Best videos inspiring first interest in rationality or the singularity

by Academian2 min read13th Apr 201125 comments

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Personal Blog

When faced with a decision that might be really important — if say, the life of a loved one may be at risk — many people, though unfortunately not all, are moved to a sense of responsibility whereby they suddenly care more about being right than about looking right, feeling right, or even feeling good. It's when we have something to protect that many of us are most motivated to transcend our usual desires to "win the debate", "uphold our beliefs", or "have faith", and instead actually try to become right ... to have the best shot we can at saving the day with the decisions we make.

The upcoming technological singularity — an event where the lives of all our loved ones may or may not hang in the balance — is for many people a great inspiration to become more rational. Also, most of us want to convince others to be more rational, and videos are a powerful way to reach people, so I want to know:

What do you think is the online video that best inspires a strong initial interest in rationality or the singularity?

Please upvote each comment that contains a video that you approve for this purpose, not just your favorite; I want to use approval voting here so we get a robust ordering on the videos. Also to this end, please post at most one video per comment.

If you don't already have a favorite but want one, a place to start looking is the Singularity Summit videos at vimeo.com. Vimeo allows you to like/dislike videos, so that's another way you can donate information.

Some things to consider when voting:

  • Public appeal --- is this a video you'd want sent out on a mailing list to a bunch of random but educated people? (We want people in positions of intellectual or political influence to promote rationality.)
  • First exposure --- if this is someone's first exposure to thinking about rationality or the singularity, will it keep their interest?
  • Video quality --- is the camerawork respectable, or does it make people want to stop watching?
  • Speaker personality --- will people be annoyed at the speaker and lose attention, or be inspired?
  • OMG factor --- does the video have enough punchlines that make people say "oh my gosh I want to be more rational"?

I will periodically update this post with a list of links and their ratings, so we all have an easily accessible source of high-quality presentations we can send to our friends and colleauges to inspire rationality :)


List of videos; last updated April 17, 2011.

  1. (11 points since April 13, 2011; vote here) Open-Mindedness, by QualiaSoup.  
  2. (3 points since April 14, 2011; vote here) What is the Singularity?  
  3. (3 points since April 13, 2011; vote here) Why didn't anybody tell me?  
  4. (2 points since April 13, 2011; vote here) Reaching the stars is easy...  
  5. (2 points since April 13, 2011; vote here) Hans Rosling: No more boring data: TEDTalks  
  6. (1 points since April 15, 2011; vote here) What is "rationality"?

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25 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 12:42 PM
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They're not related to LW-style rationality in particular, but QualiaSoup's YouTube videos are pretty good. For example: Open-Mindedness.

[-][anonymous]11y 0

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I'd really prefer a pitch about us needing more rationality because the world is just getting massively more complex with more technological moving parts in general, compared to the vast majority of human history, not a thing that goes "because singularity therefore need rationality". Especially not with the "upcoming singularity", painting it as a sure thing.

If you think that singularity advocacy is the main purpose here, and alienating a possibly large fraction of opinionated people who could otherwise be receptive to rationality material by having them associate rationality material with singularitarianism, which they view as something between crackpottery and a cult, is an acceptable exchange for people who will buy into the singularity material as well buying into it along with the material, then fine, I guess.

It might be the general pattern of "here are tools for thinking better" together with "here's the conclusion I want your better thinking to end up at", done clumsily, that I don't like seeing. Once the professed conclusion triggers sufficient suspicion, I'll probably start assuming that the tools offered along with it are rigged as well and discard them.

If the rationality tools are actually good, having people use them should be a net positive even if there isn't a potentially very divisive preferred conclusion packaged along with them.

I'd really prefer a pitch about us needing more rationality because the world is just getting massively more complex with more technological moving parts in general, compared to the vast majority of human history

I'd call that an interest in rationality, and in particular, an interest in rationality OR the singularity.

I think that this sort of advocacy is key. In addition to this, I think that any motivated rationalists should try to go public with any personal improvements they have managed to make and could reasonably attribute to more rational thought. Health and income improvements seem particularly alluring to most, so improvements in either area might be good to advertise.

I'm currently making several active changes to my routine that I hope will maximize my mental and physical health (stopping smoking; both marijuana and tobacco, working out, using supplements for mood-brightening and other nootropics). I eventually hope to use the documentation of my personal improvements to push x-rationality, as I feel that it has greatly improved my akrasia fighting tendencies. More precisely, I am much better at cutting myself off before I convince myself not to take positive and productive steps towards self-improvement, which was previously quite a large problem for me.

