Tag Archives: books

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality

The First Law of Fan­fic­tion states that every change which strengthens the prot­ag­on­ists requires a cor­res­pond­ing worsen­ing of their chal­lenges. […] stor­ies are about con­flict; a hero too strong for their con­flict is no longer in tense, heart-pound­ing dif­fi­culty. […]

The Ration­al­ist Fan­fic­tion Prin­ciple states that ration­al­ity is not magic; being ration­al does not require magic­al poten­tial or roy­al blood­lines or even amaz­ing gad­gets, and the prin­ciples of ration­al­ity work for under­stand­able reas­ons.

That’s Eliez­er Yudkowsky in an intro­duc­tion to his acclaimed Harry Pot­ter fan fiction, Harry Pot­ter and the Meth­ods of Ration­al­ity.

The piece of “seri­al fic­tion” looks at cog­nit­ive sci­ence and ration­al­ity in a Harry Pot­ter-type world where Harry, hav­ing been raised by a sci­ent­ist step­fath­er, is a ration­al­ist, enter­ing the wiz­ard­ing world “armed with Enlight­en­ment ideals and the exper­i­ment­al spir­it.”

Cur­rently 63 chapters long–including chapters such as A Day of Very Low Prob­ab­il­ity, The Stan­ford Pris­on Exper­i­ment, The Unknown and the Unknow­able and Title Redac­ted, Part I–the Meth­ods is a fant­ast­ic read.

There’s a “book-style” PDF avail­able, ePUB and MOBI ver­sions for those on e‑readers, and a great TV Tropes entry. You can find more resources on the unof­fi­cial homepage, hpmor.com.

Although listen to Eliez­er when he says “This fic is widely con­sidered to have really hit its stride start­ing at around Chapter 5. If you still don’t like it after Chapter 10, give up”.

via Hack­er News

‘Bit Culture’ and the Benefits of Distraction

The inform­a­tion con­sump­tion habits of many in the young­er generations–one fea­ture of the ‘Inter­net inform­a­tion culture’–has many mer­its, des­pite its many detract­ors. So says Ban Cas­nocha in an art­icle for The Amer­ic­an that acts as both a review of Tyler Cowen’s Cre­ate Your Own Eco­nomy and a fairly pos­it­ive and com­pre­hens­ive over­view of the “bit cul­ture” and its affects on atten­tion and learn­ing.

Cas­nocha begins with a look at his own media con­sump­tion habits (that closely mir­rors mine and, no doubt, many of yours, too) and a couple of the­or­ies for explain­ing this style:

The first is eco­nom­ic: when cul­ture is free and a click away, as it is on blogs and Twit­ter and the broad­er Inter­net, we sample broadly and con­sume it in smal­ler chunks: “When access is easy, we tend to favor the short, the sweet, and the bitty. When access is dif­fi­cult, we tend to look for large-scale pro­duc­tions, extra­vag­an­zas, and mas­ter­pieces,” […]

The second reas­on is the intel­lec­tu­al and emo­tion­al stim­u­la­tion we exper­i­ence by assem­bling a cus­tom stream of bits. Cowen refers to this pro­cess as the “daily self-assembly of syn­thet­ic exper­i­ences.” My inputs appear a chaot­ic jumble of scattered inform­a­tion but to me they touch all my interest points. When I con­sume them as a blend, I see all-import­ant con­nec­tions between the dif­fer­ent intel­lec­tu­al nar­rat­ives I fol­low […]

When skep­tics make sweep­ing neg­at­ive claims about how the Web affects cog­ni­tion, they are for­get­ting the people whose nat­ur­al tend­en­cies and strengths blos­som in an inform­a­tion-rich envir­on­ment. Cowen’s over­rid­ing point, delivered in a “can­’t we all just get along” spir­it, is that every­one pro­cesses the stim­uli of the world dif­fer­ently. Every­one deploys atten­tion in their own way. We should embrace the new tools—even if we do not per­son­ally bene­fit— that allow the infovores among us to per­form tasks effect­ively and acquire know­ledge rap­idly.

The Personal Business of Recommending Books

For book recom­mend­a­tions, most of us rely on the sug­ges­tions of trus­ted friends and on word of mouth. This, at least, allows us to hold someone account­able for those inev­it­able poor recom­mend­a­tions. But what of ‘pro­fes­sion­al’ book recom­mend­ers (writers in pub­lic­a­tions, not algorithmic ‘recom­mend­ers’)?

Laura Miller–author of the book recom­mend­a­tion Slate column, –looks at what she calls the fine art of recom­mend­ing books.

“You can­’t recom­mend books to strangers without ask­ing per­son­al ques­tions,” [edit­or of the Par­is Review, Lor­in Stein] told me. As he poin­ted out, what we want to read is often pegged to trans­it­ory moods. The same book may not thrill the same per­son at every point in his or her life. “I don’t think people read ‘for’ pleas­ure, exactly,” he went on. “Of course there is pleas­ure in read­ing. But mainly we do it out of need. Because we’re lonely, or con­fused, or need to laugh, or want some kind of pro­tec­tion or quiet — or dis­turb­ance, or truth, or whatever.” The recom­mend­er must take this into account.

Miller also looks at the book recom­mend­ing pro­cesses of The Morn­ing News’ Bib­li­or­acle (John Warner) and “the doy­en of all pro­fes­sion­al book recom­mend­ers”, Nancy Pearl.

Pearl sug­gests that there are four “door­ways” that intrigue read­ers in the books they read: story, char­ac­ters, set­ting and lan­guage. One or more of these door­ways appeal to each type of read­er and the task of the recom­mend­er is in match­ing the read­er­’s door­way pref­er­ence with a book that deliv­ers exactly that.

Derek Sivers’ Book List

Derek Sivers’ book recom­mend­a­tions con­tin­ue to be some of the most well matched to my own tastes.

Infre­quently updated, Derek Sivers’ book list provides a tiny sum­mary of his recent reads, fol­lowed by extens­ive notes he has taken from each: some­what sim­il­ar to my cur­rent pro­cess, now that Amazon’s Kindle has com­pletely trans­formed my read­ing and note-tak­ing habits.

In addi­tion to the extens­ive book list itself, Sivers lists elev­en of his top recom­mend­a­tions (some that I would change, oth­ers that I’ve heard con­tra­dict­ing views on, but a great start­ing point non­ethe­less):

Educational Typography Ebooks

I’ve only recently taken a look at font retail­er Font­Shop’s col­lec­tion of edu­ca­tion­al typo­graphy ebooks des­pite hav­ing the site book­marked for months. It’s a won­der­ful (yet small) col­lec­tion, cur­rently con­sist­ing of these five books:

The online Typo­grapher­’s Gloss­ary will no doubt come in handy for many, too. In fact, just click on everything they have under the head­ing ‘Type Resources’–it’s all great.

via @jasonfry