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The Nonfiction Book Club

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  1. #1
    CoccoBill's Avatar
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    Default The Nonfiction Book Club

    Why no thread on bookses? Let's make one. I mostly read nonfiction so let's stick with that. Here's a couple ones I've recently finished and think everyone should read.

    Thinking, Fast And Slow - Daniel Kahneman
    A seminal journey into the mind, explaining how we basically have two separate "minds" or ways of thinking, the fast, intuitive, and emotional subconscious, and the slower, more deliberate and more logical conscious thought. The pros and cons of both are highlighted, and many of the innate biases these entail are described in detail. Everyone should read this.

    The User Illusion: Cutting consciousness down to size - Tor Nørretranders
    The best attempt I've seen at explaining consciousness. An incredibly engaging and insightful study using psychology, evolutionary biology, information theory and other disciplines to dig into what consciousness is. Read this after the previous one, this is one of the best nonfiction books I've read ever.

    Bad Science - Ben Goldacre
    Destroys homeopathy, detoxing and other pseudoscientific crap whilst taking a hard look at flaws in out scientific review process, all in a hilarious way. Fascinating and frustrating to read, but definitely recommended. A light read, unlike the previous one.

    I'll continue some day when I'm less jetlagged. Please add your recommendations, but only ones that are really fuckin good.
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  2. #2
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    Art of Electronics - learn the theory and intuition of electronics using the least amount of math possible.

    Harvard Business Review's - The Essentials - It's a collection of the most important articles written for the Harvard Bidness review. I'm sure they're all available online somewhere, but to have them selected for your consumption is a nice way to get exposed to the most high quality ideas that circulate through the world of upper management.

    The Strategy of Conflict - Some Econo-egghead applies game theory to negotiation/conflict and he won a Nobel prize or something. Again, these are ideas that circulate through the hallowed halls of organizations across the world be they for profit, governance, or war.

    A Little History of the World - really easy read that flies over world history from the earliest civilization in Egypt to currentish day. Great for reading before you go to sleep.

    I've got a bunch more great recommendations but those are off the top of my head.
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  3. #3
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    Superfreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance by Levitt

    Lots of contrary knowledge dished out in there
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  4. #4
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    ^Seconded, can also recommend Freakonomics by Levitt and The Undercover Economist by Tim Harford.

    Will check out gorilla's mentions.
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  5. #5
    a500lbgorilla's Avatar
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    Art of Electronics is a bit of a tome. Structures: Or Why Things Don't Fall Down (by Gordon) is the mechanics equivalent and its a much more casual read.

    Along with Thinking Fast and Slow, you've got to hit up Ciladini's Psychology of Influence. It parses through the animal and human world showing how many different ways that fast system can be juked.

    Emotional Intelligence by Goleman is also an excellent read if you're keeping in the vein of understanding the mind. Unless you're on ketamine 24/7, you're an embodied thinker and feelings underlie many of your thoughts.

    Drunkard's Walk/Dicing With Death - the former is a very casual read to understand randomness and probability, though I'm sure you're well enough familiar with the practice as to skip it entirely. There are more Economics-centric takes on these phenomena like Black Swan.

    Journey Through Genius - again, an easy read that walks through some of the great intellectual works of art from our shared history.
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  6. #6
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    Oh boy, more for the pile. Goodreads is a great site/app to track past, current, and wish list books.
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  7. #7
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    Six Easy Pieces

    It's physics for non-physicists. I read it and enjoyed it before I got my degree. There is no math in the book, as I recall.
    Plus, it's a thin read. Maybe 150 pages.

    ***
    I had to dig deep to think of a non-fiction, non-textbook that I've read in the past 20 years.

    Nearly all of my non-fiction research is done online anymore.
  8. #8
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    Nearly all of my non-fiction research is done online anymore.
    I'm so glad you're teaching physics, not English.
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    ongies gonna ong
  9. #9
    OngBonga's Avatar
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    Does 1984 count as non-fiction?
    Quote Originally Posted by wufwugy View Post
    ongies gonna ong
  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by OngBonga View Post
    Does 1984 count as non-fiction?
    Ohh shit that's literally on my side to read next.

    I read Breakfast of champions (first book in ages*) and it was bad. That isn't non-fiction so doesn't fit in this thread. That made me upset.

    I've still not finished TF&S, I've also got about 4 other non-fiction books to read.

