Media diet for Q2 2018

Books

  • Mearsheimer, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. Interesting, albeit obviously not convincing. Just me trying to get a sense for how international relations debates work.
  • Rosling, Factfulness. Decent for what it’s trying to be. Similar in spirit and content to Enlightenment Now, but narrower in scope and written for a wider audience.

These days I finish fewer books than I used to, and prefer to skip around more.

Music

Music I most enjoyed discovering this quarter:

Had completely forgotten about, now rediscovered and really liked:

Why so many re-discoveries this quarter? I’m listening through the history of rock music again and constructing this playlist along the way. Many great albums aren’t listed above because I hadn’t forgotten about them. :)

Movies/TV

Ones I “really liked” (no star), or “loved” (star):

  • Christopher Guest: Mascots (2016)
  • Various: Atlanta, season 2 (2018) ★
  • Blue Planet II (2017) ★
  • Ramsay: You Were Never Really Here (2017)
  • Linklater: Last Flag Flying (2017)

Games

Ones I “really liked” (no star), or “loved” (star):

  • Alto’s Odyssey

Old favorites

Discovered long ago…

Media I’m looking forward to, Q3 2018 edition

Added this quarter:

Books

bold = especially excited

[Read more…]

Projects I wish I had time for

  1. Everyone Is Lying Again: A blog dissecting how, in response to the majority of even slightly controversial or partisanship-evoking news stories, all “sides” (right, left, etc.) grossly misrepresent the facts and/or their scientific, historical, or cultural context. Probably one dissection per week, allowing time for substantial research for each post.
  2. The Story of Rock Music: This podcast would guide the listener through the history of rock music, playing extended clips of >10 tracks per episode and helping the listener hear exactly how different styles developed, split off from their roots, and recombined later. For example in one episode I might explain what a raga is and play an example clip, then explain what modal vs. chordal improvisation is and play contrasting clips, then explain what blues rock is and play an example clip, then explain what post-bop jazz is and play an example clip, and finally talk through (with example clips) how these forms were fused together in the classic Mike Bloomfield track “East-West,” one of the earliest examples of “raga rock.” Episodes would proceed in roughly chronological order, so that the listener could “hear” the evolution of music over time, as later episodes build on the stylistic evolutions described in past episodes.
  3. Evolving Sounds: Relatedly, I’ve long wanted to research, compose, and record a many-hour continuous piece of music that recapitulates the entire history of “Western music” (which is better documented than other traditions). The piece would begin with sections composed in accordance with scholarly guesses about how prehistoric music might have sounded, eventually transition into the earliest styles from recorded history, then evolve into styles covered in e.g. Burkholder’s History of Western Music, up to the present day. This is a pretty obvious idea and I’m upset that nobody has attempted it yet.
  4. Everything is Awesome and We’re All Going to Die: This book would start off like a more thorough and epistemically scrupulous version of the empirical sections from Enlightenment Now, and would then proceed to explain in detail why global catastrophic risk is nevertheless increasing over time via Moore’s Law of Mad Science, inescapable asymmetry in the difficulty of creation vs. destructioninadequate equilibria, and related phenomena.
  5. Better Moral Judgments: Moral philosophy makes little attempt to estimate what our moral intuitions would be if we were smarter, better informed, etc. Works like The Righteous Mind and Moral Tribes are baby steps in the right direction, but still far less ambitious than what I sketch here, which could easily be expanded into quite a large research program. But I’d start with a book sketching out that research program and working through some initial examples.

Books, music, etc. from Q1 2018

Books

  • Ellsberg, The Doomsday Machine. Pretty good, scary.
  • Kwak, Economism. Not ideal, but still: many people need to read an economics 101 textbook, and many other people need to read Economism.
  • Simler & Hanson, The Elephant in the Brain. Pretty great, especially given the authors’ own caveat that “we are no doubt wrong in many places, not just in the details, but also in some larger conclusions” and that “to demonstrate that hidden motives are common and important” they “don’t need to be right about everything.” Though I wish it was more clearly flagged that one key reason much of the book is likely wrong is just that the underlying research is false, as must be true for ~all books summarizing large amounts of “soft” science.
  • Caplan, The Case Against Education. I read about half. I don’t know much about the research in this area but I personally find the “mostly signaling” model more intuitive than the alternatives. A good example of synthesizing important relevant data from multiple fields (not just from economics).
  • Pinker, Enlightenment Now. Generally pretty good. I disagree with the section on existential risks and AI, and I disagree with Pinker’s weird transcendental argument in favor of humanism, and I’m less confident in humanism’s role in human progress than Pinker seems to be, and his account of “the Enlightenment” is inaccurately clean & rosy, and some his data are exaggerated and cherry-picked, but shrug, I generally agree with most of the book, and with the overall thesis about human history. Pinker also skips over the history of likely-sentient animal welfare, but at least he tweeted Jacy Reese’s essay about that.
  • Sowell, The Thomas Sowell Reader. I read this on Pinker’s recommendation of Sowell in general. These short essays didn’t exhibit much of anything special. Maybe he’s more impressive in longer formats.
  • Pillsbury, The Hundred-Year Marathon. I found it pretty informative, but I’m still far too much a China novice to know whether Pillsbury’s overall take is more reasonable than the other high-level takes I’ve read.
  • Rid, Rise of the Machines. Fine, I guess.

