If you've recently joined the Less Wrong community, please leave a comment here and introduce yourself. We'd love to know who you are, what you're doing, what you value, how you came to identify as a rationalist or how you found us. You can skip right to that if you like; the rest of this post consists of a few things you might find helpful. More can be found at the FAQ.

(This is the fifth incarnation of the welcome thread; once a post gets over 500 comments, it stops showing them all by default, so we make a new one. Besides, a new post is a good perennial way to encourage newcomers and lurkers to introduce themselves.)

A few notes about the site mechanics

Less Wrong comments are threaded for easy following of multiple conversations. To respond to any comment, click the "Reply" link at the bottom of that comment's box. Within the comment box, links and formatting are achieved via Markdown syntax (you can click the "Help" link below the text box to bring up a primer).

You may have noticed that all the posts and comments on this site have buttons to vote them up or down, and all the users have "karma" scores which come from the sum of all their comments and posts. This immediate easy feedback mechanism helps keep arguments from turning into flamewars and helps make the best posts more visible; it's part of what makes discussions on Less Wrong look different from those anywhere else on the Internet.

However, it can feel really irritating to get downvoted, especially if one doesn't know why. It happens to all of us sometimes, and it's perfectly acceptable to ask for an explanation. (Sometimes it's the unwritten LW etiquette; we have different norms than other forums.) Take note when you're downvoted a lot on one topic, as it often means that several members of the community think you're missing an important point or making a mistake in reasoning— not just that they disagree with you! If you have any questions about karma or voting, please feel free to ask here.

Replies to your comments across the site, plus private messages from other users, will show up in your inbox. You can reach it via the little mail icon beneath your karma score on the upper right of most pages. When you have a new reply or message, it glows red. You can also click on any user's name to view all of their comments and posts.

It's definitely worth your time commenting on old posts; veteran users look through the recent comments thread quite often (there's a separate recent comments thread for the Discussion section, for whatever reason), and a conversation begun anywhere will pick up contributors that way.  There's also a succession of open comment threads for discussion of anything remotely related to rationality.

Discussions on Less Wrong tend to end differently than in most other forums; a surprising number end when one participant changes their mind, or when multiple people clarify their views enough and reach agreement. More commonly, though, people will just stop when they've better identified their deeper disagreements, or simply "tap out" of a discussion that's stopped being productive. (Seriously, you can just write "I'm tapping out of this thread.") This is absolutely OK, and it's one good way to avoid the flamewars that plague many sites.

There's actually more than meets the eye here: look near the top of the page for the "WIKI", "DISCUSSION" and "SEQUENCES" links.
LW WIKI: This is our attempt to make searching by topic feasible, as well as to store information like common abbreviations and idioms. It's a good place to look if someone's speaking Greek to you.
LW DISCUSSION: This is a forum just like the top-level one, with two key differences: in the top-level forum, posts require the author to have 20 karma in order to publish, and any upvotes or downvotes on the post are multiplied by 10. Thus there's a lot more informal dialogue in the Discussion section, including some of the more fun conversations here.
SEQUENCES: A huge corpus of material mostly written by Eliezer Yudkowsky in his days of blogging at Overcoming Bias, before Less Wrong was started. Much of the discussion here will casually depend on or refer to ideas brought up in those posts, so reading them can really help with present discussions. Besides which, they're pretty engrossing in my opinion.

A few notes about the community

If you've come to Less Wrong to  discuss a particular topic, this thread would be a great place to start the conversation. By commenting here, and checking the responses, you'll probably get a good read on what, if anything, has already been said here on that topic, what's widely understood and what you might still need to take some time explaining.

If your welcome comment starts a huge discussion, then please move to the next step and create a LW Discussion post to continue the conversation; we can fit many more welcomes onto each thread if fewer of them sprout 400+ comments. (To do this: click "Create new article" in the upper right corner next to your username, then write the article, then at the bottom take the menu "Post to" and change it from "Drafts" to "Less Wrong Discussion". Then click "Submit". When you edit a published post, clicking "Save and continue" does correctly update the post.)

If you want to write a post about a LW-relevant topic, awesome! I highly recommend you submit your first post to Less Wrong Discussion; don't worry, you can later promote it from there to the main page if it's well-received. (It's much better to get some feedback before every vote counts for 10 karma- honestly, you don't know what you don't know about the community norms here.)

If you'd like to connect with other LWers in real life, we have  meetups  in various parts of the world. Check the wiki page for places with regular meetups, or the upcoming (irregular) meetups page. There's also a Facebook group. If you have your own blog or other online presence, please feel free to link it.

If English is not your first language, don't let that make you afraid to post or comment. You can get English help on Discussion- or Main-level posts by sending a PM to one of the following users (use the "send message" link on the upper right of their user page). Either put the text of the post in the PM, or just say that you'd like English help and you'll get a response with an email address.
* Normal_Anomaly
* Randaly
* shokwave
* Barry Cotter

A note for theists: you will find the Less Wrong community to be predominantly atheist, though not completely so, and most of us are genuinely respectful of religious people who keep the usual community norms. It's worth saying that we might think religion is off-topic in some places where you think it's on-topic, so be thoughtful about where and how you start explicitly talking about it; some of us are happy to talk about religion, some of us aren't interested. Bear in mind that many of us really, truly have given full consideration to theistic claims and found them to be false, so starting with the most common arguments is pretty likely just to annoy people. Anyhow, it's absolutely OK to mention that you're religious in your welcome post and to invite a discussion there.

A list of some posts that are pretty awesome

I recommend the major sequences to everybody, but I realize how daunting they look at first. So for purposes of immediate gratification, the following posts are particularly interesting/illuminating/provocative and don't require any previous reading:

More suggestions are welcome! Or just check out the top-rated posts from the history of Less Wrong. Most posts at +50 or more are well worth your time.

Welcome to Less Wrong, and we look forward to hearing from you throughout the site!

Note from orthonormal: MBlume and other contributors wrote the original version of this welcome post, and I've edited it a fair bit. If there's anything I should add or update on this post (especially broken links), please send me a private message—I may not notice a comment on the post. Finally, once this gets past 500 comments, anyone is welcome to copy and edit this intro to start the next welcome thread.

New Comment
Rendering 1000/1746 comments, sorted by (show more) Click to highlight new comments since:
Some comments are truncated due to high volume. (⌘F to expand all)Change truncation settings

Hello! I call myself Atomliner. I'm a 23 year old male Political Science major at Utah Valley University.

From 2009 to 2011, I was a missionary for the Mormon Church in northeastern Brazil. In the last month I was there, I was living with another missionary who I discovered to be a closet atheist. In trying to help him rediscover his faith, he had me read The God Delusion, which obliterated my own. I can't say that book was the only thing that enabled me to leave behind my irrational worldview, as I've always been very intellectually curious and resistant to authority. My mind had already been a powder keg long before Richard Dawkins arrived with the spark to light it.

Needless to say, I quickly embraced atheism and began to read everything I could about living without belief in God. I'm playing catch-up, trying to expand my mind as fast as I can to make up for the lost years I spent blinded by religious dogma. Just two years ago, for example, I believed homosexuality was an evil that threatened to destroy civilization, that humans came from another planet, and that the Lost Ten Tribes were living somewhere underground beneath the Arctic. Needless to say, my re-education process has ... (read more)

Welcome to LW! Don't worry about some of the replies you're getting, polls show we're overwhelmingly atheist around here.

This^ That said, my hypothetical atheist counterpart would have made the exact same comment. I can't speak for JohnH, but I can see someone with experience of Mormons not holding those beliefs being curious regardless of affiliation. And, of course, the other two - well, three now - comments are from professed atheists. So far nobody seems willing to try and reconvert him or anything.
Welcome to LessWrong! Good for you! You might want to watch out for assuming that everyone had a similar experience with religion; many theists will fin this very annoying and this seems to be a common mistake among people with your background-type. Huh. I must say, I found the GD pretty terrible (despite reading it multiple times to be sure,) although I suppose that powder-keg aspect probably accounts for most of your conversion (deconversion?) I'm curious, could you expand on what you found so convincing in The God Delusion? I think we can all say that :)

Welcome to LessWrong!

Thank you! :)

Good for you! You might want to watch out for assuming that everyone had a similar experience with religion; many theists will fin this very annoying and this seems to be a common mistake among people with your background-type.

I apologize. I had no idea I was making this false assumption, but I was. I'm embarrassed.

I'm curious, could you expand on what you found so convincing in The God Delusion?

I replied to JohnH about this. I don't know if I could go into a lot of detail on why it was convincing, it was almost two years ago that I read it. But what really convinced me to start doubting my religion was when I prayed to God very passionately asking him whether or not The God Delusion was true and after I felt this tingly warm sensation telling me it was. I had done the same thing with The Book of Mormon multiple times and felt this same sensation, and I was told in church that this was the Holy Spirit telling me that it was true. I had been taught I could pray about anything and the Spirit would tell me whether or not it was true. After being told by the Spirit that The God Delusion was true, I decided that the only explanation is that what I thought of as the Spirit was just happening in my head and that it wasn't a sure way of finding knowledge. It was a very dramatic experience for me.