    *This is a lie I read Naive, Super about 4 or so months ago and that was great.
  11. #11
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    I hardly ever read, but I've got 1984 and Sheepshaggers (Naill Griffiths) on my pile. Will get round to them sooner or later.

    I know someone who caused a book club to disband after he got them all to read Sheepshaggers. That sold it to me.
    Quote Originally Posted by wufwugy View Post
    ongies gonna ong
  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by OngBonga View Post
    I'm so glad you're teaching physics, not English.
    English's gain is also Physics' gain - it's a win-win.
  13. #13
    MadMojoMonkey's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by OngBonga View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by MMM
    Nearly all of my non-fiction research is done online anymore.
    I'm so glad you're teaching physics, not English.
    I'm not 100% with commas, but other than that, it's a fine sentence.

    Maybe a Missouri colloquialism in the use of anymore, though. Replace with "lately" if you like.
  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by MadMojoMonkey View Post
    I'm not 100% with commas, but other than that, it's a fine sentence.

    Maybe a Missouri colloquialism in the use of anymore, though. Replace with "lately" if you like.
    I'm sure Ong is dying to tell you this first, but it's the conjunction of the present tense 'is' with the past tense 'anymore' (meaning 'lately') that's the main issue.

    E.g., you wouldn't say "She is talking a lot more with her friend Joe lately." it should be "She has been..."

    Gotta keep the same verb tense in the same sentence.
  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by MadMojoMonkey View Post
    Maybe a Missouri colloquialism in the use of anymore, though. Replace with "lately" if you like.
    Dialects are fucked.

    When I lived in Pennsylvania people used to say things like "My cars needs washed." and they pronounced washed as 'worshed'.

    Where I grew up in Southern Alberta, we would call the river valley the 'riverbottom' which sounds like you're describing a place under water.
  16. #16
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    You sidetracking sonsabitches.

    The Selfish Gene - Richard Dawkins
    I mean c'mon, read it. Exploration into evolution, altruism, memes etc. employing for example game theory. This is just a massively interesting read.

    A Brief History Of Time - Stephen Hawking
    Physics, astronomy, time and the universe in a neat and mostly easily approachable package. It's far from a casual read, but considering the subject matter it's quite manageable.

    What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions - Randall Munroe
    By the author of xkcd, a bunch of blog posts answering questions sent by readers. If you like xkcd (who doesn't?) and haven't read these, hurry up.
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  17. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by CoccoBill View Post
    You sidetracking sonsabitches.
    Why you yeller-belly, them's a-fightin' words, talking about our dialectic discourse in that there fashion.

    Well now, you take this!


    Quote Originally Posted by CoccoBill View Post
    The Selfish Gene - Richard Dawkins
    I mean c'mon, read it. Exploration into evolution, altruism, memes etc. employing for example game theory. This is just a massively interesting read.
    Has anyone not read it?


    Quote Originally Posted by CoccoBill View Post
    A Brief History Of Time - Stephen Hawking
    Physics, astronomy, time and the universe in a neat and mostly easily approachable package. It's far from a casual read, but considering the subject matter it's quite manageable.
    Who hasn't read this?


    Quote Originally Posted by CoccoBill View Post
    What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions - Randall Munroe
    By the author of xkcd, a bunch of blog posts answering questions sent by readers. If you like xkcd (who doesn't?) and haven't read these, hurry up.
    I think I may pick this one up. I certainly see enough absurd hypothetical questions WITHOUT answers when I read other people's papers.
  18. #18
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    yeah lol. The ones I would recommend I think most people here have read.
    Selfish Gene, obviously, but if you haven't got around to reading his other books, they're all amazing. Climbing Mount Improbable, The Blind Watchmaker, The God Delusion.
    Again super mainstream: Guns Germs and Steel. I don't care if it's historically accurate. It's still a great read. At least read the first 1/3rd. Once he starts droning on about agriculture it loses it's bite.
    Denial of Death by Earnes Brecker is fantastic and hilarious.
    Currently reading Deep Sea by James Nestor. Recommended if you have a mild interest in freediving and some diving history.
    Last edited by oskar; 04-11-2017 at 12:40 PM.
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  19. #19
    Quote Originally Posted by oskar View Post
    yeah lol. The ones I would recommend I think most people here have read.
    Selfish Gene, obviously, but if you haven't got around to reading his other books, they're all amazing. Climbing Mount Improbable, The Blind Watchmaker, The God Delusion.
    Again super mainstream: Guns Germs and Steel. I don't care if it's historically accurate. It's still a great read. At least read the first 1/3rd. Once he starts droning on about agriculture it loses it's bite.
    Denial of Death by Earnes Brecker fantastic and hilarious.
    Currently reading Deep Sea by James Nestor. Recommended if you have a mild interest in freediving and some diving history.
    I loved Guns Germs & Steel, though I agree Diamond does have a notable tendency to blather on in places.

