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Less Wrong Lacks Representatives and Paths Forward

In my understanding, there’s no one who speaks for Less Wrong (LW), as its representative, and is responsible for addressing questions and criticisms. LW, as a school of thought, has no agents, no representatives – or at least none who are open to discussion.

The people I’ve found interested in discussion on the website and slack have diverse views which disagree with LW on various points. None claim LW is true. They all admit it has some weaknesses, some unanswered criticisms. They have their own personal views which aren’t written down, and which they don’t claim to be correct anyway.

This is problematic. Suppose I wrote some criticisms of the sequences, or some Bayesian book. Who will answer me? Who will fix the mistakes I point out, or canonically address my criticisms with counter-arguments? No one. This makes it hard to learn LW’s ideas in addition to making it hard to improve them.

My school of thought (Fallible Ideas – FI) has representatives and claims to be correct as far as is known (like LW, it’s fallibilist, so of course we may discover flaws and improve it in the future). It claims to be the best current knowledge, which is currently non-refuted, and has refutations of its rivals. There are other schools of thought which say the same thing – they actually think they’re right and have people who will address challenges. But LW just has individuals who individually chat about whatever interests them without there being any organized school of thought to engage with. No one is responsible for defining an LW school of thought and dealing with intellectual challenges.

So how is progress to be made? Suppose LW, vaguely defined as it may be, is mistaken on some major points. E.g. Karl Popper refuted induction. How will LW find out about its mistake and change? FI has a forum where its representatives take responsibility for seeing challenges addressed, and have done so continuously for over 20 years (as some representatives stopped being available, others stepped up).

Which challenges are addressed? All of them. You can’t just ignore a challenge because it could be correct. If you misjudge something and then ignore it, you will stay wrong. Silence doesn’t facilitate error correction. For information on this methodology, which I call Paths Forward. BTW if you want to take this challenge seriously, you’ll need to click the link; I don’t repeat all of it. In general, having much knowledge is incompatible with saying all of it (even on one topic) upfront in forum posts without using references.

My criticism of LW as a whole is that it lacks Paths Forward (and lacks some alternative of its own to fulfill the same purpose). In that context, my criticisms regarding specific points don’t really matter (or aren’t yet ready to be discussed) because there’s no mechanism for them to be rationally resolved.

One thing FI has done, which is part of Paths Forward, is it has surveyed and addressed other schools of thought. LW hasn’t done this comparably – LW has no answer to Critical Rationalism (CR). People who chat at LW have individually made some non-canonical arguments on the matter that LW doesn’t take responsibility for (and which often involve conceding LW is wrong on some points). And they have told me that CR has critics – true. But which criticism(s) of CR does LW claim are correct and take responsibility for the correctness of? (Taking responsibility for something involves doing some major rethinking if it’s refuted – addressing criticism of it and fixing your beliefs if you can’t. Which criticisms of CR would LW be shocked to discover are mistaken, and then be eager to reevaluate the whole matter?) There is no answer to this, and there’s no way for it to be answered because LW has no representatives who can speak for it and who are participating in discussion and who consider it their responsibility to see that issues like this are addressed. CR is well known, relevant, and makes some clear LW-contradicting claims like that induction doesn’t work, so if LW had representatives surveying and responding to rival ideas, they would have addressed CR.

BTW I’m not asking for all this stuff to be perfectly organized. I’m just asking for it to exist at all so that progress can be made.

Anecdotally, I’ve found substantial opposition to discussing/considering methodology from LW people so far. I think that’s a mistake because we use methods when discussing or doing other activities. I’ve also found substantial resistance to the use of references (including to my own material) – but why should I rewrite a new version of something that’s already written? Text is text and should be treated the same whether it was written in the past or today, and whether it was written by someone else or by me (either way, I’m taking responsibility. I think that’s something people don’t understand and they’re used to people throwing references around both vaguely and irresponsibly – but they haven’t pointed out any instance where I made that mistake). Ideas should be judged by the idea, not by attributes of the source (reference or non-reference).

The Paths Forward methodology is also what I think individuals should personally do – it works the same for a school of thought or an individual. Figure out what you think is true and take responsibility for it. For parts that are already written down, endorse that and take responsibility for it. If you use something to speak for you, then if it’s mistaken you are mistaken – you need to treat that the same as your own writing being refuted. For stuff that isn’t written down adequately by anyone (in your opinion), it’s your responsibility to write it (either from scratch or using existing material plus your commentary/improvements). This writing needs to be put in public and exposed to criticism, and the criticism needs to actually get addressed (not silently ignored) so there are good Paths Forward. I hoped to find a person using this method, or interested in it, at LW; so far I haven’t. Nor have I found someone who suggested a superior method (or even any alternative method to address the same issues) or pointed out a reason Paths Forward doesn’t work.

