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Ritual Report 2012: Life, Death, Light, Darkness, and Love.

21 Post author: Raemon 23 December 2012 06:56PM

One winter ago, twenty aspiring rationalists gathered in a room, ate some food, sang some songs, and lit some candles. We told some stories about why the universe is the way it is, and what kind of people we want to be.

I wrote some things about the experience. But here's a fairly succinct description:

Like most things, winter was once a mystery.

The world got cold, and dark. Life became fragile. People died. And they didn't know what was happening or understand why. They desperately threw festivals in honor of sun gods with all-too-human motivations, and prayed for the light's return.

It didn't help. Though we did discover that throwing parties in the middle of winter is an excellent idea.

But then something incredible and beautiful happened. We studied the sky. We invented astronomy, and other sciences. We began a long journey towards truly understanding our place in the universe. And we used that knowledge to plan for the future, and make our world better. Five thousand years later, the winter isn't so scary. But the symbol of the solstice - the departure and return of the sun - is still powerful. The work we have done to transform winter from a terrifying season of darkness into a modern festival of light deserves a reverence with all the weight of an ancient cultural cornerstone.

Last year, we had fun. A few people reported being emotionally affected. By and large, though, the dominant conclusion was “This was good first effort, but much, much more is possible.” In truth, I considered it a dress rehearsal, more a proof-of-concept than a finished product. I spent the last year working to do something better, but worried that I wouldn’t be able to. That maybe people don’t create holidays from scratch that actually latch on because it’s just damn hard to do and I wouldn’t be up to it.

And I was worried that either I wouldn’t be able to make the experience as grim and intense as I wanted, or that I’d succeed, but then not be able to lift people back out of it. This was a problem for some people last year, and last year I didn’t push things nearly as dark as I was planning to this time.

I worried that even if I succeeded at creating the experience for other people, I wouldn’t be able to experience it myself. A year ago, I didn’t feel like a participant. I felt like an anthropologist - clinically detached from the bonding ritual I had created.

But six months ago, four friends and I acquired a large, three story house named “Winterfell.” And one week ago, fifty people squeezed into that house to celebrate humanity. The house seems a lot smaller once you crammed fifty people into the living room. But we managed to fit.

And then...  I feel a desire to maintain some kind of modesty here, but honestly, I spent a year stressing about this and I think I’m just going to say that it went beautifully.

Not perfectly - nothing is ever perfect, and now more than ever it is clear how much more is possible with this endeavor. Yvain wrote a pretty good review of which parts went well and which parts needed work. But I got emphatic gratitude from people who had been merely lukewarm about it last year.

In the darkest section of the evening, people cried, and held each other, and I was one of them. And I was one of them as we watched time lapse footage of the stars from the international space station, and sang about a tomorrow that could be brighter than today.



This will be the first post of another short mini-sequence (either one or two additional posts elaborating on the design process, what comes next and what I’m concerned about). For now, I'll just note the one biggest flaw with this years was that it was too long. (Last years was too short, and I decided to err on the side of "test a bunch of ideas at once" so that future Solstices could settle into an ideal, traditional state faster).

I would like to note that I want to strongly encourage people who are weirded out by this to speak out (if for no other reason than to be counted as people who are turned off by it). If you have specific negative consequences beyond a vague dislike of the idea, I'd like you to articulate them, after looking through my post from last year - The Value and Danger of Ritual.

Below is a link to the 2012 Ritual Book, and a collection of links to online media for the songs and videos that we listened to and watched during the event, which you can follow along with as you read to get something (vaguely) resembling the actual experience. (Plus side - you’ll get to experience higher quality of music performance. Downside - you miss on the warm experience of singing with a group of people).

I couldn’t find links for all the songs, but there should be enough to give you the idea.


2012 Solstice Ritual Book

First Litany of Tarski - If the sky is blue....
Why Does the Sun Shine (part 0)
The Grinch
Necronomicon
The X Days of X-Risk

Ballad of Bonnie the Em
Second Litany of Tarski - If I’m going to be outcompeted by simulated minds in a Malthusian Hellhole race to the bottom...

Mindspace is Deep and Wide
One Wish (I found a Baby Genie)
Build That Wall
Quantum Entanglement

Third Litany of Tarski - If the Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics is true...

When I Die
Why Does the Sun Shine (part 1)
God Wrote the Sky
Blue Skies

Metalitany of Tarski - If reciting the Litany of Tarski is useful...
Beyond the Reach of God

Blowin’ In the Wind
Stonehenge (The Sun is Going to Go)
Gods Ain’t Gonna Catch Ya (slightly altered lyrics)
Take My Love, Take My Land (Mal’s Song)
Collect a Little Echo
The Drummer’s Little Boy
No One is Alone (dramatically abridged)
Serenity’

Gift We Give Tomorrow
Moment of Darkness

A View From Above - Time Lapse Footage from the International Space Station

Brighter Than Today
Still Alive
Lean on Me
A Still Small Voice
Gonna be a Cyborg
Move the World
What a Wonderful World
Seasons of Love
The Sun’s a Miasma of Incandescent Plasma (altered lyrics for singability)
Forever Young (*slightly* altered lyrics)
Uplift

Final Litany - If human values will survive for five thousand years...
Five Thousand Years  (Sun is Gonna Go, Reprise) 
A Brief Recap (Our Story in 1 minute and 30 seconds)
The Road to Wisdom

Comments (206)

Comment author: Vaniver 23 December 2012 08:00:34PM 10 points [-]

Link to Yvain's review.

Comment author: Raemon 24 December 2012 04:16:51AM 2 points [-]

Edited the main post to properly link to it. Thanks!

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 24 December 2012 01:12:01AM *  28 points [-]

I considered not posting this comment, because it seems like you guys (and Raemon especially) have put a lot of effort into this, but I do want to sort out my response to this whole thing. Please don't take this as judgment; I'd really like to hear input about whether my reaction is wholly unwarranted, and why or why not.

When I read about this event (and I had a similar reaction to reading about last year's one, too), I get a strong sense of "ick"; a deep and profound feeling of being creeped out. I mean, you're designing and instituting a ritual. Intentionally. Why on earth would you do something like that?

From Yvain's review:

The idea was that since most rationalists and Less Wrongers are atheists for whom the traditional categories of Christmas and Hanukkah don't apply (and, let's face it, way too white for Kwanzaa), we would make our own ritual,

Whyyyyyyyy????

Why not just get together and hang out and... I don't know. Play party games? Talk? Watch movies? Why a ritual?

one centered around rationalist ideals, and use it as a Winter Season Positive Affect Schelling Point the same way all the religions do theirs.

Ok, I thought I knew what a Schelling Point is, but this usage puzzles me a bit. If I'm interpreting it right, though, my question is... why do this?

Is it because some (most?) of the people involved come from religious backgrounds, and miss the holiday rituals that took place in their families?

By the way, what happens if people present don't want to participate in the songs? Is there social pressure? I know I'd feel pretty darn uncomfortable if I was at a gathering and everyone started a collective sing-along.

Separately and unrelatedly, I really feel rather unsettled by the fact that you're using Eliezer's writings as a kind of... I don't know, mass? Sermon? It seems to me like that's taking entirely the wrong message away from all of it... to actually enshrine it as a sacred tradition or ritual of some sort.

I lurk on the OB/LW NYC mailing list, and you guys seem like pretty interesting people (I've been to one or two of the "public" meetups that were like... 1-2 years ago, now?); once in a while I think that maybe I should try and come to some of your meetups on occasion.

Stuff like this pushes me away. That's probably unfortunate, so if someone from the group (or whoever, really) could explain this whole ritual business to me, I would appreciate it.

Comment author: [deleted] 24 December 2012 09:55:56AM 8 points [-]

I've never been to any LW meetup, but I wouldn't surprise me if such reports sound creepier than the actual rituals were due to their, er, literary genre.

Comment author: Vika 25 December 2012 03:20:22AM 7 points [-]

As someone who enjoyed the Solstice a great deal, I'd like to throw a data point out there:

  • my family doesn't have a religious or spiritual background of any kind, so I didn't experience rituals as a child. I still enjoy spiritual / religious singing in groups, both in languages I understand and don't, and usually don't take the lyrics seriously. I find most of the value in the feeling of bonding / appreciation.

  • The event felt more playful than solemn, and certainly not authoritative. People seemed to be taking it with a grain of salt, it was like a social experiment of sorts. I felt perfectly comfortable with not singing along for some of the time, and this didn't feel alienating or disengaging.

That said, I think I do understand your revulsion towards rituals, and your view about collectivization of emotional experience is an interesting point that hasn't occurred to me.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 24 December 2012 05:55:10AM *  18 points [-]

Whyyyyyyyy????

Why not just get together and hang out and... I don't know. Play party games? Talk? Watch movies? Why a ritual?

Because humans experience an emotion of "sacredness" (in scare quotes because although the feeling is commonly associated with religion, it doesn't need to be), which many people think is fantastic. This blogger puts it pretty well:

Haidt, an atheist Jew, is not suggesting a particular path to that which is Divine. He is certainly not concluding, for instance, that religion is the only path to that which is divine. Rather, he is emphasizing that we all have a sense of what is sacred to us, what is “divine,” and we justify it in various ways. He cites Mircea Eliade’s The Sacred and the Profane, agreeing with Eliade that “sacredness is so irrepressible that it intrudes repeatedly into the modern profane world in the form of “crypto-religious” behavior.” He specifically cites Eliade’s conclusion that even a person who is committed to a “profane existence” has

privileged places, qualitatively different from all others–a man’s birthplace, or the scenes of his first love, or certain places in the first foreign city he visited in his youth. Even for the most frankly nonreligious man, all these places still retain an exceptional, a unique quality; they are the “holy places” of his private universe, as if it were in such spots that he had received the revelation of a reality other than that in which he participates through his ordinary daily life.

(Page 193). For Haidt, this passage perfectly characterized his own sense of “feeble spirituality,” one which was limited to “places, books, people and events that have given me moments of uplift and enlightenment. Even atheists have intimations of sacredness, particularly when in love or in nature. We just don’t infer that God caused those feelings.”

Haidt’s writing caused me to consciously realize that I too hold various things to be sacred, even though I hadn’t before consciously labeled them with the word “sacred.” Here are some of the things I would put in this category:

  • Holding the hand of either of my daughters while we walk.
  • Having an honest and intense conversation in a quiet place.
  • Being alone in a quiet and beautiful place, including places of natural beauty. Consider further that even atheists can enjoy churches.
  • Beating back the temptation of the confirmation bias through self-critical thinking, thus recognizing that one was previously wrong about something important.
  • Being part of a sustained group endeavor to lessen real world human suffering.
  • Being in the presence of another person who is cheerfully working hard for the benefit of others.
  • Viewing certain photographs representing transitions in my life.
  • Reveling in the Milky Way stretching all the way across the sky.
  • Catching up with a good friend after many years apart.
  • Noticing the kind eyes of a good friend while we visit.
  • Rediscovering the intense beauty of something I had been taking for granted.
  • Creating high-quality art or music, or enjoying high-quality art created by others.
  • Resisting the temptation to edify one’s self above others.
  • Being consciously aware of places that were important to me, such as the house where grew up, or the location of my high school (even though it is now a shopping center).
  • Experiencing the natural healing powers of one’s own body after an illness or injury.
  • Holding my wife at the end of a day or the beginning of a new day.

I agree with Haidt that these sorts of experiences have a certain character to them that seems to “transcend” ordinary daily activities. It seems equally true that damaging any of these things, ridiculing them or preventing them would trigger a deep mourning, and even a sense of disgust, and that this emotion would go well beyond any sense of pragmatic loss.

Perhaps, then, the existence of the sense of the Sacred is something on which believers and nonbelievers can agree. Really, we should add experience of the sacred to that long list of things that believers and non-believers have in common. Perhaps we can learn to humbly allow each other to celebrate these moments in his or her own way. If only we could allow each other the freedom to experience such things without casting arrogant judgment, without acting like know-it-all experts of the ineffable. Without succumbing to the temptation to use others’ experiences of such elevated emotional experiences as the springboard to start arguments.

Your reaction seems to be "this ritual stuff smacks of religion, and I don't want to get involved with any of that!". My response would be, roughly, "Humans have this awesome in-built feeling that makes things feel beautiful and great and fantastic and helps us give moments of respite in the middle of all or other worries, and religion has made this land-grab and laid unfair claim on the whole experience. Well, why the hell should we put up with that? Why should the whole thing be labelled 'religious', when it's a basic emotion of human beings that doesn't require being religious in the first place? Religion has done a lot of harm already, and if we begin cutting off valuable and important parts of ourselves simply because we feel those parts are associated with an enemy tribe, we're voluntarily letting religion do more damage. I say we stop that shit right here."

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 24 December 2012 06:13:40AM 11 points [-]

Your reaction seems to be "this ritual stuff smacks of religion, and I don't want to get involved with any of that!".

That's not my response at all. I'm afraid you seem to be reading things into my response that are simply not there. There seems to be some sort of misunderstanding here that's causing you to set up (what is from my perspective) a straw man about objections to religion and then extensively knocking it down with arguments that have little bearing on what I've said.

I don't know why that is; perhaps I've been unclear; perhaps you are rounding to the nearest common objection? In any case, my objection has nothing directly to do with these rituals "smacking of religion". I do think, as I've mentioned in a previous post, that the desire for such rituals is stronger in people who come from a religious background and are used to such things from their youth. (I also have to wonder — and this is a bit of an aside — why we should use rituals that draw so directly from religion in form: someone (juliawise?) mentioned saying grace at the meal, and that strikes me as incredibly unlikely to be something an entirely non-religious person would come up with if given the task of "think of some cool and effective rituals".)

