Wisdom for Smart Teens - my talk at SPARC 2014

post by Liron · 2015-02-09T18:58:17.449Z · score: 15 (20 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 22 comments

I recently had the privilege of a 1-hour speaking slot at SPARC, a yearly two-week camp for top high school math students.

Here's the video: Wisdom for Smart Teens

Instead of picking a single topic, I indulged in a bunch of mini-topics that I feel passionate about:

  1. Original Sight
  2. "Emperor has no clothes" moments
  3. Epistemology is cool
  4. Think quantitatively
  5. Be specific / use examples
  6. Organizations are inefficient
  7. How I use Bayesianism
  8. Be empathizable
  9. Communication
  10. Simplify
  11. Startups
  12. What you want
I think the LW crowd will get a kick out of it.






Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by MathiasZaman · 2015-02-10T12:53:26.846Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I very much enjoyed the video. It's stuff like this that makes me wish I had known about rationality and Less Wrong when I was fifteen/sixteen.

I loved the energy you brought to the talk. It was very contagious and I need to find a way to get the sort of energy I have after watching this video without having too watch hour-long videos.

comment by Chaeris · 2015-02-14T16:54:30.005Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Hello, this is my first post on this website, I am currently sixteen. So to help me discover the concept of this website better, I would like someone to point me to recent posts considered as "important" by you (this is always purely objective, I think). Since you wrote you wish you had known about Less Wrong when you were 15/16, I think you were unconsciously talking about several particular things you've seen, and watching them could help me.

comment by MathiasZaman · 2015-02-16T10:54:55.569Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Welcome to Less Wrong.

You've given me quite a responsibility here and I'm not sure if I'm qualified as the Less Wrong Ambassador for Smart Teens. This probably deserves a thread of its own.

Anyway, I'll give it my best shot.

The Sequences are often considered the main point of entrance for Less Wrong. I don't quite agree (I wouldn't have read all of that when I was 16, I'm sure), but if you can stomach it: best start reading now. Another point of entry is [Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality], which is more accessible but the style isn't for everyone. If you read very quickly, you might be able to catch up before the finale.

Here are a couple of Less Wrong posts I'd wish I read when I was about your age:

Alright. That should be enough to get your started for now. I'll think it over more and maybe (but know that I'm extremely prone to procrastination) I'll start a Discussion thread on this sort of introductory material.

The main thing I want you to learn from Less Wrong, to start with, is that you should do more than what is required of you. If you're even slightly intelligent or clever, school will not push you. Your friends will not push you. Your parents will not push you. People will be content with only a bare minimum of your actual capabilities. It's up to you to reach your full potential. Don't count on external sources to do this for you.

comment by Chaeris · 2015-02-25T12:00:42.285Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well thank you very much ! And sorry for taking some of your time (to find out which article to give me).

I've got quite a lot of reading now (I figured out already that many articles are wrote in response or in reference to yet an older article that you need to read first, and I started training speed reading for that matter). You don't really have any "responsability", as being on this website was already the right choice for me, and I think I would probably eventually stumble upon those articles that you pointed out (I just feared that, not finding the specific important articles, I'd stop reading Less Wrong out of interest).

comment by Chaeris · 2015-02-25T13:39:30.096Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

In exchange of your knowledge, I think I should add that I know of a website ( http://stumbleupon.com ), where you can specify your "interests" from a list, and pressing a button brings you a page on the subject (relatively recent, so that you don't get a false or outdated information).

I have found already many texts of the same quality as here on the pages I read (currently ~50K), and I believe you could greatly benefit from using this website. You should just be cautious about what I call "infected interests" : they sound appealing, like "Psychology" (note : I am not sure Psychology is one of them, just check). But their content is filled with basic or unsupported claims that make the whole "interest" not suitable for learning and often annoying (like you could find "The 10 Most Bizzarre Signs That You're A Psychopath", hence why you would unsubscribe from the interest "Psychology" : because it's just clickbaits). I currently have subscribed to more than 50 interests (math, physics, biology, sociology, archaelogy, nanotechnology... some of them are slight variations, like biotechnology and bio engineering), and I sometimes have trouble counting the amount of different informations of all kinds I have seen in one day.

comment by negamuhia · 2015-02-15T21:54:30.118Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The core ideas in LW come from the Major Sequences. You can start there, reading posts in each sequence sequentially.

comment by Liron · 2015-02-10T18:21:29.611Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW


comment by Vaniver · 2015-02-09T23:53:33.373Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Overall, enjoyed the talk! Thanks for posting it.

I'm not sure if I would have done the Emperor has no clothes bit the same way. In particular, I probably would have put it after the epistemology section; it's easier to say "yep, no God, move on" after saying what it means to know or prove something. (I'm not sure you do that all that well, though, and then the question at the end suggests that even if you had led with crossing off God in the epistemology section people's feathers may have been ruffled.)

As for the history of the lecture, it's right there in the name (well, if you know Latin). It's that books are too expensive for everyone to have one, and so the professor will read the one copy of the book aloud while all the students listen (and take notes). Yes, videos and textbooks are a superior technology given the modern economy.

