What is Less Wrong?
Less Wrong is an online community for discussion of rationality. Topics of interest include decision theory, philosophy, self-improvement, cognitive science, psychology, artificial intelligence, game theory, metamathematics, logic, evolutionary psychology, economics, and the far future.
If you want a sampling of the content on the blog, you could read posts on beliefs, words, cognitive biases, evidence, probability, decision theory, excuses, task avoidance, reductionism, evolution, quantum physics, ethics, politics, disease, and procrastination.
I found an unfamiliar term or abbreviation; what does it mean?
What does "rationality" mean?
What does "truth" mean?
See The Simple Truth.
Isn't truth subjective?
Why try to figure out what's true?
Can you ever really prove anything?
It's complicated. See the sequence Overly Convenient Excuses.
What does "Bayesian" mean?
Reading and Study
How can I go about reading the Less Wrong archives?
But there's also
- jimrandomh's suggested reading order post
- the rationality materials page (thanks Tetronian)
- XiXiDu's reference list
- all Main and Discussion posts sorted by score
- a dependency graph of Eliezer Yudkowsky's Overcoming Bias posts (thanks Andrew Hay)
What if I want to read the archives exhaustively?
A table of historical Less Wrong posts is also available:
Subtables by year:
- Less Wrong/2006 Articles
- Less Wrong/2007 Articles
- Less Wrong/2008 Articles
- Less Wrong/2009 Articles
- Less Wrong/2010 Articles
What are some books that have been summarized or reviewed on Less Wrong?
- What Intelligence Tests Miss: The Psychology of Rational Thought
- Epistemology and the Psychology of Human Judgment
- The Procrastination Equation
- Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind
Book summaries that have been linked to:
- Predictably Irrational
- The Mind's I
- Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids
- Foundations of Neuroeconomic Analysis
- Strategy of Conflict
- Thinking, Fast and Slow
- Philosophy in the Flesh
- Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science
- Thinking and Deciding
What are some other books Less Wrong users recommend?
How else can I make a dedicated effort to think more rationally?
- Use spaced repetition to better internalize what you learn.
- Attend or create a Less Wrong meetup group.
- Get yourself to start applying rationality skills like these ones. (Self-programming with spaced repetition could be useful for this.)
- Attend a retreat run by the Center for Applied Rationality.
- Learn to program, or get good at something else technical. Richard Hamming on his experience as an educator: "the best tool to teach thinking was to teach the calculus".
- Start using rationality power tools and debate tools, e.g. you can track predictions using Prediction Book (previous discussion).
What are other ways to improve my general effectiveness?
- Experiment systematically with these tactics for beating akrasia. (Some other hacks.)
- Start tracking your emotions using nonverbal methods.
- Learn to recognize when your identity is causing you to act suboptimally. Invalidate and recompute your "cached self" when appropriate.
- Recognize and dismantle unwanted ugh fields.
- Read the sequences on the science of winning at life and luminosity.
- Make sure you ask the right questions when you notice yourself screwing up, and don't misinterpret your emotions.
- Build small skills in the right order and know how and why to granuralize.
- More good posts: Working Hurts Less than Procrastinatng, Improving the Akrasia Hypothesis, Suffering as Attention-Allocational Conflict.
How much of this reading do I need to do before I can contribute to Less Wrong?
Not that much. As soon as you've got a good grasp of what's expected, contributing should be OK. But do your homework before making a post on something that's already been discussed. And if you're getting voted down, that could be an indicator to read more and talk less.
What are "the sequences"?
The sequences are the original corpus of posts written by Eliezer Yudkowsky on Overcoming Bias that functioned as seed material for Less Wrong. They are a massive and extremely thorough introduction to methods of rationality, rationality-related-fields, and how to avoid common rationality-related mistakes.
I'm already a pretty rational person. Can't I just skip them?
The sequences have some pretty advanced stuff. If you don't already know about Bayesian probability, evolutionary psychology, philosophy of quantum physics, decision theory and the other topics covered, you may find them useful.
How difficult is the material in the sequences?
It's relatively straightforward. They are written for amateurs without any assumed previous knowledge in the subjects covered.
Do I have to read the sequences before posting on Less Wrong?
