CFAR Participant Handbook now available to all

Google Drive PDF

Hey, guys—I wrote this, and CFAR has recently decided to make it publicly available. Much of it involved rewriting the original work of others, such as Anna Salamon, Kenzie Ashkie, Val Smith, Dan Keys, and other influential CFAR founders and staff, but the actual content was filtered through me as single author as part of getting everything into a consistent and coherent shape.

I have mild intentions to update it in the future with a handful of other new chapters that were on the list, but which didn't get written before CFAR let me go. Note that such updates will likely not be current-CFAR-approved, but will still derive directly from my understanding of the curriculum as former Curriculum Director.

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This content is a real gem. It's easy and fun to read, yet offers a high density of CFAR's unique insights which are worth knowing to improve your life. It also manages to speak to all rationality skill levels and knowledge.

I would love to see this content featured on CFAR's site, which is currently kind of a black box in terms of what specific "rationality" they teach. There's this FAQ answer that lists the topics of the workshop, but I suspect it's better to let prospective workshop attendees dive in more ahead of time if they're curious.

I was so inspired by how this handbook makes CFAR look good that we're now working on the same thing at my startup Relationship Hero, a public-facing handbook that will make our coaching less of a black box. Update: It's live here.

Curated. CFAR's content has been quite valuable to me personally, and I know many people who have found the individual techniques and overall mindset valuable. (Moreoever, many of those concepts have went on to become building blocks of further rationality development)

Some of my thoughts here feature in the recent AMA: I think of CFAR as having "forked the LW epistemological codebase", and then going on to do a bunch of development in a private branch. I think a lot of issues from the past few years have come from disconnects between people who having been using 'the private beta branch' and people using the classic 'LessWrong 1.0 epistemological framework.'" 

I think this was basically fine (for reasons habryka gets at here and Geoff Anders gets at here), but it does mean there's a bunch of 'research debt' that needs to be paid off.

I do hope at some point for a sequence that's more explicitly designed to be standalone, without having gone to a CFAR workshop. But meanwhile it seems good to have this document more publicly accessible.

Note that this handbook covers maybe only about 2/3 of the progress made in that private beta branch, with the remaining third divided into "happened while I was there but hasn't been written up (hopefully 'yet')" and "happened since my departure, and unclear whether anyone will have the time and priority to export it."

To be clear, I don't think you mean "This explains about 2/3rds of what CFAR learned about rationality". I think you mean "This is an artifact that records about 2/3rds of the concrete, teachable techniques that CFAR's understanding of rationality has output." (I think I’m right, but happy to be corrected if I’m wrong.)

I actually think 2/3rds seems high – part of my point of "Moreoever, many of those concepts have went on to become building blocks of further rationality development" was that I think there's lots of followup work, which is where the "real" value lives.

Some things I'm thinking of include:

  • The development of Focusing into Belief Reporting (this is, to be fair, more on the Leverage private beta branch, but I think realistically there's a couple overlapping private beta branches that are co-dependent)
  • I don't know if was especially downstream of CFAR, but my own engagement with it was fairly dependent on being enmeshed in the CFAR community.

I have some impression that this is fairly tip-of-the-iceberg-esque (although admittedly I'm not that confident in that)

The author of had contact with the LessWrong community and did go to CFAR. I'm not sure whether they went to CFAR before or after writing the website. It might very well have been writing to show people what they thought when they went to the Bay Area.

I think of CFAR as having "forked the LW epistemological codebase", and then going on to do a bunch of development in a private branch. I think a lot of issues from the past few years have come from disconnects between people who having been using 'the private beta branch' and people using the classic 'LessWrong 1.0 epistemological framework.'" 

This rings true, and I like the metaphor. However, you seem to imply that the Open Source original branch is not as good as the private fork, pushed by a handful of people with a high turnover rate, which could be true but is harder to agree with.

So, the thing I actually said in the other thread was:

Naively attempting to merge the latest dev branch back into "Sequences Era LessWrong" results in merge conflicts, and it's unclear when this is because:

  • "oh, we just haven't written up the right explanations to make sure this was backwards compatible", vs
  • "oh, these were just some ideas we were experimenting with that didn't pan out" vs
  • "oh, this integration-test-failure is actually an indicator that something was wrong with the idea."
  • "oh, actually, it's original LessWrong sequences that are wrong here, not CFAR, and the intergration tests need to be rewritten"

And I stand by this. Regardless of what you think of the "private dev branch", I think now is a good time to pay down research debt and figure out how to integrate it into a cohesive, well-tested whole.

As for my actual opinion: to continue the metaphor, my guess is that the private dev branch is better overall, but, well, buggier. (The "it's better" opinion comes from personal experience and observation. My strong experience is that the work and thinking I'm most excited about comes from people who have experience with both the LW sequences and the CFAR content). There's a bunch of stuff the sequences just didn't do, in terms of figuring out how to translate abstract concepts into something actionable.

My sense of the "bugginess" is in large part because people keep pushing the outer limits of what we understand well about how to learn and practice rationality, and the outer-limits are always going to be less-well tested and understood. 

I'm really happy to see this become public! Personally, I find PDFs nicer than paper books for multiple reasons (can listen to, can annotate and keep easier).

Was there anything in particular that convinced the team to make it public at this point?

Some combination of: (a) lots of people still wanted it, and we're not sure our previous "idea inoculation" concerns are actually valid, and there's something to testing the idea of giving people what they want; and (perhaps more significantly) (b) we're making more of an overall push this year toward making our purpose and curriculum and strategy and activities and so on clear and visible so that we can dialog with people about our plans, and we figured that putting the handbook online might help with that.

I don't know the answer; the team made their decision and then checked to see if I was okay with it; I wasn't a part of any deliberations or discussions.