    Another good one of his is 'Collapse', which described how and why different societies disintegrated. Talks about Easter island, Greenland Norse, etc. Pretty interesting.
  20. #20
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    Ya ya I know, some of these are obvious, but I would say obvious only to people who read a lot of non-fiction and have read them. Otherwise they're just names of books they might have heard before. I'm sure I've missed a lot of gems, that's why I started this thread.

    Btw I'm frankly a bit disappointed no one's suggested Atlas Shrugged or the Bible yet.
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  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by MadMojoMonkey View Post
    Maybe a Missouri colloquialism in the use of anymore, though. Replace with "lately" if you like.
    Yeah "anymore" is incorrect, though if it's a local dialect thing I'll let it pass.

    Replacing "anymore" with "lately" makes it better, also "presently" or "currently". Better still, drop the word "anymore" completely, and don't replace it.
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    ongies gonna ong
  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by Poopadoop View Post
    Dialects are fucked.
    Have you visited the Midlands? The area is largely made up of two types of people... Brummies and Yam Yams (I'm a Brummie). The Brummies, most people are familiar with the accent. Yam Yams sound similar, but they also say stupid things, like instead of saying "are you going out?", it's "am yow going out?". Hence, Yam Yams.

    Brummie - Yam Yam

    "It wasn't me" - "It wor me"
    "Are you" - "Am yow"
    "I didn't" - "I day"
    "That's yours" - "That's yorn"

    Honestly, I grew up with Yam Yams and still I struggle to understand what the fuck they're saying.
    Last edited by OngBonga; 04-11-2017 at 01:09 PM.
    Quote Originally Posted by wufwugy View Post
    ongies gonna ong
  23. #23
    OngBonga's Avatar
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    How did we get onto local dialect in the nonfiction book thread? Sorry about that.
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    ongies gonna ong
  24. #24
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    I have a broad request: anything early settlers / medhival europe / religious hysteria - related. I was really into Dan Carlin's Prophets of Doom podcast and reading up on the Salem Witch trials after watching The Witch but I'm not sure where to continue. If it's about long time ago and has some graphic violence it's probably what I'm looking for. I'm not picky.
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  25. #25
    Quote Originally Posted by OngBonga View Post
    Have you visited the Midlands? The area is largely made up of two types of people... Brummies and Yam Yams (I'm a Brummie). The Brummies, most people are familiar with the accent. Yam Yams sound similar, but they also say stupid things, like instead of saying "are you going out?", it's "am yow going out?". Hence, Yam Yams.

    Brummie - Yam Yam

    "It wasn't me" - "It wor me"
    "Are you" - "Am yow"
    "I didn't" - "I day"
    "That's yours" - "That's yorn"

    Honestly, I grew up with Yam Yams and still I struggle to understand what the fuck they're saying.

    Where I grew up was about 50 miles from the US border. Our accent was broadly consistent with a Canadian accent in general, which I think is broadly consistent with the accent you would find in the US midwest (I mean accent in terms of pronounciation, not dialect or idiom, which does differ from the US in some fairly minor ways).

    However, if you traveled to within about 15 miles of the border from where I lived, suddenly people started talking with western "cowboy" accents, like you would hear in Montana (the other side of the border), even though you were still in Canada. I never understood that.
  26. #26
    My favourite dialect story comes from when I studied in Oxford for a year. On about my third day there, I was walking down the street when I saw a woman on a bike with a baby about 2 years old in the baby seat.

    The kid had ice cream all over his face, and in this super-posh accent he said "Mummy, wipe my face." She replied "I can't, we're on a bike." And his reply was (I kid you not) "Wipe my face, I say!"

    I almost died.
  27. #27
    Quote Originally Posted by Poopadoop View Post
    My favourite dialect story comes from when I studied in Oxford for a year. On about my third day there, I was walking down the street when I saw a woman on a bike with a baby about 2 years old in the baby seat.