What kind of theist are you, personal or more of the general theism (which includes deism) variety? Any holy textstring you believe has been divinely inspired?
About as Deist as you can be while still being technically Christian. I'd be inclined to say there's something in all major religions, simply for selection reasons, but the only thing I'd endorse as "divinely inspired" as such would be the New Testament? I guess? Even that is filtered by cultural context and such, obviously,.
If you can readily articulate your reasons for evaluating the New Testament differently from other scriptures, I'm interested. (It's possible that you've already done so, perhaps even in response to this question from me; feel free to point me at writeups elsewhere if you wish.)
How many of your younger Mormon peers and friends do you think are secretly atheists?
I've only had two of my Mormon peers/friends/relatives reveal to me after knowing them for a substantial amount of time that they are atheists. Based on that, I would guess the percentage of active Latter-day Saints that are closet atheists is pretty low, around 1%-3%?
That implies that you have more-or-less a hundred close friends/peers/relatives, who you have known for a substantial amount of time and would expect them to tell you if they are closet atheists.
9Eliezer Yudkowsky
Mormons have lots of friends, and lots of relatives.
Over twenty-three years the numbers add up. I think I could easily find more than a hundred active Latter-day Saints just counting members of my extended family that I routinely encounter every year.
I am Mormon so I am curious where you got the beliefs that Homosexuality would destroy civilization, that humans came from another planet, that the Ten Tribes live underground beneath the Arctic? Those are not standard beliefs of Mormons (see for instance the LDS churches Mormonsandgays.org) and only one of those have I ever even encountered before (Ten Tribes beneath the Arctic) but I couldn't figure out where that belief comes from or why anyone would feel the need to believe it. I also have to ask, the same as MugaSofer, could you explain how The God Delusion obliterated your faith? It seemed largely irrelevent to me.
I have visited mormonsandgays.org. That came out very recently. It seems that the LDS Church is now backing off of their crusade against homosexuality and same-sex marriage. In the middle of the last decade, though, I can assure you what I was taught in church and in my family was that civilizations owed their stability to the prevalence of traditional marriages. I was told that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because homosexuality was not being penalized and because of the same crime the Roman Empire collapsed. It is possible that these teachings, while not official doctrine, were inspired by the last two paragraphs of the LDS Church's 1995 proclamation The Family. In the second to last paragraph it says: I have a strong feeling my interpretation of this doctrine is also held by most active believing American Mormons, having lived among them my entire life. I don't think that most Mormons believe that mankind came from another planet, but I started believing this after I read something from the Journal of Discourses, in which Brigham Young stated: This doctrine has for good reason been de-emphasized by the LDS Church, but never repudiated. I read this and other statements made by Brigham Young and believed it. I did believe he was a prophet of God, after all. I began to believe that the Ten Tribes were living underneath the Arctic after reading The Final Countdown by Clay McConkie which details the signs that will precede the Second Coming. In the survey he apparently conducted of active Latter-day Saints, around 15% believed the Ten Tribes were living somewhere underground in the north. This belief is apparently drawn from an interpretation of Doctrine & Covenants 133:26-27, which states: I liked the interpretation that this meant there was a subterranean civilization of Israelites and believed it was true. I apologize that I gave examples of these extraordinary former beliefs right after I wrote "I'm playing catch-up, trying to expand my mind as fast as I


My name is Sandy and despite being a long time lurker, meetup organizer and CFAR minicamp alumnus, I've got a giant ugh field around getting involved in the online community. Frankly it's pretty intimidating and seems like a big barrier to entry - but this welcome thread is definitely a good start :)

IIRC, I was linked to Overcoming Bias through a programming pattern blog in the few months before LW came into existence, and subsequently spent the next three months of my life doing little else than reading the sequences. While it was highly fascinating and seemed good for my cognitive health, I never thought about applying it to /real life/.

Somehow I ended up at CFAR's January minicamp, and my life literally changed. After so many years, CFAR helped me finally internalize the idea that /rationalists should win/. I fully expect the workshop to be the most pivotal event in my entire life, and would wholeheartedly recommend it to absolutely anyone and everyone.

So here's to a new chapter. I'm going to get involved in this community or die trying.

PS: If anyone is in the Kitchener/Waterloo area, they should definitely come out to UW's SLC tonight at 8pm for our LW meetup. I can guarantee you won't be disappointed!

Hello, Less Wrong; I'm Laplante. I found this site through a TV Tropes link to Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality about this time last year. After I'd read through that as far as it had been updated (chapter 77?), I followed Yudkowsky's advice to check out the real science behind the story and ended up here. I mucked about for a few days before finding a link to yudkowsky.net, where I spent about a week trying learn what exactly Bayes was all about. I'm currently working my way through the sequences, just getting into the quantum physics sequence now.

I'm currently in the dangerous position of having withdrawn from college, and my productive time is spent between a part-time job and this site. I have no real desire to return to school, but I realize that entry into any sort of psychology/neuroscience/cognitive science field without a Bachelor's degree - preferably more - is near impossible.

I'm aware that Yudkowsky is doing quite well without a formal education, but I'd rather not use that as a general excuse to leave my studies behind entirely.

My goals for the future are to make my way through MIRI's recommended course list, and the dream is to do my own research in a related field. We'll see how it all pans out.

my productive time is spent between a part-time job and this site.

Perhaps I'm reading a bit much into a throwaway phrase, but I suggest that time spent reading LessWrong (or any self-improvement blog, or any blog) is not, in fact, productive. Beware the superstimulus of insight porn! Unless you are actually using the insights gained here in a measureable way, I very strongly suggest you count LessWrong reading as faffing about, not as production. (And even if you do become more productive, observe that this is probably a one-time effect: Continued visits are unlikely to yield continual improvement, else gwern and Alicorn would long since have taken over the world.) By all means be inspired to do more work and smarter work, but do not allow the feeling of "I learned something today" to substitute for Actually Doing Things.

All that aside, welcome to LessWrong! We will make your faffing-about time much more interesting. BWAH-HAH-HAH!

Learning stuff can be pretty useful. Especially stuff extremely general in its application that isn't easy to just look up when you need it, like rationality. If the process of learning is enjoyable, so much the better.
I think you may have misinterpreted a critical part of the sentence: 'do not allow the FEELING of "I learned something today" to substitute for Actually Doing Things.' Insight porn, so to speak, is that way because it makes you feel good, like you can Actually Do Things and like you have the tools to now Actually Do Things. But if you don't get up and Actually Do Things, you have only learned how to feel like you can Actually Do Things, which isn't nearly as useful as it sounds.
Sure, I agree. IMO, any self-improvement effort should be intermixed with lots of attempts to accomplish object-level goals so you can get empirical feedback on what's working and what isn't.

My standard advice to all newcomers is to skip the quantum sequence, at least on the first reading. Or at least stop where the many worlds musings start. The whole thing is way too verbose and controversial for the number of useful points it makes. Your time is much better spent reading about cognitive biases. If you want epistemology, try the new sequence.

7Eliezer Yudkowsky
Bad advice for technical readers. Mihaly Barasz (IMO gold medalist) got here via HPMOR but only became seriously interested in working for MIRI after reading the QM sequence. Given those particular circumstances, can I ask that you stop with that particular bit of helpful advice?

Bad advice for technical readers. Mihaly Barasz (IMO gold medalist) got here via HPMOR but only became seriously interested in working for MIRI after reading the QM sequence.

Do you have a solid idea of how many technical readers get here via HPMOR but become disinterested in working for MIRI after reading the QM sequence? If not, isn't this potentially just the selection effect?

EY can rationally prefer the certain evidence of some Mihaly-Barasz-caliber researchers joining when exposed to the QM sequence over speculations whether the loss of Mihaly Barasz (had he not read the QM sequence) would be outweighed by even more / better technical readers becoming interested in joining MIRI, taking into account the selection effect. Personally, I'd go with what has been proven/demonstrated to work as a high-quality attractor.
7Eliezer Yudkowsky
Yep. I also tend to ignore nontechnical folks along the lines of RationalWiki getting offended by my thinking that I know something they don't about MWI. Carl often hears about, anonymizes, and warns me when technical folks outside the community are offended by something I do. I can't recall hearing any warnings from Carl about the QM sequence offending technical people. Bluntly, if shminux can't grasp the technical argument for MWI then I wouldn't expect him to understand what really high-class technical people might think of the QM sequence. Mihaly said the rest of the Sequences seemed interesting but lacked sufficient visible I-wouldn't-have-thought-of-that nature. This is very plausible to me - after all, the Sequences do indeed seem to me like the sort of thing somebody might just think up. I'm just kind of surprised the QM part worked, and it's possible that might be due to Mihaly having already taken standard QM so that he could clearly see the contrast between the explanation he got in college and the explanation on LW. It's a pity I'll probably never have time to write up TDT.

I have a phd in physics (so I have at least some technical skill in this area) and find the QM sequence's argument for many worlds unconvincing. You lead the reader toward a false dichotomy (Copenhagen or many worlds) in order to suggest that the low probability of copenhagen implies many worlds. This ignores a vast array of other interpretations.

Its also the sort of argument that seems very likely to sway someone with an intro class in college (one or two semesters of a Copenhagen based shut-up-and-calculate approach), precisely because having seen Copenhagen and nothing else they 'know just enough to be dangerous', as it were.

For me personally, the quantum sequence threw me into some doubt about the previous sequences I had read. If I have issues with the area I know the most about, how much should I trust the rest? Other's mileage may vary.

I have a phd in physics (so I have at least some technical skill in this area) and find the QM sequence's argument for many worlds unconvincing.

Actually, attempting to steelman the QM Sequence made me realize that the objective collapse models are almost certainly wrong, due to the way they deal with the EPR correlations. So the sequence has been quite useful to me.

On the other hand, it also made me realize that the naive MWI is also almost certainly wrong, as it requires uncountable worlds created in any finite instance of time (unless I totally misunderstand the MWI version of radioactive decay, or any emission process for that matter). It has other issues, as well. Hence my current leanings toward some version of RQM, which EY seems to dislike almost as much as his straw Copenhagen, though for different reasons.

For me personally, the quantum sequence threw me into some doubt about the previous sequences I had read.

Right, I've had a similar experience, and I heard it voiced by others.

As a result of re-examining EY's take on epistemology of truth, I ended up drifting from the realist position (map vs territory) to an instrumentalist position (models vs inputs&outputs... (read more)

How is that any more problematic than doing physics with real or complex numbers in the first place?
I defected from physics during my Master's, but this is basically the impression I had of the QM sequence as well.

Carl often hears about, anonymizes, and warns me when technical folks outside the community are offended by something I do. I can't recall hearing any warnings from Carl about the QM sequence offending technical people.

That sounds like reasonable evidence against the selection effect.

Bluntly, if shminux can't grasp the technical argument for MWI then I wouldn't expect him to understand what really high-class technical people might think of it.

I strongly recommend against both the "advises newcomers to skip the QM sequence -> can't grasp technical argument for MWI" and "disagrees with MWI argument -> poor technical skill" inferences.


I'm just kind of surprised the QM part worked, and it's possible that might be due to Mihaly having already taken standard QM so that he could clearly see the contrast between the explanation he got in college and the explanation on LW.

I'm no IMO gold medalist (which really just means I'm giving you explicit permission to ignore the rest of my comment) but it seems to me that a standard understanding of QM is necessary to get anything out of the QM sequence.

It's a pity I'll probably never have time to write up TDT.

Revealed preferences are rarely attractive.

Revealed preferences are rarely attractive.

Adds to "Things I won't actually get put on a T-shirt but sort of feel I ought to" list.

As others noted, you seem to be falling prey to the selection bias. Do you have an estimate of how many "IMO gold medalists" gave up on MIRI because its founder, in defiance of everything he wrote before, confidently picks one untestable from a bunch and proclaims it to be the truth (with 100% certainty, no less, Bayes be damned), despite (or maybe due to) not even being an expert in the subject matter? EDIT: My initial inclination was to simply comply with your request, probably because I grew up being taught deference to and respect for authority. Then it struck me as one of the most cultish things one could do.

with 100% certainty, no less, Bayes be damned

Is this an April Fool's joke? He says nothing of the kind. The post which comes closest to this explicitly says that it could be wrong, but "the rational probability is pretty damned small." And counting the discovery of time-turners, he's named at least two conceivable pieces of evidence that could change that number.

