Applied Rationality Workshops: Jan 25-28 and March 1-4

The Center for Applied Rationality is running two more four-day workshops: Jan 25-28 and March 1-4 in the SF bay area.  Like the previous workshop, these sessions are targeted at ambitious, analytic people who have broad intellectual interests, and who care about making real-world projects work.  Less Wrong veterans and Less Wrong newcomers alike are welcome: as discussed below, we are intentionally bringing together folks with varied backgrounds and skill bases.

Workshop details:

The gist:

  • We're trying to improve people's rational agency - turn the evolutionary kludge that is a human being into something more like an entity that has goals and actually acts on them.  We'll give you tools for becoming more like Kipling’s If (or HPMOR's Harry Potter); one exercise, insight, or habit at a time.
  • For a more detailed picture, see the schedule from our last workshop (which is close to our Friday through Sunday schedule, though we’ll be making some optimizations), and our list of applied rationality habits

The logistics:

  • 25 participants: smart, varied, practical, bringing a variety of competencies to the table
  • 3 days of intensive course sessions, all hands-on, exercise-intensive, and performed in small groups (Friday through Sunday; it's recommended that folks arrive on site Thursday evening)
  • 1 optional, but strongly recommended, day of intensive practice (Monday)
  • 6 weeks of one-on-one Skype and email follow-up, as you solidify your new habits and and apply them to your business or personal life.
  • A lifetime of membership in the alumni community, and connections to others with whom you can explore and collaborate for the long haul.
  • The workshop costs $3,900 for the full four days, or $3,400 if you stay only Friday through Sunday; some financial aid is available.[1]

Why we’re running broad workshops, and extending beyond the LW crowd:

CFAR's purpose is creating a more reliable art of rationality - an art that includes LW-style epistemic rationality as part of a larger, more practical toolbox; communicated and practiced in a way that can genuinely change people.

Entrepreneurs are a highly fertile ground for developing this art.  Entrepreneurs are picky, articulate, and have cross-domain real-world competencies (“business skills”, “productivity skills”) that can fuse with an art of rationality.  A diverse group that includes entrepreneurs, hackers, LWers, and ambitious folk of other stripes is probably better still.

Less Wrong is where most of us got started as rationalists; I personally owe it a tremendous amount.  I’ll be excited, this summer, when we run further camps targeted just at LW-ers[2] -- camps that can take the Sequences as a starting point, and can grow the base of folks highly skilled in epistemic rationality and interested in this larger art.  But a CFAR which creates its rationality curriculum in contact with a wide range of talented / competent people will create a stronger rationality, long-term.

Who should apply?

Anyone who thinks the habits list and schedule sound awesome, and who wants to internalize these skills through systematic, structured practice in the company of talented friends and practiced teachers.  Anyone wants to infuse epistemic rationality and instrumental agency into their habits, concepts, and actions.  Anyone who wants to join a community of smart, practical folk refining more effective thinking patterns.

And please recommend this workshop to any ambitious, analytic friends.

Who shouldn’t attend?

These two workshops won't be suited for everyone.  You probably shouldn’t attend if:

1.  You care a lot about professional polish.  (One person left early from the last camp; he said his main disappointment was that he expected an organized operation with suits.)

2.  You hate being near people.  (Participants live on site, often in shared rooms, to facilitate conversations and community; room and board is included.  Many report learning more from the informal conversations in the evening than from the sessions -- the sessions are set up to provoke conversation, and the group is chosen to help each other think and change.)

3.  You don’t want to try anything that hasn't been tested in scientific studies.  (We aim ultimately to have a curriculum that has been carefully tested.  We randomized admissions to June minicamp so that we can track the June mini campers vs. a set of matched controls, and we’ll do similar studies going forward.  But for the moment, the academic literature just doesn’t have enough work on debiasing for the peer-reviewed interventions to form a curriculum, and where previous experiments leave off, we're running on science-literate priors, informal experimentation, and plural anecdote - which is to say, informed guesswork.)

