Ritual Report: Boston Solstice Celebration

by Vika3 min read27th Dec 201319 comments


Personal Blog

A week after the large-scale Solstice celebration in NYC, we held a smaller one in Boston at Citadel house, with around 20 people attending. The content was essentially a subset (given below) of the 2012 NYC solstice set list - a mix of silly and serious songs and readings, and following a thematic progression from light to darkness and back to light. We had several people leading songs - Julia, Beth, Janos and me, with Jeff accompanying on the piano, and everyone else singing along using the slides. Here is a video of our rendition of Mindspace is Deep and Wide, courtesy of Julia.

A number of things went well about our celebration. The number of people was just right for keeping it cozy and personal, and fitting into the Citadel living room. It was great to have a variety of lead singers, and the others sang along readily. The piano accompaniment was especially awesome, and created a more solemn atmosphere. A highlight of the evening was Jim's inspirational and touching speech during the Moment of Darkness. The light-dark-light progression worked quite well with this subset of the original set list. The ceremony lasted for 90 minutes, which was a good length for immersing the audience without dragging on for too long. There was a decent amount of free-form discussion before and after the event, with some nice potluck food.

The parts that didn't go as well mostly had to do with last-minute preparation on our part. The event was planned during the preceding week, so we could have used a few more rehearsals of the songs and even more instrumental accompaniment (this time about half were acapella). We also went through the songs a little quickly, and many of them could have used more introduction or explanation. Next year, we will probably involve even more people in leading the songs, and it would be great to vary the set list and add more songs that have personal significance to the people involved. (This year, we added Jewel in the Night, composed on the International Space Station, which worked really well with the event theme.)

Another improvement would be to avoid disruptions caused by latecomers. Both in NYC last year and in Boston this year, there were people who rang the doorbell and came in during intense solemn portions of the event. As Jeff suggested, it would be a good idea to request ahead of time for people to arrive before time X, and to have a sign on the door saying "if it's after time X please come back after time Y".

I am really grateful to everyone who made this event happen, and to Ray for putting together the original materials. Singing rationalist-themed songs with friends felt awesome, and it seems like something we should probably do more than once a year!


Here is the set list we used:

Introduction: The Story of Winter
Why Does the Sun Shine (Part 0)
First Litany of Tarski: If the sky is blue...
Mindspace is Deep and Wide
God Wrote the Sky
Why Does the Sun Shine (Part 1)

One Wish
Still Alive
Ballad of Barry the Em(ulation)
Second Litany of Tarski: If I'm going to be outcompeted by simulated brains...
The X Days of X-Risk
Third Litany of Tarski: If humanity will be wiped out by unfriendly AI...
When I Die

Into Darkness
Beyond the Reach of God
Take my Love, Take my Land (Mal's song)
No One is Alone
The Gift We Give Tomorrow

Moment of Darkness

Brighter Than Today
Jewel in the Night
Lean on Me

Move the World
The Sun is a Miasma of Incandescent Plasma
Gonna be a Cyborg
Final Litany of Tarski: If human values will survive for five thousand years...
Five Thousand Years


19 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 11:10 AM
New Comment
[-][anonymous]8y 7

Nitpick: Does it bug anyone else to apply the Litany of Tarski on statements with undefined truth values (e.g. numbers 2-4 above), or is it just me?

If by undefined you mean that we don't know what the value is, then no, it doesn't bother me. If by undefined you mean that they have no truth value, as standard, then I don't think they are undefined.

Yeah, I actually regretted those choices last year. I ended up not using the Litany of Tarski at the Big Solstice this year, but if I had, I'd have stuck to things where the truth couldn't be dependent on what people believed the truth was.

Oh, I'm surprised. Do you mean that, e.g., being "outcompeted by simulated brains in a Malthusian hellhole race to the bottom" is less likely if more people believe that being "outcompeted by simulated brains in a Malthusian hellhole race to the bottom" is more likely, thus leading to an inconsistency?