What do you mean when you say you "just don't put nearly as much confidence in it as you do"?

The number of IMO gold medalists is sufficiently low, and the probability of any one of them having read the QM sequence is sufficiently small, that my own estimate would be less than one regardless of X. (I don't have a good model of how much more likely an IMO gold medalist would be to have read the QM sequence than any other reference class, so I'm not massively confident.)
3Eliezer Yudkowsky
Well, I'm sorry to say this, but part of what makes authority Authority is that your respect is not always required. Frankly, in this case Authority is going to start deleting your comments if you keep on telling newcomers who post in the Welcome thread not to read the QM sequence, which you've done quite a few times at this point unless my memory is failing me. You disagree with MWI. Okay. I get it. We all get it. I still want the next Mihaly to read the QM Sequence and I don't want to have this conversation every time, nor is it an appropriate greeting for every newcomer.

Sure, your site, your rules.

Just to correct a few inaccuracies in your comment:

You disagree with MWI.

I don't, I just don't put nearly as much confidence in it as you do. It is also unfortunately abused on this site quite a bit.

nor is it an appropriate greeting for every newcomer.

I don't even warn every newcomer who mentions the QM sequence, let alone "every newcomer", only those who appear to be stuck on it. Surely Mihaly had no difficulties with it, so none of my warnings would interfere with "still want the next Mihaly to read the QM Sequence".

nor is it an appropriate greeting for every newcomer.

I don't even warn every newcomer who mentions the QM sequence, let alone "every newcomer"

The claim you made that prompted the reply was:

My standard advice to all newcomers is to skip the quantum sequence, at least on the first reading.

It is rather disingenuous to then express exaggerated 'let alone' rejections of the reply "nor is it an appropriate greeting for every newcomer".

Uhuh. That said, kudos to you for remaining calm and reasonable
You have a point, it's easy to read my first comment rather uncharitably. I should have been more precise: "My standard advice to all newcomers [who mention difficulties with the QM sequence]..." which is much closer to what actually happens. I don't bring it up out of the blue every time I greet someone.
Hmm, the above got a lot of upvotes... I have no idea why.

Hmm, the above got a lot of upvotes... I have no idea why.

Egalitarian instinct. Eliezer is using power against you, which drastically raises the standards of behavior expected from him while doing so---including less tolerance of him getting things wrong.

Your reply used the form 'graceful' in a context where you would have been given a lot of leeway even to be (overtly) rude. The corrections were portrayed as gentle and patient. Whether the corrections happen to be accurate or reasonable is usually almost irrelevant for the purpose of determining people's voting behavior this far down into a charged thread.

Note that even though I approve of Eliezer's decision to delete comments of yours disparaging the QM sequence to newcomers I still endorse your decision to force Eliezer to use his power instead of deferring to his judgement simply because he has the power. It was the right decision for you to make from your perspective and is also a much more desirable precedent.

I deliberately invoke this tactic on occasion in arguments on other people's turf, particularly where the rules are unevenly applied. I was once accused by an acquaintance who witnessed it of being unreasonably reasonable.

It's particularly useful when moderators routinely take sides in debates. It makes it dangerous for them to use their power to shut down dissent.

Nailed it on the head. As my cursor began to instinctively over the "upvote" button on shminux's comment I caught myself and thought, why am I doing this?. And while I didn't come to your exact conclusion I realized my instinct had something to do with EY's "use of power" and shminux's gentle reply. Some sort of underdog quality that I didn't yet take the time to assess but that my mouse-using-hand wanted badly to blindly reward. I'm glad you pieced out the exact reasoning behind the scenes here. Stopping and taking a moment to understand behavior and then correct based on that understanding is why I am here. That said, I really should think for a long time about your explanation before voting you up, too!
If it is as right as it is insightful (which it undeniably is), I would expect those who come across wedifid's explanation to go back and change their vote, resulting in %positive going sharply down. It doesn't appear to be happening.

If it is as right as it is insightful (which it undeniably is), I would expect those who come across wedifid's explanation to go back and change their vote, resulting in %positive going sharply down.

A quirk (and often a bias) humans have is that we tend to assume that just because a social behavior or human instinct can be explained it must thereby be invalidated. Yet everything can (in principle) be explained and there are still things that are, in fact, noble. My parents' love for myself and my siblings is no less real because I am capable of reasoning about the inclusive fitness of those peers of my anscestors that happened to love their children less.

In this case the explanation given was, roughly speaking "egalitarian instinct + politeness". And personally I have to say that the egalitarian instinct is one of my favorite parts of humanity and one of the traits that I most value in those I prefer to surround myself with (Rah foragers!).

All else being equal the explanation in terms of egalitarian instinct and precedent setting regarding authority use describes (what I consider to be) a positive picture and in itself is no reason to downvote. (The comment deserves to... (read more)

I believe that I already knew I was acting on egalitarian instinct when I upvoted your comment.
They could just be a weird sort of lazy whereby they don't scroll back up and change anything. Or maybe they never see his post. Or something else. I don't think the -%positive-not-going-down-yet is any indication that wedrifid's comment is not right.
This is the second time you mention shminux having talked about QM for years. But I can't find any comments or posts he's made before July 2011. Does he have a dupe account or something else I don't know about?
Since you are asking... July 2011 is right for the join date and some time later is when I voiced any opinion related to the QM sequence and MWI (I did read through it once and browsed now and again since). No, I did not have another account before that, as a long-term freenode ##physics IRC channel moderator, I dislike being confused about user's previous identities, so I don't do it myself (hence the silly nick chosen a decade or so ago, which has lost all relevance by now). On the other hand, I don't mind people wanting a clean slate with a new nick, just not using socks to express a controversial or karma-draining opinion they are too chicken to have linked to their main account. I also encourage you to take whatever wedrifid writes about me with a grain of salt. While I read what he writes and often upvote when I find it warranted, I quite publicly announced here about a year ago that I will not be replying to any of his comments, given how counterproductive it had been for me. (There are currently about 4 or 5 people on my LW "do-not-reply" list.) I have also warned other users once or twice, after I noticed them in a similarly futile discussion with wedrifid. I would be really surprised if this did not color his perception and attitude. It certainly would for me, were the roles reversed.
I'm also interested in this. Hopefully it's not an overt lie or something.
I don't keep an exact mental record of the join dates. My guess from intuitive feel was "2 years". It's April 2013. It was July 2011 when the account joined. If anything you have prompted me to slightly increase my confidence in the calibration of my account-joining estimator. If the subject of how long user:shminux has been complaining about the QM sequence ever becomes relevant again I'll be sure to use Wei Dai's script, search the text and provide a link to the exact first mention. In this case, however, the difference hardly seems significant or important. I doubt it. If so I praise him for his flawless character separation.
Thanks for clarifying. I asked not because the exact timing is important but because the overstatement seemed uncharacteristic (albeit modest), and I wasn't sure whether it was just offhand pique or something else. (Also, if something funny had been going on, it might've explained the weird rancour/sloppiness/mindkilledness in the broader thread.)
Just an error. Note that in the context there was no particular pique. I intended acknowledgement of established disrespect, not conveyance of additional disrespect. The point was that I was instinctively (as well as rationally) motivated to support shminux despite also approving of Eliezer's declared intent, which illustrates the strength of the effect. Fortunately nothing is lost if I simply remove the phrase you quote entirely. The point remains clear even if I remove the detail of why I approve of Eliezer's declaration. The main explanation there is just that incarnations of this same argument have been cropping up with slight variations for (what seems like) a long time. As with several other subjects there are rather clear battle lines drawn and no particular chance of anyone learning anything. The quality of the discussion tends to be abysmal, riddled with status games and full of arguments that are sloppy in the extreme. As well as the problem of persuasion through raw persistence.
Bluntly, IMO gold medalists who can conceive of working on something 'crazy' like FAI would be expected to better understand the QM sequence than that. Even more so they would be expected to understand the core arguments better than to get offended by my having come to a conclusion. I haven't heard from the opposite side at all, and while the probability of my hearing about it might conceivably be low, my priors on it existing are rather lower than yours, and the fact that I have heard nothing is also evidence. Carl, who often hears (and anonymizes) complaints from the outside x-risk community, has not reported to me anyone being offended by my QM sequence. Smart people want to be told something smart that they haven't already heard from other smart people and that doesn't seem 'obvious'. The QM sequence is demonstrably not dispensable for this purpose - Mihaly said the rest of LW seemed interesting but insufficiently I-wouldn't-have-thought-of-that. Frankly I worry that QM isn't enough but given how long it's taking me to write up the Lob problem, I don't think I can realistically try to take on TDT.
Again, you seem to be generalizing from a single example, unless you have more data points than just Mihaly.
Note that the original text was "gold," not "good". I assume IMO is the International Mathematical Olympiad(1). Not that this in any way addresses or mitigates your point; just figured I'd point it out. (1) If I've understood the wiki article, ~35 IMO gold medals are awarded every year.
Thanks, I fixed the typo.
QM Sequence is two parts: (1) QM for beginners (2) Philosophy-of-science on believing things when evidence is equipoise (or absent) - pick the simpler hypothesis. I got part (1) from reading Dancing Wu-Li Masters, but I can clearly see the value to readers without that background. But teaching foundational science is separate from teaching Bayesian rationalism. The philosophy of the second part is incredibly controversial. Much more than you acknowledge in the essays, or acknowledge now. Treating the other side of any unresolved philosophical controversy as if it is stupid, not merely wrong, is excessive and unjustified. In short, the QM sequence would seriously benefit from the sort of philosophical background stuff that is included in your more recent essays. Including some more technical discussion of the opposing position.

If you learned quantum mechanics from that book, you may have seriously mislearned it. It's actually pretty decent describing everything up to but excluding quantum physics. When it comes to QM, however, the author sacrifices useful understanding in favor of mysticism.

If you want to learn things/explore what you want to do with your life, take a few varied courses at Coursera.
Hi, Laplante. Why do you want to enter psychology/neuroscience/cognitive science? I ask this as someone who is about to graduate with a double major in psychology/computer science and is almost certain to go into computer science as my career.

