Secret Rationality Base in Europe

post by SquirrelInHell · 2016-06-17T02:50:11.083Z · score: 2 (5 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 33 comments

In short, I'm wondering what place/group/organisation/activity could do for rationality in Europe what Berkeley does for rationality in the US?

 

Soon, we'll have LWCW in Berlin, which I hope will be an occasion to do some networking among people who think seriously about developing rationality communities. But in the meantime, let's do some brainstorming.

 

Important note: in comments to this post, please use only consequentialist language. For example, say "If we decided for the base to be on Malta, then X would happen" instead of "I think it should be in Malta, because..."

 





Of course, share anything else that you think is relevant to the topic.

Also, see you all in Berlin :)

33 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by gjm · 2016-06-17T10:19:56.788Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

It seems to me that the role Berkeley plays in the US rationalist community is mostly a consequence of there having already been lots of rationalists and rationalist-friendly people in and near Berkeley. I'm not sure this is the kind of thing you can build without that initial critical mass.

In that case, it might be more informative to look at where people are already located.

comment by Viliam · 2016-06-17T12:42:13.314Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

where people are already located

The wiki list of European meetup groups, filtered by "at least once in a month" (mentioned explicitly in the group description), gives us the list of possible candidates:

  • Vienna, Austria
  • Brussels, Belgium
  • Prague, Czech Republic
  • Berlin, Germany
  • Hamburg, Germany
  • Munich, Germany
  • Kraków, Poland
  • Poznan, Poland
  • Moscow, Russia
  • St. Petersburg, Russia
  • London, UK

Note that some of the information may be out of date, the wiki page does not mention the average number of people attending the meetups, etc. (Also, it's not just the number of members that matter, but how seriously they take the topic, etc.) So we can use this as an "upper bound" on places where enough active European LW-ers live.

As the next step I would recommend looking at what the local groups have already done, using the "past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior" heuristic. Berlin seems like an obvious winner; they organized the 2014 and 2015 European LW Community Weekends.

comment by SquirrelInHell · 2016-06-18T22:55:15.240Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The image I have is that Berkeley just happened to be where Eliezer was, and he gradually built the whole thing. Is it wrong?

comment by gjm · 2016-06-19T00:47:37.562Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I have no special insider knowledge. My impression, which I will gladly have corrected by those who know more, is that

  • MIRI (formerly SIAI) was founded in Berkeley because that's where Eliezer was.
  • Most of the rationalists in Berkeley are not MIRI employees.
  • Most of the rationalists in Berkeley did not move to Berkeley because of MIRI or Eliezer or other rationalists.

But, again, this is vague impressions and guesswork and assumptions rather than actual knowledge. So let's assume for a moment that I'm entirely wrong and the Berkeley rationalist community is a consequence of MIRI. MIRI was founded about 16 years ago, and I think it's only in the last few years that the Berkeley rationalist community has been a big thing. That would suggest that the "build a rationalist community by starting an institution there" strategy takes 10 years or so to work.

If so, then good places to consider might be places that already have kinda-MIRI-like institutions. Perhaps Oxford (home of the Future of Humanity Institute, and also of Giving What We Can if you're the EA sort of rationalist) and to a lesser extent Cambridge (home of the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk). I think the FHI and the CSER are the nearest non-MIRI things to MIRI.

comment by AlexMennen · 2016-06-20T00:25:32.038Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Nope. SIAI was founded in Georgia, because that's where Eliezer was, then moved to Silicon Valley soon afterwards, and moved again to Berkeley just a few years ago (around the time it changed its name to MIRI iirc).

comment by gjm · 2016-06-20T14:38:26.544Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, interesting. Do you know how that timeline interacts with the growth of the rationalist community in Berkeley?

comment by AlexMennen · 2016-06-20T21:56:39.932Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If I remember correctly, the Berkeley rationalist community was largely seeded by members of the Silicon Valley rationalist community moving to Berkeley, which began shortly before MIRI moved, but mostly happened when and after MIRI moved.

comment by John_Maxwell_IV · 2016-06-26T11:28:43.444Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I believe Eliezer was one of the last SIAI employees to move to Berkeley. My guess is SIAI originally moved from Santa Clara to Berkeley because some SIAI employees had rationalist community friends in Berkeley, and when visiting those friends, they noticed they liked Berkeley better than Santa Clara. (I've lived in both places--IMO Santa Clara is dystopian and suburban, but Berkeley is lively and interesting.)

I don't believe there was significant community buildup in Santa Clara before the move. So maybe the takeaway is to make your HQ a place where people want to live for reasons other than just being part of your community?

comment by Lumifer · 2016-06-17T20:02:40.293Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I am a bit confused. What will this secret rationality base actually DO?

comment by SquirrelInHell · 2016-06-18T22:52:29.686Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Reports from Berkeley and NYC suggest there is a sort of a "critical mass" of rationality communities, above which they quickly become really really awesome.

The awesome effects include, for example: enough clout to start projects that change something important in the world; and developing a communication culture that supports improving your thinking and knowledge of rationality much faster and easier than in single player mode.

So I imagine a rationality base mostly puts enough people together to reach this point.

Also, I'd personally be in just for the fun of having a secret base :)

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-06-20T14:59:41.917Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Also, I'd personally be in just for the fun of having a secret base :)

That's not the sort of battle cry that motivates people to change their lives by moving to a new location.

comment by Anders_H · 2016-06-17T19:47:36.910Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

This is almost certainly a small minority view, but from my perspective as a European based in the Bay Area who may be moving back to Europe next summer, the most important aspect would be geographical proximity to a decent university where staff and faculty can get away with speaking only English.

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-06-17T13:03:32.089Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Would you like the European rationality community efforts to also include some research topics (e.g. AI), or to focus on the community itself and leave the research to other organisations?

Community and organisation are two different things. A community by it's nature contains people from different organisations.

As such it's not something that's usually decided in a top-down way.

The Effective Altruism Foundation moved their main office to Berlin.
We have an existing base with regular LW events in Berlin.
Berlin has a lot of jobs for programmers.
Berlin is cheap.

comment by SquirrelInHell · 2016-06-17T15:17:06.241Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Community and organisation are two different things. A community by it's nature contains people from different organisations.

Fair enough, the question was unclear. I've changed it to (I hope) better reflect what I wanted to ask: Would you like the European rationality community efforts to be centered around some particular research topics (e.g. AI)?

As such it's not something that's usually decided in a top-down way.

E.g. what initially set events in motion in Berkeley seems to have been mostly MIRI-related research, not explicit community building. And it seems very possible to choose this kind of focus top-down.

comment by Benito · 2016-06-17T17:39:21.034Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Btw I think the consequentialist version of your question is "What happens if the EU rationality community centres its efforts around a research topic (with the question being open to different consequences from different topics)".

comment by SquirrelInHell · 2016-06-18T22:23:14.092Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Haha, thanks a lot, indeed the questions themselves can be phrased in a way that strongly suggests a consequentialist answer :) I'll use this a lot for now on :)

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-06-17T15:41:32.995Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

E.g. what initially set events in motion in Berkeley seems to have been mostly MIRI-related research, not explicit community building.

There are many different reasons for a computer programmer who's interested in rationality to move to Berkeley besides MIRI-related research. The good jobs for computer programmers are in Silicon Valley and so computer programmers migrate there.

And it seems very possible to choose this kind of focus top-down.

If you have enough money than you can do everything top-down. If I understand right than MIRI had over a longer time >500,000/per year in donations. Do you think there somebody who would want to invest that kind of money into building a European LW community?

comment by MrMind · 2016-06-17T08:29:19.324Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Ideally, a rationality HQ for Europe will not be too far from any other country, and possibly be in a place supportive of open mindedness and with a strong scientific culture.
That's why I think Berlin is a wonderful choice: while in the recent decades Europe has grown eastwards, it still remains accessible from almost anywhere. Germans also have a reputation of being conscentious people, and Berlin to be a cosmopolitan capital.

comment by SquirrelInHell · 2016-06-17T08:45:30.333Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, Berlin is the most obvious candidate at this point, and it seems strong on most fronts except climate and prices.

Note that cheap flights make "not be too far from any other country" much less important than it used to be.

That's why I think Berlin is a wonderful choice

Note that saying "X. That's why I think Y" is a straightforward transformation of "I think Y, because X", which I've been asking not to say.

As an exercise in consequentialist thinking, I suggest you rephrase your comment :)

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-06-17T12:32:32.057Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, Berlin is the most obvious candidate at this point, and it seems strong on most fronts except climate and prices.

Prices aren't bad compared to other big cities.

You would need around 3,087.02€ (2,438.53£) in Berlin to maintain the same standard of life that you can have with 4,500.00£ in London

You would need around 3,073.39€ (2,427.76£) in Berlin to maintain the same standard of life that you can have with 3,600.00£ in Oxford

You would need around 3,084.93€ in Berlin to maintain the same standard of life that you can have with 3,400.00€ in Vienna

You would need around 3,093.66€ (3,484.64$) in Berlin to maintain the same standard of life that you can have with 6,000.00$ in Berkeley, CA

You would need around 3,077.66€ (3,342.51Fr.) in Berlin to maintain the same standard of life that you can have with 7,300.00Fr. in Zurich

It's not anymore the price level it had when Tim Ferriss wrote the 4HW and recommended digital nomads to move to Berlin to have it super cheap, but it's still relatively cheap.

Which city do you consider suitable that is cheaper than Berlin?

In most cities I think you couldn't run an event like the LWCW for 150€.

comment by SquirrelInHell · 2016-06-17T15:10:49.742Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Acknowledged, but you are comparing only to famous and expensive cities.