I do experience the emotion of sacredness. What I find extremely offputting and downright scary is the collectivization of that emotion. I don't like spectator sports, protests, and other mass actions for the same reason (substitute pride, righteous anger, or whatever other appropriate emotion for sacredness in those examples). I have absolutely no desire to subordinate my feelings of exaltation and transcendence to a group. While I can't say that triggering sacredness in a collective "secular" context is as bad as triggering it in a collective religious context, the fundamental problem is the same.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 24 December 2012 06:28:34AM 8 points [-]

My apologies, then. I read this part:

Separately and unrelatedly, I really feel rather unsettled by the fact that you're using Eliezer's writings as a kind of... I don't know, mass? Sermon? It seems to me like that's taking entirely the wrong message away from all of it... to actually enshrine it as a sacred tradition or ritual of some sort.

as being motivated by a dislike of religious ritual, as it explicitly mentioned "mass" and "sermon" as examples of things to avoid. But upon a re-reading, I can see that you were rather worried about Eliezer's writings being promoted to a status where they wouldn't be questioned.

Also, I might have somewhat used your comment as an excuse to make a general point I'd been wanting to make for a while. Sorry about that. But also thank you, for giving me an excuse to make it. ;)

All of that said, I can understand having a dislike of the collectivization of sacredness, I just don't share it myself.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 24 December 2012 06:52:33AM 5 points [-]

Heh, no worries. Rereading that quoted bit of mine, I can see the source of the confusion. Your revised interpretation of my intent is correct.

Incidentally, the term "sermon" as applied in this context is from Yvain's linked review.

Also, I might have somewhat used your comment as an excuse to make a general point I'd been wanting to make for a while. Sorry about that. But also thank you, for giving me an excuse to make it. ;)

Hah. Glad to provide, I suppose. ;)

Comment author: juliawise 24 December 2012 08:35:45PM 6 points [-]

someone (juliawise?) mentioned saying grace at the meal, and that strikes me as incredibly unlikely to be something an entirely non-religious person would come up with if given the task of "think of some cool and effective rituals"

I think grace is underrated. As I said, I'm used to silent grace about three breaths long. It gives you fifteen seconds to relax your body, look around at who is gathered, and think "We are about to sit down and eat together. It's nice to be here."

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 24 December 2012 08:46:41PM 9 points [-]

As has been extensively pointed out in Eliezer's writings and elsewhere on this site, you can come up with a reasonable-sounding justification for just about anything; if you start with your bottom line filled in, the rest of the page is easy to write.

Here's a question. You're saying that the value of grace at a meal is that it gives you, personally, some time to whatever (relax, look around, think, etc.). You would therefore be perfectly ok with being the only one at the table participating in this silent grace ritual, or being one of only some participants, while the others merrily dug in and proceeded with conversation — yes?

Comment author: juliawise 24 December 2012 10:31:25PM 5 points [-]

I sometimes do it alone if no one else is doing it, yes. Or two of us may do it if the others in the family don't want to. But I enjoy it more if we all do it at once. This seems to set off some kind of alarm bell with you, and I'm not sure there's a good reason it should or shouldn't set off alarms other than some kind of aesthetic preference.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 25 December 2012 07:16:59AM 2 points [-]

But I enjoy it more if we all do it at once.

Would you be able to explain why that is?

This seems to set off some kind of alarm bell with you

Indeed it does. Because it's a short step from there to social pressure on people who wouldn't otherwise have any interest or motivation whatsoever in participating.

And here's the thing: it's a different sort of social pressure than the sort experienced by e.g. someone who doesn't feel like playing a board game that everyone else at the party is playing, or someone who isn't hungry when everyone else is deciding whether to go to a restaurant for dinner. It's not "everyone else is doing it; join in, it'll be fun!"; it's not "your abstention is making the situation less convenient for everyone else"; it's "you're offending the group by not participating".

I'm not saying that you apply such social pressure on people, only explaining the reason for the alarm bells.

Comment author: juliawise 25 December 2012 02:41:42PM 3 points [-]

I like the feeling of doing things together. We can probably both think of evolutionary and neurological reasons why humans enjoy group activities. Ultimately, like I said, I think it boils down to an aesthetic preference that isn't right or wrong.

I see your point about not letting this become a social pressure on people who don't want to participate, and I'll try to be mindful of this.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 25 December 2012 05:53:15PM *  4 points [-]

Yes, at this point I'd have to agree that it's an aesthetic preference, neither right nor wrong, though I think it's a preference with potential dangerous consequences, on which point it seems we've also come to some sort of agreement. That said, I appreciate that you've given my view consideration; some of my comments may have come off as less tactful than I intended, and you and other commenters have been quite patient.

By the way, thank you for the link; as it happens, reading the post and some of the comments has cemented my views on rituals and group bonding. I think this comment by JenniferRM (and her longer comment just downthread) is very insightful and quite appropriate to the current discussion.

ETA: Another data point for the "some people don't like this sort of thing" claim.

Comment author: evand 25 December 2012 08:38:18AM 2 points [-]

My family has a similar tradition of silence before meals. It provides a moment to relax and change mindset to meal time. It says that this is a time to spend together, and not just another thing to be rushed through. It's nice if everyone participates, because that provides a pause in conversation and makes it easier to stop and relax.

I think before meals is not that unlikely a time working from a blank slate. There is something powerful about sharing food. It's a bonding ritual. Using that same time to reflect and relax makes the moment of silence, grace, etc. more effective.

Comment author: Jayson_Virissimo 25 December 2012 05:50:41AM *  4 points [-]

I think grace is underrated.

Agreed. As I mentioned at the last meetup, saying grace is a form of negative visualization, which allows you to gain more satisfaction from your meal than you otherwise would. It works by using framing-effects to change your "default" mindset from having the meal to not having it.

Comment author: falenas108 24 December 2012 07:40:22PM 7 points [-]

someone (juliawise?) mentioned saying grace at the meal

That was more of a joke. This is what was said: "To all whom it may concern, thanks."

Comment author: magfrump 25 December 2012 02:25:00AM 3 points [-]

In Japan, it is customary to say "itadakimasu" before eating, which is a sort of grace, and which is not seen as religious at all.

My dad has a gracelike ritual which he has carried on despite having been an atheist for decades (people lean over to kiss those sitting next to them) which my mom and many others have been very happy with.

Comment author: [deleted] 25 December 2012 02:40:53AM *  5 points [-]

In Japan, it is customary to say "itadakimasu" before eating, which is a sort of grace, and which is not seen as religious at all.

Many languages have equivalents of bon appétit. That's like "cheers!" but for food instead of drinks. (In English there's "enjoy your meal" but IME IIRC it's very uncommon among native speakers in non-formal situations.)

Comment author: Wei_Dai 25 December 2012 04:25:53AM 1 point [-]

I do experience the emotion of sacredness.

Can you explain what you did to experience it? (Sorry to go off on a tangent, but I'm curious what it feels like.)

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 25 December 2012 07:05:56AM *  3 points [-]

Hmm. Well, first of all, I don't guarantee that what I'm thinking of is the same (or analogous) emotion as what everyone else here is talking about; after all, if I don't experience it in the same way, or in the same condition, who's to say it's even the same thing at all? But to pursue that line of reasoning is to get into the problem of other minds, and that's probably an unnecessary tangent. (Although this may be empirically investigated; perhaps check to see whether the same parts of my brain and e.g. Raemon's brain trigger in situations we would both describe as being consistent with emotional responses to sacredness, etc.)

Anyway, to your question: the most recent thing I can think of was watching Cosmos (as in the Carl Sagan series, and yes, I really hadn't ever seen it before this year). Some parts of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality trigger a similar feeling.

As an aside, I think sacredness is not the most apt term for this emotion; I think a better word might be exaltation.

Comment author: Raemon 25 December 2012 07:14:54AM 2 points [-]

I think of sacredness and exaltation as overlapping circles in a ven diagram. The parts of HP:MoR that I assume you're talking to are both exalting and sacred to me. They're specifically about humanity rising up and conquering a powerful challenge.

Wandering out into the night and looking at the stars gives me a sense of sacredness that is not inherently about exaltation - My connotation of exaltation is a sort of power, and the stars make me feel simultaneously big and small, but in such a way that power is almost irrelevant. I'm just experiencing being this small but meaningful part of the universe. I'm not sure if my use of the words here is common though.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 25 December 2012 07:27:11AM 0 points [-]

Mmm... I sort of see what you mean. What I meant was that "sacredness" does not feel grammatically appropriate to be naming an emotion. Also, "sacredness" in the moral-philosophy sense in which I've seen it used refers to an infinite value, something which may not be traded off. I wouldn't apply the term to stars (don't get me wrong, contemplating the cosmos does trigger in me that-emotion-to-which-I-think-we're-both-referring, I just don't think they have infinite value; to the extent that I think anything could sensibly be construed to have infinite value, stars just don't qualify).

Comment deleted 30 December 2012 09:23:07AM *  [-]
Comment author: MixedNuts 30 December 2012 12:22:26PM 7 points [-]

You're saying that enabling an extremely common feature of human brains through words, music, aesthetically pleasing stimuli and social interaction is making people less sane? To formalize the argument beyond your horrified shriek and my incredulous stare, what's the problem with religion?

  • It's a superstimulus, and all superstimuli are dangerous? It might be fair to say it's one - religion existed in the ancestral environment, but modern forms are likely optimized beyond that. But superstimuli are everywhere - chocolate and Photoshopped models and FarmVille. Are you generally this panicked about them, and if so why aren't you a Ludddite?

  • It strongly reinforces ingroup cohesion. Humans need social bonding, but maybe you're complaining that religion does that too quickly and with too little trust testing? Are you this freaked out about sports, politics, or fandoms? Also note that these are yearly rituals, not regular congregations.

  • It puts people in a more suggestible state. Like... just about everything, according to priming research. At least not more than belonging to a group which will downvote you and call you stupid on the Internet for unpopular beliefs.

  • No, it seriously puts people in a more suggestible state - it's better modeled as a drug that as a behavior. Yes, and there's another bonding behavior that delivers a lot of oxytocin and endorphins, namely sex. This is a good reason to avoid sex if you're a secret agent man who might let the wrong word slip, but usually dwarfed by the benefits. As mind-altering behaviors go, meditation is freakier - and it turns out to be healthy.

  • It has a tradition of being used as a vehicle for stupid ideas and violence. We could just, y'know, not do that, but there are also solutions, like Discordianism, which is designed to be impossible to coherently take seriously enough to be a fanatic.

There is an enormously huge space of cool things the atheists do, which fill them with wonder, that aren't this

Name three? Note that aesthetic appreciation is only a subcomponent of religious wonder, and that "holy mackerel this is awesome" is a different type.

Comment author: drethelin 30 December 2012 08:52:18PM 0 points [-]

Claim to not be a cult

Scumbag Lesswrong

start stealing ideas from cults.

Comment author: quiet 30 December 2012 10:43:38PM *  9 points [-]

I've lurked on LW for a long time and can shrug off the second-hand embarrassment without fail, but I'll be damned if I ever link anyone I know to this web site. This undercurrent of LW does more damage than anything Roko ever posted.

I'm no stranger to ritual/awe/group bonding (Merzbow & MDMA: the reason for the season), but there is some hazy aesthetic line past which I cannot follow. Nor will I risk being associated with. Sorry.

If you enjoy this stuff, than more power to ya. Have a blast. Just keep in mind how many people are seriously turned off from LW because of it.

[in agreement with, rather than directed at, drethelin]

Comment author: Kawoomba 30 December 2012 10:52:56PM 6 points [-]

I - sadly but determinately - second that motion. A "Ritual Report" in Main ... because our community does not have enough novel ideas that are hard to swallow as is.

Comment author: Academian 30 December 2012 11:55:34PM *  4 points [-]

Thanks for sharing this, Quiet; I'm sad to say I agree with you. I think rationality as a movement can't afford to be associated with ritual. It's just too hard to believe that it's not a failure mode. I personally find Raemon's perspective inspiring and convincing. Raemon, it seems to me that you have a very sane perspective on the role of ritual in people's lives. And I'm all about trying to acknowledge and work with our own emotional needs, e.g. in this post. But I personally think openly associating with Ritual with a Capital R is just too sketchy looking for the community. It saddens me to have to worry about such alarm bells going off, but I think it's the reality.

Of course there are other easier-to-worry-about negative effects of ritual than simply appearances; what I'm saying is that, Raemon, even if you are able to avoid those failure modes --- and I have to say, to me, you seem very trustworthy in this regard --- I think strong ritual associations are worth avoiding for signaling alone.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 31 December 2012 01:07:38AM 3 points [-]

I just want to say — lest Raemon, other ritual-type-event-organizers, or people who share their values and views on this subject, get the wrong idea — that we should distinguish between these two positions:

  • "Rituals make Less Wrong look like a cult, or otherwise make the LW community look sketchy/disreputable/creepy" (optional addendum: "... and because of this, I don't want to associate with LW")
  • "I don't like rituals, am personally creeped out by them, and wish LW communities wouldn't engage in them" (optional addendum: "... and because of this, I don't want to participate in LW communities")

I, personally, am not concerned about LW's image, or my image if I associate with LW, and I make no comment about the strategic implications (for e.g. CFAR) of LW communities engaging in rituals; I just want to head off any conclusion or assertion that the only reason anyone would object to rituals is a concern about appearances, reputation, or the like.

