All of djcb's Comments + Replies

April 2016 Media Thread

(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.

April 2016 Media Thread

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?

January 2016 Media Thread

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.

Creating a Text Shorthand for Uncertainty

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.

October 2013 Media Thread

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

5FiftyTwo8yI think theres a significant gap between "this is an interesting read" and "tattoo this on yourself." I Lean heavily towards the former.
September 2013 Media Thread

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... (read more)

August 2013 Media Thread

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.

0gwern8yYes, Rhodes's books seem highly recommended but unfortunately, they're not on libgen.
What are you working on? July 2013

Oh, thanks for sharing this!

What are you working on? July 2013

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

1[anonymous]8yFirst public draft of the client code is now here: [] It's built to work with a server which doesn't yet exist in the wild, so not very useful in its current form, but...soon.
4[anonymous]8yIt will be.
July 2013 Media Thread

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 bes... (read more)

July 2013 Media Thread

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... (read more)

July 2013 Media Thread

Would you recommend it?

Social intelligence, education, & the workplace

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
... (read more)
0PhilGoetz9yYes, I agree entirely. I wanted to raise the question. Educational testers are using career outcomes as a metric for gauging their tests, and that really requires more thought about what the purpose of the tests are.
9fubarobfusco9yWell, smart people with limited social skills seem to get into a lot of acrimonious but unproductive disagreements which could be smoothed over with a little more empathy and diplomacy.
May 2013 Media Thread

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 va... (read more)

1NancyLebovitz9yTaleb's boasting and self-congratulation are tiresome, but he's got an interesting tidbit even in the part about weight-lifting-- he recommends looking at what people who have achieved something do, not what they say works for other people to achieve it. On the other hand, he took up weight-lifting/body-building because he was getting threatened, which wouldn't do much good if someone shoots him.
April 2013 Media Thread

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).

March 2013 Media Thread

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?

February 2013 Media Thread
  • 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 arise
... (read more)
February 2013 Media Thread

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.

January 2013 Media Thread

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.

0Jabberslythe9yI tried briefly to find some similar books but couldn't see any others.
January 2013 Media Thread

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.

Open Thread, October 16-31, 2012

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?

The basic argument for the feasibility of transhumanism

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.

October 2012 Media Thread

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,... (read more)

October 2012 Media Thread

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 to... (read more)

September 2012 Media Thread

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.

September 2012 Media Thread

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.

September 2012 Media Thread

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.

September 2012 Media Thread

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... (read more)

6RichardKennaway9yTo me, that amounts to "not worth reading". Every book of this sort has a point, and some of its findings will always "make sense". That's just part of the same marketing template, as is the "Catchy Title: Subtitle From Which You Can Extrapolate The Entire Contents Before Opening The Book" title. It's the title that's the giveaway. It will put off people who don't like the message from picking the book up at all, thus planting a positive bias into the reviews and word of mouth. It also primes every favourably disposed reader with the message, making its arguments to that end "make sense".
0Emile9yI agree that's an unfortunate tendancy; I'm currently reading Nassim Taleb's "Fooled by Randomness" and it has a bit of the same problem.
What is the evidence in favor of paleo?

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 ... (read more)

Using Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality to teach the scientific method to Psychology undergraduates

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.

August 2012 Media Thread

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

August 2012 Media Thread

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?

1Bill_McGrath9yI think I'm three behind on his books at this stage, not even counting his children's book... but the other books set in Bas-Lag (the Perdido Street Station world) are very good. The Scar is probably my favourite of the three. Iron Council is also pretty good - among other thing, it's a clever pastiche of a number of different kinds of story - but a lot of people get turned off by how heavily political it is. (Miéville is very very Marxist, as far as I know.) It didn't bother me too much. The City and the City is very good. I've heard it described as a police mystery by Kafka (I've not read Kafka, but I've heard this a few times). It's set in contemporary Earth, rather than a fantasy setting. His short story collection is also good - there's one Bas-Lag story, and a few horrors. I started Embassytown and it seemed promising. The main issue with Miéville is he adds a lot of concepts and doesn't explain them clearly until well into the book, if he even outright explains them at all - that works to the book's advantage sometimes but I found it a little tough in Embassytown. Huh, that means I've read only half his adult books! Better catch up!
Open Thread, August 16-31, 2012

Great! Thanks a lot for this!

The weakest arguments for and against human level AI

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.

Open Thread, August 16-31, 2012

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?