So to make the ranking more fair - e.g. I've been living in Kraków which is more than 40% cheaper than Berlin in every aspect (though I'm not recommending it for a rationality hub) http://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-living/compare_cities.jsp?country1=Germany&country2=Poland&city1=Berlin&city2=Krakow+%28Cracow%29

And I'll be going on a 3-month vacation on Malta, which is also visibly cheaper: http://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-living/compare_cities.jsp?country1=Germany&country2=Malta&city1=Berlin&city2=Birkirkara

comment by ChristianKl · 2016-06-17T15:48:44.958Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

A lot of the people on LW are programmers and thus want to be employeed by software companies. Those generally exist in big cities. Big cities also tend to draw a lot of diverse ideas.

I can talk to someone in Berkely about Circling/Authentic Relating because there are Circling Events in Berlin and there are Circling/Authentic events in Berkely.

I haven't checked but I wouldn't expect to find Circling in Kraków or Malta.

Malta happens to have some interesting properties but I would guess that it would take significant financial resources to build something there.

comment by Good_Burning_Plastic · 2016-06-17T17:00:52.817Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for that site!

comment by Huluk · 2016-06-17T16:33:38.403Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think that "not be too far from any other country" would lead to a more open community with more fluent membership status. People who feel vaguely connected to a community will go to events which are closeby, but are less likely to attend if they have to fly (and consequently have to plan much longer in advance). At least I'm willing to travel much longer in a train – where I can do work – if I can avoid flying that way, which seems to consist solely of controlls and queueing.

comment by SquirrelInHell · 2016-06-18T22:34:39.150Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Hmm yes, thanks, indeed it probably applies to quite a few people.

I don't personally get the whole "spend a lot of time in a train/car" thing, so let me also ask: what distance on land (or travel time) would make you give up on a train trip?

comment by Huluk · 2016-06-19T04:17:38.074Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Distance does not matter, travel time does. As does pricing because prices for train and plane are basically unrelated and because I'm currently a student and don't have much money. My decision mostly depends on the events around my travel – sometimes I have to fly to make it in time. This means I find it difficult to give a simple function, so let me give some examples:

• I currently live in Edinburgh and I fly to visit people in Germany or the Netherlands over the weekend. On the other hand, I will move back to the continent in September and will visit the LW community weekend "on the way". This will involve a travel time of around 25h over a period of 45h (13.5h train, 6h ferry, 4h cycling, 1h waiting, ~0.5h local transport). If I took a plane, it would cost around the same and I'd spent 10h (1.5h flight, 2h security/waiting, 1.5h local transport, 5h packing and unpacking bike + getting the packaging in the first place). EDIT: Without the bike, the times would be 19h (train through the tunnel) vs 5h and I'd fly.

• There is a reasonable probability that I'll be living in Switzerland soon, in which case I'm planning to do family visits by ~9h train instead of ~5h flight+transport. That is because I'm expecting it to be possible to do "home office" in the train.

• I really like night trains. I count night travel as 2-3h time investment due to reduced sleep quality.

• I prefer flying + airport shuttle over driving a car for the same total time if I'm the only driver. If this is a road trip with like-minded people and we share driving responsibilities, up to like 24h of driving seem okay during holidays. I'd probably prefer the plane once I have a job.

comment by compartmentalization · 2016-07-12T22:03:02.558Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

except climate

Care to elaborate?

prices

It seems to be cheaper than anything west and north of it, except the Baltics. Going by the prices listed here.

comment by MrMind · 2016-06-24T14:47:59.074Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Have you added the important note after I made the comment or I just missed it totally? Anyway:

If the European Base is going to be Berlin, members of a larger group of nations will be able to attend, due to the position being almost central from any other European countries. The community that is going to be developed there, as an entity nested inside the German government / culture / etc., will benefit from less ostracism and a wider acceptance even in its weirder facets (cryonics / poly...) thus enabling a better freedom of movement / speech / publications, etc.

comment by compartmentalization · 2016-07-12T22:00:24.367Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Good (frequent/cheap) flight connections are more important than location itself. Flying e.g. from Tallinn to Athens takes about 5 hours (about 3 hours of actual flight time).

comment by SquirrelInHell · 2016-06-27T01:46:11.340Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I just missed it totally

Yes, it was there from the beginning :)

Dublin

You mean Berlin :)

will benefit from less ostracism and a wider acceptance even in its weirder facets (cryonics / poly)...

I like this. (I might have a tendency to assume that poly & cryonics are completely normal everyday stuff, but it's probably not so :D)

Speaking about cryonics - is there any possibility to arrange in Germany to be frozen and shipped e.g. to KrioRus for storage?

comment by MrMind · 2016-06-27T07:22:00.230Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You mean Berlin :)

Fixed, thanks!

I might have a tendency to assume that poly & cryonics are completely normal everyday stuff, but it's probably not so :D

It's very not so! Especially in Europe...

is there any possibility to arrange in Germany to be frozen and shipped e.g. to KrioRus for storage?

Not that I know of, but my experience is only about Italy...

comment by [deleted] · 2016-06-18T12:23:20.348Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If you decide on a project which lies outside of the participants' fields of expertise, it is likely to go poorly, in that I think it would not take root. (Hope that was consequentialist.) Would it be possible to see, from the survey data, what are the relevant features of the European subpopulation, and dance fromthere?