Music

Music I most enjoyed discovering this quarter:

Movies/TV

Ones I “really liked” (no star), or “loved” (star):

  • Benson & Moorhead: Resolution (2012)
  • Gertwig: Lady Bird (2017)  ★
  • Gillespie: I, Tonya (2017) ★
  • Pesce: The Eyes of My Mother (2016)
  • Zahler: Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017)
  • Safdie brothers: Good Time (2016)
  • Lehmann: Blue Jay (2016)
  • Soderbergh: Mosaic (2018)
  • Wright: Baby Driver (2017)
  • McDonagh: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)  ★
  • Vigalondo: Colossal (2016)
  • Reeves: War for the Planet of the Apes (2017) ★
  • Soderbergh: Logan Lucky (2017) ★
  • Anderson: Phantom Thread (2017)
  • Various: Top of the Lake, Season 2 (2017)
  • Richards: Pushed to the Edge (2016)
  • Iannucci: The Death of Stalin (2017) ★
  • Franco: The Disaster Artist (2017) ★
  • Baker: The Florida Project (2017) ★

Games

Ones I “really liked” (no star), or “loved” (star):

  • Skyrim
  • Stardew Valley
  • Rayman Legends
  • Celeste ★

Media I’m looking forward to, Q2 2018 edition

Added this quarter:

Books

bold = especially excited

[Read more…]

My worldview in 5 books

If you wanted to communicate as much as possible to someone about your worldview by asking them to read just five books, which five books would you choose?

My choices are below. If you post your answer to this question to Twitter, please use the hash tag #WorldviewIn5Books (like I did), so everyone posting their list can find each other.

1. Eliezer Yudkowsky, Rationality: From AI to Zombies

(2015; ebook/audiobook/podcast)

A singular introduction to critical thinking, rationality, and naturalistic philosophy. Both more advanced and more practically useful than any comparable guide I’ve encountered.

2. Sean Carroll, The Big Picture

(2016; ebook/paperback/audiobook)

If Yudkowsky’s book is “how to think 101,” then Carroll’s book is “what to think 101,” i.e. an introduction to what exists and how it works, according to standard scientific naturalism.

3. William MacAskill, Doing Good Better

(2015; ebook/paperback/audiobook)

My current favorite “how to do good 101” book, covering important practical considerations such as scale of impact, tractability, neglectedness, efficiency, cause neutrality, counterfactuals, and some strategies for thinking about expected value across diverse cause areas.

Importantly, it’s missing (a) a quick survey of the strongest arguments for and against utilitarianism, and (b) much discussion of near-term vs. animal-inclusive vs. long-term views and their implications (when paired with lots of empirical facts). But those topics are understandably beyond the book’s scope, and in any case there aren’t yet any books with good coverage of (a) and (b), in my opinion.

4. Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now

(2018; ebook/paperback/audiobook)

Almost everything has gotten dramatically better for humans over the past few centuries, likely substantially due to the spread and application of reason, science, and humanism.

5. Toby Ord, forthcoming book about the importance of the long-term future

(forthcoming)

Yes, listing a future book is cheating, but I’m doing it anyway. The importance of the long-term future plays a big role in my current worldview, but there isn’t yet a book that captures my views on the topic well, and from my correspondence with Toby so far, I suspect his forthcoming book on the topic will finally do the topic justice. While you’re waiting for the book to be released, you can get a preview via this podcast interview with Toby.

A few notes about my choices

  • These aren’t my favorite books, nor the books that most influenced me historically. Rather, these are the books that best express key aspects of my worldview. In other words, they are the books I’d most want someone else to read first if we were about to have a long and detailed debate about something complicated, so they’d have some sense of “where I’m coming from.”
  • Obviously, there is plenty in these books that I disagree with.
  • I didn’t include any giant college textbooks or encyclopedias; that’d be cheating.
  • I wish there was a book that summarized many of my key political views, but in my case, I doubt any such book exists.
  • Economic thinking also plays a big role in my worldview, but I’ve not yet found a book that I think does a good job of integrating economic theory with careful, skeptical discussions of the most relevant empirical data (which often come from fields outside economics, and often differ from the predictions of economic models) across a decent range of the most important questions in economics.
  • These books are all quite recent. Older books suffer from their lack of access to recent scientific and philosophical progress, for example (a) the last several decades of the cognitive science of human reasoning, (b) the latest estimates of the effectiveness of various interventions to save and improve people’s lives, (c) the latest historical and regional estimates of various aspects of human well-being and their correlates, and (d) recent arguments about moral uncertainty and what to do about it.

As always, these are my views and not my employer’s.

