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In the spirit of interdisciplinary studies, and sharing good reads. Anybody have anything to recommend? Fiction, non-fiction? Have at it,


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    Harry Potter nad the Methods of Rationality - fiction and the title says it all.

    Unsong - fiction which is quite hard to describe without spoiling it.

    Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid - explores how recursion and self reference can create complex behaviour.

    And I also highly recommended Metamorphosis of prime intellect mentioned by Hobbes.

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      I would also recommend Unsong (United Nations Subcommittee On the Names of God). The premise is that the arcane rules of the Kabbalah system of Jewish mysticism became manifest in the world in 1968, when the members of the Apollo 8 mission read from scripture while orbiting the moon. In the present day, there are various groups seeking to use or abuse Kabbalistic mechanisms as the laws of physics slowly collapse around them. Would recommend to anyone with a programmer’s appreciation of rule systems, or anyone who likes Jewish thought.

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        YAY GEB: The Eternal Golden Braid! I’m 3/4 of the way through it now. What a ride!

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          I spent about a month reading it (I was out of work and did little else for the month). I could split my life experience into the time before, and the time after, reading GEB.

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        Capitalist Realism (2009) is a slim (81-page) analysis of contemporary capitalism, focused especially on the psychology of modern workplaces.

        Silence on the Wire: A Field Guide to Passive Reconnaissance and Indirect Attacks (2005) is an engaging exposition of information leaks, timing attacks, etc. It’s about a decade out of date now, but so far (I’m about 20% through it) is still a good overview of the various, sometimes surprising, ways these kinds of problems can arise. (Ok, this one’s not really off-topic.)

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          Seconding Capitalist Realism. Thought provoking. It’s more about how people thinking about capitalism as the end game rather than capitalism itself, so it avoids falling into the “here’s all the places capitalism has failed us” trap. Instead it’s about opening the mind to possibilities.

          There’s a couple pages in there that digress into some rant-y stuff about mental disorders and that I found pretty insulting (and felt pretty uninformed), but otherwise it covers a lot without being very prescriptive.

          I would want every member of Democratic Party leadership to read this and internalize it.

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          The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect (NSFW, some parts significantly distasteful and arguably not necessary for the story. You have been warned.)

          It’s a story about a strong general AI that accidentally gains the ability to manipulate matter and energy at all scales. Kinda Lovecraftian. Note that this is old-skool “symbolic logic” AI, not this ML stuff.

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            The Human Factor - long-form article from vanity fair on how airplanes mostly fly themselves and the crash of Air France Flight 447.

            24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep

            Lean Out: The Struggle for Gender Equality in Tech and Start-Up Culture

            Mathematics, Form and Function

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              If you liked Langewiesche’s writing on flight 447 you’ll like this. Chilren of the Magenta

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                Wow this sounds like a fascinating study! Thanks for the pointer! I can see all kinds of potential avenues for study and comparison in capitalism versus communism versus communalism etc etc.

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                The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin: short but very thought-provoking novel about playing god, in some ways an exploration of Taoist thought. Shades of Philip K. Dick.

                The Pizza Book by Aaron Quint and Michael Bernstein: what it says on the cover. Learning the tricks of making really good pizza is tons of fun.

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                  I’ll second The Lathe of Heaven.

                  Another great one: The Book: On The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are by Alan Watts

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                  The Name of the Rose is fiction, but a great way to explain semoitics and the study of meaning.

                  Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid is the closest you’ll ever get to seeing inside the mind of a pure genius in action.

                  It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis is an important read for all Americans.

                  Anything by Terry Pratchett if you want to laugh until you cry, and occasionally be profoundly moved.

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                    Fiction, fantasy: The wheel of time (saga by Robert Jordan).

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                      Critique of Everyday Life. Almost completed my workthrough, but largely reading anything that expands my model of my world I see as a positive.

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                        Conspicuous Consumption by Thorstein Veblen. This is a small book written over 100 years ago that changed my perception of culture dramatically. It explains that many of our actions are signals to others that communicate our position in society. Likewise, we recognise these signals. For example, by speaking a foreign language you signal that you have the time and money available to learn it. The book states many of these things as facts without providing empirical evidence as we would expect from a modern book. I still found it believable. The strong layering of society as described in this book is somewhat uncomfortable and I wonder wether it is indeed still true.

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                          If you’re looking out for it, you can see it all over in the real world (assuming you’re in the US, the only country I personally can make these kinds of observations about, but I imagine the trend is pretty general).

                          Drive through neighborhoods and commerce centers across the class spectrum and you’ll have a thousand examples.

                          Here are some big middle vs lower class indicators

                          • Spacious houses with manicured lawns
                          • Cars manufactured in the last few years
                          • Luxury clothing, like leather shoes, raw denim jeans (very popular in Silicon Valley), or well made button down shirts of nice fabric
                          • Expensive sunglasses, watches, wallets, purses, and other non-essential accessories
                          • Jogging tends to be a white middle class thing
                          • Healthy food tends to be expensive, and exercise requires time and energy outside of work, so physical health can be an indicator

                          None of these are scientific facts, or if they are, I haven’t bothered to look them up, so don’t take them that way. But they’re mostly all readily apparent if your life takes you through neighborhoods of various income levels.

                          And, at least in the US, neighborhoods are highly stratified by income level (and often race).

                          Now, whether or not these differences are because some people are trying to indicate status, that can’t be discerned from this kind of observation. I suspect intention isn’t nearly as important as people make it out to be.

                          Anyway, food for thought.

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                            The book Class: A Guide Through the American Status System by Paul Fussell is a bit dated but still right on the mark in its insights. It’s a fun read.

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                              I’ve read it and it is quite amusing. I remember: in sports, games played with a small ball have higher status: golf and tennis versus basketball or soccer.

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                                I like the books I’ve read by Fussell. The Great War and Modern Memory is great.

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                              You might like Spent: Sex, Evolution, and Consumer Behavior by Geoffrey Miller. He covers the social signaling aspects of consumer behavior well.

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                              The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse.

                              Set in the 23rd century, ‘The Glass Bead Game’ is the story of Joseph Knecht, who has been raised in Castalia, the remote place his society has provided for the intellectual elite to grow and flourish. Since childhood, Knecht has been consumed with mastering the Glass Bead Game, which requires a synthesis of aesthetics and scientific arts, such as mathematics, music, logic, and philosophy.

                              The game itself is more of a backdrop rather than the main subject of the novel. It’s an extremely thought provoking book.

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                                  Fiction: The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen