[Link] Five Years and One Week of Less Wrong

Link post

This is a link post for Five Years and One Week of Less Wrong. I was sur­prised to see that it was never cross-posted to LW in the first place. I wanted it to be here so that I could put it un­der the new In­tel­lec­tual Progress via LessWrong tag.

Some ex­cerpts:

I wrote a post a while ago called Read His­tory Of Philos­o­phy Back­wards. I the­o­rized that as old ways of think­ing got re­placed by newer ways, even­tu­ally peo­ple for­got the old ways even ex­isted or were even co­her­ent po­si­tions peo­ple could hold. So in­stead of read­ing Hobbes to tell you that peo­ple can form gov­ern­ments for their com­mon ad­van­tage – which you already know – read him to tell you that there was a time when no one be­lieved this was true and gov­ern­ments were nat­u­ral struc­tures or­dained by God.

It makes sense that over five hun­dred years, with births and deaths and so on, peo­ple would for­get they ever held strange and in­com­pre­hen­si­ble po­si­tions. It’s more sur­pris­ing that it would hap­pen within the course of a sin­gle per­son’s philo­soph­i­cal de­vel­op­ment. But this is what I keep hear­ing from peo­ple in the Less Wrong com­mu­nity.

“I re-read the Se­quences”, they tell me, “and ev­ery­thing in them seems so ob­vi­ous. But I have this in­tense mem­ory of con­sid­er­ing them rev­e­la­tory at the time.”

This is my mem­ory as well.

So I thought it would be an in­ter­est­ing pro­ject, suit­able for the lofty mile­stone of five years plus one week, to go back and try to figure out how far we have pro­gressed with­out notic­ing that we were pro­gress­ing.

It was around the switch to Less Wrong that some­one first brought up the word “akra­sia” (I think it was me, but I’m not sure). I re­mem­ber there be­ing a time when I was very con­fused and scan­dal­ized by the idea that peo­ple might en­gage in ac­tions other than those ra­tio­nally en­tailed by their be­liefs. This seems re­ally silly now, but at the time I re­mem­ber the re­sponse was mostly pos­i­tive and peo­ple up­voted me a lot and said things like “Huh, yeah, I guess peo­ple might en­gage in ac­tions other than those ra­tio­nally en­tailed by their be­liefs! Weird! We should worry about this more!” For a while, we were re­ally con­fused about this, and a re­ally pop­u­lar solu­tion (WHICH I ALWAYS HATED) was to try to imag­ine the mind as be­ing made up of mul­ti­ple agents try­ing to strike a bar­gain. Like, your con­scious mind was an agent, your un­con­scious mind was an agent, your sex drive was an agent, and so on. Cipher­goth was the first per­son to help us get out of this by bring­ing up hy­per­bolic dis­count­ing (there was a time Less Wrong didn’t know about hy­per­bolic dis­count­ing!)

It wasn’t un­til well into the Less Wrong era that our com­mu­nity started to be­come aware of the prob­lems with the sci­en­tific pro­cess. This wasn’t be­cause we were be­hind the times but be­cause the field was quite new; Ioan­nides didn’t pub­lish his land­mark pa­per un­til 2005, and it lan­guished in spe­cial­ized cir­cles un­til the At­lantic picked it up in 2010. But as early as De­cem­ber 2009, Allan Cross­man work­ing off a com­ment of Eliezer’s wrote Para­psy­chol­ogy: The Con­trol Group For Science.

It con­tinues to puz­zle me that there was a time when I didn’t know what a Schel­ling point was. I imag­ine my­self just sort of wan­der­ing through life, not hav­ing any idea what was go­ing on or why.

I’ll end with some­thing that re­cently en­couraged me a lot. Some­times I talk to Will New­some, or Steve Ray­hawk, or Jen­nifer RM, or peo­ple like that in the gen­eral cat­e­gory of “we all know they are very smart but they have no abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate their in­sights to oth­ers”. They say in­scrutable things, and I nod and pre­tend to un­der­stand be­cause it’s less painful than ask­ing them to ex­plain and sit­ting through an equally in­scrutable ex­pla­na­tion. And re­cently, the things that Will and Steve and Jen­nifer were say­ing a cou­ple of years ago have started mak­ing perfect sense to me. The things they’re say­ing now still sound like non­sense, but now I can be op­ti­mistic that in a few years I’ll pick up those too.