4.  You need a finished product.  (We're still developing our curriculum and you'll be a live test, though not the first live test.  On the upside, alumni already find it highly useful (see below), and you get to leave your stamp in the curriculum as it grows.  You’ll be participating in something raw and alive.)

Who shouldn’t not-apply?

Following Paul Graham, I’ll conclude with some reasons not to not-apply.

One reason not to not-apply is that you’d need financial aid.  If the workshops sound awesome but you can’t afford it, please take ten minutes (preferably now) and fill out our application form anyway.  We will give out some partial scholarships.  And even if you don’t get one, what’s the cost?  You'll have a 15-minute interesting conversation (our interviews), and we may get a chance to revisit your application in the future, when we have more sources of financial aid.

Similarly, if the workshops sound awesome but you’re afraid you won’t get in, do apply.  (Even if you applied to a previous workshop and didn't get in.)  The application is quick and interesting, and what do you have to lose?

Another reason not to not-apply is that you already have a long list of habits to work on.  Sometimes people think that because they already have a stack of productivity books to read, or habits that ought to help but which they've yet to implement, they shouldn’t come to the workshop - why add yet more habits to their "to implement" list?  But this workshop will teach skills and provide social support for habit formation - we expect to substantially speed your progress through your existing “to learn” list.  Plus, discover the wonders of arithmetic for estimating which habit-shifts will help most - you'll be surprised at the surprisingness of some numerical answers.

Finally, if you’d be happy to pay for workshops that are what we say these are, but you don’t quite trust us - there’s a money-back guarantee; we're willing to bet that this will boost your earning power and/or well-being by far more than the cost.  We've followed through on this before, and accept that as a cost of doing business.  If you're not certain of the benefit, do apply - we're willing to take on the risk ourselves.

Further information:

For more info about the workshops, check out:

Workshop application form here (takes at most 10 minutes; productivity heuristics say you should do such small tasks immediately).



[1]  If you’d like help talking to your company about subsidizing your workshop attendance, send me an email: anna at appliedrationality dot org.

[2]  Wondering whether to attend these workshops or wait for a LWer-specific workshop?  The answer depends partly on which timing works well for you (the sooner you come, the sooner you can start changing things), and partly on who you want to hang out with.  Want to discuss quantum mechanics and the simulation argument?  An LW-specific workshop may bring more of a sense of homecoming for those who loved the Sequences.  The January and March workshops will duplicate the audience mix of the November entrepreneurial workshop, which had better social and productivity skills and better practical advice.

[!]  Bonus footnote:  We may be hiring another teacher / curriculum developer.  If you're interested, do apply.  Please apply even if I already know you.  Job application here.

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The application is quick and interesting, and what do you have to lose?

Motivation to get involved later. You may be underestimating the aversive effects of a poor applications-handlng process, and my experience with your operation the past couple times has been so underwhelming that I'm unlikely to even consider applying this time around.

If you want people to take you seriously with that "let us be the ones to say no", you need to keep the promise of saying no in a timely manner, ideally with a brief personal response. (Though even a form letter would be an improvement.)

For whatever it's worth, we've been reasonably good about timely responses to workshop (and minicamp) applications, just not so good with responses to job applications.

I understand, though, and appreciate your response.

I attended the July week-long camp, AMA.

Some of my post-camp impressions:

  • Not all the skills I learned were new, but instructors were good at showing me how to apply them more broadly (i.e. I already usually priced small expenditures against the cost of chocolate lava cake at a restaurant as my $/food pleasure utility benchmark, but I didn't have pins for other things of value to me, like my time
  • Some of the useful things I learned were software (Remember the Milk and Freemind, especially). I didn't know much about these tools before, and it was really helpful to have instructors go over specific ways they used them, work through upcoming projects with me, answer follow-up questions months later, and do specific tie-ins to things we learned in other units
  • The best thing about the minicamp was its coherency. Over the first few days, the skills felt a bit piecemeal, but by the end of the week, I had learned how to make a lot of the discrete skills and tricks reinforce each other,

Specific things that improved as the result of attending minicamp:

