Why books don’t work, by Andy Matuschak

Source: Why books don’t work, by Andy Matuschak

for non-fiction books, one implied assumption at the foundation: people absorb knowledge by reading sentences. This last idea so invisibly defines the medium that it’s hard not to take for granted, which is a shame because, as we’ll see, it’s quite mistaken.

Have you ever had a book like this—one you’d read—come up in conversation, only to discover that you’d absorbed what amounts to a few sentences? … I suspect this is the default experience for most readers. … Now, the books I named aren’t small investments. Each takes around 6–9 hours to read. Adult American college graduates read 24 minutes a day on average, so a typical reader might spend much of a month with one of these books. Millions of people have read each of these books, so that’s tens of millions of hours spent. In exchange for all that time, how much knowledge was absorbed? How many people absorbed most of the knowledge the author intended to convey? Or even just what they intended to acquire?

All this suggests a peculiar conclusion: as a medium, books are surprisingly bad at conveying knowledge, and readers mostly don’t realize it.

You’ve probably internalized the notion that lectures have this problem, even if the parallel claim for books feels more alien.

Books don’t work for the same reason that lectures don’t work: neither medium has any explicit theory of how people actually learn things, and as a result, both mediums accidentally (and mostly invisibly) evolved around [an implicit] theory that’s plainly false. … that model is transmissionism

Rather than “how might we make books actually work reliably,” we can ask: How might we design mediums which do the job of a non-fiction book—but which actually work reliably?

Cognition all the way down | Aeon

Source: Cognition all the way down | Aeon, by Michael Levin and Daniel C Dennett, edited by Nigel Warburton

Biology’s next great horizon is to understand cells, tissues and organisms as agents with agendas (even if unthinking ones)

Isaac Newton’s laws are great for predicting the path of a ball placed at the top of a hill, but they’re useless for understanding what a mouse at the top of a hill will do. So, the other way to make a mistake is to fail to attribute goal-directedness to a system that has it; this kind of teleophobia significantly holds back the ability to predict and control complex systems because it prevents discovery of their most efficient internal controls or pressure points.

In a phrase that will need careful unpacking, individual cells are not just building blocks, like the basic parts of a ratchet or pump; they have extra competences that turn them into (unthinking) agents that, thanks to information they have on board, can assist in their own assembly into larger structures, and in other large-scale projects that they needn’t understand.

Agents, in this carefully limited perspective, need not be conscious, need not understand, need not have minds, but they do need to be structured to exploit physical regularities that enable them to use information (following the laws of computation) to perform tasks, beginning with the fundamental task of self-preservation, which involves not just providing themselves with the energy needed to wield their tools, but the ability to adjust to their local environments in ways that advance their prospects.

the point is not to anthropomorphise morphogenesis – the point is to naturalise cognition. There is nothing magic that humans (or other smart animals) do that doesn’t have a phylogenetic history. Taking evolution seriously means asking what cognition looked like all the way back. Modern data in the field of basal cognition makes it impossible to maintain an artificial dichotomy of ‘real’ and ‘as-if’ cognition. There is one continuum along which all living systems (and many nonliving ones) can be placed, with respect to how much thinking they can do.

It’s all about goals: single cells’ homeostatic goals are roughly the size of one cell, and have limited memory and anticipation capacity. Tissues, organs, brains, animals and swarms (like anthills) form various kinds of minds that can represent, remember and reach for bigger goals. This conceptual scheme enables us to look past irrelevant details of the materials or backstory of their construction, and to focus on what’s important for being a cognitive agent with some degree of sophistication: the scale of its goals. Agents can combine into networks, scaling their tiny, local goals into more grandiose ones belonging to a larger, unified self. And of course, any cognitive agent can be made up of smaller agents, each with their own limits on the size and complexity of what they’re working towards.

How “Money Printing” Works, and how to Spot Inflation, by Lyn Alden

Source: How “Money Printing” Works, and how to Spot Inflation, by Lyn Alden

The crux of this article is that quantitative easing on its own, and quantitative easing combined with massive fiscal deficits, are two very different situations to consider when it comes to analyzing the possibilities between inflation and deflation, and what constitutes “money printing”.

Base money vs. broad money supply
Bank lending, bank reserves, and QE (quantitative easing)
Deflationary forces

QE alone, where the Fed buys existing assets mostly from banks, is simply anti-deflationary, to recapitalize a banking system and fill it up with excess reserves. It’s not outright inflationary because it doesn’t directly increase the broad money supply. If the Fed buys existing assets from non-banks, it only increases broad money a bit, around the margins.

