love to know what to look out for if I do decide to take one.

Hi all, call me Flay.

I'm a 20-year old graphic design student and traditional artist (figure drawing, mainly) with an array of other odd interests on the side, from costume makeup to programming. Although I do enjoy what I do, and it can certainly be very challenging, I sometimes feel there are parts of my analytical mind being neglected. Reading a few of the sequences here and being thrown all of a sudden back in to the deep end of reason made me realise how much I miss the sensation, and so I decided to register. One of my driving motivations is to try to optimize myself as much as possible, and achieve all I can. As you could guess I’m more than a little perfectionistic, although I'm slowly learning to be less uptight about the whole deal.

I came across Less Wrong while I was researching the singularity movement. I don't consider myself a rationalist yet (or a follower of the singularity movement for that matter), only because I have a great deal more reading to do first. In particular, I haven't finished reading through the core sequences yet, but I intend to do so soon.

Looking forward to meeting everyone!

4Paul Crowley12y
There is an optimal amount of uptightness :-) Welcome!
True, perhaps one day I'll find it. =P Thanks!
Thank you!

Hi there everyone, I'm a programmer by trade and a video game maker by inclination. I first ran across Less Wrong while random-walking through tvtropes. I read a little of it, found it daunting but fascinating, and it... sat in my bookmarks for about a year after that.

Later, I random-walked upon Harry Potter atMoR, and it rekindled my interest. I'd read a chapter, get on lesswrong, and try and find all the tricks that harry (or other characters) used for that chapter. It was still slow going, because I wanted not just to read the material, but to absorb it and become stronger (Tsuyoku Naritai!)

I... pretty desperately needed it. I grew up in a rural community with an absolutely abhorrent school system, even by the standards of the american school system. I had a middle-school understanding of math and logic going into college, and am still recovering from the effects of a bad start (Bayesian theory and the QM sequence are on the very edge of what's possible for me, but stronger, stronger, I will learn)

I 'came out' as an atheist two years ago to my parents, and began rearranging my life insurance to go to an Alcor membership two weeks ago. All in all, I'm not terribly new to 'critical' thinking in terms of not taking a claim at face value, but still learning how to truly deeply analyze claims as a rationalist.

So um.. hi

Welcome! 'nother Programmer here, and game maker too (I think there are a few of us here). D'you have any nice games to show?
Just a (very primitive) version of Space Hulk I made in school and a metroid-vania style platformer that never reached completion before the team split. I'm still building up a website for myself and a couple of my fellow designers ( that I'll post them to as soon as I can. Not much I know, but I literally just graduated at the end of February. Still hunting for that first job where I can really make a name for myself.

Hello all. I've been meaning to introduce myself in the old welcome thread for a while now.

I found this site shortly after Overcoming Bias while doing research for an open source project I'm planning to make public within the next few months. The project is peer-based and derived from what I learned about decision making in anthropology classes. (Don't worry, the methods have been Bayesian since before I knew the term.)

In addition to teaching myself Java and a variety of other languages to put that project together, I also do some 3D design and printing. Trying to build a strong skillset for a post scarcity world brought about by personalized manufacturing. Any time now....

I had a lot of early childhood exposure to both the occult and organized religion. I feel that by early 20s I pretty well exhausted everything mysticism and esoteric knowledge has to offer. I have a tendency to get defensive when entire traditions are dismissed by those who have only cursory familiarity. When a group of people pursue a discipline they believe to be useful for centuries, some of their methods and conclusions may be useful.

Studied Materials Engineering and Anthropology (no degree - long story). Vol... (read more)

Could you write about what you got out of mysticism? (I suppose that the third sentence could be interpreted as a reason why not.)
Here's one idea: []

Hello Less Wrongians! I'm a 17 year old American student who found Less Wrong through Common Sense Atheism, and has lurked here for several months. Only today did I decide that this was a community I wanted to take the next step with; actually join.

I've always had a rationalist "pull." Though for most of my life it manifested itself in a Traditional Rationalist way, I have a profound drive to find out what is the case. I was raised as a Roman Catholic, though not a particularly strict one, but abandoned this very quickly (fifth grade), helped along by a love of science and a penchant for philosophical questioning which had begun in childhood. My education has been tumultuous. I've always been a bright kid, but for much of my school career felt that I was being held back, so I did most of my learning from books and the internet on my own time; after I'd finished a test early, or at lunch, or after school. This wasn't helped by a massive bout of anxiety I encountered in middle school surrounding rather vicious bullying I suffered for my perceived sexuality (though those harassing me were technically correct - I'm gay). Still, I managed to maintain my As so that I cou... (read more)

5Wei Dai12y
Why do you intend to study physics or economics in college?
Because I'm strongly interested in both subjects, could very well pursue a career in one of them (or related fields), and there are excellent resources for both in the university system, especially for physics (research opportunities, labs, etc.).
7Wei Dai12y
I think the consensus around here is that too many high IQ people go into physics compared to what is socially optimal. Unfortunately my Google-fu is failing me and I can't find the posts/discussions I have in mind. (Anyone want to help me out?) The closest I could find is Paul Christiano's The Value of Theoretical Research.
There's also the comment of Peter Thiel at the 2009 Singularity Summit, referenced here. But in any case note that studying physics in college does not necessarily commit one to "going into" physics. Indeed, Robin Hanson now studies economics professionally but started out studying physics!
4Wei Dai12y
Thanks, I think between you and gwern you've probably covered what I had in mind. From your linked comment: It might be hard to argue that everyone currently working on string theory should shift their attention, but much easier to argue that at the margins, we need more highly capable people working on creating a positive Singularity, or reducing existential risk, or aging, and fewer doing theoretical research. It's unlikely we can make all string theorists shift their attention anyway, but I feel like we'd be doing some good if we could change a few people's minds (like Celestia's for example). Do you disagree? Sure, but if one doesn't intend to pursue a career in physics, why not study something more generally useful, like computer science?
You can do both. Some of the value of adding physics is that it's a credible signal and your classmates are a cut above most other departments (and you do pick up some problem-solving techniques).
Well, you might be thinking of - either de Grey or the mathematician story would do.
Welcome! I got a physics / econ double degree, and I recommend against studying econ in college, unless there are some really good professors at the college you go to. What you suspect about philosophy is true, and even more true for econ. I learned ~2 things in the econ classes I took that I hadn't learned in my personal reading on the subject (whereas I learned quite a bit of physics in classes), and so feel like those classes were wasted opportunities. I strongly recommend a field like computer science instead, if you have the least bit of aptitude for programming. If not, psychology seems like it could be super useful, but the cognitive science is few and far between, or electrical engineering fits with physics pretty well. (I do recommend reading Adam Smith's On The Wealth of Nations at some point if you haven't already. It's easy enough to get through, and it's a remarkably good foundation for the field.) ((Also, *brohoof* :3))
Welcome here !

Hello. I found LW from two directions: first, I'm serious about philanthropy, and saw references to LW on GiveWell. Second, my husband and I are reading aloud from Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality each night.

I'm a grad student in social work. I find that social work has a lot in common with some of LW's goals (mainly self-improvement). Given that LW is aimed at very high-functioning people, which most social work is not, it uses some different methods. But I suspect LW could benefit from some ideas from social work.

Welcome! If you haven't already, you may want to check out some of LessWrong's posts on efficient philanthropy and Luke's sequence on the scientific knowledge behind self-improvement.. People's brains work (mostly) the same way, whether aspiring rationalists or the beneficiaries of social work, so I'd be very interested in reading your perspective on self-improvement in your field.
Welcome! And nice to meet you :) I'd be interested in hearing about social work.

I am a (shy) NEET who has been stalking the blog for some months now but only recently made an account.

Unfortunately, I cannot really remember how I came across Less Wrong but it quickly started affecting me in the same way TV Tropes does (I have about 10 LW tabs open at the moment).

I find the site really interesting and helpful, yet don't expect to comment that often. I feel as if my English and general knowledge are still not on the average level here so I'll read and read until that improves.

I enjoy anime, computer games, looking at images of cute things, Lolita Fashion and reading, among other things.

I dislike sports, don't -usually- find television or movies interesting and mostly dislike social interaction in person (its fine if I do it through the internet).

I tried studying psychology at a local university but all of the classes were full of nonsense (picture a statistics teacher who said his class was not about math but about arithmetic...) and the hall just outside was full of smokers at all times. I have sensitive lungs and can't tolerate smoke.

I hope to learn a lot here~


[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply

Hello Less Wrong,

I am a 22 year old, caucasian lower class community college student interested in becoming more rational in order to achieve the goal of being useful to the human species. I am a student whose education is taking far too long for financial reasons but I am pursuing a BS in Computer Science and a minor in Cognitive Science because I want to understand human rationality at a deeper level. From there I will decide from my performance in classes if I am smart enough to tackle grad school. I often feel outclassed when reading the discussions here but I plan to learn enough to be useful in conversation just as quick as I can. I intend to become as rational as I am able with my meat brain. I became an atheist in High School, likely about at age 16, but have always deeply suspected there was no god since some brain worm burrowed into my head when I was 6 and said "If something is moral, then it is moral for its own reasons, not because God said so." Though the exact thought that I mulled over in my Sunday School class was "God has to play by the rules." That lead me to always be the devil's advocate in theological discussions (I was raised in a private... (read more)

Welcome to Less Wrong !

Hello, I'm a government and economics double major in an all-women's liberal arts college in Massachusetts. I discovered Less Wrong through an economics professor who gave a lecture on why it is important to be a rationalist. As an ex-lit. major, the sequence on "A Human's Guide to Words" caught my eye, and I'm currently working my way through it. I look forward to learning more.

Welcome to LW, Mirai! A Human's Guide to Words is one of my favorite sequences too.

Hi! I want to use the Rationality Methods to improve my understanding of myself and how to improve. I guess you could say I had a strange way of "waking up" to Rationality. Many say they looked to rationality after realizing their religion was .... yeah. Well... That was a bit strange for me. when my parents married, "I was born about a year later", they were both from christian families and just went with it. When they realized that Christianity didn't match with the way things actually worked, the explained it all out to me. I was 5. Naturally that got my 5 year old mind thinking, "Wait.... Daddy was WRONG???". It took him about 2 hours to explain this strange new concept to me. That was step 1, on my path to rationality. I... am a 13 year old, confident, curious young male who decided that he wanted to skip the 30 years of bad habits and jump to the rational part. For my security, call me "Ambition".

Welcome :) We need more awesome young people around here, beware of too much rationality overload though the sequences have been known to cause very large amounts of meta-cognition and symptoms similar to brain freeze.
Hiya! Welcome to Less Wrong. That sounds like a good experience to have as young as possible, finding out that your world view is susceptible to being wrong and needing to be changed. The longer you wait for the first one of those, the harder it is to avoid just closing your eyes to it. Now, though, you're more mentally prepared if it ever happens again.
It sure was. As you can guess I'm not your average teen. Hopefully this time advantage will give me a head start on Rationality, and allow me to go far with it.

Hi Less Wrong!

Decided to register after seeing this comment and wanting to post give a free $10 to a cause I value highly.

I got pulled into less wrong by being interested in transhumanist stuff for a few years, finally decided to read here after realizing that this was the best place to discuss this sort of stuff and actually end up being right as opposed to just making wild predictions with absolutely no merit. I'm an 18 year old male living in the UK. I don't have a background in maths or computer sci as a lot of people here do (though I'm thinking of learning them). I'm just finishing up at school and then going on to do a philosophy degree (hopefully - though I'm scared of it making me believe crap things)

I've found the most useful LW stuff to be along the lines of instrumental rationality (the more recent stuff). Lukeprog's sequence on winning at life is great! My favorite LW-related posts have been:

... (read more)

I suppose I should introduce myself.

I've been reading Overcoming Bias and Less Wrong intermittently for more than a year. I only recently became active, posting a few comments and attending a meetup in Irvine, CA.

I'm a 25-year-old computer systems administrator for businesses in L.A. county, but my real passion is philosophy, and I hope to return to school and become a philosophy professor one day.

Though I was raised an evangelical Christian and pastor's kid, I now write the popular atheism blog Common Sense Atheism and also host three podcasts: one on philosophy, one on meta-ethics, and one on Christianity. On that site I've also posted many Less Wrong-related posts.

P.S. Thanks to orthonormal for this post and for a fun list of 'instant gratification' posts on Less Wrong.

I've been impressed with CSA, and the "digest of LW sequences" posts are really well done. Keep up the good work! The first hit is always free...
Thanks. But, note that I'm not blogging the sequences at CSA. I'm blogging through all of Eliezer's writing, chronologically. One day I may return and attempt one-post summaries of some of the shorter sequences, but I'm hoping somebody on Less Wrong will beat me to it.

I think that's the most inviting community post I have ever read. I've been a lurker for awhile with almost no participation. Lately I've started catching up on old articles. My background is raised in a Jesus people hippie cult and thus took a long road to atheism and attempted rationality.

In other forums I tend to participate more (I'm a software developer, so that's plenty of online community). However I'm at LessWrong to learn, and so I don't have much to contribute at present. Which reminds me, I love this place for not being ivory tower. I find too much of this type of community in other forums to be biased towards academia (and somehow proud of it). It's a nice contrast here.

6Paul Crowley14y
Wow, thanks! It's been said with some justice that LessWrong is ridiculously forbidding, so it's nice that it doesn't always come across that way.
The first few times I got down voted it hurt a bit, but it is a signal (in many cases) that something with my commenting was wrong, and as long as that is the case I prefer to have it pointed out. Note that there are also people being helpful when you commit errors, or write articles. I think the less inviting feeling can come from the higher regard for content. In some atheism forums where I post we have super nice theists posting, and getting respected just for being honest and decent people. Which is fine, but they do not get any flack for the content they write. On LW you don't get additional karma points for being a nice person. PS: welcome
I think it's pretty intimidating at first glance, but a good bit of effort seems to go towards helping newcomers get to where they ought to start (this post is an example). This seems like the key thing to me, and I think it's done reasonably well. Every time anyone makes a sincere, well-intended, and not condescending "Welcome to Less Wrong" reply comment, I think the community gets a little more inviting.
: ) It's certainly challenging, and of course leans towards ivory tower, quite reasonably though considering high concept is intrinsic to the subject matter.

Hello all, I'm a 17 year old High School senior. I discovered Less Wrong through the author page at HP:MoR. I had considered myself a rational person for some time, but the Sequences here have really opened my eyes to the glaring errors I was making as a Traditional Rationalist. Consequently, this site has already changed my life for the better and I really just want to thank all the main contributors here. Thank You!

Also, I am looking to Major in Cognitive Science in college and any suggestions as to good schools to apply would be appreciated, along with any advice as to reading or preparation I should do before entering this field.

Welcome to less wrong! I don't know enough about you to predict where you could be accepted, but MIT and Caltech are both great schools for anyone who wants to study Cognitive Science.
I would like to second his request. I too would love some reading material, besides the Sequences which are pretty awesome by themselves, on cognitive science and rationality.

Hi. I've been lurking here for awhile, because my son is a major contributor. I recently confessed that I was reading his posts and he urged me to register and contribute. I made my first comment a few minutes ago, in response to "What hardcore singularity believers should consider doing."

I think I'm probably atypical for this site. I'm a 58 year old, female, clinical social worker. I've worked in mental institutions, foster care for the disabled and, for the past 21 years as a play therapist with children. I'm also a part-time artist and a volunteer executive director of a non-profit organization. I'm not sure that I am a "rationalist".

Hello, all. I'm Joe. I'm 43, currently a graduate student in computational biology (in which I am discovering that a lot of inference techniques in biology are based on Bayes's Theorem). I'm also a professional software developer, and have been writing software for most of my life (since about age 10). In the early 1990's I was a graduate student at the AI lab at the University of Georgia, and though I didn't finish that degree, I learned a lot of stuff that was of great utility in my career in software development -- among other things, I learned about a number of different heuristics and their failure modes.

I remember a moment early in my professional career when I was trying to convince someone that some bug wasn't my fault, but was a bug in a third-party library. I very suddenly realized that, in fact, the problem was overwhelmingly more likely to be in my code than in the libraries and other tools we used, tools which were exercised daily by hundreds of thousands of developers. In that instant, I become much more skeptical of my own ability to do things Right. I think that moment was the start of my journey as a rationalist. I haven't thought about that process in a sy... (read more)

If you have the time and inclination to test this, you can use this site to discover your level of under- or over-confidence, and adjust appropriately. In any case, welcome to LessWrong! I look forward especially to hearing about the process of unschooling; there is (very rightly) an impression here on LessWrong that raising a child is one of the hardest tasks; it seems like also taking responsibility for their education is even more daunting!

Hello all!

I was pointed to LW by a friend who makes a lot of sense a lot of the time. He suggested the LW community would take some interest in an education project I've been working on for over two years, The Sphere College Project. Before introducing myself I spent a few weeks perusing LW sequences. This could go on for quite some time, so I'll go ahead and jump in.

I'm 50 years old, born and raised in the US in a series of towns throughout South Carolina. I had aptitude for mathematics and music. I pursued music and became a formidable trombonist living in NYC and playing classical and jazz music. I could sight-read anything. In 1982 my girlfriend's father worked for IBM, so I got to play around with his IBM PC. I was hooked (particularly loved "Adventure", but could only fit math/computers into my scant spare time. I did read "Godel, Escher, Bach" while studying trombone at the Eastman School of Music. Later, while doing my DMA in music I observed that most of the musicians I encountered in their 50s, 60s and 70s didn't appear to be loving the life anymore, so I decided I would leave music entirely, and began taking courses in math/physics/computer science at... (read more)

Welcome to Less Wrong! That's kind of impressive, an application of the "outside view" in just the way recommended by Daniel Gilbert's "Stumbling on Happiness".
I know someone who compared lifespans of poets vs. prose writers, and went into prose as a result.
I'm amused; that's like some twisted literature version of Newcomb's dilemma - if you would seriously consider choosing between prose and poetry on that basis, then Omega filled only one box. Or something like that.
Agree: the vast majority are not rational enough to be able to do that.

Hi to everyone!

I first arrived to this site several months ago, and I've been a voracious reader since then. So, after this period of "mad and desperate studying" ("studio matto e disperatissmo" as Leopardi would say) I think I am probably ready to stop lurking and start to actively participate. Despite having a scientific background (I have a Ph.D. in theoretical physics, even though I'm doing a completely different job at the moment) I never encountered before the concept of rationality as it's explicitely stated here. In fact, I used to think I was a very "rational" person, in the more generic use of the word, before reading the Sequences and discovering that... well, I wasn't. It's still a long way before I reach the level of many notable members of this community, but I would say that LW helped me make a big step in the right direction. I want to emphasize this concept: there are a lot of good places where you can obtain knowledge, very few that can teach you how you should handle it. It's though to do it on your own, so thanks LW!

Finally, I'm from Italy, and would love to know if there are other fellow LWers that would like to start an italian chapter of the conspiracy. Also, I think it would be great if we could manage to translate some of the Sequences: I managed to raise interest in some of the topics among my friends, but many of them can't read English well enough (or at all). Let me know what you think about it

Italian translation project. See here. Also, welcome!
Thank you, I wasn't aware that a similar project already existed. I'm more than willing to collaborate! As soon as I have some free time I'll write more in the proper discussion.

Hello, I found Less Wrong after a friend recommended Methods of Rationality, which I devoured in short order. That was almost a year ago and I've been lurking LW off and on ever since. In June I attended a meetup and had some of the best conversation I've had in a long time. Since then, I've been attacking the sequences more systematically and making solid progress.

I'm in my late 20's, live in Los Angeles, and work in the entertainment industry (after failing miserably as an engineering student). It's my ambition to produce stories and science fiction that raise the sanity waterline of our society. Film and television science fiction has never come close to approaching the depth and breadth of imagination and thoughtfulness of literary science fiction and I'd like to be a part of the effort to close that gap, however slightly.

I have a hypothesis that the sociological function of stories is to communicate lessons about desirable or undesirable human behavior and translate them from an intellectual idea that can't be grasped by us on an intuitive level to an emotional idea that can, in the process making it more likely we'll remember them and apply the lesson to our own behavior. Alm... (read more)

Welcome! (pneumonic -> mnemonic)
Thank you, fixed.

I accidentally posted the following comment earlier today in the May 2009 Introduction page. Hal suggested I re-post it here, where it belongs:

Those of you who were at the 2010 SIngularity Summit in San Francisco last weekend might have seen me. I was hovering around "the guy in the motorized wheelchair." I am Hal Finney's spouse and life partner. Although I am new to Less Wrong, and very ignorant when it come to HTML and computers, I have been a Rationalist ever since I was a child, to the dismay of my mother, teachers, and legions of other people I interacted with. I met Hal while an undergraduate at Caltech. And as they say, the rest is history.

This past year, Hal and I have had to completely alter projections of our future together. Hal was diagnosed with ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, better known in the US as "Lou Gehrigs Disease"). Since his diagnosis in August of 2009, Hal has physically changed in very obvious ways. His speech has become slow, quiet, and labored. His typing has gone from rapid-fire 120 WPM to a sluggish finger peck. His weekly running (50-60 miles per week in February 2009) stopped being possible in November of 2009, and now Hal g... (read more)

Well, I never did get around to introducing myself in the original thread, so I might as well post something here.

I spent six years as an infantry soldier, did most of a History degree before dropping out in disgust, have a Post Apocalyptic scifi novel currently in negotiations with a publisher, I used to be a math prodigy but now I can barely remember Calculus, taught myself auto mechanics over the period of one month after buying a car for a pack of cigarettes, I ride a motorcycle, I have some sort of mutant ability to talk cops down when they start feeling violent, and am drastically over skilled and under employed.

I'm hoping to contribute to the community more substantially than just leaving comments; I have a couple of posts I'm working out in my head. The first is a summary of TVTropes - what it is and why it's important - the other being a guide to using the Dark Arts.

I really regret my math not being up to par for this community; I tend to understand things on a gut/instinctual level (ie: I can catch a ball, but have trouble calculating the trajectory) but my math's too rusty to 'prove' most of my ideas.

Despite a deep-seated desire for it to be otherwise, I dwell in the banker-run metropolis of Calgary, Alberta.

Also, I have a blog where I write about how Vile and Unconscionable it is, living in this dystopia:

Is this along the lines of Robin Hanson's endorsement?
I somehow missed that post of his; the short answer is yes. The world that tropes describe is - I believe - Magic. When you start seeing the dynamics of how that world works, you can pinpoint the roots of many of our biases.

Hello everyone,

I am a 31-year-old physicist and have been following LW since before it split from OB. It is one of the sites I spend most time reading, even though I never delurked before - I suspected, probably correctly, that it would induce me to spend even more time in it ("Less Wrong Will Ruin Your Life", as TVTropes might put it). However, I have recently moved into an area where regular meetups are going on, so I thought it would be worthwhile to get involved in the community and try to meet some of its members.

Welcome! If you can cope with TVTropes, LessWrong shouldn't be too addictive.
And who said I am coping well with TVTropes? ;)

Hi everyone,

So well...

I'm a 30-yo french man, working as a Free Software developer (mostly in Python and C) and system administrator, deeply interested in "science" (maths, physics, biology, computer science, ...) since as far as I can remember. I define myself as a rationalist and a humanist.

What I value is not easy to explain in a few lines, but to say in three words I would say : humanity (human beings, or any sentient being able to show the quality of humanity like altruism and curiosity), truth (making the map closer to the territory, to use LW terminology) and progress (the idea that we can make the future a better place than the past).

I discovered Less Wrong through... "Harry Potter and the methods of rationality" which a fellow free software developer pointed me to, and I started reading the sequences since then. I find them deeply interesting. I'm not yet fully convinced about the Singularity (or least, it being in a mater of decades and not of centuries or more) nor about trans-humanism, but I do view them with a positive, if yet doubtful, glance.

As for how I went into rationality... well, I was more or less born into it, my parents being maths teache... (read more)

Welcome! Great to have one more LWer from France, potentially one more person to talk to at our infrequent meetups. Are you in or near Paris?
Thanks (to you and others) for the welcome ! To answer your question, yes, I'm from Paris' suburbs, so I can easily go to Paris.

I'm just a regular woman, with regular intellectual capabilities who is struggling to complete a degree in physics, math and CS while working part time, taking care of my seven-month old full-time, spending quality time with my husband, satisfying my parents' and inlaws' wishes to keep in touch and see their granddaughter, and trying to pursue the truth and grow in wisdom during the wee hours of the night. I am an orthodox Jew who is currently undergoing a crisis of faith - reading things like LW persuade my intellect, reading things on Judaism persuade some other part of my being. I became an orthodox Jew after doing some independent reading and studying from the age of 14 (before that I thought religion was just an obsolete and irrational barrier to the enlightenment and advancement promised by science). I don't care if I get voted down to hell for saying that (I don't believe in hell anyways). That is just how I'm feeling personally at this point in life. I'm not here to get high karma - just here to read as much as possible learn, perhaps change my mind and act to the best of my knowledge. I have been fascinated by science for as long as I can remember, became intrigued with ... (read more)

Does that mean you're a convert? I hear that's not a trivial matter... I hear you! =) I've found a useful way to organize my knowledge is to think about the epistemic bases for the various types of knowledge, i.e., "how do I know?" Scientific, common sense, philosophical, mathematical, something I heard at the pub... etc. Well, first of all, I doubt you'll get voted down severely for merely identifying as a theist, but you will if you make arguments for theism that display some obvious mistakes the community recognizes. Don't worry too much about karma anyway. It's mostly for keeping comments relevant to the subject at hand, so we can have a discussion of, say, "ethics from a materialist perspective" that actually gets off the ground, without constantly having to reinvent the wheel and argue materialist vs. theistic ethics from the ground up. That said, however, pay attention when you're downvoted a lot, as it probably means that several members of the community think you made a mistake in reasoning. Welcome! =)
This is generally relevant and well said. I'm stealing it for the post, if you don't mind.
By all means!

Hello, I am a British psychology student (studying out of country, presently). I stumbled upon this website after doing a little research following Eliezer's recent Skepticon talk on Youtube. I have greatly enjoyed learning about rationality within psychology; heuristics, biases, and Bayes rule are central to the course.

I am at that stage where I am beginning to narrow down which areas of research I would like to enter into, and this area is becoming increasingly interesting to me and may one day guide my decision; but while I personally define as a skeptic and have done for some time now, I feel I am new to many areas of rationality, i.e. the "higher level" topics. There is always something more to learn. I apologise if I am I shy contributor at first, I can find such environments of discussion a little daunting when I myself feel inexperienced. I am going to spend some time in the near future exploring here a little more, and familiarizing myself with the articles/sequences on LW; I look forward to achieving a little more knowledge, and hopefully contributing to the community here.

About me personally; I enjoy archery, chocolate, debating and reading. Rebecca


Hello, LessWrong.

I am an 18 year old senior in high school interested in evolutionary psychology and cognitive science. I've actually been lurking around this site for over four months before I finally got brave enough to introduce myself. I always considered myself to be rational, but after looking through the core sequences, it slowly dawned on me how horribly wrong I was, and what a ways I have to go to "upgrade" my rationality and hopefully maintain a meaningful conversation with anyone here.

I was raised in a non-religious home where I was encouraged to seek out many different belief systems and see which one fit me the most. I ended up rejecting every mainstream religion I came across, which I suspect is what my parents were hoping for. I officially became an atheist at around age twelve, and I suffered somewhat of an existential breakdown shortly after that as I was desperately searching for a meaning or purpose to the universe and not being able to find one. I didn't like the idea of living in a meaningless universe and I suffered from extreme depression for many years, which worried my friends and family. I was sent to a therapist because my schoolwork and social... (read more)

Welcome !

Hi, LessWrong.

There isn't too much to say about me. I'm a Kiwi 16 year old high school student who's been interested in a lot of the topics discussed here for a long time. I stumbled across HPMoR a few months ago. After reading through that, I came here and now I've read through pretty much all of the sequences. I'm definitely getting better at decision making and evaluating information, but I don't think I'm at the same level as most of you just yet.

I'm going to be busy for the next couple of months with exams, and then a trip to Ecuador, but hopefully when I get back I'll be able to take part in the community properly. I have a bad habit of being unnecessarily shy, even online, with people I have respect for. I'm going to try to change that this time. It should be easier than it has been in the past, because I have a lot of questions to ask, and sometimes even ideas to add to the conversation.


Welcome ! And as a personal note : great that you go to Ecuador, I love that country ! I hope you'll enjoy your trip :)

I got a PhD in engineering, but I am interested in many fields, and I will post about my definition of super liberal arts education and ultra liberal arts education. I have an energy, environmental and global poverty background, but I am continuously searching for the most important areas to do research on and to give charity to. I now think this is existential risks, so I am developing a framework for quantifying this. I am an atheist, but I appreciate the community and intellectual discussion of the religion Unitarian Universalism, where many people are atheists. I'm not sure when I identified myself as a rationalist, but I have had many discussions and given many presentations that have provoked much disagreement from the emotional theists and environmentalists. I have been interested in trans-humanism since reading The Age of Spiritual Machines. I came to felicifia and this site through Alan Dawrst when I was researching cost-effectiveness of reducing animal suffering.


My name is Ali and I'm 24 year-old. I graduated in software engineering and currently, I'm in second year of Master of Science in Artificial Intelligence. Machine learning is my primary interest; however, I am extremely enthusiastic about other subfields of AI, cognitive science, psychology, physics and biology. I love to learn the assembly code fragments underlying high level processes in the universe and to see how complexities are decomposed into simple components by science.

Being born in a religious country, my first steps in the way of rationalism began by questioning the religious beliefs in my adolescence. Since then, I learned to live with probabilities, evidences and explanations.

I found Less Wrong by searching about singularity. I'm sure there is a lot here for me to learn, but I hope someday I'll be able to contribute.

(English is not my first language, so I apologize for any error in my writing. :D)

Your English is great. If you don't mind could you talk about the use of the article "the" in your native languages? (Standard Arabic, a dialect and perhaps others?) I personally feel strongly (although I am maybe the only one) that people should refrain from talking about "the singularity" since the word "singularity" covers several very different and incompatible ideas. I think it often causes confusion the way people sometimes talk about "evidence for the singularity" or "the likelihood of the singularity". To talk about the idea of "a singularity" is better, much as you said, or sometimes "a technological singularity".
My native language is Persian (Farsi). There is no definite article in Persian and the specific object/ person/ idea which a noun refers to is determined from the context. I agree with you about the ambiguity of the word "singularity". Not only there are different definitions for "singularity" in AI, the term is also applied in other contexts (e.g. economic singularity, gravitational singularity). I think, as you said, talking about "a singularity" is more appropriate.
Welcome! Your writing is perfect. (Ha! Only just caught myself before I posted "Your writing is prefect." Oops.)

Hello, I've been reading articles on LW for some time, but even if I've slowly began to grasp what you're teaching, the community in general seemed so far above me in terms of however you want to measure intellectual capacity, I didn't even feel entitled to post. Might as well start here.

We'd love to know who you are, what you're doing

I'm a 21.7 years old university student from Slovenia, Europe. My interests are primarily maths, physics and computer science. Biological sciences interest me somewhat, but my knowledge in that area is on a layman's level. For philosophy, politics or social sciences I've never cared much. My passing interest in arts has been described as true random in taste by those with an affiliation to a particular genre, and I have little artistic talent myself. Professionally, I study electrical engineering and instruct high-school mathematics to pay for my living costs. My hobbies include Free software activism (helping in local communities, mostly), programming, backyard astronomy and mountain biking. I've been reading a lot of science and science fiction material since I was a child.

what you value

This section intentionally left blank.

how you came

... (read more)
Advocates of this would have much better results if they never said anything. The next time i sneeze, there's a good chance that I think of descendants, much higher than if I hadn't read this.
Welcome to Less Wrong!

Hello everyone, I'm a 24-year-old graduate student from Italy. I found this site after reading someone quoting Yudkowsky: "Quantum physics is not "weird". You are weird." I've been reading this blog the whole past few days. :-)

Benvenuto. :-)
0Paul Crowley12y
That is delightful, welcome! Did you have a look at the quantum physics sequence?
I've read a few of the posts in it, and I'm going to read the rest in the next few days.

Hello, everyone.

Apparently I was supposed to introduce myself here when I joined the site. Looks like I'm about two (?) months late. I'm not really sure when I registered my account, but I just started actually commenting recently.

Anyway, I'm a 21 year old Biomolecular Engineering/Pre-medicine student living in the backward state that just put Intelligent Design in the state curriculum (And also recently proposed outlawing teachers mentioning homosexuality in the classroom before the 9th grade, among other remarkably boneheaded things). I know a marginal amount of programming - most of what I do is visual basic to go along with my Excel spreadsheets or MATLAB work for class, but I really enjoy it. I also know marginal amounts of C++ and PHP, but I'm not entirely sure why I'm telling you this.

I was introduced to Eliezer's work sometime this spring (April?) by a friend who (without having read it herself) posted HP:MOR on my Facebook wall, and said it was right up my alley. I read it in two weeks, and was hungry for more. Since he wrote it under the pen name "LessWrong", it actually took a bit of digging to find out who actually wrote it, but I gradually uncovered it. (I ke... (read more)

On cryonics: For: Alcor's FAQ Against: Sadly, not much. Paul "ciphergoth" Crowley collects anti-cryonics writing, and it sucks. You can almost certainly afford it. Eliezer said he paid less than $200/year. I know how expensive a photography hobby is; you're not dirt poor. For a potentially life-saving treatment, that's pretty cheap - people routinely pay more for treatments with worse odds that'll buy them less than ten years.
Well, it's more a question of what my parents are willing to pay for, to be honest. And I don't have any real photography equipment, I just enjoy reading about it, and taking pictures on my point and shoot.
Hey, I think I've seen you around the forum. I feel similarly about psychoactive drugs. I do consume small amounts of caffeine (via chocolate and the occasional caffeinated tea), but I try to avoid it since even those amounts can make me jittery and thus I don't drink coffee at all. I don't feel any desire to take recreational drugs, legal or otherwise. I suspect this qualifies as an unusual tendency, so it's always interesting to meet people who feel similarly. Nevertheless, I have a tendency not to mention this fact spontaneously for fear that people will feel I'm judging them.
Hi, welcome to Less Wrong! There is respectable science backing up various parts of cryonics. This page has some titles of relevant papers. For more specific information, about which of the following are you most skeptical? * the mind is in the brain * the mind's information is preserved by vitrification * it will someday be possible to recover this information and run the mind, either in a brain or elsewhere As for finances, you can get a life insurance policy that's about as expensive as medical insurance, that will pay out to the cryonics org in the event of your death. This is the way most people sign up, and it's apparently feasible on a limited budget. I can't say for myself, because I don't have the control over my own finances I'd need to sign up. Please look into cryonics more carefully. It could save your life, and even if you decide it's not for you, the choice is important enough to make it an informed one.

Hello, My name is Dave Coleman. I was raised Atheist Jewish, and have identified as a rationalist my whole life. Browsing through the sequences, I realized I had failed to recognize some deeply ingrained biases.

I value making myself and others happy. Which others, and how happy, is something I've always struggled with. I used to have a framework with Jewish ethics, but I'm realizing that those are only clear in comparison to Christian ethics. Much of what I learned and considered was about how to make the Torah and Talmud relevant to modern, atheistic life.

I'm realizing the strong bias we had against saying "maybe it's not relevant, since it was written by immature goatherders 3500 years ago who had no knowledge of science or empathy for those outside their tribe." Admitting that wouldn't sound wise, so we twist and turn with answers, cluttering what could be a solid system of ethics.

For a while I've considered myself a reconstructionist Jew, with the underlying ethos of "do all Jewish traditions by default, but don't do anything that has a good reason not to be done." I've realized that not polluting my mind with incorrect and biased thought patterns is a goo... (read more)

6Eliezer Yudkowsky13y
e^-x is its own second derivative. sin(x) is its own fourth derivative (note relation to e^ix). And welcome to LW! (he said)
Causality doesn't have much meaning when applied to mathematics.
Following up to EY's comment: e^x is its own second derivative too. There are two functions that are their own second derivative, and four which are their own fourth derivative. Cool! So what are the other two (out of three) functions that are their own third derivative? What does their graph look like? And does all this have anything to do with Laplace transforms? Does a sufficiently smooth function have a 1.5th derivative? Yes, welcome to LW.
I think so.
More precisely there is a 2-dimensional parameter space of functions that are their own second derivative, i.e., any function of the form Ae^x+Be^-x for any constants A and B.
Is there a generic form of that for any nth derivative?
Sum over integers k from 1 to n of A(k)*e^(e^(2*i*pi/k)*x) is its own nth derivative, for all A.
Of course, you mean they are the only solutions that satisfy certain initial conditions.
Well, that they are the family of solutions, allowing for various transformations. *-Disclaimer, I haven't looked at a differential equation in 6 years.

Hey! Great site - I look forward to reading the archives and new articles.

How did I come to rationalism?

I didn't realize it for a long time, but my first rational response was at a very young age. Some bully girl at school cornered me with her friends as said "You're stupid!". My response: "Nuh-UH!" (pause) "Hey, I get better grades than you! You're stupid, not me!"

I couldn't pick out the fallacies (hers and mine, lol) back then, but even then I knew that she was wrong, that I wasn't stupid just because she said so. I remember being very excited with I found out that my undergrad Philosophy 101 was called "Critical Thinking" and that's where I was formally introduced to logical fallacies. Logical fallacies have always been to me a way of speaking and thinking truthfully, a way to keep myself honest and to make sure others are being honest with me.

I am new to the online critical thinking movement, which I discovered through Pharyngula, the Skeptic's Guide to the Universe, and Brian Dunning's Skeptoid podcast and Here Be Dragons film.

I like the anecdote. Was your response effective?
Nah. I got pushed into the wall and heckled by the same gang for most of the rest of elementary school. :P

Hi, all. My name is Tyler Curtain. I am a theorist with the Department of English and Comparative Literature at UNC Chapel Hill. My training is in computer science (undergrad and grad) and English (grad). I teach graduate and undergraduate courses in theory, as well as courses in science fiction and fantasy. My research interests include philosophy of biology, evolutionary theories of language, linguistics, philosophy of language, and theoretical computer science.

It ain't your professor's humanities any more. The world has shifted.

Hi, everyone! I'm Filipe, 21, from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. I've dropped out of Chemical Engineering in the 4th semester, and restarted College after one year off with Mathematics, from scratch. I thought redoing the basic subjects, if I worked hard through them, would be a good idea. It probably would, but so far I've studied those subjects with the same sloppiness of before, heheh. Now I'm one semester off College, due to depression, obsessive thoughts and some suicidal tendecies. Some of this is related to a deconversion from Christianity at age of 18: I was really devout and lived for the religion. My father is a pastor and my whole family continues to be serious about Christianity and it's pretty obvious that I'm the greatest source of suffering in my parents' lives, as they believe I'm going to end up suffering eternally if I don't return to my former beliefs. It also relates to having been a sort of a child prodigy (many family members, even those who don't like me a lot, testify that I could read at age of 2) and now not being able to excel academically, because of those problems and because of akrasia. Speaking of which, I have never read the sequences even though I've being reading this site for some months. I guess this may change when I convince my parents to buy me an e-reader. Sorry for the babbling and the sloppy English.

In this post, your command of English is indistinguishable from a native speaker's. If you have an estimate of how fluent in typing English you are, I suggest you strengthen it :)
I haven't learned how to upvote comments yet. I'll upvote yours when I have.
The little thumbs-up and thumbs-down at the bottom left of each comment. EDIT: how to retract...
Heheh, thanks.
How can an effect like that have only one cause?
Do you mean that their source of suffering = me + misguided beliefs, not just me?
Basically, yes.
I agree, but now I'm not sure how I'd rephrase it.
There's no law that says reality must be describable in simple English. I don't criticize what you wrote! I ask you to not believe a thing merely because the thing is the exact meaning of words you selected, when you selected those imperfectly-fitting words because there were none better.
Ah! I see. Thank you.

Hi All!

Generic Stats: 28 year-old Ohioan; Found LW through HPMoR, and lurked for a while, but finally created a profile after filling out the survey; BA in History. Was halfway through an MS in Human Factors Engineering when I got divorced and couldn't afford it any more. Don't plan on going back in the near future, but I did manage to get published during my time in grad school, which was pretty nifty.

I grew up with Easter-and-Christmas Roman Catholicism, though I also got a bit of Judaism from my dad (a Soviet emigrant). Got more heavily into Christianity in my teens, which lead to becoming an atheist when I was around 17.

I am sensitive to feminist concerns about what our culture teaches young girls, as I fell victim to it myself: I had a complete disregard for science and math, despite a very high aptitude for them. It wasn't until I self-studied my way back through math for my engineering requirements that I actually internalized the belief that I was good at this. The general "Not-Getting-It-ness" of many commenters in regards to gender issues tended to turn me away from LW at first, but there is a lot of good stuff here, besides.

About me personally: I enjoy Joss Whe... (read more)

If it would not be inconvenient to you, could you unpack what you mean by "Not-Getting-It-ness"? That is, specific examples that you find problematic? If you would prefer not do this, could you recommend a source that would assist in understanding the method you used to arrive at this result? That is, a source that would allow one to understand the cognitive-algorithm that produces the result "Not-Getting-It"?
Of course! I tend to agree with orthonormal - in writings by men, women are often talked about as the "Other" and not the audience. EY has written a similar argument . But then in this piece, he makes multiple accusations that women tend to talk about men as "Other" without ever providing any sort of evidence to back it up. He just takes it as some obvious de facto truth that doesn't even need justification. I personally was put off at this. Some more good ones to read include this argument which mentions that you shouldn't forget the historical context/ culture that people are coming into these discussions from, and this piece, which posits that the essence of the "Taking Offense" is a percieved lowering of social status. I also recommend a quick perusal of the comments therein. From my personal experience, one of the early things I did upon finding Less Wrong (after some explorations in the sequences) was to click on the tags of subjects I was interested in (gender, social, etc). Somehow, a vast majority of the articles' comment sections ended up devolving into repetitive arguments about PUA. Looking back, this was probably due to my navigating by clicking on links within the article I was already reading, which lead me to stay within a subject range that could devolve into PUA discussions, and not so much that PUA is in fact mentioned in the vast majority of posts. My opinions on this (although probably more positive than you would expect of an average female) are a whole different subject which I can expound upon if need be, but I assume that you could guess how a female would feel when she goes to a blog supposedly about rationality, and all the comments are about PUA. Finally, I would like you to imagine yourself as the only male in a Women's Studies class. Even if the language always remains respectful and your classmates encourage your participation, I'm sure you can visualize many respectful debates where you would get frustrated that the other members
I realize this post is quite old, but there's clearly a norm of conversation I'm not understanding. I don't want to cross peoples boundaries, but I have a hard time understanding them. Could you be so kind to explain to me why one would be offended by that?
Sorry for not responding to this sooner. Thank you for explaining your view. I have only two statements to make. * Apologies for failing to abide by the relevant norms of conversation. (This is not sarcasm. Without body language, it is hard to demonstrate this. However, perhaps I can express myself better with this photograph of a chimpanzee.) If I were to anthropomorphize, the chimp would be thinking the chimp equivalent of "D'oh." * After the recent romance thread (which was not qualitatively worse than the previous threads), stating that Lesswrong has a "Not-Getting-It-ness" with regards to gender is perhaps something of an understatement. If I were to anthropomorphize this chimp, the chimp would be thinking the chimp equivalent of "Really, folks? Really?"
PS- I really which there were a "Preview" button, or a way to edit posts in Not-A-Tiny-Text-Box. I'll be doing some editing now, but it will only be clarity, not content. :)
Chrome lets you edit the size of its textboxes by dragging the lower right corner. Don't know if the same goes for any other browsers.
Oh, wow! That's super-helpful! Thanks!
You can do it in Firefox, but I didn't realize this until you pointed it out just now.

This seems rather unnecessary, but I'm posting here so that other people have a reference to my intro to rationality, if they're so inclined to read about it.

At the time of this posting I'm a 19 year-old male college student of middle class origins living in Vancouver, Canada, if that makes a difference. I was raised in a nonreligious home by politically centrist and humanist parents.

Having friends who were a bit nerdy and considered themselves rational in an irrational world, sane in an insane world, etc. they were very interested in a film called "Zeitgeist: Addendum" which confirmed their worldview at the time. I too watched the film and we were in awe of the Venus Project.

The Venus Project sees a bulk of humanity's problems as the result of faulty human psychology being propogated by social stratification in a money economy. The creators of the Venus Project believe that by creating material abundance through the application of technology that the Law of Supply and Demand can be superceded and hence money no longer needs to exist. In a global society with no social stratification, a culture based upon values d... (read more)

Welcome! Of all the people other than you that there are, this reference will be most important to eggman_2013.

Hey, I'm a 20 year old medical student, I've always had almost compulsive need to know the "truth". In retrospective I have been moving towards LW for a long time, first off I came in contact with Aubrey De Grey's campaign against aging, and decided as a 17-year-old that I wanted to dedicate my life to that cause (hopefully the problem gets solved before I die so I don't have to spend whole my life battling aging). Then from that I moved on to other transhuman ideas but got a bit skeptical about Ray Kurzweil's senario, began thinking about brain-uploading meant + morality + meaning of life + free will --> got depressed, read Dennett -> got a lot better, saw a few videos of Eliezer Yudkowsky and "thought he seems like a super-sane person, wonder if he stands on solid ground" found Less Wrong, prioritized becoming a more rational person.

Still a bit skeptical about plausibility the singularity happening any time soon(<50 years), so I right now I'm doing stem cell (hES, IPS) research, when my studies allow. But really enjoying LW (as well as finding it really useful).

Cheers! (And sorry about the "my life story")

Welcome to Less Wrong, Wix! Kudos to you for working in anti-aging research.


[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply
You seem really good, you haven't made any errors that I've noticed. Welcome!

I'm Tuvia Dulin, and I ended up on these forums after reading Harry Potter fanfiction. I suspect that this is a common story among the membership.

I've tried to be rational ever since I learned what rationality was, but it wasn't until I suffered a psychotic episode that I learned what the true consequences of irrationality were. That was many years ago, and I have since completely recovered, but in some ways I'm glad for the experience; it taught me that without rationality, you have nothing dependable or sane.

"Rationality" is defined a bit differently here than in other places. There is good justification for this. It makes me suspicious any time I hear someone discuss the meaning of a word, as it makes it likely they are invalidly trying to argue by definition, but here "rationality" has a close meaning within and without LW, closer than any other word, and also sufficiently close that it is better to use it than use a new word.
I don't have time to read all of those posts right this second (though I will over the next couple of days), but if you could just briefly explain how I'm misusing the word, that would be cool.
You're not misusing the word. After the local use of "rationality" was established, a second word actually gained a meaning that is nearly as close to "rationality" (as used here) as "rationality" (as used elsewhere) is. That word is "winning", used in the broadest and most general way, as popularized by Charlie Sheen. This doesn't imply an endorsement of any particular thing related to him, but the term "winning" did approach what is meant here by "rationality" around New Years, or whenever that media flurry occurred. Even so, "winning" might be a bit farther from LW "rationality" than standard "rationality". Others might disagree with my assessment.
Welcome to Less Wrong! Your name totally rocks. Is it your legal name? Oy, tell me about it! (Actually, do tell me about it, if you want to. I'm interested in developing systematic techniques to cope with mental illness. Or at least in building scientifically sound bases for kvetching about it.)
Yes, Tuvia Dulin is my born and legal name. When I need a pseudonym, I'm known as Blake Alexander Hannon. "Mental illness" is a very broad category, and I'm not sure if my way of dealing with what happened to me would work for other disorders as well. I'll talk about this at length when I have time; for now, I'm afraid I've got to run.

Five quick questions, five fast answers. Fast and perhaps somewhat rambling.

I'm an Australian, a few years shy of thirty, who has generally done things for his own reasons rather than simply going along with everyone else. After secondary school I got a job or two, became heavily involved in a fringe political group for a few years and only then decided to go onto to university. Bachelor of Science (Chemistry) - hopefully the last BS from the education system I'll put up with. I've just very recently dropped out of Honours and moved the 1000km home to Melbourne, which was the most difficult decision I think I've ever faced. Not being easy, it stretched my relevant skills to their limit, and in the end it was quite nice to learn that I can make choices as a rational adult human. Or at least as some approximation thereof.

Every now and then I attempt to express my personal values in a system like those used in the Ultima games. Most recently, my three principles of virtue were Curiosity, Truthfulness, and Playfulness. Curiosity I have valued for as long as I can remember - my primary school motto included "live to learn" which I took to heart. Honesty has been an absolute fo... (read more)

Eee, what was it? :D
The last sentence of these three: "My reasons for preferring to dissuade him [Mike] were entirely about myself. I hadn't yet begun to scratch the surface of what I wanted out of dating or romance or anything in that department. And it seemed like a uniquely hazardous thing to uninformedly test by experiment, both for myself and for anyone else involved. " A concise explanation of my feelings towards courtship and such things.
Hopefully Alicorn got her ego tickled a bit :) Personally, I prefer this one: "I accept your apology," I said. I'd gotten into the habit of saying that instead of "it's okay" when I was fourteen, having noticed that I often wanted to accept apologies for things that were not really okay. I wish I figured that one out by myself at any age.
Welcome to LessWrong, and I look forward to seeing you this Friday!

Hello, LW-ers.

I'm not exactly new - I've been lurking for a long time, soaking up all the glorious sanity from a few sequences and a lot of individual essays. And I've made a few comments. Still, I'd like to introduce myself properly. : ) (The main reason for this is that I think I need to lighten up and stop thinking of this site as a Sacred Order of Pedestaled Supergeniuses where my humble intellect doesn't belong, in order to grow.)

Insofar as anyone wants to know, I'm a 24 year old fellow, I have a Master's degree in linguistics since last year and now I spend my days as a humble translator. Somehow I fare better with intellectual pursuits if they're a hobby rather than how I make a living.

I think I'm a rationalist for one okay reason and one rather unflattering one.

The okay reason is that I've lived with a psychological diagnosis since I was... maybe 8 or so, so from very early on I've been quite aware of the fact that my brain is broken and needs fixing. I think I made more thinking errors than other people, but also importantly I made unusual thinking errors that stood out. My gut instincts clearly leading me in the wrong direction a lot, my feelings often being noticeably... (read more)

Hello all!

I'm a twenty year old college student studying physics. My introduction to LessWrong has most likely been lost to the ravages of time (although there's this nagging feeling I was linked here by a random forum post on GameFAQs). That was about a year, year and a half ago. I've read about halfway through the sequences via the haphazard method of "Wow that's interesting I guess I'll drop the next hour or so reading it." While I realize that finishing the sequences is highly recommended, I haven't seen a significant amount of large-inferential-distance-statements-oh-geez-what-is-going-on here type posts so I think I'll be fine despite my incompleteness.

As to the more pertinent question of my road to rationality, well, I was raised in China where religion was nearly nonexistent and my first exposure to the Bible was a picture book which I treated more or less like Greek or Egyptian myths (~8 years old). This lead to a natural interest in the New Atheism movement which articulated my unspoken problems with religion and exposing me to the skeptics community as well (15-17 years old). However, a small nag at the back of my mind floated that there was something I was do... (read more)


I drafted what is apparently too long an introduction to fit into a comment. Rather than try to work out how to rewrite the whole thing to fit into some unknown maximum length, I'll break it up into parts.



I've been lurking since early 2010. I'll finally take the plunge and actually engage with the community here.

I'm a Ph.D. student in math education. It's a terribly named field, it would seem; everyone seems to think at first that this means I'm training to either (a) teach math or (b) prepare future math teachers. It's actually better thought of as a subfield of psychology that focuses on mathematical cognition as well as on teaching and learning.

I grew up in a transhumanist household. My father signed us all up for cryonics when I was about five years old, I think it was. At the time I was just starting to realize that if death is inevitable for others, then that might mean that death is inevitable for me. I remember going up to my mother and father in the kitchen and asking, "Am I going to die someday?" They looked at me and said, "No, we're signing all of us up for cryonics. That means if we die, they'll just bring us back.&quo... (read more)

PART 2 (part 1 here):

I had the pleasure of meeting Eliezer in January 2010 at a conference for young cryonicists. At the time I thought he was just a really sharp Enneagram type Five who had a lot of clever arguments for a materialist worldview. Well, I guess I still think that's true in a way! But at the time I didn't put much stock in materialism for a few different reasons:

  • I've had a number of experiences that most self-proclaimed skeptics insist are a priori impossible and that therefore I must be either lying or deluded. I could pinpoint some phenomena I was probably deluded about, and I suspect there are still some, but I've had some experiences that usually get classified as "paranormal" that are just way too specific, unusual, and verified to be chance best as I can tell. And I'm under the impression that these effects are pretty well-known and scientifically well-verified, even if I have no clue how to reconcile them with the laws of physics. But I've found that arguing with most die-hard materialists about these things is about as fruitful as trying to converse with creationists about biology. They know they're right, and as far as they're concerned, o
... (read more)

First a suggestion: I think it would make sense to change the topic to "Welcome to Less Wrong! (2010&2011)". I was confused whether I should post here or on the original "Welcome to Less Wrong!"

Then to the actual topic of my comment:


I've been lurking a couple of months now, the rationality mini camp finally activated me to do something instead of just passively soaking up information. I wasn't selected, but I definitely do not regret applying for the camp.

Some info about myself, I grew up on the south coast of Finland and went to a Swedish-language school. Consequently I'm bilingual (Fin&Swe) and also acquired a strong interest in languages - besides the aforementioned I speak English, German, Russian and French. My other hobbies are skiing (both downhill and cross-country), travelling and car repairing.

LW was the biggest reason why I bought myself a Kindle - namely I wanted to read the sequences during commuting but carrying the laptop arround was too tiresome. Thanks to jb55 for making eBook-versions of them! I've made my way through around 80% of the sequences, although I'll have to reread at least the quantum mechanics one with pen and paper a... (read more)

Welcome to LessWrong!

I'm not new here, but I never introduced myself and have recently started participating more; it makes sense to say a few words.

Hi. My username is my full name. I'm 34 years old, male, and live in Tel-Aviv, Israel with my wife and two year old daughter. I've lived the first half of my life so far in the USSR, the second half in Israel; consequently my native language is Russian, and I also speak Hebrew. I'm a secular Jew.

I work as a software engineer in a large corporation, doing interesting things. I try to maintain and extend some knowledge of math and physics (I've studied math in graduate school in the past, but didn't finish the degree). I read books, mainly fiction in English and Russian. I have insatiable curiosity about countless academic fields and disciplines, in hard sciences, social sciences and humanities, and have acquired much shallow knowledge in many of them, very little deep knowledge in any. I have some online presence in English, mostly due to open-source work I did in the past (not much recently), but my primary online presence is through my blog, which is written in Russian.

I've been reading OB/LW since late 2007, mainly lurking, with a few comments. Stopped ... (read more)

I now wish I knew Russian!

Hey everybody, I know I came across this late, but lately I've been becoming a more avid reader of the site, and thought I'd follow with the post's suggestion and give my introduction.

I came here from Overcoming Bias(via various econoblogs), although that doesn't really mark the beginning of my push into becoming a rationalist. The big turning point for me was coming across a NIH article that was linked to by econlog or marginalrevolution. Both of the two introduced me to Baye's Theorem, and how it could explain how so many publications in the medical literature could be statistically significant, yet incorrect(I think the paper estimated nearly half).

I had been struggling with social anxiety and had really screwed things up with a girl I really liked because of a few fundamental misunderstandings. In a clearer state of mind I was able to realize that I had an entirely wrong perception of what people thought of me and this girl in particular. But I couldn't explain why I would have such a skewed view of my world until I learned how to apply Baye's in how we evaluate our decisions.

Starting from the simple introduction into Baye's where one is asked to evaluate the problem of estim... (read more)

Hi, my name is Tyler and I've been lurking LW for the last few months. I'm a full-time university student in California. Like others, I've refrained from posting because I feel I'm not yet quite up-to-date on many of the issues discussed here, though i'd considered many of them before ever finding LW.

I found LW through which I found through one of Eli's more technical articles that popped up on a google search when I was first becoming interested in Artificial Intelligence. Since then, i've developed an interest in the big R.

As I read the sequences (I'm nearly through and I've been at it a while now) I am often pleasantly surprised when Eli brings up a topic that i'd previously considered, and even more so when he explains it. Overall, the zeitgeist of the LW community really appeals to me. I'm often frustrated at listening to people i know say things that would get torn apart here on LW. I guess i'm just glad to know that there's a community here to which i can both learn tremendously, and hopefully contribute.

I'm working on filling in the holes right now, and the old adage "the more you know, the more you know you don't know" is really having its way with me right now.

I think I'm missing something. Is this common jargon?
Thanks. I can see why nobody felt the need to respond to that one.
Well, I didn't find it obvious either. (Or I wouldn't have said anything. Not big on sarcasm.)

I stumbled over here from Scott Aaronson's blog, which was recommended by a friend. Actually, LessWrong was also recommended, but unfortunately it took a while for me to make it over here.

As far as my descent in to rationality goes, I suppose I've always been curious and skeptical, but I never really gave much direction to my curiosity or my skepticism until the age of 17.

I always had intellectual interests. In 3rd and 4th grade I tought myself algebra. I ceased to pursue mathematics not too long after that due to the disappointment I felt towards the public school system's treatment of mathematics.

After my foray into mathematics, I took a very strong interest in cosmology and astronomy. I still remember being 11 or 12 and first coming to realize that we are composed of highly organized cosmic dust. That was a powerful image to me at that time.

At this point in time I distinctly remember my father returning to the church after his mother and sister had passed away. The first church we went to was supposedly moderate. I was made to attend Sunday school there. I did not fare so well in sunday school. During the second session I attended the subject of evolution was brought up. Now, ... (read more)

Hi! I posted on the other thread that I was around, but I guess I should introduce myself.

I guess the weirdest thing about me (relative to the community) is my age -- I'm still in high school and have been lurking LW since its creation and OB before that... I'm in the Montgomery Blair Magnet program, which has pretty thoroughly taught me that I'm by no means especially smart.

I got interested in the whole rationality thing after reading some of the articles that were tangentially related to the more philosophical articles that I was interested in* and found on Hacker News. The metaethics sequence seemed much less forced than a lot of the other considerations of morality that I had heard (mostly from a Christian background), which only piqued my interest further.

Short note: Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality is pretty much the best introduction to rationalist topics for people my age that I've ever seen, I recommended it to a few friends, one of whom started reading it, lurking LW, and convincing others to read as well.

The article most tangibly helpful in my life was , mainly in that it helped me realize that everyon... (read more)

Welcome! "Are your enemies innately evil" is one of my all-time favourite posts too. I now think politics is the single biggest source of rationality failures out there (way bigger than religion). You can find loads of otherwise really good skeptics out there who have a political view (which is fine) that they seem to think is as perfect, scientific and objective as Maxwell's equations (not fine). Politics is epistemically dangerous.

I am new to this site. I am a former Mortgage and Derivatives Trader on Wall Street. I am one of the few ex Wall Streeter’s who has experienced a crisis of conscience. I am an empirical skeptic who is cynical by nature but I have only recently started to sit down and try to figure out why people act stupidly and irrationally. Naseem Taleb, author of the Black Swan & Fooled By Randomness is one of my favorite authors and I truly believe that after all of my years trading it all comes down to random luck not any type of skill.

Welcome, great intro! Do you think there are any types of traders who are closer to the mark? It's been a while since I read Black Swan, but I seem to recall Taleb was a "quant," and that he made a good deal of money thereby (NB: I have near zero knowledge of finance of any sort).
jaymani, Have you seen: ? Luck may be a small part, but I think cognition is the better part. Sorry, if this is to bold, I'm new at this as well.

Oh, hi. I'm an autodidact programmer in my early 20s working for a small company. A lot of programmers tend to be hacker sorts who like making things, but I mostly only care about achieving a deeper and more intuitive understanding of the world. I am interested in a lot of things, but I tend to concentrate alternately on math, CS, linguistics, philosophy, history, and literature.

I don't identify as a rationalist or make very rational decisions, but I share a lot of intellectual interests with the community, and there aren't really any other public spots on the web where smart people are discussing a variety of topics without a ton of noise and bullshit.

I don't have enough background in some of the jargon and shared historical discussion here to contribute to many of the more topical discussions, but hopefully as I catch up on the archives I'll be able to comment more often.

Hacker News is pretty nice: Does anyone have more recommendations?
My impression is that Hacker News is above average, but still a noticeable notch below LW. Same goes for sites like the Richard Dawkins and JREF forums (perhaps two notches in those cases), and the comments sections of blogs of various academics (such as Overcoming Bias).
Skeptical sites are good, but not great, because being a good skeptic is different from being a good rational thinker. You can probably get by as a skeptic knowing only "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" and the basics of the scientific method.
I agree with this, and in particular, although there are generally smart people on Hacker News, there are a ton of people who are interested in talking about business and startups 24/7, a topic I find extremely boring. I'm a big fan of MetaFilter ( The commenters there are charming and often pretty smart, but the spirit of discussion is usually somewhat less serious.
The key thing here separating Hacker News from LW is the "variety of topics". While HN is officially centered around startup culture (which like cata, I have no particular interest in), the community is happy to link to and discuss just about anything of intellectual interest. Today there's a link about punctuation marks for indicating irony. The level of discourse might not be quite up to LW, but the subject matter is a lot more inclusive.
I find it strange that you would say that. (And I've read a lot of Hacker News.) Given an arbitrary aspect of reality (e.g., an aspect of human life or of the world around us) I think you are just as likely to be able to start a discussion of it here as on Hacker News if you can meet LW's higher standard for rationality. In other words, I think Hacker News is simply more tolerant of worthless ways of discussing topics, not tolerant of more topics. (Of course, Hacker News is more worthwhile than most places on the web.)
I just found it, and I'll probably be disappointed, but looks pretty good so far.
I've read PG for a year or three now, and he's very one-note - railing against government waste and repression of business, and he's not the most rigorous or deep libertarian thinker I've ever read. I keep reading because every so often he writes about something like more efficient higher-education or why women aren't in STEM fields in large numbers which is worth all the dross.

Hello, good time of day.

My name is Victor, I'm 19. I'm a student of computer science from Russia (so my English is far from perfect, and probably there will be lack of articles; please excuse me).

There wasn't any bright line between rationalist!Victor and ordinary!Victor. If I remember correctly, five years ago I was interested in paranormal phenomena like UFO, parallel worlds or the Bermuda Triangle (I'm not sure I truly believed in it, probably I just had fun thinking about it: but I might have confessed the cached thought about scientists not knowing important things about the world) and liked reading the pop-science books at the same time. Then I realized that there is a beauty, honesty and courage in the scientific worldview and shortly thereafter, I became a person from the Light Side: not because science was true, but because it was fun.

