Explores the consequences of consciousness being just a pattern. Would it continue if the pattern is paused? Seems yes, since we survive being unconscious. So we move in space and time, but still consciousness feels continuous.
What if you pause it, destroy it, recreate it somewhere else. Would it not continue then as well (the classic teleporter question). But it doesn't stop here.
What if you destroy it, but it just happens to continue somewhere else? Then it should continue there as well. So if you think that teleportation would not mean death, then you kind of have to accept that if anywhere in the universe at any time the same pattern exists when you die, then you can't really die because you'll just continue on from there instead.
Not sure I accept it, but it's certainly mind-bending to think about!
For mind games: The Quantum Thief by Hannu Rajaniemi.
Plus for a related rabbit hole: the idea that a random pattern can just pop into existence and have consciousness is basically the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boltzmann_brain concept.
I can plausibly see life extension technology arising that gives me hundreds, or even thousands of extra years of life. It doesn't seem entirely impossible to extend that premise to millions of years, but at billions it doesn't really seem fathomable, and trillions seems to be well beyond what we know about the likely fate of the universe. And once I accepted that inevitability, it suddenly seemed a lot more plausible that my time left was probably closer to decades than even centuries, let alone anything beyond that. There were definitely a fair few existential crises in the weeks and months after finishing that book.
The emergence of a Boltmann brain is on the scale of "all iron stars collapse via quantum tunnelling into black holes"
The next milestone is all matter decaying, and the universe being empty..
EEG traces of the brain show this. When you are awake, drowsy, asleep, or under anesthesia, the patterns of your brain waves are very different [0,1]. But, the brain is not 'paused', it's just firing differently than when you are awake or drowsy.
So, the 'pattern' is not just 3-D, it's 4-D. You need time as well. You'd need to transport the 'trace' over vast distances, scales, and times.
 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3288763/ Figure 1, in particular
I know brain measurements show that our brains operates differently during sleep, but we may still be concious, at least internally.
Have you ever had the same "sleep stage 1" experience I have?
If I start to fall asleep in the living room around people, their voices seem to become louder, I am aware of what they are saying, their sentences make sense. Yet, if I am suddenly awaken to full alertness, I will have no memory of what they were specifically talking about, although I do remember that I heard them talking. It's as though the ability to form memories went away before full conciousness went away. I believe this is a common experience, and I was fascinated when this pattern was first pointed out to me.
This one is actually a little different. There is much much less activity under anesthetic vs sleeping. There are even theories that going under general anesthetic actually causes some small degree of brain damage due to the shutdown.
Also take a trip to his website  if you haven't yet.
He also never thinks small. I thought I knew "the point" of Diaspora about 6 or 7 times, but then he just "zoomed out" and made the last point look small and trivial by comparison. The opening chapter of that book is so abstract and yet describes the birth of a consciousness in a way that feels understandable, believable, and internally consistent.
If you love finding interesting puzzles to reason about, then I strongly recommend Egan's books!
I haven't read Permutation City, though. I'm bumping this one to the top of the queue :)
It just comes down to my preferences for what kind of itch I liked scratched the most. Egan stretches my brain and makes me wonder at the complexity of complexity. But Banks makes me yearn for the future. Demonstrates what wonders could be possible if we fast forward technological development forward 10k years.
The magnificent intellects of the artificial minds that govern the society hits me in my soul. What a wonderful idea.
"Eternal return (also known as eternal recurrence) is a theory that the universe and all existence and energy has been recurring, and will continue to recur, in a self-similar form an infinite number of times across infinite time or space.
The theory is found in Indian philosophy and in ancient Egypt as well as Judaic wisdom literature (Ecclesiastes) and was subsequently taken up by the Pythagoreans and Stoics [and] Nietzsche..."
Scott's MO through all of his books is to write about free will, specifically the idea that we don't possess it and that our brain makes decisions by itself and that consciousness is an illusion.
It presents a well-chosen sci-fi story that explores an extreme modification to one of the parameters of consciousness, followed by an essay analyzing the consequences of that thought experiment.
• "The Unconscious as Infinite Sets" by Ignacio Matte Blanco. Reformulates Freud in logico-mathematical terms and establishes a formal system (bi-logic) to describe unconsciousness phenomena: in case you ever wanted to apply category theory to study yourself.
• "The Protracted Game" by Scott Boorman. Interprets Maoist's revolutionary strategies during 1927 - 1949 period as a game of Go. Interesting both from historical, military, and game-theoretical perspective; raised an appreciation of Eastern wisdom and 'board games as a tool of thought'  for me.
• "The Unwritten Laws of Engineering" by W. J. King. Written in 1944, but the advice is still relevant, more so to the software engineering field. Should be at least skimmed at any part of your career.
• "The Myth of Sisyphus" by Alber Camus. Unequivocally answers the most important question there is — does life have meaning, and if not, should you kill yourself over it? I read it in my teens while wrestling with existential dread, and lived a somewhat happy and interesting life ever after.
: There's also "Laws of the Game" by Eigen & Winkler that describes natural phenomena as glass-bead games with various rules.
This is the only case in my life where I wanted to adopt author's philosophy and learn to see the world the way they do. The content is very interdisciplinary and heavily borrows from various fields (psychoanalysis, dynamic systems theory, biology, linguistics &c) and will surely appeal to a technically minded person.
