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 could go to a private high school, and I only had to do two years of middle school as my parents had finally agreed to skip me ahead a grade.
Through high school I studied a lot of philosophy and science, which clarified my thinking and solidifed my orientation as a Traditional Rationalist, but I still faced many seemingly insurmountable philosophical puzzles. It was by stumbling on fields that Less Wrong is known for - decision theory, cognitive science, etc.- that I started to dissolve questions that seemed impossible to answer. My voracious hunger for truth was actually being met, and real progress could be made. A perfect storm of intense autodidactism and general online reading led me to stumble upon Less Wrong, which further clarified and informed my general philosophy, which I'm confident I can refer to as "rationalist."
To wrap up, because I skipped a year of school I graduated high school this June at age 17, and am taking a year off before I head off to college in fall 2012. During this period I'm ratcheting up my already intense autodidactism in a wide variety of fields (using Less Wrong, Khan Academy, and other such resources as well as textbooks) and am studying physics as the private protege of a professor at a nearby university. I intend to study physics or economics in college, as while I love philosophy, most of it is worthless and it is much easier to teach oneself/study on the side than the former two fields.
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 p... (read more)