It's a forum where taking atheism for granted is widespread, and the 10% of non-atheists have some idea of what the 90% are thinking. Being atheist isn't part of the official charter, but you can make a function call to atheism without being questioned by either the 10% or the 90% because everyone knows where you're coming from. If I was on a 90% Mormon forum which theoretically wasn't about Mormonism but occasionally contained posters making function calls to Mormon theology without further justification, I would not walk in and expect to be able to make atheist function calls without being questioned on it. If I did, I wouldn't be surprised to be downvoted to oblivion if that forum had a downvoting function. This isn't groupthink; it's standard logical courtesy. When you know perfectly well that a supermajority of the people around you believe X, it's not just silly but logically rude to ask them to take Y as a premise without defending it. I would owe this hypothetical 90%-Mormon forum more acknowledgement of their prior beliefs than that.

I regard all of this as common sense.

As part of said minority, I fully endorse this comment.


I like your use of "function calls" as an analogy here, but I don't think it's a good idea; you could just as easily say "use concepts from" without alienating non-programmer readers.

I understand it now knowing that it's a programming reference (I program), but I wouldn't have recognized it otherwise. Thanks for the clarification.
Since I'm momentarily feeling remarkably empowered about my own life, I'm going to take this chance to officially bow out for a few weeks. We all knew it was coming—it's the typical reaction for an overwhelmed newbie like me, I know, and I'm always very determined not to give up, but I really think I had better take a break. My last week has hardly involved anything except LW and related sites, and we all know that having one's mind blown is a very strenuous task. I've learned a lot, and I will definitely be back after four weeks or so. I've decided I'm not going to let myself be pressured into expressly arguing in favor of religion. I've said several times I'm not interested in that, and that I don't have these supposed strong arguments in favor of religion. If you guys want a good theist, check out William Lane Craig. When I come back I will, however, explain my own beliefs and why I can't fully accept the LW way of thinking. Please don't get misunderstand what I'm saying: I think you guys are right, more so than any group of people I've ever met. But for now I'm going to shelve philosophy and take advantage of my situation. In the next four weeks I'm going to a) learn Lambda Calculus and b) study Arabic intensively. May the Force be with you 'til we meet again.

For the record, I once challenged Craig to a Bloggingheads but he refused.

I'm a male senior in high school. I found this site in November or so, and started reading the sequences voraciously.

I feel like I might be a somewhat atypical LessWrong reader. For one, I'm on the young side. Also, if you saw me and talked to me, you would probably not guess that I was a "rationalist" from the way I act/dress but, I don't know, perhaps you might. When I first found this website, I was pretty sure I wanted to be an art major, now I'm pretty sure I want to be an art/comp sci double major and go into indie game development (correlation may or may not imply causation). I also love rap music (and not the "good" kind like Talib Kweli) and I read most of the sequences while listening to Lil Wayne, Lil B, Gucci Mane, Future, Young Jeezy, etc. I occasionally record my own terrible rap songs with my friends in my friend's basement. Before finding this site, the word "rational" had powerful negative affect around it. Science was far and away my least favorite subject in school. I have absolutely no interest at the moment in learning any science or anything about science, except for maybe neuroscience, and maybe metaphysics. I've always found t... (read more)

lulz. You have my attention. You sound like quite an intelligent and awesome person. (bad rap, art, rationality. only an interesting person could have such a nonstandard combination of interests. Boring people come prepackaged...) Glad to have you around. It's only a matter of time ;) I remember that feeling. I'm more skeptical now, but I can't help but notice more awesomeness in my life due to LW. It really is quite cool isn't it? This is the part that's been elusive to me. What kind of things are you doing? How do you knwo you are actually getting benefits and not just producing that "this is awesome" feeling which unfortunately often gets detached from realty? keep your identity small. Where do you live? Do you attend meetups?
Thank you :) I guess essentially what I do is try to read self-help stuff. I try to spend half my "work time", so to speak, doing this, and half working on creative projects. I've read both books and assorted stuff on the internet. My goal for April is to read a predetermined list of six self-help books. I'm currently on track for this goal. So far I've read * Part of the massive tome that is Psychological Self Help by Clayton Tucker-Ladd * Success - How We Can Reach Our Goals by Heidi Halverson * How to Talk to Anyone by Leil Lowndes * 59 Seconds by Richard Wiseman * Thinking Things Done by PJ Eby * the first 300 pages of Feeling Good by David Burns, the last 200 seem to be mostly about the chemical nature of depression and have little practical value, so I'm saving them for later If meditation books count * Mindfulness in Plain English by Henepola Gunaratana * most of Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha by Daniel Ingram I also have been keeping a diary, which is something I've wanted to get in the habit of all my life but have never been able to do. Every day, in addition to summarizing the day's events, I rate my happiness out of ten, my productivity out of ten, and speculate on how I can do better. I've only been keeping the diary a month, which is too small of a sample size. However, during this time, I had three weeks off for spring break, and I told myself that I would work as much as I could on self-improvement and personal projects. I ended up not really getting that much done, unfortunately. However, I managed to put in a median of... probably about five hours every day, and more importantly, I was in a fantastic mood the whole break. It might even have been the best mood I've been in for an extended time in the last few years. In the past, every time I have had a break from school, I ended up in a depressed, lonely, lethargic state, where I surfed the internet for hours on end, in which I paradoxically want to go back to school knowi
I think you need to talk to daenerys, IIRC, she runs the Ohio stuff. Actually doing, for one, though it sounds like you're doing that too. yet. Some day you will want to take over the world, and then you will need to talk to big winners. I've had this problem, too (I've got so much free time, why is it all getting pissed away?). Have you tried beeminder? I cannot overstate how much that site is just conscientiousness in a can, so to speak. Thanks for the list. A variety of evidence is making me want to check out the self-help community more closely.
I have yet to read a self-help book that doesn't emphatically state "If you do not take care to apply these principles as much as you can in your daily life, you will not gain anything from reading this book." So, yeah, I agree, and by "reading self-help" I mean "reading self-help and applying the knowledge". I've seen it, and checked it out a little, but I can't think of any way to quantify the stuff that I have problems getting done. Also I wish there was an option to donate money to charity, but I guess they have to make money somehow.
I have yet to see this. Which major LW contributor is advocating racism, and where can I read about it?
I'm sorry, I can't really remember any specific links to discussions, and I don't really know exactly who believes in what ideas, but I feel like there are a lot of people here, and especially people who show up in the comments, who believe that certain races are inherently more or less intelligent/violent/whatever on average than others. I specifically remember nyan_sandwich saying that he believes this, calling himself a "proto-racist" but that's the only example I can recall. The "reactionary" philosophy is discussed a lot here too, and I feel like most people who subscribe to this philosophy are racist. Mencius Moldbug is the biggest name in this, I believe. Also I've seen a lot of links to this site http://isteve.blogspot.com/ which seems to basically be arguing in favor of racism. This blog post http://slatestarcodex.com/2013/03/03/reactionary-philosophy-in-an-enormous-planet-sized-nutshell/ contains a discussion of these issues.

The one basically follows from the other, I think. This isn't a reactionary site by any means; the last poll showed single-digit support for the philosophy here, if it's fair to consider it a political philosophy exclusive with liberalism, libertarianism, and/or conservatism. However, neoreaction/Moldbuggery gets a less hostile reception here than it does on most non-reactionary sites, probably because it's an intensely contrarian philosophy and LW seems to have a cultural fondness for clever contrarians, and we have do have several vocal reactionaries among our commentariat. Among them, perhaps unfortunately, are most of the people talking about race.

It's also pretty hard to dissociate neoreaction from... let's say "certain hypotheses concerning race", since "racism" is too slippery and value-laden a term and most of the alternatives are too euphemistic. The reasons for this seem somewhat complicated, but I think we can trace a good chunk of them to just how much of a taboo race is among what Moldbug calls the Cathedral; if your basic theory is that there's this vast formless cultural force shaping what everyone can and can't talk about without being brande... (read more)

If someone were to correctly point out genetic differences between groups (let's assume correctness as a hypothetical), would that be - in your opinion - 1) racist and reprehensible, 2) racist but not reprehensible, or (in the hypothetical) 3) not racist? Would your opinion differ if those genetic differences were relating to a) IQ, or b) lactose intolerance?
Yes to the second question, in that I would give the answer of 2 for A and 3 for B. Racism has at least three definitions colloquially that I can think of * 1: A belief that there is a meaningful way to categorize human beings into races, and that certain races have more or less desirable characteristics than others. This is the definition that Wikipedia uses. Not that many educated people are racist according to this definition, I think. * 2: The tendency to jump to conclusions about people based on their skin color, which can manifest as a consequence of racism-1, or unconsciously believing in racism-1. Pretty much everyone is racist to some extent according to this definition. * 3: Contempt or dislike of people based on their skin color, i.e. "I hate Asians". You could further divide this into consciously and unconsciously harboring these beliefs if you wanted. In the sexism debate, these three definitions are sort of given separate names: "belief in differences between the sexes", "sexism", and "misogyny" respectively. Racism-3 seems to be pretty clearly evil, and racism-2 causes lots of suffering, but racism-1 basically by definition cannot be evil if it is a true belief and you abide by the Litany of Tarski or whatever. But because they have the same name, it gets confusing. Some people might object to calling racism-1 racism, and instead will decide to call it "human biodiversity" or "race realism". I think this is bullshit. Just fucking call it what it is. Own up to your beliefs. (I am not racist-1, for the record.)

Some people might object to calling racism-1 racism, and instead will decide to call it "human biodiversity" or "race realism". I think this is bullshit. Just fucking call it what it is.

"What it fucking is" is a straw man. ie. "and that certain races have more or less desirable characteristics than others" is not what the people you are disparaging are likely to say, for all that it is vaguely related.

Own up to your beliefs.

Seeing this exhortation used to try to shame people into accepting your caricature as their own position fills me with the same sort of disgust and contempt that you have for racism. Failure to "own up" and profess their actual beliefs is approximately the opposite of the failure mode they are engaging in (that of not keeping their mouth shut when socially expedient). In much the same way suicide bombers are not cowards.

