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Comment author: lukeprog 10 October 2014 05:23:27PM 6 points [-]

My own recommendations are here. I haven't updated that list for a while, but I've been listing the books I've read each month over here instead, nearly all of which are audiobooks.

Comment author: Delta 13 October 2014 09:52:14AM 1 point [-]

Blimey that's extensive, thanks a lot, I'll take a look.

Comment author: [deleted] 10 October 2014 05:13:14PM *  4 points [-]

Librivox has a very large assortment of free audio books. The catch is they are all in public domain, so they are mostly older works and they are all recorded by volunteers. However, I can say that I've found them an extremely excellent resource (I'm listening through Hobbes' Leviathan now).

So, if you'd like some older thinkers or scientists (Kant, Hume, Locke, Newton, Faraday, Mills, etc), they're a great resource.

In response to comment by [deleted] on Please recommend some audiobooks
Comment author: Delta 13 October 2014 09:33:43AM 1 point [-]

Interesting, thanks for the recommendation. I've been thinking I should look what other services are available and come across some streaming and rental services too, though as I like listening while walking out and about streaming may not be as great an option.

Comment author: Kaninchen 10 October 2014 01:47:35PM 1 point [-]

I listened to the audiobook of Jonathan Haidt's "The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Religion and Politics" over the summer and would recommend it. (That said, I got it while it was on offer and it appears to be rather more expensive now).

I don't know if you are also interested in podcasts, but in case you are I would recommend The Sequences (via Castify) in general, and possibly other things depending upon your personal interests.

Comment author: Delta 10 October 2014 02:05:49PM 1 point [-]

Interesting, I'll have a look at that one and maybe add it to the wishlist if it's a bit pricey.

Yeah, it would be good to go over some of the sequences again, it's been a while since I read them and I know I missed a few.

I listen to the odd podcast if an interesting-sounding one pops up in the Dawkins foundation facebook feed but I don't listen to any on a regular basis. Should probably look into them.

Thanks for the suggestions.

Comment author: James_Miller 10 October 2014 01:46:37PM 6 points [-]
Comment author: Delta 10 October 2014 02:04:19PM 2 points [-]

Ah, I've already read HPMOR but might think about the spoken version. Might help clarify some of the examples I never quite understood to hear someone else speaking them. It's kind of odd how different the same work can feel when you read it the first time compare to when you read it again or hear it read by someone else.

Speaking of re-reading I really must re-read Worm one of these days, that was great, and maybe try Wildbow's new Pact story.

Please recommend some audiobooks

6 Delta 10 October 2014 01:34PM

Hi All,

I've got into audiobooks lately and have been enjoying listening to David Fitzgerald's Nailed! and his Heretics Guide to mormonism, along with Greta Christina's "Why Are You Atheists So Angry?" and Laura Bates's "Everyday Sexism" which were all very good. I was wondering what other illuminating and engaging books might be recommended, ideally ones available as audiobooks on audible.

I've already read The Selfish Gene, The God Delusion and God Is Not Great in book form as well, so it might be time for something not specifically religion-related, unless it has some interesting new angle.

After Nailed and Everyday Sexism were really illuminating I'm now thinking there must be lots of other must-read books out there and wondered what people here might recommend. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Thanks for your time.

In response to Mere Messiahs
Comment author: Delta 22 November 2012 11:33:46AM 2 points [-]

I'd say the same applies to Catholics' aggrandisement of the Virgin Mary. Catholics are supposed to try to emulate someone whose virtue was so great before she was even conceived that she was born free from original sin (something no-one else can claim according to the appaling original sin doctrine). She then receives messages from god, bears his child (becoming both virgin and mother, a combination of virtuous states no-one else can achieve) and is bodily claimed into heaven. Isn't a human being who actually struggles with temptation, someone who overcomes actual weaknesses and flaws a better and more useful role model and example than this super-powered, divine intervention-fuelled juggernaut of unmatchable virtue? What can those seeking how to be good learn from someone to whom the mere notion of being bad is completely alien?

Comment author: [deleted] 22 November 2012 05:23:38AM 0 points [-]

There's lots to say, but I'll reserve it for a full discussion post soon, and I'll come back here and post a link.

In response to comment by [deleted] on Beyond the Reach of God
Comment author: Delta 22 November 2012 11:03:11AM 0 points [-]

Sounds good, I'll look forward to it.

Comment author: pragmatist 05 October 2012 02:03:38PM *  2 points [-]

I only have a layperson's knowledge of evolutionary biology, so my criticisms might miss some important subtlety, but it seems to that your analogy is significantly misleading in a couple of ways. It does convey the idea that random guesses with incremental feedback is a better search strategy than if the feedback were holistic (e.g. if you were guessing whole words and the only feedback were whether the guess is correct or not). In so far as someone's worry about natural selection is that they're mistaking it for the latter sort of search, the analogy may be helpful. But if you want to convey something more specific about how natural selection works, then I'm afraid the analogy isn't all that great.