(This, I think, is a special case of "well, people don't like X because they don't understand X" — "no, I understand X just fine and I still don't like it". Relatedly: "We shouldn't do X because people might draw the wrong conclusions about us" — "Well, let's do X and just not tell anyone" — "Actually, I think we shouldn't do X for reasons that have nothing to do with other people's opinions of us for doing X!")

Comment author: drethelin 31 December 2012 07:21:04AM 0 points [-]

I second this. I think it's kind of bad for LW's image to be associated with cult-like stuff, but I don't think it matters that much. But it would be really bad for ME if LW became really about ritual.

Comment author: Kawoomba 31 December 2012 11:39:40AM *  1 point [-]

I don't think it matters that much

It really does; already there were some unfortunate occurrences when I tried to initiate new acolytes, ahem, I mean when prodding some friends across the inferential chasm.

(edit: Answered Raemon per PM)

Comment author: shminux 31 December 2012 12:21:14AM 1 point [-]

LWers are primates, too, so some of us need this pack bonding thing in a form of a ritual. I'm not one of those, but I can see how others can feel differently. And given that rituals, whether religious or civic, are pretty much standard and often spontaneous in most communities, I don't see how having a ritual for some subgroup would harm the High Ideals of Rationality. It even might make the participants appear more human, by counteracting the perception of "straw Volcan"ness.

Comment author: Academian 31 December 2012 12:28:48AM 6 points [-]

I'm not saying rationalists should avoid engaging in ritual like the plague; but I do a lot of promoting of CFAR and rationality to non-LW-readers, and I happen to know from experience that a post like this in Main sends bad vibes to a lot of people. Again, I think it's sad to have to worry so much about image, but I think it's a reality.

Comment author: shminux 31 December 2012 12:34:12AM 1 point [-]

Oh, I agree that the optics would be better if the post in question was in Discussion, not Main.

Comment author: quiet 31 December 2012 01:12:33AM 3 points [-]

And given that rituals, whether religious or civic, are pretty much standard and often spontaneous in most communities, I don't see how having a ritual for some subgroup would harm the High Ideals of Rationality.

Rationality Itself remains unphased by a backyard party blog meetup, that's for sure.

I think Academian's post on the role of narrative in self-image touches on the seemingly disjointed purpose of a Rationalist Ritual. We all have our unique approaches to rational thought - my own experience consists largely of the dissolving of narratives in search of actual cause & effect. Not all narratives are destructive (or even wrong), but my employment of rational thought has never included them. Constructing and reinforcing narratives is what ritual is all about. Subjectively, the two just don't click for me.

Using Less Wrong as a maypole to dance around seems.. goofy, at best. Lesser things have been rot13'd around here.

It even might make the participants appear more human, by counteracting the perception of "straw Volcan"ness.

If this is what it takes to signal that we have emotional lives, then fuck me running.

Comment author: V_V 30 December 2012 11:33:32PM 4 points [-]
Comment author: drethelin 30 December 2012 09:45:09PM 2 points [-]

Hey, at least cults made the trains run on time!

Comment deleted 30 December 2012 01:19:10PM *  [-]
Comment author: Morendil 30 December 2012 02:14:29PM 1 point [-]

This is so full of what you guys call "Fallacy of grey"

I'm not seeing it; none of the above appears to be saying "Some people think religion-inspired rituals are da bomb, other people think they are horrible, so the truth must be somewhere in between".

Your use of "you guys", now, that strikes me as... below the belt.

Comment author: MixedNuts 30 December 2012 07:10:12PM -2 points [-]

No, I'm not saying "Politics and religion both make you very loyal to untrustworthy groups, so they're exactly as bad as each other", I'm saying that politics is at least as bad as religion in this area, so that can't be the reason you dislike the latter. It would help a lot if you stated your reasons, since apparently all of my guesses are wrong.

Look, it makes people think less straight.

Citation needed. All groups built around an ideology make people think less straight, and some parts of religion make that worse, especially the cultural norm against criticizing religious ideas. Is there anything about making groups feel sacredness that makes it worse? Does solitary religious practice make people think less straight at all?

Also, are you Algernon-lawing the effects on religion on people who think exceptionally straight in the first place, or are you claiming that they always outweigh the benefits of religion against anxiety, unhappiness, discouragement, etc.?

When others look at your cult and see it's a cult and stay the hell away

I'm worried about turning into a cult, but not about looking more like a cult at constant actual cultishness. People not interested in investigating how conformist and closed-off we are can use the characteristics that are easy to eyeball, sure. Making the community less fun in order to making it grow faster in against the selfish interests of most members.

Yea, I was thinking of things like gathering together with telescopes and actually comprehending how fucking big is this place we are suspended in, which you apparently disqualify outright.

Something like that may qualify (I've never comprehended numbers greater than about twelve, let alone ten to the power thereof, so I wouldn't know). Does it make you feel connected to something greater (I think stargazing in general does that) and serene and loving (of everything) and loved (by nothing in particular)?

Some works of art also qualify, some of which aren't meant to be religious. But they seem to need additional religiousish behaviors to make you the right kind of rapt.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 30 December 2012 08:35:41PM 2 points [-]

feel connected to something greater (I think stargazing in general does that) and serene and loving (of everything) and loved (by nothing in particular)

I am curious, are you suggesting (or do you think) that feeling this way, and experiences that make you feel this way, are a good thing?

Comment author: MixedNuts 30 December 2012 09:19:54PM 1 point [-]

That was just describing the emotion, but yes, I advocate it.

Pros: It feels several kinds of good. It improves mood afterwards, both directly (serenity, happiness) and indirectly (feeling loved improves self-esteem, feeling loving improves patience). It improves courage, motivation, and focus. It's a short-term fix for anxiety (which works even on partial success). It increases aesthetic appreciation. It's interesting, though most of the fun bits (like hallucinations) aren't universal.

Cons: If you attribute it to an external source, it can give you wrong beliefs. If you practice it in a group, it'll bind the group more than you might want. You might acquire some weird compulsions (I can't write "G-d", I occasionally have to stare at things). Some of the props might be expensive, depending on what works for you.

Comment deleted 30 December 2012 07:40:58PM *  [-]
Comment author: MixedNuts 30 December 2012 08:28:13PM -1 points [-]

Here you go again with continuum fallacy.

No I'm not. I'm saying that the religious groups you've observed go wonky because they're ideological groups, and that adding religion (without a taboo against criticizing it) won't increase the wonkiness. I admit it's hard to find examples because nearly all surviving religions have such taboos, but you could propose a mechanism, or any sort of attempt to answer "What's wrong with religion?" seriously I've been asking this for three comments spit it out already.

People who think they think exceptionally straight. Big difference.

Okay, so... you don't think religion actually moves people who already think straight away from the optimum, you think that it suggests bad ideas to overconfident people, who are insufficiently skeptical of them because of said overconfidence? Is that right? So, in this example, it'll make people who think they're good skeptics but aren't more confident that existential risks and AGI are likely and other popular LW beliefs, more than any series of speeches at a big LW meetup?

This community grows by accretion of people that can't think straight, to whom it is a particularly severe mental health hazard. See basilisks, various immortality rationalizations, et cetera.

Wait, what? Sure there's a whole lot of people here who are rather funny in the head, but people who are sensitive to ideas explained passionlessly in blog posts aren't examples of people more affected by religion...

Comment author: MugaSofer 09 January 2013 01:41:05PM *  0 points [-]

No, it seriously puts people in a more suggestible state - it's better modeled as a drug that as a behavior. Yes, and there's another bonding behavior that delivers a lot of oxytocin and endorphins, namely sex.

You make a convincing argument in favor of banning sex. :P

Comment author: MixedNuts 09 January 2013 03:51:11PM 2 points [-]

Yes, but people go funny in the head too if sexually frustrated (also religiously frustrated, but more people are susceptible to the former). You could have anonymous wordless one-night-stands to get some of the benefits of partnered sex without it influencing the rest of your life, but you still get frustration from sexual tension between specific people.

Alternately we could take a leaf from bonobos and replace "hello" and "thanks" with sex. If everyone is permanently hovering between afterglow and indiscriminate horniness, nobody has a relative advantage in manipulating or lovebombing (heh) others.

However, most people's solution to the tradeoff between caution ("don't want to ruin our friendship", "don't stick your dick in crazy", and so on) and getting laid doesn't put all the weight on the former.

Comment author: MugaSofer 10 January 2013 08:50:24AM *  -1 points [-]

I meant more in weirdtopian terms than immediate ones. Love as wireheading and so on. It was mostly sarcastic, anyway.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 09 January 2013 02:06:56PM 0 points [-]

Even more convincing in favour of celibacy, which indeed has a long pedigree in many traditions of enlightenment.

Comment author: MugaSofer 10 January 2013 09:47:40AM -1 points [-]

I actually wrote "in favor of celibacy", but decided it wasn't strong enough. Why should I let everyone else get brainwashed and selfishly save only myself?

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 24 December 2012 08:01:49AM 9 points [-]

Thank you for writing this. My reaction has been pretty much the same. I'm guessing that people are just wired differently, a lot of people seem to be feeling like they'd like to participate in something like this.

Comment author: Vaniver 24 December 2012 04:41:38PM 2 points [-]

Some people are interested, some people aren't. There have been comments on every post related to the Solstice celebrations by someone creeped out by the idea, but generally people creeped out by the idea don't comment (or only comment once) and people enthused by the idea do comment (and often repeatedly).

Comment author: prase 25 December 2012 06:29:47PM *  5 points [-]

I'd like to say that I have similar feeling concerning this.

Even if I wouldn't probably feel bad participating in any ritual, the described things (candles, people crying, reciting texts by Yudkowsky) are completely incompatible with my taste. Perhaps it is the apparent absolute lack of humor and the exalted seriousness which is most off-putting for me.

Comment author: Raemon 25 December 2012 07:03:36PM *  2 points [-]

There really wasn't a lack of humor, it just doesn't translate very well into a blog post. In person, my natural demeanor is high energy and silly, most of the time. When writing, for some reason it comes much easier to write seriously. Writing comedically is something I need to work on.

It may be that this would feel less offputting to some people if I had done emphasized other parts of the ceremony more. However, part of the biggest selling point of the night is that we (the NY group, and most other LW folk I've met), are generally pretty fun, often funny in self-depreciating ways. So having a night that starts with that, yes, but which also builds to something powerful and profound is a novel, interesting experience. People came from across state lines to experience something that isn't normally a part of their lives at all.

Yvain touched on this elsewhere - we (the broader American western culture, in general) are really good at being ironic and silly and fun. We're not really good at taking serious, important things seriously. I set this in motion because I thought it was something I didn't get nearly enough of, that I wanted and that other people seemed to want too.

Comment author: [deleted] 24 December 2012 02:00:55AM 6 points [-]

Since you mention that you had the same reaction last year, I assume that you've read the discussion that took place then that covers this issue, yes?

I know I'd feel pretty darn uncomfortable if I was at a gathering and everyone started a collective sing-along.

You are talking as if a required ritual was sprung on unsuspecting meetup participants. This is obviously not true. Both Raemon's and my rituals were advertised specifically as such. If you don't want to participate in a ritual don't go to one. There are plenty of non-ritual meetups that go on year round. I know Raemon even made the solstice event a two-day event. One day was ritual, and the other was just a regular get-together. So if you wanted to meet everyone without taking part in the ritual you could just go to the second day. In Columbus we didn't have to do that, because it wasn't open invite, and everyone in our group wanted to do the ritual (plus we have regular get-togethers all the time anyways).

Whyyyyyyyy????

Why not just get together and hang out and... I don't know. Play party games? Talk? Watch movies? Why a ritual?

For us (Columbus), our goal was to increase group bonding and cohesion. We find the people in our group to be worthwhile individuals, and want to increase positive affect between group members. Rituals and traditions are a good way to strengthen group ties, and when we were building our ritual we were specifically looking for ways to hack ourselves into feeling closer to the people we want to feel closer to. (i.e. doing things in unison, affirmations, etc)

I really feel rather unsettled by the fact that you're using Eliezer's writings as a kind of... I don't know, mass? Sermon?

Again, this is a good route towards consensual group/self-hacking. It is one thing to read something and rationally think "yes, this is a good idea/this is true." It is quite another thing to actually change your daily thoughts and actions to fall into line with what you rationally think is true (think of the difficulties people have battling akrasia, for example). In order to do this, you need to get those beneficial thoughts and ideas deep inside your intuition/system 1 reasoning. Ritual is one way to hack yourself to do this.

The things that we recited were the Litany of Gendlin and the Litany of Tarski. The ideas they represent (I value the truth, and want to believe only what is true. What is true is already so, and my belief-state doesn't change that, etc) are ideas that I very much WANT to be put as deep into my psyche as I can get them.

If you want to change your daily thoughts and actions, you need to change your elephant. Not just your rider.

Rituals and traditions are powerful things to our primitive monkey brains. We are purposefully, and with the full knowledge and consent of every participant, using it to engage in group self-hacking.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 24 December 2012 02:35:53AM 4 points [-]

Since you mention that you had the same reaction last year, I assume that you've read the discussion that took place then that covers this issue, yes?

Uh... maybe? I don't remember, honestly. Link?

You are talking as if a required ritual was sprung on unsuspecting meetup participants. This is obviously not true. Both Raemon's and my rituals were advertised specifically as such. If you don't want to participate in a ritual don't go to one.

Well, yes, obviously. I didn't mean to imply that anything was sprung on anyone, just saying that yes, I wouldn't go to such a thing. The issue for me is that this (for any value of "this"; the NYC LW group, for instance) is a group that does this sort of thing.

