Best Nonfiction Writing on Less Wrong

post by lukeprog · 2011-10-23T04:02:23.072Z · LW · GW · Legacy · 25 comments

However useful the content, what are some examples of the best nonfiction writing on Less Wrong? Are there pieces you think are as good as recent classics of essay form like I Think You're Fat or Lies We Tell Kids? For example, I like Yvain's The Apologist and the Revolutionary.

Which pieces would you nominate as some of the best nonfiction writing on Less Wrong?


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by cousin_it · 2011-10-23T10:37:42.415Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Writing-wise (not idea-wise), my favorite LW post is Beyond the Reach of God.

comment by Manfred · 2011-10-23T05:29:27.078Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm pretty bad at separating form from content, but I'd nominate Yvain's Diseased Thinkining.

Replies from: Craig_Heldreth
comment by Craig_Heldreth · 2011-10-23T17:10:22.261Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes Yvain's post and a lot of the comments in there are pretty damn amazing.

In particular, after reading this one by JenniferRM, I wanted to hire her to give me some advice on how to help a friend I have where I am totally stuck about what to do, which is just amazing considering the intention behind her post flipped off into weirdtopia half way through and it ended up containing two completely different valuable messages in the one comment.

comment by jimrandomh · 2011-10-23T13:43:38.676Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I previously considered this question and came up with a suggested reading order with my favorite hundred. It does mix the issues of writing quality and subject importance together, though.

Replies from: lukeprog
comment by lukeprog · 2011-10-23T15:25:25.245Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

BTW, your list is what's being used as the initial source for the 'Featured Articles' on the front page.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-23T16:24:55.664Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd be surprised if this wasn't mentioned at all, but just in case, one of the best I ever read was all about this guy Bruce.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-25T14:57:11.584Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm going to be a suck-up and nominate the neglected virtue of scholarship.

I'm researching "MaxEnt" so lukeprog's recommendation of the Williamson book on Bayesianism is directly useful to me.

But actually it’s a great article (the reasons why are somewhat easy to analyse in hindsight – writing a piece of such quality in the first place is the challenge!)

First he illustrates clearly the problem to be discussed (neglect of scholarship), using a quote to emphasise the consensus that exists regarding the value of scholarship. He then provides a very engaging example about the lack of scholarship of atheists who debate theists – engaging because a supermajority of readers are provoked by the idea that theists might win such a debate, because it is very detailed (evidence that the author practises what he preaches) and because the criticism of a notably rational group of people prevents the reader from dismissing the idea that they as a rationalist might need to improve their own scholarship.

The subsequent mention of Less Wrong readers and their lack of detailed understanding of Bayesianism, to the extent that it is true (probably a large extent) then hammers home the point that the reader is in fact not as scholarly as he might be. This is followed by a criticism of Yudkowsky’s own scholarship in one of his articles, which is entertaining because it is ironic given the quote at the start of the article, and immediately prevents the reader from feeling that the author is trying to humiliate him with these examples (since Yudkowsky is such a respected figure).

At the end of the article lukeprog provides concrete recommendations regarding how to improve one’s scholarship – in effect helping the reader to overcome the “twinge of starting” that might cause him to procrastinate in trying to implement the author’s suggestions. In a general sense the article adopts a strict, but encouraging tone which also should help in this regard.

comment by Raemon · 2011-10-23T22:30:14.601Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Gift We Give Tomorrow was extremely moving to me, and I am frustrated that my friends/family can't appreciate it until they read half the sequences.

comment by Desrtopa · 2011-10-23T15:15:27.710Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I had read some of Eliezer's writings on Overcoming Bias back while he was still constructing the sequences, but I'm pretty sure it was reading Lost Purposes that got me gripped enough to want to go on and read the entirety of the sequences. It's possible that other articles I encountered in the process were better written, but that one remains more memorable.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-24T00:55:08.211Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I like the use of rhetoric in "Explain/Worship/Ignore?". It starts with a story, which is a nice and concrete way to draw the reader in. It also uses a computer control convention combined with underlining to repeatedly draw attention back to the main point. And then there's this little gem:

We can hit Explain for the Big Bang, and wait while science grinds through its process, and maybe someday it will return a perfectly good explanation. But then that will just bring up another dialog box. So, if we continue long enough, we must come to a special dialog box, a new option, an Explanation That Needs No Explanation, a place where the chain ends - and this, maybe, is the only explanation worth knowing.

There - I just hit Worship.

comment by lukeprog · 2011-12-26T07:55:58.106Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Update: I've listed some of my other non-fiction favorites here.

comment by kremlin · 2011-11-25T11:13:24.087Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I really like Possibility and Couldness, but that could be because i've been talking about determinism a lot lately. Also, Zombies? Zombies! was a fun read.

Replies from: dbaupp
comment by dbaupp · 2011-11-25T11:46:20.240Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

(Links: Possibility and Could-ness, Zombies? Zombies!)

Replies from: kremlin
comment by kremlin · 2011-11-25T21:32:54.646Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

thanks, i haven't looked in to linking in the comments to other wiki pages yet. just joined.

comment by lukeprog · 2011-11-04T18:42:49.268Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I also like the writing in What Evidence Filtered Evidence?.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-25T05:50:45.203Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


Replies from: pedanterrific
comment by pedanterrific · 2011-10-25T06:36:14.845Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't know, what did you do? (What a strange comment.)

Replies from: None
comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-25T06:39:30.925Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


Replies from: pedanterrific, Swimmer963
comment by pedanterrific · 2011-10-25T06:43:16.896Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I still have no idea what you're talking about. (I've never come across that article before, and I don't know who the author is/was.) If you think there's some reason not to discuss it here, could you PM me?

comment by Swimmer963 · 2011-10-25T17:36:06.690Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I just checked and the account IS deleted. Weird. Wasn't that article was pretty recent, too?

comment by [deleted] · 2011-10-24T18:04:52.924Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I thought of more then one way to answer this question. I figured I would give one answer for each way I could think, as if I was nominating them for different categories, as it were.

Are there any posts I've liked/upvoted? Yes, but there are too many to list here, and if I answer 10+ posts, it feels like it doesn't really standout as the "Best" writing.

Are there any posts I've liked/upvoted and saved? Lukeprog, your crash course was the only one I found that I liked and saved, so that's probably one of my personal favorites.

Are there any sequences that stood out in my head as being a best sequence? The fun theory sequence

Are there any elements in that sequence that stood out as being the best part of the sequence? Interpersonal entanglement

Is there any way of trying to answer this question on a level that might be more objective than my own opinion? There is a way to sort posts to see top voted posts, but there may be some bias involved: As a possible example of this, being a top voted post might get more exposure, which may get you more votes. Bearing that in mind, the most highly rated post of all time is Yvain's generalizing from one example with 190 points as of this post.

These are also available from the top bar, but in case anyone would like some quick links:

comment by CharlesR · 2011-10-23T05:52:00.941Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Are the Sequences out of bounds?

Replies from: lukeprog
comment by lukeprog · 2011-10-23T06:52:28.934Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Definitely not. You may nominate posts from the Sequences.

Replies from: CharlesR
comment by CharlesR · 2011-10-23T07:35:49.320Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In that case, my favorite post is Universal Law. Starts strong. Ends strong. The middle is great too.

In particular, I like this transition.

The idea of a rule with literally no exceptions seems insanely rigid, the product of closed-minded thinking by fanatics so in the grip of their one big idea that they can't see the richness and complexity of the real universe.

This is the customary accusation made against scientists - the professional students of the richness and complexity of the real universe . . .