I am much better at cutting myself off before I convince myself not to take positive and productive steps towards self-improvement, which was previously quite a large problem for me.

Could you expand on what you changed?

Well, I can say that I feel as though I greatly increased in my ability to set goals for myself. Previously I would feel totally scattered and disorganized, and I often felt as though I lacked direction. I've been reading Less Wrong and Overcoming Bias for about half a year now and I feel that my ability to break down my larger goals into workable sub-goals has dramatically increased.

I used to simply have a goal like "get in shape" or "learn category theory" or "learn Mandarin" and the result simply would not materialize for me, I felt like my wheels were spinning. In addition to this, I had a tendency to over-think simple tasks and would typically end up feeling like they were too difficult to achieve, thereby making it alright to procrastinate. Eventually I had convinced myself that I was a natural procrastinator, and that I could never overcome my bad habits or meet my goals. By building my ability to break larger goals into manageable goals, I feel that I have been able to overcome (to some degree) my tendency to make excuses.

Perhaps most importantly, I feel that I've managed to chase away my tendency to seek out 'grand ideas', focusing instead on functional knowledge. Having a strong interest in philosophy since the age of sixteen probably did not help me. I had placed too big an emphasis on the 'big' ideas, and severely underestimated the value of hacks and heuristics. I craved some sort of ill-defined 'Ultimate Truth', and in pursing more and more 'exotic' topics (both in mathematics, where my tendency was to go as abstract as possible as quickly as possible and in philosophy when my tendency was to find a 'fully general explanation') I missed out on a solid basis and overlooked the importance of practice, practice, practice.

It seemed to me that simply grocking the 'big picture' (i.e. finding the right metaphysics) would be sufficient, but while I was chasing the Pot of Gold, I missed the fact that I was skipping over all of the workable material laying on the ground all around me. In reading Less Wrong, and chatting with those who had come further than myself, I slowly began to realize my mistake and have begun taking serious steps to mitigate my foolishness.

A Caveat: It may be that I'm overestimating how much of this is due to rationality training and how much is due to simple maturation (I'm still young enough that this could certainly be the case, suffice it to say that my brain is still developing). Or, it could be that because I'm still somewhat young the material has had a more significant impact on me. It's difficult to tell.

Isn't this more appropriate for the discussion section?

Actually, I asked myself the same question, and decided to make a top-level post on analogy with your request for the best textbooks on every subject.

This is the best Singularity video I know of.

One of the most profound influences for my rationality, has been: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hVimVzgtD6w

Another by the same guy, more general in scope, and (in my opinion) more inspiring toward rationality: Why Didn't Anybody Tell Me?

It seemed like nothing but applause lights to me, though they're damned good applause lights. I won't spoil it, but there's a bit late in the video that really caused a delightful change of perspective for me.

It's anti-singularity if anything, and makes only a vague gesture towards rationality.

By the way, here is another video by the same guy. Off-topic but one of the funniest videos I have ever seen :-)

Thank you-- that was excellent. I didn't crack up, but it did give an good sense of time.

I personally loved this video. Such beautiful dreams! It made me feel like there was a great deal that was possible, and had I believed I wouldn't be alive to see it myself, I would be filled with regret. I think it has the power to make people dream of watching galaxies rise from distant worlds. Even if it's not so much about rationality, I feel it speaks well for science. At least, it shatters the common mis-impression that science makes everything mundane.

It's anti-singularity if anything, and makes only a vague gesture towards rationality.

The conclusion of the video is that reaching the stars is easy compared to overcoming bias. It states, "...we can succeed, the biggest problem is us...the ape that we each carry inside...". What is "anti-singularity" about it?

There's no hint at the concept that things might get different for us very quickly.

And there's no reason to think that getting to the stars is easier than overcoming bias.

As far as I know, Giordano Bruno wasn't burned for his belief and advocacy of Copernicanism (which wasn't even heresy at the time) or his hypothesis of other worlds, but for his pantheism, his view that Christ was a magician (not God), and that the devil was will be "saved" at the end of time. Does anyone have decent evidence that the claim in the video is true?

[-][anonymous]11y 6

What you state seems to largely reflect the claims made by the Catholic Encyclopedia, which states:

Bruno was not condemned for his defence of the Copernican system of astronomy, nor for his doctrine of the plurality of inhabited worlds, but for his theological errors, among which were the following: that Christ was not God but merely an unusually skilful magician, that the Holy Ghost is the soul of the world, that the Devil will be saved, etc.

