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Recommended reading for new rationalists

27 Post author: XFrequentist 09 July 2009 07:47PM

This has been discussed in passing several times, but I thought it might be worthwhile to collect a list of recommended reading for new members and/or aspiring rationalists. There's probably going to be plenty of overlap with the SingInst reading list, but I think the purposes of the two are sufficiently distinct that a separate list is appropriate.

Some requests:

  • A list of blog posts can be collected at another point in spacetime; for now, please stick to books, book sections, or essays1.
  • Please post a single suggestion per comment, so upvoting can determine the final list for the eternal fame of wikihood.
  • Please limit yourself to no more than 3-5 suggestions. We could probably all think of dozens, try and think what would actually be the best for the purposes of this site.
  • Please only suggest an entry if you've read it. Judgement Under Uncertainty, while certain to make the list, should be put there by someone who has invested the time and waded through it (i.e. someone other than me).
  • Please say why you're suggesting it. What did you learn from it? What is its specific relevance to rationality? (ETA)

 Happy posting!

PS - Is there a "New Readers Start Here" page, or something similar (aside from "About")? I seem to remember someone talking about one, but I can't find it.

1"Everything Eliezer has ever written (since 2001)... twice!" while likely a highly beneficial suggestion for every single human being in existence, is not an acceptable entry. A Technical Explanation of Technical Explanation is fine. If you're not sure whether to classify something as "an essay" or "a blog post", there is a little-known trick to distinguish the two: essays contain small nuggets of vanadium ore, and blog posts contain shreds of palladium. Alternatively, just use your best judgement.

Comments (158)

Comment author: [deleted] 18 November 2011 11:50:59PM 4 points [-]

I've tried putting together a list on Goodreads of books recommended on Less Wrong, but it will only be as good as the people who contribute to it.

http://www.goodreads.com/list/show/10819.Less_Wrong_Recommended_Reading

Comment author: RobinZ 08 November 2009 04:21:49PM 0 points [-]

A belated, supernumerary entry (many thanks to taw's recent post for inspiration): How to Lie with Statistics. It is, in essence, a catalog of Dark Arts (and common mistakes) in that field, with some closing remarks on defenses against them.

Comment author: childofbaud 07 October 2009 01:51:31PM *  1 point [-]

Before you pick up anything in this thread you would be well advised to peruse How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren. This is doubly recommended if reading is one of your primary ways of acquiring knowledge.

The book was published some time ago, but books, and the reading habits associated with them, haven't changed all that much. The authors make the point that most people, even college graduates, read at an elementary level, and that many educational institutions make no effort to improve this. Elementary reading is characterized by a passive and linear approach to reading, and often mistaken assumption about the process, such as that knowledge contained within a book will somehow be retained after a first superficial exposure. The authors introduce more advanced techniques of analytical and active reading, and offer interesting ideas regarding reading material of all kind—though unfortunately the book was written before the internet era—with a major focus on expository works.

Actually, there are many things in this book that I disagree with, and others that I suspect are just downright wrong. But I'm not aware of anything better on the subject, and the most important thing is that it will get a reader thinking about an act that most of us spend very little time reflecting on, despite the fact that we constantly engage in it.

How to mark a book is a short article by Adler that may give you a taste of what to expect.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 17 July 2009 07:03:51PM *  0 points [-]

While I no longer agree with Heinlein's characterisation of people who cannot grasp mathematics, I do think mathematics is a good thing to know. But on occasions when I have tried to explain what mathematics is all about, or to recommend a book which might do the job, I find myself at a loss. "Mathematics: A Very Short Introduction" didn't do it for one person I suggested it to. Does anyone else have suggestions, especially suggestions that worked for themselves or others?

Comment author: lukeprog 04 April 2012 01:07:26PM *  1 point [-]

I generally like the Very Short Introductions series from Oxford, though I wish they were less chatty and historical and more focused on education.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 17 July 2009 06:59:27PM *  3 points [-]

Knuth's Art of Computer Programming. To go alongside SICP.

Comment author: eirenicon 14 July 2009 02:24:01PM 0 points [-]

This is not so much a recommendation as a request. Recently I stumbled on my well-thumbed copy of Carl Sagan's Cosmos. It was given to me when I was pretty young, and was, by and large, the first real book about science I ever read. It covers a great range of topics, from evolution and planetary chemistry to astrophysics and relativity, provides comprehensive historical background, and is written in a very personable style. It led me to Sagan's other work, which led to a broader interest in science and, along with a textbook on modern philosophical thought I chanced upon, sparked my own intellectual revolution that lifted me out of a deeply conservative religious upbringing. The notion of the Cosmic Calendar had a particularly electrifying effect on a boy who had been raised to believe the universe was merely a few thousand years old. The book, of course, was based on Sagan's television series of the same name. It's still an excellent read, and it's a joy to know that some of Sagan's dreams for the future, like that of a roving Mars lander*, have been fulfilled.

However, that illustrates the problem: Cosmos will be 30 years old next year. The number of discoveries, innovations and explorations that have been made since it was published is staggering. While a great deal of the book is still valid, many new chapters could be written. While there are certainly many good books on science being published today, few authors have the range and familiar writing ability of Sagan. While I would still want to be given Cosmos if I were growing up today, I would find much of it out-dated. What other book or books published recently could serve a similar purpose? That is, what modern book would you give someone with little scientific background if you wanted to expand their horizons not just to this or that field but to a great breadth of knowledge?

The beauty of Cosmos, I found, was that while it did not offer comprehensive knowledge of any one subject, it prompted interest in a great many. Furthermore, it was a textbook not written like one. Sagan's informal style made science accessible without insulting his audience's intelligence. Like the television show, it was almost as though he was tricking people into learning without dumbing down any of the material.

The popular equivalent these days (as in, non-fiction books by scientists that climb the bestseller lists) seem to be more philosophically oriented books like Dawkin's The God Delusion. That's all well and good, but what are the popular books on general sciences, books that reach a wide audience and encourage scientific thinking among the general public?

*Although his prediction that images from the lander would be delivered daily to the television sets of millions of enthralled viewers was unfortunately misguided.

Comment author: orthonormal 14 July 2009 06:00:56AM 0 points [-]

PS - Is there a "New Readers Start Here" page, or something similar (aside from "About")? I seem to remember someone talking about one, but I can't find it.

Here's the welcome thread.

Comment author: RobinZ 13 July 2009 12:05:00PM *  1 point [-]

Reaching the specified limit: The Recursive Universe: Cosmic Complexity and the Limits of Scientific Knowledge by William Poundstone.

This is another book which comes at things from lots of angles - it talks about Conway's Life, Maxwell's Demon (in several variations), self-reproduction ... it clears up a number of apparent paradoxes in an engaging and understandable way and explains a lot of really cool concepts on the way to understanding how patterns can arise from noise.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 12 July 2009 05:02:39PM *  5 points [-]

Greg Egan's Axiomatic.

This is his first collection of short stories. Half of them are fictional explorations of what it would really be like, for the mind to be literally a physical process of the brain, usually with some near-future technology thrown in to sharpen the issues. The title story is about choosing your own utility function, "Learning To Be Me" is Philosophy of Uploading 101, "A Kidnapping" is about stealing a copy of someone's upload, and the others look at other aspects. "Seeing" uses no future science, only present-day knowledge, but is still squarely a science fiction story -- the science just happens to be already here.

Another strong theme is ethics, and especially the ethical issues that arise from our greater physical understanding of what people are: "Blood Sisters", "The Cutie", "Appropriate Love", "The Moat", "The Moral Virologist", and again "Axiomatic".

"The Hundred Light-Year Diary" is about predestination and free will, a theme that appears in several of the other stories. "Whatever the unchangeable future holds, I'm sure of one thing: who I am is still a part of what always has, and always will, decide it." (A theme of Eliezer's on occasion.)

One story is about the many-worlds theory, and another is about the exponential probability distribution.

After which you can read his second short story collection.

Comment author: djcb 14 July 2009 06:37:20AM 0 points [-]

maybe a separate list for fiction with rationalist themes would be a good idea?

there are the obvious problems with fiction for learning things (the rules of a fictional world may not apply the one we live in), but I'd be very interested in hearing recommendations, if only because because i suspect that there is some correlation between being an LW-reader and the books we'd like.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 14 July 2009 11:31:03AM 2 points [-]
Comment author: Z_M_Davis 12 July 2009 07:23:02PM 0 points [-]

One story is about the many-worlds theory

"The Infinite Assassin" (which you must be referencing) involves a fanciful multiverse, not the many-worlds of actually existing quantum mechanics. Although as long as we're talking about Greg Egan and the MWI, I am obligated to drop a link to "Singleton."

Comment author: Psy-Kosh 12 July 2009 05:07:27PM 2 points [-]

Just want to say though to watch out for "The Cutie"... that one, well... *Shudders*

From what I remember of reading it, well, that one really really disturbed me in a "this probably gave me nightmares which I don't remember" sense

Comment author: RobinZ 11 July 2009 11:19:59PM 0 points [-]

This reading list isn't explicitly for our purpose, but many of the books would be appropriate (several are already recommended here). To pick one off the list that I have read: Daniel Dennett's Consciousness Explained is largely an exercise in speculation, but impressive for its density of reference to scientific literature of the time. If nothing else, it's an explicit demonstration of the non-mysteriousness of an all-too-common choice of mysterious phenomena, and the warnings about the Cartesian Theatre are wise to bear in mind.

Comment author: simplestudent 11 July 2009 07:42:44PM 0 points [-]

I am a student, and have recently found this website through a friend. I am intrigued by the art that you are promoting here, and it strikes a chord with my own dedication to learning and becoming a better person. In the past, I have often preferred autodidactic learning; however, this particular subject seems especially dense and in some cases even dangerous if learned incorrectly. I am thus somewhat apprehensive at proceeding along my own course.

What is a good starting point for someone like me? Is there a single grand summary of the work being done here, or some similar statement of purpose and general principles?

Comment author: RobinZ 11 July 2009 10:43:33PM 0 points [-]

I would begin with some of Eliezer Yudkowsky's essays on rationality, particularly "The Simple Truth", "An Intuitive Explanation of Bayes’ Theorem", and "A Technical Explanation of Technical Explanation", and then I'd start flipping through the archives reading things that look interesting. Often-times these will have links, either at the top or in the text, to previous essays; jumping backwards through the sequences and then reading forwards back to where you began is a good method.

That's just for stuff on this site, though - I'd certainly read through the other online essays people linked in this post, and keep my eyes open for library copies of some of the books.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 11 July 2009 08:22:29PM 0 points [-]

You can try reading Overcoming Bias/Less Wrong archives.

Comment author: SilasBarta 13 July 2009 02:31:12PM 3 points [-]

Argh! I hate when people do that! If someone's asking what simplestudent is, they generally want something more precise than a giant reading list.

IMHO, the piece with the highest ratio of "what we're all about" to length is Truly Part of You. That should be the starting point.

Comment author: Alicorn 11 July 2009 07:45:40PM 1 point [-]

You are a student of what?

Comment author: simplestudent 12 July 2009 08:33:59PM 1 point [-]

I do not restrict myself.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 12 July 2009 08:35:12PM 3 points [-]

There are only so many hours in a day.

Comment author: simplestudent 12 July 2009 09:22:36PM 1 point [-]

I have more time than I need at present, even allowing for various frivolous pursuits and time allocated for social interaction, eating, etc. I have the unique luxury of having a very flexible schedule, and am not close to filling that schedule anytime soon. Therefore, whenever I find something that I am truly interested in, I study it. To do otherwise would be wasteful.

I am truly interested in and committed to becoming a better person through any means necessary; becoming more rational will make me a better person. Thus, I am truly interested in and committed to becoming more rational.

Comment author: Daniel_Burfoot 11 July 2009 07:38:59PM *  2 points [-]

"The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" by TS. Kuhn.

Enormously influential book length essay about how science progresses. Kuhn describes the idea of "normal science" - the everyday activities by which scientists take incremental steps forward. For normal science to be fruitful, it must be carried out within the context of a paradigm - a theoretical framework and set of shared commitments held by a scientific community. If no paradigm exists, or if the current paradigm is flawed, the incremental steps add up to nothing and no progress is made.

This idea is important for anyone interested in doing AI research. AI is a field without a paradigm: hundreds of papers are published every year, but do little to advance our understanding. Every serious AI researcher must confront the deep conceptual problems of the field; he must begin by articulating his own paradigm. There is little point in continuing along in the same style of research carried out by our predecessors: it leads only to esoteric branches of applied mathematics and engineering projects of questionable utility.

Comment author: Daniel_Burfoot 11 July 2009 07:57:30PM *  1 point [-]

"Intelligence without Reason", "Intelligence without Representation", and "Elephants Don't Play Chess" by Rodney Brooks.