    The kid had ice cream all over his face, and in this super-posh accent he said "Mummy, wipe my face." She replied "I can't, we're on a bike." And his reply was (I kid you not) "Wipe my face, I say!"
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  28. #28
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    There is this book called "Confessions of an Economic Hitman". I haven't put much weight on it back when I read it, but seeing now the CIA shenanigans, turns out there is a massive chance the guy was actually the whistleblower du jour back then and it was actually a nonfiction book ...
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  29. #29
    Quote Originally Posted by Jack Sawyer View Post
    There is this book called "Confessions of an Economic Hitman".
    I read it a while ago, and I remember being really intrigued by the first 20 or so pages. Very spy-novel-ish. Then it gets ultra ultra fucking boring. Honestly, I didn't find anything eye-opening, shocking, or controversial anywhere in the book.

    Basically the guy goes into under-developed countries and convinces them to invest in infrastructure, power plants, or other projects carried out by gigantic American contractors. He convinces them that the investment will result in economic growth that will ultimately pay off the cost of the project.

    So then if the projected economic growth doesn't materialize, then this under-developed, overly indebted country ends up sucking America's dick forever. We can help ourselves to their resources, exploit their cheap labor, even commandeer their land if we need a spot to put an army base.

    I actually don't have a problem with any of that. The author seems to equate 'buyer's remorse' with an 'economic assassination'. If these world leaders are dumb enough to fall for a slick sales pitch, then isn't it better that they end up victimized by America rather than some other, more sinister country?

    I mean, if Indonesia is dumb enough to buy a public monorail system, and they are committed to buying it despite it's utter uselessness, wouldn't you rather they buy it from us instead of North Korea?
  30. #30
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    Quote Originally Posted by BananaStand View Post
    I read it a while ago, and I remember being really intrigued by the first 20 or so pages. Very spy-novel-ish. Then it gets ultra ultra fucking boring. Honestly, I didn't find anything eye-opening, shocking, or controversial anywhere in the book.

    Basically the guy goes into under-developed countries and convinces them to invest in infrastructure, power plants, or other projects carried out by gigantic American contractors. He convinces them that the investment will result in economic growth that will ultimately pay off the cost of the project.

    So then if the projected economic growth doesn't materialize, then this under-developed, overly indebted country ends up sucking America's dick forever. We can help ourselves to their resources, exploit their cheap labor, even commandeer their land if we need a spot to put an army base.

    I actually don't have a problem with any of that. The author seems to equate 'buyer's remorse' with an 'economic assassination'. If these world leaders are dumb enough to fall for a slick sales pitch, then isn't it better that they end up victimized by America rather than some other, more sinister country?

    I mean, if Indonesia is dumb enough to buy a public monorail system, and they are committed to buying it despite it's utter uselessness, wouldn't you rather they buy it from us instead of North Korea?
    Son, I am dissapoint.
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  31. #31
    Quote Originally Posted by Jack Sawyer View Post
    Son, I am dissapoint.
    Me no understand? Why talk as cave man?

    Care to elaborate?

    These countries had money that they were determined to spend. Are you suggesting that America should have come in and said "Nah man, how about you put that in a savings account". Is it our responsibility to be the world's financial adviser?

    If you're at a poker table, with a nut hand, in position, on the river, and it's checked to you.....you should bet, right? Should you check-back just because you're opponent is poor, stupid, drunk, deeply in debt, and doesn't know any better?
  32. #32
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    Quote Originally Posted by BananaStand View Post
    Me no understand? Why talk as cave man?

    Care to elaborate?

    These countries had money that they were determined to spend. Are you suggesting that America should have come in and said "Nah man, how about you put that in a savings account". Is it our responsibility to be the world's financial adviser?

    If you're at a poker table, with a nut hand, in position, on the river, and it's checked to you.....you should bet, right? Should you check-back just because you're opponent is poor, stupid, drunk, deeply in debt, and doesn't know any better?
    On a poker table, your expectation is to be fleeced. There are no allies.

    What happened here was a country sending in operatives who posed as allies to those who had resources but did not know what to do with them, with the pretence of being an ally to assure mutual growth, just to be fleeced every single time.

    Side with your people and you get deposed (like Mossadegh) or killed (like Torrijos).

    I don't see how you can possibly think that this is a good thing, but then again, I'm not really surprised.
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  33. #33
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    Quote Originally Posted by BananaStand View Post
    Me no understand? Why talk as cave man?
    Because

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    Cogito ergo sum

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  34. #34
    Quote Originally Posted by Jack Sawyer View Post
    On a poker table, your expectation is to be fleeced. There are no allies.
    What about the folks who expect to win? What about the players that *think* they're good but really aren't? They aren't expecting to be fleeced are they?