According to Wikipedia, "racism is usually defined as views, practices and actions reflecting the belief that humanity is divided into distinct biological groups called races and that members of a certain race share certain attributes which make that group as a whole less desirable, more desirable, inferior or superior." This definition appears to exactly match the beliefs of the people I am talking about. I guess it's all in how you define superior, inferior, more desirable, etc. But most of the discourse revolves around intelligence which is a pretty important trait and I don't think these people believe that black people, for example, have traits that make up for their supposed lack of intelligence, or that Asians have flaws that make up for their supposed above-average intelligence (and no, dick size doesn't count). In particular, these people seem to believe that an innate lack of intelligence is to blame for the fact that so many African countries are in total chaos and unless you believe in a soul or something, it's hard to imagine that a race physically incapable of sustaining civilization is not in some meaningful way "inferior". If you hold a belief that is described with a name that has negative connotations, you have two options. You can either hide behind some sort of euphemism, or you can just come out and say "yes I do believe that, and I am proud of it". I think the second choice is much more noble, and if I were to adopt these beliefs, I would just go ahead and describe myself as a racist. It's not really a major issue though and I probably shouldn't have used the word "fucking" in my previous post. But anyway, since the term is completely accurate, the only reason I can think of to not call the people I'm describing racists is because it might offend them, which is deeply ironic.
There is also a third option: Keep your identity small and pick your battles. Just because the society happens to disagree with you in one specific topic, that is no reason to make that one topic central to your life, and to let all other people define you by that one topic regardless of what other traits or abilities you have -- which will probably happen if you are open about that disagreement. Imagine that you live in a society where people believe that 2+2=5, and they also believe that anyone who says 2+2=4 is an evil person and must be killed. (There seems to be a good reason for that. Hundred years ago there was an evil robot who destroyed half of the planet, and it is know that the robot believed that 2+2=4. Because this is the most known fact about the robot, people concluded that beliving that 2+2=4 must be the source of all evil, and needs to be eradicated from the society. We don't want any more planetary destruction, do we?) What are your choices? You could say that 2+2=4 and get killed. Or you could say that 2+2=4.999, avoid being killed, only get a few suspicious looks and be rejected at a few job interviews; and hope that if people keep doing that long enough, at one moment it will become acceptable to say that 2+2=4.9, or even 4.5, and perhaps one day no one will be killed for saying that it equals 4. The third option is to enjoy food and wine, and refuse to comment publicly on how much 2+2 is. Perhaps have a few trusted friends you can discuss maths with.
Okay, but all I'm saying is that if you do decide to talk about your beliefs, you should use a more honest term for your belief system. I definitely agree with you that racists should not go around talking publicly about their beliefs! You seem to have inferred something from my post that I didn't mean, sorry about that.
I think that “group as a whole” is the key word. Men are taller than women in average, and being tall is usually considered desirable; is pointing that out sexist? I'd say that until you treat that fact as a reason to consider a gender “as a whole” more desirable than another, it isn't.
Most people do consider a gender as a whole more desirable than another ... (and can also supply some "facts" on which that preference is based).
Possibly related: Overcoming Bias : Mate Racism.
Doesn't contradict what I said, because I never claimed that most people aren't sexist. (And BTW, I'm not sure whether what you mean by “desirable” is what was meant in WP's definition of racism. I'm not usually sexually attracted to males or Asians, but I consider this a fact about me, not about males or Asians, and I don't consider myself sexist or racist for that.) (EDIT: to be more pedantic, one could say that the fact that I'm normally only attracted to people with characteristics X, Y, and Z is a fact about me and that the fact that males/Asians seldom have characteristics X, Y and Z is a fact about them, though.)
If they believed you, consistency bias might make them lean more toward racist-2 and racist-3. Or it might shame them into lowering their belief in the entire reactionary memeplex, which would be epistemically sub-optimal. It might lower their status, or even their earning ability if justified accusations of racism became associated with their offline identities. There's many ways leveraging emotionally loaded terms can have negative effects.
Why not?
As far as racism-1 goes, I am told that high levels of melanin in the skin lead to an immunity to sunburn. So black people can't get sunburnt - that's a desirable characteristic, to my mind. (There's still negative effects - such as a headache - from being in the sun too long. Just not sunburn).
Well, if you think races are a real thing, then calling this belief race realism seems fairly clear, and helps distinguish your belief from type-3 racism. Human biodiversity implies something more like support for eugenics, to me, since you're saying that humans are diverse, not that race is a functional Schelling point.
Stripped of connotations, "race realism" to me implies the belief that empirical clusters exist within the space of human diversity and that they map to the traditional racial classifications, but not necessarily that those clusters affect intellectual or ethical dimensions to any significant degree. I'm not sure if there's an non-euphemistic value-neutral term for racism-1 in the ancestor's typology, but that isn't it. (The first thing that comes to mind is "scientific racism", which I'd happily use for ideas like this in a 19th- or early 20th-century context, but I have qualms about using it in a present-day context.)
Ah, good point.
If it helps, the LW user I most consistently associate with the "certain races are inherently more or less intelligent/violent/whatever on average than others" (as gothgirl420666 says below) is Eugine Nier. A quick Google search ("site:http://lesswrong.com Eugine_Nier rac intelligence") turns up just about any proxy measure of intelligence, from SAT scores, to results of IQ tests, to crime rates, will correlate with race, for example. That said, were someone to describe Eugine Nier or their positions as "racist," I suspect they would respond that "racist" means lots of different things to different people and is not a useful descriptor.
Welcome! I'm unable to read while listening to music with words in it. I wonder how universal that is.
I know of at least three possible minds for this. Pretty sure we all assumed we were typical until talking about it. * One friend of mine is like you, and finds music horribly distracting to reading. * Another friend becomes practically deaf while reading, so music is just irrelevant. * I, on the third hand, can sing along to songs I know, while reading. I can possibly even do this for simple songs I don't know. I would suspect this is not optimal reading from a comprehension or speed perspective, but it's a lot of fun.
Pretty much the same here. I can only read when I tune out the lyrics. Well, not quite true, I can certainly read, but the content just doesn't register.

Hello, I'm E. I'll be entering university in September planning to study some subset of {math, computer science, economics}. I found Less Wrong in April 2012 through HPMoR and started seriously reading here after attending SPARC. I haven't posted because I don't think I can add too much to discussions, but reading here is certainly illuminating.

I'm interested in self-improvement. Right now, I'm trying to develop better social skills, writing skills, and work ethic. I'm also collecting some simple data from my day-to-day activities with the belief that having data will help me later. Some concrete actions I am currently taking:

  • Conditioning myself (focusing on smiling and positive thoughts) to enjoy social interaction. I don't dislike social interaction, but I'm definitely averse to talking to strangers. This aversion seems like it will hurt me long-term, so I'm trying to get rid of it.
  • Writing in a journal every night. Usually this is 200-300 words of my thoughts and summaries of the more important events that happened. I started this after noticing that I repeatedly tried and failed to recall my thoughts from a few months or years ago.
  • Setting daily schedules for myself. When I
... (read more)
Welcome! You sound remarkably driven. Math and CS are foundational fields which can be used for nearly anything, while economics past intro level is much more specialized. I'd suggest putting the least focus on economics unless/until you're sure you want to do something with it. (Warning: I am a programmer with an econ degree. I may be projecting, here.) Subjective happiness, maybe? The old "how good do you feel right now on a scale of 1-10" could be one way to quantify this. They are the worst thing.

Hi everyone. I have been lurking on this site for a long time, and somewhat recently have made an account, but I still feel pretty new here. I've read most of the sequences by now, and I feel that I've learned a lot from them. I have changed myself in some small ways as a result, most notably by donating small amounts to whatever charity I feel is most effective at doing good, with the intention that I will donate much more once I am capable of doing so.

I'm currently working on a Ph.D. in Mathematics right now, and I am also hoping that I can steer my research activities towards things that will do good. Still not sure exactly how to do this, though.

I also had the opportunity to attend my local Less Wrong meetup, and I have to say it was quite enjoyable! I am looking forward toward future interactions with my local community.

Hi Adele. Given what you write in your introduction, it's likely that you have already heard of this organization, but if this is not the case: you may want to check out 80,000 Hours. They provide evidence-based career advice for people that want to make a difference.
Welcome! I like your username. EDIT: I know several people in this community who dropped out of math grad school, and most of them were happy with the decision. I'm choosing to graduate with a PhD in a useless field because I find myself in a situation where I can get one in exchange for a few months of work. I know someone who switched to algebraic statistics, which is a surprisingly useful field that involves algebraic geometry.
I haven't looked at this issue in detail, but I seem to recall that not getting more education was one of the more common regrets among "Terman's geniuses", whoever those are. Link.
What is their reasoning?
I can't speak for them, but I expect it's something like this: One can make more money, do more good, have a more fun career, and have more freedom in where one lives by dropping out than by going into academia. And having a PhD when hunting for non-academic jobs is not worth spending several years as a grad student doing what one feels is non-valuable work for little pay. You'd have to speak to someone who successfully dropped out to get more details; and of course even if all their judgments are correct, they may not be correct for you.
There are several people on LW (myself included) who continue to be in graduate school in mathematics. If you're interested in just talking math, there'll be an audience for that. I would personally be interested in more academic networking happening here--even if most people on LW will end up leaving mathematics as such.


I'm Jennifer; I'm currently a graduate student in medieval literature and a working actor. Thanks to homeschooling, though, I do have a solid background and abiding interest in quantum physics/pure mathematics/statistics/etc., and 'aspiring rationalist' is probably the best description I can provide! I found the site through HPMoR.

Current personal projects: learning German and Mandarin, since I already have French/Latin/Spanish/Old English/Old Norse taken care of, and much as I personally enjoy studying historical linguistics and old dead languages, knowing Mandarin would be much more practical (in terms of being able to communicate with the greatest number of people when travelling, doing business, reading articles, etc.)

Hey, another homeschooled person! There seem to be a lot of us here. How was your experience? Mine was the crazy religious type, but I still consider it to have been an overall good thing for my development relative to other feasible options.
Me three-- I thought I was the only one, where are we all hiding? :)
My experience was, overall, excellent - although my parents are definitely highly religious. (To be more precise, my father is a pastor, so biology class certainly contained some outdated ideas!) However, I'm in complete agreement - relative to any other possible options, I don't think I could have gotten a better education (or preparation for postsecondary/graduate studies) any other way.
Yeah, I got taught young earth creationism instead of evolution. But despite this, i think I was better prepared academically than most of my peers.
Your self-description is one of the best arguments for homeschooling I have ever seen or could imagine being made. (See also: Lillian Pierce.) Welcome to LW, and please keep existing.
Impressive! How do you plan to learn Mandarin? Immersion? Rosetta Stone?
Combination of methods based on what has worked for me in the past with other languages! I've used Rosetta Stone before, for French & Spanish, and while it's definitely got advantages, I (personally - I also know people who love it!) also found it very time-consuming for very little actual learning, and it's also expensive for what it is. Basically: a) I have enough friends who are either native or fluent speakers of Mandarin that once I'm a little more confident with the basics, I will draft them to help me practice conversation skills :) b) My university offers inexpensive part-time courses to current students. c) Lots of reading, textbook exercises, watching films, listening to music, translating/reading newspapers, etc. in the language. d) I'm planning to go to China to teach English in the not-too-distant future, so while I'd like to have basic communication skills down before I go, immersion will definitely help!


