When I first wrote up my plan to fast in honor of Nikolai Vavilov and his institute staff, I conceived of it as basically a thing for myself, that might interest a few other people. It both got much more response than I expected, and more response (positive and negative) treating it as a bid for community structure rather than one of many things that someone, somewhere was doing. That wasn’t my goal and to be honest I feel trepidatious about the concept: I was going for a very specific thing and I’m simultaneously really happy it resonated with so many people and concerned about dilution

But the Vavilov Day concept clearly has enough energy behind it that I don't feel right blocking discussion. I continue to not want to host that discussion on a personal post about my own choices, so have created this post instead. 

Some things I think might be good to share here:

  • Your specific observation of Vavilov Day and how it felt (I was surprised a lot of people defaulted to a 36 hour fast; to the extent other people joined in I expected them to pick their own thing)
  • Feelings about the core concept and ontology
    • Ideally keeping discussion about the larger patron saints/holiday anarchy discussion over on that post instead.
  • What you’d like to be different or the same for you next year.

 

In my ideal world, this conversation is a bunch of individuals discussing actions and ideas to figure out what works best for them. But some of the pent-up discussion is about that attitude (vs. something more community built), and I don't get to declare my view correct by fiat. However I will ask that you keep that frame in mind and, if someone's responses don't make sense or seem oppressive, consider that this might be why.

 



 

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I saw your original Vavilov post and thought it was a great idea. The history of cereal crops is really interesting, and Vavilov, like the other greats in the field during the 20th century (i.e. Borlaug), had a successful strategy(ies) for enhancing food production that boiled down to:

  1. Scour the globe for the crops that grow in the harshest conditions.
  2. Collect the seeds.
  3. Plant elsewhere.

Utterly simple and it worked. Huge impact for the betterment of humanity. I found this to be inspiring and tickling to my sense of aesthetic, so I tried a three-day fast (25th-27th). It was difficult, though not as hard as I initially thought; the worst of it was trying to focus on my work while my coworker was eating pasta three feet away and the scents were wafting directly into my rhinencephalon. Last night I actually had a dream about eating a sandwich, and I was so disappointed in myself for breaking the fast early I snapped awake about two hours early. 

Day one was pretty easy for me; in the recent past I had started a low-cal diet for breakfast and lunch, and there's not much difference between 400 calories and 0 calories over a 12 hour period. 

Day two started picking up, especially towards the end of the day, when I found myself losing concentration easier and taking noticeably longer to complete certain tasks (i.e. finding where I left off reading a document, needing to triple-check my math before moving on).

Day three saw the start of mild muscle weakness, especially in my legs. Instead of standing and stretching my legs once per hour, it was now once every three or four, simply because I stopped feeling the urge to walk around. 

In retrospect, it would have been a good idea to collect various health metrics, like pulse rate, blood pressure, reaction times, cognitive tests; the simple stuff before, during, and after the fast, and track various changes. How long can you go without eating before your average reaction time resembles that of a persons with a blood/alcohol level of .08%? How long before your average time to solve an addition problem of a given difficulty doubles? Triples? How about typing rate, and the rate of mistakes made? While I'm sure many have studied this sort of thing for decades, it would have been a fun exercise in data collection and plotting.

KingSupernova, I ran virtually the exact opposite of the strategy you suggested, and now I wish I had tried, like the metaphorical smoker quit for 20 years, to keep a packet of oreos or something in my shirt pocket and see how that would have changed the situation. 

Overall, a great exercise in self-discipline, not to mention a valuable history lesson. Next year I'll shoot for a week and make sure to record some data.

Have you taken electrolytes?

Not during the fast, just plain water.

Good point to bring up here which is electrolyte shortage can produce some of the very symptoms i felt. I completely failed to consider this (or even read some Fasting-101 blog post or NIH study) before jumping feet first into a three day fast. Take this as a rule of thumb: Is there anything you'd want to know that a 5-minute google search could tell you?

Thoughts on having part of the holiday be "have tasty food easily accessible (perhaps within sight range) during the fast"?

Pros:

  • It's in keeping with the original story.
  • It can help us see the dangers of having instant gratification available, and let us practice our ability to resist short-term urges for long-term benefits.
  • If the goal of rationalist holidays is to help us feel like our own community, then this could help people feel more "special". Many religions have holidays that call for a fast, but as far as I know none of them expect one to tempt themselves.

