There was a recent discussion considering the idea of a monthly Book (later expanded to movies, links, etc) thread. The poll was pretty unanimous that this was A Good Idea (tm), so let's give it a try!

Post what you're reading or watching, and your opinion of it. Post recommendations to blogs. Post whatever media you feel like discussing!


I encourage minimal down-voting in the comments here, because this is a thread for sharing subjective experiences, and I would like people to feel comfortable posting their personal opinion without fearing a karma backlash. If you disagree with a person's recommendation, respond with a comment instead. 


I think this is a post that lends itself to comment trees, so I will start one with the categories: Books, Movies, Other, and Meta.

I am interested in hearing if you all think it's a good idea to separate out fiction and non-fiction. (So that the Book thread doesn't have Discworld next to Influence, for example. Or so the movie thread doesn't have documentaries interspersed with rom-coms or what-not)


Poster's Note: Wheee! I made my first working link on the discussion post writing interface! I can learn stuffs!

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Meta Thread

I'm So Meta, Even This Acronym...

What exactly does this have to do with refining the art of human rationality? I'm averse to noise.

If one is going to be consuming entertainment media anyway for psychological reasons (e.g. it makes you happy) it would be useful to maximise the side benefits one gets from that media to save time that one would use to get them in other circumstances. (E.g. reading fiction with strong political philosophical themes as a supplement/alternative to reading introductory texts on the subjects).

Also, if nothing else, people enjoy discussing and analysing media, if people do enjoyable things in the less wrong community they are more likely to spend time there, hence contributing to human rationality.

It's probably more an effort to practice rationality than refine it. Finding good media to entertain, and possibly bring new ideas is (at least) fun. And it's better to take the word of people who already know the quality of something than to spend too much effort or wasting time on things you end up not enjoying.

Other Media Thread

(blogs, links, games, music, whatever floats your boat. If we get a lot of a specific genre, then next Media post, it can have its own sub-thread)

(from chat with Alicorn)

I want Lukeprog to coauthor a long, carefully annotated article about the science behind friendship and human social behavior, so that I can respond with "I used to wonder what friendship could be/until you all shared its science with me"

There's a humorous blog called Philosophy Bro which takes philosophy texts and interprets them into "bro-speak". The earlier posts are generally better, because I think the author either started running out of texts to discuss, or out of time to write humorous synopses. (So if you want to read some, don't work backwards, instead look up "top posts")

Here is a link to his summary of Plato's Allegory of the Cave

And here's an excerpt from his summary of Camus' The Myth of Sisyphus (Warning: Foul Language):

Look, so, nothing matters, right? Shit's fucking weird. We all want to know how the universe ultimately works or who's running the show or whatever, and it turns out - TRICK. FUCKING. QUESTION. No one's running the show, and the world is unreasonable. Ever had some shit happen to you that made you go, "Why the fuck did that happen? There's no reason for that." Turns out, you were right. So our attempts to impose reason on the world will fail. Death and taxes, my friend. Death and motherfucking taxes.

So what do we do? What's the point? Should we just end it if nothing matters? No, says Camus, thats the pussy way out. Instead, we should embrace the fact that nothing makes sense. Don Juan, the fuckaholic that started it all, he embraced the absurd. Life has no meaning, so he. fucked. everything. He didn't try to impose meaning or find meaning or make his own meaning - that shit is useless, and Camus says there's no hope for that, so cut it the fuck out.

This piece suits Less Wrong so well - both the sound itself and the thematic background behind its name (I won't spoil the latter for you if you haven't played the game yet). The whole of Bastion's soundtrack is just amazing, and the game itself is a real gem, even if (like me) you don't care for the JRPGs it draws influences from.

EDIT: holy hell, Youtube is tracking back links from LW! And at the moment it's not leaving a high-status impression of us...

In my eyes, Yoko Kanno ( is the most kickass and amazing composer now alive. I so wish I could get to a concert of hers.

(what the hell, using markup with this url just makes it disappear)

Works for me.

Source code:

[Works for me.](

The http:// part is apparently mandatory, which makes sense, because it's mandatory in HTML too (for absolute links).

(Thanks for the recommendation. The one track I've listened to so far [ABC Mouse Parade] reminds me of Danny Elfman. Edit: And The Beatles.)

I adore her tracks for the Ghost in The Shell series, although most fans are gushing more about the Cowboy Bebop soundtrack. (Here's a cool AMV of the latter.)

