I want people to go forth, but also to return.  Or maybe even to go forth and stay simultaneously, because this is the Internet and we can get away with that sort of thing; I've learned some interesting things on Less Wrong, lately, and if continuing motivation over years is any sort of problem, talking to others (or even seeing that others are also trying) does often help.

But at any rate, if I have affected you at all, then I hope you will go forth and confront challenges, and achieve somewhere beyond your armchair, and create new Art; and then, remembering whence you came, radio back to tell others what you learned.

Eliezer Yudkowsky, Rationality: From AI to Zombies

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

African proverb (possibly just made up)

About a year ago, a secret rationalist group was founded. This is a report of what the group did during that year.

The Purpose

“Rationality, once seen, cannot be unseen,” are words that resonate with all of us. Having glimpsed the general shape of the thing, we feel like we no longer have a choice. I mean, of course we still have an option to think and act in stupid ways, and we probably do it a lot more than we would be okay to admit! We just no longer have an option to do it knowingly without feeling stupid about it. We can stray from the way, but we cannot pretend anymore that it does not exist. And we strongly feel that more is possible, both in our private lives, and for the society in general.

Less Wrong is the website and the community that brought us together. Rationalist meetups are a great place to find smart, interesting, and nice people; awesome people to spend your time with. But feeling good was not enough for us; we also wanted to become stronger. We wanted to live awesome lives, not just to have an awesome afternoon once in a while. But many participants seemed to be there only to enjoy the debate. Or perhaps they were too busy doing important things in their lives. We wanted to achieve something together; not just as individual aspiring rationalists, but as a rationalist group. To make peer pressure a positive force in our lives; to overcome akrasia and become more productive, to provide each other feedback and to hold each other accountable, to support each other. To win, both individually and together.

The Group

We are not super secret really; some people may recognize us by reading this article. (If you are one of them, please keep it to yourself.) We just do not want to be unnecessarily public. We know who we are and what we do, and we are doing it to win at life; trying to impress random people online could easily become a distraction, a lost purpose. (This article, of course, is an exception.) This is not supposed to be about specific individuals, but an inspiration for you.

We started as a group of about ten members, but for various reasons some people soon stopped participating; seven members remained. We feel that the current number is probably optimal for our group dynamic (see Parkinson's law), and we are not recruiting new members. We have a rule “what happens in the group, stays in the group”, which allows us to be more open to each other. We seem to fit together quite well, personality-wise. We desire to protect the status quo, because it seems to work for us.

But we would be happy to see other groups like ours, and to cooperate with them. If you want to have a similar kind of experience, we suggest starting your own group. Being in contact with other rationalists, and holding each other accountable, seems to benefit people a lot. CFAR also tries to keep their alumni in regular contact after the rationality workshops, and some have reported this as a huge added value.

To paint a bit more specific picture of us, here is some summary data:

  • Our ages are between 20 and 40, mostly in the middle of the interval.
  • Most of us, but not all, are men.
  • Most of us, but not all, are childless.
  • All of us are of majority ethnicity.
  • Most of us speak the majority language as our first language.
  • All of us are atheists; most of us come from atheist families.
  • Most of us have middle-class family background.
  • Most of us are, or were at some moment, software developers.

I guess this is more or less what you could have expected, if you are already familiar with the rationalist community.

We share many core values, but have some different perspectives, which adds value and confronts groupthink. We have entrepreneurs, employees, students, and unemployed bums; the ratio changes quite often. It is probably the combination of all of us having a good sense of epistemology, but different upbringing, education and professions, that makes supporting each other and giving advice more effective (i.e. beyond the usual benefits of the outside view); there have been plenty of situations which were trivial for one, but not for the other.

Some of us knew each other for years before starting the group, even before the local Less Wrong meetups. Some of us met the others at the meetups. And finally, some of us talked to some other members for the first time after joining the group. It is surprising how well we fit, considering that we didn’t apply any membership filter (although we were prepared to); people probably filtered themselves by their own interest, or a lack thereof, to join this kind of a group, specifically with the productivity and accountability requirements.

