Rationality Boot Camp

It’s been over a year since the Singularity Institute launched our ongoing Visiting Fellows Program and we’ve learned a lot in the process of running it.  This summer we’re going to try something different.  We’re going to run Rationality Boot Camp.

We are going to try to take ten weeks and fill them with activities meant to teach mental skills - if there's reading to be done, we'll tell you to get it done in advance.  We aren't just aiming to teach skills like betting at the right odds or learning how to take into account others' information, we're going to practice techniques like mindfulness meditation and Rejection Therapy (making requests that you know will be rejected), in order to teach focus, non-attachment, social courage and all the other things that are also needed to produce formidable rationalists.  Participants will learn how to draw (so that they can learn how to pay attention to previously unnoticed details, and see that they can do things that previously seemed like mysterious superpowers).  We will play games, and switch games every few days, to get used to novelty and practice learning.

We're going to run A/B tests on you, and track the results to find out which training activities work best, and begin the tradition of evidence-based rationality training.

In short, we're going to start constructing the kind of program that universities would run if they actually wanted to teach you how to think.

And then at the end, some of us are going to go to Burning Man for training in desert survival and living in an emotionally positive community.

When I call the program Rationality Boot Camp, I mean this quite literally.  Six days per week, participants will rise, meditate, prepare and eat food, attend lectures, participate in group and individual activities and exercise together.  

Everyone who applies needs to have read at least some of the Sequences, and may be assigned particular posts as makeup material - in which case you will need to read them before you arrive and you may be turned away otherwise.  Apart from that, we'll look for a mix of people who've demonstrated high productivity and who already seem like good epistemic rationalists.  The program will begin in the first week of June and continue through mid-August.  We will cover room, board and airfare.  We're going to try to take this up to the next level of awesome.  It's our first time trying something this ambitious and there will be speedbumps - and if that sounds very scary, consider applying next year when we'll know more for certain about how to teach people courage and the art of overcoming setbacks.  But if you're the sort of person who wants to be part of this program today, instead of putting it off into the indefinite future of maybe-never - or if you know that's the sort of person you want to be, and you're willing to put in the effort to reach up to that - then send in an application

Edit:

Attention:  Anyone still interested in attending the course must get their application in by midnight on Friday the 8th of April.  I would like to make the final decision about who to accept by mid April and need to finish interviewing applicants before then.        

I expect to accept between 10 and 15 people this summer.

I expect to make all decisions about acceptance before the end of April and will try to do so sooner.  I will start scheduling skype interviews in a few days and will not wait until an arbitrary date before accepting people.  Apply as soon as possible to maximize your chance of being considered for this summer!
Don't worry if you're not chosen this time.  This program is an experiment, and if all goes well we will be holding holding several (even better!) programs like it each year.  If we never hold it again, you probably didn't miss much.  

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Postscript first: I'm interested, and I would like to see you succeed. At my present level of information, I am pessimistic about your chances of success and my desire to attend.

10 weeks is a massive time commitment. That's as long as actual basic. Do you have a plan for all that time, or or is that just why you picked that number?

Because at 6 days a week at 11 hours a day (presuming you use the same time as basic) for 10 weeks, you're looking at 660 hours of training. I can see how you can fill 660 hours with exercise and drills; it's not clear to me mental or group exercises scale similarly.

The comparison to what colleges would do if they tried to teach you how to think seems off. The standard college course represents 42 hours of in-class time; summer courses do that at 14 hours a week for 3 weeks. You're proposing a college course and a half's worth of class time per week, for 10 weeks. Now, that's possibly doable- especially if what you're doing is more like pushups and less like absorbing lectures- but a proof of concept seems like a good plan.

I'm also curious about the "next level of awesome" line. What's your current level of awesome? Do any of the instructors have experience as drill sergeants or instructors? Have you done similar programs? You mention the visiting fellows but the only obvious carryover is "we know how to pay for travel/accommodations." When you say "speedbumps," what sort of things are you talking about? I'm imagining: running out of material three weeks in, the instructor resigning because of burnout, being unable to actually admit international students because of immigration concerns, critical staff becoming ill, having trouble securing a location, students withdrawing, and that's probably enough for now. How do our imaginations differ?

I'm also curious about how you select the curriculum. I can see how learning to draw is useful, but it's not clear to me that it's useful enough for everyone to learn it as part of basic. Is it rationality training or life-enjoyment training? How will you deal with people who are uninterested or unwilling to engage in some of the training?

My suggestion: any complex system that works derives from a simple system that works. A 1-week training program will help you figure out many of the speed bumps that could derail a 10-week training program. A 2-week program will be feasible for people who need to take vacation time to be able to attend, while still allowing you enough time to develop several skills. It also makes it easier to experiment with structure: do people learn to draw better when they do it for an hour a day for 2 weeks, or 4 3 hour blocks spread over 2 days? Instead of changing midway through, you run two separate camps and can compare the results.

