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Welcome to Less Wrong! (6th thread, July 2013)

Hello, LessWrong. I'm an 18-year-old recent high school graduate with an interest in computers and science and nerdery-in-general. A summary of your-life-until-Lesswrong seems to be the norm in this thread, so I suppose that's what I'll do.

I was born and raised Mormon. About as Mormon as they come, really- nearly all of my relatives practice the religion, and all of the norms and rituals were expectations for me- everything the church said was presented as fact, and everything the church did was something my family participated in, right up to the five-in-the-morning seminary classes in high school and obligatory two years of preaching about the church (for the boys, at least, because I was one). My social group was almost entirely comprised of members of the church as well, which meant I was almost never exposed to ideas that wouldn't be discussed either in a church or by public school teachers. All this to say that I managed to really, truly believe it- right up until I was around 14, which is when I got my hands on a means of unsupervised internet access. I was honestly surprised by how normal things seemed, outside that bubble in which I had grown up. Everything seemed strange and terrifying, at first (and still does on some level) but… The people didn’t seem all that different. Which wasn’t necessarily a good thing, talking to them wasn’t any more appealing a prospect than talking to anyone I’d grown up with, but still.

I was one of those 'gifted' kids in elementary school- the ones with the college-level reading skills in fourth grade. I took pride in that- my ability to memorize things, my ability to understand how they worked before anyone else did. I spent a long time poring over scripture and religious texts, trying to find explanations for how it all worked- souls, miracles, the world-in-general, (I guess my brain really does have a rationality-shaped hole) but I never found anything. The adults told me to pray, but that didn't even seem like it should have worked (I tried it anyway, of course- nothing ever happened).

Once I started reading things that hadn't been filtered through the church, though, I started to think that maybe they didn't have any answers- and then stopped. I couldn't let myself think that, thoughts like that were bad, thoughts like that were questioning and I had been explicitly warned against that many times- thinking about doing something was almost as bad as doing it, after all, and everyone who stepped up to the podium talked about how they "knew" the church was true, how there was "not a shadow of a doubt" in their minds. My mind had more than shadows. I couldn't outright lie about that of course, that would be even worse, but I could say I believed- I couldn't say I knew, I didn't have sufficient evidence to know, I'd never seen a miracle- but belief was different, right?

I'm not sure when that period ended- I think it was more a gradual transition, but by the time I turned 16, I was full-on agnostic. I didn't tell my parents this until a half-year later, of course, I was terrified of what they'd do, but it was progress nonetheless. When I finally did tell them I was surprised how calmly they took it- judging from the conversation afterwards, I don't think my dad ever really believed it- he told me that he knew of no barrier to continued participation even if I didn't believe and that no, there wasn't enough evidence, but religion wasn't about that. I wasn't sure what it was supposed to be about in that case, but whatever.

I spent my free time the year or so after that thinking about things, because there were so many new things I was allowed to think about and question! I didn't even realize some of those things had questions you could ask about them! Like gender. Questions about that... Turned out to have inconvenient answers, which I need to get around to dealing with, but whatever. (Edited-to-add that I meant this in the 'whoops I'm a girl apparently' sense) I also spent a lot of that time angsting about how I didn't have an afterlife to look forward to, and how I wasn't going to live long enough to see even one exoplanet, and maybe it'd be preferable to die now instead of dealing with all that.

This continued about until I stumbled across HPMoR, which succeeded in kicking me from agnosticism to atheism, and hitting me in the face with the realization that I was allowed to want to live forever. My problem was then that I didn't see a practical means of achieving that, but then I ended up at Lesswrong a few months later and concluded that working on AI was probably the way to go.

And now I have read all the major sequences, which was interesting- I had a sort of hazy, intuitive-level understanding of a lot of the concepts, and as I read they sort of sharpened to the point that I could think about them explicitly. A lot of them introduced completely new ideas though, like Alicorn’s Luminosity sequence- the idea of getting better models of myself just hadn’t occurred to me, and has proved very useful- figuring out what causes me to feel boredom, for example, managed to get my brain to sneeze out something resembling an actual work ethic into me, which might be the single most valuable thing I’ve gotten out of Lesswrong so far, really.

I’ve started reading some of the recommended literature, like Thinking, Fast and Slow and QED and… That’s about where I am now. I have run out of other things to do, so I figure I’ll try and start participating, and see where that takes me.

So, since it seems like welcome-thread posts should have a greater density of hellos than one per thousand words, Hello!

(tl;dr I tried to introduce myself but instead of a long introduction I ended up with a short autobiography, sorry)

(Wow this was melodramatic, I apologize)