Ritual Report 2012: Life, Death, Light, Darkness, and Love.

by Raemon4 min read23rd Dec 2012206 comments

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Secular Solstice
Personal Blog

One winter ago, twenty aspiring rationalists gathered in a room, ate some food, sang some songs, and lit some candles. We told some stories about why the universe is the way it is, and what kind of people we want to be.

I wrote some things about the experience. But here's a fairly succinct description:

Like most things, winter was once a mystery.

The world got cold, and dark. Life became fragile. People died. And they didn't know what was happening or understand why. They desperately threw festivals in honor of sun gods with all-too-human motivations, and prayed for the light's return.

It didn't help. Though we did discover that throwing parties in the middle of winter is an excellent idea.

But then something incredible and beautiful happened. We studied the sky. We invented astronomy, and other sciences. We began a long journey towards truly understanding our place in the universe. And we used that knowledge to plan for the future, and make our world better. Five thousand years later, the winter isn't so scary. But the symbol of the solstice - the departure and return of the sun - is still powerful. The work we have done to transform winter from a terrifying season of darkness into a modern festival of light deserves a reverence with all the weight of an ancient cultural cornerstone.

Last year, we had fun. A few people reported being emotionally affected. By and large, though, the dominant conclusion was “This was good first effort, but much, much more is possible.” In truth, I considered it a dress rehearsal, more a proof-of-concept than a finished product. I spent the last year working to do something better, but worried that I wouldn’t be able to. That maybe people don’t create holidays from scratch that actually latch on because it’s just damn hard to do and I wouldn’t be up to it.

And I was worried that either I wouldn’t be able to make the experience as grim and intense as I wanted, or that I’d succeed, but then not be able to lift people back out of it. This was a problem for some people last year, and last year I didn’t push things nearly as dark as I was planning to this time.

I worried that even if I succeeded at creating the experience for other people, I wouldn’t be able to experience it myself. A year ago, I didn’t feel like a participant. I felt like an anthropologist - clinically detached from the bonding ritual I had created.

But six months ago, four friends and I acquired a large, three story house named “Winterfell.” And one week ago, fifty people squeezed into that house to celebrate humanity. The house seems a lot smaller once you crammed fifty people into the living room. But we managed to fit.

And then...  I feel a desire to maintain some kind of modesty here, but honestly, I spent a year stressing about this and I think I’m just going to say that it went beautifully.

Not perfectly - nothing is ever perfect, and now more than ever it is clear how much more is possible with this endeavor. Yvain wrote a pretty good review of which parts went well and which parts needed work. But I got emphatic gratitude from people who had been merely lukewarm about it last year.

In the darkest section of the evening, people cried, and held each other, and I was one of them. And I was one of them as we watched time lapse footage of the stars from the international space station, and sang about a tomorrow that could be brighter than today.



This will be the first post of another short mini-sequence (either one or two additional posts elaborating on the design process, what comes next and what I’m concerned about). For now, I'll just note the one biggest flaw with this years was that it was too long. (Last years was too short, and I decided to err on the side of "test a bunch of ideas at once" so that future Solstices could settle into an ideal, traditional state faster).

I would like to note that I want to strongly encourage people who are weirded out by this to speak out (if for no other reason than to be counted as people who are turned off by it). If you have specific negative consequences beyond a vague dislike of the idea, I'd like you to articulate them, after looking through my post from last year - The Value and Danger of Ritual.

Below is a link to the 2012 Ritual Book, and a collection of links to online media for the songs and videos that we listened to and watched during the event, which you can follow along with as you read to get something (vaguely) resembling the actual experience. (Plus side - you’ll get to experience higher quality of music performance. Downside - you miss on the warm experience of singing with a group of people).

I couldn’t find links for all the songs, but there should be enough to give you the idea.


2012 Solstice Ritual Book

First Litany of Tarski - If the sky is blue....
Why Does the Sun Shine (part 0)
The Grinch
Necronomicon
The X Days of X-Risk

Ballad of Bonnie the Em
Second Litany of Tarski - If I’m going to be outcompeted by simulated minds in a Malthusian Hellhole race to the bottom...

Mindspace is Deep and Wide
One Wish (I found a Baby Genie)
Build That Wall
Quantum Entanglement

Third Litany of Tarski - If the Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics is true...

When I Die
Why Does the Sun Shine (part 1)
God Wrote the Sky
Blue Skies

Metalitany of Tarski - If reciting the Litany of Tarski is useful...
Beyond the Reach of God

Blowin’ In the Wind
Stonehenge (The Sun is Going to Go)
Gods Ain’t Gonna Catch Ya (slightly altered lyrics)
Take My Love, Take My Land (Mal’s Song)
Collect a Little Echo
The Drummer’s Little Boy
No One is Alone (dramatically abridged)
Serenity’

Gift We Give Tomorrow
Moment of Darkness

A View From Above - Time Lapse Footage from the International Space Station

Brighter Than Today
Still Alive
Lean on Me
A Still Small Voice
Gonna be a Cyborg
Move the World
What a Wonderful World
Seasons of Love
The Sun’s a Miasma of Incandescent Plasma (altered lyrics for singability)
Forever Young (*slightly* altered lyrics)
Uplift

Final Litany - If human values will survive for five thousand years...
Five Thousand Years  (Sun is Gonna Go, Reprise) 
A Brief Recap (Our Story in 1 minute and 30 seconds)
The Road to Wisdom

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I considered not posting this comment, because it seems like you guys (and Raemon especially) have put a lot of effort into this, but I do want to sort out my response to this whole thing. Please don't take this as judgment; I'd really like to hear input about whether my reaction is wholly unwarranted, and why or why not.

When I read about this event (and I had a similar reaction to reading about last year's one, too), I get a strong sense of "ick"; a deep and profound feeling of being creeped out. I mean, you're designing and instituting a ritual. Intentionally. Why on earth would you do something like that?

From Yvain's review:

The idea was that since most rationalists and Less Wrongers are atheists for whom the traditional categories of Christmas and Hanukkah don't apply (and, let's face it, way too white for Kwanzaa), we would make our own ritual,

Whyyyyyyyy????

Why not just get together and hang out and... I don't know. Play party games? Talk? Watch movies? Why a ritual?

one centered around rationalist ideals, and use it as a Winter Season Positive Affect Schelling Point the same way all the religions do theirs.

Ok, I thought I knew what a Schelling Point is, but th... (read more)

Whyyyyyyyy????

Why not just get together and hang out and... I don't know. Play party games? Talk? Watch movies? Why a ritual?

Because humans experience an emotion of "sacredness" (in scare quotes because although the feeling is commonly associated with religion, it doesn't need to be), which many people think is fantastic. This blogger puts it pretty well:

Haidt, an atheist Jew, is not suggesting a particular path to that which is Divine. He is certainly not concluding, for instance, that religion is the only path to that which is divine. Rather, he is emphasizing that we all have a sense of what is sacred to us, what is “divine,” and we justify it in various ways. He cites Mircea Eliade’s The Sacred and the Profane, agreeing with Eliade that “sacredness is so irrepressible that it intrudes repeatedly into the modern profane world in the form of “crypto-religious” behavior.” He specifically cites Eliade’s conclusion that even a person who is committed to a “profane existence” has

privileged places, qualitatively different from all others–a man’s birthplace, or the scenes of his first love, or certain places in the first foreign city he visited in his youth. Even for

... (read more)

Your reaction seems to be "this ritual stuff smacks of religion, and I don't want to get involved with any of that!".

That's not my response at all. I'm afraid you seem to be reading things into my response that are simply not there. There seems to be some sort of misunderstanding here that's causing you to set up (what is from my perspective) a straw man about objections to religion and then extensively knocking it down with arguments that have little bearing on what I've said.

I don't know why that is; perhaps I've been unclear; perhaps you are rounding to the nearest common objection? In any case, my objection has nothing directly to do with these rituals "smacking of religion". I do think, as I've mentioned in a previous post, that the desire for such rituals is stronger in people who come from a religious background and are used to such things from their youth. (I also have to wonder — and this is a bit of an aside — why we should use rituals that draw so directly from religion in form: someone (juliawise?) mentioned saying grace at the meal, and that strikes me as incredibly unlikely to be something an entirely non-religious person would come up with if ... (read more)

someone (juliawise?) mentioned saying grace at the meal, and that strikes me as incredibly unlikely to be something an entirely non-religious person would come up with if given the task of "think of some cool and effective rituals"

I think grace is underrated. As I said, I'm used to silent grace about three breaths long. It gives you fifteen seconds to relax your body, look around at who is gathered, and think "We are about to sit down and eat together. It's nice to be here."

As has been extensively pointed out in Eliezer's writings and elsewhere on this site, you can come up with a reasonable-sounding justification for just about anything; if you start with your bottom line filled in, the rest of the page is easy to write.

Here's a question. You're saying that the value of grace at a meal is that it gives you, personally, some time to whatever (relax, look around, think, etc.). You would therefore be perfectly ok with being the only one at the table participating in this silent grace ritual, or being one of only some participants, while the others merrily dug in and proceeded with conversation — yes?

I sometimes do it alone if no one else is doing it, yes. Or two of us may do it if the others in the family don't want to. But I enjoy it more if we all do it at once. This seems to set off some kind of alarm bell with you, and I'm not sure there's a good reason it should or shouldn't set off alarms other than some kind of aesthetic preference.