Also, it's not boot camp unless a man in uniform is shouting at me. :3

More thoughts:

What are you going to do about sleep? The 9:30P - 5A schedule the US Army uses? A 3A-12N schedule? Will you schedule night owls and morning larks differently, or force everyone to be one type?

One of the intentions of boot camp is shared suffering. The last line of the parent comment was sort of a joke, but the more I think about it the more serious it is. Hazing actually increases group strength, and one of basic's functions is as a giant hazing program. Drill sergeants are trained to be hateable in a precise way. Is shared suffering one of your goals? Are you skilled at controlling how you make other people suffer?

Suffering is a big part of being a soldier and being physically active, but not necessarily part of being a rationalist and being mentally active. Will you keep that for the group effects, or try and make the process as pleasant as possible? Is rationality training something that goes better when you force it, like physical training or unit cohesion, or something that goes worse when you force it? Will you try to manage/preserve the curiosity of students, and how? How skilled are you at detecting and manipulating the bounds of human endurance?

Is there a reason you picked boot camp (training to become a soldier) as a model instead of novice or postulant in the Bayesian Order (training to become a monk)? Monks do the things you mention, and tend to have a more recognizably mental focus than soldiers, and seem much like a much more obvious model.

I've gone twice to IHS seminars (applications close in a week!), and greatly enjoyed the experience. They're week-long, with 4 105 minute lectures a day, lots of discussion time, and a nightly social that supposedly ends at midnight, before (optional) breakfast the next morning at 8. The other students are great, and I still keep up with several that I've met there, but the professors are the real draw. The slogan is "sleep less and think more," and it's clear by the end of the week that the pace isn't sustainable (the middle day has a free afternoon which I use to catch up on sleep, so I tend to be better off than most).

I still can't get over the time. 10 weeks is basic combat training. 10 weeks is Y Combinator (and they're the same 10 weeks). 10 weeks is two summer sessions at college, or almost a full long semester. 660 hours at California's minimum wage is $5,280. A 10-week communal experience is a good format for many things, but I don't yet see why it's a good format for rationality training, and risking that much time on something under someone else's control seems risky at best.

I agree with Vaniver about the time commitment issue. Even ignoring being able to find things for people to do for all that time, and accounting for burnout, and similar troubles, there remains the problem that ten weeks is a sizeable portion of someone's life. Most people, especially those who work during the summer, will have a lot of difficulty putting their lives on hold for two and a half months.

At this point in my life, I could not sacrifice a summer of job experience (and the money I would earn from that). I would be happy, ecstatic even, to attend something like this for one, maybe two, weeks, but ten is simply too much time. Running shorter workshops would also let you do some research, and iron out the wrinkles before you try something on this scale.

I appreciate what you're trying to accomplish, and it's a great idea, and a valiant effort, but I think you're going too big, too fast.

(Disclaimer: As a past SIAI Visiting Fellow and current Bay Area resident, I've talked to Jasen about his plans, but do not speak for him or SIAI.)

I think you may be overextending the "boot camp" analogy a bit beyond the intended connotations of organization/discipline/intensity. That said:

Suffering is a big part of being a soldier and being physically active, but not necessarily part of being a rationalist and being mentally active.

Doing anything hard often involves fear, frustration, self-doubt, disapproval, sacrifice, and other sorts of pain. Not suffering in response to these signals, and not letting them overly sway your actions (giving up too soon, or not doing scary things) is really useful. Make no mistake, the intent of the course is not just to train theoretical rationality, but to enable people to do hard and meaningful things.

(I don't mean to say that causing suffering is an intended part of the course, just to state why I think learning to withstand pain is more important to becoming a formidable rationalist than it sounds like you do.)

Will you keep that for the group effects, or try and make the process as pleasant as possible? Is rationality training something that goes better when you force it, like physical training or unit cohesion, or something that goes worse when you force it? Will you try to manage/preserve the curiosity of students, and how? How skilled are you at detecting and manipulating the bounds of human endurance?

These are good questions.

I don't mean to say that causing suffering is an intended part of the course, just to state why I think learning to withstand pain is more important to becoming a formidable rationalist than it sounds like you do.

I agree with you that it is very important and a very valuable skill. What I was trying to get across is that the suffering faced by a solider and a rationalist are different kinds of suffering, and the same strategies may not be effective. Does the ability to continue pumping iron, despite your screaming muscles, translate into the ability to speak in public, despite your screaming brain?

These are good questions.

Thanks!

Does the ability to continue pumping iron, despite your screaming muscles, translate into the ability to speak in public, despite your screaming brain?

Yes.

Interesting. I haven't had any fear of public speaking, and so I don't know what it's like to overcome it (while I do have difficulty motivating myself to continue exercising). Are there other mental fears / obstacles that seem like good examples?

I guess 'noticing a bias' might be an entirely orthogonal skill, but I'm not sure if that's applicable.