If you have a few hours to spend on humorous entertainment, you might want to check out Prequel. It's a MSPaint Adventure set in Oblivion, a bit before the game starts, following a Khajiit trying to get her life back on the right track (but horrible things happen). There are a bunch of Oblivion in-jokes, but it should still be enjoyable enough without having played the game.

It starts out only moderately funny, but has the best setup-punchline I've seen in quite some time, and so I recommend sticking it out until you get to that point (June 16th, probably ~2 hours in), but not starting it unless you're willing to make it that far.

Electronic music good for work, reading or browsing

Me, I like Solar Fields and Carbon Based Lifeforms for that. List your preferences.


Is nate silver a witch?

Which one of you did this?

Here's a great soundtrack for when you're feeling introspective and moody.

So, based on the predictions thread, I surmise that I'm not the only Homestuck fan on this site?

I suspect that rationalist Homestuck fanfiction would be interesting and received fairly well (assuming it's noticed, which is unlikely). That said, I don't consider myself equal to such a task.

The thought's crossed my mind before. I think there's scope for implicitly rationalist fanfic there, given the characters' powers and interests, but explicitly rationalist would be difficult to pull off; the story's strength lies in characterization, and bringing anyone too far out of character to make a point would be poorly received. In particular, you couldn't get away with tweaking the viewpoint character the way Eliezer and Alicorn have in their respective universes.

The alternative is an OC session, where the mechanics are used but the characters are different. In that case, if you did use a Rationalist Premise, it would almost certainly end up as leisure reading for people who are already familiar with the concepts (as opposed to leisure reading for people who are familiar with the canon but not the concepts). It would not be Useful.

It would be interesting as entertainment, given the existing composition of Homestuck and the sheer ease at which the game can be twisted out of recognition, but most of the reason I don't is because I can't model people like that.

Once again, Nornagest manages to say what I was thinking more eloquently than I could.

Movies Thread

I just watched "The Edge" for the first time tonight; an older movie from 1997 starring Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin.

The basic conceit of the movie is that Anthony Hopkins is a very smart and capable fellow, and when disaster strikes he manages to get through it because of that.

There are a number of silly and stupid parts, but the central theme that knowledge makes you succeed, when you apply it with the right attitude, is very powerful and relevant to rationalists. It's not without tragedy, but I felt like it was a good work of rational!fiction.

A fun movie I've watched last year that involves Omega, boxes, $1.000.000, choice under uncertainty, overstepping ethical injunctions and some common problems with utilitarianism.

It's more concerned with leaving the viewer hooked and mystified than with preserving even a shred of coherency, but hey.

Oh, and it's by the director of Donnie Darko. Haven't seen that one, but sure heard a lot about it.

I quite liked this one (the Box). It does decohere some towards the end, but I quite enjoy the plot layering, where just as you think you have it figured out, the next layer is unveiled. Donnie Darko is one of my favorites, but for some reason I never managed to look up the director, so thanks for the recommend.

One of the best movies I've seen in a long time was 50/50. It's about a 20-something year old guy who gets cancer and all of the stress it puts on him, his girlfriend, etc. It may be because my girlfriend went through something very similar and I was able to relate, but I thought it was fantastic.

Moneyball wasn't amazing, but I like that there was a well-done mainstream movie about the triumph of Bayesianism. It's the feel-good sports drama of last year.

Mars, while not being very deep, was a fun and warm sci-fi flick shot in a rather unusual style. Here is a clip It's streaming free on Netflix in US at least. (IMDB ratings are way lower than mine, so caveat emptor).

In general it seems to me there is an omission in the movie spectrum - I think a lot more good movies can be produced in anime style based on high-quality niche sci-fi (I'm thinking of things like MOPI or Watts' Blindsight). There is too much anime with good production values that I just can't watch because it's silly. Hi-quality Anime episodes run about 200K, I imagine you can put together a movie for around 1M.

I thought Sucker Punch was the most powerful movie I've seen in a long time.

It was a powerful answer to religion. Religions provide narratives and characters within them that people find moving and empowering. (Or disempowering, as the case may be.) The power of such narratives are real, even if the characters are fictional. Why not harness that power with narratives of your own choosing, narratives that are more affirming of your values and empowering to you?

I tend to like layered, highly symbolic fiction in the first place, and found Sucker Punch an exceptionally well crafted example of the type. It reminded me of a painting I saw once, where the perspective and attention of one of the characters drew me into the painting, and drew me to see what they saw in it.


I thought Sucker Punch was a great idea that has been completely ruined. It had the potential of being the new Matrix but they botched it.

  • The characters were too one-dimensional
  • The link between the layers has not been presented well, e.g. theres only one mention in the asylum of the girl starting a fire. Granted they didn't want to give it away too early, but there really should have been some visual link, even if it had been just a scorched room.
  • You never see the girl actually dance, which given the premise of the film is a mature omission
  • The end with the bus driver/guide seems too forced.

This being said, the soundtrack is great and the visuals are good.

You never see the girl actually dance, which given the premise of the film is a mature omission

I'd say the reverse. :)

As for the movie... the idea of watching a movie which ends with the protagonist being lobotomized is abhorrent to me. It would be more distressing than simple death.



The story wasn't actually about Baby Doll, it was about Sweat Pea.

But in the Baby Doll story, she won.The world is an imperfect place, sometimes the protagonist doesn't survive, but she did win, both in her story, and in taking Sweet Pea beyond her story, and getting her home.

the idea of watching a movie which ends with the protagonist being lobotomized is abhorrent to me. It would be more distressing than simple death.

Which rules out the only other movie with this type of ending that I know of - One Flew Over Cukoo's Nest - which was actually great. Suckerpunch sucked for me, I expected Zach Snyder to do much better based on Watchmen. Hopefully better next time.

Shutter Island also ends with a labotomy. Speaking of which, I found it to be a thoroughly enjoyable film. The plot was a bit weak (an astute viewer should be able to see most of th twists well in advance), but the acting, direction and general mise-en-scène more than make up for this.

I'm glad it didn't become the New Matrix, which started with some decent ideas, but devolved into standard scifi/fantasy with All Powerful Hero.

On your points.

I don't have a problem with the one-dimensional characters, because I see them as serving functional roles in a symbolic narrative - the point is to fulfill the effect.

I thought the link between layers was fine, but more importantly, the link to us was very well done.

Not seeing her dance was a practical necessity. What would she have actually been able to do that would have warranted the reactions she received?

I also disliked the bus driver bit, because it seemed to subvert the entire point for me. The voice over of Sweet Pea says early on that our angels "aren't here to fight our battles, but to whisper from our hearts, reminding that it's us, it’s every one of us who holds power over the world we create." Yet there is the bus driver, saving her bacon at the end.

Thanks for doing this, I meant to get around to it today and hadn't yet. But I'm glad I didn't, because you did a much better job. (Particularly coming up with the threading idea, that's a good thought.)

If we keep doing this, we should try to come up with a specific format and guidelines like the quotes thread has. For example, how should we handle duplicates? People will obviously have different recommendations about them, but should they be combined to an older thread that people probably won't see? Should people try to link to previous recommendations if they know something has been posted before?

Edit: Should books be divided into fiction and non fiction?

This should be an offspring of the Meta Thread.

Oh, drr. I didn't realize that that's what it's for. I'm dumb. It never even occurred to me that "Meta" wasn't a type of media...

Books Thread

Khaleesi, I'm halfway through A game of thrones. I didn't like the beginning much because there were no likeable characters so I decided to shrug and root for the Lannisters as the closest thing to magnificient bastards. But by now there are loads of awesome characters (you, Arya Stark, Jon Snow) and the book is delicious, though not nearly horrible enough yet (maybe something about that hound and that mountain...). I like the grey and black morality, the psychological realism, the varied cultures, the "toss the reader in and wait 200 pages to mention variable-length seasons" style, the descriptions (seriously, that guy describes food and clothes and it doesn't bore me). It sticks very closely to the conventions of fantasy for no discernable reason (I'd do away with the prologue and slip the plot-relevant bits elsewhere), but that didn't bother me past the beginning. Most people should read it.

Khaleesi, I'm halfway through A game of thrones.

You just made me grin SO BIG! Super-upvote!

I have a boyfriend who occasionally calls me "Khaleesi", lol. (Best Term of Endearment EVER!)

I obviously love Game of Thrones, but am having difficulties making it through my current re-read (so that I remember stuff when I read Dance with Dragons). When you finish the book(s), there is also the HBO series, which does a rather amazing job.

I like what he did with the Sansa character, actually (well, not much in the latest book, but in the one before that).

Also, if you can afford it, the audiobook version is apparently quite good, and convenient if you drive a lot.

