by mwaser1 min read3rd Nov 201056 comments

20

Personal Blog

Ohhhhh.  WOW!  Damn.  Now I feel bad.

I have been acting like a bull in a china shop, been an extremely ungracious guest, and have taken longer than I prefer to realize these things.

My deepest apologies.

My only defenses or mitigating circumstances:
1.  I really didn't get it
2.  My intentions were good

I would like to perform a penance of creating or helping to create a newbie's guide to LessWrong.  Doing so will clarify and consolidate my understanding and hopefully provide a useful community resource in recompense for the above and appreciation for those who took the time to write thoughtful comments.  Obviously, though, doing so will require more patience and help from the community (particularly since I am certainly aware that I have no idea how to calibrate how much, if anything, you actually want to make too easily accessible) -- so this is a also request for that patience and help (and I'm making the assumption that the request will be answered by the replies ;-).

Thanks.

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56 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 4:43 AM
[-][anonymous]12y 9

If you could tease out implicit LW norms about commenting and posting that would be neat. It would enable newbies and oldies to optimize for these norms better, and also allow for community reflection on these norms.

Yes, that is precisely what I wish to do -- but, as I said, that is also going to take some patience and help from others and I have certainly, if unintentionally, abused my welcome.

There is also (obviously) still a lot that I don't understand -- for example, this post quickly acquired a downvote in addition to your comment and I don't get why.

It helps to think of the karma scores on individual comments as having a 2 point margin of error, especially if they're less than a day old.

A post's score shortly after posting isn't necessarily very meaningful. I'm not sure anyone but the downvoter can answer why the one person who voted first happened to vote it down.

LW takes downvotes too seriously. The more trigger-happy we are with them, the less painful and remarkable they will be, and the less "vote down" will feel like "report to moderator". If this demotivates new users, maybe we should give each comment a karma point for showing up, like in the old days.

It is kind of embarrassing that we get so attached to karma. I mean here, of all places...

Well, no. Because it's here, we're really really self-aware and analytical about it. That doesn't spare us from being subject to it. ;)

Although thinking about it, there is a case for a rational attachment to karma: it entitles us to say stupid things in the future.

Yvain, for example, could (at time of writing) make a comment so colossally stupid that it attracts 26527 downvotes, and he wouldn't lose the ability to make top level posts. I'm not sure what that comment would be, but a part of me really wants to read it.

"Eliezer has been working really hard lately, and I think he should take a well-deserved and extremely long break before finishing the current storyline in Methods of Rationality."

At +6 right now. It seems you fail at failing, Yvain. Fail harder.

I think the context, and the quotation marks, are highly relevant. If the same comment were posted without quotes as a top-level comment in the HPMOR thread, I'd expect it to be downvoted to -3, but probably not beyond that, since that's the threshold where most people stop seeing comments.

Oh, well played, sir. Well played indeed.

Wow! Evil. Effective. Not to mention a great demonstration of the criticality of context.

Definitely deserves a link or mention in a newbie's guide.

Reminds me of this

Everything about these characters and their strips is even more bizarre than "regular" Penny Arcade continuity with non sequiturs and Twisp speaking only in single word sentences. The duo was created out of Gabe and Tycho's mystification that they were seemingly unable to create something that their readership would dislike

[-][anonymous]12y 0

KILL MURDER KILL MURDER KILL MURDER KILL MURDER KILL

there is a case for a rational attachment to karma: it entitles us to say stupid things in the future.

And that's really the point, isn't it? It's a quantified measurement of how much benefit of the doubt to give the karma holder. If someone posts something which seems stupid, and they have 0 karma, that increases my confidence that it really is stupid. If someone posts something which seems stupid, and they have 5000 karma, that shifts my confidence towards "I must be missing something."

Possibly relevant: Reddit's bottom 10 comments as of 3 months ago. The lowest one is at about -7462.

If you were the first person to see such a post (where Yvain made such a stupid comment that you believed that it deserved to attract 26527 downvotes), would you, personally, downvote it for stupidity or would you upvote it for interestingness?

EDIT: I'd be interested in answers from others as well.

[-][anonymous]12y 9

Given that I've never encountered a comment that stupid, I'm not sure my intuition is correct here. I mean, we're approaching "huge number of dust specks" level here. For all I know, the post would be so horrifying that I would be physically unable to avoid downvoting it.