Books like that, I think there is a lot of value in just diving in and seeing what happens. I would highly recommend it.
i see now that wikipedia states that spencer-brown claimed applications of his approach to big conjectures that never panned out, so now i am extra dubious. it makes sense now why people would go off and try that out.
There are some papers/presentations about applications of ideas based on these laws: circuit optimizations, query engines, various "iconic" algebras [2, 3]; I, like you, have a hard time buying all that (ditto author's claims about Reimann hypothesis), but still, it sounds pretty damn interesting and innovative, e.g. examples of multiplication/addition in 1st vol. of "Iconic Math" were eye-opening and intuitive for me, as a person with kinaesthetic learning style, in a sense that I deeper understood what "number" and "to calculate" mean; it also promotes the invention of various ad-hoc calculi and notations, of which I am a big fan of.
For me, the greatest thing about LoF is cross-fertilization: esoterical mumbo-jumbo benefits from formalization and mathematical approach, while technical disciplines find their root in the spiritual ground; that and the thought experiment of building the world from nothing. It bridges "above" and "below", and kinda reminds me of .
I've read both "Stories of Your Life and Others" and "Exhalation" in the last month and I turned to my wife and said "that story just blew my mind" for probably 75% of the stories.
You can find a few online. Here is a very short but brain-tickling example: https://www.nature.com/articles/35014679
All of his stories are good though.
I’d recommend True Names by Vernor Vinge and After Life by Simon Funk if you like Ted Chiang: https://sifter.org/~simon/AfterLife/
Made it hard for me to get emotionally invested in his stories, and I found them a bit of a slog to get through.
Not sure if I'll give his other books a read, but I might.
He has a background in Computer Science, by the way, for those that might be interested.
Erich Fromm's The Sane Society - on how society impacts people's mental health, and how to build towards a sane society
Fromm's The Art Of Loving - an analysis of different kinds of loves, trying to dispel pop culture's lies about love, and love is actually hard work
Ernest Becker's The Denial of Death - on how not our fear, but our complete denial of death existing leads to the weirdest outcomes in our society
Then there's political stuff -
Orwell's Essays, any large-ish collection. I find Orwell to be a much, much better non-fiction writer than fiction writer. Extremely insightful into political processes.
Robert Caro's books, perhaps the first The Years Of Lyndon B Johnson. Can't get better insights into how power works on a local and not-so-local level.
Popper's Open Society and its enemies, hard to summarise - a defense of Western society in light of the then-ongoing WW2. You probably saw the paradox of tolerance a few times pop up, that's from that book, among a ton of other stuff.
HN is very insular in its interests as you can see with many posts here repeating. Midwives' recommended books probably have a higher chance of truly bending your mind into novel directions.
Law enforcement: https://www.reddit.com/r/ProtectAndServe/comments/gc13w5/mus...
Any of the Ask* subreddits usually have practitioners answer: https://www.reddit.com/r/AskAnthropology/comments/bl759q/ant...
Explains why we choose brands over cheaper alternatives, why we're willing to pay a lot more to lock in a deal, why we hate registering before buying the thing (but are more than happy to do so right after), why Sony removed the record button from the first Walkman, and much more.
This book forever changed the way I think about brands, and improved my design and problem-solving skills.
A couple of Rory's rules:
• The opposite of a good idea can also be a good idea.
• Test counterintuitive things only because no one else will.
A couple of "mind games" from the book:
• Merely adding a geographical or topographical adjective to food – whether on a menu in a restaurant or on packaging in a supermarket – allows you to charge more for it and means you will sell more.
• "There's your problem," I said. "It doesn't matter what something tastes like in blind tastings, if you put 'low in fat' or any other health indicators on the packaging, you'll make the contents taste worse."
Abbeys about more, of course. He had that rare ability to turn his book into something that felt like a direct conversation with me, the reader. I read him in my 20s and his viewpoint definitely connects with someone wanting to examine and express his/herself first before society’s overwhelming influence. He discusses trying to free himself from the conceptual confines of the human individual and societal experience while isolated in a national park. Quinn uses a hypothetical conversation between a gorilla and a person to highlight the fundamental us versus them approach humans take with the rest of earth. Then Franz de Waal really drives home that animals are likely to be much more mentally capable than we give them credit. They’re good books if you want to know something more about the universe than what your human experience is.
Edit-corrected book title.
This book makes every bit of life advice you receive afterwards feel shallow. It feels like a reference to western thought.
It's also very well translated and reads very easily, and is very short. I read about a chapter every morning when I feel motivated, and certain passages really stick in my head.
It also helps to read whenever you feel overcome with emotion because of something.
For instance, what is the point of empathy/friendship/love in a technologically advanced society? These were very useful things for our ancestors to help each other battle the harsh environment, but we have mastered our environment, so why waste brain power on empathy now?
The Wikipedia summarizes the books discussion of conciousness very well:
"The novel raises questions about the essential character of consciousness. Is the interior experience of consciousness necessary, or is externally observed behavior the sole determining characteristic of conscious experience? Is an interior emotional experience necessary for empathy, or is empathic behavior sufficient to possess empathy?
It looks like Blindsight is also still available for free on the author's website .
> To Mock a Mockingbird and Other Logic Puzzles: Including an Amazing Adventure in Combinatory Logic (1985, ISBN 0-19-280142-2) is a book by the mathematician and logician Raymond Smullyan. It contains many nontrivial recreational puzzles of the sort for which Smullyan is well known. It is also a gentle and humorous introduction to combinatory logic and the associated metamathematics, built on an elaborate ornithological metaphor.
