March 2014 Media Thread

by ArisKatsaris1 min read1st Mar 201443 comments


Personal Blog

This is the monthly thread for posting media of various types that you've found that you enjoy. Post what you're reading, listening to, watching, and your opinion of it. Post recommendations to blogs. Post whatever media you feel like discussing! To see previous recommendations, check out the older threads.


  • Please avoid downvoting recommendations just because you don't personally like the recommended material; remember that liking is a two-place word. If you can point out a specific flaw in a person's recommendation, consider posting a comment to that effect.
  • If you want to post something that (you know) has been recommended before, but have another recommendation to add, please link to the original, so that the reader has both recommendations.
  • Please use the comment trees for genres. There is a meta thread for comments about future threads.
  • If you think there should be a thread for a particular genre of media, please post it to the Other Media thread for now, and add a poll to the Meta thread asking if it should be a thread every month.
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Short Online Texts Thread









Krugman, "The Fall and Rise of Development Economics" (1995).

My summary:

[A paper I read] describes how European maps of the African continent evolved from the 15th to the 19th centuries.

You might have supposed that the process would have been more or less linear: as European knowledge of the continent advanced, the maps would have shown both increasing accuracy and increasing levels of detail. But that's not what happened. In the 15th century, maps of Africa were, of course, quite inaccurate about distances, coastlines, and so on. They did, however, contain quite a lot of information about the interior, based essentially on second- or third-hand travellers' reports. Thus the maps showed Timbuktu, the River Niger, and so forth. Admittedly, they also contained quite a lot of untrue information, like regions inhabited by men with their mouths in their stomachs. Still, in the early 15th century Africa on maps was a filled space.

Over time, the art of mapmaking and the quality of information used to make maps got steadily better. The coastline of Africa was first explored, then plotted with growing accuracy, and by the 18th century that coastline was shown in a manner essentially indistinguishable from that of modern maps. Cities and peoples along the coast were also shown with great fidelity.

On the other hand, the interior emptied out. The weird mythical creatures were gone, but so were the real cities and rivers. In a way, Europeans had become more ignorant about Africa than they had been before.

It should be obvious what happened: the improvement in the art of mapmaking raised the standard for what was considered valid data. Second-hand reports of the form "six days south of the end of the desert you encounter a vast river flowing from east to west" were no longer something you would use to draw your map. Only features of the landscape that had been visited by reliable informants equipped with sextants and compasses now qualified. And so the crowded if confused continental interior of the old maps became "darkest Africa", an empty space.

Of course, by the end of the 19th century darkest Africa had been explored, and mapped accurately. In the end, the rigor of modern cartography led to infinitely better maps. But there was an extended period in which improved technique actually led to some loss in knowledge.

Between the 1940s and the 1970s something similar happened to economics. A rise in the standards of rigor and logic led to a much improved level of understanding of some things, but also led for a time to an unwillingness to confront those areas the new technical rigor could not yet reach. Areas of inquiry that had been filled in, however imperfectly, became blanks. Only gradually, over an extended period, did these dark regions get re-explored.

...So why didn't high development theory get expressed in formal models? Almost certainly for one basic reason: high development theory rested critically on the assumption of economies of scale, but nobody knew how to put these scale economies into formal models.

...Economic theory is essentially a collection of models... Like it or not, however, the influence of ideas that have not been embalmed in models soon decays. And this was the fate of high development theory. Myrdal's effective presentation of the idea of circular and cumulative causation, or Hirschman's evocation of linkages, were stimulating and immensely influential in the 1950s and early 1960s. By the 1970s (when I was myself a student of economics), they had come to seem not so much wrong as meaningless. What were these guys talking about? Where were the models? And so high development theory was not so much rejected as simply bypassed.

I have just acknowledged that the tendency of economists to emphasize what they know how to model formally can create blind spots; yet I have also claimed that the insistence on modeling is basically right. What I want to do now is call a time out and discuss more broadly the role of models in social science. do you know that the model is good? It will never be right in the way that quantum electrodynamics is right. At a certain point you may be good enough at predicting that your results can be put to repeated practical use, like the giant weather-forecasting models that run on today's supercomputers; in that case predictive success can be measured in terms of dollars and cents, and the improvement of models becomes a quantifiable matter. In the early stages of a complex science, however, the criterion for a good model is more subjective: it is a good model if it succeeds in explaining or rationalizing some of what you see in the world in a way that you might not have expected.

...[To build models,] you make a set of clearly untrue simplifications to get the system down to something you can handle; those simplifications are dictated partly by guesses about what is important, partly by the modeling techniques available. And the end result, if the model is a good one, is an improved insight into why the vastly more complex real system behaves the way it does.

...there are highly intelligent and objective thinkers who are repelled by simplistic models for a much better reason: they are very aware that the act of building a model involves loss as well as gain. Africa isn't empty, but the act of making accurate maps can get you into the habit of imagining that it is. Model-building, especially in its early stages, involves the evolution of ignorance as well as knowledge; and someone with powerful intuition, with a deep sense of the complexities of reality, may well feel that from his point of view more is lost than is gained.

...The problem is that there is no alternative to models. We all think in simplified models, all the time. The sophisticated thing to do is not to pretend to stop, but to be self-conscious -- to be aware that your models are maps rather than reality.

...When I look at the Murphy et al representation of the Big Push idea, I find myself wondering whether the long slump in development theory was really necessary. The model is so simple: three pages, two equations, and one diagram. It could, it seems, have been written as easily in 1955 as in 1989. What would have happened to development economics, even to economics in general, if someone had legitimized the role of increasing returns and circular causation with a neat model 35 years ago?

One would like to draw some morals from this story. It is easy to give facile advice. For those who are impatient with modeling and prefer to strike out on their own into the richness that an uninhibited use of metaphor seems to open up, the advice is to stop and think. Are you sure that you really have such deep insights that you are better off turning your back on the cumulative discourse among generally intelligent people that is modern economics? But of course you are.

And for those, like me, who basically try to understand the world through the metaphors provided by models, the advice is not to let important ideas slip by just because they haven't been formulated your way. Look for the folk wisdom on clouds -- ideas that come from people who do not write formal models but may have rich insights. There may be some very interesting things out there. Strangely, though, I can't think of any.

The truth is, I fear, that there's not much that can be done about the kind of apparent intellectual waste that took place during the fall and rise of development economics. A temporary evolution of ignorance may be the price of progress, an inevitable part of what happens when we try to make sense of the world's complexity.

I've been finding a lot of things I enjoy reading on Medium, but I particularly recommend - about death in Fire Emblem, and how an interactive medium allows a more, well, realistic approach to the topic.

Not a bad writeup but I think he's being really premature on some of his assessments like the racism and xenophobia. Those are things that a tourist (and he still is a tourist, after 2 weeks) may not be exposed to immediately. The stereotypes are being reported by people who generally have been there a lot longer and have had more opportunities to learn about things like gossip behind their backs, glass ceilings, how they're treated in rare circumstances like emergencies, etc.

It looked to me as though he'd been warned that just being in China for a visit would be unpleasant because he'd be disliked on sight, and that turned out not to be true.

[-][anonymous]8y 0

Why do you think he's a rationalist?

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Podcasts Thread

Online Videos Thread

Fanfiction Thread

I feel like this must have been recommended before, but if so I couldn't find where, and it has just recently been updated after a longish pause. I just recently read through what there is so far of Lighting Up the Dark. I wasn't familiar with Naruto, but I was generally able to follow it, and I liked some of the humor (which seemed to be poking fun at anime generally, rather than being specific to Naruto). It was inspired by an omake chapter in HPMOR (which is why I thought it would have been mentioned around here at some point), and presents a fairly interesting, rationality-upgraded Naruto.

It has been mentioned previously on /r/rational, but I don't think here.

Nonfiction Books Thread

I read "Quantum Computing Since Democritus" by Scott Aaronson and loved it but can only hesitantly recommend it. I think I got significantly more utility out of it than most would as I happened to hit the "sweet spot" for being sufficiently equipped to not be hindered by its (clearly marked and understandable) omissions while still having enough gaping holes in my knowledge that I got a lot out of it. For the record, my background is in math with one course in quantum mechanics, one in intro course in quantum computation and no training in complexity classes.

I have never had as much fun with a book this technical before. Please take that as a challenge and recommend me some competitors!

It covers a huge range of material in a very light and enjoyable manner - I frequently found myself laughing out loud. His exercises were, for me, impressively at the level of being just hard enough that they look ridiculously challenging (in one case, apparently impossible!) at first read over but still having an approachable solution after five minutes of thought. He goes over many things that are directly interesting to this community (the anthropic principle, self-identification assumption, Newcomb's problem, even time travel) and even though I have already read up on those a significant amount found a lot of good stuff in those sections where he does actually manage to relate it to quantum computation.

