Comment by djcb on April 2016 Media Thread · 2016-04-03T12:49:12.924Z · LW · GW

(Links are to my GoodReads notes about them)

The related books Superforecasting and Future Babble are about predicting the socio-econo-political future - how people usually fail at it, esp. overconfident pundits - and how it doesn't matter because people forget and they get invited again. The contents align nicely with LW-themes (in terms of instrumental rationality, probabilistic reasoning and recognizing biases etc.), and apply them to read-world prediction making. Some people get quite good at foreseeing events.

Comment by djcb on April 2016 Media Thread · 2016-04-03T12:36:18.803Z · LW · GW

I, for one, really like this section of LW, which has led me to so many interesting reads. It seems there used to be more entries here, is there some other place LW-minded people now put their recommendations?

Comment by djcb on January 2016 Media Thread · 2016-01-02T19:59:47.116Z · LW · GW

Much agree with that! Both The Three Body Problem and The Dark Forest (links to my GoodReads reviews) are some of my favorite reads in 2015, can't wait for part 3, Death’s End, which should be available (in English) some time this year.

I'm actually not a big HPMOR fan, and I found these books quite different from that.

Comment by djcb on Creating a Text Shorthand for Uncertainty · 2013-10-19T17:15:12.023Z · LW · GW

Reminds me of the discussion in Through The Language Glass of the Matsés people of the Amazon.

Their language has a built-in concept of evidentiality -- every time they say anything about anything, their language requires them to express the amount of evidence for the statement -- 'seen with my own eyes' until 'mere hearsay' -- paper.

Comment by djcb on October 2013 Media Thread · 2013-10-12T15:24:49.488Z · LW · GW

"The 48 Anecdotes of Power"? It's a fun read, but sometimes taken a bit too serious (like having 48-laws-themed tattoos...)

Comment by djcb on September 2013 Media Thread · 2013-09-08T17:31:29.007Z · LW · GW

Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith: The Dictator's Handbook

Much liked this book, which is a sort-of modern version of Machiavelli's The Prince. Don't get fooled by its silly title, this book is the general-audience version of Bueno De Mesquita et al's selectorate theory, which describes any kind of power structure in terms of which groups leaders need to please (or can ignore!) in order to stay in power. It's a rather cynical theory, with leaders having staying-in-power as more or less their only goal, and they give a great many example; leaders in democracies and authocracies are more-or-less equivalent, it's only that the former needed to please many more people and thus are induced to play a bit nicer.

Of course, political science is a bit shaky, but the writers do have statistics and analysis (but one needs the more scholarly version of the theory for that) to back it up. Also, esp. Bueno De Mesquita is known for making quite accurate predictions of future events, more so than others. This gives some confidence, esp. against the common theme of theories that can predict anything.

With selectorate theory in hand, the book explains how we could look at e.g. foreign aid, international politics, to make it beneficial to leaders (democratic or not) to be better to their subjects, improve governance, freedoms etc. So, in the end, the cold, hard-nosed cynicism does point to some ways to make the world a better place...

Recommended. I'll be going to watch world events through these lenses, and see how wel it works.

Comment by djcb on August 2013 Media Thread · 2013-08-04T20:23:15.417Z · LW · GW

Talking about nuclear arms, I much liked Richard Rhodes's two books -- esp. The Making of the Atomic Bomb, but also the "sequel", Dark Sun -- The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb.

The first book focus much on the science (in a non-technical way) and the politics, while the second spends a lot of time of the espionage that helped the Soviets to create a bomb, too.

Comment by djcb on What are you working on? July 2013 · 2013-08-04T17:49:09.595Z · LW · GW

Oh, thanks for sharing this!

Comment by djcb on What are you working on? July 2013 · 2013-07-02T20:19:37.582Z · LW · GW

Oh, that's a really interesting idea! Is the code available somewhere?