Cons:

  • It makes the fast harder. If people are used to their self-control strategy being "don't tempt myself", this will be new to them, and if they end up breaking their fast, they'd likely feel demoralized.

It looks like you're framing this as a decision being made by and for a group as a whole (as opposed to an individual observation designed by and for each person themselves). Can you say more on why you believe that's the best frame? My sense is a lot of the off-LW conflict over Vavilov Day boils down to the framing of individual vs. collective decision.

The framing wasn't an intentional choice, I wasn't considering that aspect when I made the comment. I haven't been privy to any of the off-LW conflict about it, so it wasn't something that I was primed to look out for. I am not suggesting that there should be a community-wide standard (or that there shouldn't be). I intended it as "here's an idea that people may find interesting."

This conjures a mental image of getting a particularly delicious and delicious-looking dessert and leaving it front and center on the table for the 3 days, not to be cut into until the fast is over. This could fit well with a modified form of food abstinence, such as avoiding all sweet snacks and desserts, for those whose work demands or other circumstances are incompatible with complete fasting.

If many people observed in this way, I would imagine a competitive aspect emerging: who can celebrate by not-eating the most tempting-looking Vlavilov Day treat?

While friendly competition can be good in many contexts, I don't think this is one of them. The holiday is about a dedicated team who were willing to die together for their cause. I don't think competing to see who can go the longest without food would really be in the spirit of the holiday. I suspect it would also lead to bad feeling, having to police for cheating, etc.

So this wound up going poorly for me for various reasons. I ultimately ended up not doing the fast, and have been convinced that I’m not going to be able to in the future either, barring unanticipated changes in my mental-health situation. Other people are going to be in a different situation and that seems fine. But there are a couple community-level things that I feel ought to be expressed publicly somewhere, and this is where they're apparently allowed, so:

First, it's not a great situation if there are like three rationalist holidays and one of them is this dangerous/unhealthy for a substantial fraction of people (e.g., eating disorders, which appear to exist at a high rate in the ratsphere). As far as I can tell, nobody intended that outcome; the original Vavilov Day proposal was like 90% “individual thing to do for personal reasons”, 10% “new rationalist holiday”, and then commenters here and on social media seized on the 10% because we currently don’t have enough rationalist holidays and people are desperate for more. (This is why, e.g., the original suggestion that people propose alternative ways of honoring Vavilov didn't get any traction; that wouldn't have met the pent-up demand for more ritual as effectively, so there wasn't interest.) But it meant that the choice was between “do something that's maybe not at all a good idea for you” and “lose access to communal affirmation of shared values with no available substitute”. The idea here isn't that there shouldn't be anything this risky; it’s that something this risky should be one thing among many, and right now we aren't there.

The counterpoint is that if we hold every new idea to a “good for the overall shape of the community” standard then defending ideas from critics becomes too unrewarding and we don't get any new ideas at all. Bulldozer vs. vetocracy, except mediated by informal community attitudes rather than by any authority. This seems like a valid point to me and I don't have any particularly helpful thoughts about how to navigate this tradeoff.

(It might have been possible to mitigate the tradeoff—assuming we wanted something like Vavilov Day to be a rationalist holiday at all, rather than an individual thing, which maybe we didn't—by putting more overt focus on questions like “how should people decide whether this is good for them” and “how should people whom this isn't good for relate to it”. But while these seem pretty non-costly to me, it might be the case that other people have different ideas for what non-costly precautions should be taken, and if you try to take all of them then it's not non-costly anymore. Again, I don't know.)

Second, I’ve heard from multiple sources that some people had concerns about the event but felt that they couldn’t express them in public. (You should take this claim with a grain of salt; not all of my knowledge here is firsthand, and even with respect to what is, since I’m not providing any details, you can’t trust that I haven’t omitted context that would lead you to a different conclusion if you knew it.) The resulting appearance of unanimity definitely left me feeling pretty unnerved and made it hard to tell whether I should participate. There are obvious reasons for people to refrain from public criticism—to the extent that it’s a personal thing, maybe we shouldn't criticize people's life choices, and to the extent that it’s a community thing, maybe we should err on the side of non-criticism in order to prevent chilling effects—and I don't really have any useful thoughts about what to think or do about this. I’m not sure anyone should particularly do anything differently based on this information. But I'd feel remiss if I allowed it to just not exist in public at all.

(This wound up being mostly about the meta-level ritual/holiday stuff, but I’m posting it in this thread rather than the other one because I wanted to say something about the application of that meta-level stuff to this particular situation, rather than about how to build rationalist ritual/holidays in full generality. I'm basically in favor of the things being suggested in the other thread; my only serious worry is that nobody will actually do them, given that many of them have been suggested before.)

The solution to your first problem may not be easy, but it is obvious: those who want community holidays with different emphasis and/or more variety of holidays can create those holidays. The culture belongs to those who put in the work to create it, both in practice and in justice. This goes double if you're correct that "we currently don’t have enough rationalist holidays and people are desperate for more" (which I have no independent opinion on).

(I just enabled agree/disagree voting for this thread, at Elizabeth's requeset)

I didn't know this was a thing. Is there a post that explains why it isn't turned on by default? I looked around but couldn't find anything about agreement voting from less than 10 years ago, and none of those directly addressed that question anyway.

And are there any other types of voting that are turned off by default?

This is an experimental feature we invented ~2 months ago. We've only ever used on 2-3 threads.

You can read about a different experimental voting system here.

You can read about a previous use of agreement/disagreement voting here

A little bit late, but I also particpated in this year's Vavilov Day, and suceeded!

It was my first ever fast longer than 16 hours, and I had no idea how well (or even if at all) I would manage. I started after dinner on the 25th and ended it with breakfast on the morning of the 27th, to spend less time of the fast awake.

At first, I just avoided food and otherwise went through my day as usual, to check where my limits were in the first place. The day went over quite smoothly, and at around 24 hours, when I knew just regular not-eating for 36 hours wasn't really hard for me, I went on to challenge myself by making waffles (a childhood favorite I hadn't had in a very long time), and saving them for the celebratory breakfast the next morning. Looking back, I believe that both the challenge and the reward were about appropriate to my capacity as a first timer.

I found the overall experience really interesting, and as I'm also favorable of the whole patron saint holiday idea, I'll be doing it again next year, perhaps with higher difficulty.

Of course all the people here have different levels of practice and varying limits, but maybe adding a ritual of preparing tempting food specifically to give it to others (to capture the spirit of saving something for somebody else at one's own loss) would be a nice community tradition.

Also, perhaps a fundraiser to support a cause related to securing global food supply? Though I have no idea how one would go about that. 

I had an obligation earlier tonight that would have conflicted with the fast, so I'm going to participate 2 days delayed I'll respond to this post with a brief description of how it went.

Regarding the length of the fast: I'll also be doing a 36 hour fast because it seems long enough to be challenging and short enough to be doable. The only other time frame I would consider trying is a 24 hour fast, but then I wouldn't have the experience of going to bed hungry, which feels somewhat central to the event.

I do enjoy that the fast breaks with breakfast.

I was surprised to feel my stomach rumbling at 11:00, a mere hour after starting the fast. I'm almost certain it was psychosomatic, since I'd had a normal sized dinner and then had an apple and a cookie around 9:30 to send things off. The rumbling continued as I went to bed, and I was a bit worried about tomorrow. I skip breakfast pretty often, so it wasn't until around 12:00 that I started getting hungry. Hunger is unpleasant for everyone, but I don't think I do very well with it even compared to the norm. I'll get lightheaded, headaches, and nauseous (which feels strange when attached to hunger). The grumbling got a bit worse, and I started to feel lightheaded. Around 2:00, to hopefully stave off a headache, I had some water and a grain of salt for the electrolytes (does that do anything? IDK, but I didn't get a headache all day which I'm grateful for). Later in the evening, someone I was having a call with took off for dinner, and I felt a bit of a lull. Normally I would fill that lull with a meal, it's what the pace of the day usually has for me. Instead I had some tea and went for a walk.

