FAQ

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Basics

What is Less Wrong?

Less Wrong is a site dedicated to furthering understanding and discussion of rationality, the art of finding truth and becoming less wrong about things. We tend to discuss topics centering around decision theory, philosophy, cognitive science, psychology, artificial intelligence, game theory, metamathematics, logic, evolutionary psychology, and economics.

Where did Less Wrong come from?

Less Wrong started as a long series of posts on the econblog Overcoming Bias by Eliezer Yudkowsky, a Research Fellow at the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence. These sequences attracted a community of people interested in the methods of rationality that they taught. When the community outgrew the Overcoming Bias blog, it moved here to Less Wrong to continue discussing and expanding upon the material.

Sequences

What are "the sequences"?

The sequences are the original corpus of posts written by Eliezer Yudkowsky on Overcoming Bias. They are a massive and extremely thorough introduction to methods of rationality, rationality-related-fields, and how to avoid common rationality-related mistakes. Most of the articles on Less Wrong, even those by people other than Eliezer, build on material presented in the sequences.

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. So at least give them a look and see what is there that you haven't learned yet.

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 one discusses a specific topic look through 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.

Feedback

What's all this about upvotes and downvotes?

Less Wrong works on similar principles to sites like Slashdot, Digg, and Reddit (it's actually based on Reddit code). When a user sees an item they like, they can click a "vote up" link; when they see something they don't like, they can click "vote down".

A highly-upvoted article or comment is displayed more prominently than a highly-downvoted article or comment, on the assumption that it is higher quality. Some people also use an article or comment's upvotes to determine whether it's worth reading.

Upvotes and downvotes also affect the karma of the user who posted the item.

What is karma?

Karma is the sum of up and down votes on comments and articles you have contributed. An upvote on a comment is worth 1 point, a downvote -1 points. An upvote on an article is worth 10 points, a downvote -10 points.

What do I do with karma?

You need at least twenty karma to make a top-level article; people with less than twenty can only write comments. Besides that, it's mostly good for bragging rights.

Writing articles

When should I write a top-level article?

You are allowed to write a top-level article once you have at least twenty karma. You should write a top-level article if you have twenty karma, you have an important point to make about rationality, and you're familiar enough with the sequences that you don't think you're making a simple mistake. If you want to discuss something, but don't think it's worth its own top-level article, you can post it in the Open Thread.

What are appropriate topics for top-level articles?

Anything related directly or indirectly to rationality is appropriate.

What are NOT appropriate topics for top-level articles?

We have a gentlemen's agreement to try as hard as we can to avoid simple surface-level political controversies (see: Politics is the Mind-Killer). It's borderline okay to present a political problem in the context of a point about rationality that it exemplifies, but it would probably be bad to write a full article just about why you support one side of a hot-button political issue.

I strongly disagree with the Less Wrong consensus on an issue. Is it okay to write a top-level article about it?

Absolutely! Just make sure you know why it's the consensus position, first. Before posting, read what has already been written on the subject to ensure that you are saying something new and not just retracing covered ground. If you aren't sure why the consensus position is the consensus position, feel free to ask in an open thread. Being aware of what has been said about a subject in the past is especially important if you want to argue for the existence of God, claim a universally compelling morality, or suggest a really easy way to make friendly AI without going through all that complicated coherent extrapolated volition stuff. Before tackling the Less Wrong consensus on these issues you may want to first acquire an extraordinary familiarity with the sequences, the arguments against your position, and the Less Wrong norms on the issue.

About the site

How do I submit an article?

You can compose a new article using the Create new article button visible in the top right of the page after you have logged in. You can only submit the article to Less Wrong once you have reached 20 karma points. Prior to that you're welcome to save your work as a draft.

How do I submit 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

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.

What is shown in 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).

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 permalink then you can always get to it, it will have a small note near the article title indicating that the article is marked 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 copy and paste the content from the deleted article. Any formatting from rich editing should be copied correctly.

How can I read the archive of old posts?

The entire archive of old posts is available from the Recent Posts link on the right on the main site. Click on the words "Recent Posts" in the "Recent Posts" column at the right side of the page.

A table of all Less Wrong posts is available:

Subtables by year:

How can I report issues with this site?

For technical issues, there is a Report Issues link at the bottom of the main site.

What are the moderation rules? What kind of comments will result in downvotes and what kind of comments could result in a ban?

Users can downvote whoever they want, but generally, these kinds of comments are likely to result in downvotes:

  • Comments that have no intellectual content, like lolcats, empty insults or spam.
  • Comments that are misspelled or have poor grammar.
  • Comments that take sides in political battles, like conservative vs. liberal, pro-life vs. pro-choice, global warming, gun control, etc. See Politics is the Mind Killer.
  • Comments that show unfamiliarity with basic terminology or the Less Wrong sequences.

What are you people talking about?

Why is almost everyone here an atheist?

The worldwide rationalist community has, for more than a century now, come to the conclusion that there is almost certainly no God. We consider the non-existence of God as usually defined (i.e. a sentient being who created the universe with intent, is still active in the universe, is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, and hears and sometimes answers prayers), to be so conclusively proven that there is usually no further need to discuss it. If you wish to discuss it, please take the time to familiarize yourself with standard atheist arguments, such as those found in Richard Dawkins's book The God Delusion, and the arguments in the Less Wrong sequences (most relevant single post: "Atheism = Untheism + Antitheism"). Comments or posts that dispute the non-existence of God without showing a thorough understanding of these arguments will almost certainly be downvoted.

Aren't knowledge and truth subjective or undefinable?

No. See the essay The Simple Truth and the post Variable Question Fallacies.

Can you ever really prove anything?

It's complicated. See the sequence Overly Convenient Excuses.

What's all this talk about probabilities and what is a Bayesian?

See the essays An Intuitive Explanation of Bayes' Theorem and A Technical Explanation of Technical Explanation.

Why do you all agree on so much? Am I joining a cult?

We have a general community policy of not pretending to be open-minded on long-settled issues for the sake of not offending people. If we spent our time debating the basics, we would never get to the advanced stuff at all. Yes, some of the results that fall out of these basics sound weird if you haven't seen the reasoning behind them, but there's nothing in the laws of physics that prevents reality from sounding weird.