Introduction To Lesswrong Subculture

Discuss the wiki-tag on this page. Here is the place to ask questions and propose changes.

3 comments, sorted by
New Comment

I think it's good that a page like this exists; I'd want to be able to use it as a go-to link when suggesting people engage with or post on LessWrong, e.g. in my post on Notes on EA-related research, writing, testing fit, learning, and the Forum.

Unfortunately, it seems to me that this page isn't well suited to that purpose. Here are some things that seem like key issues to me (maybe other people would disagree):

  • This introduction seems unnecessarily intimidating, non-welcoming, and actually (in my perception) somewhat arrogant. For example:
    • "If you have no familiarity with the cultural articles and other themes before you begin interacting, your social experiences are likely to be highly awkward. The rationalist way of thinking and subculture is extremely, extremely complex. To give you a gist of how complex it is and what kind of complexity you'll encounter:"
      • This feels to me like saying "We're very special and you need to do your homework to deeply understand us before interacting at all with us, or you're just wasting our time and we'll want you to go away."
      • I do agree that the rationalist culture can take some getting used to, but I don't think it's far more complex or unusual than the cultures in a wide range of other subcultures, and I think it's very often easiest to get up to speed with a culture partly just by interacting with it.
      • I do agree that reading parts of the Sequences is useful, and that it's probably good to gently encourage new users to do that. But I wouldn't want to make it sound like it's a hard requirement or like they have to read the whole thing. And this passage will probably cause some readers to infer that, even if it doesn't outright say it. (A lot of people lurk more than they should, have imposter syndrome, etc.)
        • I started interacting on LessWrong before having finished the Sequences (though I'd read some), and I think I both got and provided value from those interactions.
      • Part of this is just my visceral reaction to any group saying their way of thinking and subculture is "extremely, extremely complex", rather than me having explicit reasons to think that that's bad.
  • I wrote all of that before reading the next paragraphs, and the next paragraphs very much intensified my emotional feeling of "These folks seem really arrogant and obnoxious and I don't want to ever hang out with them"
    • This is despite the fact that I've actually engaged a lot on LessWrong, really value a lot about it, rank the Sequences and HPMOR as among my favourite books, etc.
  • Maybe part of this is that this is describing what rationalists aim to be as if all rationalists always hit that mark.
    • Rationalists and the rationalist community often do suffer from the same issues other people and communities do. This was in fact one of the really valuable things Eliezer's posts pointed out (e.g., being wary of trending towards cult-hood).

Again, these are just my perceptions. But FWIW, I do feel these things quite strongly. 

Here are a couple much less important issues:

  • I don't think I'd characterise the Sequences as "mostly like Kahneman, but more engaging, and I guess with a bit of AI etc." From memory, a quite substantial chunk of the sequences - and quite a substantial chunk of their value - had to do with things other than cognitive biases, e.g. what goals one should form, why, how to act on them, etc. Maybe this is partly a matter of instrumental rather than just epistemic rationality.
    • Relatedly, I think this page presents a misleading or overly narrow picture of what's distinctive (and good!) about rationalist approaches to forming beliefs and choosing decisions when it says "There are over a hundred cognitive biases that humans are affected by that rationalists aim to avoid. Imagine you added over one hundred improvements to your way of thinking."
  • "Kahneman is notoriously dry" feels like an odd thing to say. Maybe he is, but I've never actually heard anyone say this, and I've read one of his books and papers and watched one of his talks and found them all probably somewhat more engaging than similar things from the average scientist. (Though maybe this was more the ideas themselves, rather than the presentation.)

(I didn't read "Website Participation Intro or "Why am I being downvoted?"", because it was unfortunately already clear that I wouldn't want to link to this page when aiming to introduce people to LessWrong and encourage them to read, comment, and/or post there.)

Hey, sorry that you came across this instead of the current welcome/about page. I agree with much of your feedback here, glad the Welcome/About page does meet the need.

I added a note to this page saying it was written in 2015 (by one particular user, as you'll see in the history). So we've got it for historical reasons, but I also wouldn't use it as an intro.

(Update: I just saw the post Welcome to LessWrong!, and I think that that serves my needs well.)