But at least I rejected the Bermuda Triangle. I was too honest to leave inconsistencies in my pool of beliefs; so long, pseudoscience!

Maybe at the same time I discovered the concept of the utility function and blog of a psychologist arguing that there is nothing wrong with an egoism. Something clicked in my mind; the explanation of human beh... (read more)

Welcome, Victor. Perhaps you'll find this funny:
It remembered me the elementary particles of monarchy (the "kingons" ) of Terry Pratchett. Since each kingdom can have one and only one king, in the case of death of king his heir becomes a new king instantly. So, if you carefully torture a king, you can use those particles to send a message faster than the speed of light.

I once thought that the Future was indestructible.

When I was growing up my childhood friends would sometimes say, "I wish I'd been born five hundred years ago" or "It would have been so interesting to live during medieval times". To me this was insanity. In fact it still sounds insane. Who in their right mind would exchange airplanes, democracy and antibiotics for illiteracy, agricultural drudgework and smallpox? I suppose my friends were doing the same thing people do when they imagine their pop culture "past lives": so everyone gets to be Cleopatra, and nobody is ever a peasant or slave. And the Connecticut Yankees who travel back in time to pre-invent industry are men, because a woman traveling alone in those days just invited trouble.

No, I never wanted to live in the past. I wanted to live in the future.

Mostly because I had a keen desire find out what happens next. I mean, just think of the amazing things in store -- space travel, AI, personal immortality. What a fool I was.

I no longer trust the future will be a glorious place. (It was a little painful to give up that belief.) I once studied history and the history of technology so I could writ... (read more)

Hello Less Wrong!

First things first: I beg your pardon for my crappy English, this is not my first language.

I'm from Barcelona (no LW community, here, I'm afraid) and I studied telecom engineery, but I work as a teacher and I draw cartoons (you can check but they are in Spanish). I'm also a rationalist wanabe. I mean I haven't even read the whole of your major sequences but I have always tried to move myself the rational way. I love Dawkins books and I was amazed the first time I read about logical fallacies at the Wikipedia. I have always been quite interested in phsicology, too, but most of the popular psychology books I've read set my bullshit alarm on, cause most of their content seemed to come from the mind of the author after thinking about it strong while sitting in the sofa, without further research. I'm glad of having found a site that talks aboute the human mind and human behavour in an easy to understand way and with references. It seems like a good place to learn stuff.

Actually, I'm curious about what you, as rationalists, may think about NLP. Is it the right place to ask? NLP: Bullshit or not?

And I would also love to hear some rationalist opinio... (read more)

Welcome to LW! I love your comics. I'm going to use them so that I don't forget my spanish. I'm currently doing a little research (for myself) on NLP-type stuff. If you want a comprehensive source, then this is what I'm going to be purchasing shortly. I'm not expert on yoga (but I've done a bit). I find that pure meditation is better for the mind than yoga (there is a lot of secular research that shows that meditation is good in a lot of ways for the mind). And I find that pure exercise is better for the body than yoga. some people like to mix the two. I don't. Most people have a misconception about meditation where they think you have to be sitting with really straight posture in order to meditate. This just isn't true. I run and meditate all the time. Running is very good for exercise and is very conducive for meditation (especially if you just go in a straight line or on a treadmill). I know that there is quite a bit of research on exercise and the mind. But most of it has to do with cardiovascular and not with weight training. I do both, I personally think running is better for the mind (and doesn't require a lot of technical detail on proper form). Dawkins's "Selfish Gene" was one of my first "rationalist" books.

Hi LessWrongians, I've actually been reading this for a few months since I discovered it through HPMOR, but I just found this thread. I've been a traditional rationalist for a long time, but it's great to find that there is a community devoted to uncovering and eliminating all the human biases that aren't obvious when you're inside them.

I'm 27 with a BS in Business Information Systems and working as an analyst, though I consider this career a stopgap until I figure out something more entrepreneurial to do. I've been slowly reading through the sequences, but my brain can only handle so much at a time.

Mostly I just want to say thanks to everyone who writes/reads/comments on LessWrong. This site is awesome. It's the only place I've found on the internet that consistently makes me stop and think instead of just rolling my eyes.

Welcome !

Hello everyone!

I am a unwitting victim of HP: MoR, and of course it led me here. I'm still reading up on the sequences, which have plenty of intriguing content. My background is in Mathematics (specifically cryptography, not much probability theory) and Music (specifically bassoon and composition). Right now I work for the US government. I grew up as a secular Jew, so I didn't really have that much of a crisis of faith or anything. I must say I found Eliezer's description of Modern Judaism ("you are expected to doubt but not successfully doubt") as surprisingly accurate and amusing.

Though, after reading through things, I don't really think I can call myself a rationalist quite yet. I need more practice, honestly. Maybe I just need to successfully update :D

Perhaps I just need to look around more, but hopefully I can contribute to the more artistic ideas of the site. Reading through what is on the site, it makes me wonder how to apply rationalist methodology to the arts.

A most sincere welcome, from someone of a very similar background! (And you've walked right in to a discussion you're likely to find interesting...)
Cool thanks! I'll check it out.
Hey, another bassoonist! (Saw your name in another thread, and had to see if you mentioned which double reed.) I've also got a math background (number theory and logic), though I've mostly abandoned it for law. Welcome to LW.

Hello everyone, it's so great to be here. I was introduced to LessWrong by a post left by C. Russo on back in late July, which dumped me right into How to Actually Change Your Mind. Since then, I have found myself spending progressively more of my free time here, reading both old and new content.

Over the last several years, I've made a habit of spending my evenings online, blown by the winds of curiosity. While this has led me to the vague sense that I needed to make some adjustments to my map, I didn't have a good sense of the tools I needed to edit it.

I grew up in a religious (Mormon) family (was even a white-shirt-wearing, door-knocking, Book-of-Mormon thumping missionary for two years), but gave up my belief in my mid-twenties after searching for -- and failing to find -- a convincing argument for my belief. I had been taught to identify a specific and powerful feeling with "The Holy Ghost," but when I reflected on my experiences, I realized that I had felt that feeling on many occasions that seemed inconsistent with the idea that God was giving me information in those moments. I have, furthermore, felt that feeling many times since my apostasy, wh... (read more)

Hello and welcome!

There's a welcome page? I hadn't noticed. I suppose I could give a few details about myself. I've been posting here for a little less than two months now.

On Me

I am a software engineer in my late twenties. I enjoy reading fantasy and science fiction novels, as well as books about physics, mathematics, biology, astronomy, and many other topics. I play no sports, but I bicycle nearly every day. I also enjoy programming, writing, photography, cooking, drawing, winning videogames, and working out mathematical equations for topics of interest.

On How I Found the Site

I occasionally like to peruse David Brin's blog, and wondered while reading a post how it was he came to recommend a Harry Potter fanfiction. So, David Brin's Blog-> HPMOR-> Less Wrong. I then proceeded to lurk and find out what was being discussed to get some context for the message board discussions. Eventually, I decided to see what would happen if I started posting comments.

So far, I've enjoyed the discussion on this site. I think there's a lot to think about here, which exercises my hobby of pondering the nature of society, life, and the universe in general.

Hi. I just opened a new account with this user name. My user name was playtherapist. It was pointed out to me that it was still being misinterpreted as play the rapist. I am a child therapist and social worker. I help disturbed children work through their issues while using dolls, action figures, a sand tray, art materials and therapeutic games. This is called play therapy and is the most effective way to do therapy with young children. I would never dream of "playing the rapist." There didn't seem to be a way to just modify my user name, so I opened a new account.

I am the mother of a regular poster and meetup leader. I started reading posts out of curiosity about what he was talking about, etc. Recently I began reading the sequences and top 100 articles. Some of it is quite interesting.

Hey, another social worker! Great!
I'm curious how you found this blog and what attracts you to it. I never would have, except for my son. It's definitely geared towards young nerds, and most of the posters are guys.
My intro is a few above yours. I found this blog through my husband, who is a much more typical LWer (male, atheist, computer programmer, sci-fi fan). I guess what attracts me to it is that most people I know write me off as unreasonable or cruel for trying to apply logic to situations where they go by convenience or custom. I would continue more or less doing this even if I never found a community of others, but it is comforting to see a community out there. The main turn-off for me is that most of what I've read here doesn't apply to my life in a useful way (as far as I can tell).
Welcome (again)!

I'm a 19-yo female student in the NYC area.

I was mildly ecstatic to find that not only does Less Wrong exist, but it's members have articulated absolute loads of things that my own mind had danced around but not gotten close to putting into words (reservations as to the value of that aside). I actually first became fascinated with Bayesian analysis when I learned about its use in cryptography, and in the pre-computer-age Bomba Machine that helped crack the German Enigma code at Bletchley Park. I saw that it could be used in a much less narrow way, insofar as plain old everyday rationality is concerned and I've been increasingly interested in it since. And along came Less Wrong to just blow open the idea into so, so many tangents and applications. :) Just great.

LW has also sort of managed to shock me by covering almost all of the specific areas into which my autodidactism has ranged, from philosophy and theosophy, to neurology and quantum physics. And seeing as I am (and as I suspect many people who become unhappy with the rate that the universe is 'giving' them information, and decide to SEEK it) 'educated' in a very deep but very patchy manner, LW's holistic approach to knowled... (read more)

Welcome! Glad to have you here.

My name's Dave.

I got here through the MoR fic a week or so ago, thence the Babykillers/HappyFunPeople fic, thence the Overcoming Bias archive, which I'm currently working my way through. Created an account to comment on a post there, then found this post.

I'm not sure I do identify as a rationalist, actually. It seems to me that a necessary condition to justify my making such a claim is valuing habits of thought and behavior that lead to accuracy over other kinds of habits -- for example, those that lead to peace or popularity or collaboration or productivity or etc. -- and I'm not sure I do.

(I don't mean to suggest that they are incompatible, or even mutually inhibitory. It might work out that someone primarily motivated by rationalism also ends up being maximally peaceful, popular, collaborative and/or productive, just as it might work out that someone primarily motivated by pacifism also ends up being maximally rational. But I don't see any good reason to believe it.)