Here's an example puzzle from the first half (the second half deals with combinatory logic):
> Suppose I offer to give you one of three prizes-Prize A, Prize B, or Prize C. Prize A is the best of the three, Prize B is middling, and Prize C is the booby prize. You are to make a statement; if the statement is true, then I promise to award you either Prize A or Prize B, but if your statement is false, then you get Prize C-the booby prize.
> Of course it is easy for you to be sure to win either Prize A or Prize B; all you need say is: "Two plus two is four." But suppose you have your heart set on Prize A-what statement could you make which would force me to give you Prize A?
Good enough. All this sort of thing becomes a Genie problem if you think about it too much. We all get what the solution means.
The answer is false and evaluation is true until the prize is actually given. Then the answer becomes true and the evaluation false.
I wonder if the question could be reworded somehow to say that the prize being awarded and the statement being evaluated true/false will happen at the same instant without taking the fun out of it.
I don't see how "evaluation of the future" is relevant. The person hosting the game has laid out the conditions for his actions. If you say "you will not give me prize B in response to this statement":
1) If the host were to give you prize B, that would be a contradiction, as that would make your statement false, so you should have received C.
2) If the host were to give you prize C, that would be a contradiction, as that would make your statement true; per the rules, you should not have received prize C (or logically equivalent: you should have received one of A or B).
3) If the host were to give you prize A, there is no contradiction.
The only action the host can make, while honoring the rules they laid out, is to give you prize A. The host, assuming they're decent at logic (which is a premise of such problems), would consider the above and realize that they must give you prize A. There's no need for reading the future; they must merely know what actions they are permitted to make given the rules of the game, and given only one valid course of action, they must take take that action.
@Carapace I find joy in discussing the validity of answers like this and such discussion is not possible without posting the answer first. I do feel sorry if I spoiled someone the joy of puzzling themselves though.
Okay, so what does one will receive mean, if it doesn't reference the future???
Here's an example (SPOILER ALERT: with solution) of what I mean. The English version is just a verbose translation of a simple Boolean table.
:date: 2014-02-01 10:56
:summary: A solution to the Three Hats puzzle.
I recently ran across a `cool puzzle site`_. Here is one of the puzzles
and a solution:
There are 3 black hats and 2 white hats in a box. Three men (we will
call them A, B, & C) each reach into the box and place one of the
hats on his own head. They cannot see what color hat they have
chosen. The men are situated in a way that A can see the hats on B &
C's heads, B can only see the hat on C's head and C cannot see any
hats. When A is asked if he knows the color of the hat he is wearing,
he says no. When B is asked if he knows the color of the hat he is
wearing he says no. When C is asked if he knows the color of the hat
he is wearing he says yes and he is correct. What color hat and how
can this be?
.. class:: attribution caption
~ `Three Hats`_
I'm going to call the three men Alan, Bob, and Chuck.
First, let's imagine what Alan might be able to see. There are four
Bob's Hat Chuck's Hat
Since there are only two white hats, if Alan sees that both Bob's and
Chuck's hats are white his own hat would have to be black. In other
words, by admitting that he can't tell which hat he is wearing Alan is
saying that either or both of Bob's and Chuck's hats are black. If we
eliminate the case of both hats being white we are left with three
Bob's Hat Chuck's Hat
From this it should be easy to see that if Bob sees that Chuck's hat is
white his own hat would have to be black. Bob would be uncertain of the
color of his own hat only if Chuck's hat is black. So Chuck, being no
dummy, can conclude that his own hat is black.
It's an elegant puzzle with a very simple and satisfying solution.
.. _cool puzzle site: http://wuriddles.com/
.. _Three Hats: http://wuriddles.com/easy.shtml#3hats
"Psycho-cybernetics" by Maxwell Maltz. A plastic surgeon shares his techniques for achieving your goals in life. 95% if not more of self-help books today borrow (consciously or not) ideas discussed in this book, and often discuss them with much less depth.
For fiction, “Blood Meridian” by Cormac McCarthy, “100 Years of Solitude” by Marquez, and “Song of Solomon” by Toni Morrison (or really anything by Toni Morrison, it’s all amazing).
Also, Thich Nhat Hanh’s translation of the Heart Sutra, “The Other Shore”, gave me a much deeper understanding of my meditative practice and the way I understand consciousness.
I read Decartes in high school during the teenage existential crises we all go through and it blew my mind. Opened me up to the power of thinking from first principles and a love of philosophy and questioning everything. Cogito, ergo sum!
"Atlas Shrugged" gets a lot of hate, but it's a phenomenally important book. It was one of those that completely consumed me during the read. I could not put it down – stayed up late, work up early, and rushed home from work to get back to it.
"Rework", "Getting Real", the other books by the old 37signals crew, and of course "The Lean Startup" really changed the way I thought about software development and business. I credit them for much of my startup/programming success.
Taleb's Incerto series changed how I thought about investing, risk, and life in general. "Fooled by Randomness" and "Antifragile" are especially good.
A powerful excerpt from the book:
'So the thing to do when working on a motorcycle, as in any other task, is to cultivate the peace of mind which does not separate one’s self from one’s surroundings. When that is done successfully then everything else follows naturally. Peace of mind produces the right values, the right values produce the right thoughts. Right thoughts produce right actions and right actions produce work which will be a material reflection for others to see of the serenity at the center of it all.'