2Said Achmiz8yWould you be able to explain why that is? Indeed it does. Because it's a short step from there to social pressure on people who wouldn't otherwise have any interest or motivation whatsoever in participating. And here's the thing: it's a different sort of social pressure than the sort experienced by e.g. someone who doesn't feel like playing a board game that everyone else at the party is playing, or someone who isn't hungry when everyone else is deciding whether to go to a restaurant for dinner. It's not "everyone else is doing it; join in, it'll be fun!"; it's not "your abstention is making the situation less convenient for everyone else"; it's "you're offending the group by not participating". I'm not saying that you apply such social pressure on people, only explaining the reason for the alarm bells.
4juliawise8yI like the feeling of doing things together. We can probably both think of evolutionary and neurological reasons [http://lesswrong.com/lw/by9/to_like_each_other_sing_and_dance_in_synchrony/] why humans enjoy group activities. Ultimately, like I said, I think it boils down to an aesthetic preference that isn't right or wrong. I see your point about not letting this become a social pressure on people who don't want to participate, and I'll try to be mindful of this.
6Said Achmiz8yYes, at this point I'd have to agree that it's an aesthetic preference, neither right nor wrong, though I think it's a preference with potential dangerous consequences, on which point it seems we've also come to some sort of agreement. That said, I appreciate that you've given my view consideration; some of my comments may have come off as less tactful than I intended, and you and other commenters have been quite patient. By the way, thank you for the link; as it happens, reading the post and some of the comments has cemented my views on rituals and group bonding. I think this comment by JenniferRM [http://lesswrong.com/lw/by9/to_like_each_other_sing_and_dance_in_synchrony/6fsi] (and her longer comment just downthread) is very insightful and quite appropriate to the current discussion. ETA: Another data point [http://lesswrong.com/lw/by9/to_like_each_other_sing_and_dance_in_synchrony/6fqw] for the "some people don't like this sort of thing" claim.
4evand8yMy family has a similar tradition of silence before meals. It provides a moment to relax and change mindset to meal time. It says that this is a time to spend together, and not just another thing to be rushed through. It's nice if everyone participates, because that provides a pause in conversation and makes it easier to stop and relax. I think before meals is not that unlikely a time working from a blank slate. There is something powerful about sharing food. It's a bonding ritual. Using that same time to reflect and relax makes the moment of silence, grace, etc. more effective.
5Jayson_Virissimo8yAgreed. As I mentioned at the last meetup, saying grace is a form of negative visualization [http://lifehacker.com/5847931/negative-visualization-helps-you-appreciate-what-you-already-have] , which allows you to gain more satisfaction from your meal than you otherwise would. It works by using framing-effects [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Framing_effect_(psychology] to change your "default" mindset from having the meal to not having it.

someone (juliawise?) mentioned saying grace at the meal

That was more of a joke. This is what was said: "To all whom it may concern, thanks."

My apologies, then. I read this part:

Separately and unrelatedly, I really feel rather unsettled by the fact that you're using Eliezer's writings as a kind of... I don't know, mass? Sermon? It seems to me like that's taking entirely the wrong message away from all of it... to actually enshrine it as a sacred tradition or ritual of some sort.

as being motivated by a dislike of religious ritual, as it explicitly mentioned "mass" and "sermon" as examples of things to avoid. But upon a re-reading, I can see that you were rather worried about Eliezer's writings being promoted to a status where they wouldn't be questioned.

Also, I might have somewhat used your comment as an excuse to make a general point I'd been wanting to make for a while. Sorry about that. But also thank you, for giving me an excuse to make it. ;)

All of that said, I can understand having a dislike of the collectivization of sacredness, I just don't share it myself.

8Said Achmiz8yHeh, no worries. Rereading that quoted bit of mine, I can see the source of the confusion. Your revised interpretation of my intent is correct. Incidentally, the term "sermon" as applied in this context is from Yvain's linked review. Hah. Glad to provide, I suppose. ;)
7magfrump8yIn Japan, it is customary to say "itadakimasu" before eating, which is a sort of grace, and which is not seen as religious at all. My dad has a gracelike ritual which he has carried on despite having been an atheist for decades (people lean over to kiss those sitting next to them) which my mom and many others have been very happy with.
6[anonymous]8yMany languages have equivalents of bon appétit. That's like "cheers!" but for food instead of drinks. (In English there's "enjoy your meal" but IME IIRC it's very uncommon among native speakers in non-formal situations.)
1Wei_Dai8yCan you explain what you did to experience it? (Sorry to go off on a tangent, but I'm curious what it feels like.)
4Said Achmiz8yHmm. Well, first of all, I don't guarantee that what I'm thinking of is the same (or analogous) emotion as what everyone else here is talking about; after all, if I don't experience it in the same way, or in the same condition, who's to say it's even the same thing at all? But to pursue that line of reasoning is to get into the problem of other minds, and that's probably an unnecessary tangent. (Although this may be empirically investigated; perhaps check to see whether the same parts of my brain and e.g. Raemon's brain trigger in situations we would both describe as being consistent with emotional responses to sacredness, etc.) Anyway, to your question: the most recent thing I can think of was watching Cosmos (as in the Carl Sagan series, and yes, I really hadn't ever seen it before this year). Some parts of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality trigger a similar feeling. As an aside, I think sacredness is not the most apt term for this emotion; I think a better word might be exaltation.
3Raemon8yI think of sacredness and exaltation as overlapping circles in a ven diagram. The parts of HP:MoR that I assume you're talking to are both exalting and sacred to me. They're specifically about humanity rising up and conquering a powerful challenge. Wandering out into the night and looking at the stars gives me a sense of sacredness that is not inherently about exaltation - My connotation of exaltation is a sort of power, and the stars make me feel simultaneously big and small, but in such a way that power is almost irrelevant. I'm just experiencing being this small but meaningful part of the universe. I'm not sure if my use of the words here is common though.
0Said Achmiz8yMmm... I sort of see what you mean. What I meant was that "sacredness" does not feel grammatically appropriate to be naming an emotion. Also, "sacredness" in the moral-philosophy sense in which I've seen it used refers to an infinite value, something which may not be traded off. I wouldn't apply the term to stars (don't get me wrong, contemplating the cosmos does trigger in me that-emotion-to-which-I-think-we're-both-referring, I just don't think they have infinite value; to the extent that I think anything could sensibly be construed to have infinite value, stars just don't qualify).

As someone who enjoyed the Solstice a great deal, I'd like to throw a data point out there:

  • my family doesn't have a religious or spiritual background of any kind, so I didn't experience rituals as a child. I still enjoy spiritual / religious singing in groups, both in languages I understand and don't, and usually don't take the lyrics seriously. I find most of the value in the feeling of bonding / appreciation.

  • The event felt more playful than solemn, and certainly not authoritative. People seemed to be taking it with a grain of salt, it was like a social experiment of sorts. I felt perfectly comfortable with not singing along for some of the time, and this didn't feel alienating or disengaging.

That said, I think I do understand your revulsion towards rituals, and your view about collectivization of emotional experience is an interesting point that hasn't occurred to me.

[-][anonymous]8y 11

I've never been to any LW meetup, but I wouldn't surprise me if such reports sound creepier than the actual rituals were due to their, er, literary genre.

Thank you for writing this. My reaction has been pretty much the same. I'm guessing that people are just wired differently, a lot of people seem to be feeling like they'd like to participate in something like this.

2Vaniver8ySome people are interested, some people aren't. There have been comments on every post related to the Solstice celebrations by someone creeped out by the idea, but generally people creeped out by the idea don't comment (or only comment once) and people enthused by the idea do comment (and often repeatedly).
8David_Gerard8yWell, yeah. The whole point of rituals like this in religion is to switch off thinking and get people going with the flow. The epistemic danger should be pretty obvious. Ritual = irrational.
7prase8yI'd like to say that I have similar feeling concerning this. Even if I wouldn't probably feel bad participating in any ritual, the described things (candles, people crying, reciting texts by Yudkowsky) are completely incompatible with my taste. Perhaps it is the apparent absolute lack of humor and the exalted seriousness which is most off-putting for me.
3Raemon8yThere really wasn't a lack of humor, it just doesn't translate very well into a blog post. In person, my natural demeanor is high energy and silly, most of the time. When writing, for some reason it comes much easier to write seriously. Writing comedically is something I need to work on. It may be that this would feel less offputting to some people if I had done emphasized other parts of the ceremony more. However, part of the biggest selling point of the night is that we (the NY group, and most other LW folk I've met), are generally pretty fun, often funny in self-depreciating ways. So having a night that starts with that, yes, but which also builds to something powerful and profound is a novel, interesting experience. People came from across state lines to experience something that isn't normally a part of their lives at all. Yvain touched on this elsewhere - we (the broader American western culture, in general) are really good at being ironic and silly and fun. We're not really good at taking serious, important things seriously. I set this in motion because I thought it was something I didn't get nearly enough of, that I wanted and that other people seemed to want too.
7daenerys8ySince you mention that you had the same reaction last year, I assume that you've read the discussion that took place then that covers this issue, yes? You are talking as if a required ritual was sprung on unsuspecting meetup participants. This is obviously not true. Both Raemon's and my rituals were advertised specifically as such. If you don't want to participate in a ritual don't go to one. There are plenty of non-ritual meetups that go on year round. I know Raemon even made the solstice event a two-day event. One day was ritual, and the other was just a regular get-together. So if you wanted to meet everyone without taking part in the ritual you could just go to the second day. In Columbus we didn't have to do that, because it wasn't open invite, and everyone in our group wanted to do the ritual (plus we have regular get-togethers all the time anyways). For us (Columbus), our goal was to increase group bonding and cohesion. We find the people in our group to be worthwhile individuals, and want to increase positive affect between group members. Rituals and traditions are a good way to strengthen group ties, and when we were building our ritual we were specifically looking for ways to hack ourselves into feeling closer to the people we want to feel closer to. (i.e. doing things in unison, affirmations, etc) Again, this is a good route towards consensual group/self-hacking. It is one thing to read something and rationally think "yes, this is a good idea/this is true." It is quite another thing to actually change your daily thoughts and actions to fall into line with what you rationally think is true (think of the difficulties people have battling akrasia, for example). In order to do this, you need to get those beneficial thoughts and ideas deep inside your intuition/system 1 reasoning. Ritual is one way to hack yourself to do this. The things that we recited were the Litany of Gendlin and the Litany of Tarski. The ideas they represent (I value the truth, and
5Said Achmiz8yUh... maybe? I don't remember, honestly. Link? Well, yes, obviously. I didn't mean to imply that anything was sprung on anyone, just saying that yes, I wouldn't go to such a thing. The issue for me is that this (for any value of "this"; the NYC LW group, for instance) is a group that does this sort of thing. How can something be consensual if you enshrine it as a ritual? Once it's ritualized, it stops being consensual, except insofar as you can choose whether to go along with it or leave the group. Not participating is inherently alienating. Really? I rather think I want these things as deep in my psyche as is warranted by how true/useful I judge them to be, and absolutely no deeper than that. In any case, it... doesn't seem like this is the only purpose of these rituals — and quite unlikely that it's the only effect. I... don't understand this sentiment at all. That is, I don't understand what you mean by this (and consequently don't understand why it's something you'd want). Clarification would be much appreciated. From a comment on Yvain's review: Seems like about what I would expect.

It makes sense that some people might be turned off by ritual. I hope those people went to one of the several other New York Less Wrong megameetups, or to the designated ritual-free day Sunday, or even on Saturday for the two hours before the ritual started. If they come to an event that has "RITUAL" in big letters all over it on the day when the ritual is scheduled to occur then I don't think you can fairly accuse it of being inflicted on them without such a sweeping redefinition of "consent" that it becomes impossible to ever do anything that doesn't exactly conform to social norms.

A lot of the above criticisms act like the ritual ruined a perfectly good meetup, but I think without the ritual this meetup would not have occurred. I went there all the way from Maryland because I wanted to see the ritual after reading about it last year. I dragged a friend who was also there because she loved rituals. Many people there weren't even in the LW community at all and came only because they wanted to see what the ritual was about. Quite a few people organized cross-continental flights from California because they wanted to participate in the ritual. If Raemon had said ... (read more)

9Risto_Saarelma8yI don't think I'm worrying about brainwashing concerns or failing the social proof respectability checks. I'm seeing a community cementing thing that I see no intrinsic fun in and a lot of other people seem to be seeing intrinsic fun in, which is tripping my "pretend to be like the normals and make the extra effort to participate in the unfun thing that is actually fun for them because they are not like you and then they might be less likely to kill you" instinct.

What if next year's ritual includes chanting thrice unto the heavens a solemn vow not to kill the people who don't go to next year's ritual?

...nah, I don't think anyone wants to to kill or even shun people who don't go to the ritual. Of the top ten LW contributors on the table on the right, only two of them (me and Alicorn) attended, and for me it was a last-second sort of thing. Eliezer didn't go. It would be kind of hard to shun Eliezer and 80% of the top contributors, even if people wanted to. Only a tiny proportion of the community went to the ritual and those who chose not to were in good company.

More philosophically, wouldn't the same complaint apply to having real-life meetups at all (wouldn't it exclude people who prefer to just talk via the Internet?) or writing HPMoR (now non-readers feel left out of a lot of discussions and don't get in-jokes, so they might feel pressure to read it) or CFAR minicamps (people who don't get selected to go might feel like they're less a part of the community). And I know one commenter above managed to find some trivial differences between board game night and ritual night, but the fundamental problem of "What if I don't enjoy this but ... (read more)

The particular problem with the ritual is that unlike the other things, it seems to exist only for the purpose of community-building. Opting out of the other activities makes your cognitive dissonance module say "well, maybe I don't like fanfiction / board games / decision theory that much", which isn't that bad. Opting out of the ritual makes the cognitive dissonance module say "well, maybe I don't care that much for being a community member", which is a bit more unfortunate.

Then there's also the small thing where the nonsensical community forming rituals have popped up in every human culture everywhere as far back as we know anything about human cultures, and always tend to develop the side effect of the socially gelled people favoring each other a bit more over the boring people who don't bother to play along with the rituals. This is what the social instinct response is about, not paranoia about hooded murderers going about stabbing people one night. Traditional societies seem to end up with all members participating in whatever the local ritual is, because that's the guarantee for belonging in the in-group and the other in-group members having your back. If you don't see the point in the ritual, tough. The social cohesion mechanism wasn't built for you, just smile and play-act along for the bit of extra guarantee that someone might have food to spare for you as well on the next famine year.

9Scott Alexander8yI think that people's response to ritual is hard to explain. I have trouble explaining it. "Community-building" is sort of the default explanation. In the same way, if there were a real-life meetup, "getting to know people better", which is almost a synonym for "community building", is a default explanation because it's hard to explain why we like meeting people face to face when online conversation is so much easier. I think you make a good point that presenting it as "community building" might sound exclusionary, and I will stop using that justification. But in the end I don't think it is any more about community building than meetups or board games or anything like that - only harder to explain, so that that explanation becomes more salient. Maybe we should just bill it as "Come and sing and feel emotions."
7TheOtherDave8ySure, but this is in the same sense that it's hard to explain why we perceive three-dimensional objects when the input we're getting is two-dimensional arrays. It took a lot of smart people paying attention to unravel that particular puzzle, but there's nothing fundamentally mysterious about it. There's a lot of stuff going on in face to face interactions that isn't present in online conversation, and it evidently includes things that many of us find gratifying. Which things those are is worth knowing (not least because we can use that knowledge to build more gratifying telepresence rigs) but not knowing it doesn't preclude being gratified by them, any more than not knowing how to derive 3D models from 2D images precludes perceiving 3D objects. Not that you're saying otherwise, granted. I suspect I'm just responding emotionally to the idea of demanding an explanation before it's OK to value something.
0Said Achmiz8yI agree with this sentiment in general, but in cases where the "something" that's being valued is valued only by some people, rather than all (here I am referring to rituals, rather than just "meeting people face to face"), seeking an explanation is more important.
0TheOtherDave8y(blink) That is, if I value two practices P1 and P2, and 95% of the population values P1 and only 5% values P2, you're saying it's more important to seek an explanation for valuing P2 than an explanation for valuing P1... yes? Can you expand on why you believe that?
0Said Achmiz8y... what? I'm not sure how you got what you said from what I said; I surmise that I was much less clear than I thought, or that I am not understanding you. Attempt #2, in the hope that it's the former: If everyone likes a thing, then asking "why do we like that thing" is of academic interest. If some people like a thing but other people don't like that thing, then asking "why do some people like that thing" has practical use. Maybe we can bring the naysayers around. Maybe we will discover that the advocates' reasons for liking the thing are bad reasons. Maybe we'll discover something about the underlying preferences that will allow the pro-thingers and the anti-thingers to get along better. In any case we'll very likely come to understand each other better, and will be less likely to think that people of the other preference type are abnormal; at the most basic level, we'll do better at keeping in mind that people of the opposite preferences exist at all. That's a good thing. The relevance to the discussion of rituals has to do with the fact that some participants and pro-ritual commenters have expressed sentiments such as "humans need ritual" or "people like ritual" or "people have a need for experiences of sacredness" or other things along those lines. My motivation for commenting has been largely to point out that such comments are sorely in need of having the word "some" (or, at best, "most", conditional on at least some data supporting such a claim) inserted into them. And given that that's the situation — that some people like rituals, but some clearly do not — the question of "why do some people like ritual" acquires a more than academic interest, for the reasons I outlined above.
0TheOtherDave8ySorry about the failure of communication, but as it happens you answered my question. Thank you. To my mind, asking why everyone likes a thing that everyone likes has practical use. If we can answer that question, we can understand how we make that judgment, we can understand how we make related judgments. That's a good thing. (I do agree that it's of academic interest, though. Like many things of academic interest, it has practical use.) That aside, though... sure, if your motivation is largely to point out that some people don't need ritual, like ritual, or need experiences of sacredness, I expect that's true.
4Risto_Saarelma8yRight. I probably am going for a bit of a selective reduction here with my kneejerk reactions. There's all sorts of quite strange when you think about it [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homo_Ludens] stuff going on with playing board games too, for instance, which I'm not being concerned about. Still, I think we have a mutual appreciation here that rituals are powerful stuff. I worry a bit when I see a not that broad culture (compared to society at large, or the academia as a whole, for example) like LW picking up on a ritual and taking it up as its own, and thinking about what role rituals end up having everywhere in human history. I'm seeing things getting on a path to ending up as something like Freemasonry (assuming for the moment that they're more secular than they are), where there might be an understanding that the rituals are just a formality, but participating in the culture without participating in the rituals still basically doesn't work. I might also notice that all the subcultures that stick around for more than a generation or two seem to come with rituals running the show. It might be that the actual problem I'm pattern matching isn't about adopting rituals at all, but about subcultures sticking around past their expiration date [http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/009061.html] instead. Subcultures that go bad quickly tend to have more overt badness indicators. "Come join the Solstice Ritual" sounds like just people being silly to me, while this sounds like something from a Grant Morrison comic book that will end with someone's head being carved open by robed creatures with giant insect heads.
6Kaj_Sotala8yHmm... although I've never been to any of these rituals, but from reading the descriptions, it hasn't been my impression that it would exist only for community-building. For example, I found the description of the 2011 ritual touching on an emotional level even though I was reading it all alone at home, and I expect that the rituals would also have given me a strong emotional kick that wasn't directly related to the group bonding aspect. Going out to a movie with friends would probably be a good analogy: being in a group does enhance the experience, and the group bonding is a plus, but the main reason we go there is the movie itself. The social bonding and getting to meet new folks was not what gave me a strong feeling of "man, I want to participate in that" when I read the description of the original ritual. In fact, all of the social bonding stuff was just extra: a nice plus, but hardly the point. What attracted me was, well, the ritual itself: the feeling that it could give me a deep, lasting emotional experience that'd move me to the core, a faint echo of which I felt while reading the post. That would ultimately be a solitary and personal experience, even if I needed the presence of a group to help me achieve it.
4Risto_Saarelma8yThis isn't at all unlike what I imagine the ingroup-strengthening response to ritual to feel from the inside.
2Kaj_Sotala8yWhat I was trying to say was that I don't think that its level of "(only community building)-ness" is much higher than that of board games or fan fiction. A little higher, maybe, but not that much. I don't know if I'd feel differently if I'd actually participated in such a ritual, though.

I think the road of not doing fun things that most people want because someone who doesn't want to do it might feel left out leads to sitting quietly in a dark room.

But I don't want to sit quietly in a dark room. If that's our new thing I'll feel left out!

4Raemon8yI mean, that actually was sort of the central point of the event (which I know you had to miss out on!) so I'm not entirely sure what Yvain's point was :P (Actually come to think of it you may well have been sitting in a dark room at the time)
1Qiaochu_Yuan8yWhen you say "see no intrinsic fun in" do you mean "this doesn't sound like fun" or do you mean "I have tried this, it wasn't fun, and I don't anticipate rationalists being able to do it in a way that would make it fun"? If the former, do you think actually trying it would be valuable in the name of gathering more information? In general, what are your thoughts on comfort zone expansion?
9Risto_Saarelma8yThe latter. I've been through all sorts of community forming rituals, and always found them nonsensical and mostly unfun. Comfort zone expansion is good, but if a tried thing is not working out, it's not working out.
5Said Achmiz8yIt was not my intention to accuse the ritual of being inflicted on anyone; I didn't think I said or implied such a thing, but if so, let me assure you that I quite realize that attendance was voluntary. As for the other megameetups, I will try to attend the next time a non-ritual one happens. I was sadly unable to make it on that Sunday. They seem to happen about once a year, yes? Your other comments seem to suggest that you think that I am worried about brainwashing, or what have you; that's just not the issue here. So your comments such as miss the mark a bit. Like Risto_Saarelma, I just dislike rituals (fairly strongly). From your comment, and others in this thread, I've discovered that some (most?) people do like them, and like them enough to serve as motivation for traveling some distance, or at least for attending an event they'd otherwise skip. All I can say is: mind = blown. I really, genuinely did not expect this to be such a prevalent preference in the rationalist community.
5Scott Alexander8yI'm sorry, I may have either rounded you to the nearest cliche or lumped my responses to other people's comments into my response to yours. Your comments about "social pressure" and "how can something be consensual if you enshrine it as a ritual" did make me think there was a consent aspect to it, and your comment about "using ritual to insert things deep into your psyche is something that I think is just bad" was where I got the feeling of brainwashing from, but I can see how I might've been misunderstanding them. So you're saying you have such strong anti-ritual preferences that you assumed people must have been awkwardly attending something they didn't like in order to fit in? Hm. That makes sense. I guess what I've learned from this is that I still can't describe the reasons for why I like things. "Community bonding" sounds good, but when you press me on it I admit it's kind of dumb and the ritual wasn't really about that at all. "Sense of the sacred" sounds good but there were a lot of other easier ways to get that feeling I didn't go for. I'm just going to say I have an unexplained preference for rituals of about the same magnitude as an unexplained preference for playing fantasy role-playing games, and although I can come up with just-so stories for it ("group bonding", "search for meaning", whatever) I can't explain it but would like to keep doing it anyway.

So you're saying you have such strong anti-ritual preferences that you assumed people must have been awkwardly attending something they didn't like in order to fit in? Hm. That makes sense.

I... suppose. Sort of.

Reading the OP made me immediately update to a realization that at least some people really liked this sort of thing; I assumed the other attendees had their own reasons for attending (which may not have just boiled down to peer pressure); I didn't expect to subsequently learn that a preference for rituals is a) apparently everyone's reason for coming, and b) much more common in the rationalist community than I thought. My own concerns about consent and social pressure are part of my reaction, though not, as I've said, the entirety.

For what it's worth, I, too, have a pretty strong preference for playing fantasy role-playing games (especially of the tabletop variety), so your analogy hits close to home. I am trying to imagine what it would be like to have a strong "ick" reaction to tabletop RPGs such that I couldn't understand why anyone would do it and would avoid a group that engaged in this activity, and I think I am succeeding, at least partly. (Of course, wh... (read more)

0Rain8yI always refer to this chapter on ritual [http://www.tassos-oak.com/online/05ritual.html] from the book Secular Wholeness.
4moshez8yWhich assumptions generated the incorrect predictions? Are you pulling your Bayesian updates backwards through the belief-propogation network given this new evidence? (In other words: updating on a small probability event should change your mind about a whole host of related beliefs.)
1Said Achmiz8yI think it was some variant of the Typical Mind Fallacy, albeit one based not only on my own preferences but on those of my friends (though of course you'd expect that I'd associate with people who have preferences similar to mine, so this does not make the fallacy much more excusable). I think the main belief I've updated based on this is my estimate on the prevalence of my sort of individualistic, suspicious-of-groups, allergic-to-crowds, solitude-valuing outlook in the Less Wrong community, which I have adjusted strongly downward (although that adjustment has been tempered by the suspicion, confirmed by a couple of comments on this post, that people who object to things such as rituals etc. often simply don't speak up). I have also been reminded of something I guess I knew but hadn't quite absorbed, which is that, apparently, many people in aspiring rationalist communities come from religious backgrounds. This of course makes sense given the base rates. What I didn't expect is that people would value the ritual trappings of their religious upbringing, and value them enough to construct new rituals with similar forms. I will also add that despite this evidence that way more people like rituals than I'd have expected, and my adjustment of my beliefs about this, I am still unable to alieve it. Liking ritual, experiencing a need for and enjoyment of collectivized sacredness, is completely alien to me to the point where I am unable to imagine it.
6ataftoti8yFor epistemology's sake I'll speak up so you may be more confident in the suspicion... I find these rituals, as described, to be completely uninteresting as social activities, and have a visceral negative reaction to imagining people doing this, even semi-seriously. "Group self-hacking for cohesion and bonding" is the...sort-of good way to put it I guess, because I would rather describe it as "optimistically wielding double-edged daggers forged from the Dark Arts".
2Said Achmiz8yThank you for posting, I really do appreciate it. I do want to note that, for at least one proponent of the ritual (Yvain, see here [http://lesswrong.com/lw/g0v/ritual_report_2012_life_death_light_darkness_and/84v3] ), the "cohesion and bonding" turned out not to be the underlying motivation. This makes sense to me, and I am very suspicious about any claims such as "research indicates that group bonding increases happiness, so I choose to do this thing that I believe will generate group bonding", or "group cohesiveness is beneficial, so we should have rituals because they promote group cohesiveness". They just don't ring true; I have a hard time believing that people think that way. It seems to me that some people just really like and enjoy rituals. I don't really understand why, of course, but that's just because my preference skews in the opposite direction. The stuff about bonding and cohesion seems like rationalization, or, at best, an attempt to describe one's bare preference, rather than an explanation of what actually motivated a choice. That having been said, I quite agree that rituals are forged from the Dark Arts. This contributes to, though does not constitute, my dislike of them.
4moshez8yThanks! You have already updated, so I'm not sure if you want to update further, but I'm wondering if you had read Why our kind can't cooperate [http://lesswrong.com/lw/3h/why_our_kind_cant_cooperate/], and what your reaction to that was?
0Said Achmiz8yI have indeed read it; I've even linked it to other people on this site myself, and taken explicit steps to counteract the effect; see e.g. this post [http://lesswrong.com/lw/fmc/lw_women_minimizing_the_inferential_distance/7w2e]. I have no problem saying "I agree; you are right and/or this is awesome". This happens to be a topic to which my reaction is otherwise. I think it's especially important to speak up in cases where I disagree and where I think a number of other people also disagree but hesitate to speak.

Sorry, that's not the context at which I meant it -- I'm sure you're as willing to admit you were wrong as the next rationalist. I mean it in the context of "Barbarians vs. Rationalists" -- if group cohesion is increased by ritual, and group cohesion is useful to the rationality movement, than ritual could be useful. Wanting to dissociate ourselves from the trappings of religion seems like a case of "reversed stupidity" to me...

2Said Achmiz8yYes, and if that were the reason behind my dislike of ritual, that would be an apropos comment; but as I explained [http://lesswrong.com/lw/g0v/ritual_report_2012_life_death_light_darkness_and/84iv] , that's not the case. (I apologize for the harsh tone there, but I am failing to think of a way to express that response with a suitable level of tact, maybe because it's 2 AM here. Sorry. :\ ) As for the larger "Barbarians vs. Rationalists" point, I have two responses. One: I really don't think that "rituals generate group cohesion, and group cohesion is useful" is actually anyone's true motivation here. I think people just like rituals. Which... is fine (with some caveats), even if I dislike it. But I don't think we should be putting forth rationalizations as true motivations. Two: I don't think we should look at everything solely through the lens of "is this useful to the rationality movement". If doing things that are "useful to the rationality movement" causes us to systematically do things we don't actually like doing, or want to do, then I think we've rather missed the point. Now you might respond: "But Said, we do like this thing! We do want to do it!" Well, ok. Then do it. But then, as the mathematicians say, this reduces to the earlier argument.
4Kaj_Sotala8yI don't understand this. How does a ritual differ from any other social event in this regard? I mean, if the group decides that some folks want to have a rationality discussion or a board game evening, then you also have a choice of attending or not, and a decision not to attend can also be interpreted as alienating.
4Said Achmiz8yThe difference is that if we decide to play some board games once, all potential participants have input on whether or not to do it, and if the activity takes place, anyone who didn't want to do it can abstain. The next time the suggestion is brought up, the process repeats, with no decrease in consensualness. With a ritual, once it's instituted, when the time comes to do it again, there is not a repeat of the discussion wherein we decide whether to do it, and if so, how. Now it's "well of course we're going to do it, this is the ritual that we do". AND it's now tied to your group's identity. Not only is there no longer anywhere near the same possibility of saying "eh, on second thought, forget that, let's do something else", but people who abstain aren't just deciding not to do this one particular thing, they're now abstaining from something which defines the group, and therefore mark themselves as Not Part Of The Group.
0Kaj_Sotala8yYou seem to essentially be drawing a distinction between 1) events that are negotiated separately each time, and 2) ones which have become established and are held repeatedly with no negotiation. But board game evenings can also become so popular that they become traditional and are held at regular intervals with no express negotiation, and rituals can also fail to draw an audience and so never become a tradition in the first place.
2drethelin8yThis doesn't make sense. Either a ritual is qualitatively different than a board game night and saying it's pretty much the same thing and therefore just as harmless is false, or it's basically the same thing, in which case why do you want to do it so much?
2Kaj_Sotala8yI wasn't saying that there's no qualitative difference between board games and ritual. I was saying that I don't see a difference with regard to the specific aspect that SaidAchmiz was bringing up.
1Raemon8yLast time I kept telling people "I'm eventually going to respond to this" and people were sort of annoyed (until I eventually did respond to it). I'm going to be doing that again, and apologize, but it's easier to address all the concerns at once. I would, however, recommend that you attempt to revisit that paragraph, steelman your opposition a bit, and see if you can think of some ways in which rituals might be qualitatively different than board games in some ways, but not in others.
9drethelin8yMy comment was more an invitation for Kaj to steelman his own point than an objection, but I see what you're getting at. Key differences: * 1: weirdness: A Boardgame night is extremely normal. Tons of normal people and nerds have variations on the concept. A Ritual night is very odd, and therefore automatically screens out outsiders. * 1. Exclusionary: Indeed, the entire point of Rituals is to draw a line between them and us. This is off-putting to anyone who does not want to put themselves into the "us". A new person can happily join in and enjoy the familiarity of playing boardgames and not feel like they're being indoctrinated. They can get to know and bond with strangers over something familar. This is basically what Said earlier in this thread. * 1. Room for individuality/nonparticipation: Boardgame night does not consist of the same thing each time. Maybe some nights we play Resistance, maybe other nights we play Dominion, and maybe different subsets of boardgame night play different games. A ritual not only makes everyone do the same thing, it makes them do it all at once. No one really cares if you overhear "I've got wood for sheep!" while you're playing Ascension, or just having a conversation, but it would certainly ruin the mood of a ritual. The only polite responses to Ritual are participation, silence, or leaving. * There's some more I feel I can say on this but I can't yet articulate it appropriately. It has to do with seriousness and how much I value banter and puncturing self-importance.
3Said Achmiz8yI endorse this response as sufficiently representative of my own views also, especially the 2nd and 3rd bullet points (the first slightly less because I am not terribly concerned about being "normal" as such).