    What happened here was a country sending in operatives who posed as allies
    I think you're being a little too liberal with your definition of 'ally'. It's not like we share bonds of brotherhood with any of these countries. It's not like we owe them any kind of loyalty. Just because someone isn't an enemy, doesn't mean that they are our friend.

    to those who had resources but did not know what to do with them, with the pretence of being an ally to assure mutual growth, just to be fleeced every single time.
    You're totally ignoring the likely consequences of the US leaving these countries alone. You just said, they have resources and they don't know what to do with them. Do you think that the US was the only one knocking on their door? Don't you think that Iran, N. Korea, China, Russia, or any number of other not-so-friendly nations might want to get their hands on those resources too? Are we supposed to just sit by and let it happen just so we can claim some non-exploitative moral high-ground?

    Again, you're conflating the word 'ally' and 'friend'. Nations don't have friends. And 'allies' are only allies for as long as mutual interests don't conflict. I don't see what's wrong with holding leverage to ensure that these poor countries don't pursue conflicting interests.

    Geopolitics can be ugly sometimes. But the alternative is uglier.

    Side with your people and you get deposed (like Mossadegh) or killed (like Torrijos)
    It would be cool read if an ultimatum like this appeared anywhere in the book. But it didn't. It was just a nerd, (not an 'operative' like you said earlier) whose job is to make a sale.

    We don't complain when a fool pays too much for something, or buys something he doesn't really need, because he was convinced by an adept salesman. It's every man for himself in a free market.

    A complete fool is someone who gets dollar signs in their eyes whenever they hear a slick sales proposition. Complete fools should not be running countries (bring on the Trump jokes). And if they are, then being deposed or murdered is probably an inevitability anyway.

    Anyway, teh point of all this was that the book is stupendously boring. There's literally nothing you could get out of the book that you couldn't from reading mine and Jack's posts here. There isn't an interesting person, a meaningful conflict, or a suspenseful event on any page in the book.
    Last edited by BananaStand; 04-14-2017 at 10:51 AM.
  35. #35
    Back on topic.....

    'Think and Grow Rich' has helped my poker game more than any other book out there, despite being published some five or six dozen years before Hold 'Em was invented.
  36. #36
    Grisham's books are great. A real adventure to read. If I was younger, I would become a lawyer,
  37. #37
    He's got a great non-fiction book about a man sentenced to death.
  38. #38
    bigred's Avatar
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    If you're looking for cliffnotes on lifestyle hacking, Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss is solid.
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  39. #39
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    Quote Originally Posted by a500lbgorilla View Post
    Art of Electronics
    Fam, they're memeing this book

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  40. #40
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    Quote Originally Posted by CoccoBill View Post
    The User Illusion: Cutting consciousness down to size - Tor Nørretranders
    The best attempt I've seen at explaining consciousness. An incredibly engaging and insightful study using psychology, evolutionary biology, information theory and other disciplines to dig into what consciousness is. Read this after the previous one, this is one of the best nonfiction books I've read ever.
    I bought this book by the way. And as I held it for the first time, I thought, "God dammit. This is gonna take a while."
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  41. #41
    Quote Originally Posted by Jack Sawyer View Post
    Because

    LOL
  42. #42
    CoccoBill's Avatar
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    The Black Swan - Nicholas Nassim Taleb

    It took me quite a while to finish this, I found his arrogance, condescension and judgemental attitude off-putting and making it quite a drag to read. Anyway, he does have some interesting ideas, and some new ways to look at familiar things regarding risk and randomness.

    Cliff notes:
    - Humans suck at risk management and prediction. We have significant trouble assessing risks related to outlier events, stuff that happens very rarely. We either vastly over- or underestimate their frequency. This is the main message of the book.
    - Most change in human history has been due to black swan events, that is, unforeseen hugely influential singular events, rather than small incremental changes.
    - Economics is broken, it would be far less damaging to use no models at all rather than faulty ones.
    - We also get a neat list of historical philosophers and scientists, who were smart and who disagreed with Taleb. Plato and Gauss were blithering idiots.
    - The words platonic, ludic, mediocristan and extremistan appear roughly 17 times each per page throughout the book. Other than the points mentioned above, the rest is mainly appeals to authority, namedropping, unnecessary play with words, and diatribe against everyone who's ever disagreed with him.
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  43. #43
    MadMojoMonkey's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CoccoBill View Post
    Plato and Gauss were blithering idiots.
    -.-

    Quote Originally Posted by CoccoBill View Post
    Gauss
    ... he means Carl Friedrich Gauss?
    as in: that shape you know as a bell curve? Mathematically, that's a Gaussian curve.
    as in: one of those 4 laws of electricity and magnetism is called Gauss' Law for Magnetism?
    as in: another of those 4 laws is called Gauss' Law for Electric Charge?
    as in: that fucking annoyingly tedious method of solving n equations with n unknowns where you have to solve every equation in terms of one variable, then plug that solution into the next equation, until you're left with one enormous equation which solves for one variable, then you substitute that known value back into the other equations until you finally know all the unknown values? That's called Gaussian substitution.
    etc.

    Quote Originally Posted by CoccoBill View Post
    blithering idiot
    ...
    I know all I need to know about this author.

    Thanks for warning me against this ID10T error.


    EDIT: to add more rant
    Last edited by MadMojoMonkey; 07-05-2017 at 10:53 AM.
  44. #44
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    C.F. Gauss yes. He hates Gaussian curves, since they average out anomalies and leave us blind to black swan events. Ok to be fair, I doubt he thinks Gauss was actually an idiot, that just how his opinions come across from his writing. He probably just thinks everyone who uses Gaussian curves for statistical analysis or dealing with randomness in the wrong scenarios are idiots. He doesn't (or isn't able to) explain or classify what those scenarios are exactly, only gives a few examples. Using Gaussian methods for human height is fine, since even the anomalies are within normal bounds. That is, it's pretty unlikely we'll ever see a person even over 10 feet tall, let alone 20 feet, our heights are on a pretty limited range. En example of where this isn't the case and where not to use them would be with book sales, where a single anomaly (a huge bestseller) can make up a large portion or even the majority of total sales, with no clear upper limit in relation to sales of an average/median book's.
    Our brains have just one scale, and we resize our experiences to fit.

    You wake me up early in the morning to tell me that I'm right? Please wait until I'm wrong.

  45. #45
    Ya, he points out that a lot of fat-tailed distributions can resemble the normal distribution because the rare events may not appear for several hundred (or thousand or whatever) samples, but these rare events can be so far off the mean as to have a huge effect, making the use of the Gaussian curve a poor model of certain phenomena.

    He also wrote a nice paper about how shit p-values and null hypothesis statistical testing are. Not like he's the first one to say that but he did do some nice math.

    http://fooledbyrandomness.com/pvalues.pdf
  46. #46
    That just sounds like lazy maths in the first place rather than him being a clever dude.

    It related back to the point that people doing psychology experiments are psychology majors that use maths in a copy and paste kind of way without realising the subtleties that are involved.

    The thing with maths is it is what it is. It's people applying it badly that makes it look bad.
    Last edited by Savy; 07-05-2017 at 08:03 PM.
  47. #47
    Quote Originally Posted by CoccoBill View Post
    - Humans suck at risk management and prediction. We have significant trouble assessing risks related to outlier events, stuff that happens very rarely. We either vastly over- or underestimate their frequency. This is the main message of the book.
    Examples of both?

    Quote Originally Posted by CoccoBill View Post
    - Most change in human history has been due to black swan events, that is, unforeseen hugely influential singular events, rather than small incremental changes.
    What does he mean by this? Can you give an example? My issue here is with the word most.
  48. #48
    Quote Originally Posted by Poopadoop View Post
    He also wrote a nice paper about how shit p-values and null hypothesis statistical testing are. Not like he's the first one to say that but he did do some nice math.
    Does that not more lead to the point that your (because you are soft sciences) just aren't all that meaningful to begin with? That's why differing results aren't that uncommon because the original point wasn't all that true to begin with.
  49. #49
    Quote Originally Posted by Savy View Post
    Does that not more lead to the point that your (because you are soft sciences) just aren't all that meaningful to begin with? That's why differing results aren't that uncommon because the original point wasn't all that true to begin with.
    Differing results are uncommon not because people don't know the distribution they're dealing with (most things in psychological science is normally distributed because it involves a lot of variables contributing that tend to average out into a Gaussian; in some cases the distributions are skewed or exponential but it's fairly easy to identify when those situations arise). The kinds of fat-tailed distributions Taleb refers to mostly occur in fields like economics afaik.