There were a few insightful passages, but most of the book was pretentious rambling. It was difficult to understand what the author was even trying to say, with his head so far up his butt. It has a promising beginning, but becomes increasingly dense and confusing.
Quality is the ability of a thing to do its job. Chasing the definition of that word doesn't warrant a spiral into insanity.
I feel this way about Catcher in the Rye. My English teacher recommended it to me obviously on the basis that I was an angsty teenager that would identify with Holden Caulfield. But what a pile of crap it is. I still want back the hours I wasted on reading that stupid boring book.
I didn't enjoy it either when I was reading it, but later appreciated that it depicted a certain kind of angst— that of someone leaving childhood for adulthood, feeling anxious and threatened by this shift, and wishing to just remain as the most adult-like child (the "catcher in the rye" that gives the book its title) instead of having to go through that awkward period of being the most childlike adult.
Under that reading, it's much less irritating, because Holden isn't supposed to be valorized, just understood.
I can't possibly so how the teacher thought suggesting that book to an angsty teen to be a good idea. That's the time kids need to have their world opened, not their angst re-affirmed. Very strange.
Tried to read it again in my early 30s and stopped about 20 pages in, just thought it was terrible.
Reading secondary literature gave me some context about Pirsig's own mental illness and his struggles overcoming his son's death, but in the end I was still disappointed.
Edit: Also, it's not about motorcycles at all. If you are interested in motorcycle travel, read Ted Simon's Jupiter's Travels instead.
Better books on motorcycling are "Long Way Round" by McGregor and Boorman or anything by Peter Egan.
Pirsig's ZatAoMM is my all-time favorite book, though I didn't finish it at first reading. The trick before reading it is not to put the book into a cubbyhole of personal preexisting expectations. It's not a travel book. It's a personal journey of discovery that just happens to be on a motorcycle. Essentially, Pirsig's bike trip is a metaphor to revisit his fragmented past and forgotten identity through the lens of a curious mind. It's a personal quest to know who he is (and was) and what in life has value that lasts.
For me, the book was transcendent.
For me the takeaways were:
1. Getting into a state of 'flow' is the ideal way to work.
2. Being dependent on technology one doesn't understand (& hence on people who do understand it) is an unpleasant fact of modern life.
3. Our culture still hasn't shaken the tendency to denigrate pleasure, and the subjective in general.
You have to balance the idea and quantity of a piece to describe it's properties. Then you can rank it into a hierarchy. The UK runs on this principle of reception and qualitative judgement.
Turning the brain off with "peace of mind" is necessary, can't be thinking up new ideas and directing thoughts when you are in a state of reception, nor can you be excessively self-aware of your own being.
I haven't read Zen, it seems boring to be in that state of reception all the time, to me.
He was an English teacher trying to judge the quality of rhetoric though, which doesn’t have a job other than to be quality.
I prefer a book like Siddartha by HH. The lessons are there, but the interpretation is open and the narrative is not compromised. You start reading it and you don't want to stop reading it because you're now part of Siddharta's journey. You’re no expecting the punch line that has the lesson, you simply live the story and therefore live the lesson.
Still the best random buy I ever did.
One of the things I really miss of my Italian youth is having tons of quality bookshops at every corner. England outside London is sorely lacking in that respect.
Both of these books had a big influence on Phil Jackson — the Bulls basketball coach. His interpretation was to not “force” things — to let them unfold.
So, for coding it could be applied by not forcing solutions and instead really calmly contemplating a system until you get to a point where the next right decision reveals itself. The idea being that the solution is there, and you just have to be open to it — rather than seeing yourself as some separate entity that’s going to impose a solution on it.
> Prince Wang's programmer was coding software. His fingers danced upon the keyboard. The program compiled without an error message, and the program ran like a gentle wind.
"Excellent!" the Prince exclaimed. "Your technique is faultless!"
"Technique?" said the programmer, turning from his terminal. "What I follow is Tao -- beyond all techniques! When I first began to program, I would see before me the whole problem in one mass. After three years, I no longer saw this mass. Instead, I used subroutines. But now I see nothing. My whole being exists in a formless void. My senses are idle. My spirit, free to work without a plan, follows its own instinct. In short, my program writes itself. True, sometimes there are difficult problems. I see them coming, I slow down, I watch silently. Then I change a single line of code and the difficulties vanish like puffs of idle smoke. I then compile the program. I sit still and let the joy of the work fill my being. I close my eyes for a moment and then log off."
Prince Wang said, "Would that all of my programmers were as wise!"
I think I am not getting it because that just sounds like thinking about things and designing stuff.
I mean, sometimes, I focus on getting the right primitives so that the rest of the decisions just naturally fall out from that, but I'm not sure that's what you meant.
So, I think we’ve all been there with coding where in either a rush, or driven by ego to solve the problem in some impressive way, we kind of get ourselves tied up. But when we calm our mind, it’s easier to see, “oh, I can just leverage this little change”.
In general life, as an odd monkey wandering around a built environment, that's Zen. The categories being challenged include such fundamental ones as "Self/Other"
In coding, identifying categories and choosing to perceive them or ignore them is fundamental to debugging. "The variable claims it's $foo; but I see back there it was set to $bar...." Strip away a layer of assumptions, and look underneath at what is _really_ there.
Iterated, this is what leads you to understanding performance all the way down to the silicon.
Sometimes you know that Door A is by far the "right" choice, but maybe it's the harder one. Taking a minute to drop your ego may make the choice easier. "Yeah, A is hard now, but B will bring much more pain later."