Mind you I wouldn't call pumping iron despite your screaming muscles a particularly efficient way to improve your ability to speak in public despite your screaming brain. But it certainly helps. Some relevant mediating factors:

  • Improved willpower and self control.
  • Decreased salience of psychological distress - you can feel the discomfort without it needing to control or define you.
  • Increased testosterone levels promote social risk-taking.
  • Physical conditioning increases self esteem - your perception of your own status. The instinct to not draw public attention - and not place yourself above your station - is intrinsically linked to your relative status levels.
  • Exercise changes posture. Even things as simple as standing differently change how difficult public speaking is!

Regarding your comments on "shared suffering," increasing group strength, I find it interesting that the original poster mentions, "And then at the end, some of us are going to go to Burning Man for training in desert survival and living in an emotionally positive community." I have heard many people comment that the shared hardships of the Playa (dust storms, wild temperature swings, alkaline corrosion of everything around, and paralyzing post-rain mud, to name a few) are much of what makes the community work as well as it does. Having attended last year, I'm inclined to agree, but would love to understand more concretely (data, research, ...) what aspects, if any, of Burner culture (gifting, for example?) can be causally linked to shared hardship.

Back on topic, wouldn't this be a great chance for a study on shared hardship? Put half of the participants on the top floor of a leaky dorm with no elevator and old, crummy utilities, and the other half in cushy appartments... maybe change locations halfway through, so the "advantage" is reversed.

Though I guess with only 10-15 participants, the amount of useful data will be limited.

In any case, if the organizers doesn't already know about the cohesion-inducing effects of shared hardship, they may well learn about them at Burning Man...

It seems likely to me that people invest more in friends when things are going poorly because that's when friends are more valuable. When you're in a desert, you probably realize on some level that foraging is a bad strategy and you are a hairless primate dependent on the other hairless primates around you. But I don't know a way to test that explanation.

I can see how learning to draw is useful, but it's not clear to me that it's useful enough for everyone to learn it as part of basic.

Do you have other suggestions for "learn[ing] how to pay attention to previously unnoticed details, and see[ing] that they can do things that previously seemed like mysterious superpowers"?

Not at the moment.

I am skeptical of its value for the second one- but that's because I'm not directly familiar with art instruction. All of the people I know who can draw are artists who have been drawing without instruction for thousands of hours more than they have been drawing with instruction, and while I am aware that almost anyone can learn how to draw competently I don't how long it takes to learn under instruction. If it could be done in a few days, or an hour's practice each day for ten weeks, then it would probably be worthwhile as a confidence-building measure. But it's not clear to me that it's a better confidence-building measure than alternatives.

And that's my main point- not "I don't think that X is a good plan" but "I don't see enough reason to accept your judgment on this issue." What alternatives did they consider to drawing? How did they consider them? How did they decide what fraction of their time should be spent on confidence-building, and what fraction should be spent on rationality-building?

Also, is there an alternate subject for people who already know how to draw?

I am curious about the curriculum you come up with. Will it get published?

Wow! I saw this and got all excited and read the application, then my brain calmed down and asked, "Do you really think you can get away for two months this summer? What about work?"

Then, "Also, you're getting married in July."

So that's out.

Would you consider "franchising" (i.e. sending around the curriculum, syllabus, and maybe a "lessons-learned" document to interested chapters in other cities)?

"Also, you're getting married in July."

Congratulations :)

Congrats indeed!

We'll definitely be writing up a detailed curriculum and postmortem for internal purposes and I expect we'll want to make most if not all of it publicly available.

I hope that everyone who takes part is encouraged to write about their experience, whether the boot camp turns out to be useful for them or not.

I think it's tempting (commitment bias? not wanting to confront a halo effect?) to not talk about it when one and the the people around one have put a good bit of effort into something, and it doesn't work well for some of the people doing it. However, this can include really valuable information.

One thing I'm curious about for the boot camp is how quickly people can learn this sort of material. What's the mix between "that hurts, I don't have to do it any more" and "that's a major revision of personality, and it takes down time to make sense of it and/or grow the necessary neurons"?

Someday I'd like to teach an undergraduate course on rationality at Smith college. It would be helpful to me if you kept track of exercises you think could work well for undergraduates.

Also, I'll be teaching an undergraduate course in game theory in the fall and am very open to having the class engage in rationality games.

To what degree will opting out of specific exercises/events be accepted or tolerated?

(Mostly asking out of curiosity, but if I were seriously considering going this would be a significant issue; I have a rather firm policy of not considering myself obligated to do things unless I've actively agreed to the specific thing, including reserving the right to decline to do things based on the tone or context of the request or demand, as an anti-foot-in-the-door measure, and your description of the nature of the event leads me to be unsure of whether this policy would get me sent home or otherwise cause problems.)

Good question. I haven't quite figured this out yet, but one solution is to present everyone we are seriously considering with as much concrete information about the activities as we can and then give each of them a fixed number of "outs," each of which can be used to get out of one activity.

What advantages are you getting back in return for committing to an inflexible policy in advance rather than deciding what to do as the situation actually arises?

A "boot camp" is quite specifically an immersion experience, with the unfortunately cultic effects AdeleneDawner wishes to avoid. This would require detailed information beforehand, yes. It sounds way cool (and I'd love to be able to go myself), but FINE-GRAINED CONSENT ISSUES ARE REALLY QUITE IMPORTANT to many people.

I'm not even worried about cult issues - I'm fairly confident that I'd notice and extricate myself from such a situation if there was one. (I've done so before, more than once.) It's more of an issue of consistently being a certain kind of person: Rather like Alicorn and Eliezer don't lie, I don't base my actions on other peoples' assumption or pressures regarding what I should or will do. (It may be noteworthy that this isn't the same as not taking peoples' likely reactions to my actions into account.)

I tried to make the same point, by way of a joke (I wrote that the seminar on Xenu and thetans was mandatory). Lost karma, deleted the joke before I lost too much karma. If I lose karma on this I'll delete this comment too.

I deliberately condition myself to not be afraid of losing karma. Trying to strike a balance between accepting other peoples opinions and listening to my own judgement is difficult. But when too many people delete anything which is unpopular, a sites content becomes monolithic.

Although since it was an easy to misinterpret joke, my karma policies may be irrelevant. Feel free to downvote.

I've decided I would rather have more comments than more karma... And the two do seem to be somewhat inversely related. My first post, on a nice non-controversial topic like reaction speed, has triple the karma of my post on religious communities...but the latter has triple the comments of the former. Maybe people tend to comment more on something they disagree with. I think that ultimately the comments people make are more productive and useful for me to change my mind or see things from a new perspective, whereas karma really just means I can brag to my brother.

I suspect that more comments means that more people thought about it harder as well.

This site is based on reddit tech. I joined hacker news, which is related, made my first comment, which lost karma. My karma was at that point slightly below zero. And guess what happened at that point. nobody saw any of my comments from that point forward, because I was below reading threshold, which meant also that my karma was stuck (I think it was -4). I checked, by logging off and looking for my own comments. I fixed the problem by creating a new account, which gained karma steadily.

But what kind of system is one which permanently silences someone who happens to go negative on his first try? Reflection on this soured me toward hacker news and I eventually left, haven't been back. The obvious fix is to start people off with, say, 50 karma points. Give people a chance, don't silence them if their first comment displeases somebody. Which I don't see anybody implementing.

Right now, I have karma below 200. I want to build up karma because I don't want to have to create a new account.

Frankly, though, I don't care for karma. I think the main use of karma is to prevent flame wars, because obviously, if you say something really offensive, your karma will drop off a cliff and go negatively quickly. That's about it. I don't think it is otherwise terribly useful.

My karma was at that point slightly below zero. And guess what happened at that point. nobody saw any of my comments from that point forward, because I was below reading threshold, which meant also that my karma was stuck (I think it was -4).

I did not know that. That makes no sense! I assumed the karma would start at zero for each comment, and if it went below the threshold, then that comment would disappear, but that any new comments would start at zero and be visible, and might get upvoted based on its merits.

Also, for me karma has a definitive role as a motivator to make intelligent, well-thought out comments and posts.

Also, for me karma has a definitive role as a motivator to make intelligent, well-thought out comments and posts.

Indeed, when a post of mine gets high karma I can't help but think "wow, I'm brilliant". However, I'm afraid that the reality of karma doesn't quite match our ideas about it. Your conscious understanding of the effect of karma on your commenting is that it motivates you to make intelligent, well-thought out comments. But if you're like a typical human, and I think you are, then you are adapting your writing, largely without conscious awareness, in the direction of whatever maximizes karma, even when that conflicts with maximizing rationality, and, I think, it quite often does. I've seen karma turn other sites useless. I think that there must be some way to either improve or replace karma systems, so that their intended function is performed, but without ultimately ruining the forum.

But you know what, I'm not sure that if karma could be improved to better serve its supposed purpose, it would be. Karma, as currently implemented, is status, and people love status, they love pecking orders. So, even though karma-as-status serves our darker selves, it's probably not going to go away.

A more genuinely useful rating system would probably move in the direction of the Netflix rating system. But that system would not give a person an overall score, and therefore rank, within the community. Rather, it would score a person differently depending on who was looking at the score. The score I saw would not be the score somebody else saw.

And there would be no gradual accumulation of karma over time, which mimics seniority. People love their seniority. It's a much loved form of status. Instead, in a Netflix-like system, participants would quickly, almost immediately, achieve a karma matching that of long-time participants. Nobody would want that. People want their status, their pecking order, so even though it doesn't genuinely serve rationality, that's probably what they're going to want to stick with.

I think the karma system on LessWrong works surprisingly well, as long as people remember that "Vote up" and "Vote down" means "more like this" and "less like this", rather than "agree/disagree". There are standard beliefs and some groupthink, but you can still get upvoted for quite cutting criticisms if you show in your comment that you've done your homework and understand what you're objecting to.