I’ve been interested in how to think well since early childhood. When I was about ten, I read a book about cybernetics. (This was in the Oligocene, when “cybernetics” had only recently gone extinct.) It gave simple introductions to probability theory, game theory, information theory, boolean switching logic, control theory, and neural networks. This was definitely the coolest stuff ever.

I went on to MIT, and got an undergraduate degree in math, specializing in mathematical logic and the theory of computation—fields that grew out of philosophical investigations of rationality.

Then I did a PhD at the MIT AI Lab, continuing my interest in what thinking is. My work there seems to have been turned into a surrealistic novel by Ken Wilber, a woo-ish pop philosopher. Along the way, I studied a variety of other fields that give diverse insights into thinking, ranging from developmental psychology to ethnomethodology to existential phenomenology.

I became aware of LW gradually over the past few years, mainly through mentions by people I follow on Twitter. As a lurker, there’s a lot about the LW community I’ve loved. On the other hand, I think some fundamental, generally-accepted ideas her... (read more)


Hey everyone!

I'm ll, my real name is Lukas. I am a student at a technical university in the US and a hobbyist FOSS programmer.

I discovered Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality accidentally one night, and since then I've been completely hooked on it. After I caught up, I decided to check out the Less Wrong community. I've been lurking since then, reading the essays, comments, hanging out in the IRC channel.

Welcome to Less Wrong III!
It's not III, it's lll.
We can just call him CL for short, to distinguish him from IIV.
Damn sans-serif fonts...
If I were reading this in inconsolata, I'd have known that. Thanks.
It seems like my username is already sparking some controversies. It's three lowercase L letters. My initial is LL, but I can't have a two letter username, so LLL, but I thought uppercase would be too much, so lll it is.
Thank you! I am definitely enjoying this community. I am a recent Reddit expat, too, so I will focus my internet browsing time here. I don't think I will miss Reddit at all.
If your Reddit time commitment was anything like that of other people I know, you should be able to blow through all the sequences in about a day or two : )

Hey, my name is Roman. You can read my detailed bio here, as well as some research papers I published on the topics of AI and security. I decided to attend a local LW meet up and it made sense to at least register on the site. My short term goal is to find some people in my geographic area (Louisville, KY, USA) to befriend.