It may help to frame you decisions based on the hypothetical "1000x programmer". You acknowledge that this programmer is the absolute best. Every choice they make is literary a life or death decision, so they always make the right choice. What would they do in this situation? They would write that unit test!
Other times you don't know which one is the "right" choice. In those cases it actually doesn't matter, does it? Worrying about what may happen if you choose "wrong" will not change what's on either side of the doors.
Choose one and get on to the next set of doors. If you weren't happy with the outcome don't beat yourself up over it, instead use what you learned to better inform your future decisions.
Infinite Jest is also great, if you haven't read it. It gets a lot of bad press mostly due to being fetishized by a particular type of insufferable person. The book has its flaws, but is a great piece of writing and (depending how old you are, where you are in life, etc) may offer a different lens. Also, the writing is excellent.
The dialogues made it feel like experiencing isolation and disconnection from other people; the characters talk to each other, but don't listen or care for anyone but themselves or the ones/things they deify.
The thing is, I think that was kind of the point of the book (at least as far as I read). But I couldn't handle it. That, on top of the many paragraphs of needlessly esoteric language he peppers in, made me feel like I was reading a book written for someone else.
Should I go back and finish the book? What makes it compelling to others?
If it helps anyone decide whether to give it a go, two recent books I read and loved were 2666 by Roberto Bolaño, and Underworld by Don DeLillo, and Infinite Jest is satisfying me in the hard-earned way they both did.
Tried again about 5 years later and loved it. I suppose you just have to be in the right mindset when you approach it.
House of Leaves has a very uninteresting plot, and raises more questions than it answers. It's physically painful to read, because most pages, you have to rotate the entire book every which way since the words go in spirals.
Infinite Jest is good, but way too long. A good 70% of the book could have been cut out or condensed. The writing is also intentionally bad, which makes it harder to read. There are definitely good lines, but it's kind of like DFW used a random sentence generator and some of the lines just happened to be amazing, but 90% of it is garbage.
>depending how old you are, where you are in life, etc may offer a different lens.
Could you elaborate more on this? I am curious. Maybe I could be right now in that situation. So in that case it would be optimal to start reading it now instead of in a year or two.
 "So Good They Can’t Ignore You" by Cal Newport. It changed the way I look at my career and how I view my personal development.
 ADP 6-22 Army Leadership and the Profession by the US Army. Looking past the militaristic stuff, it made me change the way I see leader/subordinate relationships and how to start becoming a person others can depend on and look up to.
Also, FYI, all of these publications are free online. Here is the Army one you linked to: https://armypubs.army.mil/epubs/DR_pubs/DR_a/pdf/web/ARN2003...
If you have difficulty interacting with people
1. How to win friends and influence people (Easy read)
2. Seven habits of highly effective people (Harder read)
To learn how to write well:
On writing well
To understand how large products are made:
Show Stopper!: The Breakneck Race to Create Windows NT
Disclaimer: I only read a small, initial part of the book, and I'll explain the reasons behind this.
For one, I liked the initial parts of it; for example, remembering first names is a nice and very attentive thing to do, and in general people appreciate it when I can remember their first name after meeting them a second and third time.
On the other side, I found it to be of a very manipulative nature (shouldn't be a surprise; the title contains an "influence people" part), which rubbed me the wrong way; the book presents some techniques that help you get "what you want," but are quite superficial and hollow, i.e., you only pretend to be interested. That's why I decided to stop reading the book.
The conflicting part in all this is the fact that I see this book recommended all the time (and it's one of the best-selling books of all-time), but I just cannot ignore its manipulative nature.
It might be that I'm simply not part of its target audience or that I'm misinterpreting the messages in the book.
Nonetheless, I'd be interested to read your (and other fellow HNers) comments on this book.
I didn't come away with the impression that the techniques are intended to be used in a hollow, phony way, so much as to show the reader a set of steps to get started toward genuinely showing interest in other people.
Not everyone can jump right in to Siddhartha or Zen and the Art or some of these heavier books that might take people out of their default self-absorption towards greater awareness of other people and their needs, but Carnegie wrote something that is easy to access and get people started down a path.
No. The book requires you to take a "genuine interest in people" and must repeat that seven dozen times. It also dismisses flattery and smoke-blowing and favors legitimate praise. I think sincerity is one of the key takeaways (and also the hardest parts to master) of that great book.
For me, I’ve often been teased for missing certain “obvious” gestures my whole life. But I’m not bad with people.
Since I’m naturally an optimist and compassionate, I read it as the former category. It was helpful for me to help identify what behaviors I already do that I should reinforce to help strengthen my relationships with other people.
I find a lot of self-help books are (sort of) “common sense” already, but that by reinforcing certain “nodes” in my brain’s “knowledge graph” I’m better able to reason about the knowledge later.
Put another way, if I’m interested enough to read a book about making friends, by reviewing information about “successful patterns” to makes friends I’m better able to reason about _how I can make friends_. It isn’t manipulative to start a conversation in a coffee shop with somebody! (Unless I’m “manipulating” somebody by asking for their contact info..?)
However, it is very very easy to read and follow. And if you are not a social person, the book is a good first read.
In China, the book is very popular and is sold under the title "The Weaknesses of Human Nature."
1. Seven habits - I can't get past Covey's personal 'experiences'. They are just seemingly so contrived and fake that they just ruin the entire thought process for me. It seems like he had to make up things that related to the covenants. Is that just me?