I don't think there's anything broken about the current system. Certainly the comments on LessWrong are exceedingly high quality in general, particularly compared to pretty much any other site.

I believe that the quality of the comments could very easily be independent of the existence of the karma system and dependent, instead, on the high quality and low number of participants. It might well be that pretty much any crude moderation system would work about as well. I remember certain Usenet groups which were quite high quality, in particular comp.ai.philosophy (I think it was called), back around 1991 or so. I had some satisfying discussions there, at quite a high level. So, it's not as though high quality conversation was not to be had in an unmoderated forum, provided the participants were sufficiently few and sufficiently good, which was I think largely achieved in that group. In larger groups there was more noise.

Karma depends on voters, so a low-population forum will not be much affected by karma. Karma really kicks in, really affects what goes on, when the number of participants goes up. And what happened at Digg and Reddit are examples of what I expect to happen anywhere where the forum explodes. Karma becomes a powerful tool of groupthink, firmly establishing an echo chamber.

I suspect this is part of the normal lifecycle of Internet forums. A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy by Clay Shirky is the standard work on the topic.

Contrariwise, a group norm against status rankings does not stop them happening - it just means they form where you're not looking and bite you in the backside. The Tyranny of Structurelessness by Jo Freeman is the standard work on this topic.

To summarise the summary: people remain a problem.

And guess what happened at that point. nobody saw any of my comments from that point forward, because I was below reading threshold, which meant also that my karma was stuck (I think it was -4). I checked, by logging off and looking for my own comments. I fixed the problem by creating a new account, which gained karma steadily.

I'm pretty sure the comment-visibility rules are different depending whether you're logged in or not. The reason for that is because the logged-out view is what search engines see, so it's especially important to keep bot-produced spam hidden there. Logged-in users have a configurable, per-comment threshold.

I'd think a better idea would be to either make Karma two numbers (like -4:135) where the first is the score and the second is across posts, or to set the level to hide some body at a slight negative level--this way the negative is shown (as an indicator/warning) but the writer is not hidden unless they persist in flaunting the sites norms.

It is intended to automatically filter trolls, but being locked out after one bad comment does seem harsh. I would not worry about managing your karma now though... It would take a significant series of widely detested posts for you to be stuck making a new account.

I don't even think it was a bad comment. It was an off color joke which would have gone over well in some forums. :)

I think you underestimate the difficulty of preventing a rapidly growing forum from degenerating into nothing but off color jokes.

"Boot camp" may be a rather unfortunate metaphor for SIAI to have used. From Wikipedia: "Recruit training is the initial indoctrination and instruction given to new military personnel ... The process of transforming civilians into soldiers, sailors, coast guardsmen, Marines or airmen has been described by military historian Gwynne Dyer as a form of conditioning in which inductees are encouraged to partially submerge their individuality for the good of their unit."

"______ Boot Camp" seems to be a reasonably common construction, and I've always understood it to refer simply to intensive training in some specialized topic, without being especially evocative of the more sinister aspects of its military namesake.

(Though if accepting the full metaphor means we're taking it as a given that militaries are cults (indeed prototypical of cults), I'll take it!)

The first downvote - and only one I saw - was mine, and I gave it because it wasn't at all clear whether you were trying to belittle my concern or not. Given that you've clarified: Here, have your karma point back. :)

Intensive training often involves doing things you would not normally make yourself do, but if I go and they ask me to do anything truly insane or unethical, I would opt out whether it was tolerated or not. That said, I trust most people here enough that I am extremely doubtful this will be necessary.

There's another category besides insane and unethical, both of which I take to mean activities which would be bad for anybody.

What about individual overload? The challenge of developing a program like a boot camp is having some idea of what challenges will be useful rather than damaging, in a context where people are assumed to be too cautious with themselves.

Is there such a thing as too much for the participants? If so, what methods will the people running the boot camp use to recognize it?

My first thought was a slightly more sophisticated version of "OMG, WANT!". This seems like a brilliant idea, and I'd absolutely love to see it come to fruition. I can taste the sweet hintings of a future rationality dojos, already envision the unfolding of a greater future where more is possible. Ten weeks dedicated strictly to the Art, with other people who will actually CARE DEEPLY about being sane. How could I NOT want to be there? I'm a little iffy on whether or not all of these ideas are really the best, but hey--it's a work in progress.

I open up an application and start typing. But I'm finding myself intimidated by vastly open-ended form questions, and the mention that they're looking for "people who've demonstrated high productivity" and "who already seem like good epistemic rationalists". I have no such qualifications; I'm inexperienced, lazy, and honestly, I've internalized frustratingly little of what I've 'learned' on LessWrong. So I close the window.

But, the only way I can possible be sure that I won't get in is if I don't apply. And I do want to go, I really want this experience. So I open it and start again.

Then close it once more a few seconds later. Open. Close. Open. Close.

I think I may have a problem.

I think I also understand why rejection therapy is part of the curriculum. Unwillingness to put yourself out there is a severe handicap to winning.

I open up an application and start typing. But I'm finding myself intimidated by vastly open-ended form questions, and the mention that they're looking for "people who've demonstrated high productivity" and "who already seem like good epistemic rationalists". I have no such qualifications; I'm inexperienced, lazy, and honestly, I've internalized frustratingly little of what I've 'learned' on LessWrong. So I close the window.

Here, I will do you a favor. Here are my answers to those open-ended form questions. I have given you a benchmark - you need only do better than these questions and you know you did not submit the worst answers!

And now for some gratuitous & tangentially-related anime quotations:

Shinji:         What should I do?
Gendou:         I give you a constraint.
Asuka:          Now you have a top and a bottom.
Rei:            Now you have lost one degree of freedom.
Misato:         Now you have to stand on the ground.
Ryouji:         But you obtain a comfort.
Makoto:         Your mind becomes slightly easier.
Shigeru:        And you walk.

Here, I will do you a favor. Here are my answers to those open-ended form questions.

Well worth a read, purely for the cognitive enhancement discussion. I've seen (and been interested in) your DNB experiences before but hadn't encountered the iodine supplementation research.

Update: I've written substantially more on iodine at http://www.gwern.net/Nootropics#iodine (Covering background, children/adult IQ studies, meta-analysis, power calculations, and value of information.)

Yeah, iodine is an interesting topic. There's some evidence from Japan (all that seafood & seaweed) that current Western levels are too low and we could get a bit of IQ from boosting iodization, but the really big gains are elsewhere. Some further reading:

(I was actually going to get some iodine for my latest batch of pills, but then Fukushima happened and utterly obliterated the iodine market, obviously.)

I'm currently learning to draw on my own using the book "Drawing on the right side of the brain" by Betty Edwards, and it has really felt like using a cheat code to gain a mysterious superpower in a couple weeks of not-very-stressful work. (I'm 28 and never learned to draw before.) In fact I'm pretty sure that your bootcamp will use something like her technique, right?

That book was part of what gave me the idea. I expect most of the exercises will come from it.

it has really felt like using a cheat code to gain a mysterious superpower in a couple weeks of not-very-stressful work.

How has drawing come in useful (that it's a superpower, mysterious or not)?

While I myself never invested the necessary time to learn the craft of drawing, my father choose it as a study-object. He always said that it is, indeed, a craft, not some magical skill granted by the art-fairy; and with http://lesswrong.com/tag/self-help/ in mind I am suspicious of Betty Edwards method.

To put it crudely, what is new in the book is not good, and what is good is not new, but there is still much that is good. More specifically, the new (new for her time - it's an old book) left brain/right brain theory that she advances is dubious and I think debunked, but the largely traditional exercises, such as contour drawing, that she prescribes are good.

In the spirit of The Best Textbooks on Every Subject, which book would you say is the best introduction to drawing and which two specific books that you've read/used is it superior to, and why?

Yeah, I just skipped the brain theory stuff and went straight for the exercises.

Heh, now that brings back memories. Yes, the pop neuroscience part of the book is best taken more metaphorically than literally, but with that in mind, I found it an excellent practical guide.

What's the expected time load -- "full-time" or "all-consuming"? I can probably keep my freelance work down to about 20 hours a week, but would have to break the lease on my apartment to cut it down to nothing.

OK. What's the purpose of having it be all-consuming? Are you selecting for people who are truly committed? Are there returns to scale? Are you trying to break people out of old habits by denying them time in which to indulge them?

Indeed -- can someone speak to this? I'm married with a full time engineering job. There's no way I could get 10 weeks for this, despite how much I really, really, really want to. This seems tailored toward the unemployed, students, or simply those with ridiculously flexible work arrangements that I can't even fathom.

I favor the post above about making materials available. Heck.. maybe you should video record all the lectures as well.

I definitely see the benefits of "full immersion" -- it's just that at a certain point in life, I can't see ever being able to "fully immerse" myself again. I finally have the awareness and desire for things like this... but it's at a time when I can't participate. When I could have participated, I don't think I would have fully appreciated what a fantastic opportunity something like this would have been.

Does that make sense?

This seems tailored toward the unemployed, students, or simply those with ridiculously flexible work arrangements that I can't even fathom.

Pretty sure most of SIAI's visiting fellows so far have been unemployed or students--based on my experience with the fellows program, it's all-consuming in the sense that the fellows do most of their work and recreation in close proximity to other fellows. (And the fellows program used to be a summer fellows program, for what that's worth.)

A friend of mine pointed out that the folks that were part of the fellows program didn't seem terribly practical or results-oriented, and I suppose in retrospect this selection of unemployed folks could have been the reason why. (Come to think of it, when I knew people in the summer visiting fellows program, there were a few who were practical and results-oriented--I suppose this might have been a result of their falling in to the "student" category instead of the "unemployed" category. My friend only had experience with folks in the non-summer fellows program.)