Again, this is a good route towards consensual group/self-hacking.

How can something be consensual if you enshrine it as a ritual? Once it's ritualized, it stops being consensual, except insofar as you can choose whether to go along with it or leave the group. Not participating is inherently alienating.

The ideas they [the litanies of Tarski and Gendlin] represent ... are ideas that I very much WANT to be put as deep into my psyche as I can get them.

Really? I rather think I want these things as deep in my psyche as is warranted by how true/useful I judge them to be, and absolutely no deeper than that.

In any case, it... doesn't seem like this is the only purpose of these rituals — and quite unlikely that it's the only effect.

we were specifically looking for ways to hack ourselves into feeling closer to the people we want to feel closer to.

I... don't understand this sentiment at all. That is, I don't understand what you mean by this (and consequently don't understand why it's something you'd want). Clarification would be much appreciated.

I know Raemon even made the solstice event a two-day event. One day was ritual, and the other was just a regular get-together. So if you wanted to meet everyone without taking part in the ritual you could just go to the second day.

From a comment on Yvain's review:

One thing I wish I had known was that if you skip the ritual and just come to the "general meetup" the next day -- as seemed like a perfectly good option on paper -- not only do you miss out on the fun described in the post, but you look and feel totally lame. Well, okay, maybe that's a slight exaggeration, since you still do get to meet (and re-meet) great LW (and LWish[*]) people; but those people will have just spent the previous day in, you know, a bonding ritual which, strangely enough, has this weird effect of bonding them together more closely to each other than to you who weren't there. (Also, they will have gotten most of their general meetup-socializing done the previous day, before the ritual, so as not to be strangers to each other during the latter.)

Seems like about what I would expect.

Comment author: Yvain 24 December 2012 10:12:24AM *  28 points [-]

It makes sense that some people might be turned off by ritual. I hope those people went to one of the several other New York Less Wrong megameetups, or to the designated ritual-free day Sunday, or even on Saturday for the two hours before the ritual started. If they come to an event that has "RITUAL" in big letters all over it on the day when the ritual is scheduled to occur then I don't think you can fairly accuse it of being inflicted on them without such a sweeping redefinition of "consent" that it becomes impossible to ever do anything that doesn't exactly conform to social norms.

A lot of the above criticisms act like the ritual ruined a perfectly good meetup, but I think without the ritual this meetup would not have occurred. I went there all the way from Maryland because I wanted to see the ritual after reading about it last year. I dragged a friend who was also there because she loved rituals. Many people there weren't even in the LW community at all and came only because they wanted to see what the ritual was about. Quite a few people organized cross-continental flights from California because they wanted to participate in the ritual. If Raemon had said "Okay everyone, let's have yet another meetup and talk about Bayes for a few hours", there simply wouldn't have been a meetup of this size.

So on utilitarian grounds, I think it is a pure loss to take dozens of people for whom this is one of the highlights of their year, and hold them hostage to the purely theoretical possibility that there might be someone who wants to go to a megameetup, refuses to go to any of the many non-ritual megameetups, mysteriously hates ritual despite her insistence on only going to the megameetup with "ritual" in the name, refuses to go on the designated non-ritual day, refuses to leave or even go upstairs when the ritual starts, and is such a utility monster that her needs outweigh those of everyone else.

And knowing what the ritual was like, it's also hard for me to take the idea of exclusion seriously. I understand why people who came on the second day might feel like they missed something, but the same would be true if we'd all gone out to watch a movie Saturday night and they hadn't seen it. But other than that? We sung silly songs from Portal and Firefly together for a while. Now we are closer far than brothers, and shall never again feel respect or human feeling for anyone outside our sacred circle.

No, seriously, I do understand the idea of the Dark Arts (I coined our community's use of the term). But I think there's a difference between brainwashing and inspiration. Brainwashing changes your beliefs, inspiration helps you live up to them. I don't know if it's possible to do inspiration without even the slightest chance of brainwashing, but I'd rather not ban all inspirational activities until we prove it.

If it helps, think of this less as people in robes chanting in a dead language and more as our version of a school graduation (which, uh, also involves people in robes chanting in a dead language, but you get the picture). At a school graduation they sing songs, somebody talks about the values of the school and the importance of learning, and then everyone goes forth psyched about their future and has fond memories later. The same is true of weddings, funerals, the Fourth of July, birthday parties, summer camps. To excise all of those things from our lives because we can't prove they don't cause some residual brainwashing would make the world less than it was.

As a secular Jew, I grew up treating Passover and even my Bar Mitzvah in about the same way I treated birthday parties and summer camps; a fun time to get together and sing and appreciate family and friends, a marking of life transitions and the passing of time. But it grew harder and harder for me to appreciate them when I realized that I didn't really approve of celebrating the deaths of the Egyptian first-born, or that chanting the Torah and drawing moral lessons from it felt kind of like BSing in front of everyone. Even school graduations got to feel a little like "go forth and be a cog in a slightly more complex machine than the one you are currently a cog in."

In New York, I was able to have a good time and sing and meet people and mark the passings of the seasons, and for one of the first times affirm values that I really believed in. When Raemon got up there and started talking about how each year the sun went dark, and each year people died during the winter, but each year the sun came back - and when he went onto how each year we humans added a little bit more of our own light, and one day we would conquer the darkness entirely and no one would have to die anymore - well, it was a beautiful experience. Not life altering, not rationality-maximizing, but beautiful. And to be terribly clinical, the person I was before the ritual would have approved of everything that went on, which is not a test simple brainwashing can pass.

I agree that experiencing the sacred can be done individually. So can sex. It's not the same, though, in either case. Ever since the days of lighting fires and chanting about the gods, we've been doing our sacredness in groups. Even the ancients who took "sacred" totally literally knew you needed a minyan. It just works better. It's something I feel a need for. And I'd only fulfill that need in a group I completely trust, because of the brainwashing and awkwardness concerns you mentioned. And this was it. I don't think I took it seriously on an intellectual level, and I didn't have the same feelings as the people above who said it helped cement concepts into their mind. But I felt catharsis afterwards. I smiled a lot and sang a lot and it was good.

A commenter downstream said that his worry here "has to do with seriousness and how much I value banter and puncturing self-importance". I think we already have too much self-importance puncturing; too much irony. I think on the scales of "funny things should be taken lightly, solemn things should be taken with solemnity", we are too good at the former and too worried about social stigma to do the latter. In fact, of everything I'm impressed with Raemon for, the thing that impressed me most was his ability to take himself seriously, to resist the overpowering urge to say "Ha ha guys, I don't really think I'm cool enough to have strong feelings and officiate a celebration of the seasons, it's all just ironic, I'm not silly or something."

Except when it was silly. Raemon had the rare skill to design a night for us that was both funny and solemn at once, in exactly the right places, and to the exact degree that each idea required. I appreciate the humor but I think it was the solemnity that was beautiful.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 24 December 2012 05:24:57PM 3 points [-]

It makes sense that some people might be turned off by ritual. I hope those people went to one of the several other New York Less Wrong megameetups, or to the designated ritual-free day Sunday, or even on Saturday for the two hours before the ritual started. If they come to an event that has "RITUAL" in big letters all over it on the day when the ritual is scheduled to occur then I don't think you can fairly accuse it of being inflicted on them without such a sweeping redefinition of "consent" that it becomes impossible to ever do anything that doesn't exactly conform to social norms.

It was not my intention to accuse the ritual of being inflicted on anyone; I didn't think I said or implied such a thing, but if so, let me assure you that I quite realize that attendance was voluntary. As for the other megameetups, I will try to attend the next time a non-ritual one happens. I was sadly unable to make it on that Sunday. They seem to happen about once a year, yes?

Your other comments seem to suggest that you think that I am worried about brainwashing, or what have you; that's just not the issue here. So your comments such as

I don't know if it's possible to do inspiration without even the slightest chance of brainwashing, but I'd rather not ban all inspirational activities until we prove it.

To excise all of those things from our lives because we can't prove they don't cause some residual brainwashing would make the world less than it was.

miss the mark a bit. Like Risto_Saarelma, I just dislike rituals (fairly strongly). From your comment, and others in this thread, I've discovered that some (most?) people do like them, and like them enough to serve as motivation for traveling some distance, or at least for attending an event they'd otherwise skip. All I can say is: mind = blown. I really, genuinely did not expect this to be such a prevalent preference in the rationalist community.

Comment author: Yvain 25 December 2012 12:14:30AM 5 points [-]

I'm sorry, I may have either rounded you to the nearest cliche or lumped my responses to other people's comments into my response to yours.

Your comments about "social pressure" and "how can something be consensual if you enshrine it as a ritual" did make me think there was a consent aspect to it, and your comment about "using ritual to insert things deep into your psyche is something that I think is just bad" was where I got the feeling of brainwashing from, but I can see how I might've been misunderstanding them.

So you're saying you have such strong anti-ritual preferences that you assumed people must have been awkwardly attending something they didn't like in order to fit in? Hm. That makes sense.

I guess what I've learned from this is that I still can't describe the reasons for why I like things. "Community bonding" sounds good, but when you press me on it I admit it's kind of dumb and the ritual wasn't really about that at all. "Sense of the sacred" sounds good but there were a lot of other easier ways to get that feeling I didn't go for. I'm just going to say I have an unexplained preference for rituals of about the same magnitude as an unexplained preference for playing fantasy role-playing games, and although I can come up with just-so stories for it ("group bonding", "search for meaning", whatever) I can't explain it but would like to keep doing it anyway.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 25 December 2012 12:46:46AM 8 points [-]

So you're saying you have such strong anti-ritual preferences that you assumed people must have been awkwardly attending something they didn't like in order to fit in? Hm. That makes sense.

I... suppose. Sort of.

Reading the OP made me immediately update to a realization that at least some people really liked this sort of thing; I assumed the other attendees had their own reasons for attending (which may not have just boiled down to peer pressure); I didn't expect to subsequently learn that a preference for rituals is a) apparently everyone's reason for coming, and b) much more common in the rationalist community than I thought. My own concerns about consent and social pressure are part of my reaction, though not, as I've said, the entirety.

For what it's worth, I, too, have a pretty strong preference for playing fantasy role-playing games (especially of the tabletop variety), so your analogy hits close to home. I am trying to imagine what it would be like to have a strong "ick" reaction to tabletop RPGs such that I couldn't understand why anyone would do it and would avoid a group that engaged in this activity, and I think I am succeeding, at least partly. (Of course, what I can't do is verbalize any reason why I'd have such a reaction, which I definitely can for my objections to rituals.) Putting myself back in my own shoes, my response to such a person would be a lack of comprehension of what it was they found so objectionable; I guess I wouldn't have much to say in response other than a shrug and "well, RPGs are awesome and we like playing them and it doesn't hurt anyone". I surmise from your comment that your response to my feelings about rituals can be summed up similarly?

Comment author: Rain 08 January 2013 03:57:19PM *  0 points [-]

I guess what I've learned from this is that I still can't describe the reasons for why I like things.

I always refer to this chapter on ritual from the book Secular Wholeness.

Comment author: moshez 24 December 2012 08:51:43PM 2 points [-]

Which assumptions generated the incorrect predictions? Are you pulling your Bayesian updates backwards through the belief-propogation network given this new evidence? (In other words: updating on a small probability event should change your mind about a whole host of related beliefs.)

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 24 December 2012 09:04:30PM *  1 point [-]

I think it was some variant of the Typical Mind Fallacy, albeit one based not only on my own preferences but on those of my friends (though of course you'd expect that I'd associate with people who have preferences similar to mine, so this does not make the fallacy much more excusable).

I think the main belief I've updated based on this is my estimate on the prevalence of my sort of individualistic, suspicious-of-groups, allergic-to-crowds, solitude-valuing outlook in the Less Wrong community, which I have adjusted strongly downward (although that adjustment has been tempered by the suspicion, confirmed by a couple of comments on this post, that people who object to things such as rituals etc. often simply don't speak up).

I have also been reminded of something I guess I knew but hadn't quite absorbed, which is that, apparently, many people in aspiring rationalist communities come from religious backgrounds. This of course makes sense given the base rates. What I didn't expect is that people would value the ritual trappings of their religious upbringing, and value them enough to construct new rituals with similar forms.

I will also add that despite this evidence that way more people like rituals than I'd have expected, and my adjustment of my beliefs about this, I am still unable to alieve it. Liking ritual, experiencing a need for and enjoyment of collectivized sacredness, is completely alien to me to the point where I am unable to imagine it.

Comment author: ataftoti 25 December 2012 04:34:50AM 3 points [-]

(although that adjustment has been tempered by the suspicion, confirmed by a couple of comments on this post, that people who object to things such as rituals etc. often simply don't speak up)

For epistemology's sake I'll speak up so you may be more confident in the suspicion...

I find these rituals, as described, to be completely uninteresting as social activities, and have a visceral negative reaction to imagining people doing this, even semi-seriously. "Group self-hacking for cohesion and bonding" is the...sort-of good way to put it I guess, because I would rather describe it as "optimistically wielding double-edged daggers forged from the Dark Arts".

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 25 December 2012 06:47:35AM 1 point [-]

Thank you for posting, I really do appreciate it.

I do want to note that, for at least one proponent of the ritual (Yvain, see here), the "cohesion and bonding" turned out not to be the underlying motivation. This makes sense to me, and I am very suspicious about any claims such as "research indicates that group bonding increases happiness, so I choose to do this thing that I believe will generate group bonding", or "group cohesiveness is beneficial, so we should have rituals because they promote group cohesiveness". They just don't ring true; I have a hard time believing that people think that way. It seems to me that some people just really like and enjoy rituals. I don't really understand why, of course, but that's just because my preference skews in the opposite direction. The stuff about bonding and cohesion seems like rationalization, or, at best, an attempt to describe one's bare preference, rather than an explanation of what actually motivated a choice.