2. For writing - I would also suggest 'On Writing' by Stephen King for this as a different take. It's probably the best 'how to write' book ever made. It's King's personal take on the theory of writing, with lessons sprinkled throughout. So good.
Lots of self-help and pop-business books do this and above other factors like all the padding (so very much of it), it's ruined the genre for me. Hate that crap. Makes me think their advice is bullshit.
I made it a ways into Never Split the Difference and got a little useful material out of it, but bounced off when I reached a can't-possibly-be-real story about the author buying a car and getting a great price by (he claims) just repeatedly asking "how can I do that?" (or similar) when presented with a price above what he'd offered. Give me a break. "Well, you're in luck, our rates on 5-year loans are great right now, let me introduce you to our finance guy", the salesman, implausibly, never says, instead just acting confused and stupid the whole time and eventually giving in. Dafuq? Either the author actually got had and didn't realize it, or that story was at best a half-truth.
Seriously, read the On Writing book. It really set his theory up for me to understand exactly why he's inconsistent. You can read his books and tell when he's thinking and processing, versus when he's writing to pay for a car or house or whatever.
I found both books full of obvious things, but also found that reading and reflecting on obvious things can still go a long way for self-improvement. Personally, I didn't like "7 Habits" though because Covey is always saying his methods/truths are "self-evident" and he uses the "this is true because it would be dumb to think otherwise" line of reasoning at the points in the book when I thought his argument was weakest.
I respect Kahneman for walking back some of his claims since but he needs to publish a revision.
I'd also want him to publish a revision, I've enjoyed listening to Kahneman on podcasts and have nothing against him as an author
I mean "how to win friends" is similar, it can be summarized with just the 12 chapters, and it's padded out with anecdotes putting it in practice.
I'm sure Seven Habits is the same, I have it on my bookshelf (mandatory reading from my previous employer) and I think I started reading it but I lost interest.
Strong advice but I feel it's much harder nowadays to go down that route when there are distractions like YouTube videos that are easy to watch and make you feel you're learning when really it's scratching a superficial curiosity itch with no depth.
That said, to answer OP's question, I got Mortimer's book called "Great Treasury of Western Thought" that has compiled quotes from Western classics into key themes (the human condition, love, religions, etc), and it provided the missing link between getting meaty samples of key concepts, versus actually reading ALL the classics (the book started as the the index or 'syntopicon' of the 'Great Books of the Western World', a full compilation of Western works)
When I read the Wiki for Stoner years ago I saw this line, "Bryan Appleyard's review quotes critic D.G. Myers saying that the novel was a good book for beginners in the world of "serious literature"". I looked up D.G. Myers and to see if he had a list of serious literature or a twitter where I could ask about such a list only to find he passed away in 2014.
Does anyone know of such a list? Googling provides results but nothing... conclusive.
Anyway, Bloom's list: http://sonic.net/~rteeter/grtbloom.html
Stoner isn't on either one of them lists, FWIIW. Neither are other favorites of mine, such as The Bjorndal Saga.
I also usually search HN for threads like these when I'm looking for things to read. I'm fairly certain that's how I came across Seveneves.
I did a little searching this morning and did find D.G. Myers old blog where he posts a few of his favorite novels, including Stoner. Link here: https://dgmyers.blogspot.com/2012/12/my-favorite-martians.ht...
I guess if I had any advice to offer to someone wanting to achieve that (if it's an achievement) it'd be to try older popular literature (try King Solomon's Mines, it's amazing, then work your way to even older stuff) to get used to older English (nb not Old English, which is another thing entirely and you're not likely to encounter much of it in anything but an extremely deep reading of English lit) and to read short, relatively easy "literary" works that are more recent. Vonnegut's way at the easy end. Maybe try Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby or his short stories? Salinger's Nine Stories? I'm not sure—at this point I have trouble judging what's approachable. I'd make a terrible teacher of literature.
Lots of things kinda work this way. Jazz and "classical" music usually take some work on the listener's part, to personally learn and develop, before they yield their greatest fruits. Most folks have trouble enjoying silent films, but there are some damn good ones out there. Just takes effort and time.
I'll just add that the sweet spot for learning is rarely as far out as your younger self found it to be (much to the credit of your youthful determination). Too easy, and one's engaging in little more than practice. Too hard, and one lacks the conceptual framework onto which extend one's understanding.
However, I do definitely agree with your advice not to fear the uncomfortable feeling of being at the hard end of the spectrum. With time and determination, we're often capable of longer grasps than we realize.
I agree 100%. The hardest general books are probably in the area of philosophy. My recent fav: The Logic of Scientific Discovery by Karl Popper.
Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five. Seriously. Read it. The horrors of war leaked into your brain through a sci-fi novel. If you enjoy that, try Player Piano, a moral discourse on technology and its social effects. Even though it is old, the social complications are familiar.
To keep your brain busy, anything by Umberto Eco, but this would be my order: Name of the Rose, Foucault's Pendulum, The Island of the Day Before.
Why and how to find focus in this age of distraction. Will give you a real appreciation for woodworking, etc.
Understanding how something like powered flight works—the combination of science, engineering, process, self-control, intuition, on and on—is highly transferable to nearly any other acquirable skill.
The Elements of Style, by William Strunk and E. B. White. I liked writing since I learned how to. I didn't find this book until I was 17, and it unlocked me to write in a way that better helped others.
