Externally Oriented, Love, Sensational. Which Rationality will LW be about?

Short Ver­sion: Less Wrong has been try­ing to ad­dress ra­tio­nal­ity in all do­mains. This may prove too wide a scope. As it has been sug­gested, effec­tive­ness changes should come soon. Those who just read the se­quences need more a fo­cused walk­through. A pro­posed path is tight­en­ing the scope within ra­tio­nal­ity to Ex­ter­nally Ori­ented, Tech-friendly, H+(Tran­shu­man) posts. Once the san­ity wa­ter­line within is raised only the high­est peaks re­main above wa­ter, thus what re­mains must be more fo­cused. How to do this is dis­cussed.

I’m test­ing this quote from Less Wrong’s Best Of to in­tro­duce my post:

A fa­cil­ity for quo­ta­tion cov­ers the ab­sence of origi­nal thought. -- Dorothy L. Sayers

Gar­rett Lisi has ad­vanced, in the last min­utes of this video, the sug­ges­tion that life should equally di­vided be­tween Physics, Love, and Sur­fing.

Eliezer Yud­kowsky, here, ad­vanced that we buy fuzzies and utilons sep­a­rately.

Pa­tris­simo, in a very con­tro­ver­sial post said that: As Mer­lin Mann says: “Join­ing a Face­book group about cre­ative pro­duc­tivity is like buy­ing a chair about jog­ging”. Well, read­ing a blog to over­come akra­sia IS join­ing a Face­book group about cre­ative pro­duc­tivity. ” [...] ” I be­lieve that most peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly smart ones, do way too much think­ing & talk­ing and way too lit­tle ac­tion (me in­cluded), be­cause that is what’s easy for them.”[...] “To aid growth at ra­tio­nal­ity, Less Wrong would have to be­come a skill prac­tice com­mu­nity, more like mar­tial arts, PUA, and phys­i­cal fit­ness, with an ex­plicit fo­cus of helping peo­ple grow in their abil­ity to set and achieve goals, com­bin­ing lo­cal chap­ters with global co­or­di­na­tion, in­fras­truc­ture, and knowl­edge ac­cu­mu­la­tion. Most dis­cus­sion should be among peo­ple work­ing on a spe­cific skill at a similar level about what is or isn’t work­ing for them as they at­tempt to progress, rather than ob­scure the­o­ries about the in­ner work­ings of the hu­man mind.”

“The rea­son­able man adapts him­self to the world. The un­rea­son­able man per­sists in try­ing to adapt the world to him­self. There­fore, all progress de­pends on the un­rea­son­able man.”—Ge­orge Bernard Shaw

So I de­cided to in­vest my few karma points in ad­vanc­ing an un­rea­son­able sug­ges­tion, as a fol­lowup to Pa­tris­simo’s post.

First let me ab­stract from Gar­rett Lisi’s tri­adic di­vi­sion of life its sweet juice: it is not Physics, Love and Surf that mat­ter for al­most ev­ery­one, but Ex­ter­nally Ori­ented , Love and Sen­sa­tional ac­tivi­ties.

Ex­ter­nally ori­ented ac­tivi­ties in­clude from mus­ing about fluid me­chan­ics and the Pirahã lan­guage, up­till char­ity and just plain reg­u­lar paid work. For most peo­ple (not nec­es­sar­ily most Less Wrong peo­ple) this will be Other Ori­ented ac­tivi­ties, be­cause most peo­ple care more about peo­ple than about other beau­tiful ob­jects that also pop­u­late our uni­verse. Both in­ter­est in the world-ex­cept us and in­ter­est in peo­ple are woth­while defens­able ac­tivi­ties, and we are prone to prais­ing them hardly.

Love ac­tivi­ties in­clude groom­ing, so­cial­iz­ing, chat­ting, face­book­ing, bond­ing, hug­ging, watch­ing Shel­don say “Coi­tus” in Big Bang The­ory, coitus it­self, vibing, be­ing in love, and most things that those of a not-so-lov­ing na­ture will en­joy read­ing about in The En­docrinol­ogy of So­cial Re­lash­ion­ships. Those a lit­tle more so­cial who hap­pen to be male will also learn from the PUA com­mu­nity.