It's a good idea. If your post involves topics that were already covered in the sequences you should build on them, not repeat what has already been said. If your post makes mistakes that were warned against in the sequences, you'll likely be downvoted and directed to the sequence in question.
On the other hand, we're well aware that it can take a long time to read through several years worth of blog posts, so we've labeled the most important as "core sequences". Looking through the core sequences should be enough preparation for most of the discussions that take place here. We do recommend that you eventually read them all, but you can take your time getting through them as you participate. Before discussing a specific topic, consider looking to see if if there is any obvious sequence on that topic.
Where can I read the sequences?
You can find them at the Sequences page.
How do I make a comment?
After the text of each article is a comment box - click in the text field, and you will be able to write a reply to the article. To reply to a comment, click on the "Reply" link and a comment box will open for you. In either case, you can format your new comment using a variation of the Markdown syntax. A few commands are summarized behind the "Help" link (it shows extra text without opening a new window or browsing away from the page); the most popular are:
- Bold and italics: **bold** and *italics*
- Links: [link text](link URL)
- Note that URLs with parentheses often come out wrong - type a backslash ("\") before each close-paren to fix these.
- Blockquotes: > quoted text
Is it worth commenting on ancient posts and long-dead threads?
How does voting work?
Less Wrong is based on the Reddit codebase, and you can vote submissions and comments up or down just like you can on Reddit. Depending on how comments are sorted, those with higher scores may be more visible. Comment and submission scores also affect a user's karma.
How is karma calculated?
Your karma is equal to the sum of the scores of your comments and discussion posts plus ten times the sum of the scores of all your blog posts in Main. Note that your karma can be negative. Posting something lame to Main is a good way to get negative karma, so tread carefully.
Why do I want high karma?
You need a few karma points to create a discussion post (to prevent spam) and at least 20 karma to create a blog post in Main. Beyond that, karma is mainly useful for letting people know how great you are.
How do I make a submission?
Register for an account, then click the little "Create new article" link under your username in the upper right corner of the page. On the article creation page, a dropdown below the text box will allow you to choose between Discussion and Main. See this question on knowing which one to choose.
What is shown on the "New" page?
The "New" page shows everything that a particular user can see. This includes drafts by a user as well as all of the public articles on LessWrong.
So don't worry if you see a draft that you've written in here, only you can see it (until it's submitted to the LessWrong category).
How do I get my post on the front page?
Posts are "promoted" to the front page by the editors on the basis of substantive new content, clear argument, good writing, popularity, and importance. The posts with karma totals in green disks instead of gray circles have been promoted.
I deleted an article. Can I undelete it?
It is not possible to undelete an article if you delete it. However, it is only marked as deleted, not completely removed.
There is no easy way to get to deleted articles. However, if you know the article's permalink, then you can always get to it. (Try looking through your browser history.) There will be a small note near the title of the article marking it as deleted. Note that, while you can edit the deleted article, it will still be marked as deleted.
Instead of undeleting an article, it is always possible to create a new article and to copy-and-paste the content from the deleted article into the new article. Any formatting from rich editing should be copied correctly.
Site Etiquette and Social Norms
How should I use my voting powers?
Voting serves two main purposes:
- To encourage valuable contributions, and discourage noisy ones.
- To promote recommended contributions, and demote disrecommended ones. (The Less Wrong codebase frequently sorts contributions by score.)
Please do not vote solely based on how much you agree or disagree with someone's conclusions. A better heuristic is to vote based on how much a comment or post improves the accuracy of your map. For example, a comment you agree with that doesn't add to the discussion should be voted down or left alone. A comment you disagree with that raises important points should be voted up.
In some cases it's probably acceptable to vote in order to register agreement or disagreement. For example, you can vote someone's proposal up or down based on whether you think it should be implemented.
What should I know before commenting?
There are a few principles of using words in discussion that are generally accepted as useful by this community. For example: don't sneak in connotations or endlessly debate definitions. See 37 Ways Words Can Be Wrong.
We also have a community norm that semi-prohibits discussion of politics. See Is it OK to talk about politics? for more.
Why did I get voted down?
Hopefully, it wasn't just because someone disagreed with you, but rather because you made some sort of reasoning error, or because your comment was poorly written, content-free, or ignorant of what's already been said on the topic in the Less Wrong archives (especially the sequences). Feel free to mention you're a new user and ask why you got voted down, or post in the welcome thread if you have a question related to karma or voting.
I'm worried I'm wrong about something I said. What will happen if I admit I made a mistake?
We will still like you! In fact, you may find that you're respected even more than before, because you're known to be capable of changing your mind. See the post It is OK to publicly make a mistake and change your mind for more on this. We're very keen on enforcing it as a community norm.
English is not my first language. Is it OK for me to post?
When should I post in Discussion, and when should I post in Main?
The general rule is: Main tends to move slower than Discussion, and posts in Main typically get more exposure. Use this opportunity for additional exposure wisely.
These traditionally go in Discussion:
- a link with minimal commentary
- a question or brainstorming opportunity for the Less Wrong community
Beyond that, here are some factors that suggest you should post in Main:
- Your post discusses core Less Wrong topics.
- The material in your post seems especially important or useful.
- You put a lot of thought or effort into your post. (Citing studies, making diagrams, and agonizing over wording are good indicators of this.)
- Your post is long or deals with difficult concepts. (If a post is in Main, readers know that it may take some effort to understand.)
- You've searched the Less Wrong archives, and you're pretty sure that you're saying something new and non-obvious.
The more of these criteria that your post meets, the better a candidate it is for Main.
Note that you can move posts in between Discussion and Main after submitting them. One strategy is to submit your post to Discussion initially, then move it to Main if it's well-received.
A third option is to post in the most recent open thread, although your audience will be minimal if the thread is older.
Is it OK to talk about politics?
There are plenty of places on the internet where you can discuss politics, and contemporary politics is explicitly NOT a core Less Wrong topic. That said, bringing up politics in the context of some larger point about rationality, as in this post or this one, is probably OK. But read A Fable of Science and Politics, Politics is the Mind-Killer, Policy Debates Should Not Appear One-Sided, and Are Your Enemies Innately Evil? first so you know what you're getting in to.
I strongly disagree with Less Wrongers on something. Can I write a top-level post about it?
Yes, if you do your homework first.
Less Wrong users definitely want to know if they're wrong about something. After all, we're trying to become less wrong, and we appreciate being corrected! Good contrarians are more than welcome. Thoughtful and informed contrarian posts are almost always voted up, sometimes massively.
But generally if a position is the "Less Wrong consensus", it's because there's already been a fair amount of discussion, and the consensus is LW's collective current best guess. If you say something that's already been said, or say something that's obviously incorrect in light of other points made on the topic, your post may be voted down for being noise.
In particular, if you want to do any of the following, consider doing lots of homework and ensure you're not making any standard mistakes:
- claim your god exists
- argue for a universally compelling morality
- claim you have an easy way to make superintelligent AI safe
If you have a question regarding a "consensus" view, or don't want to do any homework, consider posting in an open thread.
Any other thoughts on writing posts?
- Keep in mind that your post may be linked to from other websites. Make it accessible and interesting to non-LWers if you can do this without compromising the content.
- Don't be afraid to say what seems obvious. Don't automatically assume short inferential distances.
- Consider doing some scholarship and learn what academics have said on your topic (how to do scholarship efficiently). You can also use LW's search function to see what's already been posted to LW.
- Avoid inflationary use of terms like "rational".
- Thoughts from shminux.
- Thoughts from Paul Graham.
- "this post starts off with a specific example - an instance of the concrete-abstract writing pattern in which you state the example first and the generalization afterward. This is one of the most common bits of nonfiction writing advice I dispense: "Open with the concrete example, not the abstract explanation!"" -- Eliezer Yudkowsky.
I'm arguing with another user, and I don't think we're getting anywhere. What should I do?
Consider tapping out.
The Less Wrong Community
Where did Less Wrong come from?
In November 2006, Eliezer Yudkowsky, an AI researcher at the Singularity Institute, began posting about rationality on economist Robin Hanson's blog Overcoming Bias. In February 2009, Yudkowsky's posts were used as the seed material for a new community website, Less Wrong. Overcoming Bias remains Less Wrong's "sister site".
What organizations are involved with Less Wrong?
Less Wrong is built and maintained by Trike Apps, a consultancy based in Melbourne, Australia.
