The Center for Applied Rationality is a Bay Area non-profit that, among other things, ran lots of workshops to offer people tools and techniques for solving problems and improving their thinking. Those workshops were accompanied by a reference handbook, which has been available as a PDF since 2020.

The handbook hasn't been substantially updated since it was written in 2016, but it remains a fairly straightforward primer for a lot of core rationality content.  The LW team, working with the handbook's author Duncan Sabien, have decided to republish it as a lightly-edited sequence, so that each section can be linked on its own.

In the workshop context, the handbook was a supplement to lectures, activities, and conversations taking place between participants and staff. Care was taken to emphasize the fact that each tool or technique or perspective was only as good as it was effectively applied to one's problems, plans, and goals. The workshop was intentionally structured to cause participants to actually try things (including iterating on or developing their own versions of what they were being shown), rather than simply passively absorb content. Keep this in mind as you read—mere knowledge of how to exercise does not confer the benefits of exercise!

Discussion is strongly encouraged, and disagreement and debate are explicitly welcomed. Many LWers (including the staff of CFAR itself) have been tinkering with these concepts for years, and will have developed new perspectives on them, or interesting objections to them, or thoughts about how they work or break in practice. What follows is a historical artifact—the rough state-of-the-art at the time the handbook was written, circa 2017. That's an excellent jumping-off point, especially for newcomers, but there's been a lot of scattered progress since then, and we hope some of it will make its way into the comments.

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11 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 11:32 AM

Thanks. This is the kind of content I originally came to LW for a decade ago, but seems to have become less popular

Couple questions about this sequence.

Is there any plan to write down and post more of the surrounding content like activities/lectures/etc.?

How does CFAR feel about "off-brand"/"knockoff" versions of these workshops being run at meetups? If OK with it, how should those be announced/disclaimed to make it clear that they're not affiliated with CFAR?

I'm interested in this as an organizer, and based on conversations at the meetup organizers' retreat this weekend, I think a number of other organizers would be interested as well.

There aren't currently plans to write up e.g. descriptions of the classes and activities, but there are lots of people who have been to CFAR workshops who can offer their anecdotes, and you may be able to reach out to CFAR directly for descriptions of what a workshop is like.

(Also, there are going to be workshops in Europe this fall that you could attend if you want.)

As for spreading off-brand versions of the content: CFAR is enthusiastically pro the idea! Their main request is just that you clearly headline:

  • That CFAR originated the content you're attempting to convey (e.g. credit them for terms like "TAPs")
  • That you are teaching your version of CFAR's TAPs (or whatever); that this is "what I, Maia, got out of attempting to learn the CFAR technique called TAPs."

As long as you're crediting the creators and not claiming to speak with authority about the thing you're teaching, CFAR is (very) happy to have other people spreading the content.

Nitpick (about a line that I otherwise quite liked):

Keep this in mind as you read—mere knowledge of how to exercise does not convey the benefits of exercise!

Should "convey" be "confer" here? "Convey" implies that the thing changing is typically information (i.e. knowledge), whereas "confer" implies that someone has been granted possession of something (i.e. health).

Seems right. =)

>What follows is a historical artifact—the rough state-of-the-art at the time the handbook was written, circa 2017.

The PDF hosted on CFAR's website is dated January 2021. Is that version of the handbook more up-to-date than this one?

This was written in mid-2022, so it's probably at least somewhat more up-to-date (but also might be slightly tweaked in the direction of 'stuff Duncan endorses'. Duncan no longer works at CFAR and if CFAR makes further updates to the handbook I could imagine them diverging)