We live in different cities. About once in a month we meet in person; typically before or after the local Less Wrong meetup. We spend a weekend together. We walk around the city and debate random stuff in the evening. In the morning, we have a “round table” where each of us provides a summary of what they did during the previous month, and what they are planning to do during the following month; about 20 minutes per person. That takes a lot of time, and you have to be careful not to go off-topic too often.

In between meetups, we have a Slack team that we use daily. Various channels for different topics; the most important one is a “daily log”, where members can write briefly what they did during the day, and optionally what they are planning to do. In addition to providing extra visibility and accountability, it helps us feel like we are together, despite the geographical distances.

Besides mutual accountability, we are also fans of various forms of self-tracking. We share tips about tools and techniques, and show each other our data. Journaling, time tracking, exercise logging, step counting, finance tracking...

Even before starting the group, most of us were interested in various productivity systems: Getting Things Done, PJ Eby; one of us even wrote and sold their own productivity software.

We do not share a specific plan or goal, besides “winning” in general. Everyone follows their own plan. Everything is voluntary; there are no obligations nor punishments. Still, some convergent goals have emerged.

Also, good habits seem to be contagious, at least in our group. If a single person was doing some useful thing consistently, eventually the majority of the group seems to pick it up, whether it is related to productivity, exercise, diet, or finance.


All of us exercise regularly. Now it seems like obviously the right thing to do. Exercise improves your health and stamina, including mental stamina. For example, the best chess players exercise a lot, because it helps them stay focused and keep thinking for a long time. Exercise increases your expected lifespan, which should be especially important for transhumanists, because it increases your chances to survive until the Singularity. Exercise also makes you more attractive, creating a halo effect that brings many other benefits.

If you don’t consider these benefits worth at least 2 hours of your time a week, we find it difficult to consider you a rational person who takes their ideas seriously. Yes, even if you are busy doing important things; the physical and mental stamina gained from exercising is a multiplier to whatever you are doing in the rest of your time.

Most of us lift weights (see e.g. StrongLifts 5×5, Alan Thrall); some of us even have a power rack and/or treadmill desk at home. Others exercise using their body weight (see Convict Conditioning). Exercising at home saves time, and in long term also money. Muscle mass correlates with longevity, in addition to the effect of exercise itself; and having more muscle allows you to eat more food. Speaking of which...


Most of us are, mostly or completely, vegetarian or vegan. Ignoring the ethical aspects and focusing only on health benefits, there is a lot of nutrition research summarized in a book How Not to Die and a website NutritionFacts.org. The short version is that whole-food vegan diet seems to work best, but you really should look into details. (Not all vegan food is automatically healthy; there is also vegan junk food. It is important to eat a lot of unprocessed vegetables, fruit, nuts, flax seeds, broccoli, beans. Read the book, seriously. Or download the Daily Dozen app.) We often share tasty recipes when we meet.

We also helped each other research food supplements, and actually find the best and cheapest sources. Most of us take extra B12 to supplement the vegan diet, creatine monohydrate, vitamin D3, and some of us also use Omega3, broccoli sprouts, and a couple of other things that are generally aimed at health and longevity.


We strategize and brainstorm career decisions or just debug office politics. Most of us are software developers. This year, one member spent nine months learning how to program (using Codecademy, Codewars, and freeCodeCamp at the beginning; reading tutorials and documentation later); as a result their income more than doubled, and they got a job they can do fully remotely.

Recently we started researching cryptocurrencies and investing in them. Some of us started doing P2P lending.

Personal life

Many of us are polyamorous. We openly discuss sex and body image issues in the group. We generally feel comfortable sharing this information with each other; women say they do not feel the typical chilling effects.


Different members report different benefits from their membership in the group. Some quotes:

“During the first half of the year, my life was more or less the same. I was already very productive before the group, so I kept the same habits, but benefited from sharing research. Recently, my life changed more noticeably. I started training myself to think of more high-leverage moves (inspired by a talk on self-hypnosis). This changed my asset allocation, and my short-term career plans. I realize more and more that I am very much monkey see, monkey do.”

“Before stumbling over the local Less Wrong meetup, I had been longing (and looking) for people who shared, or even just understood, my interest and enthusiasm for global, long-term, and meta thinking (what I now know to be epistemic rationality). After the initial thrill of the discovery had worn off however, I soon felt another type of dissonance creeping up on me: "Wait, didn't we agree that this was ultimately about winning? Where is the second, instrumental half of rationality, that was supposedly part of the package?" Well, it turned out that the solution to erasing this lingering dissatisfaction was to be found in yet a smaller subgroup.

So, like receiving a signal free of interference for the first time, I finally feel like I'm in a "place" where I can truly belong, i.e. a tribe, or at least a precursor to one, because I believe that things hold the potential to be way more awesome still, and that just time alone may already be enough to take us there.

On a practical level, the speed of adoption of healthy habits is truly remarkable. I've always been able to generally stick to any goals and commitments I've settled on, however the process of convergence is just so much faster and easier when you can rely on the judgment of other epistemically trustworthy people. Going at full speed is orders of magnitudes easier when multiple people illuminate the path (i.e. figure out what is truly worth it), while simultaneously sharing the burdens (of research, efficient implementation, trial-and-error, etc.)”

“Now I'm on a whole-food vegan diet and I exercise 2 times a week, and I also improved in introspection and solving my life problems. But most importantly, the group provides me companionship and emotional support; for example, starting a new career is a lot easier in the presence of a group where reinventing yourself is the norm.”

“It usually takes grit and willpower to change if you do it alone; on the other hand, I think it's fairly effortless if you're simply aligning your behavior with a preexisting strong group norm. I used to eat garbage, smoke weed, and have no direction in life. Now I lift weights, eat ~healthy, and I learned programming well enough to land a great job.

The group provides existential mooring; it is a homebase out of which I can explore life. I don't think I'm completely un-lost, but instead of being alone in the middle of a jungle, I'm at a friendly village in the middle of a jungle.”

“I was already weightlifting and eating vegan, but got motivated to get more into raw and whole foods. I get confronted more with math, programming and finance, and can broaden my horizon. Sharing daily tasks in Slack helps me to reflect about my priorities. I already could discuss many current career and personal challenges with the whole group or individuals.”

“I started exercising regularly, and despite remaining an omnivore I eat much more fresh vegetables now than before. People keep telling me that my body shape improved a lot during this year. Other habits did not stick (yet).”

“Finding a tribe of sane people in an insane world was a big deal for me, now I feel more self-assured and less alone. Our tribe has helped me to improve my habits—some more than others (for example, it has inspired me to buy a power-rack for my living room and start weightlifting daily, instead of going to the gym). The friendly bragging we do among our group is our way of celebrating success and inspires me to keep going and growing.”


Despite having met each other thanks to Less Wrong, most of us do not read it anymore, because our impression is that “Less Wrong is dead”. We do read Slate Star Codex.

From other rationalist blogs, we really liked the article about Ra, and we discussed it a lot.

The proposal of a Dragon Army evoked mixed reactions. On one hand, we approve of rationalists living closer to each other, and we want to encourage fellow rationalists to try it. On the other hand, we don’t like the idea of living in a command hierarchy; we are adults, and we all have our own projects. Our preferred model would be living close to each other; optimally in the same apartment building with some shared communal space, but also with a completely self-contained unit for each of us. So far our shared living happened mostly by chance, but it always worked out very well.

Jordan Peterson and his Self-Authoring Suite is very popular with about half of the group.

What next?

Well, we are obviously going to continue doing what we are doing now, hopefully even better than before, because it works for us.

You, dear reader, if you feel serious about becoming stronger and winning at life, but are not yet a member of a productive rationalist group, are encouraged to join one or start one. Geographical distances are annoying, but Slack helps you overcome the intervals between meetups. Talking to other rationalists can be a lot of fun, but accountability can make the difference between productivity and mere talking. Remember: “If this is your first night at fight club, you have to fight!”

Even if it’s seemingly small things, such as doing an exercise or adding some fiber to your diet; these things, accumulated over time, can increase your quality of life a lot. The most important habit is the meta-habit of creating and maintaining good habits. And it is always easier when your tribe is doing the same thing.

Any questions? It may take some time for our hive mind to generate an answer, and in case of too many or too complex questions we may have to prioritize. Don’t feel shy, though. We care about helping others.


(This account was created for the purpose of making this post, and after a week or two it will stop being used. It may be resurrected after another year, or maybe not. Please do not send private messages; they will most likely be ignored.)


39 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 9:49 AM
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Always nice to hear about a secret group doing secret things! On the other hand, that's it? Being a vegetarian programmer who goes to the gym is your idea of an awesome life, the promised "more is possible"? To me that sounds like a boring life that most of society wouldn't find attractive at all. Where's the art, travel, science, business, politics? Where's all the success and where's all the fun? Heck, if you'd skipped the vegetarian part and instead all went to Cuba for a paragliding vacation, that would make me more hopeful about the future of rationalism :-)

The group was initiated with a purpose of grandiose growth, and we still have hopes for the future, but the real effect is more of small, sustainable, very reasonable levels of growth. No Bayesian Conspiracy, sorry. However,

Where's the art, travel, science, business, politics?

some of us run a business together (and the article mentions P2P lending, discussing career decisions together, changing asset allocation); some of us pool money for real estate deals; one of us studies AI safety and does math all day long; and one of us is politically active and drumming up attention for Effective Altruism. Each of us follows their own plans here.

Some of the slow-growing stuff we are doing now could yield exceptional returns in future. If our business (that happened as a result of our group existing) succeeds, or if we collectively sniff out great investment opportunities (as we already have to some extent in the crypto space), we might end up substantially more wealthy than if we had been just by ourselves.

Being a vegetarian programmer who goes to the gym is your idea of an awesome life… To me that just sounds boring.

To avoid Nirvana fallacy let’s say we suspect most Less Wrong readers struggle even with this baseline. Dragon Army proposes a “totalitarian” regime as a solution. We do it by keeping each other accountable, online, within our individual possibilities, within our everyday lives (which sometimes involve school or childcare).

To us, being healthy, fit and strong sounds more fun than being unhealthy, fat and weak. Building our power base sounds more fun in long term than taking a vacation and then staying in the rat race for the rest of our lives.

“Happiness is the feeling that power increases—that resistance is being overcome.” And this starts with the boring things that seemingly nobody wants to do: being productive, eating well, working out, going to bed at a reasonable time, investing one's money, saying thanks but no thanks to one marshmallow, to own the entire factory down the line.

And, technically, the one of us who doubled their income recently could now afford more vacations at Cuba than before. But we prefer long and meaningful and happy lives over lives filled with typical ephemeral enjoyments (see Stoicism).

“Happiness is the feeling that power increases—that resistance is being overcome.”

When I go to a water park and have a splash fight with my friends, I feel happy. It's not about power and it doesn't require getting fit or rich first.

The LW life aesthetic, centered around individual hard work, is a good idea for most people. Unfortunately it might be harmful to precisely the people who are most attracted to it. We'd be better served by a different aesthetic, one that fulfilled the desires we don't want to acknowledge. I imagine it as something with lots of fireworks, and sex, and stupidity, and laughing, and stories you'd want to tell afterward, instead of saying "Yesterday was my 1319th day of not eating the marshmallow. It was a good day!"

Sounds like you need to work on that time preference. Have you considered setting up an accountability system or self-blackmailing to make sure you're not having too much fun?

To avoid Nirvana fallacy let’s say we suspect most Less Wrong readers struggle even with this baseline

Did the people in this group mostly struggle with that baseline before they joined it?

Some more than the others, but generally most of us struggled with parts of that baseline. Plus other things, like going to bed on time.

For the last few millenia what you are describing has been called "a group of friends".

adding some fiber to your diet ... can increase your quality of life a lot

So, what would you say is your biggest accomplishment as a group?

For the last few millenia what you are describing has been called "a group of friends".

I've had been parts of lots of groups of friends, but very few of them have had self-improvement as an explicit goal, nor have they had mutual accountability and check-ups on each other. Most groups of friends just hang out without any particular purpose.

Groups of friends often coalesce around common interests. This group of friends coalesced around a common interest in rationality and self-improvement. That this is possible to do is potentially useful information to other people who are interested in rationality and self-improvement and making new friends.

That this is possible to do is potentially useful information

Was there any doubt about this? Did anyone ever say "No, you can't do that"?

Isn't necessary condition for group of friends that they like each other a lot? Maybe they have more formal relationship focused on productivity and not just to hang out.

We have become a group of friends first and a productivity group second. But when we started, some of us didn't know some other members yet.