In my view Brooks made the most serious attempt to define a paradigm for AI research. Brooks decried the AI research of the 80s as being plagued by "puzzlitis" - researchers would cook up their own puzzles, and then invent AI systems to solve those problems (often not very well). But why are those problems (e.g. chess) important? Do they really advance our understanding of intelligence? What criterion can be used to decide if a theorem or algorithm is a contribution to AI? Is a string search algorithm a contribution to AI? What about a proof of the four-color theorem?

Brooks made the following bold suggestion: define the problems of relevance to AI to be those problems that real agents encounter in the real world. Thus, to do AI, one builds robots, puts them in the world, and observes the problems they encounter. Then one attempts to solve those real world problems.

Now, I consider this paradigm-proposal to be flawed in many ways. But at least it's something - it provides a clean definition, and a path by which normal science can proceed.

(A line from "The Big Lebowski" comes to mind: "Say what you will about the tenets of national socialism, Dude, at least it's an ethos!")

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 11 July 2009 12:19:02PM *  1 point [-]

The Tyranny of Words by Stuart Chase--I haven't reread it since I was a teenager, so this is a little tentative, but it's an introduction to General Semantics, and having it hammered that the word is not the thing, and it's not just that there are exceptions, but the thing behind the word changes over time, were both very worthwhile for me to learn.

By the way, if your idea of General Semantics comes from van Vogt, that's a case of the word really not being the thing.

And why isn't my html working?

Comment author: jscn 12 July 2009 10:15:33PM *  1 point [-]

I found Drive Yourself Sane useful for similar reasons.

I've been meaning to take a stab at Korzybski's Science and Sanity (available on the interwebs, I believe) for a while, but I've heard it's fairly impenetrable.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 12 July 2009 11:44:24PM *  0 points [-]

I've been meaning to take a stab at Korzybski's Science and Sanity (available on the interwebs, I believe) for a while, but I've heard it's fairly impenetrable.

Available here.

I had the experience, which I heard others have also had, that it was impenetrably turgid on a first reading, but perfectly clear on coming back to it a few years later. Still just as turgid, but clear. The science is also very dated. I have mixed thoughts about recommending it. It's a bit like recommending E.E. "Doc" Smith as an introduction to science fiction. Necessary to read at some point, but not at the outset.

I'd be interested to see what anyone else who has read it thinks.

ETA: Just flicking through the online copy I found one place where the science is, I think, wrong even with respect to the knowledge of the time. "A molecule of water is broken up [by an electric current] into a positively charged hydrogen ion consisting of two hydrogen atoms, and a negatively charged oxygen ion consisting of one oxygen atom." (chap. XL, p.686)

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 11 July 2009 03:10:31PM 2 points [-]
Comment author: SilasBarta 11 July 2009 04:21:49PM 0 points [-]

I still can't find how to do the spoiler tags (i.e. make text invisible unless you highlight it).

Comment author: RobinZ 11 July 2009 12:42:20PM 0 points [-]

It's not HTML. Click the "Edit" button and then click the "Help" link under the text box - links are formatted left-square-bracket link text right-square-bracket open-parenthesis link URL close-parenthesis, and italics is indicated by asterisk text asterisk.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 24 May 2011 12:04:49AM 1 point [-]

Thanks. Formatting finally corrected.

Comment author: RobinZ 24 May 2011 02:59:42AM 0 points [-]

Cool! Although the link seems to be broken (the final 7 was deleted from the number)... :P

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 24 May 2011 03:53:08AM 0 points [-]

Now it's actually fixed. Thanks again.

Comment author: Tom_Talbot 11 July 2009 10:25:13AM *  0 points [-]

A lot of people coming from a background of traditional rationality identify themselves as falsificationists, unfortuneately. For an entertaining demolition of the work Popper and his intellectual descendants, see Popper and After: Four Modern Irrationalists[1] by the inimitable David Stove.

[1]Also known as: Anything Goes: Origins of the Cult of Scientific Irrationalism and Scientific Irrationalism: Origins of a Postmodern Cult

Comment author: XFrequentist 11 July 2009 06:46:20PM 0 points [-]

Do you have an opinion about his essays on sociobiology?

Comment author: Tom_Talbot 12 July 2009 08:15:45AM 0 points [-]

Everyone makes mistakes.

Comment author: Madbadger 11 July 2009 01:54:31AM *  3 points [-]

Satan, Cantor, and Infinity by Raymond Smullyan

Smullyan's books are the best introductions to formal logic I know. They are witty, entertaining, and make you think - without it being work.

Comment author: Emily 11 July 2009 11:20:06AM *  1 point [-]

If anyone has any kids who might be interested in logic, I highly recommend his puzzle books. They might be fun for adults too, but I can't be sure of that, as I haven't looked at them for quite a few years -- back then, though, I found them very accessible and they hooked me.

Comment author: djcb 10 July 2009 10:32:08PM 11 points [-]

For deep understanding of how computers and especially computation works: "Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs"

(available freely online: http://mitpress.mit.edu/sicp/)

Comment author: brian_jaress 11 July 2009 07:17:36AM 2 points [-]

I voted this up because it's a very good book, but I want to add a little disclaimer:

SICP is a book on how to write programs. It is not, as one might think from the title, a theoretical book. It is accessible to people who have never programmed, but it will not be liked by people who dislike the actual activity of programming.

I have found that many people hate to program, and most who try it discover they hate it.

Comment author: Douglas_Knight 11 July 2009 07:21:23PM 1 point [-]

Could you elaborate?

I expect that it has a very different success rate than other books; that a binary variable of "likes programming" is not the best model. That more analytical people are more like to learn programming from it than from other sources, and less analytical people the opposite. But I suppose "learn programming from it" and "like it" may be independent.

Comment author: brian_jaress 12 July 2009 08:16:38AM 0 points [-]

I can't tell whether I don't understand you, you don't understand me, or both.

I suppose it's theoretically possible for someone who hates programming to enjoy a book on how to program, but I don't think it will happen. I don't see what being analytical has to do with it.

If you don't hate programming, you might or might not like SICP for a whole bunch of reasons. How analytical you are might be one of them.

Comment author: djcb 12 July 2009 09:20:13AM 0 points [-]

i actually agree with the points you made, and also with the point that Douglas_Knight made. I don't think those points are incompatible.