Nice to see more AI experts here.
1Wei Dai
Hi Roman. Would you mind answering a few more questions that I have after reading your interview with Luke? Carl Shulman and Nick Bostrom have a paper coming out arguing that embryo selection can eventually (or maybe even quickly) lead to IQ gains of 100 points or more. Do you think Friendly AI will still be an unsolvable problem for IQ 250 humans? More generally, do you see any viable path to a future better than technological stagnation short of autonomous AGI? What about, for example, mind uploading followed by careful recursive upgrading of intelligence?
Hey Wei, great question! Agents (augmented humans) with IQ of 250 would be superintelligent with respect to our current position on the intelligence curve and would be just as dangerous to us, unaugment humans, as any sort of artificial superintelligence. They would not be guaranteed to be Friendly by design and would be as foreign to us in their desires as most of us are from severely mentally retarded persons. For most of us (sadly?) such people are something to try and fix via science not something for whom we want to fulfill their wishes. In other words, I don’t think you can rely on unverified (for safety) agent (event with higher intelligence) to make sure that other agents with higher intelligence are designed to be human-safe. All the examples you give start by replacing humanity with something not-human (uploads, augments) and proceed to ask the question of how to safe humanity. At that point you already lost humanity by definition. I am not saying that is not going to happen, it probably will. Most likely we will see something predicted by Kurzweil (merger of machines and people).
6Wei Dai
I think if I became an upload (assuming it's a high fidelity emulation) I'd still want roughly the same things that I want now. Someone who is currently altruistic towards humanity should probably still be altruistic towards humanity after becoming an upload. I don't understand why you say "At that point you already lost humanity by definition".
Wei, the question here is would rather than should, no? It's quite possible that the altruism that I endorse as a part of me is related to my brain's empathy module, much of which might be broken if I see cannot relate to other humans. There are of course good fictional examples of this, e.g. Ted Chiang's "Understand" - http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/stories/under.htm and, ahem, Watchmen's Dr. Manhattan.
4Eliezer Yudkowsky
Logical fallacy: Generalization from fictional evidence. A high-fidelity upload who was previously altruistic toward humanity would still be altruistic during the first minute after awakening; their environment would not cause this to change unless the same sensory experiences would have caused their previous self to change. If you start doing code modification, of course, some but not all bets are off.
Well, I did put a disclaimer by using the standard terminology :) Fiction is good for suggesting possibilities, you cannot derive evidence from it of course. I agree on the first-minute point, but do not see why it's relevant, because there is the 999999th minute by which value drift will take over (if altruism is strongly related to empathy). I guess upon waking up I'd make value preservation my first order of business, but since an upload is still evolution's spaghetti code it might be a race against time.
Perhaps the idea is that the sensory experience of no longer falling into the category of "human" would cause the brain to behave in unexpected ways? I don't find that especially likely, mind, although I suppose long-term there might arise a self-serving "em supremacy" meme.
+1 for linking to Understand ; I remembered reading the story long ago, but I forgot the link. Thanks for reminding me !
We can talk about what high fidelity emulation includes. Will it be just your mind? Or will it be Mind + Body + Environment? In the most common case (with an absent body) most typically human feelings (hungry, thirsty, tired, etc.) will not be preserved creating a new type of an agent. People are mostly defined by their physiological needs (think of Maslow’s pyramid). An entity with no such needs (or with such needs satisfied by virtual/simulated abandoned resources) will not be human and will not want the same things as a human. Someone who is no longer subject to human weaknesses or relatively limited intelligence may lose all allegiances to humanity since they would no longer be a part of it. So I guess I define “humanity” as comprised on standard/unaltered humans. Anything superior is no longer a human to me, just like we are not first and foremost Neanderthals and only after homo sapiens.
Insofar as Maslow's pyramid accurately models human psychology (a point of which I have my doubts), I don't think the majority of people you're likely to be speaking to on the Internet are defined in terms of their low-level physiological needs. Food, shelter, physical security -- you might have fears of being deprived of these, or even might have experienced temporary deprivation of one or more (say, if you've experienced domestic violence, or fought in a war) but in the long run they're not likely to dominate your goals in the way they might for, say, a Clovis-era Alaskan hunter. We treat cases where they do as abnormal, and put a lot of money into therapy for them. If we treat a modern, first-world, middle-class college student with no history of domestic or environmental violence as psychologically human, then, I don't see any reason why we shouldn't extend the same courtesy to an otherwise humanlike emulation whose simulated physiological needs are satisfied as a function of the emulation process.
I don’t know you, but for me only a few hours a day is devoted to thinking or other non-physiological pursuits, the rest goes to sleeping, eating, drinking, Drinking, sex, physical exercise, etc. My goals are dominated by the need to acquire resources to support physiological needs of me and my family. You can extend any courtesy you want to anyone you want but you (human body) and a computer program (software) don’t have much in common as far as being from the same group is concerned. Software is not humanity; at best it is a partial simulation of one aspect of one person.
It seems to me that there are a couple of things going on here. I spend a reasonable amount of time (probably a couple of hours of conscious effort each day; I'm not sure how significant I want to call sleep) meeting immediate physical needs, but those don't factor much into my self-image or my long-term goals; I might spend an hour each day making and eating meals, but ensuring this isn't a matter of long-term planning nor a cherished marker of personhood for me. Looked at another way, there are people that can't eat or excrete normally because of one medical condition or another, but I don't see them as proportionally less human. I do spend a lot of time gaining access to abstract resources that ultimately secure my physiological satisfaction, on the other hand, and that is tied closely into my self-image, but it's so far removed from its ultimate goal that I don't feel that cutting out, say, apartment rental and replacing it with a proportional bill for Amazon AWS cycles would have much effect on my thoughts or actions further up the chain, assuming my mental and emotional machinery remains otherwise constant. I simply don't think about the low-level logistics that much; it's not my job. And I'm a financially independent adult; I'd expect the college student in the grandparent to be thinking about them in the most abstract possible way, if at all.
Well, yes, a lot depends on what we assume the upload includes, and how important the missing stuff is. If Dave!upload doesn't include X1, and X2 defines Dave!original's humanity, and X1 contains X2, then Dave!upload isn't human... more or less tautologically. We can certainly argue about whether our experiences of hunger, thirst, fatigue, etc. qualify as X1, X2, or both... or, more generally, whether anything does. I'm not nearly as confident as you sound about either of those things. But I'm not sure that matters. Let's posit for the sake of comity that there exists some set of experiences that qualify for X2. Maybe it's hunger, thirst, fatigue, etc. as you suggest. Maybe it's curiosity. Maybe it's boredom. Maybe human value is complex and X2 actually includes a carefully balanced brew of a thousand different things, many of which we don't have words for. Whatever it is, if it's important to us that uploads be human, then we should design our uploads so that they have X2. Right? But you seem to be taking it for granted that whatever X2 turns out to be, uploads won't experience X2. Why?
Just because you can experience something someone else can does not mean that you are of the same type. Belonging to a class of objects (ex. Humans) requires you to be one. A simulation of a piece of wood (visual texture, graphics, molecular structure, etc.) is not a piece of wood and so does not belong to the class of pieces of wood. A simulated piece of wood can experience simulated burning process or any other wood-suitable experience, but it is still not a piece of wood. Likewise a piece of software is by definition not a human being, it is at best a simulation of one.
Ah. So when you say "most typically human feelings (hungry, thirsty, tired, etc.) will not be preserved creating a new type of an agent" you're making a definitional claim that whatever the new agent experiences, it won't be a human feeling, because (being software) the agent definitionally won't be a human. So on your view it might experience hunger, thirst, fatigue, etc., or it might not, but if it does they won't be human hunger, thirst, fatigue, etc., merely simulated hunger, thirst, fatigue, etc. Yes? Do I understand you now? FWIW, I agree that there are definitions of "human being" and "software" by which a piece of software is definitionally not a human being, though I don't think those are useful definitions to be using when thinking about the behavior of software emulations of human beings. But I'm willing to use your definitions when talking to you. You go on to say that this agent, not being human, will not want the same things as a human. Well, OK; that follows from your definitions. One obvious followup question is: would a reliable software simulation of a human, equipped with reliable software simulations of the attributes and experiences that define humanity (whatever those turn out to be; I labelled them X2 above), generate reliable software simulations of wanting what a human wants? Relatedly, do we care? That is, given a choice between an upload U1 that reliably simulates wanting what a human wants, and an upload U2 that doesn't reliable simulate wanting what a human wants, do we have any grounds for preferring to create U1 over U2? Because if it's important to us that uploads reliably simulate being human, then we should design our uploads so that they have reliable simulations of X2. Right?
Have you ever had the unfortunate experience of hanging out with really boring people; say, at a party ? The kind of people whose conversations are so vapid and repetitive that you can practically predict them verbatim in your head ? Were you ever tempted to make your excuses and duck out early ? Now imagine that it's not a party, but the entire world; and you can't leave, because it's everywhere. Would you still "feel altruistic toward humanity" at that point ?
It's easy to conflate uploads and augments, here, so let me try to be specific (though I am not Wei Dai and do not in any way speak for them). I experience myself as preferring that people not suffer, for example, even if they are really boring people or otherwise not my cup of tea to socialize with. I can't see why that experience would change upon a substrate change, such as uploading. Basically the same thing goes for the other values/preferences I experience. OTOH, I don't expect the values/preferences I experience to remain constant under intelligence augmentation, whatever the mechanism. But that's kind of true across the board. If you did some coherently specifiable thing that approximates the colloquial meaning of "doubled my intelligence" overnight, I suspect that within a few hours I would find myself experiencing a radically different (from my current perspective) set of values/preferences. If instead of "doubling" you "multiplied by 10" I expect that within a few hours I would find myself experiencing an incomprehensible (from my current perspective) set of values/preferences.
I'm going to throw out some more questions. You are by no means obligated to answer. In your AI Safety Engineering paper you say, "We propose that AI research review boards are set up, similar to those employed in review of medical research proposals. A team of experts in artificial intelligence should evaluate each research proposal and decide if the proposal falls under the standard AI – limited domain system or may potentially lead to the development of a full blown AGI." But would we really want to do this today? I mean, in the near future--say the next five years--AGI seems pretty hard to imagine. So might this be unnecessary? Or, what if later on when AGI could happen, some random country throws the rules out? Do you think that promoting global cooperation now is a useful way to address this problem, as I assert in this shamelessly self-promoted blog post? The general question I am after is, How do we balance the risks and benefits of AI research? Finally you say in your interview, "Conceivable yes, desirable NO" on the question of relinquishment. But are you not essentially proposing relinquishment/prevention?
Just because you can’t imaging AGI in the next 5 years, doesn’t mean that in four years someone will not propose a perfectly workable algorithm for achieving it. So yes, it is necessary. Once everyone sees how obvious AGI design is, it will be too late. Random countries don’t develop cutting edge technology; it is always done by the same Superpowers (USA, Russia, etc.). I didn’t read your blog post so can’t comment on “global cooperation”. As to the general question you are asking, you can get most conceivable benefits from domain expert AI without any need for AGI. Finally, I do think that relinquishment/delaying is a desirable thing, but I don’t think it is implementable in practice.
Is there a short form of where you see the line between these two types of systems? For example, what is the most "AGI-like" AI you can conceive of that is still "really a domain-expert AI" (and therefore putatively safe to develop), or vice-versa? My usual sense is that these are fuzzy terms people toss around to point to very broad concept-clusters, which is perfectly fine for most uses, but if we're really getting to the point of trying to propose policy based on these categories, it's probably good to have a clearer shared understanding of what we mean by the terms. That said, I haven't read your paper; if this distinction is explained further there, that's fine too.
Great question. To me a system is domain specific if it can’t be switched to a different domain without re-designing it. I can’t take Deep Blue and use it to sort mail instead. I can’t take Watson and use it to drive cars. An AGI (for which I have no examples) would be capable of switching domains. If we take humans as an example of general intelligence, you can take an average person and make them work as a cook, driver, babysitter, etc, without any need for re-designing them. You might need to spend some time teaching that person a new skill, but they can learn efficiently and perhaps just by looking at how it should be done. I can’t do this with domain expert AI. Deep Blue will not learn to sort mail regardless of how many times I demonstrate that process.
(nods) That's fair. Thanks for clarifying.
I've heard repeatedly that the correlation between IQ and achievement after about 120 (z = 1.33) is pretty weak, possibly even with diminishing returns up at the very top. Is moving to 250 (z = 10) passing a sort of threshold of intelligence at some point where this trend reverses? Or is the idea that IQ stops strongly predicting achievement above 120 wrong? This is something I've been curious about for a while, so I would really appreciate your help clearing the issue up a bit.
In agreement with Vaniver's comment, there is evidence that differences in IQ well above 120 are predictive of success, especially in science. For example: * IQs of a sample of eminent scientists were much higher than the average for science PhDs (~160 vs ~130) * Among those who take the SAT at age 13, scorers in the top .1% end up outperforming the top 1% in terms of patents and scientific publications produced as adults I don't think I have good information on whether these returns are diminishing, but we can at least say that they are not vanishing. There doesn't seem to be any point beyond which the correlation disappears.
I just read the "IQ's of eminent scientists" and realized I really need to get my IQ tested. I've been relying on my younger brother's test (with the knowledge that older brothers tend to do slightly better but usually within an sd) to guesstimate my own IQ but a) it was probably a capped score like Feynman's since he took it in middle school and b) I have to know if there's a 95% chance of failure going into my field. I'd like to think I'm smart enough to be prominent, but it's irrational not to check first. Thanks for the information; you might have just saved me a lot of trouble down the line, one way or the other.
I'd be very careful generalizing from that study to the practice of science today. Science in the 1950s was VERY different, the length of time to the phd was shorter, postdocs were very rare, and almost everyone stepped into a research faculty position almost immediately. In today's world, staying in science is much harder- there are lots of grad students competing for many postdocs competing for few permanent science positions. In today's world, things like conscientiousness, organization skills,etc (grant writing is now a huge part of the job) play a much larger role in eventually landing a job in the past, and luck is a much bigger driver (whether a given avenue of exploration pays off requires a lot of luck. Selecting people whose experiments ALWAYS work is just grabbing people who have been both good AND lucky). It would surprise me if the worsening science career hasn't changed the make up of an 'eminent scientist'.
At the same time, all of those points except the luck one could be presented as evidence that the IQ required to be eminent has increased rather than the converse. Grant writing and schmoozing are at least partially a function of verbal IQ, IQ in general strongly predicts academic success in grad school, and competition tends to winnow out the poor performers a lot more than the strong. Not that I really disagree, I just don't see it as particularly persuasive. That's just one of the unavoidable frustrations of human nature though; an experiment which dis-confirms it's hypothesis worked perfectly, it just isn't human nature to notice negatives.
I disagree for several reasons. Mostly, conscientiousness, conformity,etc are personality traits that aren't strongly correlated with IQ (conscientiousness may even be slightly negatively correlated). Would it surprise you to know that the most highly regarded grad students in my physics program all left physics? They had a great deal of success before and in grad school (I went to a top 5 program) , but left because they didn't want to deal with the administrative/grant stuff, and because they didn't want to spend years at low pay. I'd argue that successful career in science is selecting for some threshhold IQ and then much more strongly for a personality type.
No kidding.
Are you American? If you've taken the SAT, you can get a pretty good estimate of your IQ here.
Mensa apparently doesn't consider the SAT to have a high-enough g loading to be useful as an intelligence test after 1994. Although the website's figure are certainly encouraging, it's probably best to take them with a bit of salt.
True, but note that, in contrast with Mensa, the Triple Nine Society continued to accept scores on tests taken up through 2005, though with a higher cutoff (of 1520) than on pre-1995 tests (1450). Also, SAT scores in 2004 were found to have a correlation of about .8 with a battery of IQ tests, which I believe is on par with the correlations IQ tests have with each other. So the SAT really does seem to be an IQ test (and an extremely well-normed one at that if you consider their sample size, though perhaps not as highly g-loaded as the best, like Raven's). But yeah, if you want to have high confidence in a score, probably taking additional tests would be the best bet. Here's a list of high-ceiling tests, though I don't know if any of them are particularly well-normed or validated.
Is this what you intended to say? "Diminishing returns" seems to apply at the bottom the scale you mention. You've already selected the part where returns have started diminishing. Sometimes it is claimed that that at the extreme top the returns are negative. Is that what you mean?
Yeah, that's just me trying to do everything in one draft. Editing really is the better part of clear writing. I meant something along the lines of "I've heard it has diminishing returns and potentially [, probably due to how it affects metabolic needs and rate of maturation] even negative returns at the high end."
Most IQ tests are not very well calibrated above 120ish, because the number of people in the reference sample that scored much higher is rather low. It's also the case that achievement is a function of several different factors, which will probably become the limiting factor for most people at IQs higher than 120. That said, it does seem that in physics, first-tier physicists score better on cognitive tests than second-tier physicists, which suggests that additional IQ is still useful for achievement in the most cognitively demanding fields. It seems likely that augmented humans who do several times better than current humans on cognitive tests will also be able to achieve several times as much in cognitively demanding fields.
First, IQ tests don't go to 250 :-) Generally speaking standard IQ tests have poor resolution in the tails -- they cannot reliably identify whether you have the IQ of, say, 170 or 190. At some point all you can say is something along the lines of "this person is in the top 0.1% of people we have tested" and leave it at that. Second, "achievement" is a very fuzzy word. People mean very different things by it. And other than by money it's hard to measure.
I wonder how they propose to avoid the standard single-trait selective breeding issues, like accumulation of undesirable traits. For example, those geniuses might end up being sickly and psychotic.
It seems to me that this would not be a problem with iterated embryo selection, but I might be wrong. See also Yvain's "modal human" post.
Would it matter? C.f. goldmage.
Note also that Roman co-authored 3 of the papers on MIRI's publications page.
His paper http://cecs.louisville.edu/ry/LeakproofingtheSingularity.pdf seriously discusses ways to confine a potentially hostile superintelligence, a feat MIRI seems to consider hopeless. Did you guys have a good chat about it?

I think most everyone at MIRI and FHI thinks boxing is a good thing, even if many would say not enough on its own. I don't think you will find many who think that open internet connections are a matter of indifference for AI developers working with powerful AGI.

High-grade common sense (the sort you'd get by asking any specialist in computer security) says that you should design an AI which you would trust with an open Internet connection, then put it in the box you would use on an untrusted AI during development. (No, the AI will not be angered by this lack of trust and resent you. Thank you for asking.) I think it's safe to say that for basically everything in FAI strategy (I can't think of an exception right now) you can identify at least two things supporting any key point, such that either alone was designed to be sufficient independently of the other's failing, including things like "indirect normativity works" (you try to build in at least some human checks around this which would shut down any scary AI independently of your theory of indirect normativity being remotely correct, while also not trusting the humans to steer the AI because then the humans are your single point of failure).

See my interview with Roman here.
Thanks. Pretty depressing, though.

Hi everyone, my name is Sara!