Congratulations on actually doing things! Seems to me that it may be difficult for a smart person to actually do things, because they don't have a comparative advantage there. If you are an Einstein, you have higher probability to invent theory of relativity than the average Joe. However, it will cost you the same amount of work and time to develop muscles. And your time may be actually more costly, because you are busy inventing the relativity. So in some sense it seems wasteful for Einstein to do what anyone can do equally well. Problem is, everyone can benefit from the theory of relativity being invented (e.g. they can use GPS navigation), but everyone has their own health to care about.

Most of the things you describe -- exercise, diet, finance, programming, polyamory -- can be also done by deeply irrational people. Is there anything specifically Less-Wrong-like about what you do? Because I don't see any probabilistic equations or artificial intelligence here. It feels more like Quantified Self; especially the parts about tracking your data. Which is not a criticism of you, just saying that epistemic rationality and instrumental rationality often feel like separate magisteria.

I wonder how much of functionality of your group could be preserve without the personal meetings, as an option for rationalists interested in instrumental rationality, but living too far away from similarly thinking people. Perhaps with some videoconferences, where people could see face to face; or just a blog or Slack channel where people would use their real photos.

We share tips about tools and techniques, and show each other our data. Journaling, time tracking, exercise logging, step counting, finance tracking...

Could you share some of those with us? Perhaps as a separate article.

Most of us are, mostly or completely, vegetarian or vegan.

You mention taking B12 supplements to the vegan diet. Are there other important things an "aspiring vegan" should take care about?

Many of us are polyamorous.

"Rationalists and polyamory" is becoming a trope. I am curious whether you are dating within the rationalist community or also with non-rationalists. If within the community, how much is gender imbalance a problem? If outside the community, do you have an opinion on whether polyamory in rationalist circles is similar to polyamory outside, or whether "rationalist polyamory" is significantly different; and how specifically?

I am new joiner. This is the best post I have seen here so far. Its up there with Moloch post at Slate Star. What is "majority ethnicity" - majority ethnicity of LW? BTW, anybody uses eliptical trainer instead of threadmill?

I meant majority ethnicity at the (unspecified) place we live.

The treadmill is used for walking, while using a computer, not running. One of us uses a rowing machine for cardio.

I meant majority ethnicity at the (unspecified) place we live.

That's a curiously unspecific way to express this. Is your "majority language" not English?

They mean the language used by the majority of where they live, not the language used in the group. Even if all the members are native English speakers, this is still some way of keeping plausible deniability in terms of location.

Edit: reading the OP more cautiously, I think it's unlikely the group lives in a place where English isn't the majority language so the phrasing is vague for not reason. Plausible deniability went out of the window given all the information available.

I think it's unlikely the group lives in a place where English isn't the majority language

We're guessing, but I disagree. I think this group is not from an English-speaking country.

In your opinion is walking on threadmill as distracting as standup desk alone or even more?

Even during standing I just don't focus as well as when sitting. And preferred having ability to do real cardio while still being able to watch something.

I find walking much more natural/enjoyable than standing, though it did take a few days to get used to it. I can now do all but the most cognitively challenging tasks (proving tricky math theorems, doing software architecture) while walking on treadmill desk. Especially for regular coding, walking is much better than sitting.

Standing desks get uncomfortable quickly (under 30 mins), but walking desks are fine for hours. After a while, sitting can become more distracting than walking, because one feels less "free" and grows tired, while walking is a natural stimulant (pretty comparable to coffee in my case).

This might just be me, but as long as you are able to watch something, you are not doing real cardio. :)

Reasonable. I will try out the theadmill as well.

Note that one advantage of eliptical trainer is lower impact on joints.

In 2016, the "Less Wrong Diaspora" was 86% non-hispanic "white": http://lesswrong.com/lw/nmk/2016_lesswrong_diaspora_survey_analysis_part_one/

I thought after reading the beginning that they did some secret experiments, like measuring effects of psychedelics on intelligence in gwern controllable style.

BTW, someone did it for chess: https://www.reddit.com/r/Drugs/comments/65lybk/chess_on_drugs/

This is great. Thanks for posting it. I will try to use this example and see if I can find some people who would be willing to do the same. Do you know of any new remote group that is recruiting members?

Over time there were multiple attempts at creating online-LW meetups that failed. On the other hand, the LW study hall is a success in providing an experience of people working together on their goals. Did you already check it out?

There seems to be a Less Wrong Slack. Maybe we could try making a new (private?) channel there. With rules like "to participate here, you have to regularly post what you actually do"; or perhaps uploading selfies of weightlifting and eating tofu (and polyamorous orgies)?

Orgy-type events tend to have confidentiality rules that make it a problem to provide pictures.

You are welcome to have a channel. We already have a few channels for accountability and projects. The whole slack is us keeping track of each other

Do you know of any new remote group that is recruiting members?


Can I ask also your group's average IQ?

Can't provide a number, because some of us don't know. And there is much noise in the IQ tests for higher values. Some of us have a math background with degrees and other accomplishments in that area. We guess we are around the LW average.

We guess we are around the LW average.

What would you estimate to be the LW average?

According to LW 2014 survey, IQ 135-140. Sounds about right.

How geographically spread out are you, measured in miles between the two furthest members or maybe average miles from the usual meeting point? That you meet up once a month implies you probably don't have to take a plane but that it is a long drive.

Assume someone else wanted to replicate your group. What advice would you give specifically about group formation? From the outside, I'm curious how you started initially and whether there are any common traits among you that are not common among most rationalists? What activities/policies/habits did you set up first, particularly around keeping the group active together and allowing for iterative improvement?

Separate question: How much of the improvements do you attribute to the group vs self-directed growth?

I think a lot of the benefits you're describing seem like they would come from having a close group of friends who are smart and pay attention, but given things like Project Hufflepuff and Dragon Army if you've successfully formed a close group of rationalists then the most important information I want to learn from you is how to do that, especially since your method doesn't rely on moving into an apartment with other people.

"Programmer with friends who goes to the gym" already describes me, but I would be moderately interested in trying to replicate this given that more friends and more commitment mechanisms to keep working out would be good things for me.

The geographical distances are between 50 and 100 miles, that means an hour or two of travel. Could be worse, but it is an inconvenience.

It is hard to distill with any confidence what were the “main ingredients” of our group; this is a meta question that probably contains answers to many other questions. Our best guess is that we all saw rationality in light of self-improvement, rather than as an appendix to transhumanism.

We have a shared expectation in the group that each member should at least “become an adult”, which approximately means: self-control (not procrastinating, completing the tasks they set to complete, overcoming their ugh fields, avoiding addiction), self-reliance (taking care of one’s health and finance, using google before asking), emotional maturity (not acting like a child), reliability (remembering commitments, fulfilling promises, coming on time), assertiveness (clear communication, resisting peer pressure), agency, organization (not losing stuff, calendars and to-do lists), basic security, etc. This is apparently considered boring by some, but it is a standard that practically everyone fails to meet.

We suggest to keep it friendly and voluntary, but also start off by setting a high bar, preferably by example. At the first meetup, we had a presentation by one member, about their background and goals, with an emphasis on their workout routine, along with some hard data on exercise, such as duration, heart rate, calories burned… for example, it was interesting to see a graph of resting heart rate for the last year, reflecting some lifestyle changes during that year. This presentation itself already inspired more members to start tracking their data. Most other members did similar presentations later.

Talk about expectations and agree on infrastructure first. Lack of common understanding of “what is the point?” and practical problems are probably major contributors to why these things tend to fizzle out quickly in general. Agree on what form of reporting everyone thinks they would probably like to do (daily, weekly, meetup to meetup…). Then keep each other accountable.

Make it a private thing (with the fight club mindset), not some open, non-committal side event. Keep it small so that every individual stands out.

How much of the improvements do you attribute to the group vs self-directed growth?

It is not possible to provide an exact answer, because there were confounders such as people leaving university, getting or losing a job, and as a consequence having different amounts of free time. But we have some previous experience with self-directed growth before the group, and there are various tangible things that are clearly a result of the group: people exercising more frequently, changes in nutrition and supplementation, changes in investment strategy. Some members report feeling better and being more relaxed in stressful social settings, as a result of having a group where they are normal (a group that accepts both their rationality and self-improvement). Plus some business activities done together.

we should make death star

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