This is not a traditional book on quantum computing and its title is perhaps misleading. It really is about computational complexity. You will not learn Shor's algorithm for factoring numbers and Aaronson gives only a slight overview of, for example, what quantum gates do. Prior knowledge of this would be helpful but you could still get something out of it. Don't expect to learn this or you will be disappointed. The computational complexity material is however first rate.

It's based off of freely available lecture notes from his website under the same name. I enjoyed this book enough that I like owning a physical copy, but you could probably read it online without much loss. The main difference is some updates for results that came out since the course was originally held (which are valuable). In some sense, I suspect that the online lecture notes are margnially better - for example the book doesn't have colored diagrams even though the text in at least one case refers to colors on the diagram.

Drexler's Nanosystems is very technical and very fun. The first ~half of the book is interesting physics, and the rest is mind-blowing systems design (molecular manufacturing and nanomechanical computers!).

Great - added to my reading list!

Fiction Books Thread

I read The Martian based off the recommendation here, and found it... okay. (Reporting negative results is important too, right?) It was distinctly less affecting than Gravity (movie), Rocket Girls (or its sequel, or the same author's Usurper of the Sun), or Moondust: In Search of the Men who Fell to Earth (nonfiction), all of which I recommend to fans of the subject matter.

I recommended it, and I am glad for your report! FWIW, I liked it more than Gravity, in part because it was less emotionally affecting.

I also read it based on your recommendation (I think - don't remember clearly) and I really really liked it. The near-future science is overwhelmingly convincing in a good way. What's funny is that I thought the characters were pretty shallow and the constantly peppy attitude of the hero not believable and somewhat grating; usually the quality of characters and their development is a must for me, their shallowness ruins any book. Somehow it didn't happen here. There was just so much of this juicy mind-opening fascinating engaging sciency stuff that kept me at the edge of the chair. I'm really glad I read this book - thanks!

Like Anatoly, I also really liked the book. It's not very deep in my mind, but it's just good ol' fashioned fun, for the kind of people who love hearing of highly technical matters (about which they honestly know little, at least in my case).


  • Absolute Sandman, vol III, IV
  • Radiance (review)
  • Brosh 2013's Hyperbole and a Half (review)

Television and Movies Thread

True Detective on HBO is fantastic. Matthew McConnaughey's and Woody Harrelson's performances alone are worth the price of admission. There's an all-time-great long action scene, lots of philosophizing in a Schopenhauer/Nietzsche direction, references to classic weird fiction, and gorgeous scenery-porn of rural degradation.

Intelligence) is an action series about a noble and handsome intelligence agent with a brain-augmenting microchip running around saving people and the world, with the help of his beautiful and capable female sidekick (well, bodyguard). Yes, it's that cheesy. It also has a 24-style conservative bend and is full of plot holes. However, the acting is good, the chemistry between main characters is excellent, and the pace is fast enough to avoid boredom. Amazingly, the show manages to touch on many transhumanist ideas, although "touch" is probably not the right term. "Rape them", more like. X-risks, what it means to be human, unpredictable effects of brain augmentation, intelligence explosion, gray goo, you name it. I think the main positive effect of the show is that it brings the transhumanist ideas to the mainstream viewers, so they are no longer seen as something only wacko singulatarians talk about.

I've been watching this show as well and agree with your review. What I find most distracting though isn't the plot holes or mistreatment of various transhumanist ideas, but just constantly thinking "why the hell is a unique, multi-billion-dollar, supercomputer-augmented agent running around getting into fistfights and gunfights with just one sidekick/bodyguard instead of having a full tactical team protecting him at all times." If someone could tell me a good "reason" for this, I think I'd be able to enjoy the show a lot more. :-)

Actually, a unique person with a chip like that would not be let out of the lab. Mycroft more than Sherlock. The reason for him being a field agent is, of course, that it makes the show more exciting. Similarly, any chip like that would be built with external access by the handlers, so it can be debugged, updated and disabled if necessary.