Given his track record--which is roughly estimated by his karma score--I would assume a lot of things before I assumed that Yvain had genuinely posted something that impressively stupid. (Hacker, friend at keys, misunderstanding, etc.) So I probably wouldn't vote on it, but if followup comments made it clear that yes, it was Yvain, and yes, it was really that stupid, I'd downvote the followup.

I suspect I'd downvote it, but reply with "downvoted, but bravo!"

Indeed, I try to value good replies more than that steady upward creep of karma, but I know which one is the lower-effort hook.

What do you think would happen if there were a daily 5% attrition rate on karma?

It would make me unhappy. I like the idea that my karma will probably go up indefinitely though slowly, as long as the site lasts.

You meant what might happen to LW's culture? I really don't know. I'm not sure about the effects of long term accumulation of karma on other people. I almost never look at other people's karma totals.

How about if your karma score reflected only the karma you'd collected in the past few months? Or if it was weighted by how recently you'd collected it?

I'd kind of like to have both-- current and discounted.

It's not a great big deal. I think that if there was a change to discounted karma, I'd be sad for a fairly brief period, and then adjust to the new state of affairs.

Personally, I like the upward karma creep, both as motivation to keep posting and to give longtime posters more credibility.

I want a "confidence level" drop-down menu, so I can express proper uncertainty without clogging up my sentences. :)

A LW hack that allowed one to assign probabilities and relations to all relevant comments in a thread (from yourself and others) and put the corresponding joint probabilities on your conclusions, then view the corresponding graphs of other users, would be pretty cool.

[-][anonymous]12y 3

Karma dynamics seem interesting. Has anyone modeled LW as a hive mind? If so, what are it's goals and what role does karma play?

I've been thinking about karma as a rough measure of community valuation. It is an expression of relative value, judged by answering questions like these:

  • Is this post worth the time it takes to read and understand?
  • Does this post add value to the community as a whole?
  • Can something interesting be learned from this post?

It also appears on LW that this value can be traded on. I have posted in a way that gained down-votes and criticism, but I was left with a sense of net gain. In this case commenters made excellent points helping me to shift my perspective on my topic and helping me to model the LW audience better. I paid for this education with karma (at least for a time). It was worth it.

I have seen other posters spend karma (perhaps unintentionally), gaining knowledge that would otherwise have required them spending time on reading the sequences.

I feel bad about downvoting something unless it's got enough upvotes that I don't think they'll notice.

Yes, that is precisely what I wish to do -- but, as I said, that is also going to take some patience and help from others and I have certainly, if unintentionally, abused my welcome.

I wouldn't worry about having abused your welcome. In fact, give the biases of the kind of people who are attracted to this place it would be damn near impossible to do so irredeemably. They tend to have a character trait that makes them absolute suckers for humility and apology. They also suck at holding grudges. And I do mean suck. As in, probably to a fault. If someone with a grudge against you saw you arguing with someone else and the other guy was using fallacies all around they would come vigorously to your defense and may accidentally forget their grudge in the process. This is a negative only in as much as it sucks balls as a social-politics strategy.

There is also (obviously) still a lot that I don't understand -- for example, this post quickly acquired a downvote in addition to your comment and I don't get why.

It did? Crazy. Some people just vote poorly. ;) If in doubt wait till the post/comment has been up for a day and see if it stays negative. Sometimes these things reverse themselves. If the comment/post stays negative then it does mean something (for better or for worse).

I think that talking about karma causes one to get less of it. On reddit (where the commenting/karma algorithms come from) it's quite different: "I know this'll be downvoted, but..." is guaranteed a few upvotes.

I think that talking about karma causes one to get less of it. On reddit (where the commenting/karma algorithms come from) it's quite different: "I know this'll be downvoted, but..." is guaranteed a few upvotes.

It does when done preemptively. Done as challenges after the fact results vary.

Perhaps because you say here:

I'll cool it on the top level posts.

Then you posted this a day later.

I don't think of top level discussion posts as real top level posts. I have no idea whether anyone else sees it the same way.

In the comment I referred to, I believe that mwaser was actually referring to discussion posts when he said "top level posts".

I also see discussion posts as different than real top level posts and I appreciate new users like mwaser and draq who brave these waters to present and defend their ideas.