Awareness-raising is really important and high-value, but unfortunately it only makes a marginal dent in x-risk. I mean, it may be rational to anticipate a scarily high probability of a Malthusian hellhole race to the bottom whether or not we personally try to stop it. The Solstice hymnal and ritual made me realize that on an emotional level.

On the other hand, maybe the probability of existential disasters conditioning on our best efforts is a thought that's too demoralizing even for a Solstice ritual.

Huh. Couple thoughts:

1) Solstice is meant to be scary. (How scary exactly depends on which crowd we're doing it for). "The world may end and it may in fact be dependent on our actions" is a primary point to it.

2) You're on a short list of people who have described the Solstice as actually helping you realize things on an emotional level, which was an intended purpose. So, good to know.

3) On one hand, "Outcompeted by simulated brains in a Malthusian Hellhole race to the bottom"'s probability may not depend that much on our personal actions, and framing the question is useful. But I did find it distracting to notice that the outcome dependent at least somewhat on my beliefs, and also might depend on the collective beliefs of everyone who attends Solstices, and I should take responsibility for that.

I also think it's useful to distinguish between Epistemic Rationality Rituals and Instrumental Rationality Rituals.

4) Re: your other comment about Tarski's theorem - interesting. Kind of wrapping my brain around that now.

Fun fact! Paradoxical propositions that are true if and only if you don't believe them are at the heart of Tarski's theorem on the undefinability of truth, and MIRI has figured out a way to make sense of them. Basically, if proposition P is true if and only if you assign less than 10% probability to P, then you ought to assign probability 10% to P, and you ought to believe that you assign probability "approximately 10%" to P.

Why do these statements have undefined truth values?

[-][anonymous]8y 1

See somervta's comment above. But, I disagree with them on their second point.

If, in response to "If I'm (not) going to be outcompeted by simulated brains, I desire to (not) believe...", I asked you "Am I going to be outcompeted by simulated brains?" you probably wouldn't say "yes" or "no". There's no territory to match up with the map, i.e. your belief of whether or not we'll be outcompeted.

I don't know... Maybe people define territory differently, to include events that haven't happened and things that don't exist yet?

Yep! Check out the B-theory of time.

You can say something like "if I am going to be outcompeted by simulated brains in X% of Everett branches", which is part of the territory (if you accept many-worlds), but is not verifiable. I agree that it's better to stick with testable statements, especially if introducing people to the Litany of Tarski, so we will be more careful with this for next year's Solstice.

What numbers and where are you referring to? I only see a bunch of song titles.

PhilipL is referring to the second, third and final Litanies of Tarski (in the Twilight section and the second Light section).

Ah, I see, thanks. I have to agree with PhilipL that applying the template to a possible future event turns the original meaning upside down. Unless maybe if you subscribe to Eliezer's idiosyncratic timeless "block universe" view.

note: shminux is a particularly vocal individual who strongly disagrees with the timeless "block universe" model

I don't agree or disagree with untestables.

I think these are great initiatives. Ever since reading Anathem (which was before I joined Less Wrong), I've wanted rituals and songs that fitted my worldview.

The one thing I wonder is how easy these are to export to the rest of the world (especially to places where English isn't the first language).

Great question! Clearly, there needs to be an equivalent of Ray composing rationalist songs in every language :). Translation is probably easier, but also likely to be lower quality and less relevant to people in other cultures than an original composition in their language. Now that you mention it, I might experiment with translating some songs into Russian.

Accompaniment: two thirds were acapella, one third was with piano:

Voices only: Mindspace is deep and wide, Why does the sun shine (part 1, 2), Still alive, The x days of x-risk, No one is alone, Jewel in the night, Move the world, The sun is a miasma, gonna be a cyborg

With piano: God wrote the sky, When I die, Mal's song, Brighter than today, Lean on me, Uplift, Five thousand years

This was good, though a few would have been helped with accompaniment. Primarily "still alive", because it's really syncopated. Jewel in the night would also have worked well that way.

Unless it's already there, please someone put the songs in the wiki!

Listening to rationalist songs could be another thing to motivate oneself.