However, Wikipedia cites Luigi Firpo as including among the reasons for Bruno's condemnation and execution:

Claiming the existence of a plurality of worlds and their eternity.

I tracked down what appears to be the original book - pdf - by Firpo, which lists:

I. Negare la transustanziazione (accusa [4]). II. Mettere in dubbio la verginità di Maria (accusa [8]). III. Aver soggiornato in paesi d’eretici vivendo alla loro guisa (accusa [10]). IV. Aver scritto contro il Papa lo Spaccio della Bestia trionfante2. V. Sostenere l’esistenza di mondi innumerevoli ed eterni (accusa [5]). VI. Asserire la metempsicosi e la possibilità che un’anima sola informi due corpi (accusa [6]). VII. Ritenere la magia buona e lecita (accusa [7]). VIII. Identificare lo Spirito Santo con l’anima del mondo (censura i). IX. Affermare che Mosè simulò i suoi miracoli e inventò la Legge (accusa [14]). X. Dichiarare che la S. Scrittura non è che un sogno3. XI. Ritenere che perfino i demoni si salveranno (accusa [12]). XII. Opinare l’esistenza dei preadamiti (censura l). XIII. Asserire che Cristo non è Dio, ma ingannatore e mago, e che a buon diritto fu impiccato (accusa [3]). XIV. Asserire che anche i profeti e gli apostoli furono maghi e che quasi tutti vennero a mala fine (accusa [15])4.

Running this through the ever more amazing Google Translate:

I. Denying transubstantiation (charge [4]). II. Questioning the virginity of Mary (charge [8]). III. Have resided in countries experiencing their way of heretics (charge [10]). IV. He wrote against the Pope of the Beast trionfante2 Outlet. V. Support the existence of innumerable worlds and eternal (charge [5]). VI. Claiming metempsychosis and the possibility that tell one soul two bodies (charge [6]). VII. Feel the magic of good and lawful (charge [7]). VIII. Identify the Holy Spirit with the soul of the world (the complaint). IX. To say that Moses and his miracles invented simulates the Law (charge [14]). X. Declaring that the S. Scripture is not a sogno3. XI. Believe that even the demons will be saved (charge [12]). XII. Preadamites opine the existence of (the complaint). XIII. Claiming that Christ is not God, but deceiver and magician, and that rightly was hanged (charge [3]). XIV. Claiming that the prophets and the apostles were magicians, and almost all were in bad order (charge [15]) 4.

From which we extract:

V. Support the existence of innumerable worlds and eternal (charge [5]).

I also found a Vatican reference (notice the "va" domain), which mentions:

In one of the last interrogations before the execution of the sentence... the Dominican friar was questioned by the judges of the Holy Office on his cosmogony conception... Even then, he defended his theories as scientifically founded and by no means against the Holy Scriptures... (Circa motum terrae, f. 287, sic dicit: Firstly, I say that the theories on the movement of the earth and on the immobility of the firmament or sky are by me produced on a reasoned and sure basis, which doesn’t undermine the authority of the Holy Sciptures […]. With regard to the sun, I say that it doesn’t rise or set, nor do we see it rise or set, because, if the earth rotates on his axis, what do we mean by rising and setting[…]).

This is indirect evidence, but it is evidence. Why at this late stage is Bruno defending these theories as scientifically founded and not against the Holy Scriptures if he is not on trial for these theories (among others)? Of course, being on trial for these theories is not the same thing as being convicted for these theories - so I say, it is only evidence, not proof, of the reason for conviction. (Though, that he was put on trial for these theories - which I think is much more well established by the evidence than that he was convicted for them - is itself bad enough.)

[edit - the phrase "before the execution of the sentence" suggests that the statements are made after conviction; it is not clear to me how this alters its import as evidence, though I tend to think it strengthens it, because he is saying these things in light of his conviction]

Constant, thanks for the detailed reply. After considering the evidence you presented, I now agree that at least one (out of fifteen?) of the charges that he was on trial for had to do with his astronomical theories. Also, I am very surprised to learn that one of his charges was that he thought Jesus was rightfully "hanged" for being a deceiver.

I'll see if I can hunt down a decent source on whether or not he was actually convicted of the fifth charge.

This video from Julia Galef of the new-ish Measure of Doubt blog is a really nice intro to the main concepts of rationality.

[-][anonymous]11y 1

pollicatal influence

Unusual typo. (This comment will be deleted once the typo is removed. Don't reply.)

link 5 is broken.

Also, as far as I can tell none of these are the thing you're asking for at all.