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Comment author: ABranco 19 August 2010 03:08:48AM 2 points [-]

The visual guide to a PhD: http://matt.might.net/articles/phd-school-in-pictures/

Nice map–territory perspective.

In response to Book Recommendations
Comment author: multifoliaterose 10 August 2010 12:37:19AM *  5 points [-]


Proofs and Refutations by Imre Lakatos, seconding JoshuaZ's recommendation

Science and Hypothesis, The Value of Science, and Science and Method by Henri Poincare

The Tristan Chord: Wagner and Philosophy by Bryan Magee

Journey through Genius and Euler: The Master of Us All by William Dunham

The Book of Numbers by John H. Conway and Richard Guy


The Solitude of Prime Numbers by Paolo Giordano

Never Let Me Go and An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro

Contact by Carl Sagan

Niels Lyhne by Jens Peters Jacobsen

Notes From Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Songmaster by Orson Scott Card

Comment author: ABranco 11 August 2010 06:10:12AM 0 points [-]

I have Notes from Underground, but haven't yet read it. Would you tell me what impressed you in it?

In response to Book Recommendations
Comment author: Daniel_Burfoot 10 August 2010 12:57:39AM *  5 points [-]

When I moved back to the US from Japan, I made an ordered list of the books I had to determine which ones to ship home. This is the top ten:

  • Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
  • Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery
  • Taleb, The Black Swan
  • Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
  • Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
  • Thomas & Turner, Clear and Simple as the Truth
  • Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera
  • Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
  • Wolferen, the Enigma of Japanese Power
  • Chabon, The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
Comment author: ABranco 11 August 2010 06:08:48AM 2 points [-]

I've read Meditations.

Many wise aphorisms and thoughts there. Would recommend it for tougher times, as with any other stoic in general. Don't read it when feeling incredibly happy, or you are bound to have your emotional state flatten.

In response to comment by cata on Book Recommendations
Comment author: MichaelVassar 10 August 2010 05:20:02AM *  6 points [-]

Makes sense. I suppose that my objection is not to idea fiction being done by literary types (I like Borges a LOT) but to world-building done by literary types (other than David Foster Wallace, but he's more the 'genius-polymath' type), which is what I really think gets the critical acclaim despite being pretty uniformly awful when compared to even competent SF.

Comment author: ABranco 11 August 2010 06:03:09AM 0 points [-]

This is the nth time someone recommends me Borges. Although I have never felt particularly attracted to his writings by sampling pages of his books, I am reaching some kind of irresistible threshold I am about to cross. Will read something from him.

Comment author: byrnema 05 August 2010 04:30:14AM *  8 points [-]

I can see how the Curse of Knowledge could be a powerful idea. I will dwell on it for a while -- especially the example given about JFK, as an example of a type of application that would be useful in my own life. (To remember to describe things using broad strokes that are universally clear, rather than technical and accurate,in contexts where persuasion and fueling interest is most important.)

For me, one of the main viewquakes of my life was a line I read from a little book of Kalil Gibran poems:

Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.

It seemed to be a hammer that could be applied to everything.. Whenever I was unhappy about something, I thought about the problem a while until I identified a misconception. I fixed the misconception ("I'm not the smartest person in graduate school"; "I'm not as kind as I thought I was"; "That person won't be there for me when I need them") by assimilating the truth the pain pointed me towards, and the pain would dissipate. (Why should I expect graduate school to be easy? I'll just work harder. Kindness is what you actually do, not how you expect you'll feel. That person is fun to hang out with, but I'll need to find some closer friends.) After each disappointment, I felt stronger and the problem just bounced off me, without my being in denial about anything.

The "technique" failed me when a good friend of mine died. There was a lot of pain, and I tried to identify the truth that was cutting though, but I couldn't find one. Where did my friend go? There is a part of my brain, I realized, that simply cannot except on an emotional level that people are material. I believe that they are (I don't believe in a soul or an afterlife) but I simply couldn't connect the essence of my friend with 'gone'. If there was a truth there, it couldn't find a place in my mind.

This seems like a tangent. .. but just to demonstrate it's not all-powerful.

Comment author: ABranco 05 August 2010 10:04:42AM *  4 points [-]

Remarkable quote, thank you.

Reminded me of the Anorexic Hermit Crab Syndrome:

The key to pursuing excellence is to embrace an organic, long-term learning process, and not to live in a shell of static, safe mediocrity. Usually, growth comes at the expense of previous comfort or safety. The hermit crab is a colorful example of a creature that lives by this aspect of the growth process (albeit without our psychological baggage). As the crab gets bigger, it needs to find a more spacious shell. So the slow, lumbering creature goes on a quest for a new home. If an appropriate new shell is not found quickly, a terribly delicate moment of truth arises. A soft creature that is used to the protection of built-in armor must now go out into the world, exposed to predators in all its mushy vulnerability. That learning phase in between shells is where our growth can spring from. Someone stuck with an entity theory of intelligence is like an anorexic hermit crab, starving itself so it doesn't grow to have to find a new shell. —Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning

Comment author: timtyler 03 August 2010 06:13:16PM *  2 points [-]

My essay on the topic:


See also:

"The Singularity" by Lyle Burkhead - see the section "Exponential functions don't have singularities!"