Walking kept my mind off my rumbling stomach, which seemed quite annoyed at me for skipping two consecutive meals. Since it was dinner time, the neighborhood was filled with wonderful smells. Someone was making a fragrant indian curry, and the aroma left a far more vivid image in my mind than it usually would. I was surprised to not be annoyed or jealous of the idea that other people would be enjoying that meal instead of me. I expect that if I were truly starving, if the fast did not have a definite and proximate end, that I would have been less cheerful about others enjoying something delicious that I wanted in that moment.

I don't usually have much self control with food in my house, instead relegating all self control to the grocery store. If there is junk food in the panty, I will absolutely snack on it. If there are drinks in the fridge, I will imbibe. For vavilov day, however, I actually found the willpower component quite easy. I was hungry, and the hunger was unpleasant, but I never really felt much temptation to cheat and eat something. I do remember marveling at how delicious the apples on the counter looked when I was in the kitchen making tea, but back in my room they were well out of mind. Instead of self control, the main difficulty I found with fasting was a lack of focus. I would be following an idea, and it would vanish into the aether, and I would have to think to myself what it was I was trying to think about.

I found falling asleep hungry easier than I thought it would be as well, with the hunger lingering in the background but staying out of focus as I drifted off. I awoke hungry, which was unusual for me, and I kept a much closer eye on the time than I usually do in the morning, and was happy to enjoy a rather large breakfast for me.

Overall, I'm glad I participated in the day of observation (holiday? exercise?). It got me to think about my relationship to food in ways that I usually ignore. I can still remember, a week later, the increased vividness that hunger gave to food that I saw and imagined. I think the length of the fast was appropriate for me at my experience level, although I might try a longer one in the future. I still like that the fast breaks with breakfast, so the next cutoff would be 60 hours, which seems like a long time but doable.

Thanks again for providing initiative behind this day, I was glad to be able to participate.

repost of Hamnox's comment from the original Vavilov Day post

 

uncomfortable squirm

In my culture, one is to be super wary of lionizing martyrs.

I want to be excited about cool new holiday ideas. I think trying a fast in a coordinated group is a splendid idea. I want to celebrate the amazing capacity of humans to care about others and to do hard things for good reasons.

 

but pain is not the unit of effort.

dying for the cause is not a success.

not every cost is avoidable, but i never, ever want to become the kind of person

who mistakes the price sacrificed for a value bought

 

In my culture there's a meta-tradition around ritual hardships or labors: you are to set aside at least 5 minutes, by the very clock, for considering how you might cheat. If you find you could get results without the hardship, you are expected to cheat for the results and then go find some other way to challenge yourself.


 

Hamnox is pointing out a real risk that should be taken into consideration. But I think that ~taking hardship too seriously can cause the hardship to expand, the same way some forms of back pain are made worse by babying them (others are made worse by pushing too hard. Sometimes the same person's back pain will alternate between these states. Reality is devastatingly complicated). Being too scared and not scared enough of hardship have both held me back at points, and although I didn't articulate it at the time, one of my goals in Vavilov Day was to quantify the cost of the hardship so I could make finer trade-offs.

I have overall been frustrated with the sense that rationalist holidays need to work for everyone, and would very much like to advocate for the concept that things can be hard, too hard for some people, and still very beneficial for others, and neither group is doing anything wrong. That goes both for "things some people are doing" and "no seriously, this is a community holiday"

I have done fasts before, but I did not partake in this year Vavilov Day, because, well, my birthday happens to fall in one of those days. 

Thinking about it afterwards, I should have. And I think this could be a positive thing to do for most people. Let me expand on that thought. 

  • First, Most people have never been in a state where their body does not have food in their stomach, and the sets of feelings that come with it are interesting and thought provoking at the least, and can be life changing at best. most humans historically have fasted, voluntarily and involuntarily, and I don't think removing these set of experiences fully from our life it's a good thing, so any effort on bringing it back is a net positive in my eyes, but again, I do fasts from time to time. 
  • Second, Done with a bit of care, meaning, taking enough electrolytes, the Keto Flu feeling disappears, and you are left with the feeling of constant energy that Ketosis gives you, which can be an interesting feeling, plus, Giving a break to our digestive system is actually valuable. 

The reason to celebrate Vavilov with a fast makes sense to me. Specially when doing a fast can increase focus, and celebrates a historical event that really changed the world. 

I hope to get in the bandwagon next year. 

