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Lawliet comments on Recommended reading for new rationalists - Less Wrong

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

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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: 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: 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: 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: 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 :-)