Where to absolutely start?

post by Long try · 2019-10-21T02:45:47.562Z · score: 16 (5 votes) · LW · GW · No comments

This is a question post.


    18 Raemon
    7 gilch
    4 eigen
    4 John_Maxwell
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Hi there!

I'm a new member and now feeling giddy from the amount of contents presented here on the site. I've read those welcome and FAQ posts, they all point to the library's core reading as material for beginners. BUT... I've just finished the Preface post of R:A-Z, and from the author's very words, it looks like this series focus more on the big, vague things than those hands-on lessons.

So my questions are: among it and the Codex and HPMOR, which is the most newbie-friendly? In your opinion, what are the best 9 sequences rookies like me should read to get to a somewhat intermediate level, in order?

Thanks & cheers!


answer by Raemon · 2019-10-21T05:20:19.768Z · score: 18 (9 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Even though R:AZ isn't very hands on, it's still pretty core and definitely worth your time. I think all three all roughly equally newbie friendly (Much of the Codex was written with the sequences as background assumptions, but still probably accessible without it)

HPMOR is probably the most "fun", if you happen to like the genre.

comment by moses · 2019-10-21T09:47:19.625Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree, the "big, vague things" are the bedrock of epistemology, the lens which helps you be more discerning and critical when you read anything else (e.g. those more "hands on" materials) and get more value out of it.

I think that the sequences could be rewritten to half the length and still retain the vast majority of the value, but oh well, this is where we are at the moment with core rationality literature.

HPMOR is especially fun if you've read the original HP.

comment by Viliam · 2019-10-22T22:29:08.966Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This seems to be the eternal conflict between epistemology and practicality.

Epistemology lets you find out which things are true, construct correct models of the world, and build awesome stuff. The problem is that it can take enormous amounts of time, and the resulting stuff is often easy to use even for people who have no idea why it works. (Not only the obvious cases like using a microwave without having an idea of how it works, but also the invisible stuff like living all your life without a plague while perhaps being a successful anti-vaxer blogger.) Then the people who use stuff invented by others will laugh: "if you are so smart, why aren't you rich?"

The problem is, if you go the opposite way, and just use the stuff without understanding how it works, sometimes you copy something useful, but sometimes you copy something harmful -- you have no idea how to distinguish between them. You lead a successful life, then you drink some bleach and die. It's like walking though a minefield, hoping that it works on average.

So, you probably want some combination of both. To have a knowledge of what works, and to actually exploit that knowledge.

In a parallel universe where Eliezer followed his own advice (to the extreme) and published a book full of hands-on lessons without the epistemology... some people probably read that book and wondered how exactly it differs from any other advice-providing website. So they took some inspiration from that, some other inspiration from somewhere else, and probably got a little bit better on average, but without any deeper change. Instead of rationality meetups, people go to productivity meetups, where they get some good advice, some bad advice, and some irrelevant advice. There is already a lot of this out there; no need to pour more water into the ocean. Also, there would be no effective altruism, and people wouldn't care about AI, because, well, you can solve all these things by the power of positive thinking and visualizing success, can't you?

That said, a CFAR-blessed textbook of practical advice would be nice to have, of course.

comment by Raemon · 2019-10-22T22:58:52.628Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

There's room for epistemology practice to be hands-on, relevant and exercise-based without being about "productivity."

answer by gilch · 2019-10-23T07:26:29.598Z · score: 7 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you're looking for shortcuts, perhaps start with:

I am not sure how approachable the above will be to a "rookie", because I can only speak from my own experience. I read Drexler's Engines of Creation, and Kurzweil's The Singularity Is Near and was fascinated by these topics. I kept finding LessWrong on Google searches about them and I thought the writing was good (especially Three Worlds Collide [? · GW]). So after jumping around a bit as I discovered LessWrong in the first place, I read the original blog posts that went into R:AZ in pretty much the order written. I did end up downloading an ebook version of Eliezer's posts to do it (not the slightly reorganized R:AZ ebook, which was not available at the time), which I read on my phone in my spare time.

In my opinion, you should at least try to read all of the R:AZ sequences, even though there are more than 9. It's quite long, but you'll get insights from it long before you finish.

There's also some redundancy as the concepts build on each other. So if you're struggling getting through an essay, I would say read it aloud and move on even if you don't completely get it. (This might be easier with the audiobook.) Some essays are easier to read than others, and I think that some are more valuable than others.

If that's still too much for you, I can try to point out the individual essays I think are especially important:

  • Raising the Sanity Waterline [LW · GW] links to some critical earlier posts, which makes it a kind of mini-sequence. It's also got a key insight in its own right: humans are insane, and this is not OK.
  • Beyond the Reach of God [LW · GW] — Perhaps the most powerfully written essay in all of the Sequences. Nature is crushingly indifferent to human well-being. Everything is allowed to go horribly wrong. There are no guardrails until we build them ourselves.
  • You Only Live Twice [LW · GW] — There’s a big differ­ence be­tween mostly dead and all dead.
comment by Long try · 2019-10-23T09:44:37.827Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm currently in Fake beliefs and, as you correctly said, more than half the times I don't really get them. I think part of this is because EY wrote using such big words and complicated grammar that confuse non-native speakers.

However, I'm not a fan of jumping ships and will try to wade through R:A-Z before committing to another sequence. You convinced me! :) That said, HPMOR seems to be very appealing to beginners since it combine something new & strange (rationality) with something most of us are familiar with already (wizardry, lol).

comment by gilch · 2019-10-24T03:22:54.856Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I feel like I "got it" on a lot more than half of the essays. I'm a native speaker though. And both an American and enough of a nerd to get most of EY's cultural references. Maybe slogging through is not the best approach for you. If a cursory search of LessWrong's wiki, Wikipedia, and Google aren't enough to understand an unfamiliar reference, you can try one of LessWrong's chatrooms. I think the Freenode one is probably still active, but I haven't been following it lately. And you can ask more questions in the open threads or with new question posts here on LessWrong proper.

comment by gilch · 2019-10-24T03:10:44.529Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

HPMOR's main purpose was to get people interested in rationality in the first place, so you maybe read the sequences and get on board with the mission. You're already interested, so maybe HPMOR is less important. But another major benefit is that it conveys the experience of thinking like a rationalist in a way the sequences don't. Because you put yourself in the protagonist's shoes. And yeah, it's both entertaining and enlightening. But again there were certain chapters I had trouble following. It also starts out kind of slow, so don't give up before chapter 10. You say you are not a native speaker. I don't know your preferred language, but there are a number of translations of HPMOR, a podcast/audiobook, and machinima videos.

answer by eigen · 2019-10-23T00:08:46.013Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

You can really test the waters and see for yourself; it's not that the content is going to go anywhere.

With that said, I started with the sequences (R:A-Z) and while reading it, I also read HPMOR (which being fiction, it was a really fast read). Then I mixed some of CODEX in there. (So that's the order I recommend following).

HPMOR really ruined a big chunk of fiction for me; there are no characters with the self-awareness that those on HPMOR have.

In The CODEX, when Scott Alexander tries to find if AA works [? · GW], he cannot resist himself but to dig deeper and look at the underlying reason of why something is the way it's. Just like a physicist looking at natural phenomena, he investigates, just as well, human nature.

The Sequences changed my mind.

answer by John_Maxwell · 2019-10-22T04:57:39.152Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Did you see the list of guides to the LW archives in the FAQ here? Maybe one of them is what you're looking for:


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