Favorite podcasts of 2017

(no order)

  • S-Town
  • Ponzi Supernova
  • Crimetown
  • Planet Money
  • StartUp
  • Slate Star Codex
  • Everything Hertz
  • Casefile
  • Reply All
  • This American Life
  • Pessimists Archive
  • Waking Up
  • EconTalk
  • 80,000 Hours
  • Rationally Speaking
  • The Weeds
  • The Daily
  • Conversations with Tyler
  • The Insight
  • Criminal
  • Radiolab
  • More Perfect
  • Ben Shapiro Show [good for popping my filter bubble, but also see here]

Books, music, etc. from Q4 2017

Books

  • Berezow & Campbell, Science Left Behind: Meh.
  • Biederman & Bennis, Organizing Genius: Some interesting stories, not sure how reliable they are, authors make no attempt to get data on the question.

Music

Music I most enjoyed discovering this month:

Movies/TV

Ones I “really liked” (no star), or “loved” (star):

  • Denis Villenueve: Blade Runner 2049 (2017) ★
  • Mike Mills: 20th Century Women (2016)
  • Various: Top of the Lake, season 1 (2013) ★
  • Various: Bojack Horseman, season 3 (2017)
  • Noah Baumbach: The Meyerowitz Stories (2017) ★
  • Mike Leigh: Life is Sweet (1990)
  • Dee Rees: Mudbound (2017)
  • Various: Broad City, season 4 (2017)
  • Various: Better Things, season 2 (2017)
  • Johnson: Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)
  • Aronofsky: Mother! (2017) ★

Games

Ones I “really liked” (no star), or “loved” (star):

  • Breath of the Wild (2017) ★
  • Super Mario Odyssey (2017) ★
  • Steamworld Dig 2 (2017)

Media I’m looking forward to, Q1 2018 edition

Added this month:

Books

bold = especially excited

[Read more…]

Storeable, convenient veg*n meal options

Ever since I wrapped up my animal consciousness report, I’ve been working to become a better reducetarian. As such, I’ve been hunting for storeable, convenient veg*n meal options. (Getting restaurants to carry tastier veg*n food is harder, but I’ve been enjoying my Impossible Burgers!)

A spreadsheet of my findings thus far is here. In my area, they’re available locally via Instacart. So far, my tastiest solution is “buy Vegetarian Plus meals.”

Most of these meals don’t satisfy me on their own, so I usually supplement with a banana or whatever.

Books, music, etc. from August-September 2017

Books

  • Tegmark, Life 3.0

Music

Music I most enjoyed discovering this month:

Movies/TV

Ones I “really liked” (no star), or “loved” (star):

  • Spicer: Ingrid Goes West (2017) ★
  • Ross: Captain Fantastic (2016)
  • Shults: It Comes at Night (2017)
  • Young: Hounds of Love (2016)
  • Alvarez: Don’t Breathe (2016)

Books, music, etc. from July 2017

Books

  • [none]

Music

Music I most enjoyed discovering this month:

Movies/TV

Ones I “really liked” (no star), or “loved” (star):

  • Nichols: Loving (2016)
  • Gray: The Lost City of Z (2016)
  • Various: Transparent, season 3 (2016)
  • Mangold: Logan (2017)
  • Showalter: The Big Sick (2017)
  • Peele: Get Out (2017) ★
  • Nolan: Dunkirk (2017) ★
  • Arnold: American Honey (2016)

Books, music, etc. from June 2017

Books

  • Allison: Destined for War (2017). Decent, but very one-sided in its arguments. Scary.

Music

Music I most enjoyed discovering this month:

  • [none]

Movies/TV

Ones I “really liked” (no star), or “loved” (star):

  • Various: Stranger Things, season 1 (2016)
  • Campos: Christine (2016)
  • Various: Fargo, season 3 (2017) ★
  • Various: Better Call Saul, season 3 (2017) ★
  • Various: The Handmaid’s Tale, season 1 (2017) ★

Media I’m looking forward to, July 2017 edition

Books

* = added this round
bold = especially excited

[Read more…]

Books, music, etc. from May 2017

Books

  • [none]

Music

Music I most enjoyed discovering this month:

  • Saagara: 2 (2017)
  • Perfume Genius: No Shape (2017)

Movies/TV

Ones I “really liked” (no star), or “loved” (star):

  • Birbiglia: Don’t Think Twice (2016)
  • Various: Master of None, season 2 (2017)

Media I’m looking forward to, June 2017 edition

Books

* = added this round
bold = especially excited

[Read more…]

Books, music, etc. from April 2017

Books

  • Callahan, The Givers. An interesting quick portrait of contemporary mega-philanthropy. I haven’t bothered to form opinions about the recommendations in the final chapter.
  • Walters, Feminism: A Very Short Introduction. Meh.

Music

Music I most enjoyed discovering this month:

Movies/TV

Ones I “really liked” (no star), or “loved” (star):

  • Ade: Toni Erdmann (2016)
  • Guadagnino: A Bigger Splash (2016)
  • Yeon: Train to Busan (2016)

Media I’m looking forward to, May 2017 edition

Books

* = added this round
bold = especially excited

[Read more…]