It's not exponential, it's sigmoidal

The Singularity Myth

Singularity Skepticism: Exposing Exponential Errors

IMO, those interested in computational limits should discuss per-kg figures.

The metric Moore's law uses is not much use really - since it would be relatively easy to make large asynchronous ICs with lots of faults - which would make a complete mess of the "law".

Comment author: ABranco 05 August 2010 04:26:00AM 3 points [-]

I would love to see an ongoing big wiki-style FAQ addressing all possible received critics of the singularity — of course, refuting the refutable ones, accepting the sensible.

A version with steroids of what this one did with Atheism.

Team would be: - one guy inviting and sorting out criticism and updating the website. - an ad hoc team of responders.

It seems criticism and answers have been scattered all over. There seems to be no one-stop source for that.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 02 August 2010 03:20:25PM 6 points [-]

Basic sanitation!

Comment author: ABranco 05 August 2010 04:13:02AM 0 points [-]

For survival skills, I'd suggest buying this one before the disaster, while there's still internet.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 03 August 2010 12:51:33AM *  1 point [-]

Yes, this is in fact connected to a general problem that Nick Bostrom has pointed out, each time you try to go back from stone age tech to modern tech you use resources up that you won't have the next time. However, for purposes of actually getting back to high levels of technology rather than having a fun reality show, we've got a few advantages. One can use the remaining metal that is in all the left over objects from modern civilization (cars being one common easy source of a number of metals). Some metals are actually very difficult to extract from ore (aluminum is the primary example of this. Until the technologies for extraction were developed, it was expensive and had almost no uses) whereas the ruins of civilization will have those metals in near pure forms if one knows where to look.

Comment author: ABranco 05 August 2010 04:07:00AM *  1 point [-]

The argument that no one person in the face of Earth knows how to build a mouse from scratch is plausible.

Matt Ridley

Comment author: Matt_Simpson 03 August 2010 11:11:35PM *  13 points [-]

In his bio over at Overcoming Bias, Robin Hanson writes:

I am addicted to “viewquakes”, insights which dramatically change my world view.

So am I. I suspect you are too, dear reader. I asked Robin how many viewquakes he had and what caused them, but haven't gotten a response yet. But I must know! I need more viewquakes. So I propose we share our own viewquakes with each other so that we all know where to look for more.

I'll start. I've had four major viewquakes, in roughly chronological order:

  • (micro)Economics - Starting with a simple approximation of how humans behave yields a startlingly effective theory in a wide range of contexts.
  • Bayesianism - I learned how to think
  • Yudkowskyan/Humean Metaethics - Making the move from Objective theories of morality to Subjectively Objective theories of morality cleared up a large degree of confusion in my map.
  • Evolution - This is a two part quake: evolutionary biology and evolutionary psychology. The latter is extremely helpful for explaining some of the behavior that economic theory misses and for understanding the inputs into economic theory (i.e., preferences).
Comment author: ABranco 05 August 2010 04:02:56AM *  5 points [-]

I've had some dozens of viewquakes, most minors, although it's hard to evaluate it in hindsight now that I take them for granted.

Some are somewhat commonplace here: Bayesianism, map–territory relations, evolution etc.

One that I always feel people should be shouting Eureka — and when they are not impressed I assume that this is old news to them (and is often not, as I don't see it reflected in their actions) — is the Curse of Knowledge: it's hard to be a tapper. I feel that being aware of it dramatically improved my perceptions in conversation. I also feel that if more people were aware of it, misunderstandings would be far less common.

Maybe worth a post someday.

Comment author: Oscar_Cunningham 02 August 2010 03:10:47PM *  5 points [-]

I have a (I suspect unusual) tendency to look at basic concepts and try to see them in as many ways as possible. For example, here are seven equations, all of which could be referred to as Bayes' Theorem:

However, each one is different, and forces a different intuitive understanding of Bayes' Theorem. The fourth one down is my favourite, as it makes obvious that the update depends only on the ratio of likelihoods. It also gives us our motivation for taking odds, since this clears up the 1/(1+x)ness of the equation.

Because of this way of understanding things, I find explanations easy, because if one method isn't working, another one will.

ETA: I'd love to see more versions of Bayes' Theorem, if anyone has any more to post.

Comment author: ABranco 05 August 2010 03:45:45AM 1 point [-]

P (H|E) = P (H and E) / P(E)

which tends to be how conditional probability is defined, and actually the first version of Bayes that I recall seeing.

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