I am 21, live in Switzerland and study psychology. I am fascinated with the field of rationality and therefore wrote my Bachelor thesis on why and how critical thinking should be taught in schools. I started out with the plan to get my degree in clinical- and neuropsychology but will now change to developmental psychology for I was able to fascinate my supervising tutor and secure his full support. This will allow me to base my Master project on the development and enhancing of critical thinking and rationality, too. Do you have any recommendations?

After my Master's degree I still intend on getting an education as therapist (money reasons) or going into research (pushing the experimental research on rationality) and on giving a lot of money to the most effective charities around. I wonder if as therapist it would be smarter to concentrate on children or adults; both fields will be open for me after my university education (which will take me about 2.5-3 more years). I speak German, Swiss German, Italian, French and English (and understand some more languages), which will give me some freedom in the choice where to actually work in future.

...but I'm not ... (read more)

Hello, Sara. Do you have any specific ideas for this. Are you aiming at enhancing rationality in adults or children? I don't have specific recommendations except perhaps people whose work is relevant, however, you would have encountered those around the site. P.S. I am mainly commenting here because this is the second time I see you on the internet within the last 4 hours.
Hello, Tenoke. I am aiming on enhancing rationality in children but indeed had to often fall back on research with older people. Until now I've been concentrating on the work of Stanovich, Facione, van Gelder and Twardy. Whose work do you think would be relevant, too? Thank you for your answer!
Well, Kahneman (and Tversky) would be the most obvious example out of those not mentioned. Otherwise Dennet, Gilovich, Slovic, Pinker, Taleb and Thaler would be some examples of people whose work has varying degrees of relevance to the subject. Those are the people who I can think of off the top of my head but the best way to systematically find researchers of interest would be to look at the reverse citations of Kahneman and Tversky's work or something of the sort.
Ah, how could I forget them! Biases and heuristics play a big role in my interests for critical thinking of course. I'm a bit surprised: how come you included Dennett and Pinker? I know these two for work that's (very interesting but) mostly unrelated to my addressed topic. I'm curious, seems like I missed something important.
I was writing on auto-pilot, you are right that their work is significantly less relevant to the topic than the others'.

If people have a problem with it, that's not my fault.

It might or it might not be. As a general rule, if two people think that a single issue of fact is a settled question, in different directions, then either they have access to different information, or one or both of them is incorrect.

If the former is the case, then they can share their information, after which either they will agree, or one or both will be incorrect.

If we're incorrect about religion being a settled question, we want to know that, so we can change our minds. If Mormonism is incorrect, do you want to know that?


I'm a final year Mathematics student at Cambridge coming from an IOI, IMO background. I've written software for a machine learning startup, a game dev startup and Google. I was recently interested in programming language theory esp. probabilistic and logic programming (some experiments here http://peteriserins.tumblr.com/archive).

I'm interested in many aspects of startups (including design) and hope to move into product management, management consulting or venture capital. I love trying to think rationally about business processes and have started to write about it at http://medium.com/@p_e .

I found out about LW from a friend and have since started reading the sequences. I hope to learn more about practical instrumental rationality, I am less interested in philosophy and the meta theory. So far I've learned more about practical application of mathematics from data science and consulting, but expect rationality to take it further and with more rigor.

Great meeting y'all

Welcome! You may want to consider participating in a CFAR workshop. I think it's 1000% as effective for learning instrumental rationality as reading Less Wrong. They're optimized for teaching practical skills, and they tend to attract entrepreneurs. Also, I think you'd be a valuable addition to the community around CFAR, in addition to the online community around the Less Wrong website.
As someone who has done a CFAR workshop, and a lot of online rationality stuff (including, but not limited to reading ~90% of the sequences) I second this. I'll also add that do think having a strong theoretical background going in enhances the practical training.

Lumifer, please update that at this moment you don't grok the difference between "A => B (p=0.05)" and "B => A (p = 0.05)", which is why you don't understand what p-value really means, which is why you don't understand the difference between selection bias and base rate neglect, which is probably why the emphasis on using Bayes theorem in scientific process does not make sense to you. You made a mistake, that happens to all of us. Just stop it already, please.

And don't feel bad about it. Until recently I didn't understand it too, and I had a gold medal from international mathematical olympiad. Somehow it is not explained correctly at most schools, perhaps because the teachers don't get it themselves, or maybe they just underestimate the difficulty of proper understanding and the high chance of getting it wrong. So please don't contibute to the confusion.

Imagine that there are 1000 possible hypotheses, among which 999 are wrong, and 1 is correct. (That's just a random example to illustrate the concept. The numbers in real life can be different.) You have an experiment that says "yes" to 5% of the wrong hypotheses (this is what p=0.05 means), and a... (read more)

LOL. Yeah, yeah, mea culpa, I had a brain fart and expressed myself very poorly. I do understand what p-value really means. The issue was that I had in mind a specific scenario (where in effect you're trying to see if the difference in means between two groups is significant) but neglected to mention it in the post :-)
I feel like this could use a bit longer explanation, especially since I think you're not hearing Lumifer's point, so let me give it a shot. (I'm not sure a see a meaningful difference between base rate neglect and selection bias in this circumstance.) The word "grok" in Viliam_Bur's comment is really important. This part of the grandparent is true: But it's like saying "well, assume the diagnosis is correct. Then the treatment will make the patient better with high probability." While true, it's totally out of touch with reality- we can't assume the diagnosis is correct, and a huge part of being a doctor is responding correctly to that uncertainty. Earlier, Lumifer said this, which is an almost correct explanation of using Bayes in this situation: The part that makes it the "almost" is the "5% of the times, more or less." This implies that it's centered around 5%, with random chance determining what this instance is. But selection bias means it will almost certainly be more, and generally much more. In fields that study phenomena that don't exist, 100% of the papers published will be of false results that were significant by chance. In many real fields, rates of failure to replicate are around 30%. Describing 30% as "5%, more or less" seems odd, to say the least. But the proposal to reduce the p value doesn't solve the underlying problem (which was Lumifer's response). If we set the p value threshold lower, at .01 or .001 or wherever, we reducing the risk of false positives at the cost of increasing the risk of false negatives. A study design which needs to determine an effect at the .001 level is much more expensive than a study design which needs to determine an effect at the .05 level, and so we will have many less studies attempted, and many many less published studies. Better to drop p entirely. Notice that stricter p thresholds go in the opposite direction as the publication of negative results, which is the real solution to the problem of selection bias
My grandparent post was stupid, but what I had in mind was basically a stage-2 (or -3) drug trial situation. You have declared (at least to the FDA) that you're running a trial, so selection bias does not apply at this stage. You have two groups, one receives the experimental drug, one receives a placebo. Assume a double-blind randomized scenario and assume there is a measurable metric of improvement at the end of the trial. After the trial you have two groups with two empirical distributions of the metric of choice. The question is how confident you are that these two distributions are different. Well, as usual it's complicated. Yes, the p-test is suboptimal in most situations where it's used in reality. However it fulfils a need and if you drop the test entirely you need a replacement for the need won't go away.

Hi, I'm Andrew, a college undergrad in computer science. I found this site through HPMOR a few years ago.

Hi everyone, I'm Chris. I'm a physics PhD student from Melbourne, Australia. I came to rationalism slowly over the years by having excellent conversations with like minded friends. I was raised a catholic and fully bought into the faith, but became an atheist in early high school when I realised that scientific explanations made more sense.

About a year ago I had a huge problem with the collapse postulate of quantum mechanics. It just didn't make sense and neither did anything anyone was telling me about it. This led me to discover that many worlds wasn't as crazy as it had been made out to be, and led me to this very community. My growth as a rationalist has made me distrust the consensus opinions of more and more groups, and realising that physicists could get something so wrong was the final nail in the coffin for my trust of the scientific establishment. Of course science is still the best way to figure things out, but as soon as opinions become politicised or tied to job prospects, I don't trust scientists as far as I can throw them. Related to this is my skepticism that climate change is a big deal.

I am frustrated more by the extent of unreason in educated circles than I am in... (read more)

I'm pretty social and would love to meet more rationalist friends, but I have the perception that if I went to a meetup most people would be less extroverted than me, and it might not be much fun for me.

My experience at meetups has been pretty social. After all, meetups select for people outgoing enough to go out of the house in the first place. I'd encourage you to go once, if there's a convenient meetup around. The value of information is high; if the meetup sucks, that costs one afternoon, but if it's good, you gain a new group of friends.

Excellent point, I know that effect makes a huge difference in other contexts, so that resonates with me. Ok, well I'll give it a shot. There are no meetups near where I am in Germany at the moment, but I'll be back in Melbourne later in the year where there seems to be some regular stuff going on.
Welcome! What do you think of the Born probabilities?
I haven't gone through any of the supposed derivations, but I'm led to believe that the Born rule is convincingly derivable within many worlds. I have a book called "Many Worlds? Everett, quantum theory and reality", which contains such a derivation, I've been meaning to read it for a while and will get around to it some day. It claims: Which I think is a nice angle to view it from. At any rate, the Born rule is a fairly natural result to have, since the probabilities are simply the vector product of the wavefunction with itself, which is how you normally define the sizes of vectors in vector spaces. So I'm expecting the argument in the book to be related to the criteria that mathematicians use to define inner products, and how those criteria map to assumptions about the universe (ie no preferred spatial direction, that sort of thing). Maybe if I understand it I'll post something here about it for those who are interested — I'm yet to see a blog-style summary of where the Born rule comes from. At any rate it doesn't come from anywhere in the way we're taught quantum mechanics at uni, it's simply an axiom that one doesn't question. So any derivation, however assumption laden and weak would be an improvement over standard Copenhagen.


I'm a long-time singularitarian and (intermediate) rationalist looking be a part of the conversation again. By day I am an English teacher in a suburban American high school. My students have been known to Google me. Rather than self-censor I am using a pseudonym so that I will feel free to share my (anonymized) experiences as a rationalist high school teacher.

I internet-know a number of you in this community from early years of the Singularity Institute. I fleetingly met at a few in person once, perhaps. I used to write on singularity-related issues, and was a proud "sniper" of the SL4 mailing list for a time. For the last 6-7 years I've mostly dropped off the radar by letting "life" issues consume me, though I have continued to follow the work of the key actors from afar with interest. I allow myself some pride for any small positive impact I might have once had during a time of great leverage for donors and activists, while recognizing that far too much remains undone. (If you would like to confirm your suspicions of my identity, I would love to hear from you with a PM. I just don't want Google searches of my real name pulling up my LW acti... (read more)

0Said Achmiz
Welcome to Less Wrong! Is your user name a reference to "Darmok"?