Comment by djcb on July 2013 Media Thread · 2013-07-02T20:17:10.790Z · LW · GW

Jon Ronson - "The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry "

Some light reading about psychopaths (!) --how are people diagnosed to be psychopaths (often using the Hare Psychopathy Checklist), can this 1% of the population be cured (apparently, to a large extent the answer is "no"). In between, the author solves some kind of mystery, discusses some fun therapies from the 70s, and chats with some psychopaths-or-not, and the famous Rosenhan experiment makes an appearance.

Once more, the stereotype of psychiatry as an, at best, proto-scientific field is evoked. Not a bad book, good for a light read on a long flight.

Comment by djcb on July 2013 Media Thread · 2013-07-02T20:13:44.163Z · LW · GW

Richard Rhodes - "Dark Sun: The Making Of The Hydrogen Bomb"

The title says it all - a book about the development of hydrogen bomb, in both its American and its Russian incarnation. The book is the sequel to The Making of the Atomic Bomb (which is really great).

The book roughly starts where its predecessor ended, and tells the story of the main characters in the Manhattan project, and how they started work on the Next Big Thing -- the hydrogen bomb, as invented by Ulam/Teller. The book is a bit less about the science and more about the politics of the H-bomb project, but still there are quite a few details - though the DIY-crowd might need some more...

The book also details the Russian parallel development, first of their own atom-bomb and then also the h-bomb, and how they were much helped by espionage, in particular from Klaus Fuchs, who came off very lightly, and ended his days in the DDR.

Overall, slightly (only slightly!) less interesting than its predecessor, still a great read. Well-researched and detailed, but also very interesting -- esp. if you're interested in politics.

Comment by djcb on July 2013 Media Thread · 2013-07-02T20:09:01.322Z · LW · GW

Would you recommend it?

Comment by djcb on Social intelligence, education, & the workplace · 2013-05-04T10:47:36.598Z · LW · GW

People with high social intelligence are able to drive their (often stupid) ideas through committees by using coalition-building and hate-mongering, as well as sarcasm, dismissive humor, emotionally-laden jargon ("death tax"), distraction, and a fine sense of when they can use argument by assumption. They are the people who get grants by schmoozing, playing off the prejudices of the review panel, and snappy data-free PowerPoint presentations.

Talk about emotionally-laden! This seem a bit exagerated to me.

Summarizing, the idea is that:

  • high IQ -> better work performance -> better for society
  • high social intelligence -> better career -> better for individual

and since a better career is a zero-sum game, it makes little sense for society to invest in that.

That makes sense, but what's unknown (afaik) is to what extent high social intelligence has (may have) positive effects not just for the individual, but also for whole organizations, society. Career success may be zero-sum game, but a organization/society with a better understanding of the social factor, may be better at reaching its goals.

Comment by djcb on May 2013 Media Thread · 2013-05-01T20:01:38.312Z · LW · GW

The Guns Of August - Barbara Tuchman. Tuchman's classic book about the first month of World War I. It's written in a somewhat informal way, and Tuchman seems to be especially interested by the various character's mustaches, for some reason.It's a good introduction into that first month, when the German's got so close to winning, and then... didn't.

Moonwalking with Einstein - Joshua Foer. In short: a book a journalist how writes a story about the US memory competition, then decides to try himself, and wins the next year. While doing so, he discusses the various tricks that 'mental athletes' use (many of which are known since ancient times), the differences with the inborn talents of idiots savants and the little subculture of people taking part in these competitions. I liked the book -- it constantly tries to understand why things work the way they seem to work, leaves room for alternative explanations etc., while keeping the book fascinating.

Feeling Good - David Burns. This book is (mostly) about Behavioral Therapy (BT), a therapy for treating depressions. I happily do not suffer from those, but I was interested in what the field has come up with, a field which still has bit of a proto-scientific smell.

BT is based on the thought that depressions are often based on errors of thinking (such as being too negative, having unrealistic expectations, all-or-nothing thinking and so on), and that patients can be help by systematically exposing these thinking errors, and making them think in more realistic terms. One of the ways to do this is to keep lists of expectations what will be happen in many daily things ('it's going to be a disaster'), and then later adding what actually happened ('it wasn't too bad'). Sounds almost /too/ rational, but apparently it worked. The end of the book also discusses chemical treatments at length, and sees them as something that is sometimes necessary, but always in combination with other therapy. This part interested me less. Overall, I liked Dr. Burn's writing style -- concise, precise and self-critical, and he seems to anticipate this reader's "but what if" responses quite well.