Sen­sa­tional ac­tivi­ties. I’ll quote Su­san Green­field, who di­rects FHI’s cousin Fu­ture of the Mind in­sti­tute, on this one: “When peo­ple go to the club, or take drugs, they are blow­ing the mind. They are hav­ing, you know, a sen­sa­tional time. And it amazes me that peo­ple pay to do this. … you never say, do you, ‘Oh I’m hav­ing a cog­ni­tive time tonight.’ …. Peo­ple who never let them­selves go, like the Bri­tish, we feel sorry for them, just like we feel sorry for peo­ple who never get out of the beach or the bar.”

I haven’t had the com­plete Less Wrong ex­pe­rience. I just read the Se­quences and some 30 other posts. This post re­quests help from those who did have it. I’ll try to speak as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the gen­eral class of those who just read the se­quences and few other posts:

“There is no doubt that the last 20 posts I’ve read were way less use­ful than, say, the 30th to 50th. From what I learned here, us­ing tech­niques of ra­tio­nal­ity, it fol­lows it is now time for me to move for­ward, be­cause read­ing LOGI, Jaynes, and more tech­ni­cal stuff will drive me faster than re­main­ing here. My be­liefs about how less likely the next Less Wrong post is to make me stronger than the Less Wrong sug­ges­tion makes me an­ti­ci­pate that I should read the sug­gested read­ings, not the newest posts.”

(For eas­ier trace­abil­ity, im­por­tant sug­ges­tions/​ques­tion para­graphs will be num­bered)

(1) My first sug­ges­tion then is that there ought to be an ed­ited se­quence of posts from the 2009-2010 era not writ­ten by Yud­kowsky but de­signed to be read right af­ter the se­quences. The Karma sys­tem does not suffice to de­ter­mine this, an effec­tive ra­tio­nal­ist does not want to read the most “Voted up posts” but a co­he­sive col­lec­tion of ma­te­rial drawn by one or two in­di­vi­d­u­als as the col­lec­tivelly most im­por­tant ma­te­rial posted, ed­i­tors as­sum­ing that af­ter read­ing it, peo­ple will just leave and be the ra­tio­nal­ists they be­came, hope­fully donat­ing units of car­ing to the causes they learned im­por­tant.

(2) An im­por­tant ques­tion while this is not done then be­comes: Which posts should we read now that are not among the topvoted ones? Any help is ap­pre­ci­ated.

Now let me get back to Ex­ter­nally Ori­ented, Love and Sen­sa­tional ac­tivi­ties. Less wrong has been, so far, ad­vanc­ing ra­tio­nal knowl­edge con­cern­ing all three of those. I’m not a fan of com­part­men­tal­i­sa­tion, be­cause it lets evolu­tion­ists be re­li­gious and not feel their heads itch­ing. But here I will defend com­part­men­tal­i­sa­tion within Less Wrong. If there is a war go­ing on and peo­ple are in the UN dis­cussing it, it is coun­ter­pro­duc­tive to also dis­cuss ra­tio­nal­ity and bas­ket­ball. If you want to coach a ten­nis player well, you’d bet­ter cut him off ev­ery time he starts talk­ing about his girlfriend. If you set out to do the im­pos­si­ble, you’d bet­ter turn off the tele­phone, be­cause in­ter­rup­tion is as con­fus­ing as flutz­pah.

(3) Most of Less Wrong is Ex­ter­nally Ori­ented and my first rad­i­cal sug­ges­tion is that this be­comes com­pul­sory. Let me tell you why.

I have read 5 books from the Pick Up Artist com­mu­nity. Not just read. I used them. That thing is re­ally ad­dic­tive. Enough so to drive peo­ple away. Re­cently the PUA meme has in­vaded Less Wrong a few times. I have been very wor­ried read­ing about that here, be­cause, se­ri­ously, pre­tend­ing that PUA be­longs here is like dis­cussing bas­ket­ball in the UN. If we want to cre­ate FAI, pre­vent catas­trophic risk, donate as many utilons as pos­si­ble, and figure out a bi­nary nega­tive per­son­hood de­ter­mi­na­tor, we must stay away from drugs like this and MMOs, Di­plo­macy, Magic, and some other stuff that has popped up here. Th­ese may not be af­fec­tive death spirals, but they are tem­po­rary util­i­tar­ian suicides any­way (don’t ex­e­crate me be­fore know­ing that I have spent, se­curely, 10% of my au­tonomous life play­ing Magic). There is stuff out there that is just too at­trac­tive, we come to Less Wrong ex­actly be­cause it pre-se­lects away from it. Less Wrong is not in­ter­net porn, it is the best ra­tio­nal­ity driv­ing force on the web, and to re­main this way, some kinds of Love-re­lated and Sen­sa­tional-re­lated things, that are al­most in­ter­net porn, should be kept away

