My Week at Rationalist Summer Camp [Sequence Index]

My Week at Rationalist Summer Camp [Sequence Index] June 15, 2013
Giving my Harry Potter genetics talk at camp (you may want to click to read the text)

After spending a week at geek summer camp (not that one!) in July 2012, I never got around to assembling the index post for all the blogging I did in response to the workshop.  But, at least I’m just sneaking in ahead of this year’s workshop.  I still think the best summary of CFAR’s workshops is the one I posted last year:

This is the kind of summer camp where, before you go, they send you and two close friends a detailed survey, so they have a baseline to assess the impact of the camp on you in a year when they do the follow up.  Squee!

Here’s what I ended up writing and learning.  It starts relatively object level, but, after the classes are over, I wade into some slightly more tangential questions.

  1. Happy Birthday to Me! I’m off to Geek Summer Camp! – A brief explanation of CFAR and a link to one of my favorite Less Wrong thought experiments
  2. Conceding a Point is not a Slippery Slope – Man, if I could magically change one attitude people had about arguments, it would probably be this
  3. Play Along with Rationality Camp at Home! – A few games you can play (one of which I invented!) to check how confident you are in your beliefs
  4. Markets in Everything! – In which my schemes in the predictive markets are derailed when I awaken the moral sensibilities of others at an inopportune moment
  5. If only someone had said this to Stoic!Teenaged!Leah – One rationality class managed to shift how I thought about strong emotions
  6. 7 Less Wrong Links – For that week’s Quick Takes, a quick tour through some of my favorite posts from Less Wrong
  7. Which Voldemort is Scariest? – Contrasting Canon!Voldemort and HPMOR!Voldemort and thinking about the Tricky Dick Nixon ploy.
  8. The Gift my Weirdo Debate Friends Gave Me – It was funny to be at a rationality workshop and notice where the practices were already popping up in my life, like the strange examples my debate friends used to stay relatively grounded while spelunking in metaphysics.
  9. “Didn’t you ever break on the floor?” – A week of rationalist training, made me very proud and grateful to come out of a debate community where it was a virtue to admit you were wrong.
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    So I checked out LessWrong. It’s a unusual and biased shrine to the mysterious (and uneducated) Eliezer Yudkowsky. They also say a lot of intellectually-snobbish things to theists and are (not surprisingly) overwhelming male, white, young, and not-gay. Why bother?

    • LeahLibresco

      Well, what part did you check out? I find the Discussion section to be pretty hit or miss, but there was a lot that was useful to me in the actual Sequences. And I quite like the ethos of noticing you’re not so great at using your brain and trying to figure out what to do, instead of becoming dispirited or avoiding noticing.

      • URDUM

        Hey Leah! I first noticed that Eliezer is easily the largest contributor. I then checked out a section of their FAQ that discusses why so many LW users are atheists. There, I found three articles (all authored by Eliezer) that essentially paint theism as foolish/illogical. I then read that Eliezer is a strong supporter or cryonics and essentially thinks that he is “asking for more than yourself” by freezing yourself. But still, theism is foolish.

        Maybe I am just biased, but I think you are better than that. You bring immense diversity to their ranks (a woman! a theist!) which I think is great for them. I just don’t think they have earned it.


        • LeahLibresco

          Well, you’ll kinda run across some of the bits I like best if you check the ones I link to. I also really like HPMOR.

          • URDUM

            87 chapters, wowza! I will check that out. Anyway, thanks for the replies. Please stay strong! It’s a viscous atheist blogoshpere out there and they love to use nasty attacks! You have handled everything with grace and beauty so far. Keep up the great work!

          • KG

            Maybe you could take LW to task and argue against the parts you don’t agree with, that lead you to Christianity? (And note I didn’t say Theism, which for the purposes of this blog seems to mean “a commitment to objective morality” – that’s not the issue). How does a belief in the Resurrection miracle, Virgin Birth, etc, fit into an evidence-based worldview with Bayesian updating?