  • All Is Lost: if the WP description of a 1.5 hour dialogue-less film about a small-boat disaster & survival sounds like something you'd enjoy, you probably will; Redford does an excellent job and it is interesting to watch his character think & improvise and try to master the situations he finds himself in
  • The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: not nearly as awful and sentimental tripe as one would expect given the setting of a retirement home in India, and particularly interesting for depicting some of the struggles elderly people experience these days (not something I see much of).


  • Silver Spoon
  • Uchouten Kazoku
  • Genshiken Nidaime (review)
  • Iblard Time

I am greatly enjoying Super Sonico The Animation. I expect approximately no-one to agree with me. I like the lead whose personality has enough contradictory elements - and whose approach to live is passive enough - to seem like a real person. I like the mundane optimism of the plot - life goes on, nothing particularly special happens, but the little things make people happy. I like the absurdity that permeates every episode but rarely quite bubbles over.

Given the general reception for this show, I only feel confident recommending it to people who liked Busou Shinki Moon Angel.

I am doing a Youtube playlist of transhumanist songs (with a particular quote from each song). Since there's not a lot of these, I also put songs that are only somewhat transhumanist (frankly I'm shocked at the ratio of transhumanist songs to love songs). So do you have suggestions for songs that are somewhat related to transhumanism (and/or rationality) (not necessarily in English) please?

For example, here are the ones that I have put in the playlist so far:

Turn It Around by Tim McMorris

Have you ever looked outside and didn’t like what you see

Or am I the only one who sees the things we could be

If we made more effort, then I think you’d agree

That we could make the world a better place, a place that is free

Another one is Hiro by Soprano: a song about someone who's saying what he would do if he could travel back in time. (it’s in French but with English subtitles) (it's inspired from the TV show Heroes which I also recommend).

Tellement de choses que j’aurais voulu changer ou voulu vivre (So many things that I would change or live)

Tellement de choses que j’aurais voulu effacer ou revivre (So many things that I would erase or live again)

The classic Imagine by John Lennon

Imagine there's no countries

It isn't hard to do

Nothing to kill or die for

And no religion too

Imagine all the people

Living life in peace…

The Future Soon by Jonathan Coulton

Well it's gonna be the future soon

And I won't always be this way

One that I saw recommended on LW: The Singularity by Dr. Steel (it's my favorite!)

Nanotechnology transcending biology

This is how the race is won

Another that I saw on LW: Singularity by The Lisps

You'd keep all the memories and feelings that you ever want,

And now you can commence your life as an uploaded extropian.

Singularity by Steve Aoki & Angger Dimas ft. My Name is Kay

We’re gonna live, we’ll never die

I am the very model of a singularitarian

I am a Transhuman, Immortalist, Extropian

I am the very model of a Singularitarian

Another World by Doug Bard

Sensing a freedom you've never known,

no limitation, only you can decide

Transhuman by Neurotech

The mutation is in our nature

Transhuman by Amaranthe

My adrenaline feeds my desire

To become an immortal machine

E.T. by Katy Perry ft. Kanye West

You're from a whole other world

A different dimension

You open my eyes

And I'm ready to go

Lead me into the light

Space Girl by Charmax

She told me never venture out among the asteroids, yet I did.

In this writup of the 2013 Boston winter solstice celebration, there is a list of songs sung there. I would suggest this as a primary resource for populating your list.

I've been writing up a pile of Wikipedia articles related to the Neue Deutsche Welle electronic band Deutsch-Amerikanische Freundschaft - so far I've done Robert Görl, Gabi Delgado-López and Chrislo Haas - so now I need to play the records again before writing those up. Surprising just how much you can achieve with only a drum machine, a synthetic bassline and a voice.

[-][anonymous]8y 1

East Asian metal.

Esthete Sinistre - The best metal band I've heard -- it's too bad they've only ever recorded one track.

Ego Fall - folk metal from Inner Mongolia. (see also)

Kanashimi - Japanese depressive black metal. With a piano.

Pyha - Korean black metal. Pyha is mostly known for The Haunted House, which the guy apparently recorded when he was 14, but he has another album, Majbulnol-i, which deserves at least as much recognition, and which I'd call 'blues metal' if that didn't sound ridiculous.

Tengger Cavalry - Mongolian folk metal.

The Nine Treasures - More Mongolian folk metal.

There's also Altan Urag, a Mongolian folk rock band, not to be confused with the Irish folk band Altan. (The word 'altan' means 'stream' in Irish Gaelic and 'golden' in Mongolian.)





Other Media Thread