That having been said, I quite agree that rituals are forged from the Dark Arts. This contributes to, though does not constitute, my dislike of them.

Comment author: moshez 24 December 2012 09:19:49PM 2 points [-]

Thanks! You have already updated, so I'm not sure if you want to update further, but I'm wondering if you had read Why our kind can't cooperate, and what your reaction to that was?

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 24 December 2012 09:32:06PM *  0 points [-]

I have indeed read it; I've even linked it to other people on this site myself, and taken explicit steps to counteract the effect; see e.g. this post.

I have no problem saying "I agree; you are right and/or this is awesome". This happens to be a topic to which my reaction is otherwise. I think it's especially important to speak up in cases where I disagree and where I think a number of other people also disagree but hesitate to speak.

Comment author: moshez 24 December 2012 10:15:41PM 6 points [-]

Sorry, that's not the context at which I meant it -- I'm sure you're as willing to admit you were wrong as the next rationalist. I mean it in the context of "Barbarians vs. Rationalists" -- if group cohesion is increased by ritual, and group cohesion is useful to the rationality movement, than ritual could be useful. Wanting to dissociate ourselves from the trappings of religion seems like a case of "reversed stupidity" to me...

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 24 December 2012 11:34:37AM 6 points [-]

I don't think I'm worrying about brainwashing concerns or failing the social proof respectability checks.

I'm seeing a community cementing thing that I see no intrinsic fun in and a lot of other people seem to be seeing intrinsic fun in, which is tripping my "pretend to be like the normals and make the extra effort to participate in the unfun thing that is actually fun for them because they are not like you and then they might be less likely to kill you" instinct.

Comment author: Yvain 24 December 2012 12:19:11PM *  11 points [-]

What if next year's ritual includes chanting thrice unto the heavens a solemn vow not to kill the people who don't go to next year's ritual?

...nah, I don't think anyone wants to to kill or even shun people who don't go to the ritual. Of the top ten LW contributors on the table on the right, only two of them (me and Alicorn) attended, and for me it was a last-second sort of thing. Eliezer didn't go. It would be kind of hard to shun Eliezer and 80% of the top contributors, even if people wanted to. Only a tiny proportion of the community went to the ritual and those who chose not to were in good company.

More philosophically, wouldn't the same complaint apply to having real-life meetups at all (wouldn't it exclude people who prefer to just talk via the Internet?) or writing HPMoR (now non-readers feel left out of a lot of discussions and don't get in-jokes, so they might feel pressure to read it) or CFAR minicamps (people who don't get selected to go might feel like they're less a part of the community). And I know one commenter above managed to find some trivial differences between board game night and ritual night, but the fundamental problem of "What if I don't enjoy this but I feel like I have to go anyway?" remains sound.

I think the road of not doing fun things that most people want because someone who doesn't want to do it might feel left out leads to sitting quietly in a dark room. And the road of never doing community cementing things because people might be outside them leads to never trying to cement the community. And I think that the ritual, in this case, is being held to a much higher standard than any other activity of this sort just because it sounds kind of weird.

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 24 December 2012 01:04:49PM 10 points [-]

The particular problem with the ritual is that unlike the other things, it seems to exist only for the purpose of community-building. Opting out of the other activities makes your cognitive dissonance module say "well, maybe I don't like fanfiction / board games / decision theory that much", which isn't that bad. Opting out of the ritual makes the cognitive dissonance module say "well, maybe I don't care that much for being a community member", which is a bit more unfortunate.

Then there's also the small thing where the nonsensical community forming rituals have popped up in every human culture everywhere as far back as we know anything about human cultures, and always tend to develop the side effect of the socially gelled people favoring each other a bit more over the boring people who don't bother to play along with the rituals. This is what the social instinct response is about, not paranoia about hooded murderers going about stabbing people one night. Traditional societies seem to end up with all members participating in whatever the local ritual is, because that's the guarantee for belonging in the in-group and the other in-group members having your back. If you don't see the point in the ritual, tough. The social cohesion mechanism wasn't built for you, just smile and play-act along for the bit of extra guarantee that someone might have food to spare for you as well on the next famine year.

Comment author: Yvain 24 December 2012 11:55:37PM 6 points [-]

I think that people's response to ritual is hard to explain. I have trouble explaining it. "Community-building" is sort of the default explanation. In the same way, if there were a real-life meetup, "getting to know people better", which is almost a synonym for "community building", is a default explanation because it's hard to explain why we like meeting people face to face when online conversation is so much easier.

I think you make a good point that presenting it as "community building" might sound exclusionary, and I will stop using that justification. But in the end I don't think it is any more about community building than meetups or board games or anything like that - only harder to explain, so that that explanation becomes more salient. Maybe we should just bill it as "Come and sing and feel emotions."

Comment author: TheOtherDave 02 January 2013 05:14:53PM 4 points [-]

it's hard to explain why we like meeting people face to face when online conversation is so much easier.

Sure, but this is in the same sense that it's hard to explain why we perceive three-dimensional objects when the input we're getting is two-dimensional arrays. It took a lot of smart people paying attention to unravel that particular puzzle, but there's nothing fundamentally mysterious about it.

There's a lot of stuff going on in face to face interactions that isn't present in online conversation, and it evidently includes things that many of us find gratifying.

Which things those are is worth knowing (not least because we can use that knowledge to build more gratifying telepresence rigs) but not knowing it doesn't preclude being gratified by them, any more than not knowing how to derive 3D models from 2D images precludes perceiving 3D objects.

Not that you're saying otherwise, granted. I suspect I'm just responding emotionally to the idea of demanding an explanation before it's OK to value something.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 02 January 2013 07:04:17PM 0 points [-]

I suspect I'm just responding emotionally to the idea of demanding an explanation before it's OK to value something.

I agree with this sentiment in general, but in cases where the "something" that's being valued is valued only by some people, rather than all (here I am referring to rituals, rather than just "meeting people face to face"), seeking an explanation is more important.

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 25 December 2012 08:38:40AM 2 points [-]

Right. I probably am going for a bit of a selective reduction here with my kneejerk reactions. There's all sorts of quite strange when you think about it stuff going on with playing board games too, for instance, which I'm not being concerned about.

Still, I think we have a mutual appreciation here that rituals are powerful stuff. I worry a bit when I see a not that broad culture (compared to society at large, or the academia as a whole, for example) like LW picking up on a ritual and taking it up as its own, and thinking about what role rituals end up having everywhere in human history. I'm seeing things getting on a path to ending up as something like Freemasonry (assuming for the moment that they're more secular than they are), where there might be an understanding that the rituals are just a formality, but participating in the culture without participating in the rituals still basically doesn't work.

I might also notice that all the subcultures that stick around for more than a generation or two seem to come with rituals running the show. It might be that the actual problem I'm pattern matching isn't about adopting rituals at all, but about subcultures sticking around past their expiration date instead. Subcultures that go bad quickly tend to have more overt badness indicators.

Maybe we should just bill it as "Come and sing and feel emotions."

"Come join the Solstice Ritual" sounds like just people being silly to me, while this sounds like something from a Grant Morrison comic book that will end with someone's head being carved open by robed creatures with giant insect heads.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 24 December 2012 01:58:23PM 4 points [-]

Hmm... although I've never been to any of these rituals, but from reading the descriptions, it hasn't been my impression that it would exist only for community-building. For example, I found the description of the 2011 ritual touching on an emotional level even though I was reading it all alone at home, and I expect that the rituals would also have given me a strong emotional kick that wasn't directly related to the group bonding aspect. Going out to a movie with friends would probably be a good analogy: being in a group does enhance the experience, and the group bonding is a plus, but the main reason we go there is the movie itself.

The social bonding and getting to meet new folks was not what gave me a strong feeling of "man, I want to participate in that" when I read the description of the original ritual. In fact, all of the social bonding stuff was just extra: a nice plus, but hardly the point. What attracted me was, well, the ritual itself: the feeling that it could give me a deep, lasting emotional experience that'd move me to the core, a faint echo of which I felt while reading the post. That would ultimately be a solitary and personal experience, even if I needed the presence of a group to help me achieve it.

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 24 December 2012 02:26:51PM 2 points [-]

This isn't at all unlike what I imagine the ingroup-strengthening response to ritual to feel from the inside.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 24 December 2012 04:31:24PM *  1 point [-]

What I was trying to say was that I don't think that its level of "(only community building)-ness" is much higher than that of board games or fan fiction. A little higher, maybe, but not that much. I don't know if I'd feel differently if I'd actually participated in such a ritual, though.

Comment author: Alicorn 24 December 2012 03:36:43PM 8 points [-]

I think the road of not doing fun things that most people want because someone who doesn't want to do it might feel left out leads to sitting quietly in a dark room.

But I don't want to sit quietly in a dark room. If that's our new thing I'll feel left out!

Comment author: Raemon 24 December 2012 09:32:57PM 2 points [-]

I mean, that actually was sort of the central point of the event (which I know you had to miss out on!) so I'm not entirely sure what Yvain's point was :P

(Actually come to think of it you may well have been sitting in a dark room at the time)

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 24 December 2012 11:48:54AM 1 point [-]

When you say "see no intrinsic fun in" do you mean "this doesn't sound like fun" or do you mean "I have tried this, it wasn't fun, and I don't anticipate rationalists being able to do it in a way that would make it fun"? If the former, do you think actually trying it would be valuable in the name of gathering more information? In general, what are your thoughts on comfort zone expansion?

Comment author: Risto_Saarelma 24 December 2012 12:09:07PM 6 points [-]

The latter. I've been through all sorts of community forming rituals, and always found them nonsensical and mostly unfun. Comfort zone expansion is good, but if a tried thing is not working out, it's not working out.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 24 December 2012 05:36:49AM 2 points [-]

How can something be consensual if you enshrine it as a ritual? Once it's ritualized, it stops being consensual, except insofar as you can choose whether to go along with it or leave the group. Not participating is inherently alienating.

I don't understand this. How does a ritual differ from any other social event in this regard? I mean, if the group decides that some folks want to have a rationality discussion or a board game evening, then you also have a choice of attending or not, and a decision not to attend can also be interpreted as alienating.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 24 December 2012 05:56:24AM 2 points [-]

The difference is that if we decide to play some board games once, all potential participants have input on whether or not to do it, and if the activity takes place, anyone who didn't want to do it can abstain.

The next time the suggestion is brought up, the process repeats, with no decrease in consensualness.

With a ritual, once it's instituted, when the time comes to do it again, there is not a repeat of the discussion wherein we decide whether to do it, and if so, how. Now it's "well of course we're going to do it, this is the ritual that we do". AND it's now tied to your group's identity. Not only is there no longer anywhere near the same possibility of saying "eh, on second thought, forget that, let's do something else", but people who abstain aren't just deciding not to do this one particular thing, they're now abstaining from something which defines the group, and therefore mark themselves as Not Part Of The Group.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 24 December 2012 06:04:38AM 0 points [-]

You seem to essentially be drawing a distinction between 1) events that are negotiated separately each time, and 2) ones which have become established and are held repeatedly with no negotiation. But board game evenings can also become so popular that they become traditional and are held at regular intervals with no express negotiation, and rituals can also fail to draw an audience and so never become a tradition in the first place.

Comment author: drethelin 24 December 2012 06:07:52AM 1 point [-]

This doesn't make sense. Either a ritual is qualitatively different than a board game night and saying it's pretty much the same thing and therefore just as harmless is false, or it's basically the same thing, in which case why do you want to do it so much?

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 24 December 2012 06:30:54AM 2 points [-]

I wasn't saying that there's no qualitative difference between board games and ritual. I was saying that I don't see a difference with regard to the specific aspect that SaidAchmiz was bringing up.

Comment author: Raemon 24 December 2012 06:29:22AM 0 points [-]

Last time I kept telling people "I'm eventually going to respond to this" and people were sort of annoyed (until I eventually did respond to it).

I'm going to be doing that again, and apologize, but it's easier to address all the concerns at once.

I would, however, recommend that you attempt to revisit that paragraph, steelman your opposition a bit, and see if you can think of some ways in which rituals might be qualitatively different than board games in some ways, but not in others.

Comment author: drethelin 24 December 2012 06:46:50AM *  6 points [-]

My comment was more an invitation for Kaj to steelman his own point than an objection, but I see what you're getting at.

Key differences:

  • 1: weirdness: A Boardgame night is extremely normal. Tons of normal people and nerds have variations on the concept. A Ritual night is very odd, and therefore automatically screens out outsiders.
    1. Exclusionary: Indeed, the entire point of Rituals is to draw a line between them and us. This is off-putting to anyone who does not want to put themselves into the "us". A new person can happily join in and enjoy the familiarity of playing boardgames and not feel like they're being indoctrinated. They can get to know and bond with strangers over something familar. This is basically what Said earlier in this thread.
    1. Room for individuality/nonparticipation: Boardgame night does not consist of the same thing each time. Maybe some nights we play Resistance, maybe other nights we play Dominion, and maybe different subsets of boardgame night play different games. A ritual not only makes everyone do the same thing, it makes them do it all at once. No one really cares if you overhear "I've got wood for sheep!" while you're playing Ascension, or just having a conversation, but it would certainly ruin the mood of a ritual. The only polite responses to Ritual are participation, silence, or leaving.
  • There's some more I feel I can say on this but I can't yet articulate it appropriately. It has to do with seriousness and how much I value banter and puncturing self-importance.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 24 December 2012 07:10:08AM 2 points [-]

I endorse this response as sufficiently representative of my own views also, especially the 2nd and 3rd bullet points (the first slightly less because I am not terribly concerned about being "normal" as such).

Comment author: Vika 25 December 2012 03:09:14AM 1 point [-]

Regarding the point about "us vs them", I agree that some traditional rituals have this issue, but I can't think of anyone who would fill the role of "them" in the case of the Solstice celebration. The event was mostly about humanity as a whole prevailing over darkness / death / ignorance / etc. This seems much less problematic than ritualistic bonding over being different from some particular group of people.

Comment author: Raemon 24 December 2012 06:56:28AM -1 points [-]

That is indeed a much better answer. Thank you. (It actually does update me slightly away from ritual-use, although I wasn't planning on doing the things that I'd have avoided after updating)

Comment author: moshez 24 December 2012 09:01:18PM 0 points [-]

I used to have a group of friends (some closer than others), and we would all get together and play Settlers of Catan a given day of the week (~4 years ago, I don't remember which day it was). It consisted of the "same thing" (obviously the game turned out differently every week, but still) every week. There was not really room for "nonparticipation" in the sense that if you wanted to hang out with these people that day, you played Catan. Would it upset you if you learned that there was a regular meetup of Catan LW enthusiasts who meet once a week to play?

Some of my closest friends are from the Israeli filking community. There's no "ritual" per se, but we know and love the same songs, we sing them together and not-singing is kinda frowned upon. It's certainly "weird", and even somewhat exclusionary (helped by a bit of justified feeling of persecution from the rest of SF fandom). Would it upset you if you learned that there was a regular meetup of Filk LW enthusiasts who meet once a week to sing together?

I'm really asking these questions (in the sense that I do not find myself certain either way for what your answer will be, although I assign >.5 that it will be "no" on both).

If it is a "no", then it seems these are not your true rejections.

If it is a "yes", you seem to have a wide brush to paint "things I do not want LWers to do."

Comment author: Vika 26 December 2012 01:30:59AM -1 points [-]

I think it's quite unlikely for this ritual to become tied to the group's identity, let alone define the group. There are a lot of people strongly involved in the community who don't participate (as Yvain said), and a number of people who explicitly voice objections against it. Also, the event only happens once a year, there's nothing as pervasive as e.g. a ritual component in every meetup, so the influence on the whole group's mentality is probably minimal.

Not only is there no longer anywhere near the same possibility of saying "eh, on second thought, forget that, let's do something else"

I agree that this is likely to happen, since holding the ritual and organizing "something else" are not mutually exclusive. Are you also concerned about opportunity cost?

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 26 December 2012 01:42:32AM 1 point [-]

I think it's quite unlikely for this ritual to become tied to the group's identity, let alone define the group.

What?! The winter solstice ritual is already tied to the OB/LW NYC group's identity — or at least it very much seems that way from the outside, and it certainly looks like (at least some of) the group's members are actively working to both make that be the case, and to promote that image of the event to the rest of LW.

Comment author: Vika 26 December 2012 09:10:01PM 0 points [-]

Sorry, I misunderstood, I do agree that the ritual is connected to the group identity. Do you expect it to have significant effects on the LW group identity besides increasing the sense of community?

I think that opting out of a component of the group identity doesn't necessarily lead to alienation. For example, caring about FAI is a significant part of the LW group identity, but people who care about FAI much less than, say, building rationality skills (like myself) are still welcome and included.

they're now abstaining from something which defines the group, and therefore mark themselves as Not Part Of The Group.

Do you mean signaling that you're not part of the group, or feeling that you're not part of the group, or both?

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 26 December 2012 09:36:55PM 2 points [-]

I think that opting out of a component of the group identity doesn't necessarily lead to alienation.

This is true, but a ritual designed explicitly as a group-bonding exercise (and, it seems, the most prominent such exercise) is more likely to be something opting out of which contributes to alienation than, say, caring about FAI.

Do you mean signaling that you're not part of the group, or feeling that you're not part of the group, or both?

Both. Although I didn't so much mean "signaling that you're not part of the group" as "doing something which is interpreted by other group members as an indication that you're not part of the group", but the difference is of emphasis at best.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 25 December 2012 09:18:02AM *  2 points [-]

On the subject of making up your own rituals, I can't resist sharing these two links from Wondermark.

Update: The new tradition of the Hanukkah Duck develops further.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 25 December 2012 05:22:44PM 1 point [-]

... hah.

... are those ducks purchasable? I'm asking for.... a friend.

Comment author: David_Gerard 30 December 2012 02:46:01PM 3 points [-]

Well, yeah. The whole point of rituals like this in religion is to switch off thinking and get people going with the flow. The epistemic danger should be pretty obvious. Ritual = irrational.

Comment author: Yvain 24 December 2012 02:34:33AM 2 points [-]

Ok, I thought I knew what a Schelling Point is, but this usage puzzles me a bit. If I'm interpreting it right, though, my question is... why do this?

I stole that usage from (I think) Marcello. The idea is that people come together to be thankful and have fun and celebrate in one specific place and time and manner, and that makes it a unifying event that everyone enjoys more.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 24 December 2012 03:05:00AM 5 points [-]

Yeah, that makes sense.

My question then is: why make it a ritual rather than just a holiday party? Why not: "Every year, we [my friends/this meetup group/whoever] get together on December the whateverth and have a holiday party! It's tradition! Yay!"? That works as a Schelling Point too, no?

Of course, at this point, "why" is partly rhetorical, as daenerys and Raemon have more or less responded.

Comment author: Raemon 24 December 2012 02:19:51AM 2 points [-]

First off, I upvoted your post. I probably should edit something to this effect in the main post - I value this kind of feedback very much. I think ritual is valuable, but I acknowledge that it has some important costs, most notably in the form of visceral reactions among both existing important members of the community, and potential newcomers who might be turned off.

Daenerys covered a lot of the important points. I'll be addressing some additional points in a later post. Most of what I had to say about this is covered in my post from last year, The Value (and Danger) of Ritual

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 24 December 2012 03:00:33AM 6 points [-]

Thank you; I appreciate your response. Based on what daenerys wrote, I think that my response breaks down as follows:

  1. Using ritual to insert things deep into your psyche is something that I think is just bad. Using writings on rationality as sermons, reciting litanies about truth by candelight, etc., misses the point and is dangerous because it attaches you to the views and propositions in question too closely.

  2. Using ritual as group bonding... I don't understand the motivation, to be honest. I acknowledge that it probably works, I just can't understand why you'd want to do it. This is, of course, a personal preference, not any kind of criticism per se.

  3. The above two points notwithstanding, I find rituals very icky and offputting (especially, upon reflection, when they have an (explicitly?) religious feel to them!). This is the case regardless of whether the purpose is worthwhile and whether the ritual effectively serves the purpose.

From your linked post:

Some people may be turned off. Skeptics who specifically turned to rationality to escape mindless ritual that was forced upon them may find this all scary.

This describes me. Not literally; I never (well, almost never) had any mindless rituals forced upon me, but I don't like mindless ritual and enjoy the rationalist perspective for absence thereof.

Quality, intelligent individuals may come to our website, see an article about a night of ritual and then tune out and leave.

I haven't tuned out, but I do find it offputting, as I mentioned.

I think this is an acceptable cost to pay. Because for good or for ill, most humans like emotional things that aren’t strictly rational. ... There are smart cynics who will be turned off, but there are also smart idealists who will be drawn to recognizable human emotional arcs.

I find this view unfortunate. Not just for the personal reason that you're describing my reaction as an acceptable cost (which I can understand, even if it makes me somewhat sad), but because I don't agree with your framing. I don't think I'm a cynic. I consider myself rather idealistic. I'm not sure why you think only cynics would be turned off by such things.

The rest of your post largely doesn't address my concerns, I'm afraid. bryjnar's comment here is fairly close to my own views, and the responses don't seem at all satisfactory to me.

I am beginning to suspect that this may be a fairly fundamental difference in preferences.

Comment author: juliawise 24 December 2012 04:34:08AM 6 points [-]

Using ritual as group bonding... I don't understand the motivation, to be honest.

Happiness research is pretty clear that better social connections make us happier. There's a reason that church-goers are happier than non-attenders. Ritual is good at facilitating group bonding, and group bonding is good for people. (Provided it doesn't lead you to do stupid stuff.)

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 24 December 2012 05:15:12AM *  3 points [-]

I fear that part of my comment was not entirely clear...

Let me ask you this: do you actually want to group bond? This is quite a separate question from "based on research, I believe group bonding will make me happier".

For myself, I sometimes think: "Hm, I like this person/these people; they are cool and interesting. I enjoy hanging out with them, and intend to continue doing so in the future."

I can't imagine myself thinking "Hm, I want to group bond with some people/these people. What can I do that will have that effect?"

That is, group bonding seems to be the goal here. Is it actually something that you directly want, or is this a case of "research says that it will make me happier, and I want to be happier, so I will do this"?

P.S. As for the church goers... yes, I can believe that they are happier (although that's "happier on average", right?). I don't think we should therefore conclude that they have the right idea about this whole ritual-as-group-bonding thing.

Comment author: juliawise 24 December 2012 02:21:14PM 7 points [-]

Yes, group bonding is something I directly want, because I've enjoyed it in other contexts before. For one thing, I'm not that good at making casual friendships, and given a casual social setting, I won't get very close to people. I wouldn't have traveled to New York just to hang out. Participating in a more structured group activity makes people more likely to actually get together and connect with each other. Also, ritual is good for bringing up topics (death, hope) that are hard to bring up in casual conversation. Once introduced in a structured way like a ritual, the topics are easier to address afterwards in unstructured conversation.

Also, I think community support is a good thing that most of us don't have enough of. Group bonding helps produce a norm of helping each other, even if we're not especially interested in every group member as an individual.

Comment author: FeepingCreature 24 December 2012 05:26:19PM *  4 points [-]

I imagine group bonding is valuable because of reasons like "I want to adapt those values and behaviors, because they seem useful, but I can't individually self-modify - I should find a group that follows these behaviors/values, so that I can adapt them via peer pressure." At least, that's my perspective.

Comment author: Raemon 24 December 2012 04:24:17AM *  4 points [-]

I am beginning to suspect that this may be a fairly fundamental difference in preferences.

That is almost certainly what it is. I am going to unpack some things in an upcoming post and possibly explain what I mean better, but in the end, you won't say "oh, now that you cleared that up I agree with you," it'll be more "now I understand why we disagree on this."

For the time being - taboo the word ritual. What is it that we did that is different from a "holiday party?" Be specific.

I'll be addressing in more detail in an upcoming post, but it'd be helpful to know what exactly you're concerned about. To the extent that you think this has negative consequences beyond ostracizing people who find in aesthetically distasteful (which I agree is a non-trivial consequence), could you also elaborate on why it is bad to use ritual to hack your psyche? Is it also bad to use positive reinforcement to hack your psyche? What consequences do you anticipate?

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 24 December 2012 05:49:13AM 5 points [-]

These are good questions, and I ask that you bear with me as I try to verbalize my gut-level response.

For the time being - taboo the word ritual. What is it that we did that is different from a "holiday party?" Be specific.

For one thing, you sang songs. Together. Songs intended to trigger emotional responses both by their content and by the fact that they were being sung as a group.

You recited litanies — again, together (right? please correct me if I'm misunderstanding any of the details here!) — and read "sermons" (of rationality content, albeit excellently written, of course; I certainly don't deny that Eliezer's writing is evocative), in a candle-lit room (with intentionally decreasing candlelight? I'm going by Yvain's description here), again, in an atmosphere designed to evoke emotional responses.

If any of my friends suggested doing any of this at any holiday party I've been to, I (and most other people present) would look at them as if they had spontaneously gone stark raving mad. If the host of the party were the one suggesting this, and if they managed to make it happen, I would seriously consider never attending any of their holiday parties again.

There was apparently an altar? I understand this to be a metaphor for... something — a place for some prop(s) used in the ceremony? Heck, the fact that there WAS a ceremony at all, of any kind, is part of what I'm talking about.

As for the rest of your questions, I will have to give them a bit more thought before posting a reply. For now, I will emphasize that yes, ostracizing people who find this aesthetically unpleasant is indeed a non-trivial consequence, to say the least. Not the only consequence, but a serious one.

In the meantime, please clarify something: what exactly do you mean by "hack your psyche"? I think I understand the phrase as you're using it, but it would help if I were sure.

Comment author: Raemon 24 December 2012 06:15:52AM *  4 points [-]

"Hack your psyche" was Daenerys' phrasing, but I'd approximately endorse it. Basically, there are ways that are brain works, badly. For example, we tend to want to shy away from harsh truths, and look for excuses not to do a lot of work. Reading Litanies of Tarski is explicitly supposed to build into yourself the idea that you are a person who IS capable of re-evalulating beliefs, regardless of how comfortable they are. Reciting the litany may or may not actually be useful for this, especially in group settings. I actually lean towards it NOT being that useful, but being harmless and fun. (More on this later)

In "The Value and Danger of Ritual" I go into how I used the ritual-development process to make myself the sort of person who cared about the world and was willing to work to improve it, even if it meant accepting math that felt intuitively wrong to me.

If any of my friends suggested doing any of this at any holiday party I've been to, I (and most other people present) would look at them as if they had spontaneously gone stark raving mad. If the host of the party were the one suggesting this, and if they managed to make it happen, I would seriously consider never attending any of their holiday parties again.

I do understand your visceral response to this (I can easily imagine similar visceral responses of my own to things that are only slightly different), but you make a leap from "the host does this thing which I am not used to" to "the host appears stark raving mad." There's a big gap there where I think you think something actually bad happened, but which you haven't articulated any negative consequences beyond your instinctive aversion.

I recognize that this is asking a fairly hard question, and don't feel obligated to respond right away. But I'd like to you to articulate, if you can, which of the following, you feel revulsion to:

Singing songs
Singing songs about things you believe strongly in
Singing or reciting things in groups

Making any deliberate effort to build group cohesion and signal tribal loyalty
Having candles
Deliberately lighting and extinguishing candles to produce an effect
Deliberately manipulating lighting to produce an emotional effect

Reading excerpts from authors you like
Reading excerpts from authors you respect a lot and who have shaped your worldview
Reading excerpts from only one particular author you respect (I share this concern, I'll address it in an upcoming post)

Giving a speech in deliberately manipulated lightning (taboo "sermon")
Giving a speech in to an audience whose emotional state has been deliberately altered
Giving a speech whose goal is to build group unity
Giving a speech whose goal is to call people to action towards a difficult goal

Having some meetups featuring group activities that some portion of the potential community won't enjoy (examples include music, as well as strategy games, presentation on material you don't care about)
Having some group activities that some portion of the potential community actively dislikes

Deliberately provoking emotional responses (without attempting to build group cohesion or call to action)

Do any of those trigger a response individually? Can you identify which ones either cause a visceral response, or you feel would cause a negative consequence to occur? Either individually, or collectively?

Comment author: glenra 24 December 2012 11:03:44PM 6 points [-]

Reciting the litany may or may not actually be useful for this, especially in group settings. I actually lean towards it NOT being that useful, but being harmless and fun.

I thought the Litany worked really well as a running gag, especially with the addition of the meta-litany as a punchline.

If reciting the Litany of Tarski in a group setting is valuable, I desire to BELIEVE that reciting the Litany of Tarski in a group setting is valuable. If reciting the Litany of Tarski in a group setting is NOT valuable, I desire to believe that reciting the Litany of Tarski in a group setting is NOT valuable. Let me not become too attached to beliefs I may not want.

Comment author: Raemon 25 December 2012 10:17:45PM -1 points [-]

Oh I thought it was fun and funny and worth including on those grounds, but I don't think it caused most people to actually reflect on anything useful in the long term.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 24 December 2012 06:43:57AM *  3 points [-]

I do understand your visceral response to this (I can easily imagine similar visceral responses of my own to things that are only slightly different), but you make a leap from "the host does this thing which I am not used to" to "the host appears stark raving mad." There's a big gap there where I think you think something actually bad happened, but which you haven't articulated any negative consequences beyond your instinctive aversion.

Mmm... no, I don't think there's actually a leap here. You should understand that by "stark raving mad" I didn't actually mean anything like "I am seriously considering the possibility that my friend has had a sudden onset of severe, debilitating mental illness, and I should contact the nearest hospital forthwith". I meant something more like "my friend has suggested an activity which I find aesthetically objectionable, though I don't necessarily have any moral objections to it, and I am aware that some people out there do this and enjoy it, and that's fine. I am surprised to hear my friend suggest it, because I did not think he/she was the kind of person who enjoyed it, and am additionally surprised that he/she would think that I or any of our other friends would enjoy it, as that conflicts with what we all know about each other's personalities and preferences." As an example, if I were at a party and one of my friends said: "Hey, let's go to a strip club, and then a football game!" My reaction would be similar. I don't think there's anything morally wrong with strip clubs or football games (not inherently, anyway), but if one of my friends suggested that we go do this, I would be unpleasantly surprised, to say the least.

Of course there was also a strong element of, as you say, visceral response.

I will attempt to respond to your questions on visceral responses; I have to demur for now on negative consequences, though I will give it some thought and attempt a coherent reply soon.

Do I feel revulsion to:

Singing songs
Singing songs about things you believe strongly in
Singing or reciting things in groups

Yes (somewhat), ... (am having trouble coming up with any examples and therefore no response for now; can you provide any?), yes (strongly).

Making any deliberate effort to build group cohesion and signal tribal loyalty
Having candles
Deliberately lighting and extinguishing candles to produce an effect
Deliberately manipulating lighting to produce an emotional effect

Yes (strongly), no (unless they're scented, in which case yes, blegh), yes, yes.

Reading excerpts from authors you like
Reading excerpts from authors you respect a lot and who have shaped your worldview
Reading excerpts from only one particular author you respect (I share this concern, I'll address it in an upcoming post)

Depends on the context. Are we holding an excerpt-reading-aloud party? (Is that a thing? It should be a thing, I think. Like a poetry reading, only... reading cool stuff other people wrote aloud. I'd participate maybe.) Then no, no objection. Are we doing it because this excerpt(s) triggered an emotional response and that's what we're going for overall? Then yes, strongly object.

My objection in this case is affected by whether we're reading the thing with the intention of thinking and discussing it, in a casual atmosphere, or with the intention of not discussing it but instead just using it to generate emotions.

As for reading excerpts from only one particular author... I mean, I agree that it's a concern... but I admit that it's hard to get around the fact that Eliezer's writing is exceptionally excellent. This, however, is really not the biggest problem in the whole enterprise.

Giving a speech in deliberately manipulated lightning (taboo "sermon")
Giving a speech in to an audience whose emotional state has been deliberately altered
Giving a speech whose goal is to build group unity
Giving a speech whose goal is to call people to action towards a difficult goal

Yes, yes, yes, and... mmm... no? But something about the phrasing strikes me oddly and I can't put my finger on it...

Having some meetups featuring group activities that some portion of the potential community won't enjoy
(examples include music, as well as strategy games, presentation on material you don't care about)
Having some group activities that some portion of the potential community actively dislikes

These things don't trigger revulsion, especially not the first (one would have to be truly unreasonable to object to that!), but of course I don't like it when groups that I'm a member in have activities that I don't like. (Isn't that almost tautological?)

Deliberately provoking emotional responses (without attempting to build group cohesion or call to action)

Somewhat. I'm very wary of this sort of thing, but I don't think I find it inherently objectionable.

Comment author: Raemon 24 December 2012 06:51:57AM *  5 points [-]

Hm.

I find your analogy about the sports game and stripclub pretty useful. I think that's a very reasonable comparison.

I am interested in the notion that you object to provoking emotion on purpose objectionable. Does this apply to art in general? (On a similar note - do you go to movies or see plays? Do you go ever dim lights for romantic purposes?)

(The above sentence may sound like it's trying to set up a gotcha, but I am mostly just clarifying that you are someone who likes to explore and engage intellectually, but not emotionally)

but of course I don't like it when groups that I'm a member in have activities that I don't like. (Isn't that almost tautological?)

If a group is meeting regularly, doing things you like, does it make your world worse if they start meeting additional times, doing things that you don't like?

Comment author: drethelin 24 December 2012 07:07:21AM 3 points [-]

I would say no, but the exigences of reality mean that extra activities tend to replace rather than simply add to prior ones.

Comment author: Raemon 24 December 2012 07:20:11AM 0 points [-]

That is fair.

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 24 December 2012 07:07:27AM 2 points [-]

I am interested in the notion that you object to provoking emotion on purpose objectionable.

That conclusion about my general preferences does not follow from my stated specific preferences.

Does this apply to art in general?

Not... in general, no. I do strongly dislike it when authors/directors/etc. provoke emotion in a deliberate attempt to misdirect the reader/viewer/etc. from considering what is going on in the work. That is, when there is an attempt to provoke emotion directly, rather than as a result of seeing/reading/otherwise apprehending the content. I will attempt to provide examples when I think of some.

(On a similar note - do you go to movies or see plays? Do you go ever dim lights for romantic purposes?)

I do go to movies, and even Broadway shows, though not plays, and do on occasion dim lights for romantic purposes (or, to be more precise, locate intended-to-be-romantic activities in locations with suitable light levels... which phrasing makes it sound rather unromantic, I suppose... ah well).

I am mostly just clarifying that you are someone who likes to explore and engage intellectually, but not emotionally

I don't actually think this is a fair characterization. As I said to Kaj_Sotala here, it's the collectivization of emotion, and of the emotion of sacredness in this case, that I object to.

If a group is meeting regularly, doing things you like, does it make your world worse if they start meeting additional times, doing things that you don't like?

Maybe. It depends on the relative extent to which the activites I like and the activities I dislike contribute to the group's identity and cohesiveness.

Comment author: Raemon 24 December 2012 07:20:01AM *  0 points [-]

That conclusion about my general preferences does not follow from my stated specific preferences.

I may have worded it more strongly than you intended, but I thought you said:

deliberately provoking emotional responses (without attempting to build group cohesion or call to action)

Somewhat. I'm very wary of this sort of thing, but I don't think I find it inherently objectionable.

In any case, I think I have at least a reasonable understanding of where you're coming from. That's all I have to say for now, although if you are able to articulate some of the other concerns you mentioned better that'd be appreciated.

There will be one more post which is something of an "emotional explanation of why I'm doing what I'm doing," which is intended to be evocative but grounded in something very real. That will probably go up tomorrow. A few days later I'll write up a more expansive post about where the idea of ritual and less wrong might or might not go, and what concerns I have about that.

Comment author: SebastianGarren 31 December 2012 01:53:47AM 0 points [-]

I think this wonderfully evokes a point which may be off the radar, namely, that 'ritual' or whatever you call it (the possibility for group aesthetic experiences) is all around us in society. It permeates everything, it is all pervasive. I think that is true.

Choose the ritual that is right for you... not because it is most moving or pretty, but because it is the most true as far as you can discern.

A tangential point: It seems to me that aesthetic questions, questions of art, beauty, poetry, and the place of literature while occasionally mentioned are Less Wrong's greatest blind spot. To recall Hamlet, it seems to me that there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your rationality. Perhaps there are questions which we are not ready to discuss, which is fine. We don't necessarily need to attack the immense, perhaps incommensurable, differences between the aesthetic morality of people-who-think-they-think-rationally, us.

Comment author: Vaniver 24 December 2012 04:45:45PM 1 point [-]

Using ritual to insert things deep into your psyche is something that I think is just bad.

Bad as in morally wrong, epistemically wrong, or instrumentally wrong?

Comment author: SaidAchmiz 24 December 2012 04:55:33PM 2 points [-]

Instrumentally wrong.

Comment author: Vaniver 24 December 2012 05:31:13PM 2 points [-]

Thanks for clarifying.

Rereading your statement, the word "insert" jumps out at me. Would you endorse this modified statement?

Using ritual to preserve things deep in your psyche is something that I think is just bad.

Or would the badness depend on which things you're preserving?

Comment author: [deleted] 23 December 2012 09:31:45PM *  17 points [-]

Using Raemon's work as inspiration, this solstice Columbus held our first ritual. It went well enough, that we are hopefully doing a couple a year, passing around responsibility. Next one should be Darwin/Lincoln/Valentine's Day.

We purposefully kept it much more intimate, with about 10 people who are all very close to each other. This had a couple of effects: Reciting the litanies didn't work as well (any sort of reciting or singing is going to get more awkward as there are fewer people), and neither did the music. I had hoped to overcome the music awkwardness by having it led by the group members who are in a band, but musicians are very bad at getting music things done on time :P. OTOH, the small number of attendees allowed us to do a very intimate and moving group bonding thing.

The theme of the evening was about how there is no inherent joy or beauty in the world except what we perceive. The universe is cold and dark and uncaring, but that we are the creators of love and joy via our perception of it. Love exists in our heads, and it is there that the universe has meaning. I had thought I remembered some sort of Sequence post of a similar vein, but I couldn't find it.

The centerpiece of the ritual was a group affirmation exercise where we sat around a candle on a silver tray. We had a bottle of yummy adult beverage. The holder of the beverage took a drink, and then said what they loved or appreciated about each other person in the room. When they were done, they took their tea candle, lit it off one of the already lit candles, and set it on the tray (thus symbolically bringing their light to the gathering). A couple people cried. Everyone agreed it was very poignant and meaningful.

I thought it was sweet how many people discussed using other people as role models for how to act in certain situations... How the attempt to emulate other group members in the situations where those members excel, made everyone in the group stronger. It was like we all brought our strengths to the group, and our enactment of those strengths gave the other group members a model for how they should or could behave when they needed those strengths: Look to Don for patience. Look to Jesse for curiosity and leading open dialogue, Look to Mike for self-hacking. Look to me for group organizing. Look to August and Amanda for actually creating and accomplishing awesome things, etc.

After that, everyone was feeling pretty well bonded, we took a quick break, and my boyfriend and I got married. We had a tongue-in-cheek apocalypse theme to the ceremony and the rest of the evening. Our processional was "If I Didn't Have You" by Tim Minchin. Our officiant was another person I am dating. We had two of our friends do a reading of Raemon's version of "The Gift I Give Tomorrow". Our vows were as follows:

I, Michael Riggs, vow to provide healthcare, let you cook and eat my dead body if you run out of food in the wasteland, and be generally a cool boyfriend until one of the two of us bails.

I, Erica Edelman, vow to lower your taxes, kill your reanimated corpse quickly without hesitating if you get bitten, and be an otherwise decent girlfriend as long as we have this kind of thing going on.

Afterwards, Mike's girlfriend did a rousing rendition of Harry's speech to the Chaos Legion from Ch 30 of HPMoR (edited to be relevant to the situation), during which everyone laughed their asses off. And then, having very little time before the end of the world, we all "hugged" goodbye for the rest of the evening.

Comment author: pleeppleep 23 December 2012 10:29:50PM *  11 points [-]

For some reason I find it interesting that you so casually mention getting married in the description as though it was nothing more than a minor diversion from the evening's main event. I half think you just threw that into the story to check if anyone read that far. Oh, and Congratulations by the way.

Comment author: juliawise 25 December 2012 02:45:54PM *  4 points [-]

I'm confused - this sounds like vows to date rather than to be married. It's your business, but I'm curious - what's the purpose of vowing temporary affiliation? And what's the purpose of calling it marriage?

(Edit: rereading, I guess the purpose is healthcare and lower taxes. Is that it?)

Comment author: Raemon 24 December 2012 04:31:56AM 5 points [-]

I'm amused at your scarequotes around "hugged." (Did you mean "goodbye?")

I'm glad this went well, and interested in how it explored very different areas of ritual-space. I've gravitated towards music because it's what I know and am good at, but have been aware that there's a lot of completely different things I can be doing. I think I'd be interested in skyping about this after I've finished the upcoming sequence.

Comment author: [deleted] 24 December 2012 04:35:48AM *  8 points [-]

I'm amused at your scarequotes around "hugged."

lol, that's the G-rated version. ;)

Would love to Skype on this!

Comment author: DaFranker 24 December 2012 03:49:04PM *  4 points [-]

There's a non-G-rated version? That sounds pretty awesome and all social-and-awkwardness-barriers-completely-broken-down-ish.

Comment author: Vaniver 24 December 2012 04:36:33PM 5 points [-]

It also gives this line a rather different interpretation:

We purposefully kept it much more intimate, with about 10 people who are all very close to each other.

Comment author: PhilipL 24 December 2012 03:11:17AM 2 points [-]

Even though I only want to grow a community in my area, and have little interest in starting or participating in a group ritual-thing, reading your report gave me lots of fuzzies. Group bonding is a powerful thing...

Comment author: moshez 24 December 2012 07:26:58PM 2 points [-]

Thanks for posting the ritual booklet. It's fascinating. With my wife being pregnant, I start looking at things through the eyes of a parent to be. Rituals are traditionally a super-familial thing, but including the whole family. Parents take their kids to Church. Parents light the Menorah with their kids. Parents celebrate Winter Soltice with their kids. Reading through the booklets, I constantly had to revise upwards the age at which I could first take my daughter to such a gathering. There's no "minimum age" to participate in Church, or the lighting of the candles. I understand many LWers are single people in their 20s, and certainly a lot of NYCers are single people in their 20s. But I found myself wishing for a ritual I could do with a family. Perhaps if I'm sufficiently motivated, I'll try to work something out next year...

Comment author: Vaniver 24 December 2012 07:50:39PM 3 points [-]

This is the primary thing that I've come across that seems like a rationalist activity that meshes well with children. (It also originates in a fictional story, as far as I can tell, and so I'm curious how well it actually works.)

Comment author: oooo 25 December 2012 02:12:02AM 3 points [-]

Is anybody aware of anybody having tried this? I'm also curious to know if this would work. I suspect the biggest obstacle will be hoping that your child[ren] can stay on point and not get distracted on their own tangents, that is, not quite answering the question that you asked.

When my child starts to speak, I will try this game and update the local LW group on how it turns out.

Comment author: Raemon 24 December 2012 08:32:44PM 0 points [-]

There are people in the NYC community who expect to have kids soon, and friends in San Francisco with kids who might potentially come to one in the future.

This whole experience was inspired by my family's Christmas Eve celebration, which was inherently designed for children. I customized it for the people who make up our community now, but will definitely be revising things as kids become part of the equation.

This may well involve splitting off into multiple events that kids don't participate in. (For example, we might have the "fun" part of the evening end with some activity for kids, and then they go to bed, and then older people do the more serious sections). How exactly to handle it depends on how many kids are coming, how old, etc. We'll cross the bridges when we come to them, but yeah, they're coming.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 24 December 2012 02:36:05AM 2 points [-]

Writing words that work for this is going to be really hard. Have you considered finding an appropriate instrumental tune - instrumental in the musical sense, not the philosophical sense - and just having everyone wordlessly sing to it? Until a candle goes out, perhaps? For Ravenclaws, words call forth possible objections. Singing is just singing.

Comment author: Qiaochu_Yuan 24 December 2012 11:27:26AM 2 points [-]

This could be fixed by singing in a language people are unfamiliar with. I think wordful singing, even in a language I don't know, is qualitatively different from wordless singing in a nice way.

Comment author: Leonhart 24 December 2012 08:05:26PM *  3 points [-]

A Elbereth Gilthoniël

silivren penna míriël

o menel aglar elenath!

was the first thing that came to mind. But there's also Hymnos, a conlang designed expressly for ritually singing about one's emotions to a continent-sized magical computer, which seems even more apropos somehow.

And Yuki Kajiura has got a lot of mileage out of nonsense syllables :)

Comment author: [deleted] 24 December 2012 02:49:14AM 0 points [-]

Wouldn't you want to be singing things that call forth possible objections? Where would we be if Christianity had the hold it did a few centuries ago, but without any Bible in which to find monstrous morals or inconsistencies? And if we'd be fine, since Christianity would never have taken hold, then isn't that reason enough to have words?

Comment author: Raemon 24 December 2012 02:39:22AM 0 points [-]

I feel like this is missing a sentence or two of context?

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 24 December 2012 02:58:15AM 6 points [-]

Just... singing any lyrics is something that's possibly going to interfere with reverence more than just... singing. You have to agree with lyrics. You don't have to agree with music.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 24 December 2012 05:51:55PM 16 points [-]

There's a joke about Unitarians having trouble with group hymn singing because they're reading ahead to see whether they agree with the words.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 24 December 2012 08:15:47PM 4 points [-]

Well, yeah. It's why I stay silent during Jewish prayers at family meals. I don't agree with the words.

Comment author: Raemon 24 December 2012 04:41:13AM *  4 points [-]

A lot of this comes down to different aesthetic preferences about things. There probably SHOULD be a point where people sing a wordless song together, either at the Solstice or another event. (Actually, I may have just solve a problem for next year's Solstice. Stay tuned. For, like, a year, because I think I want to keep it secret except for a few confederates. :P)

One of the most potent experiences I got at Burning Man was going to a steam bath, wherein someone spontaneously started humming a wordless melody, which people gradually joined in on. It definitely had a lot of power to it (amplified by the intense heat and what-not).

But I think there is plenty of reverence to be found in lyrical songs. Most people reported than their greatest sense of reverence was felt during the song "God Wrote the World", a song about scientific discovery and seeking truth written in the observable world. (while invoking "God", it's pretty metaphorical. The song was written by an atheist in semi-theistic terms to be approachable to fundamentalists.)

(This song does, in fact, contain a factual error. Immediately afterwards there was a pop quiz to guess what it was. One person got it)

Comment author: Raemon 24 December 2012 05:13:13AM *  2 points [-]

(I do agree with the sentiment "writing words that succeed at this endeavor is going to be very hard." Right now, we have basically one song that seems to inspire reverence among basically everyone who attended. I don't think I've written anything that good yet, although a few people do respond pretty strongly to "Brighter Than Today."

Wordless music is an alternate solution to the problem, but at most, I think it counts as... four songs? (like, you can do 2-3 variations of wordless music, either all at once or spaced out, totaling about maybe 15 - 20 minutes. A long song is 4 minutes).

If you're starting from scratch, I think I'd agree that 20 minutes of wordless music is better for building reverence than trying to write a pretty song about stars and candles. But if you're trying to fill a 2-hour-ish event, you'll need more than that. And if you're taking either a) songwriting or b) songfinding seriously, you learn more and level up faster by trying alternate things.

Comment author: gjm 24 December 2012 04:40:49PM 1 point [-]

This song does, in fact, contain a factual error.

Galileo's recantation was not the result of being tortured. (Without looking it up, I'm about 99% sure he was never tortured and I don't think he was even "shown the instruments of torture", something they apparently used to do as a first step.)

Comment author: Raemon 24 December 2012 04:46:58PM 0 points [-]

Yup. (The admittedly minimal research I did said that he was shown the instruments of torture, but the details seemed sketchy).

Comment author: ArisKatsaris 24 December 2012 05:02:57PM *  0 points [-]

Only one person? That disappoints me.

Comment author: Raemon 24 December 2012 05:30:19PM -1 points [-]

On one hand, it is disappointing that not more than one person knew that, but on the other hand, it's an arbitrary piece of knowledge that people either know or don't. I'd expect most people not to know the story of Galileo in detail and just go along with whatever a smart sounding person said.

Comment author: juliawise 24 December 2012 08:49:40PM 3 points [-]

More than one person knew it. One person said it first.

Comment author: Kawoomba 24 December 2012 05:55:12PM 1 point [-]

The torture part? AFAIK he was presented with the instruments that were going to be used on him, which is entirely consistent with "long ago, when torture broke the remnant of his will".

Comment author: philh 24 December 2012 08:01:13PM 1 point [-]

Speaking personally, I don't think I've ever felt reverence from music that didn't have lyrics. (I know I'm abnormal in this, but I'm not sure just how abnormal.)

Comment author: [deleted] 24 December 2012 09:00:06PM 2 points [-]

Not even that Final Fantasy X chant? ;)

Comment author: CronoDAS 23 December 2012 11:24:34PM 1 point [-]
Comment author: CronoDAS 24 December 2012 04:16:00AM 0 points [-]

The first verse might be a bit awkward but the rest seems appropriate:

Light one candle for the Maccabee children
With thanks their light didn't die;
Light one candle for the pain they endured
When their right to exist was denied;
Light one candle for the terrible sacrifice
Justice and freedom demand;
And light one candle for the wisdom to know
That the peacemaker's time is at hand!

Chorus:
Don't let the light go out,
It's lasted for so many years!
Don't let the light go out!
Let it shine through our love and our tears!

Light one candle for the strength that we need
To never become our own foe;
Light one candle for those who are suff'ring
A pain they learned so long ago;
Light one candle for all we believe in,
That anger not tear us apart;
And light one candle to bind us together
With peace as the song in our heart!

(chorus)

What is the memory that's valued so highly
That we keep it alive in that flame?
What's the commitment to those who have died?
We cry out "they've not died in vain,"
We have come this far, always believing
That justice will somehow prevail;
This is the burden, This is the promise,
This is why we will not fail!

(chorus)

Don't let the light go out!
Don't let the light go out!
Don't let the light go out!

Comment author: Raemon 24 December 2012 04:29:32AM 0 points [-]

This is similar in concept to one of the songs we have (Brighter Than Today). One of the difficult things I need to do (at least for the Solstice proper) is choose between similar songs to find the best possible option for a given niche. What I planned to do last year was have a vote on the Ritual mailing list for songs that were similar in quality and competing for the same timeslot. This year I ended up feeling like there was a clear winner in each slot, but I may end up doing something similar, either for the next Solstice or for other events.

Comment author: Jolly 29 December 2012 02:12:30AM 1 point [-]

My comments: Seeing people was great, actual ritual was looong, and strongly triggered my ADHD. Which was mostly mitigated by me amusing myself with shiny led gloves.

Comment author: blogospheroid 28 December 2012 03:18:40PM 1 point [-]

The musical selection is pretty good. The whole thing sounds very uplifting! Good work, Raemon!

Comment author: moshez 24 December 2012 07:17:19PM 1 point [-]

BTW: By Geneva convention standard, Gallileo was tortured -- "For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person" (notice the "or mental", and it's certainly mental torture to be threatened by physical torture). It seems like at this point we are arguing about definitions, so maybe I'll stop here, but calling the relevant line in "Word of God" false because of that is a bit of an exaggeration.

Comment author: juliawise 24 December 2012 04:48:18AM 1 point [-]

Raemon, would you say something about how you addressed the topic of death? It hadn't occurred to me that this was something a community should be preparing for, but it made sense once you explained it.

Comment author: Raemon 24 December 2012 04:55:16AM *  0 points [-]

I'm intending to post the written version of the speech I gave as a separate article. (I deviated a bit from it, since I wasn't reading from a script, but the gist is the same)

Originally I was going to wait till the end, to wrap up the sequence, but after some comments on this thread I realized it was really important to do that sooner rather than later, so that when I say "ritual is a pretty important thing" readers had better context of what I was talking about and why.

I am leaning towards posting it tomorrow. I figure I should at least give people a day to see this article, and give them a a chance to read through the book. (Thoughts on how to best approach that are welcome, perhaps by PM.)

Comment author: falenas108 23 December 2012 10:32:02PM 0 points [-]

What was the grace that we said before eating? I remember laughing at it, but I forget what it was.

Comment author: Raemon 24 December 2012 02:26:08AM 6 points [-]

"To all whom it may concern, thanks."

Comment author: juliawise 24 December 2012 04:41:59AM 7 points [-]

It may have felt quite different to those without a Quaker background, but the pause for grace felt very short to me. I'm used to a silence about three breaths long, which (especially in a really stimulating atmosphere like a house full of new people) is a nice break. Especially since the rest of the weekend was either in small groups or one large group facing the same direction, this was the only chance to look around and see everyone's faces at the same time.

Comment author: falenas108 23 December 2012 11:39:16PM -1 points [-]

Note: The meta-litany of Tarski is missing from the PDF, although it is in the table of contents.

Comment author: Raemon 24 December 2012 02:25:27AM *  -1 points [-]

Fixed.