I tend to be pro-weirdness in general, but trying to emulate religion feels like weirdness (in the positive sense) trying to emulate normalcy, which feels (negatively)weird to me.

4[anonymous]8yThat reminds me of this: since where I am most people my age are non-religious (and often take the piss out of practising Catholics), being a practising Catholic strongly feels to me like meta-contrarianism [http://lesswrong.com/lw/2pv/intellectual_hipsters_and_metacontrarianism/] (both when I was one -- though I didn't know that word -- and now that I'm not).
3Raemon8yUpvoting for... well, for sounding weird, actually.
2Vika8yRegarding the point about "us vs them", I agree that some traditional rituals have this issue, but I can't think of anyone who would fill the role of "them" in the case of the Solstice celebration. The event was mostly about humanity as a whole prevailing over darkness / death / ignorance / etc. This seems much less problematic than ritualistic bonding over being different from some particular group of people.
2Raemon8yThat is indeed a much better answer. Thank you. (It actually does update me slightly away from ritual-use, although I wasn't planning on doing the things that I'd have avoided after updating)
0moshez8yI used to have a group of friends (some closer than others), and we would all get together and play Settlers of Catan a given day of the week (~4 years ago, I don't remember which day it was). It consisted of the "same thing" (obviously the game turned out differently every week, but still) every week. There was not really room for "nonparticipation" in the sense that if you wanted to hang out with these people that day, you played Catan. Would it upset you if you learned that there was a regular meetup of Catan LW enthusiasts who meet once a week to play? Some of my closest friends are from the Israeli filking community. There's no "ritual" per se, but we know and love the same songs, we sing them together and not-singing is kinda frowned upon. It's certainly "weird", and even somewhat exclusionary (helped by a bit of justified feeling of persecution from the rest of SF fandom). Would it upset you if you learned that there was a regular meetup of Filk LW enthusiasts who meet once a week to sing together? I'm really asking these questions (in the sense that I do not find myself certain either way for what your answer will be, although I assign >.5 that it will be "no" on both). If it is a "no", then it seems these are not your true rejections. If it is a "yes", you seem to have a wide brush to paint "things I do not want LWers to do."
4drethelin8yBasically, rituals force themselves to be identity components more than other activities. I can play catan or not without feeling like I'm a cataner or not. I don't want there to be rituals that make you feel like an lwer or not. Whatever happened to keeping identities small?
2drethelin8yIt would upset me if either of those were primary activities of the lw group in the place I was in. There is a rather enormous difference between things I care whether lwers do and things I care whether lw does. Some lwers somewhere having rituals doesn't bother me, every lw group deciding rituals are a good idea and adopting them would. I don't think this is actually a big risk but I think it's worth pointing out especially since the context is the especially influential NYLW group. Also, the less strict something is the less I care whether it's a ritualized regular occurrence. I would much rather come to a song night than to a night for the same specific songs each time, and I would basically never go to catan night.
4Said Achmiz8yI feel the same way, and this is a large part of my motivation for posting my objections in this thread.
0moshez8yI'm trying to steelman your arguments as much as I can, but I find myself confused. The best I can do is: "I'm worried that people would find LW communities unwelcoming if they do not go to rituals. Further, I'm worried that rituals are a slippery-slope: once we start having rituals, they might start being the primary activity of LW and make the experience unwelcoming even if non-ritual activities are explicitly open, because it feels more like 'a Church group that occasionally has secular activities. I'm worried that this will divide people into those who properly mark themselves as "LWers" and those who don't, thus starting our entropic decay into a cult." So far, your objections seem to be to this being the primary activity of the LW group, which -- honestly -- I would join you. But if a regularly meeting LW group also had a Catan night once a week (for Catan enthusiasts, obviously -- if you don't like Catan don't come) and a Filk night once a month (for filk enthusiasts, again), I am not sure this would hasten a descent into a Catan-only or filk-only group. Similarly, if a LW group has a ritual once a year (or even if every LW group has a ritual, and even it's the same ritual), it doesn't seem likely rituals will become the primary thing the group does. "There is a rather enormous difference between things I care whether lwers do and things I care whether lw does." I notice I am confused. LessWrong is a web site, and to some extent a community of people, which I tend to refer to as "Less Wrongers". If you mean these words the same as I do, then I do not understand -- "LW does something" means "the community does something" which means "many members do something". I'm not really sure how LW does something is distinguished from LWers doing it...
4drethelin8yIf I join a golf club where all its members apart from me also happen to be in the bowling club, I'm still not joining the bowling club. I don't care if "Golfers" go bowling, but it would be really annoying if "gold club" became about bowling, or if I showed up to golf club and all the golfers spend the day talking about that awesome bowling experience they had over the weekend. I never wanted to be parted of a rituals club and wouldn't have joined a "Have debates/hangouts about AI, epistemology, rationality, morality, meta-ethics, and logic with interesting people and do rituals with them club." Basically, I agree with Said's answer to Raemon's answer to you. Insofar as the rituals are something fun people want to do, I don't mind. Insofar as the rituals are presented as "This is something objectively awesome that you should rationally want for your own LW group!" I do.
0Raemon8yThis actually makes a fair amount of sense to me. There's a few ways to interpret it. The most obvious one to me is "Less Wrong has a reputation, built into its mission statement, about caring about rationality, winning at life, etc. I value those things." Depending on how collectivist you are, you might either care that people can look at you, say "That person is a LWer," and then correctly infer that you care about rationality and winning at life. Or, more collectivist-y (which ordinarily I'd give higher likelihood to but maybe not in this case), one might enjoy feeling an identity as a Less Wronger, which includes, built into that identity, caring about epistemic truth and instrumental victory. I can definitely see it unpleasant if "being a Less Wronger" came to be known, both among the community's allies and enemies, as (insert arbitrary thing you don't like here) For example, I'm not a Objectivist, but Less Wrong terminology shares some common ancestry with Objectivism. So when I'm explaining LW to new people (especially more liberal people), I often get "wait, so is this an Objectivism thing?" which is annoying to me, not just because they are drawing false conclusions about me which I have to correct - but also because I don't really like Objectivism and it leaves an icky (irrational) feeling just to feel connected to that movement.
4Said Achmiz8yThere's another interpretation, which is "the sorts of things that LW groups do affects whether I participate in LW communities [in the sense of particular local groups] and thereby the extent to which I participate in the greater LW community [in the larger sense of "people who identify as 'LWers' and do things collectively on that basis]". After all, if I want to engage with the larger LW community, the most direct (and one of the most feasible by far) ways to do so is to participate in your local LW community, should such exist. One can hardly choose to participate in some other local LW community that is located in Whatevertown, Distantstate.
3Kaj_Sotala8yI'm very unfamiliar with Objectivism, and this comment made me curious: what terminology do we share with that movement?
-2Vika8yI think it's quite unlikely for this ritual to become tied to the group's identity, let alone define the group. There are a lot of people strongly involved in the community who don't participate (as Yvain said), and a number of people who explicitly voice objections against it. Also, the event only happens once a year, there's nothing as pervasive as e.g. a ritual component in every meetup, so the influence on the whole group's mentality is probably minimal. I agree that this is likely to happen, since holding the ritual and organizing "something else" are not mutually exclusive. Are you also concerned about opportunity cost?
1Said Achmiz8yWhat?! The winter solstice ritual is already tied to the OB/LW NYC group's identity — or at least it very much seems that way from the outside, and it certainly looks like (at least some of) the group's members are actively working to both make that be the case, and to promote that image of the event to the rest of LW.
-1Vika8ySorry, I misunderstood, I do agree that the ritual is connected to the group identity. Do you expect it to have significant effects on the LW group identity besides increasing the sense of community? I think that opting out of a component of the group identity doesn't necessarily lead to alienation. For example, caring about FAI is a significant part of the LW group identity, but people who care about FAI much less than, say, building rationality skills (like myself) are still welcome and included. Do you mean signaling that you're not part of the group, or feeling that you're not part of the group, or both?
3Said Achmiz8yThis is true, but a ritual designed explicitly as a group-bonding exercise (and, it seems, the most prominent such exercise) is more likely to be something opting out of which contributes to alienation than, say, caring about FAI. Both. Although I didn't so much mean "signaling that you're not part of the group" as "doing something which is interpreted by other group members as an indication that you're not part of the group", but the difference is of emphasis at best.
5RichardKennaway8yOn the subject of making up your own rituals, I can't resist sharing these [http://wondermark.com/895/] two [http://wondermark.com/hanukkah-duck-song/] links from Wondermark. Update: The new tradition of the Hanukkah Duck develops further [http://wondermark.com/hanukkah-duck-music/].
3Said Achmiz8y... hah. ... are those ducks purchasable? I'm asking for.... a friend.
3Scott Alexander8yI stole that usage from (I think) Marcello. The idea is that people come together to be thankful and have fun and celebrate in one specific place and time and manner, and that makes it a unifying event that everyone enjoys more.

Yeah, that makes sense.

My question then is: why make it a ritual rather than just a holiday party? Why not: "Every year, we [my friends/this meetup group/whoever] get together on December the whateverth and have a holiday party! It's tradition! Yay!"? That works as a Schelling Point too, no?

Of course, at this point, "why" is partly rhetorical, as daenerys and Raemon have more or less responded.

3Raemon8yFirst off, I upvoted your post. I probably should edit something to this effect in the main post - I value this kind of feedback very much. I think ritual is valuable, but I acknowledge that it has some important costs, most notably in the form of visceral reactions among both existing important members of the community, and potential newcomers who might be turned off. Daenerys covered a lot of the important points. I'll be addressing some additional points in a later post. Most of what I had to say about this is covered in my post from last year, The Value (and Danger) of Ritual [http://lesswrong.com/lw/93l/the_value_and_danger_of_ritual/]

Thank you; I appreciate your response. Based on what daenerys wrote, I think that my response breaks down as follows:

  1. Using ritual to insert things deep into your psyche is something that I think is just bad. Using writings on rationality as sermons, reciting litanies about truth by candelight, etc., misses the point and is dangerous because it attaches you to the views and propositions in question too closely.

  2. Using ritual as group bonding... I don't understand the motivation, to be honest. I acknowledge that it probably works, I just can't understand why you'd want to do it. This is, of course, a personal preference, not any kind of criticism per se.

  3. The above two points notwithstanding, I find rituals very icky and offputting (especially, upon reflection, when they have an (explicitly?) religious feel to them!). This is the case regardless of whether the purpose is worthwhile and whether the ritual effectively serves the purpose.

From your linked post:

Some people may be turned off. Skeptics who specifically turned to rationality to escape mindless ritual that was forced upon them may find this all scary.

This describes me. Not literally; I never (well, almost never) had ... (read more)

Using ritual as group bonding... I don't understand the motivation, to be honest.

Happiness research is pretty clear that better social connections make us happier. There's a reason that church-goers are happier than non-attenders. Ritual is good at facilitating group bonding, and group bonding is good for people. (Provided it doesn't lead you to do stupid stuff.)

7Said Achmiz8yI fear that part of my comment was not entirely clear... Let me ask you this: do you actually want to group bond? This is quite a separate question from "based on research, I believe group bonding will make me happier". For myself, I sometimes think: "Hm, I like this person/these people; they are cool and interesting. I enjoy hanging out with them, and intend to continue doing so in the future." I can't imagine myself thinking "Hm, I want to group bond with some people/these people. What can I do that will have that effect?" That is, group bonding seems to be the goal here. Is it actually something that you directly want, or is this a case of "research says that it will make me happier, and I want to be happier, so I will do this"? P.S. As for the church goers... yes, I can believe that they are happier (although that's "happier on average", right?). I don't think we should therefore conclude that they have the right idea about this whole ritual-as-group-bonding thing.

Yes, group bonding is something I directly want, because I've enjoyed it in other contexts before. For one thing, I'm not that good at making casual friendships, and given a casual social setting, I won't get very close to people. I wouldn't have traveled to New York just to hang out. Participating in a more structured group activity makes people more likely to actually get together and connect with each other. Also, ritual is good for bringing up topics (death, hope) that are hard to bring up in casual conversation. Once introduced in a structured way like a ritual, the topics are easier to address afterwards in unstructured conversation.

Also, I think community support is a good thing that most of us don't have enough of. Group bonding helps produce a norm of helping each other, even if we're not especially interested in every group member as an individual.

6FeepingCreature8yI imagine group bonding is valuable because of reasons like "I want to adapt those values and behaviors, because they seem useful, but I can't individually self-modify - I should find a group that follows these behaviors/values, so that I can adapt them via peer pressure." At least, that's my perspective.
8Raemon8yThat is almost certainly what it is. I am going to unpack some things in an upcoming post and possibly explain what I mean better, but in the end, you won't say "oh, now that you cleared that up I agree with you," it'll be more "now I understand why we disagree on this." For the time being - taboo the word ritual. What is it that we did that is different from a "holiday party?" Be specific. I'll be addressing in more detail in an upcoming post, but it'd be helpful to know what exactly you're concerned about. To the extent that you think this has negative consequences beyond ostracizing people who find in aesthetically distasteful (which I agree is a non-trivial consequence), could you also elaborate on why it is bad to use ritual to hack your psyche? Is it also bad to use positive reinforcement to hack your psyche? What consequences do you anticipate?

These are good questions, and I ask that you bear with me as I try to verbalize my gut-level response.

For the time being - taboo the word ritual. What is it that we did that is different from a "holiday party?" Be specific.

For one thing, you sang songs. Together. Songs intended to trigger emotional responses both by their content and by the fact that they were being sung as a group.

You recited litanies — again, together (right? please correct me if I'm misunderstanding any of the details here!) — and read "sermons" (of rationality content, albeit excellently written, of course; I certainly don't deny that Eliezer's writing is evocative), in a candle-lit room (with intentionally decreasing candlelight? I'm going by Yvain's description here), again, in an atmosphere designed to evoke emotional responses.

If any of my friends suggested doing any of this at any holiday party I've been to, I (and most other people present) would look at them as if they had spontaneously gone stark raving mad. If the host of the party were the one suggesting this, and if they managed to make it happen, I would seriously consider never attending any of their holiday parties again.

Th... (read more)

6Raemon8y"Hack your psyche" was Daenerys' phrasing, but I'd approximately endorse it. Basically, there are ways that are brain works, badly. For example, we tend to want to shy away from harsh truths, and look for excuses not to do a lot of work. Reading Litanies of Tarski is explicitly supposed to build into yourself the idea that you are a person who IS capable of re-evalulating beliefs, regardless of how comfortable they are. Reciting the litany may or may not actually be useful for this, especially in group settings. I actually lean towards it NOT being that useful, but being harmless and fun. (More on this later) In "The Value and Danger of Ritual" I go into how I used the ritual-development process to make myself the sort of person who cared about the world and was willing to work to improve it, even if it meant accepting math that felt intuitively wrong to me. I do understand your visceral response to this (I can easily imagine similar visceral responses of my own to things that are only slightly different), but you make a leap from "the host does this thing which I am not used to" to "the host appears stark raving mad." There's a big gap there where I think you think something actually bad happened, but which you haven't articulated any negative consequences beyond your instinctive aversion. I recognize that this is asking a fairly hard question, and don't feel obligated to respond right away. But I'd like to you to articulate, if you can, which of the following, you feel revulsion to: Singing songs Singing songs about things you believe strongly in Singing or reciting things in groups Making any deliberate effort to build group cohesion and signal tribal loyalty Having candles Deliberately lighting and extinguishing candles to produce an effect Deliberately manipulating lighting to produce an emotional effect Reading excerpts from authors you like Reading excerpts from authors you respect a lot and who have shaped your worldview Reading excerpts from only on
8glenra8yI thought the Litany worked really well as a running gag, especially with the addition of the meta-litany as a punchline. If reciting the Litany of Tarski in a group setting is valuable, I desire to BELIEVE that reciting the Litany of Tarski in a group setting is valuable. If reciting the Litany of Tarski in a group setting is NOT valuable, I desire to believe that reciting the Litany of Tarski in a group setting is NOT valuable. Let me not become too attached to beliefs I may not want.
0Raemon8yOh I thought it was fun and funny and worth including on those grounds, but I don't think it caused most people to actually reflect on anything useful in the long term.
7Said Achmiz8yMmm... no, I don't think there's actually a leap here. You should understand that by "stark raving mad" I didn't actually mean anything like "I am seriously considering the possibility that my friend has had a sudden onset of severe, debilitating mental illness, and I should contact the nearest hospital forthwith". I meant something more like "my friend has suggested an activity which I find aesthetically objectionable, though I don't necessarily have any moral objections to it, and I am aware that some people out there do this and enjoy it, and that's fine. I am surprised to hear my friend suggest it, because I did not think he/she was the kind of person who enjoyed it, and am additionally surprised that he/she would think that I or any of our other friends would enjoy it, as that conflicts with what we all know about each other's personalities and preferences." As an example, if I were at a party and one of my friends said: "Hey, let's go to a strip club, and then a football game!" My reaction would be similar. I don't think there's anything morally wrong with strip clubs or football games (not inherently, anyway), but if one of my friends suggested that we go do this, I would be unpleasantly surprised, to say the least. Of course there was also a strong element of, as you say, visceral response. I will attempt to respond to your questions on visceral responses; I have to demur for now on negative consequences, though I will give it some thought and attempt a coherent reply soon. Do I feel revulsion to: Yes (somewhat), ... (am having trouble coming up with any examples and therefore no response for now; can you provide any?), yes (strongly). Yes (strongly), no (unless they're scented, in which case yes, blegh), yes, yes. Depends on the context. Are we holding an excerpt-reading-aloud party? (Is that a thing? It should be a thing, I think. Like a poetry reading, only... reading cool stuff other people wrote aloud. I'd participate maybe.) Then no, no objection
8Raemon8yHm. I find your analogy about the sports game and stripclub pretty useful. I think that's a very reasonable comparison. I am interested in the notion that you object to provoking emotion on purpose objectionable. Does this apply to art in general? (On a similar note - do you go to movies or see plays? Do you go ever dim lights for romantic purposes?) (The above sentence may sound like it's trying to set up a gotcha, but I am mostly just clarifying that you are someone who likes to explore and engage intellectually, but not emotionally) If a group is meeting regularly, doing things you like, does it make your world worse if they start meeting additional times, doing things that you don't like?
6drethelin8yI would say no, but the exigences of reality mean that extra activities tend to replace rather than simply add to prior ones.
2Raemon8yThat is fair.
3Said Achmiz8yThat conclusion about my general preferences does not follow from my stated specific preferences. Not... in general, no. I do strongly dislike it when authors/directors/etc. provoke emotion in a deliberate attempt to misdirect the reader/viewer/etc. from considering what is going on in the work. That is, when there is an attempt to provoke emotion directly, rather than as a result of seeing/reading/otherwise apprehending the content. I will attempt to provide examples when I think of some. I do go to movies, and even Broadway shows, though not plays, and do on occasion dim lights for romantic purposes (or, to be more precise, locate intended-to-be-romantic activities in locations with suitable light levels... which phrasing makes it sound rather unromantic, I suppose... ah well). I don't actually think this is a fair characterization. As I said to Kaj_Sotala here [http://lesswrong.com/lw/g0v/ritual_report_2012_life_death_light_darkness_and/84iv] , it's the collectivization of emotion, and of the emotion of sacredness in this case, that I object to. Maybe. It depends on the relative extent to which the activites I like and the activities I dislike contribute to the group's identity and cohesiveness.
1Raemon8yI may have worded it more strongly than you intended, but I thought you said: In any case, I think I have at least a reasonable understanding of where you're coming from. That's all I have to say for now, although if you are able to articulate some of the other concerns you mentioned better that'd be appreciated. There will be one more post which is something of an "emotional explanation of why I'm doing what I'm doing," which is intended to be evocative but grounded in something very real. That will probably go up tomorrow. A few days later I'll write up a more expansive post about where the idea of ritual and less wrong might or might not go, and what concerns I have about that.
1SebastianGarren8yI think this wonderfully evokes a point which may be off the radar, namely, that 'ritual' or whatever you call it (the possibility for group aesthetic experiences) is all around us in society. It permeates everything, it is all pervasive. I think that is true. Choose the ritual that is right for you... not because it is most moving or pretty, but because it is the most true as far as you can discern. A tangential point: It seems to me that aesthetic questions, questions of art, beauty, poetry, and the place of literature while occasionally mentioned are Less Wrong's greatest blind spot. To recall Hamlet, it seems to me that there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your rationality. Perhaps there are questions which we are not ready to discuss, which is fine. We don't necessarily need to attack the immense, perhaps incommensurable, differences between the aesthetic morality of people-who-think-they-think-rationally, us.
0Vaniver8yBad as in morally wrong, epistemically wrong, or instrumentally wrong?
7Said Achmiz8yInstrumentally wrong.
4Vaniver8yThanks for clarifying. Rereading your statement, the word "insert" jumps out at me. Would you endorse this modified statement? Or would the badness depend on which things you're preserving?