I also feel like a talk for teens should expect a lot of snark, and it didn't look like you did. :P In particular, whenever you give the advice to be specific, you should be prepared to be specific.

comment by Liron · 2015-02-10T00:10:33.401Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

You're right, I totally knew I should have included an example. I actually made the presentation last minute. Good for them for calling me out.

For the God part, I just wish I was more tactful just because I know some people find it highly offensive. So at the least I could have been empathic to it by saying "I know this feels terrible to hear".

comment by Vaniver · 2015-02-10T00:36:31.817Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

For the God part, I just wish I was more tactful just because I know some people find it highly offensive. So at the least I could have been empathic to it by saying "I know this feels terrible to hear".

Mmm. I don't think that would have made much of a difference, and the generalization I make of 'avoid highly offensive examples' is "make one point at a time." If you want to teach people about original sight, you probably want to just teach them about original sight, and not original sight and atheism together. This comes up in lots of places, like trying to simultaneously explain causality and human weight. Is it possible to just teach them about original sight without meaty examples? Maybe not, because of the specific topic, but it seems worth trying.

But of the meaty examples, it does seem like the best one (and I suspect that's why you put it first). Part of the Less Wrong project as I see it is the idea that you too can make terrible mistakes. Probably my favorite short concept from LW to push is the "listen to the quiet voice that whispers when you're confused or making a mistake. No, really, you only have a few seconds: take it seriously." that you brought up briefly, because it turns out it's way better to not make mistakes than make mistakes.

So I wouldn't have prefaced it with a "this feels terrible to hear" but more along the lines of "with your original sight, you can see through the Emperor's New Clothes, but you should also expect that there are some parts of your life where you are the ones wearing the clothes, and a huge part of growing is figuring that out." The point isn't that "atheism might suck for you now, and I'm sorry about that" but "models being wrong, instead of just incomplete, is a thing that can happen to you too."

comment by MathiasZaman · 2015-02-10T12:43:40.389Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

The part about God was high impact, so it might have been worth it. Especially since you moved on rather quickly to less controversial examples. I don't think your explanation on bread would have the same impact without dropping god in there. I'm not a public speaker, so I might be very wrong here, but maybe it's a trade-off.

comment by Epictetus · 2015-02-10T05:33:45.938Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

For the God part, I just wish I was more tactful just because I know some people find it highly offensive. So at the least I could have been empathic to it by saying "I know this feels terrible to hear".

I like to go with the Gelfand principle: when introducing a new concept, give the simplest nontrivial example. Bringing up religion has the risk of offending people, sure, but it seems to me that the deeper issue is that the existence of God is a thorny metaphysical problem and it didn't appear clear to the audience how to apply the methods. It's got one hell of an impact though.

comment by Liron · 2015-02-10T00:17:02.644Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know Latin so I'm guessing "lecture" is Latin for "lost purpose"? That's great, thanks for educating me.

comment by Vaniver · 2015-02-10T00:22:46.866Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know Latin so I'm guessing "lecture" is Latin for "lost purpose"? That's great, thanks for educating me.

It's "reading."

comment by komponisto · 2015-02-10T00:23:11.667Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

It's Latin for "reading".

comment by Gleb_Tsipursky · 2015-02-12T01:33:58.825Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Great video, thanks for posting it. I'll share it with college students in my classes. And if you don't mind, I'll share it with folks at Intentional Insights to see what we can adapt from it for our own curriculum.

I especially appreciate the "empathizable" section, that's really helpful for social skills.

comment by caffemacchiavelli · 2015-02-11T15:18:55.641Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I enjoyed it, thanks for sharing. (Btw, are there more general, practical utility lectures like this?)

When you talk about being underwhelmed with other students, could you go into detail what criteria you'd specifically assess when making that judgment?

I've noticed that most intellectual doujins tend to think of themselves as particularly special and of other people as not quite as much, even if the empirical evidence isn't all that convincing (Mensa can be notoriously bad about this, so is the "I have goals!" self-help crowd), so I always take some time to look at the actual data before adopting a similar belief.

comment by Liron · 2015-02-11T22:20:11.891Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Ok, here's why I think SPARC students would be underwhelmed by college students.

Regarding measurable facts, I'd estimate that:

  • Compared to the median UC Berkeley student, the median SPARC participant can spend 3x less time studying any material to get the same test score.

  • Compared to the median UC Berkeley student, the median SPARC participant's expected cumulative income in the next 20 years is about 3x as much.

My point is that if you want to reach your potential in life, you want to calibrate your peer group to challenge you. And something like a factor of 3x isn't calibrated.

That said, of course there are also ways in which the average SPARC participant is somewhat inferior to the average person, like making a good social first impression. But if the SPARC person can manage to train their conscious focus on that or any other area of weakness, I'd usually bet on them being able to surpass their non-SPARC peers in that area.

Intelligence is the smartphone of talents. Sure you can have other possessions, but usually the single best thing to have is a smartphone.

comment by Liron · 2015-02-11T22:21:19.402Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Re general lectures, I also have a couple more of my own at liron.me/talks.

comment by Capla · 2015-02-21T05:26:43.385Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Why is this on Vimeo instead of Youtube? I can adjust the play-speed on YT videos.

comment by Liron · 2015-02-22T00:19:00.720Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW


comment by Capla · 2015-02-22T02:48:33.887Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW