Updates Archive

Nov 28, 2016 - Duncan Sabien

Double Crux — A Strategy for Resolving Disagreement

(Cross posted to LessWrong) Preamble Double crux is one of CFAR’s newer concepts, and one that’s forced a re-examination and refactoring of a lot of our curriculum (in the same way that the introduction of TAPs and Inner Simulator did previously).  It rapidly became a part of our organizational social fabric, and is one of our highest-EV threads for outreach and dissemination, so it’s long overdue for a public, formal...

Sep 13, 2016 - Anna Salamon

Grant from Open Philanthropy Project

The Open Philanthropy Project recently announced a grant to CFAR for $1,035,000 across the next two years, earmarked toward a combination of improving our organizational competence, providing scholarships for promising effective altruists and similar folk to attend CFAR workshops, and assisting with SPARC and EuroSPARC. We very much appreciate the grant, and we are looking forward to putting it to work improving CFAR and streamlining SPARC operations. (We recently ran...

Oct 6, 2015 - Julia Galef

Deliberate Grad School

A useful post from CFAR co-founder Andrew Critch's personal blog describes how to get the most out of graduate school -- especially if you want to maximize your positive impact on the world. Sample tip (this is 1 of 8): Find a flexible program. PhD programs in mathematics, statistics, philosophy, and theoretical computer science tend to give you a great deal of free time and flexibility, provided you can pass...

Sep 15, 2015 - Julia Galef

Insights from the alumni reunion

Is it my imagination, or is there something about being in windswept landscapes -- especially by the water -- that makes it so much easier to come up with new insights? Last month over 100 CFAR alumni from around the world converged on Asilomar State Beach, on the edge of Northern California, for our second annual reunion. And I know I wasn't the only one whose frequency of exclaiming, "Whoa!...

Aug 19, 2015 - Julia Galef

Why learning to fix little "bugs" can make a big difference

We spend a fair amount of time at CFAR workshops tackling "bugs" in our daily lives. But does learning to solve small problems really make a big difference? Recent CFAR alum and Oxford student, Ben Albert Pace, posted this thoughtful discussion of the "debugging" mindset on his personal blog. Excerpt below; read the whole thing here. ~ One criticism of the utility of getting better at solving these, is that...

May 8, 2015 - Julia Galef

Back from Boston

We're back from running our first-ever rationality workshop in Boston. (Well, actually, a rustic retreat in Harvard, MA, about 50 minutes outside of Boston). We usually try a few new things each time we run a workshop, while keeping most of our tried-and-true features constant. This workshop was no exception. For one, we had an unprecedentedly large cohort of participants: 38 instead of our typical 25, which seemed to work...

May 5, 2015 - Julia Galef

Q&A: Isn't self-deception sometimes productive?

We'll be taking people's questions about life, philosophy, and rationality, and giving them our best off-the-cuff answers here on the CFAR blog. Q: "How do we confront the fact that having false beliefs is sometimes more efficient and productive?" A: I'm willing to accept that, in principle, false beliefs can help you achieve your goals. But in practice, I think self-deception is rarely your best option. Basically, the problem with...

Mar 22, 2015 - Peter McIntyre

Taking control of your happiness and productivity

What's one thing you can do to improve your physical and mental health, be happier and more successful? Before I tell you the answer, first try answering these questions (interpretation in the footnotes [1]). For each question select the statement (a or b) that you agree with the most. a) Many of the unhappy things in people’s lives are partly due to bad luck. b) People’s misfortunes result from the...

Mar 2, 2015 - Peter McIntyre

Keep Your Identity Fluid

Keep your identity small? Why do some discussions involving smart and reasonable people generate such emotive responses and so often go nowhere? Why does this happen more often for politics and religion than for discussing, say, preferred sock colours? In Paul Graham’s essay Keep Your Identity Small, he suggests that these topics are often too close to our identities which can obscure the truth: Do religion and politics have something...

Feb 4, 2015 - Peter McIntyre

4 Common Prediction Failures and How to Fix Them

Our predictions fail in predictably bad ways. Picture the last time you were getting ready to leave the house and you were asked how much longer you would take. And when was the last time you actually left by then? You might be better at this than I am, but I have struggled with forecasting how long it will take. My dad used to account for this, and pretended we...

Sep 3, 2014 - Kenzi Amodei

Dauntless and Divergent

In the five months before I saw Divergent, I went to the gym twice. In the five months since then, I’ve been just over fifty times (as well as making forays into interval sprints and Crossfit). A lot of things came together to make that happen, but no small part of it was that I found the movie incredibly inspirational. [Warning: spoilers ahead! You may want to watch a trailer...

Jun 24, 2014 - Julia Galef

A Message to System 1

(A guest post from CFAR April '13 alum Brienne Strohl) I used to be afraid of checking the balance of my bank account. I felt as though finding out how much money I had caused me to lose money, so I'd go weeks, sometimes a month, without checking it--even though my income was tiny and irregular. I'd feel guilty almost any time I bought anything, which led to bizarre spending...

Jun 16, 2014 - Julia Galef

How to Automatically Track Anything With Beeminder

(This is a guest post from Louie Helm, CFAR alum April '13 and the founder of Rockstar Research Magazine.) Like many people, I have goals. And because I care about my goals, I try my best to track them. Therefore I use the standard tool for tracking goals: Beeminder. With Beeminder, I can see in an instant exactly where I stand on several of my longterm health and productivity goals...

Jun 14, 2014 - Leah Libresco

In the Game of Markets, You Win or You Lie

At each of our workshops, we run prediction market games throughout the weekend, which are a chance for participants to check their credence and practice updating their beliefs based on new evidence. When one of the participants suggested a Game of Thrones-themed market at our June workshop in Berkeley, I was happy to acquiesce. Betting on how likely our group was to be able to name five houses from Game...

Mar 10, 2014 - Julia Galef

We're back from Melbourne!

Our first international workshop class yells "Victory!" after CoZE, in downtown Melbourne It's been almost four weeks since CFAR touched down in Melbourne, Australia -- our first foray into running international workshops, after having thus far limited ourselves to the Bay Area and New York. We dove right in with not one, but two back-to-back four-day workshops, plus a short workshop for Aussie startup Draftable. Some highlights of our trip:...

Feb 10, 2014 - Julia Galef

A conversation with Scott Adams

Scott Adams may be best known for the comic strip Dilbert, but he's also an entrepreneur many times over. He'll be the first to cheerfully admit that most of those businesses failed -- and to turn those failures into some very thoughtful insights about success and rationality. I checked out Scott's latest book, "How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big," after hearing enthusiastic recommendations from many CFAR...

Feb 4, 2014 - Julia Galef

Panel Discussion: Philosophy in the Real World

It's an unfortunate fact for philosophy buffs that there aren't really any jobs, outside academia, where you get paid to *do philosophy.* There are some occasional exceptions, however. I consider my job at CFAR to fall partly in that category, since our classes often rely on philosophical concepts (like testability, or personal identity) and philosophical thinking strategies (like thought experiments). And there are a few other philosophers who are also...

Jan 31, 2014 - Julia Galef

Who gets the most benefit from rationality?

The "useful technique filter". Not drawn to scale! Some people seem to get a lot more benefit out of the "rationality community" -- blogs, meetups, workshops, etc. -- than others. What accounts for the variation?" CFAR research associate Dan Keys investigated this question via a survey of about 1,400 people who are all involved, in varying degrees, with the rationality community either online or in person. As a way of...

Jan 22, 2014 - Julia Galef

Different kinds of procrastination

I was recently asked, by personal finance site Learnvest, how rationality can help with procrastination. Interestingly, when you stare hard at it, "procrastination" collapses into multiple issues which can be very different from each other (and which call for very different approaches). Sure, there's the "typical" kind of procrastination motivated simply by a task being more tedious than the other things you'd rather be doing with your time. But I...

Jan 13, 2014 - Julia Galef

An impressive failure

A graph of how Effective Fundraising spent their six months. I'd like to highlight a particularly impressive failure I heard about recently -- and by "impressive," I don't mean, "Wow, I'm impressed at how utterly they failed." I mean, "I'm impressed at how gracefully and wisely they failed." Effective Fundraising is a young nonprofit startup, a two-person team founded in 2013 to write grants for effective charities -- in other...

Dec 9, 2013 - Julia Galef

Our winter matching drive: $150,000 pledged!

I'm excited to announce that CFAR's 2013 matching drive is almost twice the size of last year's! All donations up to $150,000 will be matched one-for-one by several generous backers. Click here to learn more about what CFAR's accomplished in 2013 and what we're planning for the near future. Just to offer some teasers, you'll find out... ... why we're changing up our workshop model, ... the particular kind of...

Nov 26, 2013 - Julia Galef

Negotiate, Code, Argue

If you had a decent chance at winning $10,000, and all you had to do to have a shot at the prize was ask – would you? Asking sounds like a no-brainer, framed like that, but in fact many people do pass up this “obvious” shot at a significant amount of money when it comes to their salary. Why? They underestimate their chance of winning a higher salary; or, they...

Nov 14, 2013 - Kenzi Amodei

Information That Cannot Be Ignored

I’m currently listening to an audiobook of Jim Collins’ Good to Great, in which he attempts to develop a data-driven model of why some companies shift from mediocrity to excellence. To define "excellence," he uses the proxy variable of matching vs. substantially beating the general stock market over a fifteen year period. It’s a very interesting read, so far, and I’ve quite enjoyed the emphaticness with which Collins, who narrates...

Nov 6, 2013 - Leah Libresco

Rationality by any other name...

Learning a new language usual stirs up feeling of delight and jealousy in me. It’s hard to imagine you’ve gone through your whole life up til now without access to the word schadenfreude or that you haven’t had a silent way to say “I know how you feel” without interrupting the person speaking. Since joining CFAR, I’ve had the opportunity to occasionally stumble across exactly the word I want for...

Nov 4, 2013 - Leah Libresco

Habits that help, wherever you are

A friend recently asked what the difference is between applied rationality and just plain good habits. What differentiates some of the items on our Rationality Checklist from other helpful routines like brushing your teeth regularly and getting enough sleep. After all, both of those habits tend to be worth the effort to install, and can pay big dividends in health, savings, and cognitive power. At CFAR, we tend to think...

Oct 29, 2013 - Leah Libresco

The Bitter Pangs of Loss Aversion

The other day in the office, I ran across two coworkers laying out what looked like a series of small, candy-coated chocolates on the kitchen counter. I couldn't help but ask, "What are those?" readying my follow-up of, "May I have some?" Unfortunately, my coworker replied that the bite-sized objects were Go stones, and that he was washing them. Before I knew there were plausible chocolates in the office, I...

Oct 21, 2013 - Leah Libresco

Guest Class by Beeminder at November Workshop

On the final day of our workshops, we don't teach new material. It's a day of reconsolidation, review, and strategy for getting the most use out of these techniques when the workshop ends and you return to your regular routine. This month, I'm very pleased to announce that one of our Monday sessions will be run by Beeminder's Bethany Soule, who will be a participant during the workshop. Beeminder is...

Oct 15, 2013 - Leah Libresco

Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

Ada Lovelace Day is an annual celebration of women in STEM fields. The tradition began in 2009, and, this year, CFAR staff are sharing stories about some of the women in science and technology that they most admire. Our President, Julia Galef, chose Sophie Germain, a 18th-century mathematician who had to use a lot of trickery and guile to continue her studies given society's prejudice against female mathematicians, and her...

Oct 8, 2013 - Leah Libresco

A fun parable of base rate neglect

The ever delightful blog "Math with Bad Drawings" is doing a series of posts on probability, and has just put one up that helps make base rate neglect vivid and concrete. I can't bring myself to spoil the story (and I certainly can't do justice to the drawings), but I anticipate this is a post you'll want to share with family and friends. And I don't mind sharing part of...

Oct 4, 2013 - Leah Libresco

Free Classes at CFAR this Sat, Mon, and Tues

We're looking forward to our October workshop next week, and that means we're taking some time to practice our classes and experiment with some tweaks to our curriculum. We're looking for people to help us beta-test these classes by attending any or all of the following free classes at our office over the next few days.     Saturday Value of Information practice session - 5-7pm Come out and practice...

Oct 2, 2013 - Leah Libresco

CFAR President visits Carnegie Mellon October 7th

Our president, Julia Galef, is visiting Carnegie Mellon university on Monday, October 7th. She'll be speaking on the topic, "How to Change Your Mind: Science and Bayesianism in Everyday Life." Her talk will be hosted by the Carnegie Mellon Humanist League.   Here's Julia's précis of her talk One of science's biggest strengths is its ability to change its mind when new evidence comes to light. Unfortunately, we as individuals...

Sep 27, 2013 - Julia Galef

Surprise as a cue to probability: Experiment #1

We recently completed the first of what will be a running series of online rationality experiments. We’ll be publishing a short report on each experiment, regardless of whether our results were significant or exciting. In part we’re hoping to give you a look inside our process at CFAR, to see the kinds of rationality training techniques we’re considering and how we go about testing our hypotheses. Our other main goal...

Sep 20, 2013 - Leah Libresco

Fight, Flight, Freeze, or... attend class September 28

On Saturday, September 28th, we'll be offering a three hour class on handling your fight/flight/freeze reflexes. Tensing up can help you deal with punches and a burst of adrenaline might help you outrun an aggressive dog, but these instincts can trip you up in a high-stakes conversation or a challenging task. In Againstness Training, CFAR instructor Valentine Smith will explain the biology of sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems and how...

Sep 17, 2013 - Leah Libresco

Julia Galef partners with Clearer Thinking

Our president, Julia Galef, is partnering with Spencer Greenberg of ClearerThinking.org to produce videos for his online classes on critical thinking. Clearer Thinking is releasing six interactive modules on better decision-making: Introduction to Decision Academy - The Science of Better Decisions Rhetorical Fallacies - Dodging Argument Traps The Sunk Cost Fallacy - Focusing on the Future Probabilistic Fallacies - Gauging the Strength of Evidence Explanation Freeze - Interpreting Uncertain Events...

Sep 11, 2013 - Leah Libresco

Virtual Open House at CFAR

Tomorrow (Thursday, September 12), our Executive Director Anna Salamon and Andrew Critch, a CFAR cofounder, will be sitting down on Skype for a series of 15 and 30 minute chats about CFAR. We're looking to chat with people who haven't met us or been exposed to CFAR before, so we can learn a bit about what questions people tend to ask and can refine our explanation of what we do....

Sep 10, 2013 - Leah Libresco

We're Running a Specialty Workshop for Programmers

On Sunday, September 29, we're running a special one-day workshop geared to programmers. From 10am-7pm you'll be learning some of the techniques that our alumni in your field have found most useful. We'll be teaching you how to:   Train your intuition and know when its most useful Install new habits that stick Implement some of CFAR's general productivity hacks Make high-value estimates about the costs and benefits of new...

Sep 9, 2013 - Julia Galef

3 ways CFAR has changed my perspective on rationality

(Cross-posted on Less Wrong) The Center for Applied Rationality's perspective on rationality is quite similar to Less Wrong's. In particular, we share many of Less Wrong's differences from what's sometimes called "traditional" rationality, such as Less Wrong's inclusion of Bayesian probability theory and the science on heuristics and biases. But after spending the last year and a half with CFAR as we've developed, tested, and attempted to teach hundreds of different...

Sep 6, 2013 - Leah Libresco

Make Habits that Stick on Sept 15

  Have a habit you'd like to start? Or a bad one you'd like to break? On Sunday, September 15, CFAR will be holding a three-hour training seminar on how to build and train habits that stick. The class will run from 2pm-5pm and will cost $90. This session is capped at 8 people, so that you get the chance to troubleshoot your specific plans with the instructor. Andrew Critch,...

Sep 3, 2013 - Leah Libresco

Come Productively Debate at CFAR!

This Thursday, two CFAR instructors will be brawling... I mean engaging in a charitable and truth-seeking debate over whether people ought to diminish sharply the amount of fructose they eat. A lot of our CFAR classes focus on how to make sense of evidence and be alert to new information. Our Building Bayes Habits class helps you use Bayes's Rule to make quick and dirty (or more drawn out) estimates...

Aug 27, 2013 - Leah Libresco

One Alum Runs the Numbers on his Experience

Ben Kuhn, an undergraduate at Harvard and one of the leaders of the High Impact Philanthropy group there, recently wrote up a review of his experience at our May workshop. He walked in already knowing some of the skills and practices we teach, because when he saw the positive testimonials on our website, he paused to think about several possible explanations for the evidence he observed and to check his...

Aug 20, 2013 - Leah Libresco

CFAR's President on the future of rationality education

CFAR President Julia Galef was interviewed by the Humanists of Minnesota and talked about CFAR's ongoing randomized controlled trial, whether there's a tension between rationality and imagination, and how she'd alter K-12 education, if she were in charge. CFAR conducts workshops to improve thinking and decision-making. What are the most important lessons you've learned from these workshops? Acknowledging the fact that CFAR is a relatively new organization, do you have...

Aug 15, 2013 - Leah Libresco

Growing Coherence After a Year

Aaron Tucker, currently an undergraduate at Harvard, attended some of CFAR's earliest workshops, and returned this summer as a volunteer at our July workshop. Below, he gives his impressions of how the curriculum and format have grown and developed and what he's gotten out of our rationality training.   Two weeks ago, I went to the July CFAR workshop as a volunteer. A year ago I had been to the...

Aug 13, 2013 - Leah Libresco

Hurrah! I was wrong!

This past weekend, I was sitting on a tarmac, my plane queued up in a long line, waiting for a runway to open, and I was staring absently at the lights embedded in the asphalt. On some of the straightaways, I could see a long line of green lights, but there were a couple spots along the way where the lights alternated orange-green-orange-etc. I started automatically generating hypotheses. I couldn't...

Aug 7, 2013 - Leah Libresco

Helping Effective Altruists Be Even More Effective

At the beginning of the summer, the CFAR staff guest taught at the first ever Effective Altruism Summit (masterminded by Leverage Research). We taught selected classes from our usual lineup at our workshops. Leverage's Executive Director Geoff Anders (an alum of our July 2012 workshop) explained why he included up in the lineup: CFAR provides the world's best rationality training, and rationality is an essential part of effective altruism. So...

Jun 26, 2013 - Leah Libresco

Come to Our Planning Seminar This Saturday

Some of the classes we teach at our four-day workshops are focused on helping you have a more accurate understanding of the world (e.g. our classes on Bayes and Goal Factoring). Other classes basically act as accelerants -- now that you have a better understanding of the world around you, they help you take effective action (e.g. our classes on building habits and making plans). This Saturday afternoon, CFAR is...

May 30, 2013 - Luke Muehlhauser

How to Beat Procrastination

My own behavior baffles me. I find myself doing what I hate, and not doing what I really want to do! - Saint Paul (Romans 7:15) Once you're trained in BayesCraft, it may be tempting to tackle classic problems "from scratch" with your new Rationality Powers. But often, it's more effective to do a bit of scholarship first and at least start from the state of our scientific knowledge on the subject. Today, I want to tackle procrastination by...

May 28, 2013 - Leah Libresco

How has CFAR changed in our first year?

It takes a lot of logistical support to run one of our four-day workshops, and, at our May event, we were lucky enough to have a five-person volunteer team consisting entirely of alumni from workshops we've run in the past. It's great to see people become part of our community and look for ways to share their experiences and what they've learned. One of our alumni volunteers attended CFAR's first...

May 16, 2013 - Leah Libresco

Do You Ask for Examples?

The last question we asked our newsletter subscribers in our first installment of the Rationality Checklist was about how frequently they asked for examples. When somebody says something that isn't quite clear enough for me to visualize, I notice this and ask for examples. (Example: A mathematics student said they were studying "stacks". I asked for an example of a stack. They said that the integers could form a stack....

May 10, 2013 - Leah Libresco

How do you react to bad news?

In the last installment of our Rationality Checklist survey results, we talked about thoughts you try to not to think about. The next question was about one (unfortunately common) subtype of ideas we try to avoid. It takes training to be able to reliably dodge a punch, but most of us have fairly good reflexes when it comes to flinching away from bad news. Maybe you anticipate it coming, and...

May 8, 2013 - Leah Libresco

When do you notice yourself flinching away from thoughts?

This is the last of three habits of noticing that we asked you about on the Rationality Checklist survey. we wanted to know if you could spot yourself bouncing away from a thought, flinching away from dwelling on it or putting it into words. It's a good warning sign you might be about to slip into motivated cognition. You may want to pause to remember you'd rather know the truth...

May 6, 2013 - Luke Muehlhauser

How to Be Happy

[cross-posted at Less Wrong] One day a coworker said to me, "Luke! You're, like, the happiest person I know! How come you're so happy all the time?" It was probably a rhetorical question, but I had a very long answer to give. See, I was unhappy for most of my life,1 and even considered suicide a few times. Then I spent two years studying the science of happiness. Now, happiness...

Apr 25, 2013 - Leah Libresco

When do you argue for a side instead of considering new data?

When you filled out our survey on the Rationality Checklist, most of the habits we asked you about in the first installment were about noticing. Noticing you're falling into a bad epistemological habit is useful data; it means you have the opportunity to intervene. So, we asked you about a bias that, if unchecked, screens you off from considering new information: I notice when my mind is arguing for a...

Apr 22, 2013 - Leah Libresco

When do you Notice Confusion?

We sent out the survey form of our Rationality Checklist and over 250 of you responded (N=283 to be precise). We'll be sending out part two of four to our newsletter in two weeks, so sign up if you'd like to contribute data! The first rationality habit we asked you about was Noticing Confusion: When I see something odd - something that doesn't fit with what I'd ordinarily expect, given...

Apr 17, 2013 - Leah Libresco

Hey! You wanna bet?

Emergent Math has a blog post talking about how he and his daughter found an opportunity for physics on a snow day. They collected snow in a large cup and marked both their predictions of how much water there would be when it melted. I won’t spoil the ending, you’ll have to go to his blog to see how accurate they were, but, before you click through, try to make...

Apr 3, 2013 - Leah Libresco

Elementary Skills, My Dear Rationalist...

A storm came up from the southwest this morning, and it's been raining on and off all day. After a glum trudge across London, you reach the house from which your client's brother disappeared and skulk about, looking for an unobtrusive opportunity to enter. Turns out there's a window left open on the south side of the house, away from the street. A quick scramble up the trellis, and you're...

Apr 1, 2013 - Leah Libresco

Warm, Fuzzy Rationality?

This week’s cover story in The New York Times Magazine was a profile of Adam Grant, a Wharton professor who specializes in workplace dynamics. The author of the article was pleased by the way Grant revamped offices to use positive, warm-hearted means of motivation. In one example: [A]t the call center, Grant proposed a simple, low-cost experiment: given that one of the center’s primary purposes was funding scholarships, Grant brought...

Mar 27, 2013 - Leah Libresco

Good Statistics is Good Citizenship

It turns out one answer to the question asked in math classes across the country: When am I ever going to use this? is “In the jury box.” In today’s New York Times Leila Schneps and Coralie Colmez take judges and juries to task in their op-ed “Justice Flunks Math.” Miscalculation by judges and lawyers of probabilities, from the odds of DNA matches to the chance of accidental death, have...

Nov 9, 2012 - Luke Muehlhauser

Was Nate Silver the Most Accurate 2012 Election Pundit?

Co-authored with Gwern Branwen, who did most of the work. Data & code available here. Updates 11/09 3:30pm Pacific: Updated Brier scores, added Simon Jackman, added '2008 Repeat' baseline. 11/09 9pm Pacific: Updated scores, added Wang & Ferguson. 11/11 2:30am Pacific: Added appendix, updated scores with final batch of data from Wang & Ferguson. 11/26 8:30pm Pacific: Updated scores with latest data on e.g. the popular vote. Obama may have...

Aug 22, 2012 - Luke Muehlhauser

Rationality and Important Medical Decisions

In the opening pages of Introduction to Decision Analysis, decision analyst David Skinner tells the harrowing story of "the hardest decision [he] ever made": In September of 1998, I was working... in Venezuela when I received a phone call from a good friend that my wife... was in the hospital... I quickly called the hospital, and after several minute of arguing with the front desk, I was put through to...

Jul 28, 2012 - Luke Muehlhauser

Better Rationality Might Have Saved Steve Jobs

In 2003, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was diagnosed with cancer. Luckily, it was a type of pancreatic cancer with a very high survival rate. Unfortunately, Jobs resisted his doctors' recommendations for mainstream medical treatment for nine months. Instead, he turned to experts in "alternative medicine," including an acupuncturist and a psychic. Jobs finally consented to surgery in July 2004, but by then the cancer had spread to tissues surrounding the...