I'm trying to become more concise and articulate in my writing, so I welcome anyone and everyone to critique my postings. I know this post is long-winded when compared to its neighbors. I left it long since it took me a number of words to relate where I came from, which I imagine to be more interesting than the TL;DR version, which goes something like, "My name is Ben. I used to be a devout Christian, then I was drug-addled and irrational in myriad ways. Now, I know some mathematics, but not a ton, and I'd like to learn more of the math I like and continue working on thinking less irrationally." )
My name is Ben. I'm 23 years old, and I live in the southeastern USA. I moved back here to attend university after spending a few years working on the west coast. Perhaps you've had a friend who had another friend, and this second friend turned your friend on to the idea that some of this or that would teach them something about this. I've been this person, and my road to rationality began with going a little loopy after a little too much of this, which came out of this.
I grew up in Mississippi. I was nursed on Jesus, Calvin, hellfire, brimstone, and Coca Cola. The lessons in homophobia were more explicit than the ones in racism. Also, lots of video games. This generated a critical mass (sorry physicists) of cognitive dissonance that led to me leaving the church and nearly dropping out of secondary school. I tried a semester of college. The courses presented were there for reasons bureaucratic more so than anything else. I wasn't sure what I was doing there, so I left and ended up in a rural community on the west coast. That's where the drugs happened, and it's where the drugs ended. Apparently, toads from a gas station parking lot contain several things at least as weird as the thing I wanted them to contain. I adapted to the physical side-effects over time, but the immediate impact on my cognition was overwhelming at the time. Things previously innocuous would now keep me from sleeping for a week and stir up a great deal of existential dread. I came home for a few months. I spent a lot of time outdoors running and doing construction work, and I spent a lot of time sitting alone in my room with my mind. I learned to meditate, and I started reading again. My brain was having a hard time sticking to reality at the time, and I was very scared. I knew I had been foolish and wrong. I knew I was lacking in discernment. What I didn't know was where to start with developing my thought to be more rational.
I went back out west for maybe five months the next year. I got back in touch with some folks in the San Francisco Bay Area. I stayed away from drugs, but I could tell in my conversations and actions that I was still missing something.
I returned again to Mississippi at the beginning of 2012 to get back into school, which I had dropped out of in 2008. I started in biology, but our program wasn't remotely quantitative, which is rubbish if you aren't trying to go to med school. After a semester of this, I read HPMoR as it existed at the time at the suggestion of a relative. I also discovered LW as result. I lurked a bit, but I was spending most of the summer camping, which made it hard to keep up with web content. I forgot about LW as a community for the most part, but it played a big role in getting me to think more about how I thought and in inspiring me to change majors and largely ignore biological science for the time being.
I switched to mathematics, with no significant background in the area, a little less than two years ago. Since then, I've completed all but the three capstone classes for our curriculum, which I need to pick up over the next year. I went through my curriculum in a bit of a rush. I took summer classes. I took some "upper level" classes early. I hurt myself by memorizing passwords for a few classes I was less interested in, but the upside is that was making time to learn to program. (UPDATE: This absolutely applies to the preceding sentence.) I developed an interest in theoretical computer science and in general abstract nonsense, but I'm only just now making time to actually familiarize myself with the subjects. Now, I'm trying to be more objective about my learning process. I'm recognizing my weaknesses, which are plenty. You see, it's still been less than a year since I drew my first little QED box.
A little over a month ago, three things happened that led to me gaining a great deal of direction that I was lacking.
First, I realized that my undergraduate studies were almost over, although they would be stretched out over the next year, and that I've hardly managed to scratch the surface of mathematics.
Second, I found that the Singularity Institute had become MIRI, saw the course list, and then found Nate's posts on productivity.
*Third, I found the Less Wrong Study Hall, where you can find me as simply "ben."I was thrilled to see that there was actually a call for caring about this sort of material (apart from my own interests), and I was inspired by Nate's independent study endeavors. The study hall was my first step towards getting involved with the community, and I found it to be greatly rewarding both socially and in terms of productivity.
My school doesn't offer many classes of the sort I'm interested in, and I don't feel that I have sufficient experience to apply to graduate programs that do. As I result, I've started tackling the MIRI course list on my own time. I'm loving it, and I would love to discuss it... especially talking about setting reasonable expectations given my position as a relative novice. I'm presently working through material on probability models and discrete mathematics first, as it's what I have the most past experience with, but I'm also getting into areas pertaining more explicitly to theoretical computer science and mathematical logic.
Thanks for taking the time to read my little account of things. I look forward to getting to know you as well!