Makes sense to me -- I'm in quite a similar position.

You stated in the original post that the activities will be performed six days per week. On the seventh day, will there be time for personal research, or are there plans for that day as well?

Sounds good to me... I cannot say that I have ever been involved in something this long that could take up nearly all of my time, but I tend to do well under pressure.

It sounds fun... Hopefully they will do it again at some point in the future when I no longer find myself obliged to work all summer to pay tuition.

Yeah, I really should be saving up over the summer as well. But then again... It will probably only get more difficult to go in the future. They might start charging, I will probably have a full time job, and an apartment to deal with.

Yeah, I also could maybe deal with full-time right now, but not 10 continuous all-consuming weeks.

It will definitely cost us money but, due to its experimental nature, will be free for all participants for this iteration at least. If we continue offering it in the future, we will probably charge money and offer scholarships.

How much is it likely to cost in the future? That is, what's the opportunity cost of not applying now? An approximate answer is fine.

Yes, it certainly sounds like it will cost someone a fair bit of money. I think that someone will be SIAI and its donors, though (note to self: time to write a check!)

Minor request: Could you let those of us that have been rejected without an interview know?

(ie, I just want to know if I was/will "potentially will be interviewed and/or accepted" or "already was rejected", thanks.)

Sounds awesome. I don't think I can swing 10 continuous weeks off from work, but if in the future you all develop shorter segments - say, 4 weeks - I'd jump at the opportunity.

Or, alternately, something straddling two calendar years (i.e. midpoint on January 1st).

And a pony, as long as I'm wishing.

Looking over the application now. Sadly many of the "list your accomplishments" sections in my case are going to be quite sparse... But hey, the only real cost to me re applying is fear of social embarrassment and a bit of time, so will just apply anyways, regardless. (At least I've read all the sequences...)

This would be great next year, when I take my gap year between high-school and uni. Although I must say, just seeing the results will be amazing in itself - I can't wait until you release the details of the games and such you used, and how well they worked. (I'm taking from your previous replies to comments that you intend on this, for now at least.)

Are there age limits? I saw on the application it asks about degrees, employment etc... which, as a 16-year-old, I don't have yet. But I think I could really benefit from this if it's still running in 2012.

I'm not going to say this is a brilliant idea, because I'm sure it's not original at all - but actually doing something about it, bringing this to life - that's brilliant. I'm sure it takes a hell of a lot of planning, effort and money: so thank you.

I'm really hoping this is the start of something that will grow, because the sense of pure awesome that filled me when I read it is something I don't want to have to fall down.

Oh, side note, I had to go and look up 'rejection therapy' - it sounded iffy. After researching, it sounds scary and iffy. Has anyone here tried it before?

I don't particularly like the rejection therapy thing. I see what the idea for social skills would be, but since the thing involves strangers, it's no longer about just the person doing it, and like you say it would be obnoxious if a large fraction of people were actively doing it. I'd probably give a free pass to anyone categorically refusing to do the exercise themselves based on that, but wouldn't go as far as to say people actually shouldn't do the thing at all.

These sort of categorical imperative / game theoretic things where you can get a positive sum advantageous outcome (as opposed to stuff like shoplifting which a few people can get away with, but which is zero or negative sum and therefore much more obviously undesirable) for yourself for doing something that wouldn't work very well if everyone was doing it are tricky, since in practice only a few people will be doing the thing. The impression I've gotten of Tim Ferriss' Four Hour Work Week thing is that it's mostly composed of stuff like that. People also don't tend to like it because it comes off as iffy.

The particular iffiness in rejection therapy is probably the way how it goes blatantly against the convention that people should express themselves genuinely in random social interactions. Trashing unspoken social contract in the name of self-empowerment therapy sounds like a good recipe for resentment.

ETA: The ask vs guess culture thing is relevant here.

Based on what little research I did, there seems to be a lot of variation in how iffy it looks. Some models of rejection therapy would probably help me, others look pointless or counter productive. So essentially... good thing they are giving a free test for their program.

Models? The only one I saw was basic 'ask for things you think will be rejected' - with a few extra bits like the 30-day-challenge and rejection cards. What different models did you find? And which do you think would work best?

Nothing very significant, but all of the additional rules I found seemed hard to justify. Just forcing myself to become comfortable asking for help from strangers seems harmless and should be beneficial however. I have already been doing something similar for a few weeks actually.

http://rejection.posterous.com/ - this is one person's experience with it. I agree that sometimes it sounds iffy, but I think it's useful for people who have that problem. When you say it sounds 'scary' do you mean scary to try or scary what could happen if everyone tried it?

By the way, you sound a lot smarter than the average 16-year-old. (I speak as one who also used to tell people online my age at the age of 16, in the hope I'd get such compliments :) )

Haha, thanks Isaac.