Other organizations involved with Less Wrong include
- CFAR, the Center for Applied Rationality. They do rationality training and some other stuff.
- MIRI, the Machine Intelligence Research Institute. They work to ensure that the creation of smarter-than-human intelligence has a positive impact.
- The Future of Humanity Institute. They're a group at the University of Oxford that does research on big-picture questions regarding the future of humanity.
What are the demographic characteristics of Less Wrong users?
Why does everyone on Less Wrong seem to be an atheist?
See Raising the Sanity Waterline for thoughts on how religious deconversion can be a byproduct of increased rationality. Other good posts on religion include Religion's Claim to be Non-Disprovable and "Atheism = Untheism + Antitheism".
Most Less Wrong users consider religion to be a settled issue, so before arguing for theism, we recommend you get curious and read some solid atheist arguments. Also make sure you aren't privileging the hypothesis. For example, if you found knockdown argument for why there has to be a god, why would it be the particular god described in your religion's holy books? (Now don't go figuring out why it has to be your religion's god! You don't want to have the bottom line already written. Instead, start to figure out what sort of god, if any sort in particular, would be implied by your knockdown argument.)
Why do Less Wrong users seem to agree on so much?
Let's assume for a moment that Less Wrong is actually achieving its goal of helping users think more rationally. If that's the case, we should expect users' beliefs to reflect their own individual prior beliefs less and less, and the actual state of the evidence more and more. Especially as users share evidence with each other.
Why Our Kind Can't Cooperate is a good post that touches on why groups being in agreement isn't necessarily bad.
So think for yourself, always be questioning, etc. And if you've read a fair amount about something and you still disagree with the apparent LW consensus, speak up so other users can learn from you and possibly update!
What are Less Wrong meetups like?
It depends on the meetup. The default is probably one or more groups of people sitting around chatting. Other possibilities include board games and structured rationality exercises.
How can I find out about Less Wrong meetups near me?
Check the Less Wrong meetup groups wiki page to see if there's already an established group in your area. If not, sign up to be emailed about new meetups near you or start a meetup yourself (see next question).
How do I start a Less Wrong meetup?
Click the "Add new meetup" link near your username after logging in. For some tips, see Starting a Less Wrong Meetup Is Easy.
How can I make my Less Wrong meetup better?
Stuff to Know About
Site features you may not know about
Want to see everything that's been posted to Less Wrong recently in a compressed format? Visit http://lesswrong.com/r/all/recentposts. (There's also http://lesswrong.com/r/all/hot/ and http://lesswrong.com/r/all/new/.)
Tired of mediocre comments? Try Vladimir Nesov's Boo Vote script.
Want to make a poll? Here's the latest in Less Wrong polling technology. Keep in mind that you may wish to make an option in your poll for "I just want to see the results".
HonoreDB has provided an alternative to rot13.
Want to put a list, image, or formula in your comment? See http://wiki.lesswrong.com/wiki/Comment_formatting.
Visit http://lesswrong.com/prefs/ for a variety of cool options, including the Less Wrong anti-kibitzer. Visit http://lesswrong.com/prefs/friends/ if you no longer wish to read posts from people you disagree with.
If you're wondering what kinds of comments moderators delete from LW, or you find that your comments keep getting deleted, you may be interested in the Less Wrong uncensored thread on reddit.
Track your predictions
See http://predictionbook.com/ (also brought to you by Trike Apps).
Rationality power tools
Software for enhancing your rationality: Rationality power tools.
Find or become a mentor thread
See http://lesswrong.com/lw/929/less_wrong_mentoring_network/. If no one has responded to you after a few days, feel free to cross-post to the latest open thread. Please link your comments to one another so the discussion is easy to keep track of.
Roommate coordination thread
See http://lesswrong.com/lw/dx0/roommate_interest_and_coordination_thread/. If no one has responded to you after a few days, feel free to cross-post to the latest open thread. Please link your comments to one another so the discussion is easy to keep track of.
Do I own the copyright to my posts on comments on LessWrong?
Yes. Contributors to Less Wrong retain all rights to their contributions.
What should I do if I suspect a user is contemplating suicide, self-harm, or violence against others?
Please refer to Suicide, Self-Harm, or Violent Content on LessWrong.