Minicamps on Rationality and Awesomeness: May 11-13, June 22-24, and July 21-28

I do not say this lightly… but if you’re look­ing for su­per­pow­ers, this is the place to start.”

--Michael Curzi, sum­mer 2011 mini­camp participant

Who: You and a class full of other as­piring ra­tio­nal­ists and world-op­ti­miz­ers, from around the world.

What: Two 3-day week­end mini­camps and one 8-day mini­camp, filled with hands-on ac­tivi­ties for ap­ply­ing ra­tio­nal­ity to your life, your goals, and the mak­ing of a bet­ter world. (See de­tails in the FAQ.)

When and where: We’re run­ning three camps, so that we can do this for three sets of par­ti­ci­pants: May 11-13 and June 22-24 for the 3-day camps, and July 21-28 for the eight-day camp, all in the San Fran­cisco Bay Area.

Why: Be­cause you’re a so­cial pri­mate, and the best way to jump into a new way of think­ing, make friends, and ac­com­plish your goals is of­ten to spend time with other pri­mates who are do­ing just that.

Other rea­sons:

  • Hang out and ex­plore the Bay Area with two dozen other peo­ple like you who are smart, in­ter­est­ing, and pas­sion­ate about rationality

  • At­tend bonus ses­sions about style, body lan­guage, and con­fi­dence-build­ing.

  • Get help chart­ing out ca­reer paths; and, en­tirely op­tion­ally for those in­ter­ested, con­nect with folks at the Sin­gu­lar­ity In­sti­tute about op­ti­mal philan­thropy.

In­struc­tors:

Eliezer Yud­kowsky Anna Sala­mon Ju­lia Galef
An­drew Critch Luke Muehlhauser Michael Smith

Cost: $650 for the three-day pro­grams; $1500 for the week-long pro­gram. This in­cludes lodg­ing[1], meals, and tu­ition.

(Note that this *still* isn’t quite enough to make run­ning mini­camps sus­tain­able in the long-run; a lodg­ing + meals at re­treat cen­ters start at around $90 per per­son per night, the “three-day camps” in­clude four nights, and these work­shops take a staff of about 5 full-time peo­ple for over a month each prior to each work­shop, most of us at $3k/​month, count­ing cur­ricu­lum de­vel­op­ment time (plus mis­cel­la­neous ex­penses). We are try­ing to strike a com­pro­mise be­tween “charge enough that we can run more camps” and stay­ing af­ford­able, es­pe­cially for our start-up phase; costs will prob­a­bly go up in fol­low­ing years.)

Three days (or a week) isn’t long enough to learn ra­tio­nal­ity, but it’s long enough to learn how to learn ra­tio­nal­ity, and to get some mo­men­tum to­ward do­ing so.

Come meet us, and see what you can do.

Ap­ply now.

Fre­quently Asked Ques­tions:

1. I’m older. Should I still ap­ply?

Yes! We’re aiming for a more di­verse crowd and would love to add your wider set of ex­pe­riences and skills.

2. I’d like to come, but I’m not sure you’ll ac­cept me. Should I still ap­ply?

Ab­solutely! You can fill out our form in as lit­tle 10 min­utes. What’s the harm?[2]

3. I’d like to come, but I can’t af­ford it. Should I still ap­ply?

Yes, you should definitely ap­ply. A limited num­ber of schol­ar­ships will prob­a­bly be available this time, and more may be available later.

(There’s also an op­tion on the ap­pli­ca­tion form if you want to ap­ply but can’t make any of the times—this just says that you want to be part of fu­ture mini­camps and makes sure we have your ap­pli­ca­tion de­tails.)

4. What will we do, ex­actly?

We’re still work­ing out the de­tails. In our cur­rent model:

  • Daily sched­ule: Every day, you’ll have five hours of core work­shop ses­sions (mostly ex­er­cises, di­vided into morn­ing and evening ses­sions), meals shared with other par­ti­ci­pants, and shared ac­tivi­ties such as soc­cer, poker, karaoke, and trips to bay area sites.

  • Ra­tion­al­ity: You’ll prac­tice many spe­cific tech­niques (e.g. Fermi calcu­la­tions, ap­ply­ing Bayes’ the­o­rem and cog­ni­tive bi­ases to daily life, see­ing how us­ing fun­gi­bil­ity can boost your goal achieve­ment); de­velop a map of your ra­tio­nal­ity strengths and gaps; and learn how to con­tinue learn­ing ra­tio­nal­ity af­ter the pro­gram.

  • So­cial effec­tive­ness: Read­ing and us­ing body lan­guage; de­vel­op­ing a fash­ion sense; im­prov­ing so­cial courage; and un­der­stand­ing why so­cial re­al­ity is im­por­tant.

  • In­di­vi­d­ual meet­ings: You’ll be able to sched­ule one-on-one ap­point­ments to dis­cuss ca­reer paths you may want to take (we can help with statis­tics on earn­ings in differ­ent pro­fes­sions, and strat­egy for get­ting in); how to start a LW meet-up or similar com­mu­nity; and, op­tion­ally for those in­ter­ested, how to get in­volved in ex­is­ten­tial risks-re­duc­ing re­search and ac­tion.

5. I’m new to all this. Will it make sense?

If you’ve read at least fif­teen posts from the core se­quences, yes it will. If you haven’t: why not read them now?

We’ll also aim for an at­mo­sphere in which ev­ery­one is free to make mis­takes and to try things, and in which peo­ple are re­cep­tive to a wide range of skill lev­els.

6. I’ve already read the Se­quences sev­en­teen times, and also I’m a self-made billion­aire with three PhDs. Will I learn any­thing new?[3]

We hope so. We’re cov­er­ing a good range of ma­te­rial, with much more of a fo­cus on prac­tice and ex­er­cise than in the Se­quences, in­cor­po­rat­ing new les­sons learned since the LW ma­te­rial was writ­ten, and with some in­struc­tors who’ve de­vel­oped their own takes on ra­tio­nal­ity.

7. What ev­i­dence is there that I’ll be glad I went?

After last year’s mini­camp, par­ti­ci­pants com­pleted an anony­mous exit sur­vey. (With the in­struc­tions: “We’re ask­ing you these ques­tions to learn how to run camps; please be hon­est; it’ll help us more if you’re ac­cu­rate than if you’re pos­i­tive.”) Here are their an­swers to the most rele­vant ques­tions:

  • In an­swer to “Zero to ten, are you glad you came?”, the me­dian an­swer was 10 (mean was 9.3).

  • In an­swer to “Zero to ten, will your life go sig­nifi­cantly differ­ently be­cause you came to mini-camp?” the me­dian an­swer was 7.5 (the mean was 6.9) [This was the re­sponse that was most pos­i­tively sur­pris­ing to me.].

  • In an­swer to “Zero to ten, has your epistemic ra­tio­nal­ity im­proved?”, the me­dian an­swer was 7 (mean 6.9).

  • In an­swer to “Zero to ten, are you more mo­ti­vated to learn epistemic ra­tio­nal­ity, than you were when you came?”, the me­dian an­swer was 8.5 (mean 8.1).

  • In an­swer to “Zero to ten, have you be­come more skil­led at mod­ify­ing your emo­tions and dis­po­si­tions?”, the me­dian an­swer was 7 (mean 6.3).

  • In an­swer to “Zero to ten, are you more mo­ti­vated to mod­ify your emo­tions and dis­po­si­tions, than you were when you came?”, the me­dian an­swer was 9 (mean 8.3).

  • In an­swer to “Zero to ten, have you gained so­cial skills since com­ing?”, the me­dian an­swer was 7.5 (mean 7.2).

  • In an­swer to “Zero to ten, did you like spend­ing time with the other par­ti­ci­pants?”, the me­dian an­swer was 9 (mean 8.8).

We also asked par­ti­ci­pants for tes­ti­mo­ni­als—state­ments de­signed to be shown to oth­ers, in case they wanted to recom­mend such camps. They wrote:

“This was an in­tensely pos­i­tive ex­pe­rience. This was eas­ily the most pow­er­ful change self-mod­ifi­ca­tion I’ve ever made, in all of the so­cial, in­tel­lec­tual, and emo­tional spheres. I’m now a more pow­er­ful per­son than I was a week ago—and I can ex­plain ex­actly how and why this is true.

At mini-camp, I’ve learned tech­niques for effec­tive self-mod­ifi­ca­tion—that is, I have a much deeper un­der­stand­ing of how to change my de­sires, gather my willpower, chan­nel my time and cog­ni­tive re­sources, and model and han­dle pre­vi­ously con­fus­ing situ­a­tions. What’s more, I have a fairly clear map of how to build these skills hence­forth, and how to in­cul­cate them in oth­ers. And all this was pre­sented in such a way that any suffi­ciently an­a­lyt­i­cal folk—any­one who has un­der­stood a few of the LW se­quences, say—can gain in ex­treme mea­sures.”

