Short introductory materials for a rationality meetup

by Dolores19841 min read13th Nov 201210 comments


Personal Blog

So, I and a few other people are starting a Bayesian Conspiracy chapter at my university (New Mexico Tech).  We're trying to put together a short (three page) introductory packet to give to new members.  We'd like the packet to introduce people to what rationality is, what it's useful for, and some of the basic techniques.  We'd like it to be as readable and palatable as possible, to avoid the intimidation factor of simply pointing people at the Sequences, which are not particularly friendly to a casual reader.  

I'm compiling some materials of my own for this purpose, but before I get too excited, I thought I ought to check if any of the other meetups had or knew of something along these lines already created.  If not, we'll post our packet on our website for other meetups to use as they see fit.  

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You're calling a rationality club the "Bayesian Conspiracy"? What are you gonna do if some statistics professor shows up, expecting it to be about their field?

Then he could give a guest lecture, and that'd be pretty cool.

[-][anonymous]8y 3

We've created something similar for Ohio LessWrong. Let me check with the main creator before posting a link.

[-][anonymous]8y 7

Here's a link to our LW primer.

It's a trifold pamphlet, so not meant to be read left to right (obviously). We have some basic info in there, and then a couple of vocab terms that might come up in a regular meetup.

Is everyone on Less Wrong an atheist?
It certainly can seem that way at times! Religion tends to get heavily criticised around here, as many atheists see it as a major source of irrationality. There are a few religious members, however, and by no means is being an atheist a prerequisite to being a part of our group. As long as you’re interested in honing your beliefs to match the truth (whatever it may be), you’re welcome here.

As one of the religious folk on LW, if your goal is to get people to still show up, I might tweak it to:

LW is definitely disproportionately atheist, but there are some religious members. We're interested in honing our beliefs to match the truth (whatever that may be) and a lot of our members have concluded religion is false and is a major source of irrationality. The existence of god(s) isn't the only claim about the world we discuss, and our focus isn't just on settling one claim but getting better at making sense of the evidence to deal with all sorts of claims. If that's a project you're interested in, you're very welcome at our meetings.

That way the focus is on method not on "we spend a lot of time heavily criticizing religion"

In our club, we've decided to assume atheism (or, minimum, deism) on the part of our membership. Our school has an extremely high percentage of atheists and agnostics, and we really don't feel it's worth arguing over that kind of inferential distance. We'd rather it be the 'discuss cool things' club than the 'argue with people who don't believe in evolution' club.

D'you mean you've found the topic of religion to be mindkilling, so all discussions in your group need to work within the majority framework of atheism/deism to be productive or that you restrict your membership?

Nothing so drastic. Just a question of the focus of the club, really. Our advertising materials will push it as a skeptics / freethinkers club, as well as a rationality club, and the leadership will try to guide discussion away from heated debate over basics (evolution, old earth, etc.).

Beginning it with "here are the people you're likely to hear about" doesn't exactly dispel the, um, phyggish impression some people have of LW. For that matter, if anyone's going to have difficulty participating in (or making sense of) your discussions without knowing those names then the phyggish impression shouldn't be dispelled.

(Primary author, here.)

This is a good point, and obviously there's a lot of tension between phyggish meme-sharing/codewords and a desire to be more inclusive and not so scary. An earlier draft actually made it an explicit point to talk about the perception of phyg, as I think it's one of the biggest PR issues we have.

The pamphlet was written to try and help people not feel so overwhelmed by coming into a space so loaded down with jargon, but you're right that it perpetuates the problem. I encourage people to copy and edit this, perhaps tailoring it to the level of jargon and the specific goals of your group.

Here's a link to a non-pdf version.