    Differing results occur for a variety of reasons, the two main ones being that people don't have enough statistical power (i.e., a large enough sample) to allow their result to replicate reliably, and because until recently we have accepted evidence that was not all that compelling. P-values provide a poor metric for the strength of the evidence because they imply a false positive rate that is vastly deflated - it's like saying 'it looks like this must be a real effect because the p-value is statistically significant at p = 0.05' which intuitively seems to mean a false positive rate of 0.05. But such a p-value would have a false positive rate closer to 25%.

    There are other reasons that relate to the use of p-values and the binary nature of the decision process in null hypothesis statistical testing such as p-hacking, optimal stopping, publication bias, and inflation of effect size etc., that would likely be eliminated if the pressure was to publish good, solid science rather than to just publish.

    The neurosciences have a problem because running experiments is costly. Scanning a single person in an fMRI can cost about £400. So they tend to run (too) small sample studies that tend not to replicate reliably.

    Social psychology has a problem because they are often looking for small effects that arguably aren't all that important, and that are difficult to interpret due to statistical noise. The effects can also be sensitive to small changes in the methods that suggests they aren't all that robust.

    My field of human movement tends to produce large effects and it's cheap to run subjects, so I don't run into too many problems with stats. If you get an effect size of 1.5 standard deviations in a sample of n = 20 it's going to replicate close to 100% of the time. Movements are pretty stereotypical, and it doesn't matter if I measure you, an undergrad, or the queen, I'm going to get pretty consistent data from everyone.
  50. #50
    I understand all that. You've basically agreed with my point I think. I'm obviously joking in saying that you are soft sciences.

    I do somewhat think you're underestimating the human bias involved in wanting false results from experiments though. One of the first things I remember learning in my stats class was the nonsense that is things like hair care products that say things like "90% of women agree" then give the stats on who they asked etc and measuring what those results actually mean, almost nothing.

    Off topic, this comic made me laugh yesterday.

    Last edited by Savy; 07-05-2017 at 08:53 PM.
  51. #51
    CoccoBill's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Savy View Post
    Examples of both?
    Things such as shark attacks, terrorism, stock market crashes etc. We either vastly exaggerate the probability and invest way too much in their countermeasures, such as completely avoiding swimming, starting a massive war on terror, building bunkers in backyards. The other option is to completely neglect them in our risk scenarios, and do nothing about them, such as with market crashes. Maybe not great examples, but I'm sure you get the gist. We are really bad at having a measured approach towards these things.

    Quote Originally Posted by Savy View Post
    What does he mean by this? Can you give an example? My issue here is with the word most.
    He argues that most influential single events in economics, science, security etc have been black swan events, and have had a vastly larger impact on human history than the small gradual changes of "normal" events. The major stock market crashes, the assassination of Franz Ferdinand starting WW1, discovery of antibiotics by accident, black death and spanish flu, 9/11.

    He talks about some events being hard to predict due to lack of information, and that they're not black swans for everyone. For example, 9/11 came as a surprise to most people, but not its perpetrators, although maybe the impact of the event did to even them. He does not go on fully explaining which events are not hard to predict due to lack of knowledge, but he clearly doesn't believe in determinism. I can't think of a single event that couldn't be predicted with perfect knowledge.
    Our brains have just one scale, and we resize our experiences to fit.

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  52. #52
    MadMojoMonkey's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CoccoBill View Post
    I can't think of a single event that couldn't be predicted with perfect knowledge.
    If you mean statistically perfect knowledge, then I can agree.
    Otherwise, Quantum Mechanically, very little goes on in a well-defined way which we would consider possible to know with perfect knowledge.
    The uncertainty principle isn't talking about experiments. It's talking about the actual universe's definitions of these properties.
  53. #53
    Quote Originally Posted by CoccoBill View Post
    He argues that most influential single events in economics, science, security etc have been black swan events, and have had a vastly larger impact on human history than the small gradual changes of "normal" events. The major stock market crashes, the assassination of Franz Ferdinand starting WW1, discovery of antibiotics by accident, black death and spanish flu, 9/11.
    I have an issue with calling a lot of these things 'black swans'. It's convenient for his story but it seems like he conflates impactful with improbable at times.

    Stock market crashes: Won't argue with this as these seem like classic fat tail distributions where effects snowball in a feedback loop. Once a few people start panic-selling, everyone starts doing it.

    Assassination of F.F. : I mean the Austrians even saw that one coming. Again, the fact that it snowballed into a full blown world war doesn't mean the event itself was improbable (or at least not highly improbable). The A-H empire was repressing a lot of ethnic groups and the fact that a few guys in one of them decided to pop a cap in the heir's ass is not a huge surprise.

    Antibiotics: Is it rare that a major medical discovery comes from a moldy sandwich? Sure. Is it rare that major discoveries happen serendipitiously? Not really. Finding stuff out by accident is pretty common in science- you start working on a problem and it's on your mind all day long and while it may be a surprise that you find the answer somewhere unexpected, it's not a black swan event imo. Again, might have a huge impact but doesn't mean it was extremely rare.

    Epidemics: Out of all the zillions of bugs going around, every once in a while there's a perfect storm of a deadly bug and solid transmission lines. How the fuck is this a surprise? It seems more inevitable than anything to me.

    9/11: It's debatable whether this was what it's been set out to be and not a false flag. If the latter, those certainly aren't black swans -only the scale was larger than normal.
    Last edited by Poopadoop; 07-06-2017 at 02:16 PM.
  54. #54
    Quote Originally Posted by Savy View Post

    I do somewhat think you're underestimating the human bias involved in wanting false results from experiments though.


    One of the first things I remember learning in my stats class was the nonsense that is things like hair care products that say things like "90% of women agree" then give the stats on who they asked etc and measuring what those results actually mean, almost nothing.
    That goes on, but the example you give is hardly science. Just because someone played hard and fast with the data to market their hair product doesn't mean that's standard practice for real scientists.
  55. #55
    Quote Originally Posted by Poopadoop View Post
    That goes on, but the example you give is hardly science. Just because someone played hard and fast with the data to market their hair product doesn't mean that's standard practice for real scientists.
    Yeah it wasn't meant to be it was just a good example of how you can say things which aren't true in ways which make them sound plausible. You will know better than me obviously but there are plenty of pressures on professors, universities, etc to get things done be that getting funding, things published etc. All of which are good enough reasons for people to manipulate things to their advantage.
  56. #56
    Quote Originally Posted by CoccoBill View Post
    Things such as shark attacks, terrorism, stock market crashes etc. We either vastly exaggerate the probability and invest way too much in their countermeasures, such as completely avoiding swimming, starting a massive war on terror, building bunkers in backyards. The other option is to completely neglect them in our risk scenarios, and do nothing about them, such as with market crashes. Maybe not great examples, but I'm sure you get the gist. We are really bad at having a measured approach towards these things.
    Ok but then what is a measured approach? Does this ever come up in the book? If it's just saying look at all these things we do badly without any attempt to push at getting better at those things I think the book sounds less interesting.
  57. #57
    CoccoBill's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Savy View Post
    Ok but then what is a measured approach? Does this ever come up in the book? If it's just saying look at all these things we do badly without any attempt to push at getting better at those things I think the book sounds less interesting.
    The actual original book is about 300 pages and it barely touches that. The edition I read also included a notes-section of close to 100 pages written some years after the release, they go a bit deeper, but mainly just with anecdotes. He had a single good idea, noticing that we tend to overlook outlier events and that's pretty serious in the grand scheme of things. He however has no answers to this and the rest of the book is just reiteration.

    Gave the book 3/5 stars on goodreads, read if the subject matter tickles your fancy, but overall it's not a great book imo. Oh, I'll need to update the first post. Henceforth, this thread shall be about nonfiction book reviews and discussion like proper book clubs, not just recommendations. Edit: WTH, I can't edit it.
    Our brains have just one scale, and we resize our experiences to fit.

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  58. #58
    CoccoBill's Avatar
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    Finished A Little History of the World. Fantastic. From ancient Sumeria to WW2, reads like a children's story. 5/5
    Our brains have just one scale, and we resize our experiences to fit.

    You wake me up early in the morning to tell me that I'm right? Please wait until I'm wrong.

  59. #59
    Grunching:

    On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century By Timothy Snyder

    It was written before the election, during Trump's rise and publish just before or just after inauguration. The author doesn't pretend current events didn't inspire the book, but the book is not focused on Trump and actually is very instructive even to the person who thought Obama was a tyrant, or the person who lives elsewhere, or in the future, or whatever. Point being, this isn't a partisan pamphlet-- if those opposed to Trump are right, it's a playbook for what might be to come. If they're wrong, it's a great play book incase a would be tyrant does in fact start to rise to power.

    It costs $5 on Amazon and will take you an hour or so to read.

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