Using Raemon's work as inspiration, this solstice Columbus held our first ritual. It went well enough, that we are hopefully doing a couple a year, passing around responsibility. Next one should be Darwin/Lincoln/Valentine's Day.

We purposefully kept it much more intimate, with about 10 people who are all very close to each other. This had a couple of effects: Reciting the litanies didn't work as well (any sort of reciting or singing is going to get more awkward as there are fewer people), and neither did the music. I had hoped to overcome the music awkwardness by having it led by the group members who are in a band, but musicians are very bad at getting music things done on time :P. OTOH, the small number of attendees allowed us to do a very intimate and moving group bonding thing.

The theme of the evening was about how there is no inherent joy or beauty in the world except what we perceive. The universe is cold and dark and uncaring, but that we are the creators of love and joy via our perception of it. Love exists in our heads, and it is there that the universe has meaning. I had thought I remembered some sort of Sequence post of a similar vein, but I couldn't find it.

The centerpi... (read more)

For some reason I find it interesting that you so casually mention getting married in the description as though it was nothing more than a minor diversion from the evening's main event. I half think you just threw that into the story to check if anyone read that far. Oh, and Congratulations by the way.

I'm amused at your scarequotes around "hugged." (Did you mean "goodbye?")

I'm glad this went well, and interested in how it explored very different areas of ritual-space. I've gravitated towards music because it's what I know and am good at, but have been aware that there's a lot of completely different things I can be doing. I think I'd be interested in skyping about this after I've finished the upcoming sequence.

I'm amused at your scarequotes around "hugged."

lol, that's the G-rated version. ;)

Would love to Skype on this!

9DaFranker8yThere's a non-G-rated version? That sounds pretty awesome and all social-and-awkwardness-barriers-completely-broken-down-ish.
9Vaniver8yIt also gives this line a rather different interpretation:
4juliawise8yI'm confused - this sounds like vows to date rather than to be married. It's your business, but I'm curious - what's the purpose of vowing temporary affiliation? And what's the purpose of calling it marriage? (Edit: rereading, I guess the purpose is healthcare and lower taxes. Is that it?)
4[anonymous]8yEven though I only want to grow a community in my area, and have little interest in starting or participating in a group ritual-thing, reading your report gave me lots of fuzzies. Group bonding is a powerful thing...

Link to Yvain's review.

5Raemon8yEdited the main post to properly link to it. Thanks!

You're saying that enabling an extremely common feature of human brains through words, music, aesthetically pleasing stimuli and social interaction is making people less sane? To formalize the argument beyond your horrified shriek and my incredulous stare, what's the problem with religion?

  • It's a superstimulus, and all superstimuli are dangerous? It might be fair to say it's one - religion existed in the ancestral environment, but modern forms are likely optimized beyond that. But superstimuli are everywhere - chocolate and Photoshopped models and FarmVille. Are you generally this panicked about them, and if so why aren't you a Ludddite?

  • It strongly reinforces ingroup cohesion. Humans need social bonding, but maybe you're complaining that religion does that too quickly and with too little trust testing? Are you this freaked out about sports, politics, or fandoms? Also note that these are yearly rituals, not regular congregations.

  • It puts people in a more suggestible state. Like... just about everything, according to priming research. At least not more than belonging to a group which will downvote you and call you stupid on the Internet for unpopular beliefs.

  • No, it seriously pu

... (read more)
1MugaSofer8yYou make a convincing argument in favor of banning sex. :P [http://www.overcomingbias.com/2008/01/knowing-your-ar.html]
4MixedNuts8yYes, but people go funny in the head too if sexually frustrated (also religiously frustrated, but more people are susceptible to the former). You could have anonymous wordless one-night-stands to get some of the benefits of partnered sex without it influencing the rest of your life, but you still get frustration from sexual tension between specific people. Alternately we could take a leaf from bonobos and replace "hello" and "thanks" with sex. If everyone is permanently hovering between afterglow and indiscriminate horniness, nobody has a relative advantage in manipulating or lovebombing (heh) others. However, most people's solution to the tradeoff between caution ("don't want to ruin our friendship", "don't stick your dick in crazy", and so on) and getting laid doesn't put all the weight on the former.
-1MugaSofer8yI meant more in weirdtopian terms than immediate ones. Love as wireheading and so on. It was mostly sarcastic, anyway.
1RichardKennaway8yEven more convincing in favour of celibacy, which indeed has a long pedigree in many traditions of enlightenment.
-1MugaSofer8yI actually wrote "in favor of celibacy", but decided it wasn't strong enough. Why should I let everyone else get brainwashed and selfishly save only myself?
-2drethelin8yClaim to not be a cult Scumbag Lesswrong start stealing ideas from cults.

I've lurked on LW for a long time and can shrug off the second-hand embarrassment without fail, but I'll be damned if I ever link anyone I know to this web site. This undercurrent of LW does more damage than anything Roko ever posted.

I'm no stranger to ritual/awe/group bonding (Merzbow & MDMA: the reason for the season), but there is some hazy aesthetic line past which I cannot follow. Nor will I risk being associated with. Sorry.

If you enjoy this stuff, than more power to ya. Have a blast. Just keep in mind how many people are seriously turned off from LW because of it.

[in agreement with, rather than directed at, drethelin]

9Kawoomba8yI - sadly but determinately - second that motion. A "Ritual Report" in Main ... because our community does not have enough novel ideas that are hard to swallow as is.
5Academian8yThanks for sharing this, Quiet; I'm sad to say I agree with you. I think rationality as a movement can't afford to be associated with ritual. It's just too hard to believe that it's not a failure mode. I personally find Raemon's perspective inspiring and convincing. Raemon, it seems to me that you have a very sane perspective on the role of ritual in people's lives. And I'm all about trying to acknowledge and work with our own emotional needs, e.g. in this post [http://lesswrong.com/lw/g0e/narrative_selfimage_and_selfcommunication/]. But I personally think openly associating with Ritual with a Capital R is just too sketchy looking for the community. It saddens me to have to worry about such alarm bells going off, but I think it's the reality. Of course there are other easier-to-worry-about negative effects of ritual than simply appearances; what I'm saying is that, Raemon, even if you are able to avoid those failure modes --- and I have to say, to me, you seem very trustworthy in this regard --- I think strong ritual associations are worth avoiding for signaling alone.
7Said Achmiz8yI just want to say — lest Raemon, other ritual-type-event-organizers, or people who share their values and views on this subject, get the wrong idea — that we should distinguish between these two positions: * "Rituals make Less Wrong look like a cult, or otherwise make the LW community look sketchy/disreputable/creepy" (optional addendum: "... and because of this, I don't want to associate with LW") * "I don't like rituals, am personally creeped out by them, and wish LW communities wouldn't engage in them" (optional addendum: "... and because of this, I don't want to participate in LW communities") I, personally, am not concerned about LW's image, or my image if I associate with LW, and I make no comment about the strategic implications (for e.g. CFAR) of LW communities engaging in rituals; I just want to head off any conclusion or assertion that the only reason anyone would object to rituals is a concern about appearances, reputation, or the like. (This, I think, is a special case of "well, people don't like X because they don't understand X" — "no, I understand X just fine and I still don't like it". Relatedly: "We shouldn't do X because people might draw the wrong conclusions about us" — "Well, let's do X and just not tell anyone" — "Actually, I think we shouldn't do X for reasons that have nothing to do with other people's opinions of us for doing X!")
-1drethelin8yI second this. I think it's kind of bad for LW's image to be associated with cult-like stuff, but I don't think it matters that much. But it would be really bad for ME if LW became really about ritual.
2Kawoomba8yIt really does; already there were some unfortunate occurrences when I tried to initiate new acolytes, ahem, I mean when prodding some friends across the inferential chasm. (edit: Answered Raemon per PM)
1Raemon8yI would like to hear more about that.
0private_messaging8yBTW, there's inferential distances, and there's fuzzy-inferential distances, the latter being rationalization distances past some length.
-3drethelin8yI'm saying I don't think it matters much if it scares away random people.
1shminux8yLWers are primates, too, so some of us need this pack bonding thing in a form of a ritual. I'm not one of those, but I can see how others can feel differently. And given that rituals, whether religious or civic, are pretty much standard and often spontaneous in most communities, I don't see how having a ritual for some subgroup would harm the High Ideals of Rationality. It even might make the participants appear more human, by counteracting the perception of "straw Volcan"ness.

I'm not saying rationalists should avoid engaging in ritual like the plague; but I do a lot of promoting of CFAR and rationality to non-LW-readers, and I happen to know from experience that a post like this in Main sends bad vibes to a lot of people. Again, I think it's sad to have to worry so much about image, but I think it's a reality.

2shminux8yOh, I agree that the optics would be better if the post in question was in Discussion, not Main.
5quiet8yRationality Itself remains unphased by a backyard party blog meetup, that's for sure. I think Academian's post on the role of narrative in self-image touches on the seemingly disjointed purpose of a Rationalist Ritual. We all have our unique approaches to rational thought - my own experience consists largely of the dissolving of narratives in search of actual cause & effect. Not all narratives are destructive (or even wrong), but my employment of rational thought has never included them. Constructing and reinforcing narratives is what ritual is all about. Subjectively, the two just don't click for me. Using Less Wrong as a maypole to dance around seems.. goofy, at best. Lesser things have been rot13'd around here. If this is what it takes to signal that we have emotional lives, then fuck me running.
6V_V8yHave they mentioned they are not a cult today? [http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/HaveIMentionedIAmHeterosexualToday]
2drethelin8yHey, at least cults made the trains run on time!