            ADDED: I can put the tension in another perspective that might be more helpful: You seem to think that you can fall back on the more general notion of Theism to explain the bending of physics inherent in the Christian miraculous claims. But your notion of Theism is based entirely on moral introspection. So how do you jump back from the “ought” to the “is” with regards to physical reality and miraculous claims? Is this still rational in the LW sense? If so, how? If not, why abandon that sort of rationality here?

          • URDUM

            That’s a fair question. To be honest, I probably would have just shrugged my shoulders and moved on…..but then I read his post about cryonics where he brings a similar moral introspection to why people should do it. Plus, its not as expensive as you think! Lets assume, for example, that cryonics turns out to be cheap AND reliable in terms of bringing you back to who you are now. Won’t this start of flood of people wanting to “beat death” and freeze themselves? Where are the moral implications of who can afford to be frozen and who can’t? What about overpopulation now that people are no longer becoming compost? Will humans stop evolving?

            Add this to the fact that I (along with the majority of scientists) am skeptical that cryonics will work the way we think it will. So, we have a position that brings with it moral implications AND lack current scientific backing. I consider that an abandonment of rationality.

          • Yvain

            I wrote about my take on Less Wrong’s belief in cryonics here in a way that I think might answer some of your objections.

          • KG

            I haven’t read any of the LW posts on cyronics yet, and so I won’t comment on them for now.

            Moral reasoning is tough because it is based on controversial axioms. But the incompatibility that I claim exists between LW-type rationality and Christianity is not moral in nature. It really comes down to physical regularities and possible violations of them. Is the evidence for a Virgin Birth and a Resurrection really strong enough to withstand the evidence regarding how we observe the human body to function physically? More importantly for the sake of this blog, how does moral introspection serve as evidence to bear on this question?

    • I think your assessment is generally correct, so let me give an answer very different from what Leah thinks and a lot less polite than she would put it even if she thought it:

      One should bother with Yudkowskyanism for the same reason one should bother with Marxism, Freudianism, or Randianism.

      Sure, all of them started out as narcissistic supply systems for individual bad philosophers dabbling in pseudo-science. All of them are based on vast corpora of mediocre literature written by the original bad philosophers, and in their most virulent form all of them insist on everyone not swallowing the system being irrational and deluded.

      But: All of them have attracted adherents far smarter than the original founder. All of them opened discourse fronts partially different from the standardized ones the social discourses of their time revolved around without progress. Consequently all of them have adherents actually thinking. All of them established frameworks of metaphors leaking out into and organizing more general social discourse. (For Yudkowskyanism that last part is still limited to nerds on the Internet, but then there are lots of nerds on the Internet who also have other social roles.) All of them can be diluted to forms that will tend to influence the thoughts of people outside the inner cults. The three older ones have already influenced decisions of people with actual power and the youngest one easily could get there.

      Basically at some point it’s too late to shove an ideology back under the rock from under which it’s crawling out, and at that point one needs some understanding of it to remain conversant in the general discourse it’s joining. Yudkowskyanism is already there for philosophically minded Internet nerds and leaking out to more general social contexts.

      • Alexander Stanislav

        That’s not very specific, what is it about LessWrong philosophy that you don’t like?

        To me the main premise of lesswrong is that the human mind did not evolve to be a truth generating machine. Because of this there are many predictable biases that tend to cloud our thinking. Figuring out what those biases are and how to counteract them is therefore necessary for forming true beliefs. None of this is groundbreaking or controversial, but the accessibility of the material, and high quality of the content makes it useful to me.

        • Yes, that’s not what I was arguing about, because I was replying to someone already taking a dim view of it.

          I can’t give a complete list of all that’s wrong with it, because that’s too big a task. (Same for the other three philosophies.) But the relevant tag over at my blog covers some of my criticisms of Yudkowskyanism.

        • URDUM

          Thanks for your take, Alexander. On a side note, I just watched the Star Trek reboot (2009) the other day. I couldn’t help but think of Vulcans when reading your post!

      • URDUM

        Thanks for the interesting take, Gilbert! If all of the ideologies are narcissistic and somehow lacking, what makes them so popular? Why are other similarly lacking ideas tossed aside while these spread? Is it because they need completing? Is it based on the time/culture?

        • Good question, but I don’t know the answer.