Here you are: Best of short rationality quotes 2009-2012. I created it with a one-line modification of the script I used here: Best of Rationality Quotes, 2011 Edition. The threshold is 400 characters including XML markup. The user-names for the newer quotes are missing, I'll fix this for the 2012 Edition.

The weakest arguments for and against human level AI

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.

4Dolores19849yEvery time I read something by Searle, my blood pressure rises a couple of standard deviations.

Many years ago when I first became interested in strong AI, my boss encouraged me to read Searle's Chinese Room paper, saying that it was a critically important criticism and that any attempt at AI needed to address it.

To this day, I'm still shocked that anyone considers Searle's argument meaningful. It was pretty clear, even back then with my lesser understanding of debate tactics, that he had simply 'defined away' the problem. That I had been told this was a 'critically important criticism' was even more shocking.

I've since read critical papers with wh... (read more)

Rationality Quotes August 2012

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

The weakest arguments for and against human level AI

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

1Stuart_Armstrong9yThanks, added clarification.
The weakest arguments for and against human level AI

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

1[anonymous]9yThat's true, and unfortunately you could link it back to a phenomenonal argument relatively straightforwardly by saying something like "AI will never be developed because anything technology does is just a computation, not thinking." In fact, laying out the argument explicitly just shows how weak it is, since it's essentially just asserting AI is impossible by definition. Yet, there are still people who would still agree with the argument anyway. For instance, I was looking up an example of a debate about the possibility of AI, (linked here [] ) and one side said: "Those are mere programs, not AI." Now, later, the person said "Yes but in your case, Gamecube or is simply programming, not AI. There is a difference between simple programming and human-like AI." and then: "This is not learning. These devices are limited by their programming, they cannot learn." But I suppose my point is that this gets first summed up with an extremely weak lead in argument which is essentially: "You are wrong by definition!" which then has to be peeled back to get to a content argument like "Learning" "Godel" or "Free Will" And that it happens so often it has it's own name rather than just being an example of a no true Scotsman.
August 2012 Media Thread

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!

August 2012 Media Thread

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!

1iDante9yI'm also interested. There's a list compiled by Lukeprog et al. about the best textbooks in every subject, but that's just textbooks. Perhaps opening a thread asking peeps to post a few books would be useful? I'd ask for one or two books for each of... * Favorite * Most influential (towards your life, your thinking, idk) * Most fun * Best outside of a genre that you normally read * and others. maybe.
1maia9yFor specific subjects, try searching the site for "The Best Books in Every Subject" - a list of academic books highly rated by LWers.
August 2012 Media Thread

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).

0Bill_McGrath9yI've read a good few of Miéville's novels - I found Perdido Street Station to be the weakest in terms of prose though I guess that could be cause it was only his second novel, or it deliberately homages Lovecraft (whose prose I'm not keen on either) in its style. Still a wonderful book though.
August 2012 Media Thread

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 attem
... (read more)
4Grognor9yI personally found the research in Influence rather lacking and thought Cialdini speculated too much. But chapter 3 of the book is dead on.
[Applications Closed] The Singularity Institute is hiring remote LaTeX editors

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?

[Applications Closed] The Singularity Institute is hiring remote LaTeX editors

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

3wedrifid9yNo. The Singularity Institute (ie Luke) considers the document-class to be SIAI intellectual property. We have invested many hours making the pdf output high quality, standards conforming and distinctive. The template is hosted securely and will only be distributed to those producing papers for publication by SIAI.

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.

0RobertLumley9yHow does this differ from other arguments for group selection though? Say one mutant in the termite colony acquires this gene - I don't see how his chances of reproduction are increased. Perhaps it has to do with termite biology - a queen with this gene's chances of survival would be significantly higher, now that I think about it.
What are the boundaries?

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.

3Stabilizer9yI'm not saying anything about specialization. When a collision happens, new people start specializing in the collision region. For example, now there are quantum computer scientists, behavioral economists and cognitive scientists working in AI. I'm not even saying that all fields have to collide. For example, a historian has nothing to do with quantum physicists because there is no boundary to dissolve, implicit or explicit. But the boundary between history and sociology is a different case. I'm not saying: "Yay! Everything is connected!". What I am saying is that there are (possibly important) connections that we're missing because of our implicit views of reality. I was talking more about realizing that what you think are clean boundaries have to have deeper and more complex structure because of the nature of reality.
Build Small Skills in the Right Order

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.

Moderate alcohol consumption inversely correlated with all-cause mortality

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!

Moderate alcohol consumption inversely correlated with all-cause mortality

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...)

5dekelron9yThis was already done [].
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