Give 3 examples of "bog standard" doomsday cults where this process has taken place.

Thanks for posting the ritual booklet. It's fascinating. With my wife being pregnant, I start looking at things through the eyes of a parent to be. Rituals are traditionally a super-familial thing, but including the whole family. Parents take their kids to Church. Parents light the Menorah with their kids. Parents celebrate Winter Soltice with their kids. Reading through the booklets, I constantly had to revise upwards the age at which I could first take my daughter to such a gathering. There's no "minimum age" to participate in Church, or the li... (read more)

5Vaniver8yThis [http://lesswrong.com/lw/43w/rationality_quotes_february_2011/3gdr] is the primary thing that I've come across that seems like a rationalist activity that meshes well with children. (It also originates in a fictional story, as far as I can tell, and so I'm curious how well it actually works.)
6oooo8yIs anybody aware of anybody having tried this? I'm also curious to know if this would work. I suspect the biggest obstacle will be hoping that your child[ren] can stay on point and not get distracted on their own tangents, that is, not quite answering the question that you asked. When my child starts to speak, I will try this game and update the local LW group on how it turns out.
3Raemon8yThere are people in the NYC community who expect to have kids soon, and friends in San Francisco with kids who might potentially come to one in the future. This whole experience was inspired by my family's Christmas Eve celebration, which was inherently designed for children. I customized it for the people who make up our community now, but will definitely be revising things as kids become part of the equation. This may well involve splitting off into multiple events that kids don't participate in. (For example, we might have the "fun" part of the evening end with some activity for kids, and then they go to bed, and then older people do the more serious sections). How exactly to handle it depends on how many kids are coming, how old, etc. We'll cross the bridges when we come to them, but yeah, they're coming.

Writing words that work for this is going to be really hard. Have you considered finding an appropriate instrumental tune - instrumental in the musical sense, not the philosophical sense - and just having everyone wordlessly sing to it? Until a candle goes out, perhaps? For Ravenclaws, words call forth possible objections. Singing is just singing.

4Qiaochu_Yuan8yThis could be fixed by singing in a language people are unfamiliar with. I think wordful singing, even in a language I don't know, is qualitatively different from wordless singing in a nice way.
5Leonhart8yA Elbereth Gilthoniël silivren penna míriël o menel aglar elenath! was the first thing that came to mind. But there's also Hymnos [http://conlang.wikia.com/wiki/Hymmnos], a conlang designed expressly for ritually singing about one's emotions to a continent-sized magical computer, which seems even more apropos somehow. And Yuki Kajiura has got a lot of mileage [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P1MDyecckpk] out of nonsense syllables [http://canta-per-me.net/lyrics/credens-justitiam/] :)
2Raemon8yI feel like this is missing a sentence or two of context?
8Eliezer Yudkowsky8yJust... singing any lyrics is something that's possibly going to interfere with reverence more than just... singing. You have to agree with lyrics. You don't have to agree with music.

There's a joke about Unitarians having trouble with group hymn singing because they're reading ahead to see whether they agree with the words.

5Eliezer Yudkowsky8yWell, yeah. It's why I stay silent during Jewish prayers at family meals. I don't agree with the words.
7Raemon8yA lot of this comes down to different aesthetic preferences about things. There probably SHOULD be a point where people sing a wordless song together, either at the Solstice or another event. (Actually, I may have just solve a problem for next year's Solstice. Stay tuned. For, like, a year, because I think I want to keep it secret except for a few confederates. :P) One of the most potent experiences I got at Burning Man was going to a steam bath, wherein someone spontaneously started humming a wordless melody, which people gradually joined in on. It definitely had a lot of power to it (amplified by the intense heat and what-not). But I think there is plenty of reverence to be found in lyrical songs. Most people reported than their greatest sense of reverence was felt during the song "God Wrote the World", a song about scientific discovery and seeking truth written in the observable world. (while invoking "God", it's pretty metaphorical. The song was written by an atheist in semi-theistic terms to be approachable to fundamentalists.) (This song does, in fact, contain a factual error. Immediately afterwards there was a pop quiz to guess what it was. One person got it)
5Raemon8y(I do agree with the sentiment "writing words that succeed at this endeavor is going to be very hard." Right now, we have basically one song that seems to inspire reverence among basically everyone who attended. I don't think I've written anything that good yet, although a few people do respond pretty strongly to "Brighter Than Today." Wordless music is an alternate solution to the problem, but at most, I think it counts as... four songs? (like, you can do 2-3 variations of wordless music, either all at once or spaced out, totaling about maybe 15 - 20 minutes. A long song is 4 minutes). If you're starting from scratch, I think I'd agree that 20 minutes of wordless music is better for building reverence than trying to write a pretty song about stars and candles. But if you're trying to fill a 2-hour-ish event, you'll need more than that. And if you're taking either a) songwriting or b) songfinding seriously, you learn more and level up faster by trying alternate things.
3gjm8yGalileo's recantation was not the result of being tortured. (Without looking it up, I'm about 99% sure he was never tortured and I don't think he was even "shown the instruments of torture", something they apparently used to do as a first step.)
3Raemon8yYup. (The admittedly minimal research I did said that he was shown the instruments of torture, but the details seemed sketchy).
0ArisKatsaris8yOnly one person? That disappoints me.
1Raemon8yOn one hand, it is disappointing that not more than one person knew that, but on the other hand, it's an arbitrary piece of knowledge that people either know or don't. I'd expect most people not to know the story of Galileo in detail and just go along with whatever a smart sounding person said.
5juliawise8yMore than one person knew it. One person said it first.
3Kawoomba8yThe torture part? AFAIK he was presented with the instruments that were going to be used on him, which is entirely consistent with "long ago, when torture broke the remnant of his will".
3philh8ySpeaking personally, I don't think I've ever felt reverence from music that didn't have lyrics. (I know I'm abnormal in this, but I'm not sure just how abnormal.)
3daenerys8yNot even that Final Fantasy X chant? ;)
0[anonymous]8yWouldn't you want to be singing things that call forth possible objections? Where would we be if Christianity had the hold it did a few centuries ago, but without any Bible in which to find monstrous morals or inconsistencies? And if we'd be fine, since Christianity would never have taken hold, then isn't that reason enough to have words?

This is so full of what you guys call "Fallacy of grey"

I'm not seeing it; none of the above appears to be saying "Some people think religion-inspired rituals are da bomb, other people think they are horrible, so the truth must be somewhere in between".

Your use of "you guys", now, that strikes me as... below the belt.

My comments: Seeing people was great, actual ritual was looong, and strongly triggered my ADHD. Which was mostly mitigated by me amusing myself with shiny led gloves.

The musical selection is pretty good. The whole thing sounds very uplifting! Good work, Raemon!

BTW: By Geneva convention standard, Gallileo was tortured -- "For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person" (notice the "or mental", and it's certainly mental torture to be threatened by physical torture). It seems like at this point we are arguing about definitions, so maybe I'll stop here, but calling the relevant line in "Word of God" false because of that is a bit of an exaggeration.

Raemon, would you say something about how you addressed the topic of death? It hadn't occurred to me that this was something a community should be preparing for, but it made sense once you explained it.

2Raemon8yI'm intending to post the written version of the speech I gave as a separate article. (I deviated a bit from it, since I wasn't reading from a script, but the gist is the same) Originally I was going to wait till the end, to wrap up the sequence, but after some comments on this thread I realized it was really important to do that sooner rather than later, so that when I say "ritual is a pretty important thing" readers had better context of what I was talking about and why. I am leaning towards posting it tomorrow. I figure I should at least give people a day to see this article, and give them a a chance to read through the book. (Thoughts on how to best approach that are welcome, perhaps by PM.)
0CronoDAS8yThe first verse might be a bit awkward but the rest seems appropriate:
2Raemon8yThis is similar in concept to one of the songs we have (Brighter Than Today). One of the difficult things I need to do (at least for the Solstice proper) is choose between similar songs to find the best possible option for a given niche. What I planned to do last year was have a vote on the Ritual mailing list for songs that were similar in quality and competing for the same timeslot. This year I ended up feeling like there was a clear winner in each slot, but I may end up doing something similar, either for the next Solstice or for other events.

What was the grace that we said before eating? I remember laughing at it, but I forget what it was.

"To all whom it may concern, thanks."

It may have felt quite different to those without a Quaker background, but the pause for grace felt very short to me. I'm used to a silence about three breaths long, which (especially in a really stimulating atmosphere like a house full of new people) is a nice break. Especially since the rest of the weekend was either in small groups or one large group facing the same direction, this was the only chance to look around and see everyone's faces at the same time.

Note: The meta-litany of Tarski is missing from the PDF, although it is in the table of contents.

1Raemon8yFixed.

Here you go again with continuum fallacy.

No I'm not. I'm saying that the religious groups you've observed go wonky because they're ideological groups, and that adding religion (without a taboo against criticizing it) won't increase the wonkiness. I admit it's hard to find examples because nearly all surviving religions have such taboos, but you could propose a mechanism, or any sort of attempt to answer "What's wrong with religion?" seriously I've been asking this for three comments spit it out already.

People who think they think exceptional

... (read more)

No, I'm not saying "Politics and religion both make you very loyal to untrustworthy groups, so they're exactly as bad as each other", I'm saying that politics is at least as bad as religion in this area, so that can't be the reason you dislike the latter. It would help a lot if you stated your reasons, since apparently all of my guesses are wrong.

Look, it makes people think less straight.

Citation needed. All groups built around an ideology make people think less straight, and some parts of religion make that worse, especially the cultural nor... (read more)

5Said Achmiz8yI am curious, are you suggesting (or do you think) that feeling this way, and experiences that make you feel this way, are a good thing?
2MixedNuts8yThat was just describing the emotion, but yes, I advocate it. Pros: It feels several kinds of good. It improves mood afterwards, both directly (serenity, happiness) and indirectly (feeling loved improves self-esteem, feeling loving improves patience). It improves courage, motivation, and focus. It's a short-term fix for anxiety (which works even on partial success). It increases aesthetic appreciation. It's interesting, though most of the fun bits (like hallucinations) aren't universal. Cons: If you attribute it to an external source, it can give you wrong beliefs. If you practice it in a group, it'll bind the group more than you might want. You might acquire some weird compulsions (I can't write "G-d", I occasionally have to stare at things). Some of the props might be expensive, depending on what works for you.