Antifragile - Things That Gain from Disorder - Nassim Taleb. In this book, Taleb discusses antifragility, i.e., the property of flourishing in the face of randomness, rare events, and so one, and he contrasts this with many of the world's systems, which are fragile -- strongly depend on their environment being predictable.

Prime examples of this would be the world economy (fragile) and the human body (gets better at fighting pathogens the more it is exposed to them).

Taleb fills the book with this -- and even more with gratuitously throwing around references to ancient philosophers etc., and shamelessly adding anecdotes with himself being the hero (not just the smartest, but also an impressive weight-lifter 'looks like a body-guard'). If you can overlook that, it's an interesting book.

Comment by djcb on April 2013 Media Thread · 2013-04-06T07:47:05.202Z · LW · GW

I read Sam Kean's The Disappearing Spoon (about the periodic table), and The Violinist's Thumb (about genetics). Both are excellent pieces of pop-science. Somewhat like Bill Bryson, but gets a bit more technical in some places.

I much commend the writer for double-checking many of the legends, anecdotes (and debunking quite a few).

Comment by djcb on March 2013 Media Thread · 2013-03-23T16:28:14.161Z · LW · GW

The Amazon blurb doesn't look very promising... "Change is hard. But not if you know the 5-step formula that works whether...". Or is this one of those rare gems?

Comment by djcb on February 2013 Media Thread · 2013-02-03T18:22:31.596Z · LW · GW
  • I finished Nate Silver's The Signal and the Noise; I liked it. Very accessible view into the world of predicitions in very different field (earthquakes, poker, elections, stock market, ...). Nice book to introduce people into quite a few of the LW-themes. One weakness I found that while Silver got to interview Donald Rumsfeld, he succeeds in not getting anything interesting out of him.
  • Also, I finally finished Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow, a great book that discusses many of our cognivitive biases. A whole subgenre of irrationality-pop-psy has arisen in the last few years, but this is really the book that makes much of those superfluous. Book gets a bit tedious in the end, but I'd still consider it near-mandatory reading for people interested in LW-themes.
Comment by djcb on February 2013 Media Thread · 2013-02-03T17:59:10.645Z · LW · GW

Linguistics are interesting, and this book is a classic of the field, but could you explain why you think it is so great? Haven't read the book yet, but I'm interested to know if I should give it some extra priority in my reading queue.

Comment by djcb on January 2013 Media Thread · 2013-01-20T19:39:24.059Z · LW · GW

I liked that third one ("The 10,000 Year Explosion"), which suggests that human evolution has been very much happening in the last 10K years; I wonder if that's a mainstream believe now, and/or if there other books about this.

Comment by djcb on January 2013 Media Thread · 2013-01-20T19:35:34.209Z · LW · GW

Overall, I did like Blackout/All-Clear, but the aspects of time-traveling and universe taking a special interest in human-level 'big happenings' were unconvincing for me.

Not really the point of the story of course, but if one introduces time-traveling in a story, it should be thought trough a bit more, I think.

Comment by djcb on Open Thread, October 16-31, 2012 · 2012-10-17T22:54:02.619Z · LW · GW

What do people think about Jaynes' (the other one) The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind ?

I just read it, and while I enjoyed the book, I'm rather sceptical about the book's main point -- that consciousness (in the way the book describes) only arrived ~ 1000 BCE. The evidence provided by the Jaynes Society doesn't really convince me either.

Jaynes is not a crackpot in the Von Däniken/Hancock school, but I found his evidence lacking for his extraordinary claim. What do you think?

Comment by djcb on The basic argument for the feasibility of transhumanism · 2012-10-14T19:56:17.548Z · LW · GW

I don't really see how the argument for feasibility of H+ has much to do with the size of the design space for life (and AI, and nanotech,...) as long as its non-empty. After all, there's a huge design space for impossibilities as well. Or am I misunderstanding the argument?

There are some rather mundane improvements (at least compared to the design space) that would be enough (if realized) to show the feasibility -- say, intelligence augmentation, brain-computer hybrids.

Comment by djcb on October 2012 Media Thread · 2012-10-10T08:12:55.633Z · LW · GW

Dave Grossman - On Killing

After reading quite a few books relating to military matters (including some which glorify the whole business a bit -- say, "No easy day" or "American sniper"), it seemed good to look a bit deeper into the minds of soldiers -- "On Killing" is all about what goes through the heads of men whose job it is to kill.

An interesting fact seems to be that at most 20% or so of American WW2 soldiers fired at the enemy; and this number seems to be consistent with other armies / history (there is no hard evidence, but some indications). Reason for this seems to be a mental barrier most people have against killing. Another interesting observation is that Skinnerian operant conditioning has raised that number to ~ 90% in the Vietnam war. Useful for the war effort, but, as the book suggests, killing comes back to haunt the killer after the war (and esp. in the Vietnam conflict it was made worse by the way the troops returned -- this explains many of the psychological problems veterans face).

Interesting read -- the last part about violent movies / video games seemed a bit redundant, and it'd be interesting to see an update on this '95 book.

Comment by djcb on October 2012 Media Thread · 2012-10-10T08:06:08.410Z · LW · GW

Read Frans de Waal's Our inner ape

Frans de Waal looks at primates (primarily, chimpanzees and bonobos) at some of human nature -- in particular, sex, violence and morality.

The stories about ape behavior are really fascinating, and may tell us a bit about our own behavior. De Waal suggests that some of our behavior has counterparts in chimpanzees and bonobos, the latter being more aggressive (even violent, cruel) and competitive, and the second being more social.

I didn't like De Waal's extrapolations into human politics and society, or his snide remarks towards Dawkins' The Selfish Gene, apparently mostly because he did not like the title. And the circular reasoning, "Morality needs emotions, because Mr. Spocks's pure-logic morality doesn't feel right".

So, in summary -- Overall, an enjoyable read, and De Waal is best when he discusses apes.

(Note: primates such as bonobos, chimpanzees and gorilla's are apes, they get annoyed when you call them monkeys)

Comment by djcb on September 2012 Media Thread · 2012-09-18T19:19:04.137Z · LW · GW

Ah, thanks to your recommendation I picked up Beevor's Stalingrad, and I really liked the book. The writer tries hard to be balanced and correct (with a lot of sources from different sides); yet the story never ceases to captivate the reader, and never loses the overall view of the horrors of the battle.

Comment by djcb on September 2012 Media Thread · 2012-09-07T09:45:28.849Z · LW · GW

Indeed these books seem to be engineered for effect (Gladwell is an absolute master at that). Slightly 'unexpected' conclusions that go well with the readers' cherished beliefs, and optimized for short attention spans.

Comment by djcb on September 2012 Media Thread · 2012-09-07T09:39:31.085Z · LW · GW

I wouldn't say Taleb is part of the MGSoW though. Taleb has some good points, the biggest obstacle I have with enjoying his books is the author's pretentiousness.

Comment by djcb on September 2012 Media Thread · 2012-09-05T19:44:43.105Z · LW · GW

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking - Susan Cain

A book on introverts in a world where extroversion is the norm, how introverts can better deal with that world, and how extroverts should make better use of the special qualities that introverts possess.

Sadly, the book is typical example of the Malcolm Gladwell school of writing, with a mix of some research, wide extrapolations and the author's ideas all mixed up. And descriptions of how the researchers look -- really?!

I actually think the book /has/ a point, and I think some of the 'findings' make sense; but perhaps a magazine article would be enough for this?

Comment by djcb on What is the evidence in favor of paleo? · 2012-08-27T20:23:12.005Z · LW · GW

Good calories, bad calories is a good read and it makes a rather compelling argument for limiting carb consumption; however, mainstream nutrition science does not unanimously agree with this view. Hard to say who's right.

Indeed, it's sad (from my armchair-observer perspective...) that something as important as nutrition science seems unable to say something conclusive about low-carb vs high-carb diets.

I have no weight problems, but low-carb seemed to correlate somewhat with loosing weight; I can't say I'm convinced though. I just make sure to excercise so much that I don't have to worry too much about dietary details. After all, physical excercise is as much a 'paleo' thing as the diet.

Comment by djcb on Using Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality to teach the scientific method to Psychology undergraduates · 2012-08-25T08:55:29.310Z · LW · GW

Maybe you should try it with a few students first? Of course, I don't know your students, but I could imagine that some students would find using a text involving spells, magic etc. a bit hard to take serious.

Comment by djcb on August 2012 Media Thread · 2012-08-23T20:00:29.753Z · LW · GW

Oh, thanks a lot for the information! I'll check those out!

Comment by djcb on August 2012 Media Thread · 2012-08-23T12:44:04.843Z · LW · GW

I haven't read any of his other books -- is there any you could recommend? Maybe one of the recent ones, like Embassy Town and Railsee?

Comment by djcb on Open Thread, August 16-31, 2012 · 2012-08-16T16:24:44.918Z · LW · GW

Great! Thanks a lot for this!

Comment by djcb on The weakest arguments for and against human level AI · 2012-08-16T05:54:56.595Z · LW · GW

One has to commend Searle though from coming up with such a clear example of what he thinks is wrong with the then-current model of AI. I wish all people could formulate their phylosophical ideas, right or wrong, in such a fashion. Even when they are wrong, they can be quite fruitful, as can be seen in the many papers (example still referring to Searle and his Chinese Room, or even more famously in the EPR paradox paper.

Comment by djcb on Open Thread, August 16-31, 2012 · 2012-08-15T18:29:10.814Z · LW · GW

I like the Rationality Quotes, but it seems it is dominated by fairly long entries, rather than the small gems that I prefer. Now, obviously some people like those longer entries, but it'd be great if I those could be filtered out in some way. Is there a way to do that?

Comment by djcb on The weakest arguments for and against human level AI · 2012-08-15T18:24:13.798Z · LW · GW

The most famous proponent of this "those are mere programs" view may be John Searle and his Chinese Room. I wouldn't call that the weakest argument against AI, although I think his argument is flawed.

Comment by djcb on Rationality Quotes August 2012 · 2012-08-15T15:30:13.028Z · LW · GW

That's a much better advice than Godin's near-tautology.

Comment by djcb on The weakest arguments for and against human level AI · 2012-08-15T15:24:38.380Z · LW · GW

Perhaps in the introduction (or title?) it should be mentioned that AI in the context of the article means human-level AI.

Comment by djcb on The weakest arguments for and against human level AI · 2012-08-15T15:18:48.411Z · LW · GW

That argument is primarily about what the word AI means, rather than an argument against AI as a phenomenon.

Comment by djcb on August 2012 Media Thread · 2012-08-03T16:31:11.399Z · LW · GW

I think the textbook-list was a nice idea, but in the ended didn't really work that well, since too few people were involved, and, as you say, it's only textbooks -- not my normal digest of books.

So as my own little contribution, I'll try to add a few books every time the Media Thread comes up; hopefully more people will do that. Let's fight against Sturgeon's Law!

Comment by djcb on August 2012 Media Thread · 2012-08-02T09:48:35.627Z · LW · GW

I love reading and have enjoyed some of the recommendations I found on LW; however, I'm sure the collective knowledge of interesting books in the LW-community is much bigger than the few book seen in the Media Thread or in the wiki. Moreover, there doesn't seem to be a place to find the, say, top-5 most higly rated books in some subject, or the top-5 of must-read books of the last 12 months.

If someone knows how we could start something like this on LW, your advice would be highly appreciated!

Comment by djcb on August 2012 Media Thread · 2012-08-01T21:38:26.680Z · LW · GW

Not really new, but I found China Miéville's Perdido Street Station really good. It's a mix of steampunk, fantasy and horror, and Miéville is a magician with words. He also looks at the motivations of all the actors, good and bad (and human, non-human).

Comment by djcb on August 2012 Media Thread · 2012-08-01T21:25:36.377Z · LW · GW

Some of the books I read recently:

  • We Are Anonymous - entertaining though necessarily a bit dumbed-down discussion of the Anonymous/LulzSec hacks. In this genre, I prefered The Hacker Crackdown or Mitnick's Ghost in the wires, but it was interesting to see where the 'Anonymous' hackers came from, where they succeeded, and how they got caught.
  • Miller's Spent - sex, evolution and consumer behavior which was recommend to me here, and discusses EvoPsy / consumerism. Overall, an interesting book, until the last few chapters where the author unsuccesfully attempts to show how to overcome consumerism.
  • Linden's The Accidental Mind was a particularly insightful pop-sci discussion of how our brain works, with an emphasis on how buggy/imperfect it is, and how the brain works around that.
  • Some other books that I liked: Shell's Bargaining for advantage (pretty good book about, well, bargaining, which presents the subject in a structured, non-BS way). If finally read Cialdini's Influence (it was a bit anecdotical for my taste, but it's a pretty good overview of the little tricks people use to influence others)
Comment by djcb on [Applications Closed] The Singularity Institute is hiring remote LaTeX editors · 2012-07-30T20:28:54.273Z · LW · GW

Well, that's a clear answer at least.

Of course, distribution outside SIAI is not the same as putting it in the public domain, so technically you'd not be giving up your intellectual property, it's just about what you allow others to do with it. I can understand SIAI does not want to dillute its brand by having others re-using the exact templates -- but maybe it would be possible to publish a sub-template, something without the SIAI-specifics?

Comment by djcb on [Applications Closed] The Singularity Institute is hiring remote LaTeX editors · 2012-07-29T16:23:15.609Z · LW · GW

Will the LaTeX document-classes be made available for use outside the Singularity Institute?

Comment by djcb on [deleted post] 2012-07-29T16:19:33.775Z

I think this discussed in The Selfish Gene; this 'altruistic' behaviour still helps the older workers' genes chances of survival; no need for group selection.

Comment by djcb on What are the boundaries? · 2012-07-26T09:39:25.207Z · LW · GW

Would you say the boundaries are getting lower? With increasing specialization, it seems it gets harder to connect an ever greater number of disparate fields (with a couple of choice exceptions, as you note). Of course, in nature there is no boundary (eg., between chemistry and physics), but there are limits to what fits in a human brain.

Comment by djcb on Build Small Skills in the Right Order · 2012-07-23T09:48:59.257Z · LW · GW

Robert Cialdini's Influence is a good read. Cialdini emphasizes influencing people by using behavioral reflexes (like reciprocity, recognizing authority etc.) and how to defend oneself against it.

Then, some of the pop-psy books on irrationality give good insights - I particularly liked Dan Ariely's writings, and Chabris/Simons' The Invisible Gorilla -- but of course they are primarily about pointing out bugs in our mental wetware rather than 'hacking' it.

Anyhow, beware Sturgeon's Law.

Comment by djcb on Moderate alcohol consumption inversely correlated with all-cause mortality · 2012-07-14T07:36:30.723Z · LW · GW

Ah, thanks! The research was about alcohol and clofibrates:

N, normal controls; NA, standard diet + alcohol; C, clofibrate feeding; and CA, clofibrate feeding + alcohol [...]. Life duration (weeks) after the start of the trial was 63.3 ± 3.3 in N, 73 ± 2.6 in NA, 77.7 ± 4.3 in C, and 90.3 ± 2.8 in CA. There were no alcohol-related liver findings in NA and CA. [...] Voluntary alcohol consumption or clofibrate feeding significantly lengthens lifetime, which is prolonged by 42% if ethanol is combined with clofibrate. [...]

That seems pretty significant! Cheers!

Comment by djcb on Moderate alcohol consumption inversely correlated with all-cause mortality · 2012-07-13T18:19:57.355Z · LW · GW

Well said.

It would actually be interesting to see some research on the biological side of alcohol consumption, say, some studies on the longetivity of rats consuming C2H5OH-containing drinks versus their non-alcoholic controls.

(At the very least, the rats might be saved from less pleasant experiments...)