The nature of Scheme as a 'idealized' programming language enables one to focus on the actual problem rather than the language (after some practice at least). And that way of looking at problems is what makes it interesting in the context of LW -- which is not about programming perse after all.

So yes, the book teaches you to program -- but also yes, it does that in a somewhat abstracted way, which will be less interesting for people who want cookbook-style solutions. It's about training the mind.

Comment author: djcb 11 July 2009 10:06:58PM 3 points [-]

Excellent point.

SCIP is as far as you can get from 'Learn X in 24 hours'. It's about real thinking about a problem, and then coming up with some elegant solution.

A lot of 'real-world' programming is about programming in an as quick-and-dirty fashion as you can get away with. This book is most definitely not for that -- and is as irrelevant for rationalists as astrology.

This book, however, is about thinking, in terms of computation. And the reason for mentioning it here for 'rationalist purposes' is that I think that viewing the world in computational terms bring valuable insight, just like e.g. an evolutionary viewpoint does, or a bayesian.

Comment author: Curiouskid 15 May 2011 01:03:38PM 2 points [-]

"and is as irrelevant for rationalists as astrology."

Do you mean quick-and-dirty programming or this book?

Comment author: djcb 10 July 2009 04:01:39PM 10 points [-]

Hofstadter & Dennet - "The Mind's I"

Series of essays on self, AI, consciousness, intelligence, ... with Dennet and Hofstadter commenting them. It gives an excellent introduction in the subjects, and a lot of food for thought.

Long time ago since I read that. Maybe I should re-read it and see if it's as good as I can remember...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mind%27s_I

Comment author: [deleted] 11 July 2009 06:41:10AM 1 point [-]

I'd have to add just about everything else by Hofstadter, especially Gödel, Escher, Bach.

Comment author: gwern 11 July 2009 04:24:01PM *  2 points [-]

But I must add: exceptions are his I am a Strange Loop (terrible, redundant, and maudlin), and his Fluid Analogies (uninteresting to anyone not trying to code up a Copycat).

So basically, in order: GEB, Le Ton beau de Marot, and Metamagical Themas.

EDIT: correct LTDBM spelling; I was going from memory, and clearly I didn't remember the right order & capitalization.

Comment author: gjm 12 July 2009 10:43:31PM 3 points [-]

"Le Ton beau de Marot". (Not only does the meaning get scrambled with "ton" and "de" swapped, but Hofstadter's pun gets destroyed too.)

I gather his translation of Eugene Onegin is pretty wretched too.

Comment author: Bo102010 11 July 2009 02:54:12AM *  8 points [-]

I read it last year (for the first time) and enjoyed it thoroughly. It has some classic articles from the field, which if you haven't read already, you should when they're all in one place.

If you've never read Dennett's Where Am I, you shoud click the link and do so now.

Comment author: Dirklectisch 14 July 2009 11:31:00AM 0 points [-]

That is an absolutely amazing piece of writing by mr Dennett! Thanks.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 11 July 2009 11:34:35AM *  6 points [-]

If you've never read Dennett's Where Am I, you shoud click the link and do so now.

There is also a video: part1, part2, part3.

Comment author: Bo102010 11 July 2009 04:21:18PM 0 points [-]

Wow, good find. It's so cheesy it's effective...

Comment author: Cyan 11 July 2009 04:10:29AM 0 points [-]

I clicked the link. Awesome.

Comment author: Annoyance 10 July 2009 03:16:07PM 4 points [-]

Falling Free, by Lois McMaster Bujold.

It's a great story, but there's one scene in it that permanently changed my understanding of rationality: Leo Graf's first lecture to the engineering class where he discusses the relationship between engineering and ethics. The argument applies to all science and ways of applying scientific knowledge - really, to any and all attempts to interact with reality.

Comment author: kpreid 11 July 2009 02:28:50AM *  2 points [-]

I'm just rereading it due to your mention, and I found this passage at the point where Leo Graf is beginning to realize What Needs To Be Done:

[...] “How the hell should I know? At that point, it becomes Orient IV’s problem. There's only so much one human being can do, Leo.”

Leo smiled slowly, in grim numbness. “I’m not sure . . . what one human being can do. I’ve never pushed myself to the limit. I thought I had, but I realize now I hadn’t. My self-tests were always carefully non-destructive.”

This test was a higher order of magnitude altogether. This Tester, perhaps, scorned the merely humanly possible. Leo tried to remember how long it had been since he’d prayed, or even believed. Never, he decided, like this. He’d never needed like this before. . . .

Ignoring the religious content, for me-now this seems to be another occurrence of the idea that the universe is not adjusted to your skill level, and Graf is realizing he needs (to satisfy his morality) to do the impossible.

Comment author: Annoyance 14 July 2009 09:16:13PM 1 point [-]

Bujold sometimes appears to argue for theism, but a very peculiar form of it that doesn't really match what most people mean by the term.

In some ways she seems to be a theological consequentialist - suggesting that people are better for believing that other people have souls, or at least acting as though they believe that other people have souls, regardless of whether it's literally true.

Cordelia Vorkosigan's religious beliefs are rather... odd. This is particularly clear in one exchange from Mirror Dance:

It's important that someone celebrate our existence... People are the only mirror we have to see ourselves in. The domain of all meaning. All virtue, all evil, are contained only in people. There is none in the universe at large.

Cordelia claims to be a theist. How can that claim be reconciled with her statement above?

Comment author: gworley 10 July 2009 02:46:37PM 0 points [-]
Comment author: gworley 10 July 2009 02:49:39PM 0 points [-]

This is arguably one of the best (or at least better) books written on human sexual selection and evolutionary psychology. It's a pioneering book, written back when such ideas were brand new, and it still holds up today, albeit some of the examples are wrong due to anthropologist misreporting (which is possibly still a common problem).

Comment author: gworley 10 July 2009 02:41:38PM 2 points [-]

Playing to Win by David Sirlin.

Comment author: gworley 10 July 2009 02:47:10PM 0 points [-]

I like this one because it embodies the goal of the Way, albeit limited to the scope of games.

Comment author: deepakjois 10 July 2009 01:46:08PM *  16 points [-]

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini

Influence is a great book for new rationalists because it highlights a lot of cognitive biases with real-life examples derived from case studies. These examples are placed in the context of how the so-called 'compliance professionals' explout these biases to persuade people, who might otherwise be not so forthcoming.

Comment author: atroche 20 October 2013 07:20:05AM 2 points [-]

And when you're finished, this Anki deck I made should help you retain the important parts.

