"Essayer is the French verb meaning "to try" and an essai is an attempt. An essay is something you write to try to figure something out... In a real essay, you don't take a position and defend it. You notice a door that's ajar, and you open it and walk in to see what's inside." -- Paul Graham


Meetup Writeups


What are good rationality exercises?

Betting with real money is definitely a useful way of probing at your own confidence (I don't do it much at all due to general underconfidence, but it's sure helped me nail down the feeling of being really sure of something), and a lot of my rationalist friends do it on a handshake-agreement basis. However, any way of formalizing this would turn LW (or whatever institution) into a gambling site, which is illegal :/

The rationalist community's location problem

Also, just general kudos for proposing ideas and being willing to make things happen. I remember when you were trying to get that meetup started in Vegas! :)

The rationalist community's location problem

Perhaps, but I've found that without a Schelling event like the annual SSC Meetups Everywhere (sadly and obviously canceled this year, maybe I should do something to replace it...), people almost never take that step of reaching out. The map is just so passive, although maybe the real problem is as you implied: that we don't have critical mass.

In any case, whether or not it would work in normal times, it seems like not a priority right now given the state of the world :P 

The rationalist community's location problem

I think you're underestimating serendipity. In a single rationalist house in a non-hub, you'll have the benefit of being around a couple cool people who think like you (to a first approximation), but you don't have many opportunities to make new rationalist connections like you would in a larger hub. I'm not really one to proactively reach out to new people, so having the opportunity to meet them at parties or hangouts or through mutual friends has shaped my experience a a lot. 

Plus, I've been really grateful for the opportunities to work at value-aligned organizations, which I almost certainly wouldn't have had elsewhere.

Open & Welcome Thread - September 2020

Yup, https://www.theverge.com/2020/9/22/21451283/microsoft-openai-gpt-3-exclusive-license-ai-language-research

The rationalist community's location problem

Yeah, it's sounding like this is probably going to end up being the right answer (insofar as there is a 'right answer'). 

Over the years there have been quite a few 'secondary hubs' centered around strong local groups, including:

  • NYC
  • Seattle
  • Boston
  • Oxford
  • Berlin
  • Melbourne
  • Ontario?

But things have shifted a bunch and many of those people ended up moving to Berkeley. My rough sense now is that we have:

  • Prague 
    • draw: Czech EA
    • type: big city , continental Europe
  • Blackpool 
    • draw: the EA Hotel
    • type: small town
  • Oxford? 
    • draw: FHI
    • type: university town
  • London? 
    • draw: 80000 Hours is there
    • type: big city

I notice that all of these are in Europe, and three of them are in England. (Moscow also has a strong community but I didn't count them because most of their stuff is conducted in Russian, which makes it a bad option for the median rationalist looking to move somewhere new.) Perhaps it would be better to diversify away from England and the US, like maybe some of us should move (back) to Australia. 

But more importantly, there already are other options for hubs, they're just not as well-known. Maybe we should focus on developing these hubs that we already have, rather than trying to find new ones? 

The rationalist community's location problem

There's a story in Happy City (great book, highly recommended) about some people becoming friends with their neighbors, knocking down the fences in their backyards, and eventually spreading this to their entire block, such that it became a big, semi-private park surrounded by the houses of trusted friends. Habryka and I are definitely pretty excited about something like that. In an area with less insane property values I would imagine this would be pretty doable. 

The rationalist community's location problem

Thanks for this comment! Yeah, the worry was not that we would be against being around our outgroup, but that they would be against having us there. I'm Asian, and I've heard from family members who live in smaller cities in the US that they feel increasingly unsafe traveling in more rural areas - there are increasing numbers of Confederate flags, even in the Midwest. Even when I was a kid we got funny looks, standoffishness, and frequent attempts to convert us to Christianity (and we're only half-Asian, which may well be the easiest type of non-white to be!). Sounds like it's worse now. This may be just a matter of perception, but I think it's important. I get nervous when my sister brings up being gay when we're in a rural diner; I definitely wouldn't want to bring a bunch of people who are trans, autistic, and/or talk openly about eugenics to an area like that.

Also, uncontroversial opinion: it seems generally bad to be around people who might perpetrate violence against you. For all of the faults of the Bay Area's liberal culture, it does promote a sort of radical acceptance of weirdness, which means people don't have to hide the fact that they're trans, poly, or whatever else they may be. And while you may genuinely have to worry about backlash for political opinions here (e.g. the 2017 Milo Yiannopoulos debacle on Berkeley campus), protestors generally prefer to cultivate an image of nonviolence, which means you are at least probably not in immediate bodily danger. In pro-NRA areas violence feels a lot more like a live option, though I don't have any statistics so that may be a faulty impression. 

Anyway, I'm sorry for unnecessarily politicizing part of the original post. But hopefully this comment has explained what I was trying to point at with that sentence. 

The rationalist community's location problem

(1) My guess is that not all of the people who currently live in group houses would do so if rent were lower and they could live close to their friends anyway. However, I do know quite a few people who actively prefer group living situations, and a prohibition on such living arrangements would be a big negative for them. You could plausibly get around this by e.g. just renting every unit in an apartment building. These are all reasons why these laws are a major consideration but not a dealbreaker.

(2) My main claims were that it's really difficult to build community in sparsely populated areas, and that driving cars is dangerous. I think these are both pretty well-supported, and that they matter a lot regardless of anyone's personal preferences around driving / owning a car.

(3) Mostly anecdotal. I personally don't mind cold weather, but it is kind of annoying to have to be shut in your house for half the year. And I think even those of us from cold climates have acclimated to California's temperate weather, such that it would be somewhat unpleasant to go back.

(4) An assumption, I guess. Feels right though.

Good points overall, thanks!

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