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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 10:45:03PM 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: 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: 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.