Even if the Less Wrong in­di­vi­d­u­als would, on a per­sonal in­di­vi­d­ual level, be more lev­er­aged within so­cial ra­tio­nal­ity, table-game ra­tio­nal­ity, part­ner-se­duc­ing ra­tio­nal­ity, the com­mu­nity level would lose. The time you spend play­ing Di­plo­macy and Magic, MMO and read­ing PUA ma­te­rial is a time which you could be spend­ing do­ing what has to be done, ob­tain­ing all the valuable utilons hang­ing around. For an emo­tion­ally trig­ger­ing image, im­mor­tal­ists can think that mil­len­nia will be lost, and sin­gu­lar­i­tar­i­ans can think that galax­ies will be lost, this is un­de­sir­able. Less wrong must have an in­ter­nal defense mechanism against this, and these are Pa­tris­simo’s and my post which hope­fully might drive back a tougher sniper policy on fu­ture posts.

If Less Wrong al­lows for too wide a ra­tio­nal­ity scope, it will prob­a­bly dis­solve into a per­sonal so­cial prob­lem solver, and will not be able to dig as deep as nec­es­sary for the awe­some world Eliezer set out to cre­ate. The same risk hap­pens wher­ever ideas are al­lowed to evolve, as Bostrom pointed out in “The Fu­ture of Hu­man Evolu­tion”. Danger­ous viral memes are go­ing through the Less Wrong filters, if they evolve into Less Wrong’s main top­ics, this will be dis­as­trous as a loss of op­por­tu­nity cost. And worry not, for there are plenty of other places for Love-re­lated and Sen­sa­tional-re­lated ra­tio­nal­ity. Let us in­stead fo­cus within ra­tio­nal­ity on Ex­ter­nally Ori­ented, Tech-friendly, H+(Tran­shu­man) posts.

(4) My sec­ond rad­i­cal sug­ges­tion is that in­fer­en­tial dis­tance be­tween long-timers and post-se­quence new­com­ers is be­com­ing too big. One should climb one step at a time. If one is un­able, dis­trac­tion drives at­ten­tion away. So the sug­ges­tion, maybe too rad­i­cal is: That Less Wrong be­comes no­madic. By no­madic I mean that peo­ple who have been com­ment­ing and post­ing here for very long should cre­ate a new twin web­site, in which ad­vanced posts will be up­loaded, and ad­vanced com­ments will be traded. If those who have learned most of what is here re­main here, they will just be drawn back from their po­ten­tial. There should be an or­ganised sys­tem di­vided by lev­els, like in the mar­tial arts, so that peo­ple are always in­ter­act­ing with those of similar ra­tio­nal grounds and can build up on com­mon ground with­out check­ing for so many bi­ases, fal­la­cies and mis­takes.

If it is true that our kind can co­op­er­ate, hi­er­ar­chy is needed, and Karma is not enough (though Karma could be a crite­rion for post­ing in each web­site, eg: 20 here, 400 to the next one 2000 to the next one). A piramid of web­sites where some­one in his layer’s top can help those in his layer’s bot­tom just be­fore up­grad­ing is more effec­tive than a place where those who dom­i­nate the dojo have to con­stantly draw at­ten­tion to stuff that only new­com­ers miss.

(5) Another sug­ges­tion, this one of de­sign, is that we avoid scope in­sen­si­tivity to up­vot­ing by dis­play­ing some­thing more emo­tional than points for pots and com­ments. A smile sym­bol with an ever grow­ing smile would be a very easy way to do it, and to copy Nin­tendo’s de­sign, when the num­ber grew too big the smile could blow up into a sym­bol of a bal­lon ex­plod­ing with col­or­full car­naval pa­per. Or some­thing to that effect.

Re­mem­ber to avoid the unit fal­lacy, and re­ject or ac­cept these sug­ges­tions sep­a­rately, not as a sin­gle thing.

And yes, I do no­tice this takes away great part of the fun you would be feel­ing while writ­ing your fu­ture posts on funny so­cial lov­ing topic X, which you’ve been mean­ing for a while to dis­tort just enough to make fit for Less Wrong. But if you are like us, you come here to buy utilons, not fuzzies, and it would be ir­ra­tional to in­sist in de­creas­ing the group-level ra­tio­nal­ity that has been achieved here.