Comment author: Bo102010 10 July 2009 12:27:48PM 0 points [-]

Thinking Strategically by Dixit and Nalebuff. A introduction to game theory. I would have preferred more math, but the case studies are great ways to apply rational thinking to win.

Comment author: brian_jaress 10 July 2009 09:35:05AM -2 points [-]

I recommend any collection of essays by Stephen Jay Gould.

I know, I know. Yudowsky [hates him][Yudkowsky], John Maynard Smith [thinks everyone else hates him][Smith], Dawkins [gave him his due but disagreed][Dawkins], etc.

But, if you read his essays with an eye toward the workings of the mind, specifically how humans think when they theorize (which I consider his main topic) you will find useful things there that you would be hard pressed to find anywhere else.

Comment author: Document 04 September 2013 02:15:13AM 0 points [-]

If you come back here, I hope you fill in the links you apparently meant to include (or else remove the placeholders).

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 11 July 2009 08:35:53PM 0 points [-]

you will find useful things there that you would be hard pressed to find anywhere else.

Could you give some examples?

Comment author: brian_jaress 12 July 2009 09:42:12AM 0 points [-]

The analyses I mentioned in another comment, saying they might be dangerous, are also quite useful. The specific ideas he analyzes are often hard to find even mentioned elsewhere.

What's useful about the analyses is that they are fairly detailed case studies. They weren't written just to show that the ideas were wrong, or warn of making similar mistakes, but to give a feel for how the ideas seemed to the people who came up with them.

Comment author: Annoyance 10 July 2009 03:20:00PM 0 points [-]

But, if you read his essays with an eye toward the workings of the mind, specifically how humans think when they theorize (which I consider his main topic) you will find useful things there that you would be hard pressed to find anywhere else.

I disagree. His logical errors are quite common; he serves as a good example of failure, yes, but such is rarely hard to find.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 10 July 2009 03:24:42PM 1 point [-]

And given that we believe everything we're told, it's a dangerous experience.

Comment author: brian_jaress 10 July 2009 06:03:09PM 0 points [-]

You definitely don't want to read Gould if you believe everything you're told. In his essays you will find many explanations and analyses of old, discredited ideas in terms of the mental models behind them and the personal and social factors that influenced their conception and reception, with little or no discussion of whether they are true.

At the sentence and paragraph level, he often uses the technique of explaining and critiquing an opinion by paraphrasing it. You have to stay on your toes just to keep track of what Gould is asserting and what he's attributing.

You may be right that his essays are dangerous to read.

But, if you want to protect yourself from exposure to logical flaws, a reading list won't do it. I suggest a blindfold and ear plugs.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 10 July 2009 06:12:52PM *  1 point [-]

But, if you want to protect yourself from exposure to logical flaws, a reading list won't do it. I suggest a blindfold and ear plugs.

And never leave your room.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 10 July 2009 07:13:56AM *  17 points [-]

I'd like to add to the list of requests:

  • Please say why you're suggesting it. What did you learn from it? What is its specific relevance to rationality?

A link to a page of Amazon reviews written by Everyman to Everyman doesn't have the same value as a comment from one of us to the rest of us.

Comment author: RobinZ 10 July 2009 01:47:19PM 1 point [-]

Editing to do so, thanks!

Comment author: anonym 10 July 2009 03:51:16AM 3 points [-]
Comment author: Bo102010 10 July 2009 12:26:01PM 0 points [-]

Good recommendation. I enjoyed that one, even though I had already ready most of its source material and didn't really learn much new from it.

Comment author: anonym 11 July 2009 03:54:43AM 0 points [-]

Same here. There's not much to it, and it was all stuff I'd seen somewhere else already, but it's a very friendly and readable book that I've used as a first recommendation for people interested in the ideas, and it's been well-received in that capacity.

Comment author: anonym 10 July 2009 03:49:18AM *  2 points [-]

Understanding Uncertainty, by Dennis V. Lindley.

It's a friendly and practical introduction to the bare minimum the author thinks everybody should understand of probability and decision theory as they pertain to uncertainty and reasoning under uncertainty.

Comment author: anonym 10 July 2009 03:48:32AM 3 points [-]
Comment author: anonym 10 July 2009 03:47:25AM 7 points [-]
Comment author: orthonormal 09 July 2009 11:58:37PM 3 points [-]

How The Mind Works, by Steven Pinker

Comment author: MichaelBishop 14 July 2009 04:26:53PM 2 points [-]

Pinker's "The Blank Slate, The Modern Denial of Human Nature," is also great.

Comment author: orthonormal 09 July 2009 11:57:08PM 2 points [-]

The Moral Animal, by Robert Wright

Comment author: patrissimo 16 July 2009 11:11:17PM 0 points [-]

agreed. Good intro to EvPsych.

Comment author: gworley 10 July 2009 02:51:16PM 1 point [-]

I'm not sure this is a good choice. From what I recall there are a lot of details that are wrong in here. Anyone who's read it more recently? Can you fill us in?

Comment author: orthonormal 13 July 2009 11:53:23PM 0 points [-]

It's a good and enjoyable book for a beginner who's unfamiliar with (and perhaps skeptical of) evolutionary psychology; there are of course higher rungs on the ladder of ev-psych books.

What sort of mistakes did you see in it?

Comment author: SirBacon 11 July 2009 06:04:12AM 2 points [-]

I read this last year. It contained many of the important insights from ev. psych, especially in the area of mating strategies. It was far too wordy and long to justify its informational content. Robert Wright snagged most of the ideas from scientists, but he is a journalist, so he tends to mangle concepts and play up spurious "angles" of the "story." This was the most tedious thing I've read on the subject. Pinker is somewhat better.

Comment author: Lawliet 09 July 2009 10:45:03PM 15 points [-]

The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins

Comment author: gworley 10 July 2009 02:59:30PM 2 points [-]

Personally I'm not very impressed with this book. Maybe it's because by the time I read it I already knew too much, but I found it of little use other than to run over the groves in my mind of the most basic aspects of evolution. Maybe it's best for someone who is coming from a strong religious background and needs a starter to break the religion from their mind?

Comment author: Vladimir_Golovin 11 July 2009 07:03:19AM 2 points [-]

Maybe it's best for someone who is coming from a strong religious background and needs a starter to break the religion from their mind?

I doubt that their epistemology will let them accept the "fact" that life, including them, can be reduced to molecular interactions. I once exposed an extreme irrationalist / theist to evolutionary ideas, and he said to me that all evolutionists, Dawkins being the prime example, are sponsored by The Enemy -- and he meant "sponsored" in a literal sense, by paying money.