Meanwhile, large fiscal deficits funded by QE (the central banks monetizing deficit spending by buying any of the excess Treasuries over the real demand for them), actually is pro-inflationary, because it gets money directly into the economy, into the broad money supply, and can be done with no limit except for inflation that it would eventually cause when done to excess.

Why Privacy Is the Most Important Concept of Our Time | In Re

Source: Why Privacy Is the Most Important Concept of Our Time | In Re, by Gabriele Tomassetti

Privacy is more than the right of an individual to be left alone. It concerns the very fabric of society.

It is necessary to separate our private live, the communities we belong to and the public sphere from each other.

Privacy is about boundaries. It is not about hiding something but allowing to create a space with rules decided by its members.

without clear rules on what is private and what is public, nobody knows which stuff belongs to whom. This means chaos and often that all belong to the strongest.

Privacy is about control. Without privacy we cannot decide for ourselves how to live our lives. If there is no privacy, all become public. … When everything is subject to public scrutiny, you either control the rules and judge others or you are judged and controlled by others.

Let’s focus on one example: the ability to move great distances. In medieval times you could just hop on a horse and start moving3. Nowadays a car must be produced according to an infinite amount of rules and you also need a specific license to drive one. And yet, in practical terms, our ability to move is much higher compared to that of a medieval person. We can do it quicker and for longer distances. So, we are in some ways both more and less constrained in our movement.

The greater complexity of rules concerning transportation has actually increased our ability to move. It seems a paradox but it is true.

I think that with the right understanding of privacy we can be more safe, have a greater autonomy in our choices and more freedom.

A Few Rules | Collaborative Fund

Source: A Few Rules | Collaborative Fund, by Morgan Housel

A list of possible wisdom.

The person who tells the most compelling story wins. Not the best idea. Just the story that catches people’s attention and gets them to nod their heads.

Something can be factually true but contextually nonsense. Bad ideas often have at least some seed of truth that gives their followers confidence.

Tell people what they want to hear and you can be wrong indefinitely without penalty.

Woodrow Wilson said government “is accountable to Darwin, not to Newton.” It’s a useful idea. Everything is accountable to one of the two, and you have to know whether something adapts and changes over time or perpetually stays the same.

Behavior is hard to fix. When people say they’ve learned their lesson they underestimate how much of their previous mistake was caused by emotions that will return when faced with the same circumstances.

“Logic is an invention of man and may be ignored by the universe,” historian Will Durant says. That’s why forecasting is hard.

Being good at something doesn’t promise rewards. It doesn’t even promise a compliment. What’s rewarded in the world is scarcity, so what matters is what you can do that other people are bad at.

The world is governed by probability, but people think in black and white, right or wrong – did it happen or did it not? – because it’s easier.

Henry Luce said, “Show me a man who thinks he’s objective and I’ll show you a man who’s deceiving himself.” People see what they want to see, hear what they want to hear, and view the world through the lens of their own unique life experiences.

People learn when they’re surprised. Not when they read the right answer, or are told they’re doing it wrong, but when their jaw hits the floor.

Most fields have only a few laws. Lots of theories, hunches, observations, ideas, trends, and rules. But laws – things that are always true, all the time – are rare.

The only thing worse than thinking everyone who disagrees with you is wrong is the opposite: being persuaded by the advice of those who need or want something you don’t.

Simple explanations are appealing even when they’re wrong. “It’s complicated” isn’t persuasive even when it’s right.

Self-interest is the most powerful force in the world. Which can be great, because situations where everyone’s interests align are unstoppable; bad because people’s willingness to benefit themselves at the expense of others is so seductive.

History is deep. Almost everything has been done before. The characters and scenes change, but the behaviors and outcomes rarely do. “Everything feels unprecedented when you haven’t engaged with history.”

Don’t expect balance from very talented people. People who are exceptionally good at one thing tend to be exceptionally bad at another, due to overconfidence and mental bandwidth taken up by the exceptional skill. Skills also have two sides: No one should be shocked when people who think about the world in unique ways you like also think about the world in unique ways you don’t like.

Progress happens too slowly to notice, setbacks happen too fast to ignore. There are lots of overnight tragedies, but no overnight miracles. Growth is driven by compounding, which always takes time. Destruction is driven by single points of failure, which can happen in seconds, and loss of confidence, which can happen in an instant.

It is way easier to spot other people’s mistakes than your own. We judge others based solely on their actions, but when judging ourselves we have an internal dialogue that justifies our mistakes and bad decisions.

Reputations have momentum in both directions, because people want to associate with winners and avoid losers.

History is driven by surprising events, forecasting is driven by predictable ones. It’s not an easy problem to solve.