Book review: Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less

By your description, it feels like the kind of book where an author picks a word and then rambles about it like an impromptu speaker. If this had an extraordinary thesis requiring extraordinary evidence like Manufacturing Consent then lots of anecdotes would make sense. But the thesis seems too vague to be extraordinary.

I get the impression of the kind of book which where a dense blogpost is stretched out to the length of a book. This is ironic for a book about subtraction.

Yup, very well-put.

Your point about anecdotes got me thinking; an "extraordinary thesis" might be conceptualized as claiming that the distribution of data significantly shifted away from some "obvious" average. If so, showing the existence of a few data points greater than, say, 4 standard deviations from the "obvious" average actually can be strong evidence in its favor. However, the same is not true for a few examples ~2 standard deviations away. Maybe Klotz's error is using anecdotes that aren't far enough away from what intuitively makes sense. 

Probably didn't explain that very well, so here is a Tweet from Spencer Greenberg making the point:

1. By Bayes Factor: suppose hypothesis “A” says a data point is nearly impossible, and hypothesis “B” says the data point is quite likely. Then the existence of that one data point (by Bayes’ rule) should move you substantially toward believing hypothesis B (relative to A).

Example: you have had a rash on your arm for 10 years (with no variability). You buy some “rash cream” off of a shady website, and within 2 hours of applying it, the rash is gone. You can be confident the cream works because it’s otherwise highly unlikely for the rash to vanish.

The case for hypocrisy

Looks like I’m in good company!

Dumb dichotomies in ethics, part 2: instrumental vs. intrinsic values

I don't think it is operationalizable, but I fail to see why 'net positive mental states' isn't a meaningful, real value. Maybe the units would be apple*minutes or something, where one unit is equivalent to the pleasure you get by eating an apple for one minute. It seems that this could in principle be calculated with full information about everyone's conscious experience. 

Dumb dichotomies in ethics, part 2: instrumental vs. intrinsic values

Are you using 'utility' in the economic context, for which a utility function is purely ordinal? Perhaps I should have used a different word, but I'm referring to 'net positive conscious mental states,' which intuitively doesn't seem to suffer from the same issues. 

On silence

Interesting, thanks. Assuming this effect is real, I wonder how much is due to the physical movement of walking rather than the low-level cognitive engagement associated with doing something mildly goal-oriented (i.e. trying to reach a destination), or something else. 

On silence

Thanks for your perspective. 

I've never been able to do intellectual work with background music, and am baffled by people e.g. programmers who work with headphones playing music all day. But maybe for them it does just use different parts of the brain

For me, there is a huge qualitative difference between lyrical music or even "interesting" classical and electronic music, and very "boring," quiet lyric-less music. Can't focus at all listening to lyrics, but soft ambient music feels intuitively helpful (though this could be illusory). This is especially the case when its a playlist or song I've heard a hundred times before, so the tune is completely unsurprising. 

What books are for: a response to "Why books don't work."

Yes, I was incorrect about Matuschak's position. He commented on reddit here:

"I think Matuschak would say that, for the purpose of conveying information, it would be much more efficient to read a very short summary than to read an entire book."

FWIW, I wouldn't say that! Actually, my research for the last couple years has been predicated on the value of embedding focused learning interactions (i.e spaced repetition prompts) into extended narrative. The underlying theory isn't (wasn't!) salience-based, but basically I believe that strong understanding is produced with a rich network of connections and a meaningful emotional connection, both of which are promoted by narrative (but usually not by a very short summary).

What books are for: a response to "Why books don't work."

Super interesting and likely worth developing into a longer post if you're so inclined. Really like this analogy.

What books are for: a response to "Why books don't work."

Great post and thanks for linking to it! Seems like books' function and utility has gotten more attention than I would have expected. 

What books are for: a response to "Why books don't work."

But then readers would have to repeat this sentence for as long as it takes to read the blog post to get the same effect. Not quite as fun.

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