(On the other hand, I succeeded in converting one of my programmers into Evolutianity, but he was a pretty smart and rational guy in the first place, perhaps just a bit new-agey).

I think the Selfish Gene and other popular (but technically accurate) introductions to evolution are best for fence-sitters, not for strongly religious people. And I feel that there's a lot of fence-sitters among religious people these days.

Comment author: XFrequentist 09 July 2009 10:57:05PM 0 points [-]

One of my favorite books, but do you think it's appropriate for this list?

Comment author: Neil 10 July 2009 03:35:04PM 0 points [-]

I think, to really think about human rationality and irrationality, you need to be able to consider the mind from an evolutionary perspective. Is there a better introduction to evolutionary thinking out there?

I can only add it was very influential for me. I read this and The Extended Phenotype in succession and while I certainly understood evolution before reading them, I certainly understood it on a whole new level afterwards.

Comment author: Vladimir_Golovin 10 July 2009 06:22:55AM *  14 points [-]

In my case, The Selfish Gene was absolutely essential. Its impact on me was enormous -- I spent a couple of years just to update myself after reading it. This book is the primary cause of my interest in AGI, FAI, naturalism, reductionism, science and rationality -- I definitely think it should be on the list.

Added: There may be another important effect to this book. When I was reading it, I had a strong feeling that this book is capable of utterly destroying religious and other non-naturalistic worldviews in readers who can reason more or less straight -- and that without explicitly mentioning religion or any gods at all. I never was a theist, but since religion keeps popping up here on LW, it apparently still is an important issue -- which is another reason why I support keeping the book on this list.

Comment author: Friendly-HI 23 May 2011 11:30:15PM 2 points [-]

I fully agree with your statement. The Selfish Gene triggered my rational awakening and may have been the single most important book I've read in my entire life. I think the real significance of this book is that afterwards you really have a rather deep understanding of what life actually is and what it isn't.

Now most readers here won't need to read his book for that purpose, but I think it is a very unique book one should read eventually, even despite already being a rationalist. There most certainly are more structured books out there if one wanted to learn about evolution systematically, but it may still be the best "popular science" book out there to truly trash the notion of group selection, while it simultaneously nails the point that your genes aren't the means by which you propagate yourself, but that you are the means by which your genes propagate themselves - even at the cost of your well-being (which is of cause also just another psychological mechanism to get you into the human meat-market).

So despite being the pinnacle of evolution in terms of intelligence, we are still nothing but a disposable vehicle from the indifferent "viewpoint" of our genes. This realization obviously has the potential to rock your worldview to the very core, if you're completely oblivious to the real implications of evolution.

Despite being a citizen of Germany, where evolution is strictly part of the curriculum - evolution (and above all its implications) still weren't "properly" taught to me. This book was a goldmine of insight aiding in my intellectual development. Also it's where the term memetics was first coined.

If you're already a rationalist, it's not obligatory literature. But it sure as hell is literature you'd better digest sooner rather than later, if you're actually not that well-read regarding evolution.

Comment author: Bo102010 10 July 2009 12:36:20PM 2 points [-]

A few years ago I had read most of Dawkins' other books, but had not yet read Selfish Gene.

I keep a list of books I want to read, and when they become available at the library, I go pick them up. Selfish Gene and a fiction book I had wanted to read were both became available at the same time, so I walked to the library and thought I'd flip a coin to decide which one to get (I allowed myself only one book to read for pleasure at a time when I was in school).

On the way there, I was accosted by a very aggressive evangeical Christian. He very earnestly told me about Jesus and how I needed to be saved, and demanded I explain how I thought I could explain the world without god. I made a few comments about evolution, which he shrugged off, since they didn't explain the origin of life. Eventually I told him I was wasting his time and went into the library.

The experience shook me up a bit, but then my choice of reading was clear. I had to get the Selfish Gene.

Comment author: Lawliet 10 July 2009 01:21:19AM 1 point [-]

Not sure what exactly should count as appropriate, I had assumed that the votes would sort the good from the bad, but maybe people would be less inclined to downvote a book they liked, which could be a problem with a well-liked book.

Is it enough that these comments could serve as a warning, or do you suggest I delete/edit the post?

Comment author: XFrequentist 10 July 2009 11:52:37AM 0 points [-]

Yeah, I was thinking that it could turn into a popularity contest. There's certainly no way I would ever downvote this book.

Instead of deleting it, why don't you make a case for its inclusion? Vladmir's off to a good start.

Comment author: Lawliet 09 July 2009 10:42:33PM 6 points [-]

Godel, Escher, Bach, Douglas Hofstadter

Comment author: SilasBarta 09 July 2009 10:59:04PM *  11 points [-]

Okay, I have to ask: what exactly is so great about GEB? I see it get highly praised, and Eliezer_Yudkowsky goes overboard with praise for it, but I don't understand what's so great. (Yes, the page warns the content may be obsolete, but I think he still stands by that part.)

I've read almost all of it, and while it was enjoyable reading, I don't understand how it's useful as rationalist reading, or for AI. It's just a bunch of neat observations strung together, and a long (but helpful) explanation of Goedel's Theorem. In talking about AI, all I found were ideas that seem quaint now and were bad ideas even at the time, like using semantic nets to attempt to solve visual analogy problems. (ETA: There's also no mention of Bayesian inference or anything like it.)

So, could anyone who agrees with this recommendation, please explain what is good about GEB from a rationalist or AI perspective? Be as specific as you can.

Comment author: Gunnar_Zarncke 06 February 2014 09:45:16PM 1 point [-]

I read it when I was 15 and it was quite right for a mathematically inclined youth. At that age it is a good math, logic, rationality introduction and mind opener.

Comment author: cousin_it 27 August 2009 12:04:37PM *  0 points [-]

I finished reading GEB a couple days ago and agree with your assessment. It didn't expand my mind, though it does have a lot of neat puns. But now I understand where Eliezer got his explanatory style and most of his topic set :-)

Comment author: gworley 10 July 2009 02:55:53PM 1 point [-]

I would say that GEB gets so much praise because it was an early (perhaps the first) book published that explained some mathematical results that had become important because computers made it possible to see them in action. Aside from that, it's just a fun read and especially good for someone coming to this who doesn't have a strong mathematics background who may need an accessible push to overcome whatever has kept them from learning the math they will need to understand the technical details of the Way.