I assume that means you print them? Because I find pdfs to be the worst medium, compared to mobi, epub or html - mainly because I usually read from my phone.

I personally kind of like pdfs. PDF Expert on the ipad is pretty great; it crops things if you want, and I find pdfs good for annotation. My impression is that a lot of academics like pdfs for similar reasons (there are at least some valid reasons why they are popular).

There are also other programs that read pdfs aloud, which are kinda nice, though I'm sure similar exists for epub/mobi.

What do you use to listen to pdfs?

I've tried Pocket, Speechify, and Voice Dream. Of these, Voice Dream seems to do the best at viewing the PDF while listening to it.

Actually, it seems like Speechify has a mode to see the actual PDF, which may be enough. Speechify does have a pretty pricey subscription fee (~$150/yr), but it isn't necessary.

Any chance you could make this available as epub or mobi also, for people with eReaders? I'd be happy to pay for it on say Kindle Store.

+1 Up for an epub/mobi version.

To anyone landing on this page, the CFAR handbook is now available on LessWrong as a native sequence.

I strongly upvoted this.

On one hand – the CFAR handbook would be a weird fit for the anthology style books we have published so far. But, it would be a great fit for being a standalone book, and I think it makes sense to use the Review to take stock of what other books we should be publishing.

The current version of the CFAR handbook isn't super optimized for being read outside the context of a workshop. I think it'd be worth the effort of converting it both into standalone posts that articulate particular concepts, and editing together into a more cohesive experience. 

I like the epistemic status on the front chapter ("this book is written as a supplement to a workshop. We have no idea what will happen to you if you read it on it's own!") but ideally it'd be nice if we, like, tried having some newer people attempt to read it and see what does happen.

I am willing (but would require money) to do the work to make it a truly standalone book.  I believe that I have strict advantage over any other human at making that happen.

(I think it's something like 3-8 essays/chapters and a bunch of minor tweaks away from being a proper book.)

It's really interesting to see how many bits of what's in this handbook match important skills I either use with my clients or teach them to do. Focusing and Inner Simulation, obviously. But also bits of Socratic Ducking and Polaris. (On the other hand, I have reservations with some parts of IDC and "Understanding Shoulds", in that most of the time, the problems I help people overcome are rooted in utterly useless shoulds that they are taking far too seriously, not in the desires they're failing to take seriously enough.)

Quick question though: what is the copyright and/or licensing status of this document? (It also appears to be using copyrighted artwork from various outside sources, such as xkcd, without even crediting those creators, let alone affirming their copyrights.)

As for the Understanding Shoulds section, that's another example of the document being tailor-made for a specific target audience; most people are indeed "taking far too seriously" their "utterly useless shoulds," but the CFAR workshop audience was largely one pendulum swing ahead of that state, and needing the next round of iterated advice.

Emailing CFAR is the best way to find out; previously the question wasn't considered in depth because "well, we're not selling it, and we're also not sharing it." Now, the state is "well, they're not selling it, but they are sharing it," so it's unclear.

(Things like the XKCD comic being uncited came about because in context, something like 95% of participants recognized XKCD immediately and the other 5% were told in person when lecturers said stuff like "If you'll look at the XKCD comic on page whatever..." In other words, it was treated much more like an internal handout shared among a narrowly selected, high-context group, than as product that needed to dot all of the i's and cross all of the t's. I agree that Randall Munroe deserves credit for his work, and that future edits would likely correct things like that.)

The CFAR handbook is very valuable but I wouldn't include it in the 2020 review. Or if then more as a "further reading" section at the end. Actually, such a list could be valuable. It could include links to relevant blogs (e.g. those already supporting cross-posting). 


There's a small typo on page 84

..Quinn’s friends aren?t taking...

Perhaps the problem in "aren?t" is a unicode character that's not supported by my reader rather than an actual question mark.


Thank you very much for posting this <3

Hello! I'm wondering if I can translate your book into Russian?

I'm not going to monetize it, and of course I will give the credits.

Hello! I'm wondering if I can translate your book into Russian?

I'm not going to monetize it, and of course I will give the credits.

Yes, you can translate it. Just make it clear that the original content in English is from CFAR, and the translation into Russian is something that you've done independently.

-Dan from CFAR

Right at the start under "How to use this book", there is this paragraph:

If you have never been to a CFAR workshop, and don’t have any near-term
plans to come to one, then you may be the kind of person who would love to
set their eyes on a guide to improving one’s rationality, full of straightforward
instructions and exercises on how to think more clearly, act more effectively,
learn more from your experiences, make better decisions, and do more with
your life. This book is not that guide (nor is the workshop itself, for that
matter). It was never intended to be that guide.

I'm partway through reading the sequences, have read plenty of other LW posts, but have no possibility to attend CFAR workshops anytime soon. Still, I want to get more experience with applied rationality. Would you say reading (parts of) this handbook and trying exercises that seem relevant to my situation is a reasonable thing to try (while minding all your precautions)? Or do you know of a better way to train one's skills in applying rationality?

I think it's a decent thing to do, and I've done the same myself a few years ago before I attended a workshop. I think it was reasonably useful. I did also try to teach a lot of the material in the handbook and on LessWrong to my friends, which I found a lot more useful for actually understanding the stuff.

Alright, that's helpful! Thanks!

Awesome, thanks! Is there an e-book version?

Thank you very much! Excited to read it :)

If it's simple, is it possible to publish also a kindle version?

I would also like to convert it to a more flexible e-reader format. It appears to have been typeset using ... Would it be possible to share the source files?

Emailing people at CFAR directly is the best way to find out, I think (I dunno how many of them are checking this thread).

Thank you!

(Reminder that you can subscribe to a post to get notified of comments on that post.)

I was just wondering why lesswrong posts about constant false alarm rate...

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