The Language Instinct, by Steven Pinker. I guess I like writing and language. Like C. S. Lewis, Steven Pinker has a way of writing about hard things that makes them easy to understand, even enjoyable. The subject matter is also news to most people, I think, who don't appreciate just how much that language is built in to the human mind from conception.
Geoff Pullum, a revered linguist, calls it "the Nasty Book". He explained, in an essay that is easy to find online, how its chief effect is to make people insecure about their writing. The book's message is, "Here are the rules. You will have to break them to write well. But you aren't good enough to know when." In fact the rules are not rules anywhere but in the imagination of White and his acolytes. No admired writer of English knows them, never mind obeys them.
When White put out the second edition after Strunk died, he made up a bunch more rules, the went back and doctored Strunk's original text to follow his new rules.
But he didn't check his own text. Typically he breaks his own rules on the same page where he is promoting them.
The book presents a profoundly ignorant picture ofthe English language. You cannot become a good writer shackled to Strunk and White.
No, the books message is that there is a progression from undisciplined to rule-following to transcendent writing and you may be anywhere on that spectrum (though, if you are looking for a book on how to write, it's probably not deeply into the latter range), and that having the set of rules that the book presents available helps you move from the first to the second and prepare you to move to the third.
In general, I think it's accurate enough. The rules it presents aren't the only set of rules that can do that, and there certainly is room for debate about their merits among competing alternatives.
That's the opposite of its effect on me.
> The book's message is, "Here are the rules. You will have to break them to write well. But you aren't good enough to know when."
I discerned no such put-down.
> In fact the rules are not rules anywhere but in the imagination of White and his acolytes. No admired writer of English knows them, never mind obeys them.
The gist of the book is the same as other books, such as The King's English, On Writing Well, and A Sense of Style. Stephen King praises the book in his own book, On Writing. I've also read a few articles on writing that say the same basic thing.
The gist of these books is to write in service of the reader (as opposed to your ego) and to work hard at it (as opposed to being lazy and just "letting it all hang out" from the first draft), as it is a craft, like carpentry. Specifically, try to avoid wasting words, try to use the best word at each point, and try to order your words (and sentences and paragraphs) in the best way for the reader's understanding.
There are some minor rules and preferences that perhaps Geoff Pullum is pouncing on, something like, "A clever horse is a good-natured one, not an ingenious one." I can see clearly that that is an archaism and take it for what it's worth. After all, the book is about 100 years old. But any writer should know that when you get down to that level of resolution, the detail shifts a bit in the quantum foam. Things on that level vary a bit from one decade to another, from one region to another. And language is like a craft, in that there are some rules that can be followed 90% of time, but it is not mathematics. You cannot distill a formula. I see Geoff Pullum taking it as black and white, but English does not submit to such simplification.
Perhaps Strunk was more black and white, but White seems a bit looser, and I think their combination balances each other out nicely. It reminds me that no rule is absolute. However, for the vast majority of writers, they would benefit from at least trying to follow a lot of them!
> The book presents a profoundly ignorant picture ofthe English language. You cannot become a good writer shackled to Strunk and White.
For 80% of the writing I read in books, magazines, articles, etc., they suffer from the kinds of problems addressed in the Elements of Style. There may be other kinds of problems in a minority of writing, but far and away most writing suffers heavily from wordiness, vagueness, clumsy construction. I won't fault someone for incorrectly calling a horse "clever," but now I see why most writing tires me out so much --- and I can rewrite it in my head to be clearer.
If you need a book to tell you to use the best word, or to put your words in order, it means you need far more help than you can get from a book.
So Lewis's rhetoric depends on "lunatic" connoting "raving lunatic" and there are actually four branches to his tri-lemma: liar, God, raving lunatic, some-one with serious psychiatric issues who generally holds it together and seems normal much of the time.
The book is written to convince the reader that evolution is valid.
But to me, the shocking thing was to really understand the religious argument for the first time, and understand why evolution challenges that world view.
In a nutshell, there is a web of related arguments which support the belief that God exists. One of them is that the eye is so complicated, that it must have been designed from the beginning by an intelligent being. Therefore God exists.
But Darwin showed that many small random changes plus natural selection are sufficient to explain the eye's complexity.
Why was this shocking at the time?
Just imagine you are walking around with a vague gut feeling that God must exist every time you see a beautiful bird or a flower. You figure that something intelligent must have designed that beatiful, complex living thing. You see another complex wonder of nature, and feeling gets stronger. Perhaps it becomes the main reason that you believe that God must exist.
Then one day, wham! Darwin releases his book, and it becomes clear that there is a valid scientific explanation for the complexity of that flower which does not require a supernatural designer.
Instantly your whole world view collapses. There's nothing in the science that says that God does not exist. Science only says that other explanations are sufficient. And yet, just that is enough to collapse that entire line of thinking. There are still other arguments for the existence of God. But the one you felt most strongly is gone.
Reading the book gave me a detailed understanding of that religious line of reasoning, and what it might feel like to lose it.
It gives me some understanding of why people, even today, have a desire to reject the scientific idea of evolution.
One of the most staggering intellectual achievements of mankind. Philosophers since Ancient Greek times had been speculating on the causes of being (some even came close to guessing something like evolution) but they were just that, guesses. Then finally we get Darwin, and bam, no guesses, here is the answer (I acknowlege several others got just pipped to the post on it). That such a simple idea lurked just out of our understanding all this time, but took such staggering genius to unlock...
Years later religious arguments against Darwin popped up.