Comment author: CronoDAS 10 July 2009 05:23:35AM 6 points [-]

GEB is basically a very interesting textbook on formal logic that doesn't read like a textbook.

Comment author: pwno 10 July 2009 12:56:41AM 3 points [-]

It's a good book to introduce people to a reductionist perspective on consciousness.

Comment author: SilasBarta 10 July 2009 01:51:49AM 3 points [-]

Then it's waaaaaay too long to use as an introduction! In any case, I don't feel I gained in any insight on that topic after reading it.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 10 July 2009 07:15:06AM 2 points [-]

Agreed. I found it entertaining fluff (but I was familiar with mathematical logic already). What do those who rate it highly here see in it?

Comment author: Bo102010 10 July 2009 12:24:37PM 5 points [-]

I didn't rate it, but I think it should be on any aspiring intellectual's to-be-eventually-read list. It's so flipping clever!

Metamagical Themas, Hofstadter's collection of Scientific American columns, might be slightly better for rationalist reading. It's thick, but you can pick and choose what columns to read. And there's sections on rationality and game theory that would be titillating to any beginner.

Comment author: SilasBarta 10 July 2009 02:24:14PM 2 points [-]

Now that I will have to agree with you on, but only because the essays are self-contained so you can just read the good stuff. Among other things, here's what's relevant to rationality and AI:

-The discussion on typography, which I found very interesting. Hofstadter makes a good case that general character recognition is AI-complete. ("The central problem of AI is 'What is "A" and what is "I"?'")

-The three-part intro to Lisp, which gives you a good and short (though IMHO too gushing) intro to what's useful about Lisp.

-A great discussion on analogies that starts from "Who is the First Lady (president's wife) of England, if the prime minister is Margaret Thatcher (a woman)?" That's useful for understanding intelligence.

Comment author: Bo102010 11 July 2009 02:49:17AM 0 points [-]

There is an article that explains how perfectly rational people should play a game while realizing the other people are also perfectly rational. You can see some of it on Google Books and an overview at Wikipedia.

Wikipedia - Superrationality has an explanation of his take on the Prisoner's Dilemma.

It's a great book overall, but I did skip a few articles.

Comment author: Lawliet 09 July 2009 10:40:19PM 1 point [-]

Heuristics and Biases, collection edited by Daniel Kahneman, Thomas Gilovich and Dale Griffin

Comment author: orthonormal 14 July 2009 06:09:34AM 1 point [-]

It's an excellent series of papers and an interesting read, but ISTM there's not much of a take-away for practicing rationality compared to what you get in the posts here. It's written to demonstrate a mountain of experimental evidence for irrationality (and to meet academic standards), not to help readers see their own patterns of thought more clearly.

Comment author: Lawliet 09 July 2009 10:38:05PM 3 points [-]
Comment author: XFrequentist 12 July 2009 10:04:16PM 1 point [-]

Iff you've purchased the original version of the book, you can get the four extra chapters from the new edition by emailing the very awesome Dan Ariely at piexpanded@gmail.com.

Comment author: Lawliet 09 July 2009 10:36:17PM 8 points [-]

Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases, collection edited by Daniel Kahneman, Amos Tversky and Paul Slovic

Comment author: RobinZ 09 July 2009 08:44:47PM *  -1 points [-]

In a different direction than (I would guess) most of the posts we'll see here: I Remember Townsend... by Lizbeth Marcs.

Edit: This is a strange one to recommend, here - it feels more like a reminiscence and political argument than a textbook - but I do so because it gets at the importance of the truth from an angle which isn't common among us thought nerds. It isn't an instruction manual, it's a rousing speech.

Comment author: colinmarshall 09 July 2009 08:33:22PM 0 points [-]

For rationalist polymaths out there, Isaac Asimov's The Roving Mind

Comment author: colinmarshall 09 July 2009 08:30:23PM 13 points [-]

Paul Graham's "Lies We Tell Kids"

Comment author: RobinZ 09 July 2009 08:28:29PM *  11 points [-]

An obvious one is Richard Feynman's "Cargo Cult Science", which is published in the book Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! but can be found online pretty easily.

Edit: The reason why it's a good read is because - all due respect to Randall Munroe - science really does require a lot more than "let's try it and see". That's the basic idea which got the whole exercise started, but we've learned a lot as scientists since then, and Feynman explains a lot.

(Incidentally, the entire book - Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a Curious Character) - is a fun read, although somewhat less focused on rationality as a whole.)

Comment author: CronoDAS 09 July 2009 08:45:55PM 8 points [-]
Comment author: cousin_it 09 July 2009 08:25:49PM 4 points [-]

The Strategy of Conflict - Thomas C. Schelling

Comment author: CronoDAS 09 July 2009 08:17:00PM 4 points [-]
Comment author: Emile 09 July 2009 08:16:45PM *  19 points [-]

What You Can't Say, by Paul Graham.

Comment author: RobinZ 09 July 2009 07:51:19PM *  6 points [-]

The Simple Truth seems like another Yudkowsky essay worthy of reading.

Edit: The primary reason to peruse it is to get an understanding of why people like the correspondence theory of truth, as well as to show off a lot of the confusions people have when they try to refute - or even support - the theory.

Comment author: XFrequentist 09 July 2009 07:48:56PM 16 points [-]
Comment author: Wei_Dai 13 July 2009 02:23:25AM 6 points [-]

There seem to be few reviews of this book, and almost no citations to it in Google Scholar. I found one review at http://www.bayesianinvestor.com/blog/index.php/2009/04/28/good-and-real/. Quoting from it:

He uses a concept which he calls a subjunctive relation, which is intermediate between a causal relation and a correlation, to explain why a choice that seems to happen after its goal has been achieved can be rational. That is the part of his argument that I find unconvincing. The subjunctive relation behaves a lot like a causal relation, and I can’t figure out why it should be treated as more than a correlation unless it’s equivalent to a causal relation.

I'm having trouble understanding it too. And it concerns me that neither the evidentialist camp nor the causalist camp seem to see a need to rebut or comment on Drescher's ideas.

Comment author: Wei_Dai 15 July 2009 10:12:21AM 3 points [-]

Also, chapter 7, "Deriving Ought From Is", doesn't take into account an important difference between Newcomb's Problem and One-Shot Prisoner's Dilemma that I pointed out at http://lesswrong.com/lw/6r/newcombs_problem_vs_oneshot_prisoners_dilemma/. I think this is a fatal flaw for Drescher's argument.

