In Week 2 of my sabbatical I attended vibe camp—a self-described "ingroup burn / unconference / summer camp" in it's 2nd year of existence. You might think of it as a gathering of friendly Twitter nerds who might identify as post-rationalist*, gamer, cosplayer, furry, genderfluid, AI enthusiast/doomer.
This was a scene I felt adjacent to rather than directly a part of, but I thought it would be good to expand my social circles and connect with unconventional thinkers after 3 years inside one of the largest tech companies in the world.
The event, in second year of existence, was held at Ramblewood—a "unique rustic resort" in Maryland featuring a few dozen cabins, a main mess hall next to a pool, lots of wide open fields and indoor venues where folks put on events like:
- Improv games
- Grappling fundamentals & sparring
- Two birds one nest: a meditation for decision making
- Post-AGI midlevel programmer self-help group
- Speed friending
- Minimum viable dream: costs to your fullest living
- We have kids, AMA
I saw a number of folks on Twitter talking about vibe camp and decided to attend as it lined up with my sabbatical, but I didn't have a close set of friends I knew would be there but I figured I'd probably run into a few people I know or make new friends—and in the end I got to do both.
A lot of vibe campers would be familiar with the idea of Post-Rationality—adherents of this mindset might refer to themselves as "postrats"—shorthand for a term made semiofficial by the NYTimes just a few days ago (link).
For those unfamiliar, the Rationality movement emerged about 15 years ago with a goal around making better decisions by evaluating beliefs more accurately and avoiding cognitive biases. Key Rationality figures include Robin Hanson, Eliezer Yudkowsky, and Scott Alexander, its main forum is Less Wrong, and a famous Rationality text is Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. Rationality, AI safety, and effective altruism are overlapping schools of thoughts and communities.
Post-rationality then is a sort of reaction to the ideas of the Rationality, one focused more on human connection, spirituality / non-materialism, memes & shitposting. This newer movement is at the center of what vibe camp was all about and best captured in this The New Atlantis article.
To them, rationality culture’s technocratic focus on ameliorating the human condition through hyper-utilitarian goals — increasing the number of malaria nets in the developing world, say, or minimizing the existential risk posed by the development of unfriendly artificial intelligence — had come at the expense of taking seriously the less quantifiable elements of a well-lived human life.
Here in no particular order were some of my favorite moments:
- Sitting down at the mess hall with a random group of friendly looking people and striking up conversations about training handstands, M/F dating ratios, fixing healthcare, healing from burnout, and great science fiction novels.
- Meeting a former coaching client and his friend group for the first time IRL, as well as connecting with another IRL friend from many years prior along with his partner and 3 year-old daughter
- Participating in a series of Authentic Relating games (link) and following simple but powerful formats of questions / discussion which led to a fairly deep sense of understanding and connection with total strangers in just a few minutes of conversation
- Participating in a guided loving-kindness metta meditation with 100 other people with soft, slow music that slowly evolved into a standing swaying gathering that eventually energized into a full blown dance party featuring a wide range of outfits and dance styles
- Wandering around the campgrounds and seeing people wrestle in sumo suits, conversing on the lawn, crafting "the scent of vibe camp" fragrances, running a "nuclear war simulation game", or just playing frisbee
- It's a lot of work to bring an online community together in real life, but the possibilities unlocked are enormous.
- You should attend more gatherings that are not "exactly" your people but that you find interesting.
- Social media can still be a great way to both begin and deepen friendships if you use it right.
Visualizing the Vibes
I don't have a lot of photos because we were asked not to take pictures especially for public consumption in order to foster more authentic expression so I've blurred out the people (really the backs of their heads so no identifying info) in the first photo.