Some people I talked with at LW seem to still be developing as intellectuals. For lots of issues, they just haven’t thought about it yet. That’s totally understandable. However I was hoping to find some developed thought which could point out any mistakes in FI or change its mind. I’m seeking primarily peer discussion. (If anyone wants to learn from me, btw, they are welcome to come to my forum. It can also be used to criticize FI.) Some people also indicated they thought it’d be too much effort to learn about and address rival ideas like CR. But if no one has done that (so there’s no answer to CR they can endorse), then how do they know CR is mistaken? If CR is correct, it’s worth the effort to study! If CR is incorrect, someone better write that down in public (so CR people can learn about their errors and reform; and so perhaps they could improve CR to no longer be mistaken or point out errors in the criticism of CR.)

One of the issues related to this dispute is I believe we can always proceed with non-refuted ideas (there is a long answer for how this works, but I don’t know how to give a short answer that I expect LW people to understand – especially in the context of the currently-unresolved methodology dispute about Paths Forward). In contrast, LW people typically seem to accept mistakes as just something to put up with, rather than something to try to always fix. So I disagree with ignoring some known mistakes, whereas LW people seem to take it for granted that they’re mistaken in known ways. Part of the point of Paths Forward is not to be mistaken in known ways.

Paths Forward is a methodology for organizing schools of thought, ideas, discussion, etc, to allow for unbounded error correction (as opposed to typical things people do like putting bounds on discussions, with discussion of the bounds themselves being out of bounds). I believe the lack of Paths Forward at LW is preventing the resolution of other issues like about the correctness of induction, the right approach to AGI, and the solution to the fundamental problem of epistemology (how new knowledge can be created).

Elliot Temple on November 8, 2017

Messages (11)

Here’s my commentary on paths forward http://justinmallone.com/2017/01/paths-forward-comments-part-1/

Justin Mallone at 4:32 PM on November 9, 2017 | #9236 | reply | quote

So one the one hand, LW people object to LW being a school of thought, at all.

On the other hand, several of them demanded curi state their positions to prove he understands how they think and did his homework. But how can he know their positions if LW is just a bunch of individuals with their own views, not a school of thought?

The demand that curi research their views and demonstrate understanding before arguing assumes *that they have public, written views* – the very thing they were unwilling to have when curi brought up Paths Forward.

If you have canonical views, then you can ask curi to read them and learn your views before discussion. If not, not. You can't have it both ways.

Anonymous at 9:05 AM on November 12, 2017 | #9245 | reply | quote

People who said they could not represent LW and speak for its views also proposed to judge whether curi understood LW's views correctly or not. wtf.

Anonymous at 9:08 AM on November 12, 2017 | #9246 | reply | quote


my animoji has some comments on my recent interactions with Less Wrong!


curi at 12:40 PM on November 13, 2017 | #9251 | reply | quote

ppl don't wanna do effort. they see Paths Forward as demanding they do lots of effort. their response is to try to argue for having to do less work.

you don't understand this, curi, because you actually love your life, like Roark or Rearden. you try your best to do more stuff instead of less.

Anonymous at 2:16 PM on November 14, 2017 | #9256 | reply | quote

Who is the representative of conservatism?

Does the idea of having canonical representatives make sense, given every individual will have a different take?

Anonymous at 8:22 AM on November 17, 2017 | #9259 | reply | quote

Conservativism doesn't name a specific school of thought.

People are welcome to have their own individual schools of thought, like Bob-LW or Joe-LW, using whatever they want of their own ideas and references to LW (and other) material. The individuals at LW weren't offering that either. No one wanted to take responsibility for ideas/thinking/knowledge, in a group or individual way.

It is important to try to create material that multiple people agree with, instead of everyone in the world having unique views. This lets people work together to improve some ideas, and it lets critics make arguments relevant to more than one person. It's a natural result of having good ideas that some people will go "hey, i agree with that, that makes more sense than my old view" and you get some convergence on truth.

curi at 10:40 AM on November 17, 2017 | #9260 | reply | quote

Anonymous at 12:22 PM on June 1, 2019 | #12589 | reply | quote


Yudkowsky hates Ayn Rand. His reasons are all tangential, not actually about the philosophy. He talks about her life history, ARI's attitudes, Rand being dead and outdated, Rand not being a mathematician or scientist ... but not e.g. any flaws in any arguments made in Galt's speech.

Notably, Yudkowsky proclaims he's an infallibilist:

> Michael Shermer goes into detail on how he thinks that Rand's philosophy ended up descending into cultishness. In particular, Shermer says (it seems) that Objectivism failed because Rand thought that certainty was possible, while science is never certain. I can't back Shermer on that one. The atomic theory of chemistry is pretty damned certain. But chemists haven't become a cult.

Anonymous at 12:28 PM on June 1, 2019 | #12590 | reply | quote

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