I don't think of top level discussion posts as real top level posts. I have no idea whether anyone else sees it the same way.

I had forgotten that the discussion even existed. I only wound up here because I couldn't find the 'open thread' and then realized why it was missing.

Question: If someone responds to a comment I make here does it make my inbox go orange? I know it doesn't appear in the 'recent comments' over in the real lesswrong world....

Wait, stupid question. I lose 50 quirrel points for asking. (Yes.)

Wow. I'm impressed.

Any way you can give us a spolier of what you have in mind? I'm really curious what exactly what it is that you "didn't get", what epiphany you had.

What I didn't get?

Some of it was mistaken assumptions about karma. Much more of it was the lack of recognition of the presence of a huge amount of underlying structure which is necessary to explain what looks like seemingly irrational behavior (to someone who doesn't have that structure). I also didn't recognize most of the offered help because I didn't understand it. (Even just saying to a newbie, "I know that you don't recognize this as help because you don't get it yet but could you please trust me that it is intended as help" would probably convince many more people to just look again rather than bailing).

Some of the epiphany was figuring out the various parts that make up karma and truly recognizing its accuracy and efficiency. A lot more of it was just figuring out that there had to be structures present to explain the seemingly irrational behavior. Yeah, that's duh! obvious in hindsight but it's difficult to figure out by yourself (until you catch the underlying regularities and make the right assumptions).

One of the largest problems for newbies is that the culture has evolved a great many "terms of art" that are not recognizable as such to the newbie. Getting "hammered" for questioning the upvote of a comment apparently without substance was a shock for me. Fortunately, the underlying consistency of the "irrationality" was also becoming apparent at the same time.

Just reading and even fully understanding the sequences does not fully prepare one for contributing here. This fact is NOT evident to new contributors. Smacking a new contributor on the nose (with karma) while pointing at a sequence that they are rather sure that they comprehended and nothing else is not going to make sense to them until they have the necessary understandings.

One must understand the expected process and expectations of contribution and understand the "terms of art" that are invariable used in the evaluatory comments. Clear and confused have very specific meanings here that do not unpack correctly unless you have the underlying structure/understanding. I was also very shocked by the number of perceived strawmen and the community's acceptance of them -- contrary to virtually every other "rational" website.

I know that I still don't have all of it but most of the behavior that totally baffled me before and appeared irrational now makes total sense. The rules are totally different here from what I expected/assumed and the unnoticed phase change caused my "rational" behavior to be deemed "irrational" (only because it was ;-) and "irrational" behavior to be widely accepted (not what you expect on a site devoted to rationality ;-).

Most of what I think I have in mind is just to point out where and explain why the rules are very different from what is likely to be assumed by an outsider. In particular, it's very hard to accept that you're confused and wrong when your bayesian priors give that a low probability -- and a near-zero probability when the people informing you aren't making sense and acting irrationally (except when they're all doing it -- and doing it consistently).

The real epiphany was when I said "F it. These people are managing to be consistent. There has to be some set of rules that allow them to do that. Now . . . . what the F are they?" And, for me, that was pretty rapidly followed by the "Ohhhhh. WOW! Damn. Now I feel bad." of my apology.

If I could figure out some way to be helpful to steer people towards that epiphany without actually giving it to them, it would be ideal. Some work is necessary to fully integrate something like this. On the other hand, if it's too hard and confusing, I think that a lot of people will (and do) bail out with a very bad taste in their mouths (which I still believe is very contrary to the stated goals of the community).

I'm also looking for any interested individuals who would like to help.

I confess that this reply doesn't clarify the matter at all for me. I haven't the faintest what "structures" you're referring to that are so particular to this specific community. I'm looking forward to seeing more detail if you do write the top-level post that has been suggested.

By "structures" I mean "interlocking sets of values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, technologies, and psychological mechanisms that work together to fulfill the goal of stabilization (of something)".

Examples: The "terms of art" like "confused" (different from common use in that it can imply sins of omission as well as commission), the use of karma, the nearly uniform behavior when performing certain tasks, the nearly uniform reactions to certain things, etc. are all part of the "structures" supporting the community.

interlocking sets of values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, technologies, and psychological mechanisms that work together to fulfill the goal of stabilization (of something)

Now this is pretty meaningless, but in many words purporting to explain something. Beware curiosity-stoppers.