I meant scary to try, although it would be terrible if everyone did it - what request could you trust they meant? I read a few of the blogs, and a common thread was when people unexpectedly said 'yes', the... what to call them?... wannabe rejectee would feel guilty for requiring them to go out of their way for something they didn't really want. On the other hand, if you only ask for things you really want, it limits your options and usually has higher stakes.

Before my tangent gets too far lost, I'm bringing this up because I get way more guilty about things like that than the average, from what I've seen. It was a bigger problem when I was younger; I'd refrain from things that had a chance of being slightly inconvenient for someone - even if it was extremely inconvenient for me. I'm better about it now, have trained myself to feel less guilty (by literally catching myself when I am and considering it, then forcing it down), but it still shows through in many ways.

So I might benefit a lot from the program, but as I say it sounds like it could create scary situations - I deal well with more formal improv (theater sports, debating, chatting with close friends etc) but not with social situations I'm unfamiliar with, or with strangers/acquaintances. It also sounds a little new-age to me. I can see how it could work, but I can also see that it could compound fears through the uncomfortable situations, and that it could negatively effect relationships - seeing as for it to work best, they can't know why you're really asking.

Maybe it works for some and not others. I don't know - I haven't seen any research on it, just a few blogs (which are more likely to be written by those it worked for, I'd think). I'll be interested to see how it works in the camp. It'll be different there, though, with everyone knowing people are trying to get rejected. On that note, @Jasen: how are you going to work through that? Even if you make it 'get rejected x amount of times during the whole camp', people will be on the lookout for wannabe rejectees. It would be less 'real-world'. And I'd think telling them 'go ask that person for x' would ruin the point of the exercise (as a buildup of willpower, confidence and social skill in self-motivated real-life situations).

In the end, despite all the above, I'd be interested in trying it out in a controlled situation like the camp - sure, I'd prefer it with nice research and such backing it, but I'd definitely be up for it anyway. And what other way are we gonna get those stats?

I know - that was a long explanation. I think I'm yes-no answer averse. ;-)

One of the most interesting and useful things that I noticed in my experience with exercises similar to rejection therapy were the frequency and variety of times that people responded in ways that I didn't expect.

You mention feeling guilty for inconveniencing someone. What I noticed was that frequently I would be wrong about what people consider an inconvenience. Sometimes I would go up to someone and ask for something that I thought that at worst they'll hate and at best they'll be ambivalent about and I was completely surprised when that person was excited or interested in my suggestion. This really does happen and at first it is shocking. I think it's actually had a pretty dramatic effect on how I look at and think about the world. This effect was not limited to strangers. This happened (possibly even more) with people I knew or were my friends.

I think one of the motivations for this exercise is to uncover these hidden win-win encounters. I was very surprised by how large the mismatch can be between what I expect the outcome to be and what it actually is.

I want to stress that I think it is important to ask for things that you are actually interested in. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, as described above, I was surprised by how often the answer was 'yes'. If I didn't ask for things I actually wanted then I just ended up inconveniencing and annoying myself. Secondly, the risk involved with asking for something that I actually wanted added immensely to the experience as an opportunity for personal growth.

I ended up learning that my picture of the world was just wrong and that I was missing a lot of opportunities that would be good for me and the people around me just because I was scared no one would care. Sometimes the best way to find out what people thought was to ask them.

Intelligence is notoriously hard to quantify, and I am slightly insulted by your generalization. Perhaps I know very unusual sixteen year olds, but I think maturity would be a better word to use in this context.

I would say as a rough guesstimate that intelligence as such (a vague concept admittedly) really has fully developed or close to fully developed in the early teen years. Knowledge keeps building.

But "smart", which is the term Isaac used, colloquially is not limited to intelligence. For example the term "street smarts" refers entirely or almost entirely to knowledge, even to a kind of maturity, gained through a certain kind of experience.

Fluid and Crystallized intelligence (admittedly measured on IQ tests, which are not perfect to say the least) were both found to peak at age 26 by this study (for those who don't know the distinction between the two types of intelligence, wikipedia explains it rather well). Fluid intelligence levels off between 16 and 18, increases slightly until the mid-twenties, then starts a slow, steady decline. Crystallized intelligence is similar, except it levels off in the early twenties, and decreases much more slowly, though the decrease still starts in the mid-twenties.

Interestingly, the intelligence of people on the lower bound levelled off earlier (by about two years) than that of those on the upper bound.

Are there age limits? I saw on the application it asks about degrees, employment etc... which, as a 16-year-old, I don't have yet. But I think I could really benefit from this if it's still running in 2012.

I suggest you send Jasen a quick email asking about it, but SIAI has taken teenagers on the visiting fellows scheme before.

This essentially sounds like a more organized (and therefore probably better) version of what I was intending to try and teach myself this summer, so I am extremely, extremely interested. However, I'm currently a student and won't be on break for the beginning of June. Should I still apply? Airfare won't be an issue, and I'm willing to self-study and self-test (or get others to test me on) anything that I would otherwise miss in the first few days.