Comment author: lukeprog 15 May 2011 01:51:18PM 1 point [-]

Thank you for these comments. I've been meaning to go through Drescher with a fine-toothed comb and write a review, but I'll probably never have time.

Comment author: SilasBarta 11 July 2009 05:00:55PM 0 points [-]

Someone put it online. Don't message me asking for the location. That would be piracy, wouldn't it?

Comment author: XFrequentist 11 July 2009 04:34:03PM *  4 points [-]

A simply flabberghasting defence of non-nihilistic materialism. This is the book I know that deals with the highest proportion of topics of general interest here; as the title claims, it really does span from physics to ethics. It is an absolute delight, and a wonderful example of how far clear thinking can take one in dispelling confusion.

Comment author: gwern 07 October 2009 02:03:43AM 0 points [-]

A simply flabberghasting defence of non-nihilistic materialism.

non-nihilistic materialism? You must be reading the ending differently from me; I found one of the most interesting parts his attempt to argue that existence is a useless concept and that other possible universes are just as real.

Comment author: Nick_Tarleton 07 October 2009 02:21:51AM 2 points [-]

Non-morally-nihilistic, I suspect.

Comment author: XFrequentist 07 October 2009 02:50:40AM 0 points [-]

That is the correct interpretation.

Comment author: gwern 07 October 2009 02:44:01AM 0 points [-]

The reasonable interpretation; he could've said instead 'non-solipsistic materialism' or something.

But then, I'm not sure whether denying that existing, well, exists, is nihilism or solipsism (in European philosophy, nihilism is usually with regard to ethics, but in Buddhist philosophy, nihilism is often the word used to translate positions claiming that nothing whatsoever exists, not even perceptions or the atoms/'karmas' of the Hinayanists).

Comment author: Jack 07 October 2009 05:55:43AM *  1 point [-]

The word nihilism can be attached to different adjectives to explain what is being denied. Thus there is ethical nihilism, existential nihilism, epistemological nihilism, metaphysical nihilism etc. By itself it is usually taken to refer to ethical or existential nihilism (that there is no purpose to life).

Comment author: SilasBarta 13 July 2009 02:35:44PM 5 points [-]

I'm now in the middle of chapter 3, a really interesting demystification of Loschmidt's paradox (though it does not mention it by name), which is the question of how there can be an apparent "direction" to time in a universe with time-symmetric physics.

Like in my previous comment, I'm a bit frustrated that Drescher avoids introducing standard terminology when making his point. For example, he's using the concept of mutual information in his explanation, but he goes to great lengths to avoid using the term, even though it would make his explanation easier to follow and connect to existing literature.

Still satisfied though. I think I'll write a review and summary for LW.

Comment author: lukeprog 15 May 2011 01:59:34PM 1 point [-]

Please do!

Comment author: SilasBarta 16 May 2011 05:34:58PM 0 points [-]

Thanks. I see you already saw my other comment with the expanded verion, but for those who can't wait for the expanded and polished version, go here.

Comment author: SilasBarta 12 July 2009 05:32:32AM 0 points [-]

I was just reading chapter 2 (which I did not get online and which I won't tell you how to get online if you private message me by clicking on my name and then the "send message" button), and I was pleasantly surprised to find that in pages 51 through 59, Drescher makes a more elaborate version of the point I made here although, frustratingly, without using the term "isomorphism".

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 11 July 2009 06:08:41PM 5 points [-]

Yep. It's practically Less Wrong in book form.

Comment author: lukeprog 15 May 2011 01:57:40PM 2 points [-]

Do you have any thoughts on Wei Dai's criticisms above?

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 15 May 2011 08:33:18PM 7 points [-]

"And it concerns me that neither the evidentialist camp nor the causalist camp seem to see a need to rebut or comment on Drescher's ideas."

Doesn't concern me in even the tiniest, most infinitesimal amount. Remind me to post on the rationalist virtue of zs'hanh at some point.

Difference between PD and one-shot Newcomb: Agree the incentives are different; agree that the logical structure of the problem is potentially more complicated because of that; suggest that the decision to expend cognitive resources searching for a way to defect could be treated as a defection or a probabilistic defection itself.

Drescher on subjunctives - I agree, this strikes me more as Drescher trying to make partial progress toward a solution than presenting something well-defined in a logical sense. I'm not sure Drescher would disagree with that.

I've spoken to Drescher at length and I think he's trying to derive way too much "ought" from TDT, to the point of thinking TDT yields morality itself.

That said, "Good and Real" is still the reductionist book for now.

Comment author: Wei_Dai 16 May 2011 02:04:01AM 3 points [-]

Doesn't concern me in even the tiniest, most infinitesimal amount. Remind me to post on the rationalist virtue of zs'hanh at some point.

According to the provided link, zs'hanh means "contemptuous indifference to the activity of others". I'm not sure how that's supposed to apply here, since the entire subject of discussion is the activity of others (namely, Gary Drescher's writings).

If what you mean is that I should have tried to evaluate his ideas on the object level instead of depending on the opinion of others, I did say that I was unable to make sense of his subjunctive relation. Given that, it doesn't seem wrong to check if anyone else could make sense of it and be concerned that no one apparently could.

Drescher on subjunctives - I agree, this strikes me more as Drescher trying to make partial progress toward a solution than presenting something well-defined in a logical sense. I'm not sure Drescher would disagree with that.

He has told me that he now regards the decision theory approach in "Good and Real" (as well as the newer "meta-circular" approach) as inadequate and has recently been "rebooting" his thinking in order to try to find the right approach from a fresh perspective. (He seems to think that UDT is more promising but may not be the right approach either.)

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 16 May 2011 02:27:36AM 0 points [-]

According to the provided link, zs'hanh means "contemptuous indifference to the activity of others". I'm not sure how that's supposed to apply here, since the entire subject of discussion is the activity of others (namely, Gary Drescher's writings).

Not those others.

Comment author: Wei_Dai 17 May 2011 09:53:35AM 6 points [-]

You'll have to write that post and explain what heuristics you use to decide who to pay attention to. I think I'm actually relatively good at this (for example I've been following your career ever since "Staring into the Singularity" :) but I wasn't particularly impressed with Drescher until I met him in person.

Comment author: gwern 07 October 2009 02:00:54AM 3 points [-]

I just finished reading it a few weeks ago; when I reached the end, I wondered whether Drescher should sue all of us for intellectual plagiarism, or the other way around!