Intentionally Raising the Sanity Waterline

by Gleb_Tsipursky 4 min read13th Nov 201491 comments


Hi all, I’m a social entrepreneur, professor, and aspiring rationalist. My project is Intentional Insights. This is a new nonprofit I co-founded with my wife and other fellow aspiring rationalists in the Columbus, OH Less Wrong meetup. The nonprofit emerged from our passion to promote rationality among the broad masses. We use social influence techniques, create stories, and speak to emotions. We orient toward creating engaging videos, blogs, social media, and other content that an aspiring rationalist like yourself can share with friends and family members who would not be open to rationality proper due to the Straw Vulcan misconception. I would appreciate any advice and help from fellow aspiring rationalists. The project is described more fully below, but for those for whom that’s tl;dr, there is a request for advice and allies at the bottom.

Since I started participating in the Less Wrong meetup in Columbus, OH and reading Less Wrong, what seems like ages ago, I can hardly remember my past thinking patterns. Because of how much awesomeness it brought to my life, I have become one of the lead organizers of the meetup. Moreover, I find it really beneficial to bring rationality into my research and teaching as a tenure-track professor at Ohio State, where I am a member of the Behavioral Decision-Making Initiative. Thus, my scholarship brings rationality into historical contexts, for example in my academic articles on agency, emotions, and social influence. In my classes I have students engage with the Checklist of Rationality Habits and other readings that help advance rational thinking.

As do many aspiring rationalists, I think rationality can bring such benefits to the lives of many others, and also help improve our society as a whole by leveling up rational thinking, secularizing society, and thus raising the sanity waterline. For that, our experience in the Columbus Less Wrong group has shown that we need to get people interested in rationality by showing them its benefits and how it can solve their problems, while delivering complex ideas in an engaging and friendly fashion targeted at a broad public, and using active learning strategies and connecting rationality to what they already know. This is what I do in my teaching, and is the current best practice in educational psychology. It has worked great with my students when I began to teach them rationality concepts. Yet I do not know of any current rationality trainings that do this. Currently, such education in rationality is available mainly through excellent, intense 4-day workshops the Center for Applied Rationality, usually held in the San Francisco area, which are aimed at a "select group of founders, hackers, and other ambitious, analytical, practically-minded people." We are targeting a much broader and less advanced audience, the upper 50-85%, while CfAR primarily targets the top 5-10%. We had great interactions with Anna Salamon, Julia Galef, Kenzi Amodei, and other CFAR folks, and plan to collaborate with them on various ways to do Rationality outreach. Besides CfAR, there are also some online classes on decision-making from Clearer Thinking, as well as some other stuff we list on the Intentional Insights resources page. However, we really wanted to see something oriented at the broad public, which can gain a great deal from a much lower level of education in rationality made accessible and relevant to their everyday lives and concerns, and delivered in a fashion perceived as interesting, fun, and friendly by mass audiences, as we aim to do with our events.

Intentional Insights came from this desire. This nonprofit explicitly orients toward getting the broad masses interested in and learning about rationality by providing fun and engaging content delivered in a friendly manner. What we want to do is use various social influence methods and promote rationality as a self-improvement/leadership development offering for people who are not currently interested in rational thinking because of the Straw Vulcan image, but who are interested in self-improvement, professional development, and organizational development. As people become more advanced, we will orient them toward more advanced rationality, at Less Wrong and elsewhere. Now, there are those who believe rationality should be taught only to those who are willing to put in the hard work and effort to overcome the high barrier to entry of learning all the jargon. However, we are reformers, not revolutionaries, and believe that some progress is better than no progress. And the more aspiring rationalists engage in various projects aimed to raise the sanity waterline, using different channels and strategies, the better. We can all help and learn from each other, adopting an experimental attitude and gathering data about what methods work best, constantly updating our beliefs and improving our abilities to help more people gain greater agency.

The channels of delivery locally are classes and workshops. Here is what one college student participant wrote after a session: “I have gained a new perspective after attending the workshop. In order to be more analytical, I have to take into account that attentional bias is everywhere. I can now further analyze and make conclusions based on evidence.” This and similar statements seem to indicate some positive impact, and we plan to gather evidence to examine whether workshop participants adopt more rational ways of thinking and how the classes influence people’s actual performance over time.

We have a website that takes this content globally, as well as social media such as Facebook and Twitter. The website currently has: - Blog posts, such as on agency; polyamory and cached thinking; and life meaning and purpose. We aim to make them easy-to-read and engaging to get people interested in rational thinking. These will be targeted at a high school reading level, the type of fun posts aspiring rationalists can share with their friends or family members whom they may want to get into rationality, or at least explain what rationality is all about. - Videos with similar content to blog posts, such as on evaluating reality clearly, and on meaning and purpose - A resources page, with links to prominent rationality venues, such as Less Wrong, CFAR, HPMOR, etc.

It will eventually have: - Rationality-themed merchandise, including stickers, buttons, pens, mugs, t-shirts, etc. - Online classes teaching rationality concepts - A wide variety of other products and offerings, such as e-books and apps

Now, why my wife and I, and the Columbus Less Wrong group? To this project, I bring my knowledge of educational psychology, research expertise, and teaching experience; my wife her expertise as a nonprofit professional with an MBA in nonprofit management; and other Board members include a cognitive neuroscientist, a licensed therapist, a gentleman adventurer, and other awesome members of the Columbus, OH, Less Wrong group.

Now, I can really use the help of wise aspiring rationalists to help out this project:

1) If you were trying to get the Less Wrong community engaged in the project, what would you do?

2) If you were trying to promote this project broadly, what would you do? What dark arts might you use, and how?

3) If you were trying to get specific groups and communities interested in promoting rational thinking in our society engaged in the project, what would you do? What dark arts might you use, and how?

4) If you were trying to fundraise for this project, what would you do? What dark arts might you use, and how?

5) If you were trying to persuade people to sign up for workshops or check out a website devoted to rational thinking, what would you do? How would you tie it to people’s self-interest and everyday problems that rationality might solve? What dark arts might you use, and how? What dark arts might you use, and how?

6) If you were trying to organize a nonprofit devoted to doing all the stuff above, what would you do to help manage its planning and organization? What about managing relationships and group dynamics?

Besides the advice, I invite you to ally with us and collaborate on this project in whatever way is optimal for you. Money is very helpful right now as we are fundraising to pay for costs associated with starting up the nonprofit, around $3600 through the rest of 2014, and you can donate directly through our website. Your time, intellectual capacity, and any specific talents would also be great, on things such as giving advice and helping out on specific tasks/projects, developing content in the form of blogs, videos, etc., promoting the project to those you know, and other ways to help out.

Leave your thoughts in comments below, or you can get in touch with me at I hope you would like to ally with us to raise the sanity waterline!


EDIT: Based on your feedback, we've decided that this post on polyamory and cached thinking is probably a bad fit for what we want to promote right now. We've removed it from the main index of our site. Thanks for helping!