--Matt Elder /​ Fiddlemath

“I ex­pected a week of in­ter­est­ing things and some use­ful tools to take away. What I got was 8 days of con­stant, deep learn­ing, challenges to my limits that helped me grow. I fi­nally grokked that I can and should op­ti­mize my­self on ev­ery di­men­sion I care about, that prac­tice and re­in­force­ment can make me a bet­ter thinker, and that I can change very quickly when I’m not con­strained by ar­tifi­cial bar­ri­ers or stress.

I would not recom­mend do­ing some­thing like this right be­fore an­other su­per-busy week, be­cause I was learn­ing at 100% of ca­pac­ity and will need a lot of time to un­pack all the things I learned and ap­ply them to my life, but I came away with a clear plan for be­com­ing bet­ter. It is now a nor­mal and easy thing for me to try things out, test my be­liefs, and self-im­prove. And I’m likely to be much more effec­tive at mak­ing the world a bet­ter place as well, by pri­ori­tiz­ing with­out fear.

The ma­te­rial was all soundly-re­searched and effec­tively taught, with ex­tremely helpful sup­ple­men­tal ex­er­cises and ac­tivi­ties. The in­struc­tors were very helpful in and out of ses­sion. The other par­ti­ci­pants were ex­cited, en­gaged, challeng­ing, and sup­port­ive.

I look for­ward to shar­ing what I’ve learned with my lo­cal Less­wrong meetup and oth­ers in the area. If that’s even 14 as awe­some as my time at the Mini-Camp, it will make our lives much bet­ter.”

--Ben Hoff­man /​ Benquo

“I re­ally can’t recom­mend this camp enough! This work­shop broke down a com­plex and in­ter­twined set of skills la­bel­led in my brain as “com­mon sense” and dis­t­in­guished each part so that I could work on them sep­a­rately. Ses­sions on mo­ti­va­tion, cog­ni­tion, and what habits to build to not fool your­self were par­tic­u­larly helpful. This camp was also the first ex­am­ple that I’ve seen of peo­ple tak­ing cur­rent cog­ni­tive sci­ence and other re­search, de­cod­ing it, and show­ing peo­ple what’s been doc­u­mented to work so that they can use it too. It feels to me now as though the coolest parts of the se­quences have been given spe­cific ex­er­cises and habits to build off of. This camp, and the peo­ple in it, have changed my path for the bet­ter.”

--David Jones /​ TheDave

You can also read the full tes­ti­mo­ni­als from ev­ery­one who chose to give one.

Ap­ply now

(You can to­tally fill out the ap­pli­ca­tion in just 10 min­utes, so you might want to fill in the blanks right now—we’d like to an­nounce the first ac­cep­tances (for May) in the next week)


[1] More ex­actly, we provide a bed in a shared room at a house or re­treat cen­ter rented by SIAI.

[2] Some­times peo­ple say they’re “afraid of wast­ing our time” by send­ing in an ap­pli­ca­tion. In a word, no. If you’re in­ter­ested in us, we’re in­ter­ested in you. It takes just sec­onds to read some­one’s form, and our ex­pe­rience shows that many of our high­est-value peo­ple have been the ones who hes­i­tated to ap­ply.

[3] Okay, fine, this isn’t re­ally a fre­quently asked ques­tion. But se­ri­ously, we’ll be cov­er­ing a lot that isn’t in the se­quences—and the flesh-and-blood ex­pe­rience of meet­ing other as­piring ra­tio­nal­ists is hard to du­pli­cate.

ETA: CMR is still look­ing for good teach­ers and cur­ricu­lum de­sign­ers. If you’re in­ter­ested, please es­pe­cially con­sider com­ing to a mini­camp; we’re hop­ing to find some good hires there.

ETA2: We will prob­a­bly have an­swers to all ap­pli­cants within about two weeks (i.e., by April 16 or so), with an­swers to the May folks prob­a­bly ear­lier than the oth­ers. If for some rea­son you need your ap­pli­ca­tion pro­cessed *faster* than this, please shoot me an email: an­nasala­mon at gmail.