  • I do a fair amount of freelance writing, and I think I've gotten about 1.5x-2x faster at turning out writing.
  • I spend a lot less time/mental energy/stress trying to keep track of tasks, and it's easy for me to set up tripwires for commitments in the far future (I've already got a reminder set to schedule a Ramond Llull party this summer, setting quick tasks to email an article I like to a friend so I don't have to keep muttering it to myself til I'm by my email).
  • I'm more likely to use precommitments to reduce analysis paralysis (I'll try getting to the mall to run this errand, but if it takes more than 10 minutes to get to the highway, I'll give up and won't feel bad; I don't know when I want to get a cookie because I want a cookie or because I want a treat, so I'll go to and take a 1/3 chance instead of worrying about whether I ought to)
  • I'm studying martial arts.

I'm a ''people-hater' with a reasonable record of behavior self-modification; how much of what you learned is (or more importantly, is not) covered in Checklist of Rationality Habits or elsewhere on the site?

If you're a "people-hater" who is able to easily self-modify, why do you still "hate" people? Are you sure you're not rationalizing the usefulness of your dislike of others? What do you find yourself saying to yourself and others about what being a "people-hater" achieves for you. Are there other ways for you to achieve those without hating people? What do you find yourself saying to yourself and others about why it's hard to change? What if in a group of 20+ people interested in rationality, someone has a cool trick you haven't tried?

Even if you're 90% sure you should hate people, you're 10% sure you shouldn't. Supposing you were wrong, what would it be worth to you, e.g. in hours of happiness or positive effects on others, integrated over the rest of your life, to find that out? You'd have an interesting chance of finding that out immersed for a few days in a group of people who could produce interesting arguments for both sides of the issue.

I say this as someone who used to dislike people a lot, changed on purpose, and am now happier and doing better for it ;)

ETA But I think I see what Anna is saying about not attending if you hate being near people...

I don't actually hate people, I'm just very averse towards socializing with unfamiliar people in that sort of environment described, and was just paraphrasing that same point for emphasis.

They will swiftly become familiar people. If you think that spending three days around two dozen people would be a terrible experience, then I recommend against applying; if you just consider yourself not very social, I recommend applying.

I attended the July week-long camp, AMA.

This! :)

I'm a very satisfied customer from the March workshop. The biggest win for me has been with social skills - it turns out that anxiety had been making me stupid, and that if I de-stress then whole new parts of my brain spring into action. And that was just one of a large number of practical insights. I was amazed at both how much CFAR know about how we can use our brains effectively, and at how much they were able to teach over 4 days. Really impressive, well-run effort with a buzz of "this is where it's happening".

I promised I'd write about this in more detail, so stay tuned!

March is shaping up to be a great group (Jaan Tallinn, Max Tegmark, Lukeprog, others), and has a few spots left, so if you've been thinking of applying but haven't filled in the 10-minute application yet, now is a great time.

Yep. And there is still one (but just one) spot left at this moment. (Workshop runs Feb 28 to March 4.)

You might think that folks like that would know too much to learn from the workshops... but in fact we've found that it's the folks who have most optimized their own lives already, and who most have tools for further digesting and learning from material, who gain the most.

Well. I guess it might be a good idea to stop by the workshop party then.

The best thing about this was that there was very little status dynamic within the CFAR house - we were all learning together as equals.

It was fantastic! Great job Anna, and note that I'm getting practice expressing gratitude.

A bit of an aside, but for me the reference to "If" is a turn off. I read it as promoting a fairly-arbitrary code of stoicism rather than effectiveness. The main message I get is keep cool, don't complain, don't show that you're affected by the world, and now you've achieved your goal, which is apparently was to live up to Imperial Britain's ideal of masculinity.

I also see it as a recipe for disaster - don't learn how to guide and train your elephant; just push it around through brute force and your indefatigable will to hold on. It does have a message of continuing to work effectively even in bad circumstances, but for me that feels incidental to the poem's emotional content. I.E. Kipling probably thought that suffering are failure are innately good things. Someone who takes suffering and failure well but never meets their goals is more of a man than someone who consistently meets goals without tragic hardship, or meets them despite expressing their despair during setbacks.

Note: I heard the poem first a long time ago, but I didn't originally read it this way. I saw it differently after reading this:

A bit of an aside, but for me the reference to "If" is a turn off. I read it as promoting a fairly-arbitrary code of stoicism rather than effectiveness. The main message I get is keep cool, don't complain, don't show that you're affected by the world, and now you've achieved your goal,

I agree that the poem is about stoicism, but have a very different take on what stoicism is. Real stoicism is about training the elephant to be less afraid and more stable and thereby accomplish more. For example, the standard stoic meditation technique of thinking about the worst and scariest possible outcomes you could face will gradually chip away at instinctive fear responses and allow one to think in a more level headed way. Similarly, taking cold showers and deconditioning the flinch response (which to some extent also allows one not to flinch away from thoughts.)

Of course, all of these real stoic training techniques are challengingly unpleasant. It's much easier to be a poser-stoic who explicitly optimizes for how stoic-looking of a face they put forward, by keeping cool, not complaining, and not emoting, rather than putting in all the hard work required to train the elephant and become a real stoic. This is, as you say, a recipe for disaster if pushed too hard. Most people out there who call themselves stoics are poser-stoics, just as Sturgeon's Law would demand. After reading the article you linked to I now have the same oppinion of the kind of stoicism the Victorian school system demanded.

Huh. I read IF at a time when I was trying to be a more effective person, and found it really inspirational and exactly on note. I don't know what Kipling's precise intent was but don't care that much.

Your mileage may vary, I guess.

Please apply even if I already know you.

Should we re-apply if we've applied before?

Are you likely to do weeklong events later in the year? I think I'll probably wait for one of them if you are, but I might apply to the March one if you're not.

As far as I can see, you haven't said where this is?

Oh, good point. Both workshops are in the bay area.

I don't think we'll have weeklong events later in the year, but I'm not certain.

I'm in the process of trying to get a job, and were/when/if I get accepted while effect my availability and need for finical aid. Should I apply anyway?

Let me tell you my situation, a year ago. I wanted to fix some things in my life, and a very high priority was getting a better job. (Not because the job is the most important thing for me, but because if I spend 8 hours daily in a job, and it sucks, then my whole life is colored by this. For example, I get home, I finally have some free time to work on my goals, but I feel so tired and disgusted that I just read a few internet pages and go to sleep.) So I applied for a Rationality Minicamp, and hoped for some good job-seeking advice.

However, I yet had to wait cca four months for the Minicamp. And I imagined: OK, so I get to the Minicamp, we finally get to the job-seeking part, and they would probably ask me: "So, what have you already done?" And I would say "Nothing" and feel stupid. Well... no, I don't want to feel like that. So I guess I should do at least the most trivial attempts myself (at least to have a solid excuse), before asking advice from other people. -- And somehow, I did a few steps, and actually found a new job, with higher pay, less stress, more quiet working environment, and even closer to my home. All this before I went to the Minicamp. I jokingly put it into the "placebo effects of the Minicamp" category. So, before I went to the Minicamp, my most important problem was already solved.

Yet, it was worth going. Hard to describe exactly why (and yes, I am well aware how suspiciously this sounds), because while it did not have one overwhelming impact in one area, it had multiple small-to-medium impacts in many smaller areas. Self-discipline and planning: I got rid of some bad habits (eating sugar, procrastinating on internet every day until midnight), and it was surprisingly painless. Productivity: there is still much left to improve, but my blogging frequency has increases 10 times (still rather low), and I am working on a Java computer game with plans to port on Android and later Ouya. When I compare it with my desires, or with things some people I admire do, it is very little; when I compare it with what I did during the previous years, it is a huge improvement. Also, sometimes other people spontaneously give me feedback that recently I have become more awesome. (This part could be a placebo effect. Maybe I just speak more confidently about my rationality and plans, and this impresses other people. I would rather impress them by real outcomes. Maybe later.)

Approximately how much funding do you have for financial aid?

Also; I would love to attend one of these but they keep interfering with my schedule. Perhaps next time around!