That said, there are habits of thought and behavior I value and see well represented here. Precision in speech is one of them -- saying what you mean, requesting clarification for ambiguous statements, etc. Argument... (read more)

Hello. I found out about Harry Potter and the methods of rationality while browsing TV tropes, which eventually led me to this site. I have never thought much about how i make choices before, but after reading a couple sequences, it looks like many of the things i am most inquisitive about are discussed on this site, and for at least the last couple years i have been reinventing the wheel on some of the ideas listed here about rationality. It is convenient to be able to learn things by reading this site, that otherwise might have required me to live a long, interesting life to discover :p

I've been lurking on LW for a couple of months, trying to work through all of the major sequences. I don't remember how I discovered it; it might have been a link in the BadAstronomy blog. I studied astronomy in school and grad school and end up becoming a software engineer, which I've done for almost 30 years now. Most of the content here resonates powerfully with the intellectual searching I've been doing my whole life, and I'm finding it both stimulating and humbling. Spurred by what I've read here, I've just acquired Judea Pearl's "Causality" and Barbour's "The End of Time", and I'm working through the Jaynes book on bayesian probability (though the study group seems pretty inactive). There's a lot of synchronicity going on in my life; much of my software work over the last decade has involved causality graphs and Bayesian belief networks, but I hadn't taken the time to delve very deeply into understanding the underlying fundamentals. I recently read Lee Smolin's "The Trouble With Physics", and he mentioned Barbour's work as a possibly promising new direction, so reading Eliezer's comments on it struck a chord. Finally, I'm becoming increasingl... (read more)

You look to be very capable of using correct reasoning, based on your extensive software experience and familiarity with causal nets! I recently asked question here about timeless physics, but no one seems to want to answer it... I think you might have some good insight on that matter.

Hiya, thanks to everybody here for making this such a welcoming and fun community.

I've identified as a skeptic and an atheist for a few years now, but I was intrigued by the way that the Less Wrong articles I saw seemed to kick it up a notch further. "Weapons-grade rationality" I think I saw one article put it.

I'm (as of the moment) somewhat skeptical of singularity theory, but as an activist I'm interested in helping to raise the rationality waterline. My education and professional experience are in computer programming. Currently I'm serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Jamaica.

Hi I found Less Wrong a few days ago when someone pointed me towards your recent list of recommended books. I followed the comment thread (particularly nodding my head at the mentions of Marcus Aurelius' Meditations which I want to read) and had a look around the rest of the blog. I liked what I saw.

I'm an American living in Cyprus, and into learning more about the Epicurean, Skeptic, Stoics and Platonic philosophies. I'm also a molecular biologist by training, and interested in ecology, ornithology, birdwatching, cooking, and philosophy of science.

For my rationality, I grew up always thinking that Christianity was a nice metaphor for issues relating to the human condition, but never thinking that anything in the Bible happened literally the way it was said. I suppose you could say that I believed in the value of belief. Watching Bill Moyers' interview with Joseph Campbell in The Power of Myth changed that for me 15 or so years ago. It just clicked with my view of religion: it served as a mythic narrative, and you don't need a mythic narrative to be religious... Star Wars or any other epic myth will do nicely. So I severed the only reason I ever had to value religion and never looked back, being skeptical of dubious claims ever since by nature.

If there are any skeptics, stoics, Epicureans or other rational minds in Cyprus, please contact me!

My understanding is that Campbell was never well-regarded by the relevant academics and that time hasn't helped his reputation any. This reminds me, by the by, of my own "conversion" experience: a book by the name of the Lucifer Principle by a one Howard Bloom. I read it at a young age and was dazzled by the basic idea of evolution, which had been taught to me in school and was never disputed by my church, but never with such power: I finally Got It; that from random processes patterns always emerge and are implicit, humans are just a complex pattern operating on the basis of laws mostly beyond our comprehension, &c. Years later, I re-read it, expecting to re-unite with the wonder of my past and... was struck by how stupid it was. The arguments were moronic, the facts were wrong half the time, and so on. But I owe it a debt for making me a materialist, even if I would have dismissed it after perusing it at the library today.
Arrgh!! Totally meaningless!

No, it's a good heuristic. It's good enough reason for the lay to accept anthropogenic global warming, the Holocaust, and the fact that HIV causes AIDS, to gesture at obvious examples.

Obviously not everyone can use that heuristic. Like any other, it will be wrong sometimes. But it's good enough for Bayesian updating.

(So perhaps "Arrgh!! Sometimes overrated!")
Oh I'm not saying that Campbell was well-regarded by his peers in academia - I'm not a scholar in that field by any means and don't know anything about that. I was just saying that it woke me up to see that a developing mind can learn useful values and ideals from any kind of epic story. IOW a religion isn't necessary for our morals to take shape.
I'm pretty sure I understand what Campbell was doing, and given that it was something totally cool and fundamentally opposed to what academia is about, this just shows that they could identify what he was. Ditto Tolkein and Lewis. Basically, these are people who are intentionally creating a misleading conception of history in order to shape the identities of children who encounter it towards identifying with mankind as a whole rather than with some smaller group, NOT people who are trying to explain how things are to their readers, framed neutrally.

Hi there,

I am a high school senior who is interested in science, particularly in natural sciences. One day I hope to further our understanding of...well, anything you can think of!

My lifestyle, which I adopted after carefully analyzing my goals, is pretty spartan: I eat a strict diet, I exercise often, I only read certain things and so forth.

I discovered the transhumanist movement a few months ago. I have decided to join because I think that I stand to learn a lot from this community and, maybe, even bring something to the table.

What kinds of things, out of curiosity, and why do you read them and not other things ?
Nonfiction because: my faulty brain sometimes mistakes fiction for reality(e.g., I used to believe that Santa is real) and cognitive economy - there is a finite amount of knowledge I can store, so I would rather make sure it's accurate, truthful, useful knowledge.
In this case, how do you know what is fiction (and therefore you shouldn't read it) and what is not (and therefore you should read it) ? Can you elaborate ? I'm curious about the topic because I've heard this statement from several of my friends, but I can't quite wrap my head around it. In the interests of full disclosure, I personally do read fiction: primarily because I find it enjoyable, but also because it sometimes enables me to communicate (and receive) ideas much more effectively than nonfiction (f.ex., HPMoR).
3Incorrect12y New memories can interfere with the recall of old ones if they are similar. That doesn't necessarily mean fiction is likely to cause problems.
I guess it depends, in part, on how similar the knowledge you deem important is similar to works of fiction. To use a trivial example, I doubt that any work of fiction would cause me to forget what 2 + 2 is equal to.
I look for background info on the piece I consider reading and read its abstract. See the reply below. I'm not good at explaining this stuff. Horace wrote that the purpose of literature is "to delight and instruct". It delights precisely because it's instructive and it's up to you to decide whether you only need precise information(nonfiction) or embedded information(fiction).
What about pieces that blend truth and fiction, such as historical novels or most newspaper articles ? Fair enough, but I'm still curious. Do you participate in any activities that you find enjoyable, but ultimately not very useful in the long term ? I'm not trying to be glib here; I genuinely want to learn about your way of thinking.
I don't usually read those kinds of pieces. No, I only take part in activities that have some long-term benefit.
That makes sense. What algorithm are you using to decide which activities have some long-term benefit ?
Pros&Cons and projected outcomes.
Right, but how do you evaluate pros and cons, and project outcomes ? Obviously you wouldn't take an action that has more cons than pros, and therefore has a poor projected outcome, but that doesn't tell me much. For example, what made you decide to begin spending time on writing posts on Less Wrong, as opposed to spending that time on reading quantum physics books, or lifting weights, or something ?
I assign an util to each possible outcome. I do read quantum physics and lift weights and whatnot! :) As to why I decided to spend time here, see my original post.
tomme, welcome to lesswrong, gday I'm Peacewise. re Fair crack mate, "Santa" is a standard fiction/lie perpetrated by society and parents, hardly something to be used as evidence of a "faulty brain". In fact its more likely to be evidence that your brain was and is functioning in a developmentally normal state. I suggest you reconsider your position on fiction, since you state there is indeed plenty of accurate, truthful and useful knowledge within the realm of fiction. Shakespeare has plenty of accurate and useful knowledge about the human condition, just to give you one counter example. "Out damned spot, out " by lady Macbeth is an example of how murder and the guilt caused by the act of murder affects the human mind. (Macbeth, Act 5, scene 1.) Lady Macbeth cannot get the imagined blood stains off her hands after committing murder. Humans are subjective creatures, by experimenting with fiction you'll be looking into the human condition, by avoiding fiction you are dismissing a large subset of truth - for truth is subjective as well as objective.
I now believe that fiction could be useful because it conveys experience. For example, The Walking Dead, the Tv series I am watching at the moment, has a complex interplay characters, as it shows how humans interact in a plethora of situations. Most people don't have that in mind when they bump into fiction. But, as I said, if you don't have enough experience, and you need a quick dose, sometimes fiction can help you.

Hi, I'm Richard. I'm a lawyer, practising in Norwich, England. I've been 'lurking' on lesswrong, and working my way through the sequences, for some time.

I have an interest in technology, and particularly open source projects. For example, I'm writing this right now in Emacs.

I hope I will be able to contribute positively to this community, which has certainly already helped me a great deal.

Hello All. I came across Less Wrong via Common Sense Atheism a few weeks ago. I have enjoyed it so far, but I have yet to put in the time to get up to speed on the sequences. Plan to, though.

I'm a Financial Accountant in Birmingham, AL. I'm not sure I would (yet) identify myself as a rationalist, but as for what I value, I value truth above all. And if I'm not mistaken, valuing truth seems a big step toward becoming a rationalist. I also value life, liberty, happiness, fun, music, pizza, and many other things.

Here's a little more about me:

Height: 6'0... (read more)

Hi Less Wrong, I’m Burr a retired commutations consultant and Entrepreneur. I’m just watching and listening. I’m taking the online AI course from Stanford.

Hello. My name is Gustavo Bicalho, I'm from Brazil, I'm 20 years old today. I intended to introduce myself here after I finished the sequences (I'm half way through the Fun Theory Sequence) but I thought I should give me this as a birthday gift. Heh.

I have some background in computer programming, having done a technical course of three years during high school. Although I don't know much of computer science (I know just a little about algorithm analysis and that was self-thaught from wikipedia), I think programming has helped me reshape my way of thinking,... (read more)

Happy birthday!
Thank you!
Most recent previous instance I could find: ten days ago. You could say it's not unusual. :)
Do you go to law school in the U.S.? I ask because I have been considering that route.

P.S. Since the focus of this discussion board is rationality, I will throw out a couple extra questions, with my own answers.

  1. Law school entails an investment of 3 years of your life and perhaps $150k in tuition. How much time and energy should you spend studying and researching the pros and cons of law school and lawyering before you make the decision to attend?

  2. If you attend a law school where only X% of the class finds suitable employment and career prospects, what is the probability that you will end up in that group?

As to the first question, law school cost about $60k to attend when I went. To my credit, I worked for many months with an attorney family member and satisfied myself that I wanted to be an attorney before attending law school. However, I spent just 5 minutes or so researching my subsequent job and career prospects before attending. In hindsight, this was p