On the main thread, I commented:

Just wanted to say that I think most rationalist "holidays" or "rituals" are pretty cringe, but this one strikes me as something much more real and valuable. I'm not sure I agree with your concept of "Patron Saint holidays" for the community as a whole but this one seems at least somewhat virtuous and noble in a way that I think a lot of other stuff misses.

I noticed some downvotes there, which I presume are thanks to my low opinion of much of rationalist "holidays" and "rituals". Would people be interested in discussing that more here? I think this one is notably better than what I've seen in other cases and I'm curious if people disagree, just don't like me expressing negativity about other events, or what.

As I said on that post, I didn't want to host a general discussion on rationalist holidays as a whole on that post in particular (but this one is fine), and didn't feel right leaving up a casual trashing of things deeply meaningful to other people without letting them respond. 

Any of the following would have made me feel better about the comment:

  1. framing the dislike as a fact about you rather than an objective fact about rationalist holidays
  2. giving explanations (beyond "cringe", which is often used to police caring too much about unpopular things)
  3. being its own post or a comment on one like this, rather than on a narrowly scoped and fairly personal post.

It wasn't about defending rationalist holidays for me because rationalist holidays only occasionally resonate with me. But I respect what they mean to other people and didn't like seeing them so casually torn down. 

Ah, gotcha. Yeah, it was meant mostly as an aside and one that strengthened my praise for Vavilov Day (as indicating that this is appealing even to someone who dislikes most rationalist holidays), but I suppose the dislike was too controversial and/or too flippant.

I may write a post of my own describing why I don't like rationalist holidays/think they can do better, but I think that post would itself likely be extremely controversial so I'd have to approach it carefully.

In my ideal world, one does not put major criticisms of something deeply meaningful to group A, in places where group A is obviously the target audience, in asides. That goes double when the host of that particular island in the archipelago does not want to host the discussion, and triple for anything more inflammatory than strictly necessary.  This doesn't mean criticism is banned or even discouraged, it just means that when you have a major difference in cruxes you focus on that crux rather than the implications of the crux (and in a place set up to handle that). 

I am interested in why Vavilov Day feels different to people than common rationalist holidays.  Czynski's comment on holiday cores on the original post was useful and cruxy. 

I am interested in why Vavilov Day feels different to people than common rationalist holidays.

 

I think that my comments on that will unfortunately involve substantial criticism of other rationalist celebrations in a way that you may not wish to host. I will perhaps write up another post with more detail.

I don't endorse the archipelago model for LW and this is a good example of why -- making that comment, I had no idea that you didn't want to host the discussion or in fact what your opinions on other rationalist holidays were. I'm happy to go along with your decisions since that is the model we have, but I'm not sure how I would have known what you thought on these matters from the post I commented on.

I suspect the downvotes are because you used the word "cringe", not merely because you were negative about rationalists holidays. That usage of "cringe" is disliked (example) and I think for a good reason.

Personally, I think Eliezer was straightforwardly wrong about that; I think the word is useful even if it's misused by some -- that said if we were to taboo "cringe" I think that if I had said "embarrassing and unworthy" or something like that I think it would have largely the same meaning.

I agree with this. In the twitter thread, Eliezer later posts an example where "cringe" is used in the sense of "tone deaf." I think that's closer to the original meaning and think it conveys something useful. 

For instance, I tend to feel cringe emotions when people approach a group with a certain mood (usually upbeat and "this is the best thing") but they are misreading the room and people in the room don't know what's going on and feel like the mood is out of place (or just happen to have a low hedonic setpoint and feel like they have not have signed up for something where they feel socially obligated to smile). 

In theory, it could also go in the other direction (oversharing about a depressive topic when the room isn't in the mood for that). I have more sympathies for that direction of misreading the room (or just not caring about keeping things "light"), but I could also imagine "cringy" to apply in that scenario. 

So I think it's probably a bad practice to call a general type of something ("rationalist rituals in general") cringe because it implies a judgment regardless of execution and regardless of whether the sort of people who self-select to attend can enjoy something together. But I think it could be appropriate (depending on the specifics) to say something like "rationalist rituals are often cringy" to imply that the way they are run often leaves people with a feeling of "this was trying too hard" or "this part felt very artificial."