William liked the bit in my last post where I said that most believers are carrying a map of the real world somewhere, because they know in advance what excuses to make for the apparent absence of gods and dragons. Of course, I stole it from Overcoming Bias (mentioned previously here). Carl Sagan’s point in the original invisible dragon story is about falsifiability. The crew over at Overcoming Bias use it another way, to think about what’s going on in dragon-believer’s head when they know enough anticipate the results of testing for the dragon, but not enough to say “there’s no dragon”.
It’s that sort of keen observation that keeps me going back to Overcoming Bias despite all the stuff about freezing your head when you die. The aim of the game for Biasers is to have a map which matches the territory, and to be able to read it aloud. They’ve started Less Wrong, a new site where anyone can contribute something they think will help achieve this aim. It’s based on the code for Reddit, where users can vote stories up or down, though at Less Wrong, the editors manually promote stories to the front page, and there’s a separate page where you can view stuff that’s merely popular. You can follow Less Wrong on LiveJournal by adding less_wrong to your friends list.
The community is working pretty well so far. Watching the decline of Kuro5hin makes me worry that community moderated sites will turn to crap (although there’s still some good stuff over at k5, such as an article about the tendency of community moderated sites to turn to crap), but having real humans in charge of promoting articles might mitigate that. The system has given some new voices a chance, notably Yvain. Here are some of my favourite articles so far:
- The Mystery of the Haunted Rationalist talks further about layers of belief. If you’re a materialist and get scared in a haunted house, do you actually believe in ghosts?
- Don’t revere the bearer of good info: how to avoid worshipping Eliezer Yudkowsky.
- Eliezer Yudkowsky facts: why you should worship Eliezer Yudkowsky. Possibly only funny if you’ve read all his stuff, so off you go.
- The power of positivist thinking, in which Yvain admits a closet liking for A.J. Ayer.
- Cached Selves: alarming research on how freely chosen past actions bind us to consistency with them in the future.
- The least convenient possible world is a tool for working out what your real principles are.
I’ve made a few comments over there, although nothing earth-shattering: sympathising with someone whose girlfriend left him for Jesus, or talking about Bernard Woolley and irregular verbs.
I’ve been thinking about posting some more about what I’ve got out of Overcoming Bias and Less Wrong here on LJ. It’s all very well ranting about religion, but rationality isn’t graded on a curve. Don’t worry, religion-rant fans: I’ve got a few more of those lined up too.