Dawkins' book addresses these religious arguments head on.
It's discussed in this interview here:
Essentially the number of possible configurations of the sequence of a piece of genetic code required to produce the instructions for producing a usable protein are something like 10^77 to 1. The state space is filled with an astronomical amount of unusable junk.
The next part of the argument hinges on the Cambrian explosion. They claim that mathematically there isn't enough time for life produce enough trials to give rise to the amount of species seen during that period given the duration of the period and the sheer number of combinations life has to try in order to find viable ones.
They sort of say that Darwin was like Newton. A good enough explanation of a large portion of observable phenomenon, but it breaks down at the edges and a new theory is needed.
They seem to want to fill it with Intelligent Design. I'm an atheist myself, so I don't feel compelled to fill it with the god of the gaps, so to speak. But I'm finding it hard to accept Darwin as the whole answer.
Does Dawkins book address this? Is there any book that addresses this?
In the one Dawkins book I read, the mathematical part definitely gets addressed. It may change your mind about the mathematical part.
I once read elsewhere that almost all the specific details Darwin came up with have been overturned by other scientists. But the new scientific results prove evolution and natural selection even harder.
My own personal speculation is that there may be many simple proteins that have some type of use or another. I would be interested in reading about how they came up with that 10^77 number. Sounds high to me.
On the other hand, I've read scientists make comments similar to your comments. Not in papers, but in casual interviews. Some agree with you and say that even given the current theories, there just wasn't quite enough time on earth to create life from non-life.
It's not an accepted scientific theory at all. More like a crackpot idea that will probably never be proved or disproved. But take a look at the panspermia theory. Small seeds of some kind move from planet to planet. Maybe one landed on earth long ago? It's a crazy idea. But it does address the issues you brought up.
Well that at least leaves me in a different position than I started. Thanks.
Any change in belief that will influence their way of life will raise psychological shields. People will very readily change their logic to maintain a belief if that meant preserving other other aspects of their lives that they have put time and effort into.
This book is written for people who already understand the true nature of science and religion. I highly doubt it can convert people, I have yet to find a technique or even a book that has the ability to do so. It's just the way people are...
Whenever you see someone convert from religion to science most of the time the underlying foundations of it had nothing to do with logical realization and more to do with some form of minor or major trauma.
If you experienced a conversion to science from religion and you yourself describe the experience as a "logical realization" I would argue that you probably weren't that invested in the religion in the first place OR that there was some associated trauma that coincided with the "logical realization."
What is the purpose of the book?
Is it just to give scientifically oriented people a playbook of arguments to use against anti-evolutionary bible thumpers when debating school curriculum?
I'll accept that.
For sheer scale and sensawunda - A Fire Upon the Deep and Deepness in the Sky by Vernor Vinge.
For mind games, I submit "Kiln People" by David Brin. What if you could fork your consciousness into another body and rejoin periodically? "Kiln People" explores this idea in some remarkable ways.
I was able to get about a third of the way through the book because my friends kept saying it gets better... but it’s a thick book and I just didn’t get it as I kept chugging
If I’m reading fiction it’s OK to put a book down. I ask you, dear internet stranger, what do you enjoy about these books?
Also, focus has got to be one of the most terrifying concepts anyone has put into a SF book.
- Imaginatively exploring grand futures.
- Evocative hints you have to fill in yourself.
- Intelligent characters.
- Computer security as an often central concern.
- Tightness. There's a reason he barely manages a novel a decade.
- The prose style just breathes sense-of-wonder to me.
A Fire Upon the Deep has a much bigger scope and includes a menagerie of truly weird aliens.
Hui-Neng's "Your Minds Move"
The wind was flapping a temple flag, and two monks started an argument. One said the flag moved, the other said the wind moved; they argued back and forth but could not reach a conclusion.
The Sixth Patriarch Hui-Neng said, "It is not the wind that moves, it is not the flag that moves; it is your minds that move."
Joshu sees the Hermits
Joshu went to a hermit's cottage and asked, "Is the master in? Is the master in?"
The hermit raised his fist.
Joshu said, "The water is too shallow to anchor here," and he went away.
Coming to another hermit's cottage, he asked again, "Is the master in? Is the master in?"
This hermit, too, raised his fist.
Joshu said, "Free to give, free to take, free to kill, free to save," and he made a deep bow.
No of course not. Its some metaphysical plug about relationships or something. One of those 'one hand clapping' things. I guess the point is to get you to stop overanalyzing. Which I'm doing.
But no, I didn't get my mind blown by monks in semantic circles. I guess I'm not ready to be enlightened.
Uh, no. Lots of them definitely rely on knowing who the monks are, their reputations, and their relationships to one another. And other facts about the world in which they occur ("Three pounds of flax!"). One is not even going to get at the interesting parts of them without that. Lots will come off as gibberish or as confusing in ways that they are not intended to be without that context.
> Sure you can 'explain them' but everybody hears them where their mind is at now.
It's not about explaining them, it's about the coming-to-terms phase of reading from How to Read a Book. Even smart folks would probably have a bad time approaching a graduate-level math text book without a little context so they get where it's even starting from and understand the references and vocabulary that the book was written assuming the reader would already have.
I hope I didn't do any harm here. I was hoping to share some of what I thought was pretty mind bending.
The physical universe is as a reflected image on the surface of a lake, illusory.
However, the "level" at which that is true is above/below/beyond the "level" at which there "really" is wind and flag.