Edit: I misinterpreted mwaser's comment, correction.

It is a definition, not an explanation. I misunderstood his post to be questioning what the quoted word "structures" meant so I provided a definition.

I am editing it to provide examples. It was certainly not intended as a curiosity-stopper.

As a definition, it had meaning -- but none that was new to you.

It is a definition, not an explanation. I misunderstood his post to be questioning what the quoted word "structures" meant so I provided a definition.

Sorry, I still have plenty of prejudice, will try to be more careful.

No, I know. But I don't know what they are in any way that is unusual to this place. It's possible that we come from such different backgrounds that what seems extraodinary to you is unnoticeable to me; it's also possible you've figured out something about LW that I haven't. Either way I'm curious what it is.

Even just saying to a newbie, "I know that you don't recognize this as help because you don't get it yet but could you please trust me that it is intended as help" would probably convince many more people to just look again rather than bailing

That's a really good point. Humans are particularly bad at communicating over that kind of inferential distance (see post by that name for jargon or infer from context - kinda means what you are saying). People who have been thinking from within one culture for a long time will often not even understand what their words will mean to someone who has not. This applies to university courses too. Looking back it doesn't seem like I learned anything that wasn't bloody obvious... until I look at the people who didn't have equivalent training.

You, having recently understood the culture in question, are in a perfect place to inform others. And it is best to do it now, before you forget why what you now know wasn't always obvious. And you will forget, given time.

This reply, with a little tinkering to target it specifically to the desired effect, would make a good post and I can imagine people referring to it frequently. People may still take it as an insult and leave in disgust.... but some may not.

Not helping. I still have no idea whether you actually changed your mind about anything. You say you did, but you didn't give any specific detail (explicit statements about the beliefs you changed; I don't expect you should've changed your mind so soon, for that matter). The change that's obvious is that you snapped out of adversarial mode, which is great (and in long term sufficient to start learning), but is generally unrelated to changes in what you believe.

For example, people in crackpot hubs can well agree with each other on all the contradicting and meaningless woo they generate, thus starting to agree with the community is generally not a sure sign of changing your mind.

Thanks for the long reply. My first experience with the site was to make a couple of comments which seemed "rational" to me at the time but were painfully (although not surprisingly) stupid in hindsight. The community told me, in a way that I now recognize as being as polite as possible, that I was being an idiot. At first I resisted, but after I started to dig into the site a little, it became clear to me that they were 100% right, and I deleted those early comments out of tremendous embarrassment. I say all this because it sounds like it might basically be the same experience you had, except that I came around more quickly.

I agree with most of your thoughts about the abundance of confusing local jargon, acceptance of strawmen, etc. It also might as well be explicitly laid out that everyone is expected to read all the sequences before they'll be taken seriously. Which understandably seems really stupid and unfair the first time one bumps into it, but it might as well be stated.

I guess what confused me about your post was that the karma system and the way it's used here has always made sense to me, so I'm not sure what about it you weren't expecting. But then, that's exactly why it would be great for you to write up the quickstart guide: Most of us can't see the flaws and hurdles in the system (and therefore, can't guide others around them) because we're already used to it.

So good luck with this. I'd put it on the wiki, and when it becomes mature enough see to it that it gets linked to in any future "Welcome to Less Wrong" posts (which seem to be where newcomers making boneheaded comments like I did inevitably get directed).

t also might as well be explicitly laid out that everyone is expected to read all the sequences before they'll be taken seriously.

I'm taken reasonably seriously, I think, but I'm very clear that I don't know the math and physics, and I don't post about them.

Ditto. I think the more general rule is that you're expected to have read the common background on a topic you're posting about. It's okay not to know anything about quantum mechanics as long as you don't go posting about how everyone else has got it all wrong.

[-][anonymous]12y 0

I think that's less due to a community-accepted rule and more because you can't get called out on not having the background reading if you don't demonstrate that you lack it.

It's still a good guideline for newbies to adhere to, though.

Well, I think it's that you don't need the background reading if you don't demonstrate that you lack it. I don't know much about brain surgery either, but nobody's going to yell at me for that if I just want to read some articles about it or watch someone else discuss it. The problem that's caused by newbies not reading the sequences is that they take up space in conversations without making valuable conversations. If they're not doing that, it doesn't matter what they merely know.