The rationalist movement, rationality community,1 rationalsphere or rationalistsphere2 represents a set of modes of bayesian thinking from self-described rationalists or ‘aspiring rationalists’ typically associated with the Less Wrong diaspora and their associated communities.
This page was last properly edited in December 2017, around the time LW2.0 was getting started. It may not accurate reflect the state of affairs in 2020 – either culture or how the community sees itself. – Ruby
Following the wind-down of the first era of Less Wrong in 2014, triggered primarily via the departure of Eliezer Yudkowsky and other top writers, the formerly closer-knit on and offline groups continue with a lessened central focus.
In 2016-2017, discussion of revival occurred and Vaniver was made benevolent dictator for life. He in turn empowered Oliver Habryka to form a team and launch the LessWrong 2.0 project which runs the current site.
A 2017 conceptual Venn diagram of the ‘rationalsphere’ has also been created.5
The rationalist community is a group of people (of which I’m a part) who met reading the site Less Wrong and who tend to hang out together online, sometimes hang out together in real life, and tend to befriend each other, work with each other, date each other, and generally move in the same social circles. Some people7 call it a cult, but that’s more a sign of some people having lost vocabulary for anything between “totally atomized individuals” and “outright cult” than any particular cultishness.
But people keep asking me what exactly the rationalist community is. Like, what is the thing they believe that makes them rationalists? It can’t just be about being rational, because loads of people are interested in that and most of them aren’t part of the community. And it can’t just be about transhumanism because there are a lot of transhumanists who aren’t rationalists, and lots of rationalists who aren’t transhumanists. And it can’t just be about Bayesianism, because pretty much everyone, rationalist or otherwise, agrees that is a kind of statistics that is useful for some things but not others. So what, exactly, is it?
This question has always bothered me, but now after thinking about it a lot I finally have a clear answer: rationalism is the belief that Eliezer Yudkowsky is the rightful caliph.
No! Sorry! I think “the rationalist community” is a tribe much like the Sunni or Shia that started off with some pre-existing differences, found a rallying flag, and then developed a culture.
Other definitions include:8
...typical rationalist philosophical positions include reductionism, materialism, moral non-realism, utilitarianism, anti-deathism and transhumanism. Rationalists across all three groups tend to have high opinions of the Sequences and Slate Star Codex and cite both in arguments; rationalist discourse norms were shaped by How To Actually Change Your Mind and 37 Ways Words Can Be Wrong, among others.
...a community that call themselves Rationalists, that read ‘high-IQ sites’ such as Marginal Revolution, Less Wrong, and Slate Star Codex, and according to various surveys, identify as liberal, are atheist or agnostic, and, in general, hold a ‘realist’ philosophical worldview.
A crowdsourced list of traits of community:10
Being perpetually vigilant of personal biases
Epistemic rationality through constantly aligning one’s beliefs as closely as possible with the actual state of the world
Individualistic vs Organizational
Contains key modes of thinking for the individual including:
Truthseeking—biases, empiricism etc
Impact—making the world a better place ( e.g. effective altruism, AI safety )
Human—becoming a better person
On the other hand:
The Rationality Community
Adjacent ideas include:12
There are people who agree on few to no rationalist positions but still like going to our parties and reading our blog posts. I coined the term “rationalist-adjacent” for this group before I got the idea that the names of all subdivisions of the rationalist community should begin with the letter C...A lot of Less Wrong references a lot of nerd culture, such as catgirls, anime, fanfiction, Harry Potter, My Little Pony, etc
Wider rationalist fiction
Skepticism of term
There is a some drive to avoid any ‘isms’ and instead focus on ‘rationality’ rather than ’rationalism.23
The culture is often defined by its saying such as those featured in rationalists-out-of-context.tumblr.com.
There doesn’t appear to be clearly preferred term—August 2017↩