Solstice 2014 / Rational Ritual Retreat - A Call to Arms

by Raymond Arnold5 min read30th Aug 2014No comments


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 •  I'm beginning work on the 2014 Winter Solstice. There are a lot of jobs to be done, and the more people who can dedicate serious time to it, the better the end result will be and the more locations it can take place. A few people have volunteered serious time, and I wanted to issue a general call, to anyone who's wanted to be part of this but wasn't sure how. Send me an e-mail at if you'd like to help with any of the tasks listed below (or others I haven't thought of).

 •  More generally, I think people working on rational ritual, in any form, should be sharing notes and collaborating more. There's a fair number of us, but we're scattered across the country and haven't really felt like part of the same team. And it seems a bit silly for people working on ritual, to be scattered and unified. So I am hosting the first Rational Ritual Retreat at the end of September. The exact date and location have yet to be determined. You can apply at, noting your availability, and I will determine

The Rational Ritual Retreat

For the past three years, I've been running a winter solstice holiday, celebrating science and human achievement. Several people have come up to me and told me it was one of the most unique, profound experiences they've participated in, inspiring them to work harder to make sure humanity has a bright future. 

I've also had a number of people concerned that I'm messing with dangerous aspects of human psychology, fearing what will happen to a rationality community that gets involved with ritual.

Both of these thoughts are incredibly important. I've written a lot on the value and danger of ritual. [1]

Ritual is central to the human experience. We've used it for thousands of years to bind groups together. It helps us internalize complex ideas. A winning version of rationality needs *some* way of taking complex ideas and getting System 1 to care about them, and I think ritual is at least one tool we should consider.

In the past couple weeks, a few thoughts occurred to me at once:

1) Figuring out a rational approach to ritual that has a meaningful, useful effect on the world will require a lot of coordination among many skilled people.

2) If this project *were* to go badly somehow, I think the most likely reason would be someone copying parts of what I'm working on without understanding all the considerations that went into it, and creating a toxic (or hollow) variant that spirals out of control.

3) Many other people have approached the concept of rational ritual. But we've generally done so independently, often duplicating a lot of the same work and rarely moving on to more interesting and valuable experimentation. When we do experiment, we rarely share notes.

This all prompted a fourth realization:

4) If ritual designers are isolated and poorly coordinated... if we're duplicating a lot of the same early work and not sharing concerns about potential dangers, then one obvious (in retrospect) solution is to have a ritual about ritual creation.

So, the Rational Ritual Retreat. We'll hike out into a dark sky reserve, when there's no light pollution and the Milky Way looms large and beautiful above us. We'll share our stories, our ideas for a culture grounded in rationality yet tapped into our primal human desires. Over the course of an evening we'll create a ceremony or two together, through group consensus and collaboration. We'll experiment with new ideas, aware that some may work well, and some may not - that's how progress is made.

This is my experiment, attempting to answer the question Eliezer raised in "Bayesians vs Barbarians." It just seems really exceptionally silly to me that people motivated by rationality AND ritual should be so uncoordinated. 

Whether you're interested directly creating ritual, or helping to facilitate its creation in one way or another (helping with art, marketing, logistics or funding of future projects), you are invited to attend. The location is currently undecided - there are reasons to consider the West Coast, East Coast or (if there's enough interest in both locations) both. 

Send in a brief application so I can make decisions about where and when to host it. I'll make the final decisions this upcoming Friday.


The Winter Solstice

The Retreat is part of a long-term vision, of many people coming together to produce a culture (undoubtably, with numerous subcultures focusing on different aesthetics). Tentatively, I'd expect a successful rational-ritual culture to look sort of Open Source ish. (Or, more appropriately - I'd expect it to look like Burning Man. To be clear, Burning Man and variations already exist, my goal is not to duplicate that effort. It's to create something that's a) easier to integrate into people's lives, and b) specifically focuses on rationality and human progress)

The Winter Solstice project as (at least for now) an important piece of that, partly because of the particular ideas it celebrates, but also because it's a demonstration of how you create *any* cultural holiday from scratch that celebrates serious ideas in a non-ironic fashion.

My minimum goal this year is to finish the Hymnal, put more material online to help people create their own private events, and run another largish event in NYC. My stretch goals are to have a high quality public event in Boston and San Francisco. (Potentially other places if a lot of local people are interested and are willing to do the legwork). 

My hope, to make those stretch goals possible, is to find collaborators willing to put in a fair amount of work. I'm specifically looking for people who can:

  • Creative Collaboration. Want to perform, create music, visual art, or host an event in your city?
  • Help with logistics, especially in different cities. (Finding venues, arranging catering, etc)
  • Marketing, reaching out to bloggers, or creating images or videos for the social media campaign.
  • Helping with technical aspects of production for the Hymnal (editing, figuring out best places

Each of these are things I'm able to do, but I have limited time, and the more time I can focus on creating

If you're interested in collaborating, volunteering, or running a local event, either reply here or send me an e-mail at 



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