One drawback of the analogy is in the nature of the environmental feedback. In Hangman, a letter gets fixed if (and only if) it is part of the correct answer. In genuine natural selection, though, a mutation doesn't get fixed because it is part of a complex set of mutations that collectively confer some phenotypic benefit. The environment isn't forward-looking like that; it doesn't say "This mutation is part of what is needed for optimality, so I'm going to hold onto it for that reason." Each individual mutation, in order to get fixed in the population, must confer some immediate reproductive benefit. Merely being one element of some complex group of mutations that is collectively beneficial is insufficient. The hangman analogy doesn't capture this aspect of natural selection.

This actually leads the analogy to kind of play into the hands of "irreducible complexity" critiques of natural selection. The proponents of such critiques presume that the individual parts of some complex adaptation only benefit the organism to the extent that they are part of that complex adaptation, and hence one cannot explain their selection without supposing that there is some forward-looking element to selection which holds onto those individual changes just because they will eventually contribute to a complex adaptation. This forward-looking aspect is then offered as evidence of intelligent design.

Another big drawback is that the analogy doesn't capture the competitive nature of natural selection. Natural selection occurs in populations, and requires both variation in traits among individuals in the population and competition for resources among those individuals. The Hangman analogy suggests that the environment already has a fixed template for the ideal phenotype and that it punishes organisms (or genes) individually for failing to approach this ideal and rewards them for getting closer to the ideal. If you have a population, and things worked in the Hangman way, there would be no correlation between rewards and punishments. But that's not how natural selection works. Genes are rewarded for contributing to their vehicles (organisms) being more reproductively successful than other organisms in the population. A reward just consists in reproducing more than your competitors, and a punishment just consists in reproducing less, so rewards and punishments are correlated. One allele can't get rewarded without another one getting punished.

Comment author: Delta 05 October 2012 02:36:25PM 0 points [-]

Thanks for the feedback. I think you're right that a key omission here is failing to note that each step must be useful in itself, and provide a non-negligable boost to chances of survival on its own. It also implies a greater sense of purpose than exists in nature (there's no mind aiming for things, just more resilient creatures surviving).

I realise the model has many flaws and omits wider context such as competition, but I'm still tempted by the appeal of using such a common situation as the analogy. Talk of guessing passwords or rolling dice does make excellent analogies, but if you want to engage someone it helps to talk about something closer to their personal experience, and I imagine most people played hangman on a board or margin at some point at school.

Comment author: Delta 05 October 2012 12:13:19PM 2 points [-]

On a similar subject, the boardgame Guess Who is a perfect illustration of the point in Burdensome Details. Each additional claim about Person X (do they wear glasses? are they blond?) leads you to knock down some possibilities.

Hangman as analogy for Natural Selection

0 Delta 05 October 2012 12:02PM

Hi guys,

I was trying to come up with a helpful analogy to help explain natural selection in simple terms and it occurred to me that the game Hangman might make a useful analogy, albeit an imperfect and simplified one. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on this and any other useful analogies or strategies for explaining in simple terms how natural selection allows complexity to arise from simplicity and how it is distinct from random chance.

The Hangman analogy I propose would read as follows:

A long word is chosen, say with a dozen letters, and a dozen blanks are drawn on the paper. Person A then guesses a letter. If the letter is present in the word a blank is filled in and the player can try another letter and so on. Their further guesses will be informed by the letters they have already discovered rather than being completely random. If the letter is not present the player loses a life (represented by the drawing of part of the gallows). If they run out of lives the game is over and a new player, Person B takes their place. Person B must start from the beginning.

In this analogy the long word is a complex adaption, requiring many seperate chance mutations to build it. Each guessed letter is a chance mutation that can be beneficial (correct answers bring you closer) or detrimental (wrong ones cost you lives). The loss of all lives represents the extinction of the species, meaning no further mutations can occur. Person B is an entirely different species that can't "compare notes" with Person A and hence must start from the beginning (though they may take a different route).

The benefit of this analogy is it's an example of random guesses still having a sense of forward progression (discovered letters are not removed, and gradually build up), and that it refers to a simple game I think most people will be familiar with. You could then go on to explain how a complex adaption takes many more than a dozen steps, that there are many more than 24 possible mutations, and that each guess takes many generations, to give a sense of the timescales involved.

The weaknesses are considerable and include the inability to go backwards (beneficial changes can be lost as well as gained) and the existence of a single specific end goal (the unknown word), rather than this being a continual process without set targets. It also ignores the possibility that a beneficial mutation does not spread throughout the species.

I very much doubt this is an original suggestion, but it seemed a handy simplification of the "password-guessing" analogy I was just reading about in Dawkins' "The Blind Watchmaker". Any comments or alternative methods would be welcome (I'm still not very widely read on the subject of evolution so I'm sure others have put it more clearly than I could).

Thanks for your time.


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