I think that the purpose of the prologue is to send the message that magic and other arcane phenomena are real (if rare) things that happen in this world, so that people don't call bullshit at the end when suddenly dragons.


I decided to shrug and root for the Lannisters as the closest thing to magnificient bastards.

For your amusement: Damn It Feels Good to be a Lannister (Mildly NSFW, but shouldn't have spoilers if you're already halfway through book 1)

On the subject of mildly NSFW Game of Thrones humor, 8-bit AGOT

I recommend The Magicians by Lev Grossman. It's a a short-ish fantasy novel that takes a more realistic look at it's own thinly disguised versions of (first) Harry Potter and (second) the Chronicles of Narnia, a bit like a more cynical flip-side to HPMoR. It's a great read if you don't mind something leaning a bit more pessimistic, but it's not without hope. It's also quite funny if you like dark, sometimes subtle humour.

Seconded. On the other hand, this book cost me a night of sleep — I picked it up expecting to read a few pages and go to bed; before too long it was 4am ...

I'm reading

  • "I am a Strange Loop" by Douglas Hofstadter, (beautilfully written and it's nice to see what I grokked and what I didn't grok from GEB described much more matter-of-factly)

  • "The Better Angels of our Nature" by Steven Pinker, (I'm impressed by the thorough research, but I don't have a head for recalling stats, and this book is much more stats and matter-of-factish, as opposed to theoretical and narrative than his previous books. Less entertaining than his previous books so far, but the message seems important and his argument so far convincing.)

  • "Gulliver's Travels" by Jonathan Swift (so far very fun; I'm only a few chapters in)

  • "Elbow Room" by Daniel Dennett (the first chapter is exciting, but I feel confident enough with my own understanding of the solution to the subject already. Dennett uses rhetoric and his "intuition pumps" very beautifully and effectively, though; I'm interested in observing his method and hoping to learn a bit from it.)

Having listed these books all out here, though, I notice that the theme currently very narrow. The three nonfiction authors I just listed are excellent, but highly, highly in agreement with each-other on most things.

I love the works of Lois Bujold. She's great at portraying the inner lives of people who want to win, and showing the emotional struggles they have. (Especially Mirror Dance, but that book is not a good entry point into the Vorkosigan universe because it assumes a lot of the background from the earlier books). Many of the Vorkosigan books are available online.

Curse of Chalion is also great, and includes an interesting portrayal of what religious institutions might look like if gods were real and intervened to improve human life, but were not omnipotent. (i.e. the institutions would suck a lot less).

Ah, I love reading, and have found a lot of good suggestions from earlier discussion on LW. Looking forward to what comes up here. Having said that, some of my current reading:

  • Thinking slow and Fast by Kahneman - excellent book; I've read a lot of the pop-psy stuff like Dan Ariely's, The Invisible Gorilla etc., which are also well worth reading, but Kahneman takes it a step further, and, while still very accessible, is going further in trying to explain things.
  • The Portable Atheist and Hitch-22 by the late Christopher Hitchens; the books were on my list for a while, but Hitchens' death compelled me to actually start reading them. The former is a kind of reader into various (semi-)atheists of the last few centuries. Nothing like God is not great, but a bit more intellectual. Not really a light read, but interesting nevertheless. Currently reading his memoir, Hitch-22, which is interesting in its own right - I learnt a lot about the British far left in 60s/70s and his life as a school boy...
  • REAMDE - Stephenson. (finished this mid-Dec 2011) I very much like Neal Stephenson's book, and I did like this one, around MMOGs and a kind of John-le-Carre story. However, I found there were a couple of things in the story line I did not find very convincing - and the Jihadist terrorists are described as sort-of 'generic' terrorists with a thin vereer of some Jihad cliches
  • Then, reading The Checklist Manifesto, for my periodical reading of a productivity-book. The book's on the power of having (and following) checklists for any complicated process, So far, pretty good. It's a quick read anyway.

All the Christopher Hitchens I can get my hands on. Even as a political journalist and literary critic - someone who dealt entirely in words, not numbers, and had no understanding of science, despite being a deeply appreciative fan of it - he sincerely did his best to think and write clearly and to pass this value on. It's also reminding me to put care into the shape of every sentence. Pity he appeared never to have heard of Bayes ...

I think he had spoken of Bayes in some talk. I guessed he didn't understand the mathematics at all, but had a general concept of how an "inverse probability" worked.