Cult impressions of Less Wrong/​Singularity Institute

If you type “less wrong c” or “sin­gu­lar­ity in­sti­tute c” into Google, you’ll find that peo­ple are search­ing for “less wrong cult” and “sin­gu­lar­ity in­sti­tute cult” with some fre­quency. (EDIT: Please avoid test­ing this out, so Google doesn’t au­to­com­plete your search and re­in­force their po­si­tions. This kind of prob­lem can be hard to get rid of. Click these in­stead: less wrong cult, sin­gu­lar­ity in­sti­tute cult.)
There doesn’t seem to be any­one ar­gu­ing se­ri­ously that Less Wrong is a cult, but we do give some new­com­ers that im­pres­sion.

I have sev­eral ques­tions re­lated to this:

  • Did any­one read­ing this ini­tially get the im­pres­sion that Less Wrong was cultish when they first dis­cov­ered it?

  • If so, can you sug­gest any easy steps we could take?

  • Is it pos­si­ble that there are as­pects of the at­mo­sphere here that are driv­ing away in­tel­li­gent, ra­tio­nally in­clined peo­ple who might oth­er­wise be in­ter­ested in Less Wrong?

  • Do you know any­one who might fall into this cat­e­gory, i.e. some­one who was ex­posed to Less Wrong but failed to be­come an en­thu­si­ast, po­ten­tially due to at­mo­sphere is­sues?

  • Is it pos­si­ble that our cul­ture might be differ­ent if these folks were hang­ing around and con­tribut­ing? Pre­sum­ably they are dis­pro­por­tionately rep­re­sented among cer­tain per­son­al­ity types.


    If you visit any Less Wrong page for the first time in a cook­ies-free brows­ing mode, you’ll see this mes­sage for new users:

    Less Wrong is a com­mu­nity blog de­voted to re­fin­ing the art of hu­man ra­tio­nal­ity. Please visit our About page for more in­for­ma­tion.

    Here are the worst vi­o­la­tors I see on that about page:

    Some peo­ple con­sider the Se­quences the most im­por­tant work they have ever read.

    Gen­er­ally, if your com­ment or post is on-topic, thought­ful, and shows that you’re fa­mil­iar with the Se­quences, your com­ment or post will be up­voted.

    Many of us be­lieve in the im­por­tance of de­vel­op­ing qual­ities de­scribed in Twelve Virtues of Ra­tion­al­ity: [in­sert mys­ti­cal sound­ing de­scrip­tion of how to be ra­tio­nal here]

    And on the se­quences page:

    If you don’t read the se­quences on Mys­te­ri­ous An­swers to Mys­te­ri­ous Ques­tions and Re­duc­tion­ism, lit­tle else on Less Wrong will make much sense.

    This seems ob­vi­ously false to me.

    Th­ese may not seem like cultish state­ments to you, but keep in mind that you are one of the ones who de­cided to stick around. The typ­i­cal mind fal­lacy may be at work. Clearly there is some pop­u­la­tion that thinks Less Wrong seems cultish, as ev­i­denced by Google’s au­to­com­plete, and these look like good can­di­dates for things that makes them think this.

    We can fix this stuff eas­ily, since they’re both wiki pages, but I thought they were ex­am­ples worth dis­cussing.

    In gen­eral, I think we could stand more com­mu­nity effort be­ing put into im­prov­ing our about page, which you can do now here. It’s not that visi­ble to vet­eran users, but it is very visi­ble to new­com­ers. Note that it looks as though you’ll have to click the lit­tle “Force reload from wiki” but­ton on the about page it­self for your changes to be pub­lished.